A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
                   by Robert E. Briney


CARTER DICKSON – The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. Morrow, hardcover, 1945. Paperback editions include: Pocket 568, 1949. Berkley, 1967. Carroll & Graf, 1984.

   When it became clear that John Dickson Carr’s output of mystery novels — seven novels in less than four years — was more than his original publisher could handle, some of the books were diverted to a second publisher, to be issued under a pen name.

   The first of these pseudonymous works, The Bowstring Murders ( 1933), carried the by-line Carr Dickson. This was a publisher’s error and was quickly corrected to the scarcely less obvious Carter Dickson. Dickson’s series detective, Sir Henry Merrivale (“H. M.”), was introduced in The Plague Court Murders in 1934.

   Like Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell, H.M. is fat, funny, and formidably intelligent. His appearance and mannerisms arc more reminiscent of Churchill than of Chesterton, who was the model for Gideon Fell. H.M. is more overtly comic: a large, bald, vulgar, and frequently childish figure, fond of practical jokes, continually outraged at the twist of fate that put him in the House of Lords, and full of insults for the government bureaucrats with whom he must deal in his somewhat mysterious capacity as “that astute and garrulous lump who sits with his feet on the desk at the War Office.”

   Almost all of the H.M. stories involve locked rooms or impossible crimes. The centerpieces in The Curse of the Bronze Lamp are a pair of vanishings as startling as any produced by stage illusionists. Helen Loring, daughter of British archaeologist Lord Severn, has been presented by the Egyptian government with a bronze lamp taken from a Twentieth Dynasty tomb.

   An Egyptian fortune-teller, Alim Bey, claims that the lamp carries a curse, and that Helen will be “blown to dust as if she had never existed” if she takes the lamp out of Egypt. Helen returns to England with the lamp, having announced her intention to disprove the curse. Arriving at Severn Hall with friends, Helen gets out of the car and runs ahead of them into the entrance hallway. A few moments later, her raincoat and the bronze lamp are found lying in the middle of the hall floor, and Helen has vanished without a trace.

   Shortly thereafter, Lord Severn arrives from Egypt and disappears from his study in the same fashion, leaving behind his outer clothing-and the bronze lamp. H.M., whom Helen had asked for advice in Egypt (where his encounter with an Arab taxi driver provided a memorable interlude of slapstick humor), is drawn into the case.

   Romantic entanglements, stolen antiquities, the activities of H.M.’s Scotland Yard nemesis, Inspector Humphrey Masters, and the continuing doom-filled prophecies of Alim Bey supply only part of the smoke screen through which H.M. must find his way, which of course he does in satisfactory fashion.

   As always in Carr/Dickson, the clues prove, in retrospect, to have been fairly planted, but it is a rare reader who can recognize them and put all the pieces together ahead of the detective.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.