Dark Deeds

"Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical."
- Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1292)
The Magician's Death (2004) is Paul Doherty's fourteenth mystery novel in his flagship series about Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal of Edward I of England, who finds himself at the heart of a conspiratorial intrigue of the royal courts of both England and France. One that centers on an encoded manuscript by the enigmatic Franciscan friar and philosopher, Roger Bacon.

The "beloved cousin" and internal rival of Edward of England, Philip IV of France, maneuvered the English monarch into signing the Treaty of Paris, which he accomplished by putting a great amount of international pressure on the English – backed by the powerful papacy. Philip IV wants to absorb the wine-rich province of Gascony in south-west France, still under English rule, into "the Capetian patrimony" and see his unborn grandson crowned as King of England at Westminster. One of the promises Edward had to make in the treaty is that his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, would marry Philip's sole daughter.

So, one day, the grandson of Philip of France would be wearing "the crown of the Confessor," his daughter will be Queen of England and "her second son will be Duke of Gascony." As to be expected, Edward is not very happy with the situation he found himself in and this is the point where fiction takes it over from history.

All of a sudden, Edward began to cultivate an interest in the work of the late Roger Bacon, whose writing told about such magical wonders as "machines" which can “go to the bottom of the sea” or “fly through the air,” carts that can travel without being pulled by oxen and “a black powder” that can create a thunder-like explosion – among many other visions of the future. But one of Friar Roger's most ambitious work is a codes manuscript he wrote in captivity, Secretus Secretorum (Secret of Secrets), in which he revealed, in great detail, all his secret knowledge. The original manuscript went to Paris, while the only copy stayed in England.

So the opening of the book sees two of Corbett's agents, William Bolingbroke and Walter Ufford, attempting to steal the manuscript and smuggle it out of France, but there's a hitch in the plan and one of them dies – other one escaping by the skin of his teeth. As a result, Philip wants a meeting between delegations of both kingdoms to discuss the matter of Friar Roger's manuscript.

Philip requests that, with "the hardship of winter," the conclave takes place in a secure location on the south coast of England. The place chosen is a cold, grim and lonely stronghold, Corfe Castle, which is believed to be "the work of giants" and the surrounding, crescent-shaped forest is believed to be a home for sprites, spirits and the ghosts of the dead. On the open, south-side of the castle is the iron grey sea.

A desolate, but private, place. However, when Sir Hugh Corbett arrives with his retinue, which includes his right-hand man, Ranulf of Newgate, they find a hot-spot of trouble.

The castle has become the hunting grounds of a serial killer: a number of maids have been found, in-and outside the castle walls, with "a crossbow bolt through the heart." And the death-toll keeps rising! A band of outlaws and scavengers, who live in the forest, swear they were not the ones hunting the woman, but they did make vague references to "the horror hanging in the woods." There are also Flemish pirates, a whole swarm of them, packed in herring ships and cogs of war raiding coastal villages in the vicinity of the castle. So that's definitely a problem.

Finally, there's the French envoy: headed by Corbett's arch-rival, Seigneur Amaury de Craon, Keeper of the Secrets of His Most Royal Highness, who's accompanied by several magistri from the University of Paris, but they have the tendency to meet with an unfortunate and sticky end – usually within the confines of a sealed room. One of them has a deadly seizure in his locked bedroom, while another seems to have broken his neck when stumbling down a staircase between two locked doors. A third one is found, with a cracked skull, behind the closed door of a tower room.

French edition
So, the plot of The Magician's Death has enough going for itself and Doherty, as to be expected from such a natural storyteller, knows how to spin a yarn, but, in terms of a detective story, this was one of his weakest efforts. Doherty is usually very consistent in quality, with a smattering of genuinely excellent mystery novels, which (thus far) had only one true disappointment among them, The Assassins of Isis (2004). But this one is not far behind when it comes to being a complete and utter letdown. Coincidentally, they were both published in the same year.

The sub-plot about the serial killings of the maids was a pretty petty affair and basically filler material to pad out the novel, which was resolved and ditched well before the ending. I suppose this plot-thread served its purpose in giving the castle an even more sinister atmosphere, but, in the end, I did not care for it. The locked room murders were, mainly, underwhelming. There is, however, one interesting aspect about them that tied in with an earlier event from the story and provided, somewhat, of a clue (one of the few), but also disqualified the second killing as a locked room. The third came closer to being a proper impossible crime and resembled a medieval version of a certain John Dickson Carr novel, but was never played to full-effect. So, as a locked room fanboy, I was not exactly impressed.

And the marauding pirates were just there to provide the story with some last-minute action by raiding the castle. Robert van Gulik showed in "The Night of the Tiger," from The Monkey of the Tiger (1965), how a place under siege can be an excellent plot-enhancement for a historical detective story, but here it was more of an afterthought. One that was given a link to the main plot-thread, but its sole purpose was to provide some thriller-ish excitement towards the end.

The main plot-thread, concerning the court intrigue, the undecipherable manuscript and the murders of the university scholars, ends equally unsatisfying: the identity of the murderer and the sudden interest in Bacon's work are revealed, but they're not spectacular. And since none of the secrets are deciphered, the ending has a whiff of the unresolved hanging around it. 
So, yeah, I hoped this would turn out to be a better detective story, especially after my previous lukewarm reviews of Donald Bayne Hobart's work, but you can blame "Puzzle Doctor" for my selection of The Magician's Death – who called it "outstanding" and "one of Doherty's finest." Obviously, it wasn't.

Hopefully, the next recommendation on my TBR-list, a translated impossible crime novel (of course!), lives up to the hype. In the meantime, allow me to redirect your attention my 2016 best-of list for a whole pile of mystery novels I did enjoy this year.

I'll also try to watch and review the new TV-special of Jonathan Creek one of these days. So stay tuned and, once again, I wish you all the best for 2017. See you all on the other side!


Murder in Retrospect: The Best and Worst of 2016

"He's making a list, checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice."
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Once again, a year has come and gone! So that means the time has come to officially close this year of blogging with my traditional best-and worst-of list of the past twelve months, which is are now six in total. Actually, there are seven of them, but that's because my best and worst of 2013 were done as separate blog-posts. I came across enough clunkers that year that a separate list was in order, but why not precede this new end-of-the-year list with a quick rundown of precious best-lists. You know, to pad out this blog-post as much as possible.

THE BEST/WORST OF 2011-2015:

So, here is without further ado, the best and worst of 2016.


The Mystery of the Shrinking House (1972) by William Arden

So far, this has to be one of my favorite mystery novels about that "trio of lads," which employed a host of classical plot-devices: a hidden object puzzle, a locked room problem and even a dying message. All of this made for a surprisingly cerebral, but rewarding, entry in this series of juvenile mystery and adventure stories.

Koto Pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) by Alice Arisugawa

The latest translation from one of our very own, Ho-Ling Wong, who brought one of the landmark novels of Japan's neo-orthodox era (shin honkaku) to the English-speaking world. And it has all the hallmarks of the classic mystery novel: an isolated island, where a treasure has been hidden by the previous owner, which leads to a double murder inside a locked bedroom and several additional deaths – one of them involving an obliterated dying message! A handsomely and expertly dressed plate of puzzle-clues, hidden treasure and impossible crimes. What's there not to like?

Not to Be Taken (1938) by Anthony Berkeley

A deceptively quaint village mystery, concerning the poisoning by arsenic of a retired electrical engineer, who dies a painful and messy death, but, as one would expects from the author, this is not entirely an ordinary whodunit. One that puts a great deal of emphasis on the characterization and psychology of the cast of characters. However, there's also a EQ-style "Challenge to the Readers" towards the end of the book, which asks several pertinent questions and asks the reader if they think the story contained a "Dominant Clue." If only more modern, character-and psychology driven crime-writers were like Berkeley!

Neck and Neck (1951) by Leo Bruce

The seventh and penultimate novel in the wonderful Sgt. Beef series and this time the client of the former village constable, now a consulting detective, is none other than his personal and long-suffering biographer, Lionel Townsend – whose aunt has been poisoned with a fatal dose of morphine. Sgt. Beef tackles the case with his accustomed enthusiasm, boorishness and an alarming shortage of tact. But, as usual, Beef comes out on top and ties this case together with an, apparently, unconnected murder of a hated publisher. Neck and Neck is simply another solid example as to why I love this series so much.

Death in the Tunnel (1936) by Miles Burton

I had to add this one on its strength as an original howdunit/impossible crime novel: Sir Wilfred Saxonby bribed a train guard with a one-pound note to find him a first-class carriage he could have to himself and locked him into it, but when the guard returns all he finds is a body in the supposedly secure carriage. The method to accomplished this is very involved and perhaps not entirely practical, but it's as inventive as it's original.

Captain Cut-Throat (1955) by John Dickson Carr

I re-read this splendid novel for the blogosphere's commemoration of Carr's 110th birthday, organized by "JJ," which is, to my never-ending bafflement, completely overlooked – even by the aficionados of the locked room master. Granted, the book is an odd one, a hodgepodge of sub-genres, but was surprisingly successful as a hybrid crime-novel. First of all, the story is a historical one and takes place in Napoleonic France, during the planned invasion of England, but a seemingly invisible agent is bumping off the Emperor's sentries in plain sight. However, the impossible crimes are not allowed to dominate the plot. It's as much a dashing tale of adventure and espionage as one of crime and detection.

Fear is the Same (1956) by Carter Dickson

John Dickson Carr, or "Carter Dickson," is primarily known as the undisputed master of the locked room mystery, but he was also one of the early pioneers of the historical detective novel and within this sub-genre he also experimented with a very peculiar kind of hybrid novel – namely time-slip novels. He wrote three of them: The Devil in Velvet (1951), Fire, Burn! (1957) and this one, which flings two people back to the Regency Era in 1795. All they have is a bleary recollection of a murder that happened more than a hundred years into the future. Meanwhile, they have to survive in a time that's very different from their own and even having knowledge about the future can prove hazardous small-talk.

A Murder in Thebes (1998) by Paul Doherty

One of Doherty's grandest historical narratives, as well as one of his richest impossible crime novels, which takes place during the Sack of Thebes by Alexander the Great. As the once great city is reduces to a smoldering, ash-covered heap of rubble, Alexander has several missions: he wants to possess the Iron Crown of Oedipus, but this treasure is safely stored away in a holy shrine and the path to it has several (deadly) obstacles. So taking it will take some ingenuity. However, there's also the problem of an army general who was flung from the open window of a locked and guarded tower room when no murderer could've been physically present. Finally, the whispered rumors are making their round through the smoke-filled streets of the sacked city that the ghost of Oedipus has returned, a blood-encrusted club in hand, which coincide with a series of baffling murders of Macedonian soldiers – who were taken two, three or more at a time by complete surprise.

Thy Arm Alone (1947) by John Russell Fearn

One of trickiest titles on this list and for more than one reason. The plot revolves around Betty Shapley, "the belle of the village," who has three admirers vying from her attention and affection. But one of them dies under circumstances that are as gruesome as they're baffling: a single blow had obliterated part of his face and his body was found inside a burning car. I've no doubt that the cause of death will make some readers growl in disbelief, but the subsequent action on the part of the murderer is what makes this a (minor) classic. As this person said towards the end, "a chance like that only happens once in a lifetime" and "I made full use of it." A genuine original piece of work!

The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (1933) by Robin Forsythe

Anthony "Algernon" Vereker's high-spirited friend, Manuel Ricardo, manages to convince the gentleman-painter to accompany him on pleasure cruise aboard a luxury ocean liner, but this turns into a busman's holiday when the body of a woman is found on D-deck. The dearly departed is Mrs. Mesado, wife of an Argentinean meatpacking millionaire, who was suffering from a very weak heart. There are, however, some questionable aspect about her sudden death: one of them is that the hands beneath her leather gloves were badly cut and bruised. It's a clever and audacious treatment of a classic plot-device, which turned out to be most extreme example of Forsythe's tendency to fool around with bodies in his stories and create baffling mysteries out of the circumstances in which they were discovered.

The Spirit Murder Mystery (1936) by Robin Forsythe

The fifth and last detective novel from the Vereker series and concerns John Thurlow, who is a skeptic where the paranormal is concerned, but is tolerant and open-minded towards his niece, Eileen – an ardent devotee and practitioner of spiritualism. During an experimental séance, they both hear ghostly music that cannot be accounted for and not long there after her scientific-minded uncle disappears. But the disappearance is only a short-lived mystery. The following morning his body is found, alongside that of another man, on a stretch of wasteland: one of them was battered to death and the other one had been shot. However, physical evidence precluded the possibility that they murdered each other.

As said before, Forsythe knew how to weave a complex plot around the circumstances in which a body (or bodies) were found and this is a good example of that!

Murder on Paradise Island (1937) by Robin Forsythe

Admittedly, this one is not as clever or tricky as some of Forsythe's series novels, however, therefore it's not any less fascinating. On the contrary! The book can be described as a character-driven crime-novel masquerading as a Robinsonade (i.e. shipwreck fiction). A handful of shipwreck survivors make it to the beaches of an island resembling a picture of heaven, but the place is entirely devoid of the luxuries and comforts of modern, early twentieth century life. So with a ship, perhaps, a decade removed from their shores they decide to start building a new life there, but they're soon confronted with the unnerving presence of an "armed unknown" on the island. A genuine isolated island mystery!

The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929) by Annie Haynes

A surprisingly clever piece of work by an author who was, during her lifetime, somewhat of a throwback to an earlier period of the genre, but this is a pure, Golden Age-style mystery novel. The plot revolves around the shooting of Sir John Burslem, a well-known and race-horse owner, who was killed on the eve of a highly anticipated horse race. And this has immediate consequences on the race. The explanation is satisfying and pulled off with a twist on an old trick, which is only marred by a last-minute confession by the murderer. However, that can be forgiven in this case.

The Murder of My Aunt (1934) by Richard Hull

An inverted mystery novel with a twist and one that would have received the nodding approval of Pat McGerr. The story is told from the perspective Edward Powell, a haughty and repugnant character, who is bound by his grandmother's will to his meddlesome aunt. She loves to berate him and play tricks on him. So these clashing personalities live in a cold war-state and this convinced Edward that his aunt had to go, but that's easily said than done and his murderous endeavors are constantly thwarted by Murphy's Law – which makes for deserved classic on the list of Haycroft-Queen Cornerstones of Detective Fiction.

The Green Ace (1950) by Stuart Palmer

A pair of police officers witness how a speeding car ignores a traffic light and smashes into a delivery van, which is a good cause to write a stiff ticket, but when they check the backseat of the car they make a gruesome discovery – a naked body of woman. She was a client of the driver, a former newspaper reporter turned press-agent, but he's unable to convince the authorities of his innocence. So, within a year, he finds himself as a convicted lady-killer on Death Row and does what every sensible mind would do in his situation: write a screwy will in favor of a homicide detective. Luckily, this situation inspires Miss Hildegarde Withers to stick her nose where it definitely doesn't belong. A solid entry in a great series!

Late, Late in the Evening (1976) by Gladys Mitchell

A late, late entry in the series, but tells of a time when Dame Beatrice was still Mrs. Bradley and the storytelling is laced with nostalgia. The setting is a rapidly changing village and commented at the time that it reads as if the genre itself reminiscing about the childhood days it spent in the many quaint villages that stud the English countryside. You can read the description of the changing in village, from the opening chapter, as an allegory to the changes the genre underwent after World War II. However, the book itself looks back on a simpler time, when such place could still host a murder or two, which is told in manner that's vintage Mitchell – which even has a pair of children acting as part-time narrators. It's a fond, but also sad, reminiscence of the genre when the detective story was allowed to dream and imagine. Or offer adventure to everyone who would dare seek it.

Diabolic Candelabra (1942) by E.R. Punshon

This is generally considered to be one of Punshon's best detective novels and the book, which is really a Mitchellian crime-fantasy, offers a splendid, magical and labyrinthine plot that includes a wild variety of plot-ingredients: a secret recipe for "the most scrumptious chocolates that ever were," a little girl who prefers to company of the animals in the forest, a missing hermit-cum-herbalist and several missing pieces of art. One of them being the titular candelabra.

There's a Reason for Everything (1945) by E.R. Punshon

Punshon had a knack for crafting complex, multilayered plots and manipulating the various strands of the plot with the trained, nimble fingers of puppeteer, but this just might be the knottiest one of all his detective stories – which skillfully navigates through a maze of plot-threads without getting lost in them. Some of these plot-threads concerns a murdered paranormal investigator and a ghostly bloodstain that vanished from a haunted room! A mysterious gunshot that was heard in the nearby forest and the unidentified remains of a murdered man in a canal. A man who has disappeared after a quarrel with his uncle and a young woman who may have been a witness of something. And, somehow, all of this tied in with a long-lost masterpiece by Vermeer.

Six Were Present (1956) by E.R. Punshon

The thirty-fifth and final entry in this long-running series, which saw a once humble police-constable, named Bobby Owen, climb to the rank of Commander of Scotland Yard. His last recorded case brings him to the remnants of his childhood and interferes in what is, essentially, a family affair. The household of his cousin, Myra, has been marked by her husband obsessing over African magic and is currently dominated by a faux medium, which culminates in an impossible stabbing during a séance inside a locked tower room. It has been accurately described as a charmingly introspective novel that ended the series on a high-note.

Death in Harley Street (1946) by John Rhode

A rather slow-paced detective story that earned its spot on this list for trying to be an original and the book did not entirely fail in that attempt: Dr. Richard Mawsley of Harley Street seems to have injected himself with a fatal dose of strychnine, but murder, suicide or an accident are eliminated as possible answers. So it is up to Dr. Lancelot Priestley to find a fourth alternative to fill in questions surrounding the death of the specialist.

Come to Paddington Fair (1997) by Derek H. Smith

Until recently, this second and last Algy Lawrence mystery, a sequel to Whistle Up the Devil (1952), was easily one of the most obscure and rare of all collector items in the genre. Smith was unable to secure a publishing contract for his second detective novel, but a Japanese took the manuscript home and financed a limited print-run – one that consisted of a meager one-hundred copies. So the book eluded some frustrated locked room fanboys over the years! Thankfully, John Pugmire made the book available to a world-wide audience in 2014 and gave us an opportunity to learn how the apparent straightforward (on-stage) shooting of an actress was actually a cleverly disguised impossible crime.

Plot It Yourself (1959) by Rex Stout

Arguably one of the most solidly plotted and original entries in the Wolfe Corpus, which begins with Wolfe and Goodwin being hired by the representatives of the Book Publishers of America (BPA) and the National Association of Authors and Dramatis (NAAD) – who put together a Joint Committee on Plagiarism. Recently, there have been a serious string of accusations of plagiarism and a large chunk of cash had to be coughed up to settle these cases, but the accusations have began to form a suspicious pattern. So far, there had been five cases and they all seemed to follow a similar script. Wolfe has a short-cut plan to end this racket, but the brains behind this scheme smells something is afoot and starts getting rid of some loose ends. As I said before, this is one of the best in the series.

The Case of Naomi Clynes (1934) by Sir Basil Thomson

One of the downsides of detective stories is that, sometimes, endings do not entirely deliver on the promise given by their premise, but, in this instance, a solid first half is followed up by an even better denouement – one that showed that even detective stories from this vintage were not devoid of humanity. However, the first half is very definitely practical police procedure: an aspiring mystery novelist, Miss Clynes, was found with her head inside a gas-oven and a suicide note was found. But the police reasons from such clues like a piece of thread on a tack in the floorboard and a canceled postage stamp that she was murdered. And the trail leads straight to France. Where the story takes a quite turn!

Venom House (1952) by Arthur W. Upfield

The famous "half-caste" policeman/tracker, Detective-Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte of the Queensland Police, is dispatched to a far-flung, swampy corner of the Australian continent. A spot where the decayed, lonely mansion of a reputedly cursed family stands and this spot has, recently, been the scene of two murders – one of the local butcher and the other of a family member. Upfield wrote a very strange, but great, homage to the Victorian-era crime and sensational novels.


The Milk-Churn Murder (1935) by Miles Burton

A book that began promising, describing the daily routine of dairy farming, but this picturesque opening chapter was disturbed by the discovery of a dismembered corpse in one of the milk-churns. Sadly, nothing of remote interest was done with this premise: Desmond Merrion seems to be a bit omniscient when it comes to separating the actual clues from the red herrings. And once an unknown "X" is revealed as the murderer, the story dissolved into a second-rate thriller.

The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck (1934) by Alexander Laing

It has been pointed out to me that I have been unfair in my condemnation of the book, because this lurid, grotesque horror novel was never meant as a legitimate detective novel. Be that as it may, I still hate this abomination of a story. Even as a horror novel it was pretty weak.

Murder in Space (1944) by David V. Reed

A horribly botched attempt at relocating the semi-hardboiled crime-story, with touches of a legal thriller, courtroom drama and even hints of western, to the edge of our solar system, but the book failed on all accounts – even as a science-fiction novel. The plot is as poorly imagined as the so-called futuristic world it attempted to conjure up. I mean, Reed described a universe that was colonized as far as the asteroid belt, which was being mined, but courtroom photographers still use flashbulbs.

Well, that's it for 2016! One of the things I only just noticed is how well the 1950s are represented on this year's list, which is not something I expected, but there are about seven of them. That decade may represent the twilight years of the Golden Age, but the genre, obviously, was not quite dead yet.

Anyhow, this is probably my last blog-post for 2016. So let me wish every one of you all the best for 2017 and hope to see back next year.


Death Strolls the Boardwalk

"The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."
- Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, 1929)
In my previous blog-post, I reviewed The Cell Murder Mystery (1931) by Donald Bayne Hobart, which was reissued by Coachwhip, alongside The Clue of the Leather Noose (1929), as a twofer volume – simply titled Two Mysteries (2014). Why not, I thought, polish off this double edition in one go and have it done with. Or else, it would be sitting, unfinished, on my TBR-pile for weeks or perhaps even months. So here we are again!

One of the most notable aspects of the book is the historical and scenic backdrop of the crime-scene, which seems to be the reportedly famous Boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey.

There are only two, very minor, references that give the location away: one of them is a rather obvious, throw-away line mentioning the place by name ("Ocean City looked like a fairyland...") and the other was a reminder to one of the suspects that New Jersey electrocutes its condemned murderers, but both of them were made halfway through the book – suggesting that the author actually tried not to make the location of his novel too obvious. However, Hobart should have known that mystery readers are a skulk of curious and persistent foxes!

A second point of historical interest was the immediate scene of the crime: a rolling chair parked on a public spot of the Boardwalk. A rolling chair is, usually, a (covered) two-seat cart that can be hired by vacationers to be rolled across the Boardwalk by a chair-pusher. During the late 1800s and early twentieth century, they were a sign of luxury, but, nowadays, they're only a novelty attraction.

The Clue of the Leather Noose begins with the discovery of a rolling chair, "parked close to the outer rail and facing the sea," which turned out to contain the body of a retired and unscrupulous stage producer, Mr. Watson Gregg, who had been evidently murdered – strangled with "a peculiar cord of saffron leather." Before the murder was discovered, onlookers, one of them a policeman, saw a number of people near the rolling chair: one of them a tall gentleman, "who appeared to be having a very amusing conversation with Gregg," but there were also two women who stopped at the chair. Both of them heavily veiled (of course!). This was preceded by "a slender, golden-haired girl" getting out of the chair and "hurrying off the Boardwalk crying."

She was recognized by Larry Benson as his love-interest, Lannon Gorden, which he neglects to tell to Police Captain Jerry Blake and his chief aid, Detective Dan Flannigan, but there were also other characters abound on the Boardwalk. Gregg's physician, Dr. Fulda of New York, who found the body and called upon Benson for help. They're quickly joined by a Giovanni Danton and the doctor notes that "there seemed to be a tense antipathy between these two men."

There is, however, one important witness missing from the scene of the crime: John Hagen, the chair-pusher.

So, there's more than enough interesting material for a potential interesting detective story, but, as I observed in my previous blog-post, Hobart was not one of the genre's greatest plotters. As a pulp-writer, he knew how to spin a yarn and rapidly move a story from one event or revelation into another, which makes for some pleasantly paced storytelling, but his plots are not exactly sterling material – which never seem to be able to fully deliver on their premise or play fair with the reader. Some key points and evidence were unfairly withheld from the reader by Captain Blake.

Nevertheless, Hobart is not an unpleasant writer and keeps you moving along with the story that involves an "evil-faced blackmailer," a Japanese servant, a dotty aunt who celebrated the death with a dinner party, alongside a handful of additional characters, as well as a number of (attempted) murders. But, once again, you should not expect all of this to result in a rug-puller of a final chapter, because Hobart was not that kind of a crime writer.

The treatment of the murderer and motive was, somewhat, interesting, but hardly enough to make for a fully satisfying mystery novel.

So, that's two lukewarm reviews in a row, however, I have something that might end this blog-post on a semi-interesting note. As you probably guessed, I found the boardwalk setting and the rolling chair to be (historically) interesting, which made me wonder what some of Hobart's god-tier contemporaries would've done with such a premise. I actually began to imagine how my favorite mystery writer, John Dickson Carr, would've tackled this problem and actually was able to come up with a full-fledged, Carrian-styled explanation for the strangling death of Watson Gregg. I also turned it into an impossible crime, but used (nearly) all of the elements that were already in the story.

Hey, it's Christmas is almost upon us. So why not work my magic and conjure up a little miracle for you all to enjoy?

If Carr had been the author of The Clue of the Leather Noose, the doctor would have been revealed as the murderer and he would have approached the rolling chair twice. The first time as the unknown gentleman, who was seen having a very amusing conversation with the victim, which was an animated talk because Fulda was explaining why he was on the Boardwalk in disguise – probably spinning a tale about seeing a married woman (or something along those lines). He offered a very amused Gregg a swig from a his pocket flask, which was, of course, doctored with a sleeping draught. 

The point of the sleeping draught is that he would not be knocked out immediately, because the doctor had to ditch his disguise for the second and final phase of his murderous scheme. And this is where his plans begin to unravel. Unknown to the doctor, Gregg is seen (by the police officer) being approached by the two previously mentioned women and every time there are signs of life coming from the strolling chair. But, eventually, the effects of the doctored drink kicks in and Gregg falls into a deep, deep sleep.

Atlantic City, N.J. (1890): roller chairs on boardwalk ©

When the doctor returns, he is seen leaning into the vehicle, "as he seemed to speak to the occupant," but he actually put the titular noose around Gregg's throat and drew it so tight "that it was deeply embedded in his flesh" - which is an action that only takes a couple of seconds. So, while an unconscious Gregg is strangled to death by a tightly pulled leather noose, the doctor pretends he found an already dead body.

Any twitches or final spasms of the body are easily obscured as "it was growing dark" and the wicker and glass sides, as well as the heavy top, placed the interior of the rolling chair in a shadow. So by the time an official homicide detective arrived, Gregg would have been slowly strangled to death. The book-title also gets an actual meaning with this method. Anyway...

Unfortunately, the doctor can't shovel the blame on the shoulders of the mysterious, and non-existent, gentleman he created. And the patrolling policeman is baffled, because how could someone have taken several minutes to strange a man right under his nose without being seen? It seems completely impossible! I know, I know, it would have made more sense, as well as having been easier, if the doctor had simply poisoned Gregg, but where would the fun have been in that?

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little re-imagining of the plot and I'll try to pick something better for the next review. But, for now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope to see you all back next week!