Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Mummy Case Mystery: Review

Beaufort College, Oxford has a problem.  First of all a couple of men pull a prank during the Commemoration Night dancing.  They promenade through the festivities with the mummy that  Professor Benchley has recently acquired--leading the college members on a merry chase that ends with the mummy being returned to Benchley's rooms and the pranksters being debagged (de-pantsed) and escorted from the premises.  Later that night, the dance is interrupted again when Benchley's rooms are consumed by fire.

The destruction is so great that the body found amongst the rubble cannot easily be identified.  If it is Benchley, then what happened to the mummy?  And if it's the mummy, then where is Benchley?  The coroner's court brings in a verdict of accidental death for the professor, but Professors Sargent and Considine are not convinced.  There are several items that are not easily explained by the accident--what are bits of an alarm clock doing in the rubble when Benchley never used one? What happened to the professor's gate key?  Why was his academic rival seen skulking away from the college? And what about his favorite pipe?  Sargent is determined that it all hinges on the pipe.

Their investigations will lead them to Isle of Wright, the home of Professor Bonoff--the academic rival. And they will find several interesting clues in the professor's home.  Not to mention a run-in with the mummy pranksters that doesn't end quite so well for the Oxford gents. We wind up with not just one mummy, but four (or is it five) and a last-minute chase onto a steamship bound for America.  But trust the academics to worry away at the questions until they find all the answers.

This is a wonderful academic mystery--thoroughly steeped in atmosphere and brimming over with witty professors, dotty dons, and eager undergraduates.  There's a couple of mild and discreet love interests, but the romances don't overshadow the main event and the detection going on.  I enjoyed all of the characters, but most especially Professor Monitor who is apt to wander off into delightful digressions.  For instance when he's talking about his friend Benchley's planned vacation:

He was going on his holiday, yesterday, you know, and he always sent his luggage in advance. A most dangerous habit that I outgrew myself donkey's years ago. When you're as old a traveller as I, you'll know that you should never let yourself be separated from your portmanteau. I made the mistake once, and it led to my being presented to the Dowager Empress of China in khaki shorts with a scarlet patch on the seat. (p. 120)

The Bunny family is also a lot of fun.  Like Yvette at In So Many Words (click for her review), I find this large (!), eccentric family to be one of many pleasant interludes in this lovely vintage mystery.  Four stars.

John over at Pretty Sinister Books has also reviewed this one in the past.  Please click his blog name to check out his thoughts on The Mummy Case Mystery by Dermot Morrah.

Now look here, Humphrey, once and for all, let's make up our minds that we don't want any heavy-footed copper charging about among our clues. (Denys Sargent; p. 88)

My dear Denys, this is what comes of amateur dabbling in detective work. It's all very well to go trailing after an imaginary murderer. but when your clues start leading you to Monitor, of all impossible people in the world, I give up. Give me a nice, fat, heavy-footed, unimaginative copper. (Humphrey Considine; p. 113)

C: Yes, but what's the good of doing it? We know it's a dead end.
S: Oh, I'm not disputing that. But it's surprising what a lot you can find by exploring blind alleys. (Considine, Sargent; p. 115)

I can't conceive that a college meeting, particularly when it's disguised as a coroner's jury, should ever come to a right decision. (Sargent; p. 151)

We're trying to make an exhaustive study of the evidence. Evidence that points to an impossible culprit may be the most important of all. It's something to be explained, and the explanation may contain the solution of the main problem. (Sargent; pp. 161-2)

Clever people are always a bit queer, and when a gentleman's a professor and a foreigner at the same time, what are you to expect. (Mrs. Bunny; p. 207)

Vintage Mystery Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Adam's TBR Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Monthly Mix-up Mania,


Ryan said...

I may just get this book to find out how they dealt with so many mummies.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a fun romp of a read. Is it quite hard to get hold of the book, though? I have to admit I have never heard of the book or its author.

Bev Hankins said...

@findingtimetowrite: I searched for it quite a while before I found in in a used bookstore (which is how I prefer to find my older books). But--just looking it up on Amazon, there are several copies available from sellers.