In a mountainside cave on the Canary island of Hombres Muertos rests the twenty-three dead men, mummified ancient kings still adorned in their royal robes and jewelry. Dame Beatrice chooses this colorful spot as a holiday destination, and quickly discovers that her fellow travellers are bringing their own ghosts to the island. Caroline Lockerby, an emotional young woman visiting Hombres Muertos with her enigmatic brother, Telham, has left England to forget a strange incident that resulted in the death of her husband. Another ship passenger, a pale man named Clun, has recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter. The hotel residents are equally infamous: there’s Mrs. Angel, a woman who, according to rumor, does brisk business in native slave sales; Mr. Peterhouse, an eccentric who cultivates poisonous Alpine plants; and Karl Emden, a handsome lothario whose dalliances have been infuriating women (and their boyfriends and fathers) across the island. There’s even a tiny group of native bandits, led by men nicknamed Tio Caballo and Jose el Lupe. Shortly after Dame Beatrice settles in at the hotel, Karl Emden disappears, and the concensus agrees he’s gone to live among the troglodyte cave-dwellers and is hiding from someone. An expedition to the cave of dead kings creates in Caroline hysteria, in Telham a controlled calm, and in Mr. Peterhouse an uncharacteristic silence. Dame Beatrice also notes that the figure of the twenty-third man is taller than his companions. The disappearance of a mischievous and headstrong boy named Clement brings about a second examination of the cave, and Dame B. is not surprised to discover the body of Emden, a knife still stuck into his back, taking the place of the twenty-third king. Clement’s restoration occurs after some negotiations with the local bandits, and Dame Beatrice returns to Kensington to gather evidence on the separate deaths of Caroline’s husband and Clun’s adversary. She sends Laura to Hombres Muertos (infant son Hamish in tow) to keep an eye on the activities of the inhabitants. Eventually Dame Beatrice returns to the island, compares notes with Laura, and–as the community has no policing organization or legal penalty for murder–sets out to unmask the killer and put into motion her unique version of justice.
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“One can usually rely on Miss Gladys Mitchell for something unexpected and in THE TWENTY THIRD MAN she certainly provides it” The Guardian
“Bizarre, fascinating and entertaining” Tatler