If you are looking for a thrilling mystery with a supernatural twist: this is not it. On the other hand, should you like your fiction to be dull, turgid, and weighed down with metaphysical drivel, An Astral Bridegroom may be the very thing.
The story takes place in Weaverton, one of those quiet English villages familiar from the works of Agatha Christie. This is no tale of serial murder, though. Instead there's a somewhat less violent turn of events at the core of the plot:
Then her father spoke again.
"Gertrude, is there any other reason than that indicated by the doctor why you refuse to proceed with this marriage?"
"You cannot understand, because I am unable to explain," she pleaded.
"Tell me what you know!" he demanded.
"Then may God forgive you the wrong you cause me to do to myself; but the reason why I refuse this marriage is because I am married already."
This scene occurs just after Gertrude has fallen in a dead faint at the altar during the ceremony during which she was supposed to have been married to a chap with the curious - but unarguably masculine - name of Verow Lingham. A previous marriage is of course a perfectly good reason for breaking things off, though one might criticise her tardiness in raising the matter, but the situation is a little more bizarre than first appears.
A few days later, Gertrude reveals the nature of her union to her cousin Lillie: her husband is Visvamitra, a figure in Hindu scripture. She herself was "Aditi, [his] faithless bride" and for some reason "the Devas have declared that I shall never be the partner of another".
(Please note that this does not relate in any meangful way to actual Hindu mythology - not that it matters much, as will be seen.)
The Miss Marple of Weaverton is one Solomon Sharp, a folksy old gardener with a dislike of oriental mysticism. Being a meddling cove, he sets himself the task of finding the truth at the bottom of Gertrude's belief.
None of Ms Christie's sleuths ever espoused the detectional method advocated by Sharp, which he calls "making inquiries in the land of sleep". According to him, while the body is asleep the soul may wander anywhere at will - including through walls. Of course, only a few enlightened people have the facility to control their dream adventures and remember them accurately.
(You will understand that Sharp is not opposed to mysticism as such, only those particular "superstitions" he happens to disagree with.)
Sharp uses his facility not only to solve the mystery of the astral bridegroom but also to catch a gang of fiendish crooks. The thickness of the plot may be judged by the way Sharp reveals one villain's identity:
"Metsie [...] is in London lending barrows and hiring donkeys to costermongers under the name of Crummer, in a general way; but he had also plays another part, in which he has found fame as an artist under the name Claude Webberlake."
(As ever, when it is not the butler that did it, one must look to the costermonger's supplier stroke artist.)
Gertrude was hypnotised by one of the gang masquerading as an Indian fakir, apparently, though it is hard to be sure as the denouement in which this fact emerges is rather hurriedly and indirectly described, in contrast to earlier chapters in which a local doctor - who has the audacity to doubt Sharp's dreamland tales - and a priest - who dared sneak away from his parish to visit a London music-hall - are both harshly dealt with by the redoubtable Sharp, whom it would seem acts as the author's ventriloquial dummy .
Full marks to Lees for being more interested in expounding his peculiar philosophy than pretending to write a decent work of fiction. That's the sort of attitude that gets you a listing here, 50 years after your book was published.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 10 years 11 months ago