3 am in the morning and three people sit in a flat talking about ghosts. And this discussion will have terrible repercussions. While it will lead one of the trio, Martin Drake to his long-lost love, Jennifer West, it will also lead to Fleet House, the site of a terrible tragedy when, years ago, Sir George Fleet apparently threw himself from the roof. What else could have happened? After all, several witnesses attested to Sir George being alone on the roof and there was no wound on his body indicating any missile striking him…
Sir Henry Merrivale, when hearing the story of Sir George, is convinced that foul play was involved – but why? What about the dead body inside the abandoned prison? And what on earth has it got to do with a skeleton encased in a grandfather clock?
As I’m currently running a “Best of Carr” poll on the blog, I thought I’d take a look at some of the titles from the master of the locked room that I haven’t reviewed for the blog. The Skeleton In The Clock was the eighteenth of twenty-two novels featuring Sir Henry Merrivale. It’s fairly well accepted that the books of John Dickson Carr go into quite a stunning decline in his later years so I wasn’t expecting much from this one. I read it once about twenty years ago and, while remembering the trick, I recalled little else. So I wasn’t expecting anything particularly special.
It’s always nice to be surprised. This is an excellent book.
One thing it’s easy to forget after not reading Carr for a while is how readable a writer he is. His prose falls off the page so easily – after reading some other Golden Age writers, you sort of expect a solid prose style, but this sparkles. An entertaining lead detective – here not doing anything too outrageous, just sparring with the local Lady and banging on a bit about his past life as a cavalier poet – H.M. dominates the scenes he is in, but without overshadowing the other leads, notably Drake. The typical GA romance is here, although it’s not quite as straightforward as it normally is.
Overall, this is mesmerising stuff, with one chapter ending in particular really making me catch my breath. What lets it down a little is the motivation for the crimes – it’s touted as being psychological, but really, it’s all a bit simplistic. But overall, this is a thrilling tale, exceptionally well-told, and definitely not a book that should be doing so badly in my poll…
Just The Facts, Ma’am: HOW : Death by blunt instrument