Puzzle for Plotters

It's funny how neatly the previous two blog entries tie-in with this review, which discusses not only another book from the collective hands of that shamefully neglected writing team, operating this time under the nom de guerre of Patrick Quentin, but one that also happens to star two of their series detectives: the troubled Peter Duluth and the methodical Lieutenant Trant. But don't think that the maddening, and hauntingly ingenious, problem put forward in Black Widow (1952) is solved by this dream-team of super-sleuths, because crossing paths means in this case crossing swords – as Lt. Trant doggedly pursues Duluth as he tries to tag him for the death of a young woman.

The Plot Against Peter Duluth

The menacing plot, contrived against the ever-troubled Peter Duluth, ticks and moves with the same meticulous precision as the cogs and wheels that make the hands of a Swiss pocket watch move – and once again showcase their talent for combining a knotty, twisted and complex plot with an exploration of the darker depths of the human soul.

Black Widow was put down on paper more than a decade after Death and the Maiden (1939), but I'm also glad to report that the intermediating years didn't deteriorate their talent for gauging the intelligence and experience of their readers – and mercilessly use it as a tool to lead them by the noose.

This diabolical scheme starts when a depressed and lonely Peter Duluth is persuaded by a friend to stop moping around the house and join a dull party, where he meets and befriends a young woman – who's also an aspiring writer. He sort of looks out for her, in a purely platonically and fatherly manner, and even offers the use of his house for her to work quietly on her writing. But no good deed goes unpunished, and one day, when Duluth returns from fetching his wife, who just came back from a trip, they find the girl in their home with a scarf tightly knotted around her neck – dangling from a chandelier.

Enter the ever-persistent and efficient Lieutenant Trant, whose careful examination and questioning of witnesses turn up a pile of damning evidence against Peter Duluth – that brands him, not only as an unfaithful husband and a seducer of young women, but also marks him as potential and particular ruthless murderer. I was getting a real kick out at seeing these detectives interact as antagonists, instead of sitting down and discussing the case over a drink, however, the methods employed by Lieutenant Trant seemed a bit crude at times, and one of his remarks was loaded with so much venom that it would've rendered even Archie Goodwin speechless.

This is a frighteningly good constructed persecution story, that does such a fine job of stacking up the odds against Peter Duluth that you tend to forget that you're reading a fair play detective story – and the possibility you have as reader to skewer through the many layers of plot and figure out for yourself what the heck is really going on.

Not to brag, or anything, but I managed to do exactly that! Early on, I stumbled across part of the truth and slowly developed it into a workable theory, but for the most part of the story, it was mere conjecture, until certain clues started showing up that snugly fitted my solution. At that moment, everything clicked into place and suddenly everything made sense. However, they anticipated upon an observant reader coming that far and nearly swiped that smug grin off my face with a completely fair twist, but I was able to work that one out as well – just in the nick of time.

To sum the book up: Black Widow is a very dark story, in which an innocent person is trapped in a poisonous and tightly woven web of lies and deceit – designed to slowly kill its prey, but the complexity of its plots makes the book so much more than merely a story of suspense and peril. And the fact that the book is a crossover is the icing on the cake.

This is another five star detectives from the geniuses whom we collectively call Patrick Quentin. 

Final note: I will update this post if anything like this happens tonight. Stay tuned. ;)


  1. Your enthusiasm for Patrick Quentin is quite apparent, and it's been rather interesting to see this develop over the course of these three posts. I definitely have to give "him" a look. You're a dangerous Internet friend to have!!! ;)

  2. I'm afraid that as far as dreams goes, nothing happened last night. Which is disappointing as I was looking forward to meeting Peter Duluth and Lt. Trant.