By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 192nd in my series of Forgotten Books.
I love a great locked room mystery and The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best. Locked room mysteries represent an apparently impossible murder where there seems to be no conceivable way the crime could have occurred.
The master of this mystery style was John Dickson Carr with his irascible detective Dr. Gideon Fell. His novel The Hollow Man has been voted the best locked room murder of all time and it contains the definitive chapter, wherein Dr. Fell discusses the various aspects of the locked room. Carr’s major competition for the title of the best locked room writer is himself writing as Carter Dickson and features the irascible detective Sir Henry Merrivale.
Today’s book, The Peacock Feather Murders, was also voted one of the best locked room murders of all time. Our plot begins with Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Humphrey Masters receiving a note that reads, “There will be ten teacups at number 4, Berwick Terrace, W. 8, on Wednesday, July 31, at 5 p.m. precisely. The presence of the Metropolitan Police Is respectfully requested ” Two years earlier, Masters received a note of similar tone shortly before finding a young man named Dantley murdered. That homicide was never solved.
Masters and some of his men stake out the building. Young Vance Keating, a wealthy man-about-London, brushes off police protection. As the police watch, Keating enters the house. Suddenly, two shots sound from within. The place is vacant except for one room. In that room, they find Keating and an old revolver from which two shots have been fired. No one has entered or left. Inside the room is a table with an expensive covering that features peacock feathers and ten teacups. The police also find a hat with both the name of the dead man’s brother and gunpowder marks on it. In the Dantley murder, the police also discovered ten expensive teacups with a peacock feather motif.
Masters calls on his old friend Sir Henry Merrivale to help with the case. The suspects include the dead man’s brother Philip, his fiancée Frances Gale, his friend Mr. Rod Gardner and his lawyer Jeremy Derwent and the lawyer’s wife. Derwent is the previous owner of the home on Barrant Terrace. Coincidentally, he had been the previous owner of the home where Dantley was murdered.
The mystery has lots of convolutions, including a game of Murder played at the Derwents’ the night before, where Vance had been selected to play the detective but bowed out of the whole party at the last minute. There also are the expensive teacups in the first murder, replaced by a Woolworth set for the new one. And on top of that, there are lies and omissions, alibis and fakery — and ultimately a satisfying denouement which is properly footnoted to allow the reader to go back and see every clue.
The Peacock Feather Murders lacks the action of the noir mysteries I love, but I also have great respect for these puzzles. Just as Ellery Queen does in his early mysteries, Carr or Dickson plays fair with the reader and the clues are there for your discovery. Give them a try.
As a short, additional review, I also recently read Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older, a noirish horror title from Roc. And again, I loved it.
Carlos Delacruz is an inbetweener. He has been killed and does not require air to breathe or food to live. But he’s also not dead. He walks, he talks and he serves at the whim of the New York Council of the Dead as a soul catcher.
One New Year’s Eve, he discovers another inbetweener trying to open a portal to the afterlife and take living people into it. He kills the young man and this leads to complications. He promises to look in on the man’s sister, Sasha, and he finds himself falling in love (do the dead love?). And, suddenly, he is in the middle of a giant plot to bring Hell to New York.
There are some great characters in this novel, like Mama Esther, the manifestation of a loving house, and Baba Eddie, who works weird magic, and Moishe the real estate guy. The book was fun food for my noirish and horror appetites. It is listed as the first of the Bone Street Rumba novels. I’m not sure when the next one is due but I’ll read it. Check it out yourself.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.