CARTER DICKSON – A Graveyard to Let. Berkley X1502; reprint paperback, January 1968. First published in the US by William Morrow, hardcover, 1949; first published in the UK by William Heinemann, hardcover, 1950. Other paperback reprints include: Dell #543, 1951; Belmont-Tower, 1973; Zebra, 1988.

   When I was younger I used to gobble up anything John Dickson wrote as if they were candy going out of style, whether under his own name or as (in this case) Carter Dickson. I don’t remember reading this one, though, but some 60 years later (almost), I hope I might be forgiven if I did, and I forgot.

   No matter. Either way, the book was new to me this time, or the same as, and unfortunately while it has its strong points, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

   The irrepressible Sir Henry Merrivale is in the United States in A Graveyard to Let, which was written relatively late in his crime-solving career. It was the 19th of 23 novels he appeared in, and he makes the the initial part of his stay in this country a spectacular one. When finished, he must make haste to Washington DC, it is revealed, but for what reason, HM refuses to say.

   There are a couple of comic (and almost silly) routines that take up more time than they should, to my way of thinking, the first as he demonstrates to a subway cop in vivid bombastic fashion how to go through the turnstiles free of charge. After reading how he did it, I went back to the original passage, and while while happened at the time isn’t very clear, I don’t think HM’s explanation holds up.

   There is another passage toward the middle of the book in which HM unaccountably shows his prowess at American baseball, the only purpose in the story being, as far as I can tell, is for HM to clout a fastball over the fence into an almost deserted graveyard, where a body, seriously wounded but not dead, is found.

   The man is also the same person who disappeared into thin air by jumping into a swimming pool under the watch of a small but significant crowd of people, and never coming out. Only his clothes come to the surface.

   And that’s the crux of the case. HM has half the solution right away, or so he claims, but does he reveal his deductions? Not a chance – but that’s of course the game we’re playing, so I don’t hold that against anybody.

   There are a couple of possible solutions, the other expounded upon by the aforementioned subway cop, which in many ways makes more sense than the real one, which takes all of Chapter 19, more than 20 pages long to work out in detail.

   While intrinsically fascinating, that’s too much work, in my mind, but Carr/Dickson nearly pulls it off. Until, that is, you close the book and start to wonder, why on earth did the man who jumped into the pool need to put such a dramatic — and complicated — plan into action?

   The reader of today isn’t interested in this kind of story any more, but you who are readers who are still interested in detective puzzles, this is one in which you have to watch the author’s every word. Every word. And as I said up above, at the risk of repeating myself, Carr/Dickson nearly makes it work.