This week I'd like to introduce you to Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr. I read this one back when I was first getting acquainted with the master of the locked room mystery, so my personal memories of the book are very fuzzy. Not too long ago I picked up a very nice hardback copy with dust jacket (pictured above). I really should make a point to reread this and refresh my memory. And, if you just happen to have missed out on Carr in your mystery reading career so far--well, let me tell you, you have a treat in store.
Carr was an American author of detective stories who lived for a number of years in England. Thus, he gave many of his mysteries a British setting. His best-known characters, Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, are also British. Carr is considered one of the best of the Golden Age detective novelists and one of the deans of the locked room mystery or "impossible" crime. The Hollow Man is considered by many to be his masterpiece and was voted best locked room mystery of all time by a panel of 17 mystery authors and reviewers. You could say that Carr knew his stuff.
Below Suspicion, written in 1949, is a Gideon Fell novel but also features and tends to focus on Patrick Butler, a barrister who is known in some British courts as "The Great Defender" and in others as "that damned Irishman." Butler really enjoys working murder cases--and he prefers his clients to be guilty because it's more of a challenge. He's also quite full of himself...as he says, " I am never wrong."
The story starts with the death of an old woman. She is found to have died of poison and dark-haired, quiet Joyce Ellis is arrested for her murder. Butler is all set for the defense and privately believes his client to be "guilty as hell." Before this trial comes to an end, a man named Richard Renshaw dies of the same poison--antimony--and his beautiful, blonde wife Lucia looks to be the police's choice of suspect. Butler passionately believes in this client's innocence. Despite the deadly and complete evidence against her. In the end it is Gideon Fell who sees the significance of the silver candelabrum, the red garter, and the strange mark on the window sill. We also have chases through Soho, weird Satanic rites, a violent attacker with gold teeth, and roof beams falling at the most opportune moments. Mystery and mayhem and good fun!