That Confounded Mummy

It’s hard to overstate the inconvenience of a neighbour who resurrects an ancient mummy to commit serial murders. This is the predicament in which the protagonist of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lot No. 249" finds himself, another story from H.P. Lovecraft Selects. Longer than most of the other stories in the collection, it’s a comfortable read with characters who are a little more amusing and idiosyncratic than anyone might expect who’s familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s work only through Sherlock Holmes. “Lot No. 249" is not the first story about a reanimated mummy but it is apparently the first one about such a mummy killing people.

The protagonist of “Lot No. 249", Ambercrombie Smith, is in some ways like Holmes, a bachelor described as having remarkable intelligence and insight, though described as not quite a genius.

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Though a freshman at Oxford, the student was not so in medicine, for he had worked for four years at Glasgow and at Berlin, and this coming examination would place him finally as a member of his profession. With his firm mouth, broad forehead, and clear-cut, somewhat hard-featured face, he was a man who, if he had no brilliant talent, was yet so dogged, so patient, and so strong that he might in the end overtop a more showy genius.

Like Conan Doyle, he’s a medical man, a man with some rough, edifying field experience under his belt before he went to college to get a degree to make his talents official in the eyes of the rest of the world. He has a Watson of sorts named Hasties and it’s a pleasure seeing Conan Doyle indulge in some colloquial college boy lingo in conversations between the two.

“Have some whisky,” said Abercrombie Smith at last between two cloudbursts. “Scotch in the jug and Irish in the bottle.”

“No, thanks. I’m in for the sculls. I don’t liquor when I’m training. How about you?”

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“I’m reading hard. I think it best to leave it alone.”

Hastie nodded, and they relapsed into a contented silence.

“By the way, Smith,” asked Hastie, presently, “have you made the acquaintance of either of the fellows on your stair yet?”

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“Just a nod when we pass. Nothing more.”

“Hum! I should be inclined to let it stand at that. I know something of them both. Not much, but as much as I want. I don’t think I should take them to my bosom if I were you. Not that there’s much amiss with Monkhouse Lee.”

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“Meaning the thin one?”

The trouble starts when Smith is compelled to rush downstairs to aid his unconscious neighbour on the storey beneath his own flat. There’s a mummy in the room but its ability to walk about on its own isn’t revealed yet. Conan Doyle nicely chooses to reveal it slowly, primarily through the deductions of Smith instead of any description of the mummy in action that couldn’t conceivably be interpreted as something else by an observer. So a lot of the story compels the reader’s imagination to work out surrogate illumination. It works very well.

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