Monday, January 26, 2015

The Emperor's Snuff-Box by John Dickson Carr (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Eve Neil, too beautiful for her own good, thought at first that she could keep quiet about her actions at the time that Sir Maurice Lawes was murdered.  True, she and Ned Atwood had seen Sir Maurice from her window, had noted first his absorption in his antique snuff-box, and then had looked again and seen him dead, with someone reaching back a brown-gloved hand to put out the light.  But she could only prove it by telling that Ned had sen it with her, and she preferred not to explain to her fiance and his family that her attractive ex-husband had been in that room with her.  Eve reckoned, however, without the horrifying charge of murder leveled against her by the police. In order to clear herself, she had to tell all her story, compromising or not.  And then, by merciless logic, the very circumstantial evidence that should have proved her innocent was used to incriminate her. 

Finally, I have read a John Dickson Carr book.  This has been one of those authors I've been wanting to read for a very long time, and now that I've finally done it, I can see myself reading a lot more.  This was a mystery that was carefully crafted and full of tension, which is amazing given how short of a period of time the story takes place in.  Normally, or at least in my experience, when a mystery takes place in a short period of time, the book seems to be frantic in it's pacing, almost schizophrenic, not sure where it's supposed to be going.  With The Emperor's Snuff-Box, Carr kept the pace at a steady clip, giving me just enough energy to keep it interesting, without losing the tension that needs to be built up.

I think a large part of that had to do with the character of Eve Neil.  She may not behave in exactly the same manner I would, given the same set of circumstances, but the force of her personality is what the entire books revolves around.  It is impossible for this book to have been written, with a different type of character as the lead, it just wouldn't have worked.  For that matter, there wasn't a weak character in the group, though there were one or two that I could have done without.  I get why they were there, to divert attention away from the truth, but they still annoyed the hell out of me.

There were really three male "leads" in this one: Ned Atwood, Eve's ex-husband, who definitely is more that he appears to be, Toby Lawes, Eve's fiance, quiet and old fashioned, but it's always that kind of man who is hiding something, and then there is Dr. Dermot Kinross, a specialist in the criminal mind.  Ned is a rake, a scoundrel, and just a tad bit dangerous, but you can't help but like him.  Even at the end, when everything is out in the open, part of me wanted the two of them back together.  Toby on the other hand is, on the surface, the kind of man you are supposed to like.  Solid, dependable, and just a tad bit stuffy, he is the stereotypical Englishman.  Too bad he is an immoral snake who can't keep it in his pants. It's a good thing the story takes place in France, otherwise he may have been as stodgy as he appeared.  I never liked him, and I'm glad the book ended the way it did, at least as far as he's concerned.  Then we have the hero, Dermot.  I really enjoyed his character, and I really wish Carr would have continued with him in further books.  Not sure why he didn't, though some of what I read online suggest a bias of Carr's part, but then why did Carr write him to begin with.  Either way, he is the detective of the piece and has no problem getting to the heart of the case, discovering the truth in a most logical way, but still using a bit of instinct to guide him.

If you couldn't tell by now, I loved the book.  The mystery itself was ingenious, and not one I really had a clue about until the big reveal.  But it wasn't an ending that comes out of the blue, yeah, I didn't pick up on the clues, but they were there.  I guess it's just a good thing I'll never be relied upon to solve a murder or two.

Challenges: Password (Emperor), Vintage Mystery Bingo (G2)


picky said...

Ok, this just sounds like it's right up my alley. Thanks for the great review and the exposure to an author I've never heard of.

J F Norris said...

Interesting that you chose one of the non-series books as your introduction. But this I think is one of his all time best mysteries. Ingenious and elegant in ways that some of his more convoluted extremely clever Dr. Fell mysteries are not. Compare this book to something like DEATH TURNS THE TABLES (another of my favorites for many different reasons) and you'll see the full spectrum of his talents in plotting and misdirection. I'll be interested to see what you think of Dr. Fell, one of the more blustery fictional detectives of the Golden Age.

I would also be interested in your take on any of the books by Patrick Quentin or Jonathan Stagge. There's a lot of gay subtext (in a good way) in those books. You ought to find at least one and sample it.

carol said...

Okay, I need to go search for this one. Sounds fabulous.