Monday, May 20, 2024

Death in Five Boxes

 Death in Five Boxes
(1938) by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

Dr. John Sanders is on his way home after a late night of trying to figure out how someone poisoned ice cream. Sanders is a doctor who sometimes analyzed evidence for the Home Office. Standing outside an old house that has been broken up into offices and a flat or two is a young woman who approaches him for help. Her father, Sir Dennis Blystone, has attended a late-night party and she's worried about him. The man is not a party-goer and he doesn't normally drink and before he left for the party he re-did his will, and, well, she's just worried. Will he go with her to check on Sir Dennis?

Sanders, who despite occasionally being in the public eye for criminal cases, normally keeps himself to himself, but he agrees and finds himself in the middle of a very unusual criminal case indeed. Inside the flat of Felix Haye they find Sir Dennis, Haye, Mrs. Bonita Sinclair, and Mr. Bernard Schumann. All four are full of atropine. Three are unconscious and fighting for their lives and Haye is dead--from a swordstick wound in his back. Chief Inspector Masters is sent to figure out who did it and why each of Hayes's guests have odd items in their pockets--from the four watches in Sir Dennis's pockets to Sshumann's inner workings of an alarm clock & convex piece of glass to the bottles of quicklime & phosphorus in Mrs. Sinclair's handbag. His task isn't made any easier when the three poison victims recover and swear that no one could have possibly doctored the drinks. Such bizarre circumstances seem tailor made for Sir Henry Merrivale, so Masters calls upon The Old Man to help get to the bottom of things.

I really enjoyed the set-up at the beginning of the book and the apparent impossibility. And the explanation of how the deed was done was pretty satisfying--and I'm sure much more surprising in 1938 than it was now. A couple of things do bother me though. Why did Sir Dennis redo his will? That's never explained. In fact, after Marcia Blystone lists that as a reason why she's worried about her father, that little detail never gets mentioned again. I'm also not sold on the motive. That wasn't nearly as satisfying as the means. But overall, a good outing. I always enjoy Masters and Merrivale and Sergeant Pollard almost steals the show with efforts to try and do Masters in the eye. Just when he thinks he's gotten ahead of his superior, something comes along to take the wind out of his sails. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: At one o'clock in the morning Dr. John Sanders closed his laboratory.

Last line:"[Redacted]," said Marcia. "I'm sorry. I beg your pardon."

Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one poisoned)

No comments: