A British actress, Marcia Tait, having made it big overseas, has returned to star in a West End play, feeling she has something to prove, having had awful reviews in the past. She is staying at the author’s house, the White Priory, and for some reason decides to sleep in the nearby pavilion. Cue one snowstorm, surrounding the pavilion with a clear carpet of snow. The only footprints are fresh ones belonging to the man who raises the alarm – but Marcia has been dead for a few hours. Certainly she died after it stopped snowing – so how on earth could the murderer have crossed one hundred feet of snow without leaving a footprint?
Now this is how you plot a mystery – there are a multitude of clues littering the story, some of which, when you examine them in hindsight are really obvious – but I’d be impressed with anyone who spots the murderer. The killer is remarkably, but fairly, well hidden but you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t spot who it was. None of the clues are particularly obscure (except for the one that needs a page reference – points off for that!) which is the charm. You feel after reading this one that you’ve been hoodwinked by a master.
The impossibility, to be fair, isn’t that hard to work out, but unlike most of them, this won’t lead you to the murderer. Similarly Carr makes sure to include a reason for the impossibility – often overlooked by writers – and it’s a reason that makes a fair bit of sense.
There are a couple of drawbacks – Merrivale isn’t in the first half of the action, and the book does suffer a but without him (what book doesn’t?) but we do have Masters to keep us occupied. There are a couple of characters who have a habit of saying that they know something important and then wandering off before saying it – not convinced Masters wouldn’t have just stopped them and told them to say what they know.
Having read this though, it makes me realise how slight A Graveyard To Let was. That was a bit of fun. This is how you really are supposed to do it. A masterpiece of plotting.