Friday, February 5, 2010
The Red Widow Murders, by Carter Dickson
I happen to really enjoy these old books and have spent a lifetime collecting them. My take on books is this: just because a book hasn't been published in the last two or three years doesn't mean it's not necessarily great. Just because books show up as bestsellers doesn't mean they're necessarily good. And just because everyone reads something new and they say it's terrific doesn't mean everyone will like it. There are so many older books that deserve a read but are overlooked -- often highly intelligent mysteries or novels that are written for people with a brain. Sadly, there are too many of them that just fall by the wayside. Personally, I think that's a crime. This series is one that true (and I mean true) mystery aficionados should not miss.
The Red Widow Murders is book three in the series featuring Sir Henry Merrivale (HM to his friends). And this one is a doosie. It seems that a group of people have gathered at the home of Lord Mantling, where nine of them draw cards to see who will spend a few hours alone in the so-called Red Widow's room, the scene of unexplained deaths going back to 1803. The cards are revealed, and it is one Mr. Bender who goes off to spend the night alone. Every fifteen minutes someone asks if he's okay, and he always answers. When time's up the other 8 people open the door, and there lies Bender, dead. But there was no way in or out of that room, and he'd been answering their queries the entire time. So how could this happen? Sir Henry Merrivale to the rescue, to uncover the truth.
Fun fun fun! There's something to be said about the pleasure of reading these old, vintage mystery novels, with their often elaborately-plotted crimes and solutions that even if you tried, you couldn't guess. Especially in this one, where there are a number of suspects, plenty of clues, and an equal number of red herrings left for the reader to sift through. The Red Widow Murders also offers its readers a great backstory which in and of itself is a bit chilling.
Unlike some of his other works, The Red Widow Murders isn't weighted down by a lot of archaisms, and it moves at a very nice pace. The characters are well drawn, the atmosphere is perfect, the story is a good one, and the mystery will leave you hanging until the very end. This one I can definitely recommend, especially to fans of golden-age mystery novels and of John Dickson Carr in particular. It's not a cozy novel by any stretch, and modern readers of mystery may find it a bit slow considering the fast pace of novels nowadays. However, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool fan of vintage crime, like me, it really is worth every minute you put into it.