Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE MUMMY CASE MYSTERY (1933) by Dermot Morrah

Friday is Forgotten Book Day, a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE.

Don't forget to check in at Patti's for all the links to bloggers who are talking 'forgotten' tomes today. It's always intriguing to see what other readers come up with.

My post today also counts as an another entry in Bev's VINTAGE MYSTERY READING CHALLENGE. Link on over there to see what other vintage reads other bloggers have read and recommended.

Today's book is a kind of repeat since John already talked about it on January 13th for FFB.. But I'd forgotten that particular little tidbit and since this is the book I'd earmarked for today I'm kind of stuck with it. But all in a good cause if we help shine a ray of light unto a forgotten but deserving, author.

The link to John's initial review: Pretty Sinister Books.


THE MUMMY CASE MYSTERY by Dermot Morrah is a book by another writer I wasn't familiar with, but with a title like this (plus John's recommendation), I had no choice but to look around for a copy. I love mysteries with these sorts of fairly innocuous titles - nothing fancy, just the right choice of words - enough to intrigue and easy to remember. Throw in 'mummy case' and what's not to like? Those are the magic words.

The setting is terrific as well: Academia - Beaufort College, Oxford and the time is 1933. When Egyptology Professor Benchley's newly acquired mummy of Pepy I is used to disrupt Commemoration Night festivities, it will not be the first untoward event of the boisterous evening.

Later that same night, Benchley's room at the college will go up in flames and nothing but a charred, blackened body will be found within. But is it the Professor's body? Or the mummy's? The police don't seem very interested in prolonging the investigation and the coroner is in a hurry to declare the whole thing an unfortunate accident. Several of the professor's personal items were found on the body so ipso-facto, it must be Professor Benchley's charred remains.

However, Professors Denys Sargent and Humphrey Considine, surely two of Oxford's most laconic Dons, have doubts. For one thing: where is the mummy's body? There should have been two bodies found in the burnt ashes of the room. Between the last time Benchley was seen alive and the fire, there simply had been no time to dispose of a huge Egyptian mummy case and the mummy therein.

But perhaps the professor had been duped and the mummy case has been sold to him empty? Not hardly, Benchley was a renowned Egyptologist, of course he would have double checked to make sure the mummy was who and what and where it was purported to be by the seller - one Professor Bonoff, a down on his luck refugee (and Egyptian specialist) in need of cold hard cash.

So, without the aid of the police who are satisfied they know what happened, Sargent and Considine begin their own halting investigation. The interesting thing about all this is that a lot of the book is just Sargent and Considine talking things over, considering alibis and times, surreptitiously looking around for a missing mummy case with or without a body.

Professor Bonoff (the mummy seller), currently living on the Isle of Wight, was also the man with whom Professor Benchley had been carrying on a feud - opposing theories and strongly worded letters in the Times, that sort of thing. But the feud appeared to have dissipated with Benchley's capitulation and the purchase of the mummy (the oldest ever found) for rather a large sum of money.

As their investigation gathers a bit of steam, Sargent and Considine pick up the help of two bright young things - a pair of women students who have stumbled upon the missing mummy case lying in a punt (!?) and are more than eager to lend a hand. Sargent and Considine are impervious to their pleas to be included in the mystery, Considine, especially, appears to be a misogynist in the making.

This is a delightfully dry book - if you're looking for action, keep looking - this is all British wit, entertaining conversation peppered occasionally with Latin quotations, conflicting alibis, mistaken identities, red herrings and that indefinable attraction that mysteries dripping with college ambiance seem to have. Of course near the end of the story, our heroes are kidnapped and face dire consequences, so it's not all tea and crumpets.

Their hunt for a killer takes the two professors to the tiny Isle of Wight and brief residence at the Flossington House and Tea Garden. The delightfully ramshackle house is owned by Edward Bunny, a retired Naval officer. He and his wife and brood of eight children, live all tucked together with several cats and dogs and whatever neighbor or island visitor happens to stray in for tea or gossip or even possibly to rent some rooms.

My favorite interlude in the book - I loved the Bunnys. They reminded me so much of the family Hercule Poirot runs into in one of Christie's books - where he's forced to stay at a decrepit guest house while solving a murder. In the end, finally, he is forced to teach the charming but hapless owner how to make an omelet good enough to eat. The Bunnys though, are not hapless at all, in fact, just the opposite. Their happy eccentricities made for a kind of perfect cock-eyed sense.

It is on this Isle of Wight excursion that Sargent and Considine pick up the final pieces of the puzzle.

The grand denouement in THE MUMMY CASE MURDER - which we're led to in a nicely convoluted, blind alley sort of way - is a great deal of fun even if murder was at the heart of events which appear more than a trifle bizarre once explained.

Oh yes, and to add to the mix, Humphey Considine decides to get married.(Remember the women students eager to help?) And don't think we didn't see that coming.


  1. That Christie book you allude to is one I count among the Top Ten Agatha Books: MRS McGINTY'S DEAD. A great mystery and a very funny book. Poirot practically starves in that guest house. Remember the scene where Maureen Summerhayes, the guesthouse owner, is cutting green beans, the knife slips, she cuts her fingers and she bleeds all over the beans? Then Poirot says soemthing like, "I shall be taking my lunch outside, Madame."

    With your much larger readership here I am glad Morrah's book will be revealed to your legion of fans. You make so many books enticing with your much livelier way of reviewing compared to my often too serious bent. Thanks for the link!

  2. Oh, right. Thanks, John. I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the title or the character's name when I was writing the post. Maureen Summerhayes. How could I forget such a wonderful name?

    Legion? I have a legion? Sounds like a Roman emperor kind of thing. Ha!
    Thanks, John. :)

  3. This sounds really good I will have to look for it!

  4. Peggy Ann: I hope you can find a copy. It's good cozy mystery.

  5. Yvette, it's like walking into a book shop whenever I go into your blog. :-) Just please install a coffee machine.

  6. Hi Yvette, Nothing relevant to say I just had a few minutes to spare, and wanted to surround myself with books. And this is probably one of the best places on the web, in which to do so :-)


Your comment will appear after I take a look.