Dick Markham seems to have it all. In Lesley Grant, he has a beautiful fiancée who he faces a long and happy life with. An encounter with a fortune teller at the Six Ashes village fete soon puts paid to that. After Lesley has an upsetting encounter with the seer, he tries to tell Dick the truth about his wife-to-be – only for Lesley to shoot him through the side of the tent.
Luckily, the fortune teller – actually Sir Harvey Gilman, the Home Office Pathologist – survives and tells Dick what he knows about Lesley. She has been married twice and engaged once, and each time her husband/fiancé killed themselves. Oddly, each of them injected themselves with prussic acid inside a securely locked room – a remarkable coincidence. It seems Lesley has a foolproof method of murder, one that Sir Harvey will soon have first-hand experience of. But a revelation soon turns everything on its head. Is Lesley truly a murderer? And if not, who killed Sir Harvey – and how?
After that recent post, which has managed to already be my most commented on post ever, I thought it was time to revisit a book that should be read by anyone who has already devoured the canon of Dame Agatha. John Dickson Carr (and his pseudonym Carter Dickson) wrote many a fine classic well-clued mystery (and the occasional duffer) with larger-than-life sleuths in the form of Gideon Fell (23 novels) and Sir Henry Merrivale (22 novels). Not many of the best are readily available as ebooks, I’m afraid, but they’re well worth seeking out.
This is a Gideon Fell novel, by the way, and is on my list of Top Five Fell novels. It’s a fairly odd style – almost a caper novel in the style of The Punch And Judy Murders, although not as bizarre. I’ve made a point of not mentioning the twist in the narrative, by the way, so commenters, if you could avoid that too, as that is one of the strengths of the novel.
It’s also a devilishly plotted mystery – the locked room is clever but workoutable and the murderer is a genuine surprise, although it makes perfect sense. The story follows Markham’s point of view for the entirety of the story, including his doubts over Lesley’s intentions, which makes Fell keeping important information quiet make perfect sense. He’s not hiding what he knows, he just isn’t telling Dick.
If I was to quibble, there are some events that are presented simply to keep the plot moving – the relevance of Lesley shooting Sir Harvey, for example, or the later attack on another character – in another book, everything would tie into the main narrative, but despite that, this is still a great read – the run up to the murder, and the subsequent revelation, in particular, is one of the most distinctive that I’ve ever read.
Not the finest Fell novel – I still think that’s He Who Whispers – but a very strong contender and well worth a look. Highly Recommended.
By the way, of the available ebooks, the best are He Who Whispers, She Died A Lady, The Hollow Man, The Burning Court, The Emperor’s Snuff Box and The Problem Of The Green Capsule. In fact, I doubt you’ll find anyone who’d quibble with the first four, at least, being on a best ever mystery novel list.