“The Counterfeit Murder In The Museum Of Man” is the latest Norman De Ratour Mystery by Alfred Alcorn, formerly of Harvard’s Museum of Natural History
Norman De Ratour, Director of the Museum of Man is in a sticky spot as the pompously named Heinrich von Grumh , an honorary curator, has been found dead near his museum. The gun is Norman’s. In this labyrinthine mystery, sparkling with urbane wit, the ‘who’ in the ‘dunnit’ waxes and relaxes as Museum characters strut their academic narcissism and their struggles for power. One woman, formerly a man, is so obsessed with victimization, and her museum exhibits highlighting it, that she doesn’t recognize her own humorless control-freaking. Another wants to makes the Museum into a mausoleum, a Hereafter-Destination for the rich dead. Museum coins are found to be fakes. Regarding the murder, Norman’s wife Diantha had a brief affair with the dead man, and Norman– half-lackadaisically– thinks he may even have killed the guy. But the most arresting character is Alphus, a chimpanzee who’s been scientifically enhanced to near-humanhood; he can type and do sign language. As Norman’s sidekick he’s a wry and very astute bystander, almost a philosopher, and an observant sleuth of the murder mystery.
As suspects are interviewed, this chimp’s uncanny moral radar catches the nuances, which he delivers to Norman.
Alphus reads Herodotus and comics, combining Alcorn’s rendering of him as both serious and laugh -out -loud funny.
“We packed Alphus’s belongings—a lot of CD’s, books, and clothes, including some shirts, two ties, and a suit jacket. When I noticed him carefully wrapping a bottle of single-malt Scotch, I looked quizzically at Millicent. But she just shrugged. I won’t deny I found it unsettling to have a chimpanzee sitting next to me in my ancient Renault with his seat belt buckled on.”