On rare occasions, I’ll be several chapters into a book when I realize that I’m reading something special. I got that sense two chapters into The Burning Court – I knew that I was in for a fun ride and I almost regretted knowing that it would at some point end. I was fortunate enough to experience that feeling again with Till Death Do Us Part, and even more fortunate that it was an intuition that turned out to be correct.
Having surveyed reviews on a number of sites, I categorized the book as Highly Recommended Carr. This was a mistake, it is a Classic. As with He Who Whispers, everything about this story just works. Riveting impossible crime – check. Excellent pacing – check. Memorable characters – check. The feeling that the rug is constantly being pulled out from under you – che…well, this is a Carr novel, so I suppose that’s a given
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Here we have another Carr book that seems to be held in decent regard but doesn’t garner too much attention. The title alone was too much for me to resist. I had enjoyed The Nine Wrong Answers, in which the author breaks the fourth wall and directly challenges the reader. The very title of The Reader is Warned suggests a similar approach, but, alas it isn’t. Ok, to be fair, there are a few footnotes that qualify, but not in a way that is so essential to the story.
This Merrivale tale involves a series of murders that happen under vexing circumstances. A self proclaimed psychic warns a party that he can kill by the sheer will of his mind. Murder follows, repeatedly. In the case of each death, evidence proves that the psychic couldn’t have been directly involved in the murder.
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Some books challenge me in terms of how to rate them. There are stories, like the Judas Window, which hold their excellence throughout and are a no brainer on a Top 10 list. Then there are stories like The Red Widow Murders, which have the promise to reach such spiraling heights, but are held short by one aspect of the story. How do you rate a book such as this? Can a story be top 10 worthy based purely on one dimension? If so, The White Priory Murders certainly qualifies.
A Merrivale story, The White Priory Murders inhabits the “footprints” category of impossible crimes. An actress is found murdered in a pavilion surrounded by freshly fallen snow. Only a single set of footprints lead to the crime scene – those of the man who found the body.
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As soon as I got this book it went to the top of my reading list. How could it not? The premise is so intriguing – the police receive a cryptic letter warning “there will be ten teacups”. The address indicated in the note leads to an abandoned house containing a dead man amidst an odd crime scene. Only one room of the house is furnished, and in the center is a table with ten teacups arranged in a circle. The crime is never solved. Two years later, a similar note is sent, and the circumstances repeat themselves, despite the address being under heavy police surveillance.
It was the mysterious notion of the ten teacups that drew me to the book. Why were the two crimes set up in such a particular way? How could something as innocent as a teacup play into murder? Although this Merrivale novel, also published as The Peacock Feather Murders, doesn’t seem to make top 10 lists, it does appear to have a strong underground following. After reading it, I can say that the reputation is well deserved.
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I’m surprised that I don’t read more about this book. It doesn’t show up on many Top Carr lists and I haven’t seen it reviewed on many of my favorite sites. It seems to occupy a strange limbo alongside The Ten Teacups, The Unicorn Murders, The Reader is Warned, and The Mad Hatter mystery – I find very little mention of these books, and yet they seem to be held in fairly high regard.
My verdict? This could have easily been Carr’s masterpiece. Could have… The atmosphere is gripping – possibly his best. The puzzle is mind bending – possibly his best. The pace is riveting – again, possibly his best. Similar to The Judas Window, each successive chapter seems to include its own shattering revelations. There is even a long fascinating passage set in the time of the French Revolution, dripping with Carr’s usual historical details.
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Juliet died a lady
I don’t know why, but I love the name of this novel. I’ve seen it placed high on top 10 Carr lists and was curious to see if it would live up to its reputation. Short answer – mmm, I don’t know. The puzzle is fascinating, yet the solution wasn’t quite fulfilling (more on that later). The story lacks the atmosphere and urgency of other works, but is still an enjoyable read. The reveal of the killer is uniquely done and I really liked how the novel closed out.
Published in 1943, this Merrivale tale takes place in 1940, as the threat of German air raids on England looms large. A woman schemes to leave her older husband and escape to America with a younger man. During a small gathering, the lovers slip out the back door and vanish – into thin air. Their footprints are found in a dirt path leading to Lovers Leap – the edge of a 70 foot cliff, with rocks and crashing waves below. Suicide is the original verdict, until the bodies are recovered from the sea. Both victims were shot at close range, and yet the murder weapon is found 1/2 a mile inland.
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