8/20/19

The Case of the Hanging Rope (1937) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush's The Case of the Hanging Rope (1937) is the seventeenth detective novel in the Ludovic Travers and Superintendent Wharton series, rechristened as The Wedding Night Murder in US., which was published during what some consider to be a vintage year for the genre – a golden year, of the golden decade, of the Golden Age. A fine year with an excellent harvest of detective stories. Some of them are still considered classic masterpieces today.

Classics such as Anthony Berkeley's Trial and Error (1937), John Dickson Carr's The Four False Weapons (1937), Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile (1937), Gladys Mitchell's Come Away, Death (1937) and John Rhode's Death on the Board (1937).

So where does Bush's The Case of the Hanging Rope exactly stand in this illustrious class of '37? Well, let's find out!

Sonia Vorge is an Anglo-Russian aviatrix, like Amelia Earhart, who was driving race cars at eighteen, "picking up prizes at Brooklands," before she started competing in "the international circuits and holding her own against men," but, during an Alpine race, she wrecked her car – killing her friend and passenger, Irene Carne. Sonia escaped with a broken arm and smashed ribs. After her stint as a female dare-devil of the race track, she picked up parachuting, gliding and finally long-distance flying.

A second tragedy happens when Sonia crashes her plane in the Austrian Alps and her co-pilot, Maurice Trove, damaged his legs and is unable to walk. So she went looking for help, but she wandered around for two days until by "sheer bling, blazing luck" stumbling across a forester. The wreck and Trove's body were never found, but rumors of "reliable evidence" of Trove's survival have begun to circulate. A man claimed to have seen Trove in Odessa, Russia, three months after the plane crash. Even the newspaper headlines are now boldly asking the question "IS MAURICE TROVE STILL ALIVE?"

These rumors and public speculations begin on the eve of her marriage to a well-known theatrical producer, Sidley Cordovan, who had broken off his initial engagement to Sonia. Cordovan had "some pretty hard things" to say about his former fiance, but they became reengaged in the wake of the plane crash.

Sidley and Sonia have a modest wedding ceremony at a London registry office with Ludovic Travers, an acquaintance of Sonia, acting as one of the witnesses.

When Travers congratulates the newlywed Sonia, she invites him to have lunch with him the following day and promises with "a sardonic delight" that he won't be bored, but why delay their honeymoon for a casual lunch? The day had been heavy with portent. Early next morning, Travers is called out of bed, by Wharton, with the news that Sonia Vorge had been murdered at Montage Court – where they had been spending their wedding night. Sonia was stabbed to death in her bridal bed and Sidley was found in the next room, drugged and dazed, with a noose of stout linen-line hanging from a cross-beam. A poor attempt by the murderer to disguise the crime as a botched murder/suicide. 
 
A salient detail is that the elderly caretaker, Coales, claims to have seen the foreboding "apparition" of the Lame Monk of Montage, "quite a well-known ghost," on the night of the murder. Travers would probably have believed Coales had he seen the ghost on any other night, but not on that specific night.

Travers and Wharton begin to delve into the backgrounds of everyone involved, which brings Wharton to France to talk with the eccentric owner of Montage Court, Sir Raphael Breye, who left England to live as a recluse in the south of France with his vast collection of paintings. This charming little excursion to France shows why Wharton has become my favorite Golden Age policeman. Meanwhile, Travers is doing what he does best: testing the soundness of everyone's alibis.

Some of the alibis aren't only cast-iron, they appear to be made of hand-wrought steel, but "hand-wrought may be home-made" and they've demolished seemingly unbreakable alibis before. Travers gives a practical demonstration on how to make a homely alibi. However, the murderer's alibi-trick is something different altogether.

Bush's best and most successful alibi stories either have minutely-timed, clockwork-like plots (The Case of the Missing Minutes, 1936) or were carefully staged tricks (The Case of the Murdered Major, 1941), but here the murderer's unshakable alibi relayed on something unpredictable – which could have rendered the alibi completely useless. Sure, the murderer had an excuse to explain this unpredictable element, but it would still left this person without an alibi. Still, the idea behind the alibi-trick is original and possibly unique. Only problem is that it's a risky method to use in a crime that can get you hanged. Murderer was really lucky it worked exactly as planned.

The explanation as to who murdered Sonia, drugged Sidley and why there was a rope hanging from a cross-beam formed an interesting play on the tightly-linked, closely-timed double murder puzzles Bush specialized in before World War II. Dead Man Twice (1930), Dancing Death (1931) and The Case of the April Fools (1933) are great examples of them, but the multiple, interacting plot-threads of The Case of the Hanging Rope were loosely tied together. Something that would have been less of a problem, if the murderer had a stronger motive and the characterization had been better. There were only three convincing characters, besides Travers and Wharton, which is why I didn't go over the list of suspects. They were mostly colorless.

Unfortunately, these shortcomings prevented The Case of the Hanging Rope from securing a spot in the top-rank in Bush's oeuvre, but I can still recommend it to his loyal readers as a good, but loosely plotted, entry in the series with an insanely original alibi-trick. And if you specifically like detective stories that center on destroying alibis, you have to read The Case of the Hanging Rope, because this one doesn't rely on screwing with people's perception of space and/or time.

My last few excursions into this series haven't exactly been as successful as my earlier ones. So my next read from Dean Street Press is probably going to be return to always wonderful E.R. Punshon.

8/18/19

The Locked Room Reader XI: A Return to the Phantom Library

Back in 2016, I compiled a brief overview, under the title "A Selection of Lost Detective Stories," listing a number of examples of long-lost or unpublished manuscripts from the hands of celebrated and lesser-known mystery writers – such as Glyn Carr, Joseph Commings, Theodora DuBois and Hake Talbot. The idea of the existence, or partial existence, of a phantom library is as fascinating as it's frustrating. Even more so, when it disproportionately affects a writer you happened to be very fond of.

One of my favorite second-stringers, John Russell Fearn, was a prolific writer of lost detective stories and he didn't limit himself to merely losing sight of manuscripts. Philip Harbottle kindly provided me with all the background details.

A fragment from an alt-reality
Harbottle told me that "several wonderful impossible crime novels," written by Fearn in 1946, were lost and apparently destroyed, because hardcover publishing in the U.K. suffered from paper shortages during the post-war years and many books were delayed – often "never appeared at all" and "were lost." Fearn sold three novels under a penname, "Rosina Tarne," of which only one came close to actually being published.

You Murdered Me would have told the story of the ghost of a murdered woman who helps her grieving boyfriend/detective bring her killer to justice and the manuscript was proofed, blurbed and appropriately advertised on the jacket of Gordon Meyrick's The Ghost Hunters (1947). There are only "half a dozen scattered pages of mss carbon" left of the second novel, entitled The Eyes Have It, which reveal that the story followed a husband-and-wife detective team investigating "a dead body in a swimming pool" with resonances of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868). Yes, a Fearn mystery novel along the lines of Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff (1942) got lost. God has some serious explaining to do!

Sadly, Murder in Suburbia has been completely erased from existence as nothing, whatsoever, is known about it and "nothing has survived." However, the title makes me wonder if Fearn rewrote the story nearly a decade later as Lonely Road Murder (1954). Murder in Suburbia strikes me as an uncomplicated, straitlaced crime story without any locked rooms, cast-iron alibis or science-based death-traps – like Lonely Road Murder. Something not entirely out of the realm of possibilities, because there's a possible change that the presumed lost Partners in Crime was eventually published as Murder's a Must (1949; retitled later as The Tattoo Murders). However, this is just an educated guess by Harbottle.

The last title to be added to this lamentable list is about "an impossible murder on a railway," titled Unfinished Journey, which he intended to get published under the name of "Hartley Grant," but manuscript was apparently rejected. Regardless, Fearn was an amateur cineaste and, in 1949, created the Fylde Cine Club. One of the movies they made was an ambitious, full-length (silent) movie adaptation of Unfinished Journey starring Fearn, Matt Japp and published author Audrey Weigh, who recorded the lines on a tape recorder – a tape that got either lost or destroyed! However, Harbottle salvaged three boxes of the club's 16mm films and them transferred to VHS tapes, but the firm managed to mix "the running order of the three film spools" and made them run backwards. Harbottle said he only watched the silent VHS once, a quarter of a century ago, and was "so traumatized" that he never watched it again.

Honestly, I would love to get a glimpse of that silent film. Not just to get a taste of a lost impossible crime story, but just to watch Fearn acting. Someone should convert those VHS tapes and upload them to YouTube.

Seems appropriate
Sadly, Fearn is not the only one who lost a handful of manuscripts: R.T. Campbell wrote eight popular detective novels about a botanist and amateur detective, Professor John Stubbs. Five more titles were announced as forthcoming, namely The Hungry Worms Are Waiting, No Man Lives Forever, Death is Not Particular, Death is Our Physician and Mr. Death's Blue-Eyed Boy, but his publisher went into liquidation in 1948 and the manuscripts were lost to history. So just between Campbell and Fearn, you have nine or ten mystery novels that were expunged from our time-line. And, yes, there's more. There's always more of the bad stuff.

Willoughby Sharp was the author of two published detective novels, Murder in Bermuda (1933) and Murder of the Honest Broker (1934), who provided this list with the most peculiar and tantalizing lost title. A third novel was announced for 1935, intriguingly titled The Mystery of the Multiplying Mules, which came with a short description of the premise and the story would have made for a most unusual locked room mystery – as mules keep turning up inside the locked barn of the Logan family. No reason was ever given why the book got canceled.

Another mystery writer with a short-lived career was Kirke Mechem and only saw one of his detective novels get published, The Strawstack Murder Case (1936), which has a strong rural flavor. This is likely the reason why his second Steven Steele novel was never published. The plot of the story, titled Mind on Murder, dealt with miscegenation in Kansas and Doubleday, Doran, turned down his manuscript "on account of this sensitive subject matter." The three novels by Mechem and Sharp have been reprinted by Coachwhip Publications.

Christopher St. John Sprigg plunge into Marxism and untimely death in the Spanish Civil War ended a short, but promising, run as a mystery novelist. Recently, Sprigg has profited from our current renaissance era and all of his seven novels has been reprinted as paperbacks and ebooks, but Curt Evans reported in 2013 that there two unpublished short stories, "The Case of the Misjudged Husband" and "The Case of the Jesting Miser" – existing as typed manuscripts in Sprigg's papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Evans describes them as "longish short stories" with a certain appeal and a noteworthy detective, Mrs. Bird.

So these two short stories still have a fighting chance to get published and maybe sooner than we think. A recently published anthology, Bodies from the Library 2 (2019), had never before published material by Christianna Brand, Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L. Sayers. I say we loot salvage as much as possible from this phantom library!

Well, hopefully, this rambling filler-post wasn't too depressing and I'll return to you presently with a regular review of a detective story that wasn't cruelly snatched away from us.

8/16/19

The Flimflam Affair (2019) by Bill Pronzini

The Flimflam Affair (2019) is the seventh, full-length historical mystery novel in the John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter series, a pair of private-investigators from San Francisco of the 1890s, which were originally penned by the husband-and-wife writing tandem of Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller – a collaboration that ended with The Dangerous Ladies Affair (2017). Pronzini has continued the series on his own beginning with The Bags of Tricks Affair (2018).

On a side note, three years ago, I reviewed The Plague of Thieves Affair (2016) under the blog-title "A Stuffed Bag of Tricks" and this made me assume I had already read The Bags of Tricks Affair. Yes, I'm an imbecile.

The plot of The Flamflim Affair is an amalgamation of two short stories originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, "Medium Rare" (1998) and "Burglarproof" (2010), expanded with two personal plot-threads concerning John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter. Their relationship had been "strictly professional," but Quincannon has been spending the past five years convincing Sabina that his intentions were honorable and has "finally worn down her resistance" – admitting to herself that John was more than just a business partner and friend. A second plot-thread brings back a ghost from the past, but first, they have to clear up two cases that were brought to Carpenter & Quincannon: Professional Detective Services.

Sierra Railway Company has engaged Quincannon to track down "a considerable sum" in gold dust and bullion, stolen from the express office of the Tuttletown depot, but the audacious thieves didn't simply crack the safe. Oh, no! They carried off "a four-hundred-pound burglarproof safe," filled with gold, in the middle of the night. A dairy farmer finds the opened and looted safe in a field, but this discovery turned a burglary into an impossible problem.

The black, circular door of the safe was partially detached, hanging by "a single bolt from a bent hinge," showing "the door had clearly been forced somehow," but there are no powder marks or other evidence of explosives having been used – which makes this a highly unusual impossible crime. Quincannon demonstrates here why he thinks he's "the best detective west of the Mississippi" as he follows such clues as blood, dried putty, a piece of straw and the cold, damp interior of the safe to the doorstep of the culprits.

However, the best part of Quincannon's case is undeniably the method the thieves employed to wrench open a reputedly burglarproof safe. Something you normally would expect to find in a scientific impossible crime story by Arthur Porges.

Sabina Carpenter receives an assignment from a rich investment broker, Winthrop Buckley, whose daughter was "a childhood victim of diphtheria," but his wife, Margaret, has never been able to accept her death. Margaret believes she can "obtain an audience" with the ghost of their daughter, Bernice, with the help of Professor Abraham Vargas of the Unified College of the Attuned Impulses. Buckley is a skeptic and believes Vargas to be a fraud, but he needs hard, cast-iron evidence in order to convince his wife. Sabina goes undercover as "Dorothy Milford" with a fabricated story about a dead brother and discovers Vargas to be "a philandering flimflammer" who "preys on vulnerable women" and grieving families, which is painfully demonstrated during the fatal séance when he manufactured the disembodied voice of Bernice – making her grief-stricken mommy and daddy promise to come again. Vargas more than deserved to have that ornamental dagger shoved down his neck.

Coming in 2020
This is exactly what happened in the pitch-black séance room: Vargas is stabbed from behind, twice, while everyone around the table was holding hands and the only door was locked from the inside. The locked room-trick here is the proverbial mixed bag of tricks. I appreciated how much of the trick was tied to the tools of the trade of fraudulent mediums, but disliked how the murderer managed to get pass the locked door, which is something of a cheat. Still a good example of the murder-during-a-seance locked room mystery.

The problems posed by Vargas takes up the lion's share of The Flimflim Affair, as Quincannon only needed five chapters to bring the burglary case to an end, but the murder of Vargas is solved with ten chapters left to go. 

This portion of the story concerns "a notorious counterfeiter," Long Dick Darrow, who had a fatal encounter with Quincannon during his tenure as an operative of the Secret Service. But he appears to have risen from his watery grave and has brought his distinctive counterfeit one-hundred dollar bills back into circulation. I didn't really care about this last plot-thread and felt tacked on to the plot in order to pad out the book to a novel-length story.

The Flimflam Affair is a patchwork mystery novel of old and new material, which can make the story feel a little disjointed at times, but on a whole, it was vast improvement over the very minor The Plague of Thieves Affair and the overtly political The Dangerous Ladies Affair (2017) – hearkening back (quality-wise) to the earlier The Bughouse Affair (2013) and The Spook Lights Affair (2013).

The next entry in this series, The Stolen Gold Affair (2020), is scheduled for next year and has the best cover-art of the whole series! I hope it means we'll be getting an impossible crime inside a sealed mine shaft.

8/14/19

Unlocked: "The Poet Who Locked Himself In" (2017) by Anne van Doorn in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (Sept/Oct)

Two years ago, I reviewed "De dichter die zichzelf opsloot" ("The Poet Who Locked Himself In," 2017) by "Anne van Doorn," at the time the secret penname of Dutch crime writer M.P.O. Books, which is the first story about two particuliere onderzoekers (private investigators), Robbie Corbijn and Lowina de Jong – specialized in dead-end murder cases, missing persons and impossible crimes! Over a ten year period, Books has become the all-time most prolific writer of locked room mysteries in the Netherlands!

Between 2004 and 2014, Books wrote a grossly underrated series of police procedurals and first toyed with this time-honored trope in De Blikvanger (The Eye-Catcher, 2010), which introduces a minor locked room sub-plot towards the end of the story. Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013) is a full-blown locked room mystery with a seemingly impossible murder in a tightly secured, fortress-like house, but these miraculous crimes figure most prominently in the Corbijn and De Jong series – most notably in "Het huis dat ongeluk bracht" ("The House That Brought Bad Luck," 2018) and "De bus die de mist inging" ("The Bus That Went Into the Fog," 2018). And, of course, "The Poet Who Locked Himself In."

So the impossible crime stories from this series would make a nice addition to the translations of the locked room stories regularly published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and collected by LRI (e.g. Realm of the Impossible, 2017). Well, my rambling reviews of those stories got around.

Back in June, I announced in a blog-post (scroll to the bottom) that "The Poet Who Locked Himself In" was translated and scheduled to be published in EQMM either later this year or early 2020. The translator, Josh Pachter, revealed on his website that the story will appear in the September/October, 2019, issue of EQMM. I'm both excited and extremely curious to learn what my fellow locked room enthusiasts will make of the first Dutch impossible crime story to cross the language barrier since Robert van Gulik. Don't let us down, JJ. We're the only ones in Europe who actually like you guys. And that includes the rest of the British Isles.

Hopefully, this will open the door to more translations in the future, not just of the Corbijn and De Jong series, but also some titles from Books' previous District Heuvelrug series. De laatste kans (The Last Chance, 2011) lacks an impossible crime, but, purely as a detective novel, it's one of the finest my country has ever produced and has one of those all-time brilliant clues – one that makes you want to kick yourself for having missed. The previously mentioned A Sealed House is great example of the modern-day impossible crime story with an up-to-date premise and solution. There are some other notable Dutch locked room mysteries, like Cor Docter's Koude vrouw in Kralingen (Cold Woman in Kralingen, 1970), which deserve consideration. You can find an (incomplete) list of Dutch impossible crime novels and short stories here.

So, having shilled practically every known impossible crime story my county has to offer, I'll close by saying that I look forward to what everyone has to say about Books' "The Poet Who Locked Himself In." My next regular review will be posted on Friday. 

Update 16-08-19: a preview of the story is now available on the EQMM website.  

8/13/19

Son of a Gun: "The K-Bar-D Murders" (1976) by Gerald Tomlinson

Gerald Tomlinson was an American school teacher, a full-time freelance writer and a consulting specialist in the field of education, who has edited many high-school grammar and composition textbooks, but, during the 1970s, Tomlinson began to write short detective stories – printed in such publications as Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. One story in particular attracted my attention.

"The K-Bar-D Murders" was originally published in the November, 1976, issue of EQMM and reprinted in the anthology Ellery Queen's Masters of Mystery (1987).

On his informative and detailed website, "A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection," Mike Grost briefly discusses Tomlinson's "The K-Bar-D Murders," which is where I learned of the story. Grost described "The K-Bar-D Murders" as "a brief but well done detective story" packed with as much details as possible about the characters, murders, sociological background and a plot with surrealistic touches – one of several points linking the story to the work of Ellery Queen. This sounded promising enough to place the story near the top of my short story to-be-read list.

Robert Ollinger is a notorious syndicated newspaper columnist, whose column, Capitol Hot Line, ran "in 112 newspapers from Maine to California" and a quarter of a century of investigative reporting had left "a host of enemies in his wake." The terrible "price of telling the truth." Some have even tried to kill him.

However, Ollinger not only has enemies everywhere, but also paid informants and "electronic bugs." So there's always a hot tip, somewhere, down the pipeline.

When the story opens, Ollinger gets a rambling phone call from someone identifying himself as Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte from Honotassa, New Mexico, who tells him a guy by the name Poindexter is responsible for "the branding-iron jobs." A case referred to by the newspapers as the K-Bar-D murders. Someone has shot and killed four men, in four different states, after which he brands their foreheads with a branding-iron from the K-Bar-D ranch, but there are two problems – such a ranch never existed and the victim's don't have a thing in common. They didn't "serve on the same jury, or fight in the same platoon in World War Two, or take the same plane from Dulles to O'Hare, or receive the same coded message from Hong Kong."

Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte warns Poindexter is moving east and is going to kill the hard-nosed columnist, because he's so well-known Poindexter isn't likely to go through "a dozen phone books to find some other Robert Ollinger." So what does this mean? Ollinger orders one of his personal investigators, Mort Bell, to deliver him the K-Bar-D killer or else he can find himself another job!

The plot comprises of two mini-puzzles: finding the obscure link that chains the victim's together and the meaning of the K-Bar-D brands on their foreheads, which functions here as a dying message of sorts. The murderer is "a trigger-happy psychopath" who never appears in the story and is captured off-page by Bell. And this ending exposes the story's main weakness. It's too short.

Tomlinson crammed too much material in too short a story. The characters, premise and plot ideas were all excellent, but the story was too short to do them any kind of justice and should really have been expanded into a full-length, Golden Age-style serial killer novel – similar to Arthur W. Upfield's Winds of Evil (1937) and Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails (1949). So what we're left with is a story full of good and promising ideas, but the short story format prevented Tomlinson to develop those ideas further and deliver on their promise. You can't help but feel that a good mystery novel was wasted on this short story. All of that being said, "The K-Bar-D Murders" still makes for interesting detective story. What it does, it does well. So there's that.

Yes, my next post is going to be my long overdue return to Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller's historical Carpenter & Quincannon series.

8/9/19

Till Death Do Us Part (1944) by John Dickson Carr

After slogging through Jonathan Latimer's tediously paced The Dead Don't Care (1938), I needed a palate cleanser and there were only two names that immediately came to mind, John Dickson Carr and Bill Pronzini, who have receded into the background of my blog over the last couple of years – which can entirely be blamed on the avalanche of reprints and translations. Don't you dare to stop, DSP and LRI!

Predictably, I decided to go with the inimitable artisan of the pure detective story and purveyor of miracles, but my next read is going to be Pronzini's The Flimflam Affair (2019). So you know what to expect next. But first things first.

I've wanted to reread Carr's Till Death Do Us Part (1944) for a while now, because, over the past fifteen years, the book has been elevated from a mid-rank title in the Dr. Gideon Fell series to one of Carr's ten best (locked room) mystery novels – a trend I first noticed on the message board of the now defunct JDCarr.com (archive). Since then, I've seen nothing but praise and high, often five-star, ratings for Till Death Do Us Part online. So I was curious to see if this newly proclaimed masterpiece stood up to rereading. Yes, it absolutely did!

Till Death Do Us Part is a testament to Carr's gift as a natural storyteller and a demonstration of his abilities as an artisanal craftsman of fantastic, maze-like plots, which beautifully complemented each other here. An ultimately simple idea swathed in layers of obfuscation without the plot becoming a convoluted, tangled mess of plot-threads.

Lesley Grant is the linchpin of the plot of Till Death Do Us Part. A young woman who looked about eighteen years old, "in contrast to the twenty-eight she admitted," who's a recent addition to the charming, old-world village of Six Ashes. Lesley turned "the heads of half the males," but after six months, she becomes engaged to "a rather well-known young playwright" of psychological thrillers, Dick Markham. Very much to the disappointment of Six Ashes. For two years, the village has tried to get their local celebrity together with a local girl, Cynthia Drew, but Dick refused to marry "just to please the community."

When the story opens, Dick and Lesley are on their way to a garden party with a bazaar at Ash Hall. Lesley wants to see the fortune teller before mingling with the rest, but she leaves the tent looking upset. So he goes into the tent to have a word with the Great Swami, palmist and crystal gazer.

The man under the white linen and colored turban is none other than the celebrated Home Office Pathologist, Sir Harvey Gilman, who's "one of the greatest living authorities on crime," but their conversation is cut short by the crack of a rifle-shot – after which "the world dissolved in nightmare." Sir Harvey is struck in the shoulder by a bullet. Before rushing into the tent, Dick had pressed a rifle from Major Price's miniature shooting-range in Lesley's hands. And she says the rifle went off by accident. But did it?

Sir Harvey only has a flesh wound and is brought to his cottage, but instructs Doctor Hugh Middlesworth to circulate the report that he was dying and summoned Dick to tell him an unsettling story.

According to Sir Harvey, Dick's youngish looking fiance is a forty-one year old poisoner, named Jordan, who has killed three men with "a hypodermic full of prussic acid" inside rooms that were found to be locked or bolted from the inside. So they were all as suicides, but Sir Harvey, Superintendent David Hadley and Dr. Gideon Fell believed they had been cleverly murdered. Only the locked rooms had them utterly beat. Someone from Scotland Yard is on his way to Six Ashes to identify Lesley as the elusive poisoner.

Lesley Grant is a very similar character to Fay Seton from He Who Whispers (1946). Two women who find themselves ensnared in a web of murder and suspicion.

Fay Seton is arguably Carr's most well-known tragic (female) characters who became the victim of a slanderous whisper campaign, following her engagement to Harry Brooke, which accused her of being bloodsucking vampire – malicious gossip and rumors are reinforced by two seemingly impossible (attempted) murders. The apparent handiwork of a supernatural being. Lesley is accused of being a serial poisoner of men and this claim is strengthened when her accuser is murdered in circumstances that are identical to the past murders.

On the morning following the incident in fortunetellers tent, Dick receives an early, anonymous phone call telling him to immediately go to Sir Harvey's cottage, because if he doesn't come at once, he'll be too late. So he hurries towards the cottage, but, when he arrives, sees how somebody stuck a rifle over the boundary wall of Ashe Hall Park and fired a shot. And he saw how the star of a bullet-hole jump up in the window-glass of the cottage. However, Sir Harvey was not killed by a bullet.

Sir Harvey is found sitting in an easy-chair, beside a big writing-table, in the middle of the sitting-room with a hypodermic syringe lying on the floor and the unmistakable odor of bitter-almonds in the air. The door to the sitting-room is bolted on the inside and the ordinary sash-windows are fastened with metal catches. So how did the murderer enter or leave the room? And who switched on the lights in the locked sitting-room seconds before the shot was fired? These locked room-tricks are a little bit more technical in nature than most impossible crimes found in Carr's work and basically found a new way to apply a very old locked room-trick, but it was innovating enough to reinvigorate the idea – making it even feel original. Carr pulled off a similar stunt with the impossible murder from the slightly underrated The Dead Man's Knock (1958), which found an ingenious new angle to another age-old locked room-trick.

The murder of Sir Harvey brings Dr. Gideon Fell to the village and the news he brings drops one of many bombshells on the case, but it was great to see the good doctor again when he was at the top of his game.

Dr. Fell enters the story as only he can as he emerged from the back of a car, like "a very large genie out of a very small bottle," clad in a box-pleated cape, shovel hat, a pair of eye-glasses on a broad black ribbon and leaning heavily a crutch-handled cane. A few pages later, Dr. Fell is pacing through the garden of the cottage, immersed deep in thought, addressing "a ghostly parliament" with gestures and inaudible words. This is how I like to see Dr. Fell. A wheezing, larger-than-life Chestertonian figure who can be simultaneously perfectly logical and maddening enigmatic without negatively affecting the plot... usually.

Dr. Fell begins to peel away the various layers of the plot, but the problems remain as baffling and murky as the moment the whole case began in the fortuneteller's tent, because each answer posed new problems and questions – which began to gnaw at my memories of the solution. Where my memories deceiving me? Hey, it has happened to me before! This is why so few can match Carr when it comes to plotting and telling a detective story. Even when you know the solution, the plot still tries to throw sand in your eyes.

The solution is pretty solid and technically sound. An ultimately simple idea complicated by circumstances, personal secrets and an unexpected murder in a locked room. I think it was very impressive how Carr managed to keep everything shrouded in mystery until the ending with even Lesley's guilt or innocence being up in the air until the very last moment. There really was nobody better than Carr. Nobody!

So, all in all, Till Death Do Us Part was even better than I remembered and deserves its current reappraisal as one of Carr's top-tier mystery novels, but I have one caveat. Yes, Till Death Do Us Part is a five-star mystery novel, but it earned those stars on points rather than by a convincing knockout. Still, this is an excellent detective story that comes highly recommended.

A note for the curious: there are numerous references in the story to "a hard path across open fields towards Goblin Wood," which is the setting of Carr's most celebrated impossible crime story, "The House in Goblin Wood" (1947) – published as by "Carter Dickson." I like to believe this means the Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale series take place in the same universe. What a shame so very few writers pooled their series-detectives together.