Also published as:
Nine – and Death Makes Ten
& Murder in the Submarine Zone
Originally published as a Carter Dickson book – on the blog I always combine all this author’s works under the name John Dickson Carr
[First night at sea: a transatlantic voyage in the early days of WW2, from New York to England]
Mr George A Hooper said… “Look at the Queen of Sheba!”
This marked the entrance of Estelle Zia Bey.
She had committed the blunder of dressing for dinner on the first night out, But no doubt she had done it deliberately. Mr Hooper’s whisper had been one of awe.
Mrs Zia Bey (confound that name, thought Max) wore an evening-gown cut so low in front as to make the modest Mr Hooper mutter under his breath. It reflected back in the innumerable mosaic mirrors in the dining-saloon. It showed off her superb shoulders, of the same soft golden-brown colour as her face. No wrinkles were visible now. She swung a black handbag from a wrist-strap. The ship rolled sharply as she came into the room, and a less steady-pinned woman would have gone skidding and scuttling into a pillar, clutching without dignity at her skirts.
But she only laughed at the steward who hurried to assist her.
commentary: This ship, The Edwardic, is in extreme danger: it is travelling across the North Atlantic in January 1940, carrying munitions for the beleaguered British forces – ‘half a million pounds’ worth of high explosive, with four Lockheed bombers on the top deck.’ There is a constant threat from German sumbarines. Only a handful of very important passengers has been allowed onto the ship - and as this is a John Dickson Carr book, there will be at least one victim and one murderer among them, and the crime will be impossible. In this particular case, the murderer has left fingerprints behind – yet they do not match with those of anyone on the ship…
The crime plot is immensely gripping, and completely fooled me. With that small number of characters (the hundreds of crew on board can happily be eliminated, as in all the best murder stories) you wouldn’t think it was possible to come up with something quite as astonishing yet satisfying as his solution. The experienced reader is clocking up ideas and possibilities, but the true story came out of nowhere, and yet had been perfectly fairly clued in retrospect. A tour de force.
I had some questions about the later revelations, but I am prepared to accept Carr’s (referenced and footnoted) assertions, though I understood the point of one of them a good chapter or so before others did: that’s the best I can say for myself.
I was interested and surprised to read that everyone had to have a gasmask on board the ship.
The world off the ship is in a parlous state, and the constant threat from the enemy adds a curious and eerie atmosphere to the book, and it is most convincingly done - Carr made a very similar voyage himself (without the murder) so he knew whereof he wrote – but the question of what you wear to dinner is still very important, and everyone on board is far too busy snubbing, offending and criticizing each other to worry too much about the war…
My friend Sergio over at Tipping my Fedora said:
Go out and get this one – it’s an absolute classic.So I did, and he was not wrong.
I was somewhat wary because one of my least favourite books by JDC is the dreadful Blind Barber, also involving murder on a transatlantic voyage, but this one (under whatever name) truly is top rank.
There are many other John Dickson Carr books all over the blog.
The white dress is from 1938, Kristine’s photostream.
The black gown is the Ladies’ Home Journal recommendation for an evening dress for your travel wardrobe.
The young woman in more casual shipboard wear is from the National Library of Australia.