Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Master of Mysteries: Review

From the inspired mystic to the man of practical analytic mind, the transition was instantaneous. (p. 134)

Astro, Seer of Secrets, is Sherlock Holmes with mystic trappings. He is just as observant as Holmes--picking up on a visitor's occupation or habits by various indications in their manner of dress, items peeking out of pockets, stains on their fingers, etc.--but he hides his methods behind the mystery of the crystal-gazer. His beautiful assistant Valeska is also very observant, but misses just enough clues that Astro must make explanations and do the final reveal in grand detective style. As with most collections, The Master of Mysteries (1912) by Gelett Burgess contains a mixed bag of short stories with the strongest tales having a real mystery bent and the others having a more whimsical "secret" or two. The last story is the most whimsical--ending as it does with the finalization of Astro and Valeska's romance. ★★ and a half.

Here are the synopses of all the stories:

"Missing John Hudson": Astro uses his "crystals to track down the missing husband of a respectable middle-aged woman. Has he left her for a younger woman, gotten himself murdered or committed a crime himself. Only the crystals know.

"The Stolen Shakespeare": Why would a man who doesn't believe in mystic mumbo-jumbo go to Astro instead of the police when his rare Shakespeare folio is stolen?

"The MacDougal Street Affair": This time Astro helps the police track down the person threatening to blow up a wholesale wine and grocery shop if the owner doesn't pay insurance money.

"The Fanshawe Ghost": Astro and Velaska investigate the ghostly goings on at Miss Fanshawe's Farm--the answer is more simple than she suspects.

"The Denton Boudior Mystery": Astro knows that the secret to a young woman's murder lies in the strange laughter heard just before she was found, a trace of blood and scratches, and a missing key.

"The Lorsson Elopement": There is no fee waiting for Astro this time--just the chance to help young love along as he deciphers a young couple's secret messages and assists their elopement.

"The Calendon Kidnapping Case": Astro goes to work hunting down the dastardly kidnappers of a five-year-old boy. The brutes who have the boy demand as ransom market tips from the boy's stockbroker father--for every tip that goes wrong, they send him a gruesome package with a child's toe. Astro must work quickly to prevent a whole foot from being delivered.

"Mss Dalrymple's Locket": A locket bears a coded message--Astro must discover if it leads to a fortune...or to disaster.

"Number Thirteen": Astro helps a young woman whose fear of the number thirteen goes beyond mere superstition.

"The Trouble with Tulliver": Astro is implored by Velaska to discover how a moral D.A. can be influenced to put off a vital rackets trial--without his having been bribed.

"Why Mrs. Burbank Ran Away": To answer that question Astro must seek out the meaning of the phrase "Kellem, Kellem."

"Mrs. Selwyn's Emerald": For the first time, the beneficiary of Astro's remarkable powers thinks it all a parlor trick when her emerald disappears and is recovered by the mystic. She'll never know how close she came to losing the gem forever....

"The Assassin's Club": Why would an upright navy lieutenant  join something called the "Assassins' Club" and is it he who will really be assassinated--if only in character.

"The Luck of the Merringtons": Astro finds that the luck of the Merrington's lies in the hands of a little child--in the form of a mummified hand and a beautiful fire opal.

"The Count's Comedy": What is behind the appearance of an ape in a top hat, spats, and aviator goggles who comes bearing stolen jewels?

"Priscilla's Presents": Miss Priscilla is the recipient of a parade of anonymous presents. Is there a devious plan behind the gifts? Or just a romantic one?

"The Heir to Soothoid": Colonel Mixter comes to Astro to find out if his son is really his son--or which child born on a certain night is really his? Does he have a daughter instead of a son?

"The Two Miss Mannings": Astro helps Mr. Jenson find....and lose the love of his life--an unknown woman seen in passing on a subway train.

"Van Asten's Visitor": Paul Van Asten, a lawyer, comes home to find a strange woman in his apartment. She is very put out that he doesn't seem to recognize his own sister. Only she isn't...what could she be up to? Astro knows.

"The Middlebury Murder": Mr. Middlebury is shot in his office. Who did it? Was it his stenographer who resented his improper advances? Was it the elevator man who loved her? Was it the building manager who was sacked at Middlebury's insistence? Astro sees all--including the clues that point to the guilty party.

"Vengeance of the Pi Rho Nu": Who are the Pi Rho Nu and why are they taking revenge on a bridegroom the night before his wedding?

"The Lady in Taupe": The Lady in Taupe, as she is dubbed by the playwright Lionel Pinkard, seems to be following him around. At first Astro says she just wants a part in the man's new play, but then he spots a deeper motive.

"Mrs. Stellery's Letters": Who is sending Mrs. Stellery anonymous love letters? Astro (and this reader!) quickly spots the answer.

"Black Light": Astro has discovered that he not only depends on his assistant, but that he loves her as well. But she is not sure if it is love or just familiarity--so he agrees to absent himself for a time--if she wants him in her life, then she must use the skills he has taught her to find him and let him know.

This counts for the "Painting/Photograph" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. My copy has no dust jacket or picture on the book itself, so I have used a cover from the internet.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds like an interesting collection.