As I mentioned a while ago, I am reading all the books I care about spoiling off of Noah’s list which he discusses in his post The Birlstone and Other Gambits. Eight books is rather a lot to read in order to read one blog post, but I wanted to read these anyway. Might as well be sooner as later. The 9th – Still Waters by E.C.R. Lorac doesn’t seem to be available for under $3,000 and that’s taking things a bit far. It’s hard to imagine a book worth $3,000, though I expect that if books were really scarce I might just succumb. No, probably I’d just write some.
Plague Court is a crumbling old mansion in Carter Dickson’s first Sir Henry Merrivale mystery. Said to be haunted by a disagreeable old party from back in times of plague, the confusingly named Louis Playge. He’s the brother (I think) of the man who manages the house, runs errands and things. The owner decides to shut the place up with a store of food and wait out the plague, which wouldn’t be a bad idea except his manager or butler or whatever he is seems to keep running errands in town. I think they’re unclear on the concept of shutting up the house. At any rate all of this adds lots of atmosphere, but isn’t terribly pertinent except it’s the excuse for having a seance/exorcism. Louis Playge’s peculiar round rat-stabbing knife has been stolen from the museum recently and now a psychic researcher Roger Darworth is preparing to hold some sort of ceremony in the little stone house in the courtyard. It seems a bit odd that this researcher and not his medium Joseph is preparing so long for this ceremony, but there it is. The house has only one way in or out – a door that is locked both inside and out. There are grated windows and a grate in the chimney. Small flying bugs might get in and out, but nothing larger. This being a Carr/Dickson book you know someone’s going to die in there, impossibly. And sure enough he does. So while everyone was sitting in a dark room inside the decaying manse, Darworth has been stabbed repeatedly apparently with the odd round knife of Louis Playge.
This is the cover I have. Striking, but inaccurate. The only cat is found dead. This is a great read for atmosphere. The crumbling mansion, the mysterious psychic researcher, the history of plague and violence, the seances. Chock full of entertaining creepiness. And really, I’d be amazed if you figure this one out, because in my opinion Dickson totally cheats. I expect the cheat will turn out to be the ‘gambit,’ but maybe not. I did figure out part of it, but I had significant things wrong. I was trying to find out if one of the things he talks about is even possible, but the internet has let me down. I had all kinds of little problems with this, too. The behavior of one of the people just seemed too far-fetched to me. But go ahead and read it because it’s creepy fun, not because it’s a good mystery.