The Four False Weapons (1937) by John Dickson Carr
Rose Klonec, a Parisian courtesan, is found dead in the deserted villa which belongs to her former lover, Ralph Douglas. Douglas has recently become engaged to Magda Toller, but all the evidence seems to point to Ralph--a letter directing her former maid to make things ready at the villa and the maid's vehement assertion that she knows he stayed with Rose at the villa on the night of the murder--and the French newspapers are eager to believe in a lovers' quarrel gone wrong. Ralph's English solicitor, Richard Curtis, is on hand--Ralph having noticed odd goings-on at the villa in the days leading up to the murder and seeking advice--and soon helps his client prove a solid alibi. But that doesn't go very far to proving who apparently wounded Rose Klonec grievously, let her bleed to death in the bathtub and then tucked her up in bed.
Never fear, Monsieur Henri Bencolin, retired French sleuth, is in the neighborhood and comes out of retirement to take on the case. He has a variety of clues to follow up: the four weapons left at the scene of crime (a stiletto, a revolver, a cut-throat razor, and a bottle of sleeping pills): the mysterious woman seen leaving the villa; the man in the brown coat who claimed to be Ralph; the fact that the maid can't see without her glasses--and those glasses were knocked to the ground and broken when "Ralph" came to the villa; and yet that same maid claims to be certain what time the clock said, and don't forget the questions surrounding the dead woman's jewelry. There aren't many suspects in the case who could have impersonated Ralph...and most of them have alibis almost as solid as his. But Bencolin declares that he knows who did it--he just can't believe it and he can't prove it well enough to take to court. All the fun is saved for the end when Bencolin gets the final evidence he needs through a high-stakes card game at the Corpses' Club gambling establishment.
Last of the Bencolin novels, this has been my favorite of the mysteries featuring the French detective so far. Lots of clues and red herrings and even Bencolin goes down a few blind alleys before arriving at the solution. Like our detective, I knew who did it (well, knew who I thought did it) early on, but I didn't see any way to prove it. At one point Carr tempted me with an almost perfectly disguised red herring, but not enough to make me give up my first suspect. I certainly didn't see the explanation of how X managed to pull it off coming at me. The scene at the gambling party is nicely done indeed and I appreciated the wrap-up, even if it did seem to take an awful long time. ★★★★
First line: If anyone had told him, on the afternoon of May 15th, that only a day later he would be in Paris: that he would be involved in the rather sensational murder case which came to be known as the affair of the Four False Weapons, even as a spectator: he would have suspected someone of having surprised his dreams.
Last line: Only Bencolin, getting out his intolerable pipe and leaning back affably in his chair, for one short moment looked serious.
Deaths = one poisoned