There have been some strange goings on at The Grange. A bishop sliding down a staircase, accosting maids, and wandering on the roof in his nightclothes while poltergeists are throwing inkpots around. The aforementioned Bishop of Mappleham, and amateur criminologist, believes The Grange and the village around it, are a hotbed of criminals and takes his case to Scotland Yard. But when local resident and scholar Septimus Depping is found in his study, shot in the back of the head, Scotland Yard is less than amused. Can the Bishop solve the case? Probably not. And so Dr. Gideon Fell is sent to investigate.
This is the third in the Dr. Gideon Fell series (which I’m reading in order), and looking at the various reviews on Goodreads I was slightly concerned that I may have already hit on a “lesser” Carr. But, after reading it myself I don’t believe I read the same book those reviewers did. This was an engrossing read with a well plotted mystery, fabulous writing, and injections of humor.
The mystery was complex, filled with clues, diversions, and suspects. Now, I may be naïve to the workings of mystery writing, but I thought it was fascinating how Carr lays out everything from the beginning and interpreted it through Fell. Fell weaves the clues together into theories, only to immediately knock them down as impossibilities, then reweaves them into another theory. Carr then diverts the story, sending the reader down another path. Before it was over I had “Maw” down as a suspect. And as for the chapters leading up to the end, without giving anything away, all I can say is gripping, edge of my seat, stayed up past my bedtime because I could not put it down!
As always, I was struck by Carr’s writing. The narrative flows effortlessly and the imagery is vivid. The descriptive quality is rich and distinctive, whether he is portraying a setting –
The road wound through dips and hollows, overhung by maple trees; and bees from the hedgerows were always sailing in through the windscreen and driving Standish wild. Towards the west Donovan could see the smoky red roofs of the suburbs round Bristol; but this was rural scenery of the thatched roof and cowbell variety. Here were rolling meadows, frothy yellow with buttercups, and occupied by cows that looked as stolid as a nudist colony.”
or an individual –
She stalked downstairs to bid him welcome – a handsome woman, five-feet-ten in her lowest heeled shoes, with a mass of ash-blond hair carried like a war banner, and a rather hard but determinedly pleasant face.”
This would not be Carr without humor and irony. From the opening pages when Chief Inspector Hadley hears of events at The Grange, “and there was the bishop, top-hat and gaiters, holding one of the housemaids across a table –“, to Fells’ interview with Mrs. Standish “‘Sir, Will you trifle with me?’ ‘Madam!’ rumbled Dr. Fell…‘Reluctantly, I’m afraid I must decline.’” Oh, and then there is the “ginch”, which according to some, I should have found offensive, but I thought was delightfully funny. I never found the humor to be over the top, but felt that Carr used it with great effect.
Let me reiterate, this is only the third Fell I’ve read. In addition, I’ve read only two books from the Merrivale series. I can’t really speak to later books or those containing Carr’s “impossible” or “locked room” mysteries so have made no comparisons here. I will leave that to more well-read minds. The reviews written by The Green Capsule and The Puzzle Doctor, as well as the “debate” that occurs in their comments, does a much better job than I ever could anyway. I just know that I truly enjoyed it
My Judgement – 4.25/5
Prior Rulings – The Green Capsule, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and JJ @ The Invisible Event ranks it #3 of the First Ten Gideon Fell Novels