The fairly lurid cover shows the investigator John Gaunt looming over the body of Lord Rayle of Bowstring Castle. It gives good strapline: ‘Murder and madness by the master of mystery’. All alliteration, all of the time.
Carter Dickson, aka John Dickson Carr, created the famous sleuths Dr. Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale in the 30s. We’re basically in locked-room territory (Carr’s The Hollow Man, and the essay on the locked room it contains, is considered a classic), but with a distinctly Gothic flavour.
Bowstring Castle is the spooky 15th century castle owned by the eccentric, medieval-armour-fixated Lord Rayle: ‘Sooner or later something mad and ugly and dangerous is going to blow up in that place’
And sooner, rather than later, it does.
The medieval armour room – ‘Acres of armour and no end of weapons, all in one room’ and with only one way in and out – is basically an accident waiting to happen in a Carter Dickson book. It claims its victim before the first night is over. Lord Rayle is discovered strangled with one of his own bowstrings. Almost incidentally as far as everyone in concerned, a housemaid meets her doom in the kitchen.
The local police, so short-staffed they only send one inspector for two murders, are
baffled and set about arresting all the wrong people. ‘I’m a practical man, no nonsense about me,’ says the Inspector, clearly in the wrong book. Only John Gaunt, a famous investigator conveniently holidaying nearby, can resolve the mystery.
‘I have rather an elaborate plan. It may not succeed, but it is the only certain way’. The plan is a ‘deadly game of Hunt the Slipper’ at night, in a house with a multiple murderer. How could anyone refuse?
Two great extras with this book:
1. The blurbs for other books, thanks to Belmont Books marketing team, 1974. I’ve detailed these in another post.
2. The cigarette ads in the middle. Check these out:
And for the ladies:
Overall, a bit silly, but you have to admire the plotting.
Reviewed by Rich