It’s 1949 and the Old Man, Sir Henry Merrivale, is visiting the United States. He is shanghaied to the estate of his old acquaintance Paul Manning, who promises to show him a miracle. But even the wily Merrivale is flummoxed when Manning dives into his swimming pool and simply vanishes, along with vast sums of money from his foundation. A stabbing and a poisoning soon follow – can H.M. get to the bottom of things before any further tragedy unfolds.
There’s a fascinating post over at TomCat’s blog, Detection by Moonlight, reviewing Fire, Burn, a novel by John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson) from 1957 and it has generated a lot of discussion about the drop-off in Carr’s quality from around 1950. Well, this one is from 1949, so is it one of the good ones, or the start of the rot setting in?
It’s notable that Carr stopped writing Merrivale novels in 1953, almost twenty years before his last novel, so clearly he was tiring of writing about the Old Man – there were three novels after this, and the premise – Merrivale goes to America – didn’t bode well for me. Add that to the fact that I read this one about eight years ago and I couldn’t remember a thing about it, and I was wary of this one.
I really shouldn’t have been – it’s one of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read in a long time. The overall feel is fun – from Merrivale annoying the New York police to him showing off at baseball, things that could have annoyed the hell out of me I found stupidly entertaining.
But what about the mystery? Well, if you can work out the impossibility, you can spot the villain of the piece. I had a memory that the trick was like the solution of The Problem of the Wire Cage, namely impossible to follow without diagrams and flipcharts, but in fact, it’s deceptively simple but I’ll still wager that most people won’t spot it.
Anyway, even though it has my biggest annoyance in a murder mystery (a spoiler to reveal, but in common with The Curse of the Bronze Lamp and the Doctor Who story The Doctor Dances), I really enjoyed this book. An unexpected treat.