Five men are at the Grill, the most exclusive club in England. One is a M.P. who supports a naval expansion bill. Another man — the one with the black pearl stud — does not. The vote is to be held today. The M.P.’s one weakness is the penny dreadful — the gorier the better. When reading one, he quite forgets everything else. He finishes his last book and is about out the door when the three other men start to tell a tale of their own.
Lord Chetney. thought lost in Africa, has just returned and resumed his affair with Russian princess Zichy. That isn’t great news for his younger brother Andrew, who now no longer stands to inherit and is massively in debt. Sears, an American naval attache, lost in the fog, stumbles into Zichy’s townhouse and finds both her and Chetney stabbed to death. Andrew is at once suspected, but the detective has his doubts. A search of the waste paper basket reveals a torn-up letter. Piecing it together reveals the name… Sears.
The M.P. is entranced. During the talk, Pearl Stud has been watching the lights in Parliament. When they finally go out, it’s revealed that the whole thing was fiction. In fact, Lord Chetney, the murdered man, was one of the story tellers. The M.P. has it over on Pearl Stud, though: the vote was already held earlier in the day — he was stalling for nothing.
For centuries, a curse has been on the noble Calmady family, and none of its heads has died a mature or natural death. Richard, the last of the line, seems to be doomed from birth, having been born without lower legs — his feet where his knees should go. For thirty years, he lives in a state of denial that only immense wealth can afford, but on the eve of his arranged marriage, he’s jilted by his would-be fiancee. He realizes that, no matter how polite and accommodating his friends are, they can’t help but regard him with revulsion. It isn’t that they’re heartlessly gawking at a freak — it isn’t so simple as that. Rather, Richard’s deformity exposes what a pernicious thing life and health is, and that’s something nobody wants to be reminded of.
Richard takes it hard, but after several years of lashing out, he comes to accept his lot. He also realizes what a leech he and his class are, living off the backs of the working class without so much as noticing them, much less offering anything in return. He devotes himself to the establishment of a home for the disabled of more humble means than himself, who surely couldn’t yacht about the world for four years when their hopes are disappointed. Rather, they would likely find themselves in either the circus or prostitution.
Inspired by real-life politician Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, who was born without arms or legs.
Inscriptions: “Evangeline Dunning Parker, 32 West Broadway, Bangor, Maine” on the inside front cover. On the flyleaf, “Evangeline, from Mrs. Brett, Xmas 1916”. For those not aware, that is the most fashionable part of Bangor.
A secret society issues a demand on the British government for £100 million with the threat that, if they are denied, they will begin destroying all the major cities of Europe. At first, the demand is ignored as a hoax or the ravings of madmen, then suddenly a large part of London is reduced to ashes by means of a chemical explosive unknown to all of the nation’s top scientists.
Meanwhile, a mysterious French count ingratiates himself with an English cabinet member and, under the guise of removing them to a place of safety outside of London, abducts his daughter and son-in-law.
There are tantalizing clues scattered about and the corners of the mystery are chipped away, but don’t expect some detective character to step forward and explain everything at the end. The characters who survive learn very little of what has happened or why it happened and neither does the reader.
The novel begins as would a traditional mystery, but as it progresses, it becomes more of a gothic horror.