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The Philo Vance Murder Cases: 3

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The Philo Vance Murder Cases: 3
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Author(s): S. S. Van Dine
Date Published: 2010/11
Page Count: 420
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-430-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-429-5

The urbane New Yorker sets out on his fifth and sixth cases

This is the third volume of the Leonaur series of Philo Vance Murder Mysteries. In the first novel of this book—the fifth in the series—the title 'The Scarab Murder Case' gives the clue to its subject matter. The crime takes place in a private house which is also a museum of Egyptology. The murderer has deliberately hidden his identity under a smoke screen of ancient Egyptian references—including the introduction of the possibility that the death may actually be due to the vengeance of an angry Nilotic god. Predictably, Philo Vance knows better. From ancient history and hieroglyphics, Vance steps into the world of dog breeding—a subject about which, predictably, he is also an expert—to solve the second story in this volume: 'The Kennel Murder Case'. Two dead brothers, a wounded Scottish Terrier, broken Chinese porcelain and a cast of suspicious characters all combine to provide an entertaining romp of detective fiction from the dependably erudite Philo Vance which will delight both newcomers and acolytes alike.

Heath left us at Nineteenth Street and Fourth Avenue; and Vance, Markham and I took a taxicab back to Vance’s apartment. It was nearly two o’clock, but Markham showed no indication of going home. He followed Vance up-stairs to the library, and throwing open the French windows gazed out into the heavy, mist-laden night. The events of the day had not gone to his liking; and yet I realized that his quandary was so deep that he felt disinclined to make any decisive move until the conflicting factors of the situation became more clarified.<br>
The case at the outset had appeared simple, and the number of possible suspects was certainly limited. But, despite these two facts, there was a subtle and mysterious intangibility about the affair that rendered a drastic step impossible. The elements were too fluid, the cross-currents of motives too contradictory. Vance had been the first to sense the elusory complications, the first to indicate the invisible paradoxes; and so surely had he put his finger upon the vital points of the plot—so accurately had he foretold certain phases of the plot’s development—that Markham had, both figuratively and literally, stepped into the background and permitted him to deal with the case in his own way.<br>
Withal, Markham was dissatisfied and impatient. Nothing definitely leading to the actual culprit had, so far as could be seen, been brought to light by Vance’s unprofessional and almost casual process of investigation.<br>
“We’re not making headway, Vance,” Markham complained with gloomy concern, turning from the window. “I’ve stood aside all day and permitted you to deal with these people as you saw fit, because I felt your knowledge of them and your familiarity with things Egyptological gave you an advantage over impersonal official cross-questioning. And I also felt that you had a plausible theory about the whole matter, which you were striving to verify. But Kyle’s murder is as far from a solution as it was when we first entered the museum.”<br>
“You’re an incorrigible pessimist, Markham,” Vance returned, getting into a printed foulard dressing-gown. “It has been just fifteen hours since we found Sakhmet athwart Kyle’s skull; and you must admit, painful as it may be to a District Attorney, that the average murder investigation has scarcely begun in so brief a time. . . .”<br>
“In the average murder case, however,” Markham retorted acidly, “we’d at least have found a lead or two and outlined a workable routine. If Heath had been handling the matter he’d have made an arrest by now—the field of possibilities is not an extensive one.”<br>
“I dare say he would. He’d no doubt have had every one in jail, including Brush and Dingle and the Curators of the Metropolitan Museum. Typical tactics: butcher innocent persons to make a journalistic holiday. I’m not entranced with that technique, though. I’m far too humane—I’ve retained too many of my early illusions. Sentimentality, alas! will probably be my downfall.”<br>
Markham snorted, and seated himself at the end of the table. For several moments he beat the devil’s tattoo on a large, vellum-bound copy of Malleus Maleficarum.<br>
“You told me quite emphatically,” he said, “that when this second episode happened—the attempt on Bliss’s life—you’d understand all the phases of the plot and perhaps be able to adduce some tangible evidence against Kyle’s murderer. It appears to me, however, that to-night’s affair has simply plunged us more deeply into uncertainty.”<br>
Vance shook his head seriously in disagreement.<br>
“The throwing of that dagger and the hiding and finding of the sheath have illuminated the one moot point in the plot.”<br>
Markham looked up sharply.<br>
“You think you know now what the plot is?”<br>
Vance carefully fitted a Régie into a long jet holder and gazed at a small Picasso still-life beside the mantel.<br>
“Yes, Markham,” he returned slowly; “I think I know what the plot is. And if the thing that I expect to happen to-night occurs, I can, I believe, convince you that I am right in my diagnosis. Unfortunately the throwing of the dagger was only part of the pre-arranged episode. As I said to you a while ago, the tableau was not completed. Something intervened. And the final touch—the rounding-out of the episode—is yet to come.”<br>
He spoke with impressive solemnity, and Markham, I could see, was strongly influenced by his manner.<br>
“Have you any definite notion,” he inquired, “what that final touch will prove to be?”<br>
“Oh, quite. But just what shape it will take I can’t say. The plotter himself probably doesn’t know, for he must wait for a propitious opportunity. But it will centre about one specific object, or, rather, clew—a planted clew, Markham. That clew has been carefully prepared, and the placing of it is the only indefinite factor left. . . . Yes, I am waiting for a specific item to appear; and when it does, I can convince you of the whole devilish truth.”<br>
“When do you figure this final clew will turn up?” Markham asked uneasily.<br>
“At almost any moment.” Vance spoke in low, level and quiet tones. “Something prevented its taking shape to-night, for it is an intimate corollary of the dagger-throwing. And by refusing to take that episode too seriously, and by letting Hani find the sheath, I made the immediate planting of the final clew necess’ry. Once again we refused to fall into the murderer’s trap—though, as I say, the trap was not fully baited.”<br>
“I’m glad to have some kind of explanation for your casual attitude tonight.” Despite the note of sarcasm in Markham’s voice, it was obvious that at bottom he was not indulging in strictures upon Vance’s conduct. He was at sea and inclined, therefore, to be irritable. “You apparently had no interest in determining who hurled the dagger at Bliss’s pillow.”<br>
“But, Markham old dear, I knew who hurled the bejewelled bodkin.” Vance made a slight gesture of impatience. “My only concern was with what the reporters call the events leading up to the crime.”
Markham realized it was of no use to ask, at this time, who had thrown the dagger; so he pursued his comments on Vance’s recent activities at the Bliss house.
“You might have got some helpful suggestions from Scarlett—he evidently was in the museum during the entire time. . . .” <br>
“Even so, Markham,” Vance countered, “don’t forget there is a thick double wall between the museum and the Bliss domicile, and that those steel doors are practically sound-proof. Bombs might have been exploded in the doctor’s room without any one in the museum hearing them.”
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