RogerBW's Blog

Murder in the Museum of Man, Alfred Alcorn 06 March 2016

1997 humorous detective fiction; first of Alcorn's novels of Norman de Ratour, Recording Secretary at the Museum of Man, an anthropological museum somewhere in New England. Dean Fessing goes missing, and most of him turns up expertly cooked. That inevitably starts rumours of cannibalism, but there may be fire to go with this smoke…

This is also a parody of attitudes in academia, with varying levels of success; broad swipes at the politically-correct radical feminist (and she eats all the doughnuts, har har har) and self-important incomprehensible literary criticism (with several pages of pastiche) don't work as well as digs at the more general academic politics surrounding the neighbouring Wainscott University's attempts to take over the museum, discussions on a proposed diorama of Neanderthal life, and what seems like an attempt to implement the Infinite Monkeys experiment. Alcorn worked at Harvard's Museum of Natural History for some years, and one suspects that much of this is drawn from the life; towards the end it sometimes seems a little like a well-mannered revenge fantasy, particularly in the mawkishly romantic coda.

There has been talk over the years of a Brauer cult, maintained by him and his students who were present at the alleged murder and cannibalism. They meet, supposedly, and do things that cults do. I have never subscribed to the rumor myself. It strikes me as apocryphal, one of those tasteless jokes that gets started around the campfire and takes on a life of its own. Besides, I can't imagine academics letting something like that go by without someone, somewhere, publishing a paper on it.

The pace is always slow; the book is presented as de Ratour's private notes, and he's a fussy and precise person, though he certainly undergoes something of an internal revolution over the course of the book.

I stepped around the carnage, picked up the papers, and left. Downstairs I told a uniformed officer that there was a dead chimp in my office and it was to be treated as evidence in a murder case. He said he would inform one of the detectives.

The writing is particularly good, and I found the book something of a pleasure to read simply for itself as well as for its content.

This is alas the sort of book that's full of silly names, not just Thad Pilty and Corny Chard, but a dig site called Infra, and a Father S. J. O'Gould S. J. The mystery itself relies on a couple of last-minute reveals and what seems to me like insufficient motivation, and substantial secondary plot elements are left entirely unresolved (though I suspect they will be revisited in a future book in the series).

Overall, perhaps this is a little too consciously clever for its own good, but it's still highly enjoyable. Followed by The Love Potion Murders in the Museum of Man.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1