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A Master of Mysteries

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Meade, LT - A Master of Mysteries (1898) with Robert Eustace


This l893 collection of seemingly impossible and possibly supernatural cases is introduced by narrator John Bell, who proposes "to relate the histories of certain queer events, enveloped at first in mystery, and apparently dark with portent, but, nevertheless, when grappled with in the true spirit of science, capable of explanation."


And so he does.


"The Mystery of the Circular Chamber" involves Bell investigating the strange death of Archbibald Wentworth in a supposedly haunted bedroom of the rural Tower Inn, a hostelry whose three occupants are anything but welcoming. In fact, mine host and his family do all they can to persuade Bell not to stay overnight but he insists on it, despite having been told Archibald's death was the third at the inn -- and there was no apparent cause for any. Bell sleeps in the haunted chamber and thereby solves the mystery of all three deaths.


The next story involves the Clinton family which, as happens so often in mysteries, lives in what was once an abbey. And as is equally common, there's a curse on the family. Bell hears about it from Allen, son and heir of Sir Henry. It seems the curse rests upon "ye Clyntons from generation to generation" and as each heir dies, his spirit takes over guarding a secret room wherein lies a coffin. Anyone entering this hidden room will be kept prisoner until it pleases the Warden of the Door to release him or her. Sir Henry endeavours to get Allen to call off his wedding and let the family die out, but he also reveals the location of the secret room. Naturally Allen and Bell investigate....


In October l893 the Lytton Vale Railway Company in Wales consults Bell in an effort to solve "The Mystery of the Felwyn Tunnel". Signalman David Pritchard has been found dead at the mouth of the tunnel in suspicious circumstances. Then another signalman, John Davidson, is discovered dead in the same place as Pritchard. Bell and a companion undertake to do night duty at the signal box in an effort to solve the puzzle. What is the explanation of the two deaths and will there be others?


Lady Helena Ridsdale invites Bell to a houseparty on a boat on the River Thames. The Ridsdales hold a moonlight dance aboard, but Helena's diamond bracelet goes missing and so everyone attending the frolic is suspect. The bracelet cannot be found, Scotland Yard is flummoxed, and Bell is asked to investigate. Suspecting fellow guest Ralph Vyner, Bell starts rowing downriver to Vyner's nearby abode, but a result of a ghostly tale told by the nervous keeper of "The Eight-Mile Lock", stays the night at the lock cottage and thereby not only discovers whodunnit but also the particularly outrageous method involved.


Bell is asked to visit Edward Thesiger, who seems to have become so unbalanced as to be a danger to others, to give his opinion on the case. Thesiger had spent a great deal of time in India, and sad to say stole an idol from the house of a Brahmin friend. Thesiger believes the idol, now set up in a gallery at his country house, possesses magical powers. Further, he claims it speaks to him in Hindustani, instructing him how to conduct his life. His live-in niece Helen is unwilling to leave, but her fiance and cousin Jasper Bagwell is convinced there will be violence. It's up to Bell to solve the dilemma, not least by explaining "How Siva Spoke".


Sailing back to Blighty after spending the winter in Egypt, Bell makes the acquaintance of Arthur Cressley, returning home after l5 years in Australia. The young man intends to do up Cressley Hall, the decaying family seat in Derbyshire. it seems that for almost two hundred years any Cressley occupying the house will "suffer a strange fatality" if they sleep in the turret bedroom. Bell is not the only friend Cressley makes aboard ship and thus is set in motion a plot involving conflicting telegrams, and a clever device used by the villains "To Prove An Alibi".


My verdict: With the small pool of suspects in each story, the reader will focus not so much on who did it as how it was done. The explanations are sometimes improbable but workable in theory at least, so the collection is entertaining enough and in fact I should have liked the stories to be longer so the characters and atmosphere could have been developed more.


Illustrated etext


Don't miss the mini-reviews at the foot for their glimpse of contemporary views of one or two familiar names!


Mary R

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