Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Don Among the Dead Men (1952) by C. E. Vulliamy

A professor of chemistry at an English university in the 1920s discovers a compound which causes a state of blissful gaiety quickly followed by painless death and remains undetectable afterwards. He then proceeds to devise a plan for ridding humanity of its most objectionable and rebarbative members, starting with those who happen to hamper his own career. Throughout, and up to the final court trial, there are explicit references to the Armstrong poisoning case of 1922, while the possible parallels with the concentration camps and gas chambers remain implicit. Somehow, coming so soon after the horrors of Nazi Germany, the mock philosophizing on the subject seems either too mild or not mild enough to suit the times.

The book reads like a cross between H. G. Wells and Michael Innes on tranquilizers. The writing is decent, but the plot too simple and repetitive, and the characters rather less than two-dimensional. On the whole, precious little meat here.

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