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The Mummy Case

Page history last edited by Jon 12 years, 1 month ago

Morrah, Dermot - The Mummy Case (1933) aka The Mummy Case Mystery


Highly praised in The Catalogue of Crime, this early Oxford detective novel is one of the best examples of Golden Age British mystery as people imagine all Golden Age mystery to be: amateur detection by determinedly bright and witty Oxford academics, ancient artifacts, dotty dons, servants who drop all their aitches, beastly bearded Russians, discrete love interest.


When we learn that the body has been incinerated that should set us off down a well-worn detectival track, and, sure enough, the affair turns out as a practiced reader of Golden Age mysteries will expect.


The Catalogue of Crime calls the murder plot "plausible." I'm not sure I see that way, and I would have preferred that the author had gone all the way and provided a little more outright madness of the Innes variety. However, a nice tale for those who especially enjoy Oxford mysteries, one that offers opportunity for genuine ratiocination.


The author does go through the mechanics of clue placement, which is always something to be admired, in my opinion, but I don't hold it in as nearly as high esteem as The Catalogue of Crime does. I think particular fans of the Oxford mystery genre might value The Mummy Case most highly.





I read The Mummy Case a couple of years ago and found it likable, but in no way remarkable.


Enrique F. Bird Picó


Dermot Morrah wrote a single mystery novel, The Mummy Case (1933). The early sections (Chapters 1 - 7) of this book show mild charm, with its Background of Oxford life, and its good natured storytelling. Morrah also shows a pleasant wit and humor in his dialogues, which attempt to be clever in the tradition of Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward.


The mummies and Egyptology aspects of the novel show the influence of R. Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris (1911). So do some plot twists in the book, and the intellectualism of the characters. The amateur detectives in the tale are two dons. They include an archaeologist, who uses his professional skills to help solve the case; these scenes in Chapter 4 are the most inventive part of the novel. The book is at its most Freeman-like in these scenes, which show scientific skills carefully applied to crime solving.


The solution of the story involves the "breakdown of identity", although not for the purpose of alibi construction. The "breakdown of identity" is a plot approach, found in both Freeman, and many other Realist School writers.


There is no sign whatsoever of any Croftsian influence: no police detectives, no timetables, no alibis.


Another mystery novel set at Oxford appeared the same year as Morrah's book, J.C. Masterman's An Oxford Tragedy (1933). It is nowhere as pleasant, mainly being a gloomy and depressing psychological study, whereas Morrah's novel is a complexly plotted mystery story. Both novels focus on a group of dons, both administrators and professors, with the students having a small supporting role in the background. Both take place at a single, fictitious Oxford college. Both have plots about academic disputes concerning a scholar's life work. It is unclear which book was published first.


Morrah's novel was known to Dorothy L. Sayers, who reviewed it for her newspaper column. Sayers would soon produce her own novel of University life, Gaudy Night (1935). Before any of these writers, the American Croftsian Milton M. Propper published The Student Fraternity Murders (1932).


Mike Grost


See also: http://prettysinister.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/ffb-mummy-case-mystery-dermot-morrah.html and http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=3112


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