Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Scarab Murder Case (1930)

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
  • Dr. Mindrum W. C. Bliss, head of the Bliss Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
  • Meryt-Amen Bliss, his wife
  • Benjamin H. Kyle, philanthropist and art patron; dead as story begins
  • Robert Salveter, assistant curator of the museum, nephew of Benjamin Kyle
  • Donald Scarlett, technician for the Bliss expeditions
  • Anapu Hani, family retainer of the Blisses, a mysterious Egyptian 
  • Brush, butler for the Blisses
  • Dingle, cook for the Blisses

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Benjamin Kyle, wealthy art patron, is discovered dead in the Bliss museum, having been struck in the head by a heavy statue. Immediate evidence points at Dr. Bliss as the murderer: a scarab stickpin belonging to Dr. Bliss is found with the body. 

Kyle had been financing the Bliss expeditions to Egypt. His will leaves his fortune equally to his nephew, Robert Salveter, and Meryt-Amen; much younger wife of Dr. Bliss. Salveter and Meryt-Amen enjoy writing each other little notes in hieroglyphics which no one else can read, leading to an assumption of intimacy. Anapu Hani is also closely attached to Meryt-Amen.

It turns out Dr. Bliss was drugged at the time of the murder, by addition of opium into his coffee.


This is a tight mystery, with the action confined to just these few characters. It is enjoyable as suspicion passes around from one to another. There are several instances of things-not-as-they appear which are all clearly explained at the end. A lot of Egypt-ese, but that does not detract from it. As Philo Vance novels go, he sticks to relevant investigation and does not wander off for pages at a time displaying his erudite knowledge.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Bishop Murder Case (1929)

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
  • Professor Bertrand Dillard, physicist
  • Belle Dillard, his niece
  • Sigurd Arnesson. his adopted son, professor of mathematics
  • Adolph Drukker, scientist, author, and hunchback
  • Mrs. Otto Drukker, his mother
  • John Pardee, mathematician and chess expert
  • J. C. Robin, archer
  • Raymond Sperling, civil engineer
  • John E. Sprigg, college student
  • Madeleine Moffat, a little girl

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Philo Vance and D. A. Markham are called out to a report of murder on a long narrow archery range, sandwiched between the Dillard home and the Drukker home. The deceased is J. Cochrane "Cock" Robin, and immediate suspicion falls on Raymond Sperling who was present. It is noted that "Sperling" means "sparrow", and the murder follows the nursery rhyme of "Who killed Cock Robin?"

The Dillard house and the Drukker house back up to one another. Professor Dillard lives with his daughter Belle (here is a love triangle, both Sigurd Arnesson and John Pardee enamored of her). Adolph Drukker is a strange sort who spends his days playing with the neighborhood kids, and lives with his mother who may have seen the murder.

Other murders follow, with nursery rhyme tie-ins. After each, a note is sent to the newspapers signed "The Bishop".


The book is heavy with higher mathematics and chess references. still understandable even if you are neither a mathematician nor a chess player. As usual, plenty of irrelevant footnotes. Still, a good mystery with some clever twists at the end.

The description of the archery range plan in Chapter 2 cries out for the customary S. S. Van Dine crime scene map, but (in my edition at least) it does not appear until Chapter 18 (p. 241 in the spiderweb binding edition). So if you are just starting the book, check ahead to Chapter 18 for the crime scene map.