The Red Death Murders by Jim Noy

published 2022

I’m a huge fan of John Dickson Carr (as are all Golden Age detective fans) but I have one big complaint against him: JDC never once came to meet me at Waterloo station to buy me a coffee and discuss the plot of one of his books in great detail, with particular attention to which ‘impossible’ aspects were feasible, original, or difficult to explain.

Jim Noy did.

So today’s book,  Jim’s The Red Death Murders, starts with a big advantage. In fact I had read and loved it before arranging to talk it over with Jim, so that was all very satisfactory.

He took as his starting point the Edgar Allen Poe story The Masque of Red Death - which, every time I read it I am astonished by how short it is: I think of it as novella length but it isn’t. Handily Red Death Murders includes the Poe story at the end of the book.

Jim's book is set in an unspecified time and place which he calls a Fantasy/faux-Medieval universe – so the point is not historical accuracy or research. It’s what Rachel from Friends would call ‘the historical period of Days of Yore, or Yesteryear’: creating a world that we can recognize from other works of fiction – traditional weapons, old-school clothes and food, and a castle. No modern appliances, inventions or means of communication. We don’t need more certainty than that.

The action takes place entirely in the castle. A group of men are enclosed together, while a plague rages outside: they are protecting themselves in quite elaborate ways from the virus, oh I mean the disease. And this means they have a closed circle, and in effect a gigantic locked room, with some other locked rooms within it – just what we need for a murder story.

There aren’t that many people there to begin with, and soon the number is being reduced in ever more inventive ways: yes, impossible ways. It is a tour de force of tricksy, hard-to-explain crimes.

We are seeing most of the action through the eyes of Thomas, a young personal servant to one of the

lords, Sir William. He and his master, along with Will’s brother Sir Marcus, are trying to work out what is going on. The action gets tighter and tighter, and there are fewer and fewer people left. There are some excellent genuinely surprising revelations, and then the traditional solution and full explanation. But you might be trying to work out from how many pages are left (calculation not helped by the Poe story at the end) that there may be another one coming… all in the best traditions of old school Golden Age detection.

I enjoyed it hugely: it was clever, complex and largely unguessble, though very much fair play. I am very pleased that Jim is going to make a series of it – sign me up for the next entries.

I delayed writing this blogpost till after Jim and I had met, assuming I would have all kinds of helpful quotes from him to put in. And he and I did have a most exhilarating discussion about the details of the plot, but the problem is that I can’t reveal most of it as it would spoiler. I asked him to spell out the 4 and a half proper locked room puzzles he had mentioned. I asked him how long it took to work out the details of one of them. We talked about which were the very best clues.

Too bad I can’t tell you the answers – perhaps if you offer to buy him a coffee he will tell you too…

I only have one real complaint about the book. There is a shortage of something, something missing. It is of course …. Clothes. Come on, Jim, mate, this is Clothes in Books, who came on your podcast to talk about stocking tops in Murder at the Vicarage and lesbian trousers in Murder is Announced. Could you not have put some outfits in there for me? Please try next time.

But then – normally the lack of clothes means I can’t find good pictures, but luckily Mr E A Poe has ensured that there are wonderful illustrations that suit Jim’s book too. So there’s Jim, and Jim’s cover, and the rest of the pictures are from editions of Poe.

Anyway the book is very highly recommended, it’s a great achievement, and I also highly recommend Jim’s blog, Invisible Event – always worth a visit.

He has written about his book – entertainingly and without spoilers – in posts here and here.


  1. It's so great that you got the chance to talk over the book with the author, Moira! What a fantastic opportunity. And I'm glad you liked the book so well, too. I've heard from a couple of people I trust that it's a good 'un. And what a very clever plot, too. I think that's an inspired way to have a sort of locked-room sense to this mystery.

    1. I know, it was a rare treat to be able to talk to an author with the book fresh in my mind. And it is a good one, I really recommend it.

  2. I've got my copy, Moira, and am looking forward to reading it. Meeting at Waterloo station - in a GA novel that would have been the beginning of an adventure probably involving spies. There ought to have been steam trains!

    1. Yes! And actually I think Waterloo is one of the best, it doesn't look modernized by many of the other stations. There's a John Dickson Carr book that does have many of the main characters setting off from Waterloo - this is my blogpost, although I don't actually mention Waterloo - so Jim and I felt right at home!

  3. I have purchased it, but not read it yet. It looks exciting.

    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy it - let us know how you get on.

  4. A very promising debute. With a self-published debute novel you worry about the writing style, but it was as good as if he was seasoned pro. The setting was interesting and the puzzle was puzzling.

    The solutions were clever, especially to one of the murders. It was very Carresque in giving us many false solutions that nearly worked. Perhaps one part relied too much on coincidence, and I definitely would have needed maps and diagrams.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I agree, a very assured book.


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