The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As a medical student at Oxford University, Robert Cairn first becomes suspicious of fellow student Antony Ferrara, the adopted son of Sir Michael Ferrara, a noted Egyptologist and a close friend of Cairn’s father. The young Ferrara, whom Cairn finds “repellently effeminate,” dresses in furs and keeps fires burning in his quarters even at midsummer. His rooms reek of incense and are filled with ancient Egyptian relics, including a mummy. There is a photograph of the swan Apollo whose strange death Cairn witnessed. He observes Ferrara burning a waxen swan figurine. Later, in London, Cairn learns that a young woman he had seen outside Ferrara’s quarters has been strangled in an impossible situation. Sir Michael Ferrara then succumbs after attacks by a pair of ghostly hands that his niece and ward, Myra Duquesne, is powerless to stop. Cairn’s father, Dr. Bruce Cairn, is called in, too late, to save his old friend.

Himself an authority on Egyptian ritual and beliefs, Dr. Cairn quickly surmises from all that has happened that Antony Ferrara is practicing Egyptian magic, but he refuses to answer his son’s repeated demands to know just who Antony Ferrara really is. Myra, while in a sleepwalking trance, accuses Antony of being the brood of a witch and points to the witch’s ring, the ring of Thoth, that he wears. The Cairns are determined to protect Myra from Ferrara, who obviously covets her share of the inheritance.

Ferrara clearly is...

(The entire section is 551 words.)