She Died A Lady by Carter Dickson

Rita Wainwright was unhappily married to her older husband and was swept off her feet by Barry Sullivan, a young American actor. One dark night, she and Barry walked to the edge of the cliff near the house and jumped to their deaths. That had to be the case – there are only two sets of footprints in the damp ground and they only go one way. An open and shut case, it would appear, except for the fact that when their bodies are washed up on the shore, it is immediately obvious that they have both been shot from the front at close range. So they must have been killed by someone who could walk on thin air over the edge of a cliff – or something even stranger…

I’m not doing the Carter Dickson novels in order like the Ellery Queen ones, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first novel featuring Sir Henry Merrivale that is not narrated by one of his young would-be spies, such as Ken Blake in The Punch and Judy Murders and others. The narrator, Dr Luke Croxley, the elderly semi-retired local GP adds some real warmth to the story and, due to his age, doesn’t fill the story with odd slang that dates the book like some others from the period.

In fact, this book was written and published during the Second World War – 1943 in fact, and is set in the opening months of the conflict in Devon – out of the way of the major bombings but with Bristol and Plymouth potential targets, by no means safe. What astonishes me is that Dickson/Carr could not know which way the war was going to go – the tide was still turning at this stage – but was still able to write about it. He must have had great confidence in the eventual Allied victory, although maybe this isn’t too surprising given that Carr worked for the BBC producing propaganda during the war.

As to the book – there’s some nonsense about Merrivale being confined to a motorised wheelchair dressed as a Roman Senator for part of the book, but, as it’s Merrivale, Dickson gets away with this. Other than that, I cannot find anything to criticise about this book. In fact, She Died A Lady must rank as one of the most overlooked of the classic mysteries. There’s a certain Agatha Christie book that plays a famous trick using the narrator of the book – if you know the book, I don’t need to name it, if you don’t then I
won’t spoil it – and it justly deserves it’s reputation. This book plays a different trick by using the narrator’s point of view that is every bit as clever and actually feels less contrived. The excellent news is that this is now back in print and available as an ebook, so no-one has an excuse to miss this classic. Highly recommended.

About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
This entry was posted in Carter Dickson, John Dickson Carr, Locked Rooms and Impossible Murders, Sir Henry Merrivale. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to She Died A Lady by Carter Dickson

  1. Patrick says:

    I love, love, love this book. It’s wonderful. The wheelchair scene is silly, but, like you said, it’s H.M. He’s a blast! (The scene reappears, albeit slightly altered, in “Night at the Mocking Widow”.)

    The solution behind the impossibility is a clever one, which fooled me not just once, but twice! The second time, of course, being when I reread the thing and couldn’t remember the solution (except for whodunnit, and let me tell you, Carr was *insanely* clever hiding it, something I fully realised on the second read).

    I too highly recommend it.

  2. Bravo! This is an absolute classic and yet is rarely singled out amongst the finest of the Merrivale title – of course there was lots of competition in the 30s and 40s when Carr was seemingly writing one fantastic book after another. I still remember the enormous pleasure I had when reading this this first time decades ago – wonderfully plotted whodunit with a great impossible crime to boot, with great atmosphere and very funny too – what more could anyone possibly want from a Golden Age mystery?

  3. Les Blatt says:

    It’s been a long time since I read this one. Obviously, it’s time to revisit it. I’m delighted that so many of the Carr/Dickson books are available again. Thanks for pointing it out!

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  12. Colin says:

    Hi, I came to this via a link from Sergio’s site and I have to say this is an excellent summation of the strengths of an equally excellent novel. I would class this book as one of Carr’s very best – touching, real, with fine characterization and a marvellous plot.

    • Just about to write my review of The Ten Teacups – another highly rated Merrivale – and I can’t help but marvel at the simplicity of She Died A Lady. It truly is one of the greats of the genre and deserves to be more widely read.

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