The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp aka Lord of the Sorcerors by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr

Curse of the Bronze LampAh, my many long-term projects. My Ellery Queen bibliography, currently derailed due to losing my copy of The Dragon’s Teeth. Original Sins has come to an end (almost) and let’s not mention the Mystery Tour of the USA… But the first thing that I started, way back when, was a bibliography of the adventures of the Old Man himself, Sir Henry Merrivale. It’s been about five months since I’ve dipped into the adventures of the great detective, so, as I’m a bit under the weather again, it was time for another visit.

Lady Helen Loring returns from Egypt with a bronze lamp, despite being told that the curse on it will cause her to be blown to dust before she can return to her room at Severn Hall. Well, she makes it through the front door, only to apparently vanish halfway up the main flight of stairs. The house is surrounded by workmen and gardeners and nobody saw her leave – but she’s also evidently not in the house either. Luckily for her, she shared the journey back to England with Sir Henry himself, and, smelling a rat, turns up on the scene to try and sort things out. But can even he defeat the curse of a long dead Pharaoh? Well, yes, obviously…

I honestly didn’t pick this one due to the Ancient World links. I’d completely forgotten that the lamp in question was from an Egyptian tomb, but it does fit rather nicely as a parallel to the Original Sins strand of reviews. I picked it off the shelf because this is one of the Merrivales that I have less than fond memories of – notably, I recalled the ending being a bit of a cop out. So, how well was the memory working?

First of all, I should say how much fun this book is. The mystery is pretty slight and in some ways, this marks a turning point in the series. The books take on a lighter tone soon after this one – only The Skeleton In The Clock reflects the tone of the earlier books in the series. I suppose My Late Wives could be classed in the same vein but the mystery in that one was pretty obvious. Of course, all of these comments might change when I re-read them, but let’s assume that the memory isn’t cheating too much.

But compared to, say, the works of J J Connington, while the mystery is slighter, it’s a lot more enjoyable. In fact, despite feeling like, for want of a better word, crap, I finished this book in a single day. Merrivale seems to be on more restrained form this time, with no particular over-the-top behaviour, with the exception of the opening chapter – an altercation with an Egyptian taxi driver.

The central character of Kit Farrell provides an enjoyable point of view but one or two others seem to make some rather dubious decisions – one in particular. I can’t really say much more about the plot without incurring spoilers, but I enjoyed this a lot more second time around. I still think that Carr makes a couple of odd choices with the ending, but the overall plot is pretty clever.

In fact… I think this might usurp The Red Widow Murders from my Carter Dickson Top Five – there were fundamental problems with that one. This one, though, as long as you expect something fairly light, comes highly recommended.

BTW – Lord of the Sorcerors? Rubbish alternative title… and that cover’s rubbish too.


  1. This is another one that (whatever iteration of the title, and I certainly read it in Italian anyway) that I need to look at as its been so long as to have virtually never happened – glad it exceeded your expectations – but then Carr was very good at that, was he not?


  2. This was a strange one. It’s another H.M. where I wish Carr had got to it sooner. I enjoyed it, but it could have been better.

    I don’t think I like “locked houses,” because it’s never 100% clear why the missing person can’t just be inside, moving from room to room to avoid the small search party. Especially when it’s their own house, and a massive mansion no less.This is a dull solution, so it’s not ever used (there was an episode of Veronica Mars that did, and it was an anticlimax), but it’s still valid. More than usual in the genre, it feels like the author has to intervene and say “These are the rules for this week’s puzzle! Just go with it, okay?”

    What I find most surprising in this review is that you think the solution to My Late Wives was obvious! That’s one of only two or three murderers in the whole of Carr I haven’t spotted, and the only one where I thought it was my fault for being stupid, rather that Carr’s for underplaying the clues. I was completely fooled.


  3. You’ve beaten me to this one…I’ve got the Bronze Lamp on the 2013 TBR pile for my very own Vintage Mystery Challenge. So I’m not going to read your review too closely….but I will save it in my email notifications for later……


  4. I thought this was the most obvious of all the Carr books I’ve read. And wasn’t this written as the result of a bet? I’m pretty sure this one has the dedication to Clayton Rawson mentioning that. Not at home and can’t double check my copy. Unlike you I prefer the books in which Merrivale is at his most blustery and absurd. …BRONZE LAMP is not really one of my favorites because of the obviousness of the disappearance, the nod to Chesterton seen coming a mile away, and that ending which is indeed a cop out.


      • There goes my faulty memory again. Thanks for the correction. I think the Rawson bet produced He Wouldn’t Kill Patience now that my memory bank is properly caffeinated.


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