The Scarab Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

The Scarab Murder Case

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subjects: Crime & Mystery Fiction

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Description

Philo Vance was drawn into the Scarab murder case by sheer coincidence, although there is little doubt that John F.-X. Markham—New York’s District Attorney—would sooner or later have enlisted his services. But it is problematic if even Vance, with his fine analytic mind and his remarkable flair for the subtleties of human psychology, could have solved that bizarre and astounding murder if he had not been the first observer on the scene; for, in the end, he was able to put his finger on the guilty person only because of the topsy-turvy clews that had met his eye during his initial inspection.

Those clews—highly misleading from the materialistic point of view—eventually gave him the key to the murderer’s mentality and thus enabled him to elucidate one of the most complicated and incredible criminal problems in modern police history.

The brutal and fantastic murder of that old philanthropist and art patron, Benjamin H. Kyle, became known as the Scarab murder case almost immediately, as a result of the fact that it had taken place in a famous Egyptologist’s private museum and had centred about a rare blue scarabaeus that had been found beside the mutilated body of the victim.

This ancient and valuable seal, inscribed with the names of one of the early Pharaohs (whose mummy had, by the way, not been found at the time), constituted the basis on which Vance reared his astonishing structure of evidence. The scarab, from the police point of view, was merely an incidental piece of evidence that pointed somewhat obviously toward its owner; but this easy and specious explanation did not appeal to Vance.


307 pages, with a reading time of ~4.75 hours (76,820 words), and first published in 1929. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Excerpt

Philo Vance was drawn into the Scarab murder case by sheer coincidence, although there is little doubt that John F.-X. Markham—New York’s District Attorney—would sooner or later have enlisted his services. But it is problematic if even Vance, with his fine analytic mind and his remarkable flair for the subtleties of human psychology, could have solved that bizarre and astounding murder if he had not been the first observer on the scene; for, in the end, he was able to put his finger on the guilty person only because of the topsy-turvy clews that had met his eye during his initial inspection.

Those clews—highly misleading from the materialistic point of view—eventually gave him the key to the murderer’s mentality and thus enabled him to elucidate one of the most complicated and incredible criminal problems in modern police history.

The brutal and fantastic murder of that old philanthropist and art patron, Benjamin H. Kyle, became known as the Scarab murder case almost immediately, as a result of the fact that it had taken place in a famous Egyptologist’s private museum and had centred about a rare blue scarabæus that had been found beside the mutilated body of the victim.

This ancient and valuable seal, inscribed with the names of one of the early Pharaohs (whose mummy had, by the way, not been found at the time), constituted the basis on which Vance reared his astonishing structure of evidence. The scarab, from the police point of view, was merely an incidental piece of evidence that pointed somewhat obviously toward its owner; but this easy and specious explanation did not appeal to Vance.

“Murderers,” he remarked to Sergeant Ernest Heath, “do not ordinarily insert their visitin’ cards in the shirt bosoms of their victims. And while the discovery of the lapis-lazuli beetle is most interestin’ from both the psychological and evidential stand-points, we must not be too optimistic and jump to conclusions. The most important question in this pseudo-mystical murder is why—and how—the murderer left that archæological specimen beside the defunct body. Once we find the reason for that amazin’ action, we’ll hit upon the secret of the crime itself.”

The doughty Sergeant had sniffed at Vance’s suggestion and had ridiculed his scepticism; but before another day had passed he generously admitted that Vance had been right, and that the murder had not been so simple as it had appeared at first view.

As I have said, a coincidence brought Vance into the case before the police were notified. An acquaintance of his had discovered the slain body of old Mr. Kyle, and had immediately come to him with the gruesome news.

It happened on the morning of Friday, July 13th. Vance had just finished a late breakfast in the roof-garden of his apartment in East Thirty-eighth Street, and had returned to the library to continue his translation of the Menander fragments found in the Egyptian papyri during the early years of the present century, when Currie—his valet and major-domo—shuffled into the room and announced with an air of discreet apology:

“Mr. Donald Scarlett has just arrived, sir, in a state of distressing excitement, and asks that you hasten to receive him.”

Vance looked up from his work with an expression of boredom.

“Scarlett, eh? Very annoyin’…. And why should he call on me when excited? I infinitely prefer calm people…. Did you offer him a brandy-and-soda—or some triple bromides?”

“I took the liberty of placing a service of Courvoisier brandy before him,” explained Currie. “I recall that Mr. Scarlett has a weakness for Napoleon’s cognac.”

“Ah, yes—so he has…. Quite right, Currie.” Vance leisurely lit one of his Régie cigarettes and puffed a moment in silence. “Suppose you show him in when you deem his nerves sufficiently calm.”

Currie bowed and departed.

“Interestin’ johnny, Scarlett,” Vance commented to me. (I had been with Vance all morning arranging and filing his notes.) “You remember him, Van—eh, what?”

I had met Scarlett twice, but I must admit I had not thought of him for a month or more. The impression of him, however, came back to me now with considerable vividness. He had been, I knew, a college mate of Vance’s at Oxford, and Vance had run across him during his sojourn in Egypt two years before.

Scarlett was a student of Egyptology and archæology, having specialized in these subjects at Oxford under Professor F. Ll. Griffith. Later he had taken up chemistry and photography in order that he might join some Egyptological expedition in a technical capacity. He was a well-to-do Englishman, an amateur and dilettante, and had made of Egyptology a sort of fad.