Gentlemen Of Misfortune is historical fiction set in nineteenth-century America. It is based around true tales of a showman who acquired ancient Egyptian mummies and artefacts.
The book opens in a seedy gambling establishment in New York. Lyman Moreau is a conman who recognises an opportunity to make money. He hears of a shipment that has recently arrived, containing valuable Egyptian goods, the owner of which has just died. Acting fast, Moreau asks his friend and mentor, Horace Laurent, to get false papers claiming Lyman is the rightful heir to the goods.
Dishonest customs agent Martin Quinn forges the papers, and Lyman, Laurent and Laurent’s equally corrupt wife Mariana become the new owners of eleven mummies and a cargo of other treasures. However, in the early hours of the following morning, Lyman finds Laurent dead. Fearing he’ll be framed for the murder, Lyman takes the mummies and goes to Philadelphia. He sells a couple of them to a scientist, then sets up an exhibition of the rest. There’s a lot of public interest in his curios, and he makes money from admission tickets. Then follows a tour of the eastern states, but the black shadow of death is always close behind. Is this shadow in human form, or a mysterious curse that surrounds the mummies?
This was an interesting topic to use for a base of this novel. Man’s curiosity for history and it’s artefacts will always be popular. This isn’t a fast-paced or particularly high-tension story, more a pleasant meander through a revolutionary period in history. The story dabbles in the spiritual side of the mummies and the portent that moving them from their resting place may have caused. At the end of the book, the author explains how much of the content was based on a true tale, which I did find an interesting addition.
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Gentleman swindler Lyman Moreau is accustomed to changing his identity to suit his schemes. A new opportunity arrives when a collection of eleven mummies and several papyri covered in indecipherable hieroglyphs are due to arrive in New York’s South Street Seaport direct from the Valley of the Kings. Enlisting the help of a crooked customs agent and a black market antiquities dealer, he assumes the identity of Michael Chandler, nephew of deceased Egyptologist Antonio Lebolo, and lays claim to the shipment.
The showman’s plan to amass his fortune displaying the stolen artifacts across the country becomes more complicated when one of his accomplices dies a suspicious death, causing Lyman and the man’s beautiful widow to make a hasty escape from the city. Through four states, along the Erie Canal, and eventually to the doorstep of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Lyman exhibits his dusty companions before a curious public. Rarely more than a few breaths ahead of his enemies, Lyman struggles to keep his prize from slipping away as he tangles with grief, love, betrayal, and a growing sense of his own mortality.