Monday, March 29, 2021

The Scarab Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1930) #5

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 mysterious young 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 secret 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. The characters are enjoyable - sleepy professor Bliss, his much younger ingenue wife, who has a couple of other male interests Robert Salveter and the inscrutable Hani.  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.

Enjoy reading mysteries? Check out my mystery reading challenges at The Mystillery

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