Just Like in the Movies

"So our final toast is inevitable."
- Gervase Fen (Edmund Crispin's Frequent Hearses, 1950)
My undying love for John Dickson Carr's detective fiction is well documented on this blog and grab every opportunity to reference his stories in otherwise unrelated posts, but the backlog of his unread work has rapidly diminished over the years – leaving only a handful of standalones, historical novels and short stories.

Well, there was one novel in the Sir Henry Merrivale series, And So to Murder (1940), which lingered on the pile for years, but decided it was time to finally wrap up that series. So here we go.

The setting of the story is Pineham Studios during middle-and late August, "before there had come any glimmer of events that were to shatter Europe by the end of the month," where several movies are being shot. One of the productions is based on a best-selling, but scandalous, novel, entitled Desire, which was written by a canon's daughter from a small village.

Monica Stanton is elated to have gained a position at the film studio as a scriptwriter, but those feeling quickly subside when Monica learns she isn't going to work on the adaptation of her own novel. A producer by the name of Tom Hackett assigned her to work on a script based on William Cartwright's latest detective novel, while Cartwright is adapting her novel for the big screen – which brings back memories of Monica's annoying aunt grieving over the fact she didn't write a nice detective story like Cartwright.

Of course, Monica and Cartwright are simply ignoring their true feelings for each other, but, luckily for them, an aspiring murderer is driving them closer together by targeting Monica.

A spate of incidents occur over several weeks, which include water in an innocent looking bottle being replaced with sulfuric acid and the same corrosive liquid is pored down a speaking tube – nearly disfiguring Monica. There are anonymous letters being passed around and a poisoned cigarette almost took the life of one of the actresses, but the problem is that these incidents are merely (detective) interruption in a character-driven, comedy of manners-style novel. And that makes it very difficult to review this book.

There are several titles from the Merrivale-series, written under the name of "Carter Dickson," in which Carr attempted to take a different approach to the detective novel, such as A Graveyard to Let (1949) and The Cavalier's Cup (1953), but they were still detective stories. Surprisingly, for Carr, And So the Murder merely masquerades as one and the mystery elements that are present are poorly handled.

A portion of the information pertaining to the plot was withheld from the reader and that's detrimental to any impact the solution might have had, which had some points of interest. But were ultimately lost in the mess. A lot of the trouble could've been prevented if they simple had decided to lock a few doors or hire security guards. You have to wonder why H.M. even bothered with this case at all.

And So to Murder has some points of interest: the depiction of the film studio and what goes on there were interesting, as were the characters buzzing around the sets and the flashes of humor, but as a detective story it was as unsatisfying as Seeing is Believing (1941) and Patrick Butler for the Defense (1956). I can only really recommend this one to completists.

So, there you have it, after several years I finally wrote and posted as less than enthusiastic review about a John Dickson Carr novel, which I hope will be as rare an occurance as a snow-covered Sphinx.

Previously reviewed on this blog:

John Dickson Carr:

Carter Dickson:

And So to Murder (1940)


  1. Once I attempted to buy a 1st edition of DEATH IN FIVE BOXES from an online dealer, but a few days after the purchase the seller realized he didn't have it. So as recompense he sent me a 1st edition of AND SO TO MURDER. I was upset not to get the book I wanted but rather pissed off that he chose to send me AND SO TO MURDER already knowing it was one of the generally reviled Carter Dickson books. But I kept it. Easier than having to pack it up and sent it back. The copy I have is nice (no DJ though) but I have avoided reading it for years. This post isn't going to get me to pick it up anytime soon.

    1. If you can life with not having read every single word JDC ever wrote, I would recommend keeping this one shelved. And that's coming from someone who defended Behind the Crimson Blinds, which is as much (or even more) reviled as this one.

  2. Well, it had to happen sooner or later TC - I read this, in Itralian, 3 decades ago and remember little but soone ror later will try again, I know I well - I'm just that devoted!

    1. I'll probably re-read every JDC one day. There aren't that many unread JDC's left for me at the moment.

  3. With AND SO TO MURDER, the war itself does not draw much of our attention. Nor does the plot involve espionage, although there is a suspicion of sabotage after the incident where the bottle of water is replaced with sulfuric acid. I recall that I enjoyed Carr / Dickson's portrayal of Monica Stanton. AND SO TO MURDER was the first Merrivale not to focus on a murder at all, but only attempted murder. I remember it as a comic love story in the same vein as THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES, and that certainly doesn't place it in bad company. I would rate it as average Carr, not top-drawer stuff but far better than so many other GAD authors' average works. So if you've liked Carr in the past, I would give this one a go, too.

    1. It's true that even the worst Carr's tend be readable and still miles ahead of most of his (lesser known) contemporaries, but, by his own standards, titles such as And So to Murders and Patrick Butler for the Defense are extremely disappointing.