London is being plagued by the master criminal known only as “The Mad Hatter”. The Hatter is going around stealing… well, hats and then putting them back in odd places. Not the sort of thing that would normally interest Gideon Fell. But when the reporter in charge of the case, Phil Driscoll, is found dead at the Tower of London with his uncle’s top hat pulled over his head, things change.
In part, this is also due to the fact that a missing Poe manuscript is involved, an early work of Poe that nobody knew existed. But with so many suspects, both for the theft and the murder, being in the Tower at the time of the murder, can Fell track down the killer – and does he even want to?
This is the second Fell mystery, following Hag’s Nook, and features the same lead character, Tad Rampole. What it isn’t is an impossible mystery. It took a while before Carr became a regular user of such devices, but even then he wouldn’t always – Death Turns The Tables, for example.
Instead, what we get is a reasonably entertaining tale which requires a mental wall-chart from the reader to work out exactly who was doing what and when. It’s basically an alibi-tracking exercise which after a while does get a bit tedious.
The ending is a bit odd as well, with a very convenient act on the part of one person helping to set up the finale.
I had fond memories of this one, it being my favourite of the pre-Hollow Man Fell mysteries, but I enjoyed it a lot less the second time round, due entirely to the complexity of who was where doing what to whom (and why). Not a patch on Carr’s best work (and yet far, far from his worst…)
Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHAT – Title with a literary allusion