Monday, May 25, 2015

Deep Lake Mystery: Review

my actual copy--no DJ
Deep Lake Mystery (1928) by Carolyn Wells is set in the lake region of Wisconsin. Our narrator Gray Norris is invited to join his old friend, the detective Keeley Moore, and his new wife at their vacation cottage at Deep Lake, Wisconsin for a relaxing month of fishing, swimming, boating, and just getting away from the hustle and bustle of the East Coast.That goes by the wayside when one of the Moore's neighbors is killed under bizarre circumstances behind a locked door. The only way the killer could have escaped the room was by diving from a third story window into the dangerous water below--avoiding hidden rocks and currents that could drag a swimmer under for good. 

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.


Anonymous said...

Have yet to try Wells - not going to try with this one, probably ...

fredamans said...

Don't think I would get into this one. Great review!

John said...

This is one of her worst books, IMO. Sometimes you can read her bad books and find them entertaining. But not here. This one was frustrating -- no, infuriating for me to read. Creating all that weirdness with the corpse and the crime scene and then doing nothing with it. This is one of her trademarks. Overload the story with bizarre elements and then discard it as extraneous. Supposedly this shows the genius of her protagonist, what makes him a Transcendent Detective. "That's BS, Carolyn!" I don't think much of the fact that in this book (as in a few others) she completely lifts her murder method and motive from another writer's work. Yes, she cites the original work but to me it's less of a homage than it is plagiarism.

The one Carolyn Wells book I really want to find is THE UMBRELLA MURDER. Curt Evans' review of that makes it sound hysterically funny, albeit unintentionally. I don't even care that I know the big surprise. I'd still read it.

Bev Hankins said...

John, this is the first Wells book I've read. So, I'm just getting a taste of her. I've got two more on the TBR stack (The Missing Link AND More Lives Than One). I will agree that it's pretty bad--not quite the all-time worst thing I've read. I might have noticed more about how bad it was, if I hadn't been waiting (in vain, of course) to see what all that weirdness was going to add up to....