At a private Egyptology museum located off Gramercy Park in Manhattan, Benjamin Kyle lies dead at the base of a statue of Anubis, god of the underworld. Next to Kyle’s bludgeoned head, soaking in a pool of his blood, is a figurine in the shape of the goddess Sakhmet. A native Egyptian servant, Hani, avers that these signs herald an act of divine retribution for the desecration of ancient royal tombs in his homeland—for Kyle, as the museum’s benefactor, bore responsibility for excavating those tombs. Other clues lead Sergeant Heath of the New York Homicide Bureau toward a more worldly, and more obvious, assignment of guilt: Found near the body were a financial report, a scarab pin, and the bloody footprint of a tennis shoe, all of which belong to the museum’s curator, Dr. Mindrum W.C. Bliss. But for Philo Vance, foppish man-about-town and shrewd amateur sleuth, both of those conclusions ignore the diabolically complex yet very human plotting that drove the crime. From the get-go, he surmises that a member of the Bliss household (which includes, among others, Kyle’s nephew and Bliss’s alluring half-Egyptian wife, Meryt-Amen) wanted police to arrest the doctor. Although Vance trumpets the superiority of his “psychological” insight over the cloddishly materialistic methods of Heath and company, it is his acute reading of physical and circumstantial clues that enables him to tease out an answer to this puzzle. Once he does so, he counters the killer’s machinations with some scheming of his own.
S.S. VAN DINE. The Scarab Murder Case (1930).