Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Unicorn Murders (Spoilerific)

 The Unicorn Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson [John Dickson Carr]

I can't possibly talk about this one without letting several cats out of the bag, so I'm just going to warn you up front and not bother with coded comments. If you haven't read this particular mystery by Dickson/Carr, then, you should probably give my review a pass.


So...I don't think I've ever read such a convoluted mystery by such a good detective novelist. Dickson/Carr likes to have tricky little, intricate little solutions to his seemingly impossible crimes. Those sometimes confuse me. But honestly...there are so many people pretending to be somebody else in this one that I couldn't keep up even if I had a scorecard. We start out with our narrator, Kenwood Blake, pretending to be the secret service agent that Evelyn Cheyne (also an agent) is supposed to hook up with in France so they can stick like glue to Sir George Ramsden who is transporting the "unicorn" some sort of top secret, extra-important something-or-other (we aren't told what until the very end) to England. Why on earth the man is going through France isn't really explained--but, whatever.

Apparently, a thieving bad guy by the name of Flamande (shades of G. K. Chesterton's Flambeau) has vowed to be on the same plane as Ramsden and plans to steal the unicorn. Flamande is super-great at disguise and nobody knows what he looks like, so it's going to be difficult to protect Ramsden and his unicorn. To counter Flamande, we have the super-spiffy French Chief Inspector of the Surete, Gaston Gasquet--who, coincidently is also a master of disguise and nobody knows what he looks like either. And he's vowed to be on the plane to catch Flamande. 

So...we have Blake pretending to be the secret service guy. We have the real secret service guy somewhere. We have another guy pretending to be the secret service guy and we have the secret service guy's brother (who looks enough like secret service guy to also pretend to be him if the fancy strikes--it does). We wind up with one these guys (no, I'm not going to completely spoil it and tell you which guy) dead in a French chateau on a island cut off from the main land by a raging river in storm. He was apparently killed in the middle of a stairwell in view of others (albeit by low lamplight) with the horn of a unicorn (you can't make this stuff up--well, you can if your name is Dickson/Carr). Luckily for our hero--whom one of the several guys who claim to Gasquet (don't ask how many--more than we need) accuses him of being Flamande, good ol' H.M. (Sir Henry Merrivale) is also on the spot and will be able to figure out who is who and which one killed who and how and when and where. And, yes, even if I told you all the names and exactly what happened (supposing I could...I'm not sure I can), I don't think you'd be any less confused. Yikes.

The best part of this whole thing is H.M. (and therefore all star points go to him), but, honestly, even he was a bit much. Definitely not my favorite Dickson/Carr novel. ★★

First line: Let me state the case to you, and ask yo what you would do under the circumstances.

Last line: "La, sir, how you do go on!"
Deaths = two stabbed in head

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