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Mystery Monday – Murder In A Mummy Case

Murder In A Mummy Case by K.K. Beck


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


After the non-stop mayhem and guy’s dorm-room ambience of Emerson’s Black Hearts and Slow Dancing, I harkened back to the kinder gentler traditions of the Golden Age whodunit. I found K.K. Beck’s Murder in a Mummy Case (1986) charming and delightful, though she would go on about clothes: “dressed in a smart two-piece golf ensemble, aquamarine wool knit with a band of orange at the neck and in the gores of the skirt.”


Set in the late 1920s, Stanford co-ed Iris Cooper has received permission from her parents to spend Easter Break with gentleman friend Clarence Brockhurst and his wealthy family. The high society setting will bring to mind Charlie Chan novels by Earl Derr Biggers. That is, the characters are wealthy enough to afford eccentric hobbies and maintain wacky hangers-on. Mrs. Brockhurst employs a spiritualist medium and her entourage of handler Mr. Jones and a lady’s maid who turns out to be The Victim. She has also taken in a poor relation Aunt Laura and a dispossessed White Russian Count Boris. Son Clarence has the resources to indulge his hobby of Egyptology and even keeps a mummy in the house, which the psychic blames for evil emanations.

Mystery fans and fans of B-movies by Poverty Row studios will recognize the stock characters.  Iris is smart and sweet, and plucky in the pinch. Brassy and bold she is not but those are covered by Clarence‘s sister Bunny, a free-spirited flapper. Iris’ other possible BF is a walking checklist of traits of a young newshound: brash, quick witted, wisecracking, and apt to jump to conclusions. Clarence is the huffy pompous mooncalf who woos his lady love with the promise to teach her how to read hieroglyphs.

Beck has a deft hand with comic allusions. The butler, who is assumed to have Done It, is a Chinese named Charles Chan. Even the characters look askance at that. At the beginning, she has Iris say, “Had I but known that my request would lead me into another adventure, my anticipation would have been even greater, “ which is a send-up of the standard melodramatic “Had I but known” foreshadowing of mysteries and gothics in the first half of the 20th century. At the end, a character marvels at his luck, “Imagine, I almost invested a fortune in some worthless little town in Southern California, Palm Springs it was called.”

Beck must have read her share of cozy puzzlers not only to spoof them but also to feel affectionate about the whole genre. Nostalgia buffs will like the dumbwaiter, speakeasy, and chaperones and other such artifacts, institutions and customs that went as dead as the dodo a long time ago. Readers on the look-out for a light and entertaining mystery will not go wrong with this one.



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