- first published 1939
- locked room mystery
- format: Kindle (Amazon)
- File Size: 542 KB
- Print Length: 243 pages
- Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (May 22, 2012)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B007ZI09CO
Ross Harte knows that only the Great Merlini could be behind such a strange classified ad. A magician, salesman, and occasional sleuth, Merlini is producing radio investigations of paranormal activity, and he needs ghosts to put on-air. His first target is Skelton Island, an eerie speck of land just a few hundred feet off the coast of Manhattan, but seemingly out of another time.
On a late-night trip to the island, Merlini and Harte find the house perfectly rundown and well-stocked with ghosts, including one fresh one. Linda Skelton, granddaughter of the famous Scourge of Wall Street, has been poisoned with cyanide. Unless Merlini works quickly, he and Ross will join her among the ranks of Skelton Island’s famous spirits.
This novel has a huge cast of characters and a hideously complex and very tangled plot. I chose it because the review I read said it was a locked room mystery and I needed one to complete a "bingo" line in the 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge.
The story is mainly told through the eyes of Ross Harte, the Great Merlini's friend, and mostly the author plays "fair" with the reader. There are times though when the police detective, Gavigan, or even Merlini himself, or another character playing sleuth goes off on a tangent which Harte is excluded from. At times the solution to a knotty problem is something the reader could not be expected to know: such as how to produce footprints on a ceiling, the characteristics of death by "the bends", or the nature of a disease that produces blue pigmentation in the skin. These are pieces of antiquarianism provided to tickle the reader's fancy.
As I've come to expect from crime novels of The Golden Age, red herrings, which Merlini calls "misdirections", abound. Just when you think you've got it all worked out Merlini puts another spanner in the works and you see that your solution has many holes in it. People are not who they appear to be either - almost as if the author is looking for another way to confound his own logic and to prolong the pages a bit more. By the end though I was getting a bit tired of these extensions and just wanted to know the "proper" solution.
This is my third "vintage" crime novel in a row and I think I'll be glad to get back to a more modern author.
My rating: 3.7
About the author (Wikipedia)
Born in Ohio, 1906-1971, an American mystery writer, editor, and amateur magician. His four novels frequently invoke his great knowledge of stage magic and feature as their fictional detective The Great Merlini, a professional magician who runs a shop selling magic supplies. He also wrote four short stories in 1940 about a stage magician named Don Diavolo, who appears as a principal character in one of the novels featuring The Great Merlini. "Don Diavolo is a magician who perfects his tricks in a Greenwich Village basement where he is frequently visited by the harried Inspector Church of Homicide, either to arrest the Don for an impossible crime or to ask him to solve it."