Ah, my many long-term projects. My Ellery Queen bibliography, currently derailed due to losing my copy of The Dragon’s Teeth. Original Sins has come to an end (almost) and let’s not mention the Mystery Tour of the USA… But the first thing that I started, way back when, was a bibliography of the adventures of the Old Man himself, Sir Henry Merrivale. It’s been about five months since I’ve dipped into the adventures of the great detective, so, as I’m a bit under the weather again, it was time for another visit.
Lady Helen Loring returns from Egypt with a bronze lamp, despite being told that the curse on it will cause her to be blown to dust before she can return to her room at Severn Hall. Well, she makes it through the front door, only to apparently vanish halfway up the main flight of stairs. The house is surrounded by workmen and gardeners and nobody saw her leave – but she’s also evidently not in the house either. Luckily for her, she shared the journey back to England with Sir Henry himself, and, smelling a rat, turns up on the scene to try and sort things out. But can even he defeat the curse of a long dead Pharaoh? Well, yes, obviously…
I honestly didn’t pick this one due to the Ancient World links. I’d completely forgotten that the lamp in question was from an Egyptian tomb, but it does fit rather nicely as a parallel to the Original Sins strand of reviews. I picked it off the shelf because this is one of the Merrivales that I have less than fond memories of – notably, I recalled the ending being a bit of a cop out. So, how well was the memory working?
First of all, I should say how much fun this book is. The mystery is pretty slight and in some ways, this marks a turning point in the series. The books take on a lighter tone soon after this one – only The Skeleton In The Clock reflects the tone of the earlier books in the series. I suppose My Late Wives could be classed in the same vein but the mystery in that one was pretty obvious. Of course, all of these comments might change when I re-read them, but let’s assume that the memory isn’t cheating too much.
But compared to, say, the works of J J Connington, while the mystery is slighter, it’s a lot more enjoyable. In fact, despite feeling like, for want of a better word, crap, I finished this book in a single day. Merrivale seems to be on more restrained form this time, with no particular over-the-top behaviour, with the exception of the opening chapter – an altercation with an Egyptian taxi driver.
The central character of Kit Farrell provides an enjoyable point of view but one or two others seem to make some rather dubious decisions – one in particular. I can’t really say much more about the plot without incurring spoilers, but I enjoyed this a lot more second time around. I still think that Carr makes a couple of odd choices with the ending, but the overall plot is pretty clever.
In fact… I think this might usurp The Red Widow Murders from my Carter Dickson Top Five – there were fundamental problems with that one. This one, though, as long as you expect something fairly light, comes highly recommended.
BTW – Lord of the Sorcerors? Rubbish alternative title… and that cover’s rubbish too.