Sunday, February 15, 2009

Carter Dickson: She Died A Lady

Finally, some old-skool detective fiction! I took my youngest with me to the local library branch a while ago to stock up again, since my first supply was all but depleted. It’s a small branch so it doesn’t have much in the English fiction department, but on the other hand you can strike lucky and find something that might have been moved off the shelves long ago if it had been down town. I have read some Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr before (see the labels), and although I think it’s nicely crafted in its style, I’m just not completely enamoured. Our detective hero, Sir Henry Merrivale, is just too much, for one thing. He’s fat and bald, and rides around on a motorized wheelchair in a toga for a while. He blusters and roars and bosses. Not altogether my thing. Also, it’s not a proper whodunnit either, since we the readers aren’t privy to all the clues from the beginning. Here, the narrator has information about caves that he springs on us towards the end, for example.

The narrator himself, a country doctor with plenty of empathy and a bit of a heart problem, belongs to the book’s assets. Also it’s a rather nice little micro-cosmic description of a village at the very onset of the war, before it had gotten painfully real. Herein lies the strength and charm of the novel, because while the riddle is hard to solve, it just made me grumpy when I didn't get all the information to solve it anyway.

Story: a scientist and his ten years younger wife life in a remote house. The wife has a lover, and one night they appear to have killed themselves by leaping off a cliff. Except when the bodies are found they have bullet holes, so suicide is out. Ta-daa. I loved the title by the way, very evocative (one of the reasons I borrowed it). Stems from the purported suicide note left by the wife after listening to Romeo and Juliet on the radio: “Juliet died a lady [..]”. I’d recommend this if you’re into this type of thing and all. a huge bonus is that although the writer was American, he didn't fall into the trap of having everyone constantly having tea and scones which a fair few Americans do when writing about England (including, but not limited to, Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes).

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