My Book Notes: Till Death Do Us Part, 1944 (Dr Gideon Fell #15) by John Dickson Carr

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Penguin Books #950, 1953. Book Format: Paperback. 280 pages. ISBN: N/A. Originally published by Hamish Hamilton, London in 1944 and by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1944.

md30258469357Inside Back Cover Blurb: The body was found in the study. presumably – as it sat, or slumped, directly in line with a neat round hole in the window – shot through the head. Moreover, Dick Markham has seen the shot fired over the garden wall a few moments before he broke into the room; but inside he discovered that there was, in fact, no bullet-wound – instead a hypodermic syringe, a strong smell of bitter almonds, windows and door locked from the inside, and, inexplicably, a box of drawing-pins split all over the floor. Suicide? Dr Fell,summoned to identify the body, found the little village of Six Ashes humming with gossip and rumours, all suggesting murder, and all pointing at Lesley Grant, the girl who had become engaged to Dick Markham two days before the tragedy occurred in Gallows Lane. It turns out to be one of the benevolent Dr Fell’s most difficult cases, and the story of its unravelling once more justifies J. B. Priestley’s comment that the author ‘ has a sense of the macabre which lifts him high above the average run of detective story writers’.

From the Introduction by Martin Edwards (The British Library, 2021): Till Death Do Us Part was  first published in 1944, but the events of the story take place before the beginning of the Second World War. The memorable first chapter carries a touch of nostalgia, as well as plentiful evidence of its American author’s love of England and the English way of life. Those opening pages also set the scene splendidly for one of the most tantalizing ‘impossible crime’ detective novels ever written by John Dickson Carr, the king of the locked room mystery. 

My Take: Coinciding with the recent launch of Till Death Do Us Part new edition by The British Library Publishing on 10 August 2021, I dusted off my book shelf an old and battered Penguin edition of this book and started to read it. Simultaneously, I downloaded the new edition on my Kindle to keep it in better conditions.

Dick Markham, a playwriter of psychological thrillers, has just got engaged to Lesley Grant in the hamlet of Six Ashes. He feels the happiest man on earth. On the way to a cricket match, they stop at the entrance to Lord Ashe’s park where a garden party has been set. The main attraction at the garden party is a fortune-teller and Miss Grant wants to visit him. She was told he’s very good. Few know that the fortune-teller really is Sir Harvey Gilman, the Home Office pathologist and crime expert, who has recently rented a house in Six Ashes for holidays. Lesley, unknowing his true identity, comes into the tent while Dick remains outside. The fortune-teller admits no more than one at a time. While he is waiting, Dick takes a rifle from a nearby attraction.  Suddenly, Lesley comes out in horror. In her agitation, she grabs Dick’s rifle and it goes off with such bad luck that Sir Harvey Gilman turns out wounded. Next, Dr Middlesworth and Major Price bring him home.  Everyone believe he’s been seriously injured, but the wound is only superficial. Although, this detail is kept hidden. At night, Sir Harvey wants to see Dick, without anyone’s knowledge, to tell him who Miss Lesley Grant really is. Her real name is Jordan and she is a poisoner. She had been married twice and had become engaged to a third man. All three of them died by an injection of prussic acid, in a locked room. She was the main suspect, though nothing could be prove against her and was never formally charged. All three cases were considered suicides. The next morning, Sir Harvey is found dead in a locked room, poisoned by an injection of prussic acid. Dr Gideon Fell is summoned to assist in the investigation, but what he says after seeing the corpse of Sir Harvey turns the case upside down.

Till Death Do Us Part is a really gratifying locked room mystery. What has surprised me the most is that, over time, this novel is rising in the ranking of John Dickson Carr’s mysteries and it is now considered among his best works. Regretfully, I haven’t read yet enough of Carr’s novels to support this, but from what some reviewers are saying, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that this could be true. The twists and turns of the plot work out very well, the reading is tremendously engaging, and the story is quite haunting. Besides even the smallest detail is precisely crafted. Ultimately a book that we shouldn’t miss and that, undoubtedly, deserves several re-readings. 

Till Death Do Us Part has been reviewed, among others, by Bev Hankins at My Raeder’s Block, Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Jim Noy at The Invisible Event, Steve at Mystery File, Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, thegreencapsule at The Green Capsule, Dan at The Reader is Warned, Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora, Kate Jackson at Cross-Examining Crime, deadyesterday at Dead Yesterday, TomCat at Beneath the Satins of Time, Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, Laurie Kelley at Bedford Bookshelf, and James Scott Byrnside.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Harper & Brothers (USA), 1944)

About the Author: John Dickson Carr was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1906. It Walks by Night, his first published detective novel, featuring the Frenchman Henri Bencolin, was published in 1930. Apart from Dr Fell, whose first appearance was in Hag’s Nook in 1933, Carr’s other series detectives (published under the nom de plume of Carter Dickson) were the barrister Sir Henry Merrivale, who debuted in The Plague Court Murders (1934). (Source: Goodreads)

The following list is not, nor is it intended to be, an exhaustive bibliography. It is just a selection of  Carr’s books I have read or l look forward to reading. Any further suggestion of books I should include is welcome

Henri Bencolin: It Walks By Night (1930); The Lost Gallows (1931); Castle Skull (1931); The Waxworks Murder aka The Corpse In The Waxworks (1932), and  The Door To Doom, And Other Detections (1980) a collection of short stories.

Dr Gideon Fell: Hag’s Nook (1933), The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933), The Eight of Swords (1934), The Blind Barber (1934), Death-Watch (1935), The Hollow Man aka The Three Coffins (1935), The Arabian Nights Murder (1936), To Wake the Dead (1938), The Crooked Hinge (1938), The Black Spectacles aka The Problem of the Green Capsule (1939), The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939), The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940), The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941), Death Turns the Tables aka The Seat of the Scornful (1941), Till Death Do Us Part (1944), He Who Whispers (1946), The Sleeping Sphinx (1947), The Dead Man’s Knock (1958), In Spite of Thunder (1960), and The Man Who Explained Miracles (1963) a collection of short stories.

Sir Henry Merrivale (as Carter Dickson): The Plague Court Murders (1934), The White Priory Murders (1934), The Red Widow Murders (1935), The Unicorn Murders (1935), The Punch and Judy Murders aka The Magic Lantern Murders (1936), The Ten Teacups aka The Peacock Feather Murders (1937), The Judas Window aka The Crossbow Murder (1938), Death in Five Boxes (1938), The Reader is Warned (1939), And So To Murder (1940), Murder in The Submarine Zone aka  Nine And Death Makes Ten (1940), She Died a Lady (1943), He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944), The Curse of the Bronze Lamp aka Lord of the Sorcerers (1945), My Late Wives (1946), Night at the Mocking Widow (1950) and Merrivale, March and Murder (1991) a collection of short stories.

Historical Mysteries: The Bride of Newgate (1950), The Devil in Velvet (1951), Fire, Burn! (1957), Deadly Hall  (1971).

Other novels as John Dickson Carr: The Burning Court (1937); The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942); The Nine Wrong Answers (1952).

Further reading: Douglas G. Greene’s John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (Otto Penzler Books/ Simon & Schuster, 1995). Biography & critical study of his works.

The British Library publicity page

John Dickson Carr – by Michael E. Grost

The Locked-Room Lectures : John Dickson Carr Vs Clayton Rawson

A Room with a Clue: John Dickson Carr’s Locked-Room Lecture Revisited by John Pugmire (pdf) The Reader Is Warned: this entire article is a gigantic SPOILER, with the solutions given to many pre-1935 locked room mysteries.

Hasta que la muerte nos separe, de John Dickson Carr

9789500437288De la contraportada interior: El cuerpo fue encontrado en el estudio. presumiblemente, mientras se sentaba o se desplomaba, justo en línea con un pulcro agujero redondo en la ventana, de un tiro hacia la cabeza. Además, Dick Markham ha visto el tiro que habia sido disparado sobre el muro del jardín unos momentos antes de irrumpir en la habitación; pero en el interior descubrió que, de hecho, no había ninguna herida de bala, sino una jeringa hipodérmica, un fuerte olor a almendras amargas, ventanas y puertas cerradas por dentro e, inexplicablemente, una caja de chinchetas dispersas por toda la superficie del suelo. ¿Suicidio? El Dr. Fell, llamado para identificar el cuerpo, encontró el pequeño pueblo de Six Ashes lleno de chismes y rumores, todos sugiriendo un asesinato, y apuntando a Lesley Grant, la chica que se había comprometido con Dick Markham dos días antes de que ocurriera la tragedia en Gallows Lane. Resulta ser uno de los casos más difíciles del benevolente Dr. Fell, y la historia de su desenlace una vez más justifica el comentario de J. B. Priestley de que el autor “tiene un sentido de lo macabro que lo sitúa muy por encima del promedio de escritores de historias de detectives”.

De la Introducción de Martin Edwards: Hasta que la muerte nos separe se publicó por primera vez en 1944, pero los sucesos de la historia tienen lugar antes del comienzo de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. El memorable primer capítulo lleva un toque de nostalgia, así como abundantes pruebas del amor por Inglaterra y por el estilo de vida inglés de su autor estadounidense. Esas páginas iniciales también preparan el escenario espléndidamente para una de las novelas de detectives de “crímenes imposibles” más seductoras jamás escritas por John Dickson Carr, el rey del misterio del cuarto cerrado.

Mi opinión: Coincidiendo con el reciente lanzamiento de la nueva edición de Till Death Do Us Part por The British Library Publishing el 10 de agosto de 2021, desempolvé de mi estantería una vieja y maltratada edición de Penguin de este libro y comencé a leerlo. Simultáneamente, descargué la nueva edición en mi Kindle para mantenerla en mejores condiciones.

Dick Markham, un dramaturgo de thillers psicológicos, acaba de comprometerse con Lesley Grant en la aldea de Six Ashes. Se siente el hombre más feliz de la tierra. De camino a un partido de cricket, se detienen en la entrada del parque de Lord Ashe, donde se ha organizado una fiesta en el jardín. La atracción principal de la fiesta es un adivino y la señorita Grant quiere visitarlo. Le dijeron que es muy bueno. Pocos saben que el adivino es realmente Sir Harvey Gilman, el patólogo y experto en delitos del Ministerio del Interior, que recientemente ha alquilado una casa en Six Ashes para pasar las vacaciones. Lesley, sin saber su verdadera identidad, entra en la carpa mientras Dick permanece afuera. El adivino no admite más que de uno en uno. Mientras espera, Dick toma un rifle de una atracción cercana. De repente, Lesley sale horrorizada. En su agitación, agarra el rifle de Dick y se dispara con tan mala suerte que Sir Harvey Gilman resulta herido. A continuación, el Dr. Middlesworth y el Mayor Price lo llevan a casa. Todos creen que ha sido herido de gravedad, pero la herida es solo superficial. Aunque, este detalle se mantiene oculto. Por la noche, Sir Harvey quiere ver a Dick, sin que nadie lo sepa, para decirle quién es realmente la señorita Lesley Grant. Su verdadero nombre es Jordan y es una envenenadora. Se había casado dos veces y se había comprometido con un tercer hombre. Los tres murieron por una inyección de ácido prúsico, en una habitación cerrada. Ella era la principal sospechosa, aunque no se pudo probar nada en su contra y nunca fue acusada formalmente. Los tres casos se consideraron suicidios. A la mañana siguiente, Sir Harvey es encontrado muerto en una habitación cerrada, envenenado por una inyección de ácido prúsico. El Dr. Gideon Fell es convocado para ayudar en la investigación, pero lo que dice después de ver el cadáver de Sir Harvey da un vuelco al caso.

Hasta que la muerte nos separe es un misterio de cuarto cerrado realmente gratificante. Lo que más me ha sorprendido es que, con el tiempo, esta novela va ascendiendo en el ranking de los misterios de John Dickson Carr y ahora está considerada entre sus mejores obras. Lamentablemente, todavía no he leído suficientes novelas de Carr para respaldar esto, pero por lo que dicen algunos críticos, no me sorprendería en absoluto que esto pudiera ser cierto. Los giros y vueltas de la trama funcionan muy bien, la lectura es tremendamente atractiva y la historia es bastante inquietante. Además, hasta el más mínimo detalle está elaborado con precisión. En definitiva un libro que no debemos perdernos y que, sin duda, merece varias relecturas.

Acerca del autor: John Dickson Carr nació en Uniontown, Pensilvania, en 1906. It Walks by Night, su primera novela policíaca publicada, protagonizada por el francés Henri Bencolin, se publicó en 1930. Aparte del Dr. Fell, cuya primera aparición fue en Hag’s Nook en 1933, otra serie de detectives de Carr (publicada bajo el pseudónimo de Carter Dickson) fue el abogado Sir Henry Merrivale, quien debutó en The Plague Court Murders (1934). (Fuente: Goodreads)

La siguiente lista no es, ni pretende ser, una bibliografía exhaustiva. Es sólo una selección de los libros de Carr que he leído o espero leer. Cualquier sugerencia adicional de libros que deba incluir es bienvenida.

Henri Bencolin: It Walks By Night (1930); The Lost Gallows (1931); Castle Skull (1931); The Waxworks Murder aka The Corpse In The Waxworks (1932), y The Door To Doom, And Other Detections (1980) una colección de relatos.

Dr Gideon Fell: Hag’s Nook (1933), The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933), The Eight of Swords (1934), The Blind Barber (1934), Death-Watch (1935), The Hollow Man aka The Three Coffins (1935), The Arabian Nights Murder (1936), To Wake the Dead (1938), The Crooked Hinge (1938), The Black Spectacles aka The Problem of the Green Capsule (1939), The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939), The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940), The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941), Death Turns the Tables aka The Seat of the Scornful (1941), Till Death Do Us Part (1944), He Who Whispers (1946), The Sleeping Sphinx (1947), The Dead Man’s Knock (1958), In Spite of Thunder (1960), y The Man Who Explained Miracles (1963) una colección de relatos.

Sir Henry Merrivale (as Carter Dickson): The Plague Court Murders (1934), The White Priory Murders (1934), The Red Widow Murders (1935), The Unicorn Murders (1935), The Punch and Judy Murders aka The Magic Lantern Murders (1936), The Ten Teacups aka The Peacock Feather Murders (1937), The Judas Window aka The Crossbow Murder (1938), Death in Five Boxes (1938), The Reader is Warned (1939), And So To Murder (1940), Murder in The Submarine Zone aka  Nine And Death Makes Ten (1940), She Died a Lady (1943), He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944), The Curse of the Bronze Lamp aka Lord of the Sorcerers (1945), My Late Wives (1946), Night at the Mocking Widow (1950) y Merrivale, March and Murder (1991) una colección de relatos.

Misterios históricos: The Devil in Velvet (1951)

Otras novelas como John Dickson Carr: The Burning Court (1937); The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942); The Nine Wrong Answers (1952).

Lectura recomendada: Douglas G. Greene’s John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (Otto Penzler Books/ Simon & Schuster, 1995). Biografía y estudio crítico de sus obras.