The Emperor’s Snuff-Box by John Dickson Carr

Emperor's Snuff BoxEve Neill has had an eventful life. Married young, she divorced her husband when he cheated on her and has now become engaged to Toby Lawes, a young man whose family lives on the opposite side of the street from her. But her life is about to get even more eventful…

When her ex-husband Ned Atwood barges into her bedroom one evening, determined to win her back, they witness together the murder of Sir Maurice Lawes, the patriach of the family, his head smashed in (along with a priceless snuff box that once belonged to Napoleon). Ned sees the face of the murderer, but before he can name the killer, he falls downstairs and is consigned to a coma. Eve finds herself locked out of her house, but manages to sneak back in unseen. But things are about to take an unexpected turn. Eve finds herself under suspicion when a piece of the snuff box is found on her clothes…

The Carr month continues – there’s at least one review to come with luck – with one of his more highly regarded non-series mysteries. No sign of Bencolin, Fell or Merrivale here, but our hero is Dr Dermot Kinross, a straight-laced medical man who has solved a murder or three in the past. No impossibilities in sight here – Carr is playing a different game this time.

To be fair, he’s played a similar game before and since, although in a slightly different form. A form that usually leads to him being accused of cheating the reader, an accusation that can’t be levelled at him here. When you know what’s going on (and I did this time round), it’s all pretty obvious and completely played fair. But the first time through, it caught me out completely. On the re-read, I can’t believe I missed the murderer, but isn’t that the sign of a great murder mystery?

If you’re being harsh, you could criticise the characters here – they veer toward caricature at times – but it’s very hard to dislike this book. Carr steers away from the witches/automatons/whatever he’s just heard about and presents a rock solid puzzle that keeps moving and twisting as you read it. I really don’t want to say any more, as it’s one of his cleverest mysteries (locked room or otherwise) and deserves to be read. So needless to say, it’s Highly Recommended.


  1. Great writeup of a Carr I recall enjoying very much. There’s a fun old movie of it, too: That Woman Opposite (1957; vt City After Midnight) . . . and it even has Petula Clark in it.


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