Martin Clarke is holding a party – a house-warming, if you like – for the stately home that he has purchased and refurbished. Of course not many other people wanted to buy it as it has a history of bizarre events. For example, an eighty year old butler who decided one evening, against all previous behaviour, to swing from the heavy chandelier until it came loose and crushed him to death.
And of course, the bizarre events are not just in the past. Our narrator’s fiancée feels a ghostly hand grab at her ankles. The chandelier swings for no reason. A clock starts without being wound. And as one of the guests sits typing some letters, a gun leaps off the wall and shoots him right through the centre of the forehead… Luckily Gideon Fell is on hand to try and sort things out. But with a gun untouched by human hands as the murder weapon, is it possible that the killer is a ghost? (No, of course not…)
My penultimate Carr post for the month, and I picked this one for a couple of reasons. I was surprised to see it in at least one Carr Top Ten over at Tipping My Fedora but the more I thought about it, I realised that I could remember very little about it – the basic how, but little more. And I could remember that the first time I read it, I was very wary about it. I’d read somewhere on the internet that this and its immediate predecessor, The Problem Of The Wire Cage were both stinkers. To be fair, the site was right on that one, but I think it’s rather unfair on this one. Because I think it’s rather good.
Not really top ten good, but certainly not too far away. At the end of the day, the impossibility is simple (although really doesn’t make much sense if you think about it – if the gun was untouched, even by gloves, why does no one ask how it was loaded? And why was the SPOILER at that particular place in the first place?) but the whodunit is delightfully convoluted. There is one particular red herring that is a little on the unbelievable side, but it all builds up to a satisfying finale. I’m sure some people will be miffed by another incidence of Carr basically lying to the reader, but it’s integral to the plot here and does make sense.
Fell is on fine form, with his excesses curbed for this one, and our narrator and his love interest are refreshing normal. Yes, there’s a bit of bickering along the way, but they’re quite bearable. The action moves along nicely as well – there’s no elongated middle section of interrogating the suspects to slow the pace down.
So, I think there’s a few things here that might annoy some readers – I haven’t mentioned the fact that the villain’s plan is somewhat on the convoluted side – but there’s also a lot to enjoy. Much better than I remembered and well worth a look. Recommended.
BTW, can anyone explain the title to me?
ADDENDUM: A quick warning – Carr casually spoils The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd near the end of the book. So read the first, on the vaguest off-chance you haven’t already.