Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Cavalier's Cup: Review

I discovered something while reading Carter Dickson's The Cavalier's Cup.  I discovered what was missing from The Case of the Blind Barber (written under the author's real name John Dickson Carr)--Sir Henry Merrivale.  Merrivale is a marvelous, larger-than-life, almost farcical character who would have been down-right perfect as a passenger on board the Queen Victoria and taking part in the shenanigans that take place in Blind Barber.  That would have worked so much better than having a member of the shipboard group come to Dr. Gideon Fell and tell the story later.

As a fellow GoodReads reviewer has pointed out, Merrivale is very like Mr. Toad of The Wind & the Willows--going full-tilt into various hobbies.  In this outing, Merrivale has buried himself in the country and taken up singing.  He's hired himself an Italian (a very stereo-typical Italian, mama mia!) singing instructor to help him prepare for his grand debut at the Tuesday Evening Ladies' Church Society.  He doesn't want anything to come between him and his singing.  So, when Inspector Masters comes calling with Lady Brace to try and get him to investigate the mysterious doings in the Oak Room at Lord & Lady Brace's estate...well, burn me, he just doesn't want to do it.  But, Sir Henry doesn't seem to be able to resist a pretty lady....or an intriguing tale...and when he's told that the mystery isn't a case of who stole the Cavalier's Cup and why BUT who didn't steal it and why, the Old Man is hooked.

What has happened is this: Lord Brace's family has an heirloom Cavalier's Cup that relates to a family legend.  The Cup isn't normally at home--it usually resides at the bank, but circumstances have brought it the estate for a short period of time.  There are a spate of convenient burglaries in the neighborhood which make Lord Brace nervous about the Cup.  So, he locks the Cup in a safe and locks himself in with the safe in a room that no one should be able to get into--double-bolted door (only door in) and windows with special locks that slide a metal bolt all the way through the frame.  Nobody's going to get that Cup....and Lord Brace will stay awake all night to be sure.  Except...he doesn't.  He falls asleep and wakes up to find the safe wide open, the doors and windows sill locked, and.....the Cavalier's Cup sitting there coyly on the table in front of him.  There's been no hocus-pocus with the Cup itself--the Cup is still the original, jewel-encrusted family heirloom.  So, why all the tom-foolery of getting the Cup out of the safe? And how did whoever it was get in and out?  Is it really the ghost of the old Cavalier himself playing tricks as has been suggested?

A second performance is scheduled once Masters and Merrivale get involved.  This time, it's the good Inspector who sits up in the sealed room.  With similar results--only this time the ghost adds a few finer touches, moving not only the Cup, but a 17th C lute that started on the harpsichord and was placed in front of the fireplace and bringing a cup-hilted rapier from the wall outside the room and placing it a Masters's feet.  Oh...and bashing Masters over the head when he woke up a little too soon. It begins to look like the ghost means business...maybe even deadly business.  And it's up to Merrivale to figure out what the goal of this ghostly prankster is before things get too deadly.

This was a fun romp....perhaps because I was sick when I read it and really in need of something light.  I've seen a few other reviews that rate this rather low--saying it's Dickson/Carr at the low end of his writing powers.  It's true that it's not quite the intricate story and complicated mystery that one gets used to in the earlier Carr--but it's lots of fun and the whole scene where there are four cars waiting out in the driveway and Lady Brace's father is running about the estate yelling "Tally-ho" had me laughing out loud.  It reminded me of Wodehouse.  I did spot the culprit--although I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the entrance/exit was accomplished.  And I'm still trying to figure out if anything was really stolen.  Three stars for a fun, solid read.


Put it in terms of the not-too-serious, if you like. Who got into that locked room? And how was it done? And why should the cup have been moved again? We're up against the essential detective problems of who, how, and why. Simply because there was no murder or near-murder, does that make the mystery one bit less baffling?

Not that anybody cares two pins about history in these days.We've got rid of history; history is all my eye. But I've got to tell you the facts. ~Inspector Masters (p. 51)

I never met a gal who represented a mystery to me in quite the fetchin' way you did. It'd be dull and dreary just to find out how a crook got in and out of a locked room to steal a gold-and-jewelled cup. But it's very rummy, and fascinates the old man a bit, to wonder why a crook didn't steal a gold-and-jewelled cup he should have stolen. ~Sir Henry Merrivale (p. 57)

That's the point. If these Labour MP's were really working men, they'd have some sense. But most of 'em, or at least the ones I've met, seem to be half-baked intellectuals who've specialized in economics or some such dreary muck. ~Sir Henry (p. 61)

There's the pity of it. Elaine Cheeseman's not as young as you; she's forty, maybe. But she's not bad-looking at all. If she took the trouble to dress properly, and occasionally she smiled instead of keeping a frozen, holy-zeal look as though she were goin' to the Crusades instead of only to the polling-station, she might even be a bit of a smasher. ~Sir Henry (p. 61)

Sometimes it seems that men--yes, and even women too!--if they believe in a thing strongly enough, they get a strength or endurance that they wouldn't have believe possible. ~Lady Virginia Brace (p. 67)

But the curator said nothing mattered so long as it looked all right to the ignorant." [Lady Brace]
"Sort of government motto. I see." [Sir Henry Merrivale] (p. 75) 

...both Tom and I adore detective stories. Isn't that so, Tom?" [Lady Brace]
"Right!" agreed her husband...."But they've got to be proper detective stories. They've got to present a tricky, highly sophisticated problem, which you're given fair opportunity to solve."
"And," amplified Virginia, "no saying they're psychological studies when the author can't write for beans."
"Correct!" her husband agreed again. "Couldn't care less when you're supposed to get all excited as to whether the innocent man will be hanged or the innocent heroine will be seduced. Heroine ought to be seduced; what's she there for? The thing is the mystery. It's not worth reading if the mystery is simple or easy or no mystery at all. (p. 103)

Don't-a you laugh at what you don't-a understand. Every good castle in-a Italy, I tell you, she's-a full of spooks! She's-a so full of spooks these-a spooks scare each other. ~Signor Ravioli (p. 107)

When a man can't sleep, he won't let anybody else sleep either. If he doesn't go off to dreamland the moment his head hits the pillow, he gets frightfully annoyed and won't stay in bed. ~Lady Brace (p. 158)

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Off the Shelf, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Monthly Key Word, Book Bingo, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Mystery/Crime Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, Monthly Mix-Up Mania.


Peggy Ann said...

Sounds really good! I've only read Gideon Fell novels of Carr. Looking forward to reading one of these!

J F Norris said...

I like Merrivale a lot more than Dr. Fell even if the Dr. Fell books tend to be more ingeniously plotted. HE WOULDN'T KILL PATIENCE, SHE DIED A LADY, THE UNICORN MURDERS, THE PUNCH & JUDY MURDERS, all great mysteries and very funny especially that last one which is the closest Carr ever came to emulating the insanity of Harry Stephen Keeler.

Ryan said...

Sounds fun.

Anonymous said...

I must admit there are other H.M. books that I like better. "The Judas Window" is one of the best books Carr ever wrote; H.M. is a bit more restrained there, but it's a brilliant locked room situation. I'm also fond of the very first H.M. novel, "The Plague Court Murders," where Carr manages to create a really terrifying atmosphere. Oh, and "Nine...and Death Makes Ten" puts H.M. on board a ship (sounds like your wish-come-true regarding "The Blind Barber"!)and has a really ingenious "impossible crime" solution. So many choices...sigh...