My Book Notes: Death and the Conjuror (2022) by Tom Mead


Esta entrada es bilingüe. Desplazarse hacia abajo para ver la versión en español

Head of Zeus — an Aries Book, 2022. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 2055 KB. Print Length: 265 pages ASIN: B09TCGR7FF. ISBN: 978-1804540879.

513Qdpru6WL._SY346_Book Description: In this “sharply-drawn period piece” (New York Times), a magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes

In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth Joseph Spector. For who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?

Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist’s patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets—or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently-impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even more deadly unless they can catch the culprit soon.

A tribute to the classic golden-age whodunnit, when crime fiction was a battle of wits between writer and reader, Death and the Conjuror joins its macabre atmosphere, period detail, and vividly-drawn characters with a meticulously-constructed fair play puzzle. Its baffling plot will enthrall readers of mystery icons such as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, modern masters like Anthony Horowitz and Elly Griffiths, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery. (Source: Mysterious Press)

My Take: London, September 1936. Famous psychiatrist Dr Anselm Rees is treating one of his patients whom we will initially know as Patient A. Dr Rees came to England five months ago. He spent his entire life in Vienna when, both for personal and political reasons, he made the difficult decision to emigrate together with his daughter Lidia, an intelligent young woman who had just finished her doctorate in psychology. On his arrival, he set up his practice in north-west London, though initially he had no intention to take on new patients. However, about a month ago, he broke his promise and accepted three patients: two men and one woman. He always kept his identities in the strictest confidence and, even in his notes, he referred to them as Patients A, B, and C. His daughter knew their identities, though she had never seen them before. Soon we will find out that Patient A was a musician by trade, one of the best violinists the Philharmonic had ever had, his real name was Floyd Stenhouse

Meanwhile at the Pomegranate Theatre, everything was ready for the premiere that evening of Miss Death. starring Della Cookson. Next to  Benjamin Tease, the play’s producer and director, is a middle-aged man dressed, somewhat outrageously, in a black cape lined with crimson silk. He is Joseph Spector and the show had been built on his tricks and illusions.

“His age was hard to pin down. Depending on the lighting, he looked anywhere from fifty to eighty. Like all conjurors he played up to the confusion. … Joseph Spector· was not his given name either –it was an alias from another life, from his career as a music hall conjuror. But although he had retired from performing more than a decade before, he’d worked hard to preserve his famous legerdemain.”

Among the audience that attended the premiere of Miss Death that evening were Dr Rees, his daughter and her fiancé, Marcus Bowman. At the end of the show, Dr Rees excused himself by saying that he will take a cab and will return home alone. Instead, he headed toward Della Cookson’s dressing room. In fact, she had asked him to come see her. Dr Rees knew her as Patient B.

The next day, Dr Rees recognised the voice of Patient C, who was calling him to apologize for having missed his appointment that morning. He wanted to know whether he could see him that day. But when the doctor asks him why, he just said he was sorry and hanged up the phone.  Patient C, in his daily life, was the novelist Claude Weaver.

That evening, Dr Rees had supper alone at home and he told his housekeeper that he was expecting a visitor late at night, so she wouldn’t be scared. She just had to let him in and show him the way to his study. Then, he won’t need her anymore and she could go to her room.

As expected, a little after a quarter past eleven, a man knocked on the door and Miss Olive Turner, the housekeeper, let him in. She couldn’t recognise him. He wore a hat sunk to his eyebrows, and the flaps of his coat lifted. He didn’t even agree to take them off. After a while, when she heard the man had been gone, she headed towards the door of the doctor’s study to ask him if everything was alright. When she heard his voice saying fine, fine, she was reassured and returned to her room. But then the phone rang. When she was about to answer she heard the doctor picking up the extension in the study  and she stood there for a moment listening to the conversation. When he hung up and Miss Turner was arranging to return to her room, someone knocked on the door and drove her back in her steps. It was Miss Della Cookson who desperately needed to see Dr Rees. But the door of the study was firmly closed and Dr Rees wouldn’t answer to their calls. Something was wrong, and using and old trick they could finally open only to see Dr Anselm Rees dead laying on his chair. All possible exits were firmly locked and the murder weapon was no where to be found.

Scotland Yard Inspector George Flint and Sergeant Jerome Hook take over the case, but the circumstances surrounding it, makes Flint to request the help of his friend  the retired magician Joseph Spector, so that he places his skills at the service of the investigation.

Death and the Conjuror pays homage to the classic detective story. It contains not one but three well planned and skilfully resolved impossible crimes that I am sure will delight all lovers of the genre. Without a doubt, it is a tremendously funny and entertaining story that I have really enjoyed reading and, therefore, I highly recommend it. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to reading Tom Mead’s next novel.

Death and the Conjuror has been reviewed, among others, by Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Brad Friedman at Ah Sweet Mystery!, and James Scott Byrnside,

About the Author: Tom Mead is a Midlands-based author. He has previously written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Litro Online, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Lighthouse, Mystery Scene and Mystery Weekly (amongst various others). He is a great admirer of golden age authors of the locked-room mystery subgenre (John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Helen McCloy, Christianna Brand et al) and has written many stories in tribute to these masters. His story “Heatwave” was selected for inclusion in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (ed. Lee Child). Death and the Conjuror is his first long-length novel. (Source: CWA). Follow Tom at https://tommeadauthor.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/tommeadauthor.

Head of Zeus publicity page

Penzler Publishers publicity page

Tom Mead website

Making the Impossible Possible: PW Talks with Tom Mead

The Great Locked Room Mystery: My Top 10 Impossible Crimes

10 Most Puzzling Impossible Crime Mysteries

Death and the Conjuror (La muerte y el prestidigitador) de Tom Mead

Descripción del libro: En esta “novela de época nítidamente elaborada” (New York Times), un mago convertido en detective en el Londres de antes de la guerra resuelve tres crímenes imposibles.

En la década de 1930 en Londres, el famoso psiquiatra Anselm Rees es encontrado muerto en su estudio cerrado con llave, y no parece haber forma de que un asesino haya escapado sin ser visto. No hay pistas, ni testigos, ni evidencia del arma homicida. Perplejo por la escena confusa, el detective de Scotland Yard en el caso llama a Joseph Spector, un mago retirado convertido en detective a tiempo parcial. Porque, ¿quién mejor para dar sentido a lo imposible que quien trafica con ilusiones?

Spector tiene una habilidad especial para explicar lo inexplicable, pero incluso él descubre que hay más en este misterio de lo que parece. Mientras él y el inspector entrevistan al colorido elenco de sospechosos entre los pacientes y la familia del psiquiatra, descubren muchos secretos oscuros o motivos para el asesinato. Cuando la investigación coincide con la de un robo aparentemente imposible, los detectives consideran la posibilidad de que los dos delitos estén relacionadas. Y cuando tiene lugar un segundo asesinato, esta vez en un ascensor hermético, se dan cuenta de que la ola de crímenes se volverá aún más mortal a menos que puedan atrapar pronto al culpable.

Un tributo a la novela clásica de la edad de oro, cuando la ficción criminal era una batalla de ingenio entre el escritor y el lector, Death and the Conjuror une a su atmósfera macabra, detalles de época y personajes dibujados de forma viva con un enigma de juego limpio meticulosamente construido. Su trama desconcertante cautivará a los lectores de figuras reconocidas del misterio como Agatha Christie y John Dickson Carr, a maestros modernos como Anthony Horowitz y Elly Griffiths, o a cualquiera que aprecie una buena historia de misterio. (Fuente: Mysterous Press)

Mi opinión: Londres, septiembre de 1936. El famoso psiquiatra Dr. Anselm Rees está tratando a uno de sus pacientes a quien inicialmente conoceremos como Paciente A. El Dr. Rees llegó a Inglaterra hace cinco meses. Pasó toda su vida en Viena cuando, tanto por motivos personales como políticos, tomó la difícil decisión de emigrar junto con su hija Lidia, una joven inteligente que acababa de terminar su doctorado en psicología. A su llegada, abrió su consulta en el noroeste de Londres, aunque inicialmente no tenía intención de aceptar nuevos pacientes. Sin embargo, hace aproximadamente un mes, rompió su promesa y aceptó a tres pacientes: dos hombres y una mujer. Siempre mantuvo sus identidades en la más estricta confidencialidad e, incluso en sus notas, se refería a ellos como Pacientes A, B y C. Su hija conocía sus identidades, aunque nunca antes los había visto. Pronto descubriremos que el Paciente A era un músico profesional, uno de los mejores violinistas que había tenido la Filarmónica, su verdadero nombre era Floyd Stenhouse.

Mientras tanto, en el Teatro Pomegranate, todo estaba listo para el estreno esa noche de Miss Death protagonizada por Della Cookson. Junto a Benjamin Tease, el productor y director de la obra, se encuentra un hombre de mediana edad vestido, de manera un tanto escandalosa, con una capa negra forrada con seda carmesí. Se trata de Joseph Spector y el espectáculo se había construido en base a sus trucos e ilusiones de magia.

“Su edad era difícil de precisar. Dependiendo de la iluminación, aparentaba entre cincuenta y ochenta años. Como todos los prestidigitadores, aprovechó la confusión. … Joseph Spector tampoco era su nombre de pila –era un alias de otra vida, de su carrera como prestidigitador de music hall. Pero aunque se había retirado de la actuación hace más de una década, había trabajado duro para preservar su famoso arte de magia.”

Entre el público que asistió al estreno de Miss Death esa noche estaban el Dr. Rees, su hija y su prometido, Marcus Bowman. Al final del espectáculo, el Dr. Rees se excusó diciendo que tomaría un taxi y regresaría solo a casa. En cambio, se dirigió hacia el camerino de Della Cookson. De hecho, ella le había pedido que fuera a verla. El Dr. Rees la conocía como la Paciente B.

Al día siguiente, el Dr. Rees reconoció la voz del Paciente C, quien lo llamaba para disculparse por haber faltado a su cita esa mañana. Quería saber si podría verlo ese día. Pero cuando el médico le pregunta por qué, simplemente dice que lo siente y cuelga el teléfono. El paciente C, en su vida cotidiana, era el novelista Claude Weaver.

Esa noche, el Dr. Rees cenó solo en casa y le dijo a su ama de llaves que esperaba una visita tardía esa noche, para que no se asustara. Solo tenía que dejarlo entrar y mostrarle el camino a su estudio. Entonces, ya no la necesitará más y ella podría retirarse a su habitación.

Como era de esperar, poco después de las once y cuarto, un hombre llamó a la puerta y la señorita Olive Turner, el ama de llaves, lo dejó entrar. No pudo reconocerlo. Llevaba un sombrero hundido hasta las cejas y las solapas de su abrigo levantadas. Ni siquiera accedió a quitárselos. Después de un rato, cuando escuchó que el hombre se había marchado, se dirigió hacia la puerta del estudio del médico para preguntarle si todo iba bien. Cuando escuchó su voz diciendo bien, bien, se tranquilizó y volvió a su habitación. Pero entonces sonó el teléfono. Cuando estaba a punto de contestar escuchó que el médico tomaba la extensión en el estudio y se quedó allí un momento escuchando la conversación. Cuando colgó y la señorita Turner se disponía a regresar a su cuarto, alguien llamó a la puerta y la hizo retroceder. Era la señorita Della Cookson quien necesitaba desesperadamente ver al doctor Rees. Pero la puerta del estudio estaba firmemente cerrada y el Dr. Rees no respondía a sus llamadas. Algo andaba mal, y usando un viejo truco finalmente pudieron abrir solo para ver al Dr. Anselm Rees muerto tirado en su silla. Todas las salidas posibles estaban firmemente cerradas y el arma homicida no se encontraba por ningún lado.

El inspector de Scotland Yard George Flint y el sargento Jerome Hook se hacen cargo del caso, pero las circunstancias que lo rodean, hacen que Flint solicite la ayuda de su amigo el mago retirado Joseph Spector, para que ponga sus habilidades al servicio de la investigación.

Death and the Conjuror rinde homenaje a la clásica historia de detectives. Contiene no uno sino tres crímenes imposibles bien planeados y hábilmente resueltos que estoy seguro harán las delicias de todos los amantes del género. Sin duda, es una historia tremendamente divertida y entretenida que he disfrutado mucho leyendo y, por tanto, la recomiendo encarecidamente. No hace falta decir que tengo muchas ganas de leer la próxima novela de Tom Mead.

Acerca del autor: Tom Mead es un autor de Midlands. Anteriormente ha escrito para Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Litro Online, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Lighthouse, Mystery Scene y Mystery Weekly (entre otros varios). Es un gran admirador de los autores de la época dorada del subgénero de misterio de cuarto cerrada (John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Helen McCloy, Christianna Brand et al) y ha escrito muchas historias en homenaje a estos maestros. Su historia “Heatwave” fue seleccionada para su inclusión en The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (ed. Lee Child). Death and the Conjuror es su primera novela larga. (Fuente: CWA).

2 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Death and the Conjuror (2022) by Tom Mead”

  1. José, thanks for the review. Like you, I enjoyed every bit of it. There is no bloat in this book and every detail seems to fit perfectly as Tom Mead brings this to conclusion.

    Spector and Flint complement each other well as detectives. Either alone might make for less enjoying reading.

    The solutions were complex for the doctor’s and elevator murders and I am skeptical that the culprit had the skill and the luck for all of that to work. I had to read the ending twice to ensure I could follow the solutions although footnoting the page location of the clues in the denouement helped. Nevertheless, what a great read. It reminded me of Carr’s The Judas Window in that similar complexity and skepticism of the culprit’s ingenuity, skill and luck in no way dampened my enthusiasm for that GAD classic.

    Great book – impossible crimes, vivid characters, no sagging in the middle, challenge to the reader, references to Carr and Christie, etc. For anyone wishing that a modern author could write a GAD quality novel, Tom Mead (along with James Scott Byrnside, Victoria Dowd and Jim Noy) are fine examples.

    Must reading for all GAD enthusiasts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: