Friday, August 2, 2013

Till Death Do Us Part: Review

I've got a very late 50s edition of  John Dickson Carr's Till Death Do Us Part (picture at right).  If you go by the blurb on the back (and the picture on the front--see her pouring the poison), you'd think that Lesley Grant was the ultimate femme fatale--causing the deaths of husband and lovers right and left. See:

Six months after she arrived in Six Ashes, half the men were in love with beautiful Lesley Grant--and one of them was going to marry her--until Sir Harvey Gilman, London murder expert told him: "That lovely young girl is forty-one years old. She poisoned two husbands and one lover. And no one knows how." A few hours later Sir Harvey was dead--poisoned--in a sealed room.

Here's how the story really shakes out:

Dick Markham, a playwright who specializes in "psychological thrillers" and who lives in Six Ashes, has fallen in love with the lovely young Lesley Grant.  Lesley has recently moved to the English village and has turned the heads of half the men in town.  She looks 18, admits to 28, but according the fortune teller at the county bazaar is really a 41 year old poisoner. The fortune teller reveals himself as Sir Harvey Gilman, Home Office pathologist visiting from London.  He has a scene with Lesley followed by a session with Markham.  Gilman just begins to talk to Markham when he is accidentally shot by Lesley.

Word is that Gilman is at death's door and he asks the doctor to bring Markham to him so  he can finish his conversation.  Markham finds that the pathologist is not nearly as hurt as supposed and is even more shocked when Gilman tells him that the love of his life has been married twice and engaged once more--and that all of the men in question have died of prussic acid poisoning while behind locked doors.  Each death was ruled a suicide....but Gilman and the police believe them to be very clever murders.  He wants Markham to help prove (or disprove) that Lesley did, indeed, polish off three men.

But before the final plans can be made Gilman is found dead--from prussic acid--behind the locked doors of his cottage.  Is Markham's lady love truly a poisoner four times over?  Or is there more to this case than meets the eye?  When Dr. Gideon Fell is called in to untangle the clues, you know there's more going on than may appear.  Revelations are made about Gilman and Lesley, but that won't answer other important questions. What is the significance of a box of drawing pins found scattered beside the corpse? Who fired a rifle into the murder room in the early hours of the next morning? It takes another murder before Dr. Fell reveals the identity of the murderer and the method by which the room was locked.

This is a fairly satisfying locked room mystery by the master.  There is plenty of misdirection, lots of red herrings, and several people who aren't what we think (or what we're told at first).  I certainly didn't figure out the locked room method.  And, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Gideon Fell figure out the clues.  My only quibble is that I don't think we're given enough information to really be able to sort the killer.  I didn't pick up even a whiff of the motive--not even when looking back after being presented with the culprit.  One could, I suppose, figure it out simply by process of elimination--but I'd still be baffled as to the why.  Three and 3/4 stars--rounded to four on GoodReads.


Yvette said...

I. Must. Read. This.

Thanks for a great review (as always), Bev. I know I read just about every Dickson Carr book once upon a time when I was a teenager but damn if I can remember ANYTHING!

This sounds especially good. Even if Gideon Fell does, occasionally, defy all known human logic. Ha. All these roly-poly, slovenly sleuths heaped with eccentricities and the genius to carry it all off do occasionally get on my nerves. It's not only Carr's invention that annoys. But it's all very minor, minor. That never stopped me from reading.

I never could figure out what was really going on in Carr's books so I don't expect it to be any different this time around. My favorite Carr book and the only one I can actually remember at all is CASTLE SKULL. Even if I usually mangle the title and call it Skull Island. Old Lady Memory!

Bev Hankins said...

This one is good, Yvette. I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

Unknown said...

Is it just me or does the lady on the cover look like Marilyn Monroe's twin?

Bev Hankins said...

@Elizabeth--maybe. Certainly has the hair-do.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favourite Carr novels Bev, one that I always thought deserved to be much better known. Great review (and love the cover too). Thanks.