Inspired by the enjoyable-but-lightweight The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp, I thought I’d pick up another John Dickson Carr work. So, did I pick up one of the classics? The Judas Window? Til Death Do Us Part? Even the much-lauded-but-not-by-me Crooked Hinge? Nope, I decided on the much-maligned The Problem Of The Wire Cage.
Brenda White, a charming young lady, is to marry Frank Dorrance, a distinctly un-charming young man – primarily, it seems, due to one of those pesky inheritance clauses in a will saying that they both will be stinking rich if and only if they get married. Enter Hugh Rowlands, a charming young man, who persuades Brenda that love (and poverty) is a better option, much to the chagrin of her somewhat odd guardian.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the young things play a game of tennis and then retire. When Brenda returns to the clay court, she finds Dorrance lying in the middle of it. On approaching, she finds that he has been strangled – but the only footprints leading to the body are his. Oh, and her own set that she’s just made… oops! Good thing Gideon Fell’s on hand to make sure the real culprit is brought to justice.
It’s really hard not to pick at all of the problems with this book, so I’m going to praise the positives first. It’s a cracking read, once you get past the sections of Hugh and Brenda trying to manufacture her innocence, rather than owning up to the police that she walked over to the body and back. The puzzle (you will note that I did not say the solution) is an intriguing one – Carr has done the “one set of footprints” elsewhere, notably in The White Priory Murders and The Witch Of The Low-Tide, but this small scale of this one makes it more ambitious. There are some genuinely amusing bits, most notably the conversation that Hugh has with his father. All in all, a good read.
So, the problems?
Well, everyone at some point in the book acts like an idiot. Bonus points for the victim and the murderer for believing that this could ever work, but the main actual suspect, who knows whodunit but decides not only to keep quiet but also take the rap. The motive is pretty weak as well.
Oh, the second murder, claimed to be an impossibility due to no-one being able to get access, is never explained, although to be honest, it was a pretty poor impossibility. And despite a massive cheat – go on, re-read the chapters leading up to the killing and tell me at what point the killing takes place in a certain character’s actions – the murderer’s blooming obvious, as there’s a list of about two genuine suspects.
Hmm, what else? Oh, Fell’s hardly in it, which is a shame – it almost feels as if his presence is an afterthought and Rowlands was intended to be the sleuth. Anyone have any info on that mindless speculation?
Having poured all that out, it was actually a lot better than I remembered. But I think it’s time to pick up one of his masterpieces just to remind me how good he could be when he was firing on all cylinders.