Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Eye of Osiris: Review

The Eye of Osiris (1911) by R. Austin Freeman is the tantalizing tale of a missing world-renowned archaeologist. John Bellingham returned from a trip to Egypt only to immediately disappear from his cousin's home. Or did he? When the story appears in the newspaper, Dr. Thorndyke, the medical/legal detecting wizard, points out to his medical jurisprudence students that, should the question of proving Bellingham's death ever arise, much will depend on when officials can fix the last moment he was alive. From the newspaper account, it would appear that Bellingham was last alive at his cousin's house. But the article also mentions that a scarab which was a recognized ornament on the archeologist's watch-chain had been found on the grounds belonging to the missing man's brother Godfrey. IF the scarab was noticed on the watch-chain by anyone at the cousin's house, then there would be reason to assume that Bellingham had gone to his brother's afterwards. If the absence of the scarab had been noted, then it would be safe to assume that the housemaid at Mr. Hurst's home (the cousin) was the last person to see him alive. At this point, it is all an intellectual puzzle to Thorndyke.

Fast-forward two years. Dr. Paul Berkeley, one of the students in the medical jurisprudence class, is filling in for an older doctor who has taken a much-needed vacation. He arrives at the home of Godfrey Bellingham, who has moved to London for unknown reasons, and circumstances bring him into Bellingham's confidence over the matter of John Bellingham's will. You see, Bellingham was never heard from again after he apparently walked out of his cousin's house, and now Hurst and the family lawyer, Mr. Jellicoe, want Godfrey to allow them to have him declared deceased and put the will forward for probate. But the will is a legal nightmare. It would seem that John Bellingham wanted his brother Godfrey to inherit, but then set conditions that made it virtually impossible for him to do so--which means that Hurst will inherit instead. Hurst offers Godfrey a deal--agree to petition for the will to be probated, Hurst will inherit, and will guarantee Godfrey and his daughter a stipend of 400 pounds a year. And, Godfrey must agree that those provisions will stand even if John or his body is found and the terms of the will (allowing Godfrey to inherit) can be met. Godfrey steadfastly refuses.

Berkeley has taken a fancy to Godfrey's daughter Ruth and he convinces the Bellinghams to allow him to give Dr. Thorndyke all information on the case. Thorndyke is thoroughly intrigued and begins to form theories about the whereabouts of John Bellingham.Then bits of a man's skeleton begin popping up in various places--bits that might belong to John Bellingham. But none of the bits include portions of the body that contain elements that might actually identify the bones as Bellingham's. Thorndyke becomes even more intrigued and sets out to prove his theory about the mystery. There are several things to prove: Is John Bellingham dead--and, if so, was he murdered? If he was murdered, who did it and why? And, finally, where is John Bellingham (or his body) now?

This is another fine intellectual puzzle by Freeman. Thorndyke is perhaps a little long-winded in his scientific lectures, but all is forgiven when the reader gets to enjoy the comic scenes in the coroner's inquest (where it is to be decided if the bones are Bellingham and, if so, how he met his death) and the probate court. Mr. Pope, one of the members of the coroner's jury is priceless--subjecting every witness to his stolid questions and disbelief of anything but the most obvious of proofs. He plays merry hell with Mr. Jellicoe's and Mr. Hurst's plan to get the bones identified as Bellingham's by raising enough doubt that the inquest is adjourned. 

It has been a lot of fun getting reacquainted with Freeman's work this year (I just recently read The Silent Witness as well). My last excursion was with The Red Thumb Mark long ago and far away (before I ever started writing up reviews) and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that one. I'll be looking forward to reading the other Thorndyke books I have sitting on the TBR pile and I highly recommend him, especially to those who enjoy the Holmes stories. ★★★★

I read this from Project Gutenburg--so I hunted up a cover to use. This counts for the "Cigarette/Pipe" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

This is seems so familiar to me. I am quite sure I haven't read it, but possibly learned of it in school once.