Sunday, October 1, 2017

To Wake the Dead: Review

It looks like Christopher Kent has landed himself in a whole lot of trouble. He has just returned to England on the last leg of a journey from South Africa that has resulted from a bet with his friend Dan Reaper. Reaper claims that Kent, a writer who also has a private income, hasn't done a real day's work in his life and that he will wager that Kent won't be able to work his way back to England in time to meet Reaper there on the morning of February 1st. The only rule--he can't draw on his bank and he can't use his own name because he might be able to draw credit on it.

January 31st finds Kent in Picadilly--just one day away from winning that wager--but he's not got one penny in his pocket. He hasn't eaten since yesterday's breakfast and he's sure he could make it if he could just get a hot meal inside him. He finds himself outside the Royal Scarlet Hotel where he's scheduled to meet Reaper and comes up with an ingenious idea. Despite being without funds, he still looks presentable and he's sure that if he just walks boldly into the dining room like he belongs then he can order up a hot breakfast and charge to a room (any room) and just walk out again.

It's all going splendidly until a hotel attendant comes and tells him there's a problem regarding his room. It seems that the previous occupant has called with claims to have lost a valuable bracelet and won't rest until the room is checked. The attendant doesn't wish to disturb the gentleman's wife who is still sleeping, so would he just go in and check through the drawers and whatnot to see if the bracelet is there. What's a guy to do? If he tells the attendant he's not the husband and reveals why he's cadged a meal, then the bet's off. If he goes along with the attendant and manages to get in the room, how's he to explain himself to the good lady occupying the room? He's still puzzling that last bit out when the attendant uses a master key to get him in the room and he discovers that he's got a far worse problem on his hands. The good lady is dead--strangled with a towel. And, by the way, she's not just any good lady...she happens to be the wife of his cousin...who just happens to be in the hotel as part of Dan Reaper's party. But Kent doesn't recognize her in the dimly lit room.

So...Kent does what any innocent young man in a John Dickson Carr novel does. He sneaks out the side door (the suite conveniently comes with another entrance) and makes his way to his friend Dr. Gideon Fell's home for advice and help. The good news? Fell and Superintendent Hadley (who is there to consult Fell on the murder at the Royal Scarlet Hotel) seem to believe that he's innocent--provided he can prove when he arrived and his whereabouts the previous evening. The bad news? Jenny Kent isn't the only one who's dead. Christopher's cousin Rodney Kent was killed in a very similar manner to his wife about two weeks previous at a country house in Northfield.

There are various clues available to Fell and Hadley--from the man in the hotel uniform who was observed at both scenes around the time of the murders to a drawer full of ripped up photographs (and one that was not ripped up) to a second bracelet belonging to the dead woman. There are also a great many connections to the past--both the past of the dead woman and the past in Northfield. 

Carr, as per usual, provides a highly entertaining story with interesting characters. He spreads clues about and displays most of them--but there is a bit of information that isn't revealed properly until it's too late for the reader to beat Fell to the punch. And there is one bit of business that takes a bit of swallowing to believe that (oops, can't tell you who) didn't, in all those years, discover that (oops can't tell you what, either). I, mean, really...if my (that thing I can't tell you) had the characteristic that the one in the story did, I'd think I notice at some point. But--other than those two points--the story is quite good and Fell in fine form. He tells Hadley that he is not going to lecture on the mystery and then proceeds to do so. He enumerates various questions that, if they can answer them properly, will provide the solution to the crimes. Naturally, Fell is able to answer them all by story's end. ★★★★

[Finished on 9/30/17]
First published in 1938, this fulfills the "Tombstone" category on the Golden Vintage Mystery card.

1 comment:

Kate said...

This Carr novel seems to have slipped my radar, but you certainly make it sound like an intriguing one, even if it stretches credulity slightly. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Hopefully be able to find a reasonably priced copy.