A bloated, wildly fanciful Edgar Allan Poe–esque tale, seemingly set in Victorian London, follows a jilted young woman’s plucky resolve to get to the bottom of her fiancé’s mysterious disappearance.
Miss Celestial Temple, a young woman of respectable means, receives an incomprehensible letter at her hotel from her intended, Roger Bascombe, abruptly ending their engagement—and she decides to follow him. It proves quite an adventure, taking Miss Temple on a curious train ride and depositing her in a sumptuous house equipped with a theater in which she witnesses strangely erotic experiments on women, while Bascombe and others watch from the gallery. Giving her name as Isobel Hastings, she is coerced into a masked ball and nearly raped trying to escape before managing to make her way back to the city. Meanwhile, a certain shady Cardinal Chang, so-called because of his red topcoat and Asian appearance, is hired to knock off Colonel Arthur Trapping, commander of the 4th Dragoons, who is already dead and disfigured by the time Chang gets to him. Numerous characters become absorbed in Trapping’s murder, such as Doctor Abelard Svenson, who acts as the ward of a young, profligate, weak-willed prince, Karl-Horst van Maasmarck, engaged to be married, for political reasons, to Lord Vandaariff’s daughter, Lydia. The prince vanishes inexplicably, and the doctor finds in his rooms two glass cards, the size of calling cards, through which several notable characters, namely Bascombe, can be viewed in revealing and intimate moving images. The plot travels perilously tortuous paths, as together Doctor Svenson, Miss Temple and Chang track missing characters whose names keep changing to confound the defenseless reader. They are lured back to the theater, where a cabal of dangerous men possesses glass books into which people drain their minds.
Way, way over the top.