Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings

The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings is a series of linked short stories involving what may well be the world’s first female diabolical criminal mastermind, Madame Koluchy.

Written in 1899, it was one of many collaborations in the mystery genre between L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace. L. T. Meade (Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith) was a popular writer of stories for girls while Robert Eustace specialised in thrillers with a medical or legal bent.

The narrator, Norman Head, had as a young man met Madame Koluchy in Naples when he became involved in a secret criminal society known as the Brotherhood of the Seven Kings. Madame Koluchy had been the head of this society. When Head discovered the sinister nature of the society he determined to have no more to do with them. He has since been living as a virtual recluse, amusing himself with scientific experiments.

Now their paths have crossed again, and Head realises this will be a duel to the death. She cannot afford to let him live while his honour will not allow him to permit her to ruin any more lives.

Madame Koluchy is also a scientist, and a doctor. In fact she is the most famous doctor in London, her apparently miraculous cures having made her a celebrity while her charm and beauty have made her the darling of English society.

With the aid of his friend Dufrayer, an eminent solicitor, Norman Head is determined to bring this woman to justice. Madame Koluchy uses her medical skills to gain the trust of her victims. They then find themselves the victims of blackmail, robbery, kidnapping or worse crimes.

Norman Head is brave and intelligent, but he is up against a woman of enormous resourcefulness and cunning.

The stories are all entertaining and cleverly constructed. As you would expect, given Robert Eustace’s special interests, many of the stories involve medical conspiracies. There are fiendish plots, ingenious murder attempts, death by X-ray, and infernal machines.

These are crime thrillers that occasionally veer just a little in the direction of what you  might call speampunk techno-thrillers.

Highly recommended.

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