-- using the pseudonym Carter Dickson
[Set in 1938]
As Joan lay there, the door to the passage was in the wall facing her, but well to her right. The shrilling of the doorbell made her start, but she sat upright only when she heard the soft voice of Stella Lacey moving nearer along the hall… Stella’s charm was reflected in male faces, her ash-blonde hair swinging at her shoulders as she turned her head…
She was wearing a blue ‘creation’ with one of those black hats with the half veil popular in that year. Her gray eyes shone through the veil as she turned to Colonel Bailey.
observations: I am a huge fan of John Dickson Carr (who also wrote as Carter Dickson - I file all as Carr for simplicity) and the long list of his locked room mysteries has given me enormous pleasure over many years. In a fairly random way, I seem not to be picking his very best works to feature on the blog – I liked The Reader is Warned, but had a problem with a racist strand in it (others disagreed with me on this: there has been some really interesting discussions below the piece and on a Golden Age detection board.) I ordered Mocking Widow after Martin Edwards wrote about it on his Do You Write Under Your Own Name? website – I liked the idea of the village setting and the poison pen letters. And I did enjoy both those aspects: the book is great fun. Although written in 1950 it is set firmly in 1938, and (although politics, war preparations and Hitler are mentioned) perhaps he was looking back with nostalgia at the very Golden Age he is associated with. There are some very funny bits – and it turns out that Sir Henry Merrivale invented the wheeled suitcase a long time ago. However the locked room secret was a bit of a non-starter – not one of his best, no huge gasp of surprise when the solution is revealed, and the motivation of the culprit (as Martin also pointed out) was a bit vague.
In a slapstick scene near the end, HM dresses up as what we would call a Native American for a church bazaar, and gets involved in a mudfight involving most of the village and a Bishop. The ‘Red Indian’ references would be unacceptable today, but somehow they weren’t as much of a blocker as the problems with The Reader is Warned.
This book inspired me to read a couple more poison pen mysteries including Christie's classic Moving Finger – look out for more entries, which will of course be carefully constructed from cutout letters from newspapers, and a list of books and tropes.
The outfit above (from Dovima is Devine) is, exactly, from 1938, and seemed to fit the bill, exactly.