As mentioned earlier, JJ of The Invisible Event came up with the idea of reporting on a book as he read it – chapter by chapter. He is planning to read Fog of Doubt by Christianna Brand and I ordered that one to do the same thing. Then I saw Ah Sweet Mystery Blog was going to join in with The Red Widow Murders by Carter Dickson which I also have not read. So, lacking patience to wait for Fog, I’m starting Red Widow now. I am quite sure this will be chock full of spoilers, so if you don’t want it spoiled, don’t read this. Or only read the first few chapters. I don’t know how the others are doing this really as I only read a bit of The Puzzle Doctor’s after deciding I don’t want to ruin a book I might read sometime even though the odds are steep against it. At any rate, read on, if you’ve read it, or you don’t care about spoilage…
Chapter 1 – Michael Tairlaine (whom I keep thinking of as Tamburlaine) is a ‘somewhat elderly’ 50 year old longing for adventure. His friend, Sir George Anstruther, obliges by asking him if he believes a room can kill a person and then giving him instructions to walk along a certain block in London at a certain hour and if anyone asks him anything odd, to go along with it. Well, he does, in full evening dress, and someone does. The butler of Lord Mantling asks him inside as a sort of witness. Lord Mantling, a bit of an odd duck, is quite emphatic they must have a new, unopened deck of cards. Apparently they have pulled Tairlaine in off the street as a witness to their game. A game in which one of them will die in less than two hours.
So, a pretty good start, I think. Intriguing set up.
Chapter 2 – Background. Mantling, a guy with a big ego, tells the story of the room and the four people who’ve died there since 1803. We meet his aunt Isabel whose got a strong personality herself and a guy named Bender. Isabel insists she will pick a card, too. If this were Star Trek, Bender would be wearing a red shirt. All are waiting for Sir Henry Merrivale, who finally shows at the end of the chapter. We also learn it’s not the furniture that’s the problem and that experts have thoroughly gone over the room and found nothing. Almost forgot, Isabel objected to Mantling touching the South American native weapons on the wall because they might be poisoned. He says they were checked. She says only the arrows. If a poisoned spear is shown in the first scene does it have to go off in the third act?
Chapter 3 – Muddy pale. Half-unpleasant charm. Wondering if Carr kept a list of these to be used like spices.
He was a little overdressed — how do you manage that if everyone’s in full evening dress?
Anyway, more info revealed. Bender seems to like Isabel. She is highly affected when she reveals not only was her pet parrot strangled, Judith’s dog was butchered and dumped in the trash. Someone in the family is mad! Mad! Mad! They have presumably inherited the family ‘taint.’ Do we know how long the others have been there? Was it only family in the house when the pets were done in? Mantling claims not to have known about the dog. Finally they decide it’s time to open the room. Mantling gets the tools and they discover – surprise! – someone has already been in it. The screws are fake, the lock is oiled, and everyone except Tairlaine and Merrivale and maybe Sir George has had an opportunity to make the room deadly. But why? Madness? Most unsatisfactory. And what does Tairlaine see when they open the door?
We also learn it only happens when someone is alone in the room. This seems to rule out gas, or any non-human entity.
Chapter 4 – Things are heating up. Dinner is et and they all pick cards to see who will go into the room and face death. Bender is the guinea pig and off he heads, not with enthusiasm. He will spend the time writing, he says. The others call out every 15 minutes except Guy and Isabel who leave the scene. Bender calls back every 15 minutes until midnight when the door is about to be reopened and Judith and her fiancé Dr. Arnold arrive just in time to see the end of the experiment. The end, of course, is that Bender is dead. Just before they discover this HM reveals that he is not an artist. That Bender seemed to be some sort of medical man. I’m thinking he’s a psychiatrist and Isabel hired him to suss out the madman in the family. This gives said Madman a motive for doing in Bender. About 11:30 Ravelle leaves the group to write some letters. This is about half an hour before the room is opened, but half an hour after the victim was dead. Is there a secret passage where someone could have slipped in and answered for Bender while he was dead? Seems like they would have found it, if it there were when they investigated the room.
Chapter 5 – The police arrive and start their work. Someone had to have been in the room. Bender’s notebook is missing and there are a playing card near him and a strip of parchment with a sort of benediction on it left on the body. The only two people without an alibi are Isabel and Guy. Everyone else was together for at least two answers from the already dead Bender or out with friends. So those two can’t have done it. I’m being facetious, I don’t really think that except it seems like Carr/Dickson likes to go for maximum impossibility.
Curare is what did the job. Isabel is devastated because Bender was indeed hired by her. He works as an intern for Dr. Arnold. My money’s on Ravelle at the moment. He goes off at 11:30 and doesn’t come back for the big reveal? That’s peculiar. I’m pretty sure that whatever the solution is I’m going to think it a load of codswallop.
So, this seems long enough for an entry. Guess I’ll do four of these unless I have a lot less to say about the future chapters. I’m enjoying the book and the stopping every chapter hasn’t become a pain. At least not yet.