|my actual copy--no DJ|
Adding to the bizarre nature of the crime is a sprinkling of flowers across the forehead and across the chest of the victim, a crucifix, an orange, a chiffon scarf tucked in around the body here and there like a frame, two crackers, a handkerchief, and a red feather duster emerging from behind the head like a crown. And a nail. Oh, and add one more item to the strange array of paraphenalia - a watch in a water pitcher by the bedside. Almost as intriguing to the detectives are the missing items--two silk waistcoats and a small gilt-edged plate which originally held the orange and cracker.
Norris immediately falls head over heels in love with the victim's niece Alma, a pretty young woman who will inherit the bulk of Sampson Tracy's estate and who, naturally, is a prime suspect. Despite his knowledge of Moore's talents, fairness, and ability to go beyond the obvious, Norris throws all kinds of roadblocks in the way of justice in the crusade to prevent his lady-love from harassment over a murder he just knows she could never have committed. Norris wastes a lot of time and energy playing the complete fool even after it becomes apparent that Moore and the police already know all about Alma...and, in fact, know even more about her than Norris.
This mystery starts out so promising with the bizarre items and the locked room, but it soon turned into a mediocre detective novel. Norris is, quite frankly, annoying. It doesn't even help that he acknowledges, repeatedly, that's he's a fool. Moore could, I think, be a quite interesting detective if his character were developed a bit more fully--unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. And the solution turns on two rather hackneyed devices of detective fiction--which I will refrain from mentioning in case you'd like to give Wells a try yourself. And, of course, it's always possible that a reader fresh to the genre may not be as bothered by the conclusion.
Most frustrating for me is how little importance all the interesting items found surrounding the victim wind up having. The watch dunked in the water pitcher becomes the primary clue--but not for your average mystery reader. You'll need some specialized knowledge about the reactions of those under the influence of certain psychological problems to understand that one....An author such as Ellery Queen would have managed to assign real importance to each of the items--with every one of them revealing a nugget of information about the killer or his/her motive. My reading experience could have been raised by at least one whole star if the promise of the clues had been fulfilled. As it is, ★★ for a fair read of a 1920s mystery.
For more insight on Carolyn Wells and the Deep Lake Mystery in particular, please visit John's blog post over at Pretty Sinister Books. Be warned, John's post is fairly spoilerish because of the nature of his discussion of her work.
This fulfills the "Locked Room/Impossible Crime" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.