The Punch & Judy Murders

IMG_8056by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) 1936

Murder and Marriage

Sir Henry Merrivale (better known to the public, and to his co-workers of the Military Intelligence Department as ‘H.M.’) had disappeared. Two of his young friends were to be married the following day. Then a telegram arrived: MEET ME IMPERIAL HOTEL TORQUAY IMMEDIATELY EXPRESS LEAVES PADDINGON 3:30 URGENT MERRIVALE.

At once everyone was precipitated into the Punch and Judy murders… Hours later, the prospective bridegroom, now a fugitive from justice, and dressed in an unlawfully appropriated policeman’s uniform, stood at the open door of a small library, confronted with a corpse. He was wondering how he could escape from the house before the bona fide police arrived…

Carter Dickson has won a wide following because his plots are tight and logical, his action fast and full of suspense and the atmosphere of his stories is almost uncomfortably convincing.

This was a fun romp and a very complex puzzle. Ken Blake is summoned by Merrivale on the eve of his marriage to Evelyn. She tells him go, Merrivale assures him he will be back in time for the wedding the next morning. And the craziness ensues! Spies, counterfeit money, burglary, experiments in metamorphosis and murder! Evelyn shows up later, not to be left out of the fun and the chase begins. I guess It would have been better had I read the Merrivale novels in order, but it was still a wonderful read. Lots of interesting characters, disguises, red herrings and love.

“That new evidence consists of two wildly unrelated questions: 1: is L. alive, or isn’t he? 2: How does the presence or absence of L. concern the question of the counterfeit money? Uh-huh. At first glance it seems like tryin’ to find the relation of a cactus-plant to a bucket of herring: but when we relate them two facts together we’re goin’ to have the truth.”   ~Henry Merrivale

The Witch of the Low Tide

by John Dickson Carr
Published in 1961

930185Lady Betty Calder is a prostitute and a blackmailer – or is it her sister, Glynis, using her name? Dr. David Garth, her fiancé, knows he must find out the truth – especially when he blunders across Glynis’ strangled body on Betty’s property, surrounded by fifty feet of wet sand with no footprints but her own. The police know she did it – but David knows she didn’t and he must outwit a cunning murderer and a hostile detective-inspector to prove it. What he discovers – about his best friend’s wife, his medical assistant, and even his fiancée – make him wish the blackmailing Glynis had never lived.

This was a solid historical puzzler, set in the early 1900’s. The cars had to be started with handles and cranked, the homes had gas lights. Betty Calder wore a wool bathing suit! Can you imagine how heavy that must have been wet! Quite atmospheric. Carr did a nice job of describing the clothes the ladies were wearing and the houses, put you right there.

There were two puzzling crimes to solve. Attempted murder with the classic all doors and windows locked from inside and a murder on the sea shore with no footprints in the wet sand.

   “Oh, yes. It doesn’t matter who made the tea or who drank it or who didn’t drink it. But at any time that woman could possibly have been killed, at any time within any medical limits, the tide was almost as far out as it is at this minute. Now look round you. Look back up the beach. Look out towards the sea. Look down under the piles of the pavilion.”
  ‘The inshore breeze, further ruffling Betty’s hair, smoothed at her skirt as well. She glanced quickly over her shoulder, looking round her, and then just as quickly back again.

  “There are your footprints,” Garth continued, “coming out here from the grass slope where you left the bicycle. There are my footprints,” he moved his arm to point, “coming out here from the back of the cottage. There’s not another mark anywhere. You see that?”

Two old mystery novels were brought into the conversation when speaking of clues. I always love it when they do that! The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux and The Thinking Machine by Jacques Futrelle. I have The Mystery of the Yellow Room and have heard a lot about on blogs, but Jacques Futrelle (not a Frenchmen but an American!) is new to me. He died in the sinking of the Titanic! Of course like all Dickson Carr mysteries it was excellently plotted and well characterized. A good read.

This is my third read for 15 Books of Summer and counts for my seventh book towards Bev’s Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt Silver Era – Curtain.

The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr

Published in 1935. Titled ‘A Hollow Man‘ in the UK edition.

  “Two murders are committed within hours of each other. Both occurred under seemingly impossible conditions, with odd clues, no suspects, and nothing that makes any sense. Can the police find a murderer who appears to have simply vanished? 
  In the first case, he has disappeared from Professor Grimaud’s study after shooting the professor—without leaving a trace, with the only door to the room locked from the inside, and with people present in the hall outside the room. Both the ground below the window and the roof above it are covered with unbroken snow.
   In the second case, a man walking in the middle of a deserted cul-de-sac at about the same time is evidently shot at close range, with the same revolver that killed Grimaud and only minutes afterward, but there is no one else near the man; this is witnessed from some distance by three passersby—two tourists and a police constable—who happen to be walking on the pavement
An excellent locked room mystery! Of course what else do you expect from Carr? There was a sizable list of possible culprits and I certainly never in my wildest dreams would have figured this out. The murdered man and his brothers were from Transylvania. This lent a spooky, mysterious air to the story. There is a mysterious painting of three toppling headstones in the room with the dead man. It was slashed with a knife in 2 places. What could this mean?

What I found fun about this book was that at one point, Dr. Fell says, “I will now lecture on the general mechanics and development of the situation which is known in detective fiction as the ‘hermetically sealed chamber’. Having been improving my mind with sensational fiction for the last forty years, I can say–“ Then another character interrupts and asks, “But, if you’re going to analyze impossible situations, why discuss detective fiction?” to which Fell answers…“Because, we’re in a detective story, and we don’t fool the reader by pretending we’re not. Let’s not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories. Let’s candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book.”

He goes on to list legitimate classifications of locked room murders. And also mentions other novels and authors from his time for examples! Great fun!

UK 1st edition

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‘The Case of the Constant Suicides’ by John Dickson Carr

Isn’t this an interesting cover? I like it for some reason:) This little pet carrier is the key to the locked room puzzle in this novel. And if you can figure it out you are way smarter than I am! Never in a million years would I have come up with the solution.

I did enjoy this book. It was set in Scotland, had characters that I really liked, was humorous and a great mystery!  And for you romantics, there was a love story too!

Angus Campbell has fallen, jumped or been pushed out of a window in the tower room he sleeps in. The door was locked from inside, no one else was in the room. He had just taken out another life insurance policy that would be null and void if he committed suicide. So what happened and what does the pet carrier found under the bed have to do with it? Is the tower haunted?!

Family members are called to the Castle of Shira as they try to determine if it was accidental, suicide or murder. Colin Campbell, Angus’ brother is sure it is murder and has called his friend Dr. Gideon Fell to join them and see if he can figure out the riddle of the ‘locked room’. Colin decides to stay the night in the tower room himself and see what might happen. Oh-Oh will we have another ‘accident’. Then there is Alec Forbes the neighbor with a history of angst against the Campbells. He did stop by the night Angus died. Where is he now?
And there is the missing diary that Angus wrote in every night…

You’ll also met Alan Campbell and Kathryn Campbell two history professors who have been having a running feud via a newspaper article on a figure in history. Turns out they are distant cousins and called to Shira, where they meet face to face for the first time. and there’s Elspat, the long time housekeeper and ‘companion’ to Angus. ‘Aunt’ Elspat is the ‘family’ matriarch and quite entertaining!  We can’t forget the silly sensational magazine writer, Swan, that is roaming around trying to get a good story.

So grab a copy and a dram of ‘The Doom of the Campbells’ (a special blend of Scotch whiskey) and settle in for a great read!

“She creaked out of the room, and returned bearing a decanter nearly full of a darkish brown liquid filled with gold where the light struck it. Colin placed it tenderly on the table. For Elspat and Kathryn he poured out an infinitesimal amount. For himself and Alan he poured out about a quarter of a tumblerful.”

You want a taste don’t you! I do!