Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Till Death Do Us Part

During a garden party on Lord Ashe's estate in the village of Six Ashes, Dick Markham's fiancee Lesley Grant visits the tent of a fortune teller and leaves it rather unsettled. To see what the man told her, Dick pays him a visit himself, but before the fortune teller can tell him anything, he gets wounded by a shot from a rifle when Lesley is at a shooting range. Of course she claims she did it accidentally, but later that evening the injured fortune teller invites Dick over to his house to reveal his real identity. He is Sir Harvey Gilman, a pathologist and expert on crime, and tells him about his fiancee, her real age and her past husbands/lovers and how all three of them died through prussic acid in a locked room - apparently suicide, but Sir Harvey assumes Lesley got hold of her fortune by killing the men with some ingenious trick. And he wants to try a little experiment with Dick the next day, as Lesley invited him for dinner in her cottage. The following morning an unrecognizable caller summons Dick to Sir Harvey's cottage again and there he witnesses a shadow shooting through the window of Sir Harvey's sitting room. However the bullet does not hit him and it is not the reason for his death. He died through prussic acid injected with a hypodermic syringe while all the windows and doors of the room were locked. But then why did someone shoot through the window with the same rifle Lesley used when she accidentally shot through the tent the day before - or wasn't it accidentally after all?

Just as She Died A Lady this novel is set in a small village and doesn't feature any kind of Gothic factors and suggestions of the supernatural and I think it portrays the atmosphere of such a place even better with all the gossip and accusations and Lesley Grant as a relatively new member of the community. In general I liked the setting a little bit more. She Died A Lady had a more sober and quiet plot development while this novel is a tad more exciting to read due to the ironic formation of a playwright of psychological crime thrillers and the supposed poisoner fiancee and a steady plot development with twists and revelations and decent character portrayals.

What impressed me most about the setting though was the fact that every detail was created for the sole purpose of the locked room trick to work out and give a reason for the murderer to choose this murder method that actually makes sense. The reason for the locked room might actually be one of the most important factors and questions raised during the developments of the novel, since the trick itself is a classic one, but I thought it's adjusted and hidden quite well in the situation and setting of this book.

My only nitpick would be the motive. While it's not quite as simple/boring as the one in She Died A Lady and it's not needed to deduce the murderer and his method, as the culprit is pinned down with pure logic yet again, it still remains fairly unhinted and coming out of nowhere. Fell does point out where he came up with the motive, but personally I thought those clues were concealed a tad too much. I have to admit though that comparable criticism can also be pointed at early Queen novels and I only mentioned it once in that case, so I won't dwell on that any more.

I don't know which one I prefer, but both of the recent Carr novels I've read really let him ascend on my personal ranking ladder. While the last novel had a neat narrative trick worked into a guessable but nevertheless challenging impossibility and featured an allover memorable cast considering the time it was written, in Until Death Do Us Part I really liked the reason for the locked room and Carr's imaginativeness when creating a whole setting for that one locked room and therefore also including excellent misdirection, even though the culprit should be jumping right into your face. Yes, I guess certain Carr fans would say the exact same things about The Plague Court Murders, but this was the first time I could fully recognize this specific praise for this author, since the former novel felt a bit too contrived for my subjective taste.

Anyway, by now I'm definitely inclined to try out more novels by Carr against my previous expectations. Which is a great thing, because as much as I learned to love the logical Queen-school, I'm all for impossible crime stories after all, as long as the author manages to make them guessable and not too contrived and actually provide a reason for the chosen murder method.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one! :)

    I just reviewed Carr's The Emperor's Snuff-Box over at my blog and have littered it with links to your reviews.