We’ve all had those days. Carey Quint meets the last surviving member of the family with who his family has been feuding (over a stolen magic trick no less) in the reptile house of a small private zoo. He loses his temper, throwing a zookeeper into a glass case, setting a couple of lizards free, which also happens to upset the visiting Sir Henry Merrivale. They all get dragged off to the house of Edward Benton, the owner of the zoo but luck it with him. He ends up with an invite to dinner instead of any repercussions for vandalism and assault.
Of course, it’s not that simple. When he and his rival magician Madge Palliser arrive with Sir Henry Merrivale, the house is deserted. As an air raid starts, a cry goes out that there is a light on at the back of the house. They discover a room where every crack is sealed with tape from the inside and Benton lies dead inside, having gassed himself. His daughter, on finding her father declares that he couldn’t have killed himself because Patience, a valuable Bornean tree-snake, was killed in the room too, and “He wouldn’t kill Patience”
Some things have dated about this book. Let me quote the great H.M. for a moment, giving some romantic advice to our hero.
“If she starts raggin’ you, son, you just wallop her one. That’s the way to treat wenches when they get out of hand.”
Actually, I take back the dated comment. How the hell was that an acceptable thing for our hero to say even in the middle of the war? It’s completely appalling and really took the shine off this book. You can also add in an inappropriate use of the term rape as well, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t changed its definition over the last seventy odd years. And Carr doesn’t seem to know what a misogynist is…
Right, that’s the moan out of the way. Let’s have a look at the rest of the book.
It’s one of the more highly regarded of the H.M. books. The locked room is one of the cleverest and also simplest of the author’s ideas. Yes, mistaking SPOILER with a SPOILER is arguably unlikely, but as I’ve never encountered one of the things, it may well be possible. There are certainly plenty of clues knocking around none of which give the solution away, but I think it can be worked out.
I was looking forward to this one, as I’d completely forgotten whodunit – oddly, the murderer still didn’t leap to the fore of my memory as I read it, but unfortunately, it’s blooming obvious. The misdirection is unsubtle as well.
If you can overlook the aforementioned quote, then there’s a lot to like here. While Quint is a bit annoying at times, things jolly along nicely, with the Old Man on good form, and the denouement is pure Merrivale as he puts his life on the line (or does he?) to extract a confession. A bit silly, but entertaining, nonetheless.
So, a better impossibility than My Late Wives but a much more obvious killer (to me at least). Well worth a look.