Fiction Reviews

The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies

(2023) Lisa Tuttle, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, trdpbk, 422pp, ISBN 978-1-529-42274-0


This is the third book in a charmingly engaging series written by Lisa Tuttle, perhaps best known these days – at least to me, anyway - for her refusing of a Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1982, although she has been writing regularly since. The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies is an occult fantasy, more steampunk than cyberpunk, that ramps up the Sherlock Holmes/Doctor Watson pastiche - all fog, gas lamps and hansom coaches - with a Weird Tales vibe. Tuttle uses her writing skills to create a recognisable London of the 1890s without going into too many details. Although the setting is fairly generic, it is enough to allow the reader to focus here is on the characterization, which is generally of a good type.

Written from the point of view of a woman, Miss Diane Lane, and her business partner, Jasper Jesperson, whose business in a Victorian London of the 1890s are concerned with strange occult goings on and in particular disappearance of the recently acquired “Mummy X” from the British Museum. What seems to be a very minor theft – possibly even a prank – from the storerooms at the British Museum soon becomes the beginning of a much bigger crime. Being Victorian London, we are also involved in some of the other obsessions of the day – Egyptology, mummies, ancient artefacts and secret organisations, cults and individuals eager to acquire some of the legendary magic of ancient Egypt.

Lane is a competent character and narrator - willing to help, resourceful, intelligent, and with experience of strange things going on, having spent years working in the Society for Psychical Research. She is an ideal foil for the intelligent ‘man of action’ type that is Jasper. What makes her interesting, though, is that she's not without her own issues, for as shown here she can be quick to judge and is a little hampered, though not unduly so, by a developing unrequited romance between her and Jasper.

As this is the third book in a series, there are recurring characters that readers may have met previously. Lane meets again Violet Dawes, a psychic medium who believes herself to be the vessel through which Egyptian princess, Seshemetka, speaks. This comes in handy in this story. Other recurring characters are of less importance to this particular plot.

Generally, the plot is nicely built. With mounting tension towards the end, the book only lets itself down, with a fairly meaningless trip from London to Scotland at the end, and the fact that some characters, carefully developed along the way, are too-conveniently signed off at the conclusion. There is also a glimpse into Jesperson's past, which reveals a plot coincidence that feels a little bit too convenient.

Arthur Conan Doyle was not unfamiliar with the arcane matters. In his time, as well as writing Sherlock Holmes stories, he also wrote of ghost stories with the museum setting. See Lot 249, (soon to be a BBC Christmas Ghost Story) which bears a deliberate similarity to this story, I think, and The Ring of Thoth amongst others.

Certainly more amenable and more credible than some of these types of stories I've read recently, The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies is great fun and fairly plausible for the most part. This Holmesian romp with occult overtures reads very well, as long as you don’t think too much about its development.

Mark Yon


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