Friday, February 22, 2013

Aaron's Serpent: Review

Aaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn (1962) just barely misses my arbitrary cut-off for vintage mysteries. Labeled as an "Avalon Romance-Mystery," it's an interesting little book. I originally grabbed it up because I noticed that it had an academic setting, but I didn't focus on the actual name of the institution in question--Camelot College--until I finally reached it in my TBR stacks.  Yes, Ms. Thorn has managed to put together a mystery with all the trappings of Arthurian legend.  Presiding at Camelot College, we have President Arthur Pendragon and his lovely wife, Gwen.  President Pendragon has a half-sister Fay Morgan and a young protégé named Lance Lake (who also happens to be in love with the president's wife).  We mustn't forget Elaine (Andrews) who is in love with Lance and John Mordred, the much disliked Camelot professor, who conveniently dies at Kin---er, President Pendragon's Fellowship House round table dinner.  Conveniently, that is for Gwen and Lance two of Mordred's objects of blackmail. Other Arthurian characters roam in and out of the story....but when I got about half way through I suddenly wondered: But where is Merlin?  Never fear, Merlin appears as a famous lawyer turned criminal investigator who helps Lieutenant Garth of the police get to the bottom of the mystery.  My only explanation for the title (which strikes me as most definitely not Arthurian) is that someone at Avalon books thought Murder at the Round Table might be just a little over-the-top.

There has long been rumors that there was a love affair between Lance and Gwen back when he attended Camelot College.  But Gwen married the young president, Arthur Pendragon, and Lance left town to seek his fortune and leaving his own worshipper behind in Elaine Andrews.  Several years later, Lance is a lawyer and he returns to Camelot. His friend Arthur welcomes him back with open arms and intends for Lance to join the faculty of the college.  A dinner is arranged to announce the plan...but before Arthur can even begin his welcome speech, John Mordred, head of the chemical engineering department, has died from the taste a of poison apple. Mordred has few friends around the table and the police later find that he had a little black book of possible blackmail victims.  Did one of them do him in?  Was Gwen foolish enough to kill him at her own dinner table?  Many of the townspeople--including the prosecuting attorney think so.  But there's that annoying little thing called proof. Lt. Garth doesn't believe that Arthur's beautiful wife has stooped to murder--but it will take all of his attention (a bit hard when one is distracted by the lovely Elaine) and some help from the famous Merlin before he can prove whether he's right.

I can't say that this was an incredibly intricate mystery.  And I'm not sure that it falls into the vintage fair play mode.  But it's a lot of fun trying to match up all the players to characters from the Arthurian legend. One keeps wondering, will Thorne use (insert Arthurian character)...."Of course, she does."  It's a nice read--more for the references than anything.  But a pleasant diversion from the "have-to" books I've been reading for a few of my challenges. Three stars for a light, fun read.

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Off the Shelf, Mount TBR Challenge, What An Animal, Book Bingo, Monthly Key Word, Adam's TBR Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, Mystery and Crime Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, A-Z Mystery Authors, Monthly Mix-Up Mania

1 comment:

neer said...

Sounds very interesting.