James Caplon Answell is visiting Avory Hume, his prospective father-in-law. As far as he knows, it’s just to sort out some business concerning the marriage to his daughter Mary. As he’s escorted into Hume’s office – an impregnable of a fortress of an office, Hume seems to be acting in a strange way. After accepting a drink, Answell collapses to the floor, drugged.
When he comes to, Hume is lying on the floor with an arrow in his chest. There are clear fingerprints on the arrow – Answell’s, of course – and the room is as locked as it could possibly be – from the inside of course.
Leap forward several months and Answell is on trial for murder. All seems lost – it’s an open and shut case. No one could possibly have got into the room, even if Answell’s story is true. But one man thinks he knows how the murderer got in – through the Judas Window – whatever the heck that is… And luckily that man is Answell’s defence council – the one and only Sir Henry Merrivale!
Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr should be on the bookshelves of your local bookshops next to Agatha Christie and it seems odd that it’s not the case. I sometimes wonder why this is – his best books are flagged up alongside And Then There Were None, Death On The Nile, etc. The conclusion that I’ve come up is that he wrote more weak books than Christie. I think it took him a while to find his voice – some of the early books aren’t desperately gripping – and his work goes into decline a long time before he stopped writing. Even at the height of his powers – roughly 1935 to 1950 – there are disappointing books, even those featuring his main detectives, Gideon Fell and Henry Merrivale. Proceed with caution if you expect great things from The Problem of the Wire Cage and And So To Murder…
But as I said, when he was good, he produced some of the finest detective fiction ever written. To Death Do Us Part, He Who Whispers, The Nine Wrong Answers, The Black Spectacles, She Died A Lady… and The Judas Window.
When I re-read The Reader Is Warned – also well worth a look – I found myself drawn to the problems in it, despite loving it unreservedly the first time round. But this one – it is one of the most exceptional examples of Golden Age crime fiction there is and the second read is as rewarding as the first. The slow reveal of important plot points, while still making the truth a mystery, keeps the reader turning the pages and still the ending is full of surprises. It’s also a great show for Merrivale – showing all his charm and idiosyncrasies, without hitting the extremes which can occur in other books. I suppose a nitpicker could find a disparity in the complexity of the crime and the murderer, but I’m not going to say anything more about the plot because if you’re reading this blog then either a) you’ve read this book and know the details or b) you enjoy murder mysteries but haven’t read this in which case you need to go out and get a copy. There’s a not-cheap reprint out there and a small number of affordable second hand copies, but trust me, it’s worth it.
One of the finest locked room mysteries – possibly the finest locked room mystery – ever written and obviously, it’s Highly Recommended.