Henri Bencolin visits the Rhine in his third novel, and appropriately enough there are a trio of killings to solve: the impossible attack on a magician in a train carriage under constant supervision, apparently thrown out by an unseen assailant; the burning on an old Shakespearean actor on the battlements of the eponymous castle; and the shooting and chaining up of the castle’s watchman in one of its dungeons. Bencolin is hired in a private capacity and squares off against two local policemen – who will find the solution first?
I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.
“Somewhere there is a powerful, devilish warped mind, working for reasons we cannot yet fathom”
It is fairly well understood by genre fans that in the vintage whodunit, there are two entwined battle of wits taking place simultaneously: one between the detective and the hidden villain and one between the author and the reader. But here the layer gets tripled as the story also includes a duel within the story between rival detectives. It works splendidly in Christie’s Murder on the Links and Simenon’s My Friend Maigret (which I previously reviewed here) and it is another very nice touch here as the diabolical Bencolin squares off against Baron Sigmund von Arnheim. The two are always polite and charming, both very good at what they do, and yet have in the past been deadly enemies, so they definitely set sparks off each other.
“In the sound of rain on windows, Baron, I find a tremendous suggestiveness.”
The plot includes several secret passages in and around the castle but Carr never cheats in terms of his plot, which is great fun in its Gothic way. Seventeen years earlier a famous magician, who owned the skeletal castle, was thrown off a train where no one could apparently get to him. Now, so many years later, one of his heirs, an actor, has been shot and burned to death and the rest of his family and friends, who live int he large house across the river, are suspects,. Bencolin is hired by the other heir to the magician’s estate to get to the bottom of the mystery. The atmosphere of horror is very thick and perhaps a bit overdone but there is much to enjoy here as we follow the duelling detectives sift through the clues and reach bizarre but entertaining and very unexpected solutions (yes, there is more than one). Admittedly the cast of characters (most of whom are ensconced in the home built by the actor across from the Castle) is not especially memorable (you know the thing – young lovers, old lovers, an annoying violinist who never seems to stop practicing, etc), though as so often with the author, we also get a decidedly unconventional romance at its heart with an unexpected resolution. So, not Carr at his best then, as it is all a bit daft, with the atmosphere overdone and the characters a but undercooked (sic), but we still get a really solid mystery none the less (if we accept the fairly loopy lines of its Gothic logic), with the trick of the train disappearance nicely dovetailed into the plot and with lots of nice surprises along the way.
For details of all the author’s novels, including the four other Bencolin mysteries, check out my dedicated Carr microsite here. This book was a gift from my chum Colin, wrangler of the unmissable Ride the High Country, for which many thanks – about time I read it in English! Curtis Evans, blogger and mystery historian extraordinaire, provided a detailed analysis of this book over at his online home, The Passing Tramp; the lovely Yvette Banek also gave a detailed review over at in so many words …. while the Puzzle Doctor also had some less positive comments to make over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.
And with this review I complete Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo, using the ‘free space’ category, meaning I can bestow my final slot with any of the tile categories on the board – in this case, I choose the spooky category (albeit in the unused ‘religion’ tile):