Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Red Death Murders

 The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy

Okay, let me just get my envy out of the way at the beginning. Taking the setting of Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and turning it into a Golden Age Era locked room style mystery is just genius. And I wish I had been clever enough to come up with it. But anyone who follows Jim's blog The Invisible Event already knows what a clever fellow he is. And all that training at the feet of locked room masters such as John Dickson Carr has paid off. 

So, for those who have yet to read Poe's story, I'll give you the scaffolding upon which Jim's impressive edifice is built: When the red death plague hits the countryside, Prince Prospero gathers a bunch of nobles, friends, and their servants at his castle to (hopefully) ride out the pandemic and emerge intact on the other side (sound familiar?). He's stored up food and arranged for entertainment and revels to keep the nobles distracted. Then (in Jim's version) after a time, the appeal of the dancing and whatnot palls and all but nine men have left the castle for the outside world. This includes the Prince, his doctor, his body guard, several nobles, and Thomas, the lone servant and our third person POV. And then the deaths begin--no, the plague has not breached the castle walls, murder is reducing the ranks. We have two locked room deaths and a murder that takes place in full view of the remaining company. What clever mind has devised these seemingly impossible murders and, more importantly, why?

This may be Jim's debut book, but he handles it like a pro. The characterization is superb with all nine men well-defined and easily distinguished. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Thomas and his master, Sir William, and Sir William's brother Sir Marcus--even when suspicion fell upon one or another of them. The setting is also well-defined and I easily followed the action and where it happened. I loved that a map was included--just as in so many Golden Age crime novels. It was also fun to have the "Challenge to the Reader" found so often in the early Ellery Queen mysteries. Jim went out of his way to make GAD aficionados happy. 

 Happy GIF - Happy 歡快 - Discover & Share GIFs 

 I have to say that I didn't answer all the challenge questions. Jim had led me all around the castle and I was lost in the details and thoroughly mystified. But that's not a bad thing. I don't mind being mystified if it's done well and the solution makes sense in the end. Well, done, Jim. My only complaint is that I still don't quite see how the first locked room works--but I'm pretty sure that's my inability to properly visualize the mechanics rather than the explanation given. Overall, this is an impressive debut mystery.  ★★★★ and 1/2.

First line: At first, Thomas failed to recognize the blood, it was the rising hair on his arms and the shiver passing through his chest that made him look a second time.

Last line: Thomas Collingwood reached out and grabbed his father's offered hand and they stepped forward together.

Deaths = 5 (four neck broken; one shot/stabbed with arrows)

1 comment:

Marg said...

This sounds like an impressive debut!

Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I hope you will be joining us again in 2024.