Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “locked room”

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #11 of Edmund Crispin’s Love Lies Bleeding

Robert Bruce Montgomery was an English composer and author of nine detective novels and 2 short story collections.  He was considered one of the last of the classic English mystery novelists.  He was a great fan of John Dickson Carr and his detective, who was a fellow and English Professor at the fictional St. Christopher’s college located near Oxford, is modeled after Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell.  Dr. Gervase Fen is in physically different from Fell, but mentally and personality-wise they are similar.  Published under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding is my first sampling of this author.  I found two of his books in a local used book store.  This is the 5th of the books featuring Dr. Fen and was originally published in 1948.  My version was a Felony & Mayhem reprint from 2007.  The other book I bought was the first of the series, but I wasn’t paying attention and scooped this one up on Monday to read while waiting on my foster son at the eye doctor and dentist.  This is supposed to be one of the weaker books, but I enjoyed it.  Montgomery mixes a bit more more humor into his writing than Carr does.  He tends to be very fond of dropping literary and musical references into the mix.  Dr. Fen is the sort of character that is fun on paper, but would probably drive a person homicidal in real life.

The premise is that Dr. Fen is invited to be a key speaker at a “speech day” at a boy’s boarding school.  He is a friend of the headmaster and agrees.  Apparently this day is part of a weekend where the parents visit, awards are given and events produced.  One of the events is a play that involves students from a local girl’s school.  A 16-year-old girl is behaving oddly and parents and staff are afraid she has been, if not assaulted, in some other way messed with.  Then she disappears, supposedly run away with an unknown man, although the girl’s school headmistress doesn’t believe it.  Poison is missing from the chemistry lab.  This all happens before Dr. Fen arrives.  Then night after he arrives two professors are shot, one on and the other off campus within a short time of each other.   Later another murder is uncovered.   Are they connected?  The local  police are out of their depth, but not the good doctor.  The solution of the murders, theft  and kidnapping was actually too improbably to even suspend belief.  There were just too many details that had to have happened exactly right for at least two of the crimes to have occurred.  On the other had, the colorful characters, humor and just the literary, almost musical quality to the prose made it worth the purchase price and time spent reading it.  I also have to like an author who can create a character like Mr. Merrythought, a somewhat homicidal old possible bloodhound, who hangs around the campus terrorizing everyone.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #10 of John Dickson Carr’s It Walks by Night

My third book read by this author was originally published under the pen name of Carter Dickson.  It features his second recurring detective, Prefect of the Police Henri Bencolin and takes place in Paris.  Bencolin is almost the opposite of Dr. Fell.  He is official rather than consulting, tall and flamboyant rather than overweight and untidy.  Where Dr. Fell is affable and seems like the sort of person you could have a beer with, Bencolin is arrogant and rather unpleasant to be around.   This book, like the previous two, was told in first person by a narrator.  The style of this book was also a bit different.  The clues were all laid out for you, although not always pointed out.  This book seem to actually be more fair about the clues than the previous two.  In this case, a madman who attempted to kill his wife has escaped custody.  The now divorced wife is about to remarry into a wealthy, noble family.  A plastic surgeon is found murdered and a threat on the former wife is received.  The police go on alert.  The evening of the wedding, a reception is held in a club.  The groom is seen, by Bencolin and the narrator, go into a room with a police guard on each door .  A few minutes later a waiter, summoned to the room with drinks, drops the tray of glasses at the site of the groom, beheaded, a bloody sword beside his corpse.  The only unguarded entrance to the room is a window, which opens onto a 40 foot drop with smooth walls and the grit and dust on the ledge are undisturbed.

I did not, at first, like this book as much as the previous two.  The tone was more formal and the detective a bit of a dick.  I did not notice the interruption of someone relaying important information in this book, however, it was replaced by the repeated insertion of phrases in French.  I do think the author was more forward with the clues to the identity of the murder, but not with how the murder was done.  I was let down by the explanation of the method.  It was too simplistic and I think the author hid some stuff there to keep the reader from picking up on it.

Cfar1’s #CBR4 Review #09 of John Dickson Carr’s The Man Who Could Not Shudder

The second of Mr. Carr’s books I read, The Man Who Could Not Shudder also featured Dr. Gideon Fell, his overweight detective.  In this book, the narrator is asked by a friend to escort an acquaintance around London.  The narrator, who is an author of some sort, spends time with the man, who mostly visits small, out of the way museums.  At some point, while in a club (all British men in these types of mysteries belong to clubs) they hear a tale of a haunted house.  The mysterious acquaintance is a well-off business man, and the tale of the house intrigues him.  Apparently, an elderly butler had, for reasons unknown, shoved a heavy wooden dining table out of the way one night, climbed onto a dining room chair, leaped up and grabbed hold of a large chandelier and swung wildly until it ripped loose of the ceiling and crashed down onto him.  Now the house is the site of mysterious moving furniture, odd noises, ect.  The business man hires a friend of the narrator, a young architect, to check out the house, then buys and restores it.  He then throws a ghost party.  He invites the narrator and the narrator’s fiance, a business acquaintance and the acquaintance’s lovely younger wife, the architect and a young lawyer.  The first night a couple of mysterious things happen, but the next morning things really start.  A man is shot, in front of witnesses, by a gun that moves by itself.  Scotland Yard is called in and Dr. Fell comes along.  

This outing was as interesting as the first.  The solution seems like something you might see on the Mythbusters.  This story also had more twists and turns The Dark of The Moon.  Mr. Carr does seem to have a quirk to his writing.  He likes to have a character start to reveal something or make an important point, only to be interrupted.  This happened enough times in both books to move from amusing to irritating.  Overall this was a nice little book to read before bed.  


Cfar1’s #CBR4 Review #08 of John Dickson Carr’s Dark of the Moon

When I was a child, one of my summer treats was to go to work with my father on occasion.  He was manager of a business in a nearby town and went to work fairly early in the morning.  Later, the business was sold and converted into something unrelated, and he was given the option of moving to another location or being laid off.  He bought into a similar business on the other side of town.  It was smaller and older and not nearly as nice, but it had one major advantage to a 12 year-old bookworm.  Heaven, in the form of a used bookstore, was just a short walk up the street.

I was recently prowling through one of the local used bookstores with my foster son, trying to influence him to read.  As we left the children’s section, a small stack of paperbacks caught my eye.  There were 4 books written by John Dickson Carr.  He was one of the authors I discovered long ago in that small bookstore.  I bought them on a whim and dived in.  I was curious to see if they held up to my memories.

Mr. Carr also published under 3 other pen names, including Carter Dickson.  He specialized in “locked room” mysteries or crimes, usually murders, committed under seemingly impossible situations, but which turn out to be possible, although not necessarily plausible, at the end of the book.  The first book I read was Dark of the Moon.  I am much older, more cynical and jaded, but I still find the books entertaining.  They were period pieces to me back then and more so now.  They seem to transport you back to a more innocent time, which should be odd in books dealing with murder.  But it’s nice, at least for me, to go back to when the violent death of a single individual was seen as an evil thing, and the finding of who was responsible of the highest importance.  We as a society, now seem to take violence as a normal part of our world.

In this book, a South Carolina family has a history of violence and mysterious deaths.  The patriarch of the family throws a party for his daughter, who is being trying to pick between two very similar suitors.  Among the invited guests are Dr. Gideon Fell (sort of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe albeit with more pronounced sense of humor) and the narrator.  The night after the arrival of Dr. Fell, the host is found with his skull caved in behind the house on a patio covered with wet white sand, no footprints other than his own present.  The mystery also involves someone leaving cryptic messages on a blackboard, a creepy deserted elementary school, and lots of suspicious characters with secrets.  There are generally 2 to 4 deaths in this type of book, but in this case there was only one murder and an attempt.  Mostly Carr plays fair in his books and presents you with all the clues, although he is never obvious.  I felt in this one a few things were held back.   Also don’t expect anything resembling police procedure, Dr. Fell may be a lecturer on criminology and the stories may be set in the past, but massive suspension of belief is still required.  But only Ed McBain and Joe Gore ever seemed to write books with actual realistic police procedure.  I personally enjoyed the book, it was a good story but not his best.  I felt the method of murder was too finicky and left a lot to chance.  There is also usually a romantic side story and it was here mostly it provided a bit of light comic relief.  The stories were a bit gloomy for their time, but by modern standards aren’t dark.  If you like a nice puzzle and a fun quick read, check your local used book stores and libraries.

Post Navigation