I’ve been on a bit of a Richard Marsh kick lately (I already discussed his books The Beetle and The Joss), reading everything of his that’s available in print. He’s almost completely unknown today, even though he was a highly successful author in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
I’ve almost run out of his books available in hardcopy, and have now turned to Google books to find more of Marsh’s work. I recently finished reading his 1900 horror/mystery novel The Goddess: A Demon, and I give a summary and some impressions of the book after the fold…
The story starts with a game of cards between narrator and protagonist John Ferguson and his neighbor and supposed friend Edwin Lawrence. Ferguson has a bit too much to drink, loses all of his money, and goes to bed suspecting that his friend had in fact cheated during the game.
That evening, Ferguson has a dream in which he visits Lawrence’s room. He arrives to the sound of inhuman screeching and snarling, combined with the sounds of pain and terror, and when he opens the door, he finds Lawrence struggling in the grip of a strange, flailing creature dressed in robes and laughing with a women’s voice.
Ferguson awakes in his own bed, and discovers that a woman has climbed in through his window. She is stunningly beautiful, suffering from amnesia – and covered in blood. Ferguson quickly finds that Lawrence has been brutally murdered – stabbed with perhaps fifty different blades – and the prime suspect is the beautiful mysterious woman in his care.
The story is an interesting cross between horror and murder mystery. Much of the later development of the book centers around Ferguson’s simultaneous attempts to discover the killer and protect the woman he has immediately fallen in love with. As Ferguson himself is a somewhat straightforward man-of-action, even a brute, many of his attempts end up failing miserably!
Readers searching for the multiple, intricate narratives of Marsh’s earlier work The Beetle and later work The Joss will be disappointed: Ferguson is the sole narrator of the tale, and it proceeds in a much more linear fashion. The story is more of a straight murder mystery than its counterparts, and the horror aspects only make an appearance at the very beginning and end of the tale. The characters, though, are quite well developed, from Ferguson to the mysterious lady to the suspicious police inspector Symonds.
Like its counterparts, it involves a threat which comes from an exotic locale, though in a very different form than the other tales. The ending is paradoxically both satisfying and a little disappointing, though I liked it better than the somewhat contrived ending of The Beetle.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a fair amount of humor in the tale, especially in the crude stonewalling that Ferguson undertakes against the police investigators! This humor talent is much more apparent in his later book, The Magnetic Girl, which I am currently reading.
I definitely enjoyed The Goddess, though I would rank it below The Joss and above The Beetle. I’m hoping that Valancourt Books will produce a nice reprint that I can put on my shelf!