M. K. LORENS – Sweet Narcissus. Winston Marlowe Sherman #1. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, April 1990.

   A mystery introducing Winston Marlowe Sherman, semi-retired professor of English, pseudonymous author (as Henrietta Slocum) of the G. Winchester Hyde mystery novels, and in his own right, the most overtly eccentric character in detective fiction since Gideon Fell.

   Unfortunately, that’s all he has going for him. The first 100 pages or so are readable, mostly because of the characters, but only three really interesting things happen in all that time. That’s 30 years worth of book time, and it’s far too slow.

   Getting down to details, however, should you be interested. II mentioned three things that happened that I found interesting. Let’s enumerate: (1) Back in 1953, a rare manuscript of a 17th century play turns up, the suddenly disappears. A servant of the man who bought it is murdered at the same time, but I tell you this only in passing as dar more attention is paid to the missing play

   (2) Thirty or so years later, some of the other items in the same collection are donated to Sherman’s school, but when they arrive, they’re discovered to have been severely vandalized. (3) The manuscript is found, hidden all these years in a secret hiding spot under the lid of an ornate lectern.

   This is all that really happens in the first 100 pages. And to tell you the truth, I still don’t understand the paragraph on page 100 in which the mechanism that opened the lectern’s hidey-hole is discovered, losing the entire impact of interesting item #3 in the rigamarole. Someone should read John Dickson Carr again. (Maybe me.)

   Where I really lost interest, though, is on page 110, when Sherman gets down to the business of checking out the alibis of the people at the party where and when the manuscript first disappeared, only a few decades late. The person who suffered the loss was the father of Sherman’s soon-to-be lifelong live-in partner, and apparently he wasn’t interested enough to check into the whereabouts of the people involved right then and there, when the skulduggery actually happened.

   I don’t believe it for a moment, and neither should you.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990 (somewhat but not significantly revised).

Bio-bibliographic Notes:   As I had discovered at the time I wrote this review, the use of initials was intended (one presumes) to mask the fact that the M. K. stood for Margaret Keilstrup. One wonders if such a device ever mattered to anyone, except maybe in the early days of science fiction, when it was believed that nerdy teenage boys were not interested in reading stories written by those of the female gender.

This was the five of five cases tackled and solved by its protagonist, who really was (as I recall) a fussy old English professor. Three were published in paperback by Bantam in 1990, followed by two in hardcover from Doubleday in 1992-1993.