Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Dream Detective – Sax Rohmer

Just back from a two months vacation and have a lot of catching up to do in my pursuit of the short stories. In the meantime, I thought I'd try something different: for the first time since I started this blog a year ago, I intend to deviate from my routine template which I’ve adhered to diligently. All along, I’ve concentrated on featuring one good detective story in a blog post but here I include all the stories from a single collection!

Sax Rohmer, in this collection introduces us to the methods of Moris Klaw, an Occult detective whose description reads thus: an old antique dealer who wore an archaic bowler, gold-rimmed pince-nez, black silk muffler, and long-toed continental boots, who sprayed verbena on his high bald brow in the presence of the dead, and who carried with him a red silk cushion odically sterilized. Mr. Searles, who is a part of the staff in Menzies Museum, meets Moris Klaw in the tragedy of the Greek Room and becomes his friend and biographer of his investigations.
Most of the solutions to Moris Klaw’s investigations can be grouped into two themes which he advocates: The Circle of Crime – where each crime repeats itself as history repeats itself and one only has to know the history of the crime or the place or the antique piece involved in the crime to solve it & the Psychic Photograph method – where he spends a night in the room of the dead and gets a mental photograph of the very last image or emotion of either the slayer or the slain as a clue to solve the rest of the case. Well, Ellery Queen calls him the 'charlatan-criminologist' but I've a strong objection to this moniker of Moris Klaw. The three locked room or impossible crimes stories are obviously the best of the lot and the others certainly have a lot going to keep the reader glued to the book till he reaches the end of a fascinating journey. 
Case of the Greek Room
An impressive debut featuring two locked room deaths. Please refer this link for the detailed review.

Case of the Potsherd Anubis
Only story in the collection which doesn’t involve any detection. Halesowen has just returned from Egypt with a freshly unearthed pot or vase known as the Potsherd of Anubis – that too stolen from the person who doesn’t deem it necessary to inform the Egyptian authorities about its discovery. A third man Zeda who comes to know about this robbery tries to buy the pot from Halesowen but without success. The rest of the story deals with the elaborate scheme which Zeda undertakes to relieve Halesowen of his treasure.
Case of The Crusader’s Ax
Mr. Heidleberg has taken possession of the ‘Crespie House’ after the death of its owner and he wants to convert it to a hotel. The only one who has an objection to it is the Butler of the previous owner who has been kicked out the house by Heidelberg.  Heidleberg is found beheaded with a mighty looking axe beside him. Inspector Grimsby can’t believe that the frail and old butler had the strength to even lift that gigantic axe. Klaw believes that the crimes operate in cycles and it is this cycle of crime in relation to the history of the sacred Black Geoffrey’s ax which reveals the solution to this crime.
Case of The Ivory Statue
The best story of the lot with a neatly done impossible crime. Please refer this link for the detailed review.
Case of The Rajah’s Blue
The Rajah’s Blue is a big diamond which is being sold by the Nissam of Gaekwad to the London government. 8 men get into a room to carry out the transaction with Inspector Grimsby standing guard outside. The diamond gets passed from one to another before it’s placed on the desk. A distraction outside makes everyone to rush to the jammed window and when they turn back, there is no sign of the diamond. Each man is searched, each crevice is closely inspected, there is no window or door or any aperture through which it could have been discarded and yet the diamond is not to be found. The solution to this clever impossible disappearance is based solely on the psychic photograph which Klaw comes up with - which qualifies as a cheat in my opinion.
Case of the Whispering Poplars
Moris Klaw, as it is revealed, is the author of a book titled ‘Psychic Angles’ in which, he describes the history of the various haunted houses in England. One such house happens to be ‘The Grove’ which is known for its history of deaths due to supernatural causes. The new occupants – Mr. Haufman and his two daughters are plagued by the strange occurrences in this house. Klaw also recognizes that the second daughter is ‘mediumistic’ and hence is in danger in this kind of an atmosphere – a prophecy which comes true a few days later. An American detective hired to solve these strange phenomena dies in mysterious circumstances and it is left to Moris Klaw to explain them within the sphere of natural laws.
Case of the Chord in G
A portrait painter has been found strangled – the marks on his neck so deep and so strange that it could have been committed only by a person with extreme strength in his arms and shoulders. After spending a night in the room where he dies, his psychic photograph reveals just a ‘sound’. The case remains unsolved till a new tenant occupies the house, for whose house warming ceremony Klaw gets himself invited because he thinks that the murderer would be present. He solves the case after hearing the music played by a composer – a newly composed prelude in which he tries to express in music the lust of slaying!
Case of the Headless Mummies
Mr. Mark Pettigrew has been visited by a strange burglar. Even though Pettigrew’s house consisted of several rich Egyptian treasures which the thief could’ve helped himself to, all he did was to cut off the head of a valuable mummy! Next to face the same fate is one of the five mummies in Sotheby’s awaiting an auction. The burglar’s next strike is in the house of Moris Klaw – again just the decapitation of a mummy’s head. All Klaw has to do is to do some research from the infinite volumes which adores his bookshelves and he knows where the burglar is gone strike next. They lay a trap for him in the Egyptian room of the Menzies Museum. An unusual but a charming story where the reader can easily work out the reason for the epidemic of the decapitations but still would enjoy the thrill ride to its climatic ending!
Case of the Haunting of Grange
This story is kind of a copy of the Whispering Poplars – Klaw has been invited by the owner of 'The Grange' to find a solution to the supernatural events taking place on a pretty regular manner ever since he moved in to his new abode.
Case of the Veil of Isis
Moris Klaw methods were, if not supernatural, at any rate supernormal, and people always used to question the narrator if there was ever a case which proved insusceptible of a natural explanation – which fell within the province of that of the occult.  The narrator says that there were several but he hasn’t recorded any and instead sets out to record this case which falls between the provinces of the natural & supernatural in such a way that it might, with equal legitimacy, be included under either head.