As the Royal Wedding fades into the distance here in jolly old England, I figured for the letter P in the Alphabet of Crime Fiction, I’d try and find something vaguely wedding related. The best I could come up with is another work from the great John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, namely The Punch and Judy Murders.
On the eve of his wedding (literally), Ken Blake is summoned by Sir Henry Merrivale to the West Country to undertake some last-minute spy work. Things rapidly go haywire as Ken is thrust into misadventure after misadventure, stumbling across two corpses, both poisoned with strychnine despite being miles apart. Add in some psychic experiments designed to… well, that’s a bit of a spoiler, and you’ve got a very atypical Merrivale mystery.
That’s sort of the problem with this one, to be honest. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no impossible crimes to be seen here, and Merrivale himself is missing for about half the book as well. The first two-thirds consist of Ken and later his fiancée as well stumbling from disaster to disaster, racking up clues and complications in equal measure. For the last third, he returns to Merrivale who, having conveniently assembled the suspects, starts interviewing them, despite the fact he clearly knows who the killer is. As such, this part feels a lot like padding.
It passes the time nicely, but it’s by no means Carr’s finest hour. It feels a bit like a cross between The Thirty-Nine Steps and a fairly lazy Agatha Christie, and the relatively slight mystery is buried beneath a hoard of irrelevances. It can be seen as an attempt to do something a bit different with the formula, but there are other books from the era that are demonstrate Carr’s skills as a writer and professional trickster far better.