The Eleventh Plague
Members of the Hades Consortium have controlled history for centuries, but it seems they have met their match in Cornelius Quaint, master conjuror and proprietor of Dr. Marvello’s Travelling Circus. In this second book of the Cornelius Quaint Chronicles, Cornelius has learned that, in less than two weeks (on New Year’s Eve, 1853) the consortium intends to spill into the River Nile a poison that will decimate the population of Egypt. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, with approximately thirty pages devoted to introducing a multitude of characters who play no part in the current story, once Cornelius and his elderly ex-governess, Madame Destine, board ship for Cairo, the adventure begins. In humorous slapstick style, Cornelius remains oblivious to the many attempts to kill him while on shipboard. After landing in Egypt, Cornelius and Destine are separated, but it doesn’t slow them down in their quest to find the elixir before it is too late. While Cornelius infiltrates the den of desert thieves known as the Clan Scarab, Destine follows a series of clues she receives in a mysterious letter.
In direct imitation of the Victorian ‘penny dreadfuls,’ this adventure story is deliberately overwritten. Black-hearted villains, unbelievable rescues, and hair-pin plot changes all send the story hurtling toward its not-so-predictable conclusion. It is the protagonist, Cornelius Quaint, who poses the biggest problem. One of the characters states, “I cannot imagine that a circus run by an old grump like you would be very entertaining.” Unfortunately, that lack also holds true for a novel. One hopes Cornelius spends a few days in charm school before the next book in the series begins.