(Death and) The Gilded Man by Carter Dickson

The Stanhope Mansion, as New Year celebrations are being prepared, some odd things are happening. What is the mysterious Nick Wood, a guest invited by Dwight Stanhope, up to? Why has Dwight Stanhope moved his expensive paintings from a safe location to a downstairs, much more accessible room? Could he actually want them to be stolen?

Then, in the middle of the night, a burglar enters the house. A scuffle is heard, and the burglar is found near death, stabbed with a fruit knife. But fresh horrors are to come as the burglar is unmasked to be revealed as Dwight Stanhope himself. Clearly an attempt at insurance fraud – except for two things. One, Stanhope doesn’t need the money and two, the paintings were not insured. And besides this, if the burglar was attacked as an intruder, why hasn’t the attacker come forward? Luckily, the police are on their way already – and they’ve sent an advance party in the form of the Old Man himself, Sir Henry Merrivale

I read this one on the train to the Bodies From The Library – it’s not that long a book. It originally was a short story from 1940– The Incautious Burglar aka A Guest In The House – which was expanded to a novel, The Gilded Man in 1942. By the 1947 paperback edition (which I own – yippee!) the title had been expanded for some reason to Death And The Gilded Man. No idea why – were readers really so thick that they might not have realised that it was a mystery?

Anyway, so what to say about this one? I really think it depends on what mood the reader is in.

On the downside, first of all, there is a serious flaw in the mystery. I won’t say what it is precisely, but the footprints in the snow don’t make sense. You can also question whether one essential task committed by the villain is even possible. But it’s not as ridiculous as Seeing Is Believing… Also one important event, late in the book, is completely unnecessary, both from the plot of the book and in the sense that it was avoidable. There’s another Merrivale book that goes the opposite way, which I found a bit annoying, but here, I think it should been the way to go. And we’ll pass over Merrivale’s impersonation of the Great Kafoozalum, an amateur magician, by dressing up as a “proper Hindu” completed with brown face make-up… Oh, and how many rich British men were called Dwight?

But on the other hand, it’s great fun. The central character of Nick Wood is a typical Carr-ian leading man and Betty, his love interest, will also be familiar. H.M. is on fine form as well, in one of his genuinely funny appearances. The mystery, apart from the footprints, is fairly clued and while the murderer is pretty guessable, the way the clues are put together is really well done – so many that, when you spot them, point to what happened, but would be overlooked on first reading.

So as you might have guessed, despite the flaws, I really enjoyed this one. It’s not available as an ebook, but there are affordable copies out there. Recommended.

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9 comments

  1. A fair assessment. I agree that the footprints make no sense and that an essential task is trivialized which in real life would be extremely difficult. These faults are easy to forgive because its such a brisk well written story. If Carr had made the mistake of tacking on 30 more pages, I might have a different opinion.

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  2. I enjoyed this one, and I’m impressed that you found the culprit ‘pretty guessable’…! The closed and relatively small circle of suspects meant that I wasn’t surprised, but as the clues piled it I felt more and more positive about the novel. 🙂

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  3. I was disappointed that Merrivale didn’t explain how the Great Kafoozalum’s magic trick worked, but otherwise I really enjoyed this despite being familiar with the short story.

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  4. I admit, this one was one of the first of the Carter Dickson books that I read, in my first flush of enthusiasm back int he 80s, that left me satisfied but slightly underwhelmed. Which is why I never re-read it but I truly should.

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