In the wake of the death of a fellow archeologist, and rumors that he died as a result of a curse, Lady Helen Loring returns home to England. With her she takes an ancient bronze lamp, a gift from the Egyptian government for her work in helping to uncover the tomb of . But before she can depart, a seer warns that if she removes the lamp from Egypt, she will “be blown to dust as if she never existed.” Helen doesn’t believe in curses and, as she tells her fellow passenger Sir Henry Merrivale, “I’m going to put the lamp on the mantelpiece in my room, as proof that the curse is rubbish.” But then she enters Severn Hall, closes the door, and when the friends accompanying her follow, they find only her coat, and the bronze lamp, lying on the floor. Lady Helen is gone… vanished as if she never existed. Enter Sir Henry…
This is my first Carter Dickson, aka John Dickson Carr, so to those who know his work well, forgive me if I gush a bit. Also, I’m fairly sure that this was my first “impossible mystery”, and I was definitely impressed. I’m pretty good at figuring out the solution, spotting the villain, etc., but this one had me stumped. When the reveal came I had one of those “it was so obvious; why didn’t I see it?” moments. Maybe once I’ve read several more of his books I’ll be a little better at it, but for now I’ll just enjoy.
Rather than the dark, gothic mystery that I thought it would be, this was a fast paced, light, fun read. The plot seemed quite straightforward at the beginning, then it evolved and became more complex, but never convoluted. I found myself not only engrossed, but grabbed and pulled along, racing to the finish.
I don’t care how good the mystery is, for me, a book is only as good as it’s characters. And “Lord love a duck” Sir Henry is so much fun. He is such a memorable character who, convinced of his own infallibility, is a source of exasperation and entertainment to those he encounters, as well as the reader. I even enjoy how enigmatic he is in his approach to finding the solution, taking in everything around him, rolling it around in that great brain…and then keeping it to himself! There is a bit of the theatrical about him, and maybe even some slapstick (i.e. the scene with the taxi driver). But I can live with a bit of the ridiculous since it’s not maintained at that level throughout the story.
It is a mystery to me why I’ve never read anything by Carr before because I’ve seen his books around my entire life…well actually, more Carter Dickson than Carr. Then I recently stumbled upon The Green Capsule blog and after reading several posts there, followed by reviews for Carr/Dickson on other blogs, I thought, why not give the man a chance? I found a couple of Carter Dickson books just the other day and dove right in. Very glad I did! So thank you Green Capsule…whoever you are, and all the other GAD bloggers who lead me to JDC.
Oh, and my new favorite word is “Lummy”. Thank you Inspector Masters.
My Judgement – 5/5