JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Case of the Constant Suicides. Harper & Row, US, hardcover, 1941. H. Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1941. Paperback reprints include: Dell #91, mapback, n.d. [1945]; Berkley #G-60, 1957; Collier, 1963; Perennial, 1989.

   Both author John Dickson Carr and leading character Dr. Gideon Fell are in fine form in this one, what with two locked room deaths and very nearly a third. As it turns out the first is a suicide that masquerades as a murder (a disputed fact that is of utmost importance to both the dead man’s attorney and his insurance agent, as well as the surviving relatives). In a second instance, a repeat of the first, the victim survives but barely, and the third is a case of murder very cleverly disguised at a suicide.

   The scene is Scotland, a location (and language) that Carr has a lot of fun with, as well as with two distant cousins who are feuding academics who tumble across each other in a blacked-out train on the trip northward to the dead man’s small fortress of a castle. He had earlier been found dead after falling out of his bedroom located in a high turret, with the room itself solidly bolted on the inside.

   Carr’s penchant for broad humor is on full display throughout, and of course one fair lass is referred to as a “wench,” but I guarantee you that there’s no way he ignores the puzzle aspect of the case, one which seems to have Dr. Fell perplexed a little more than usual — and if he doesn’t seem to have the answers right away, then pity the poor reader.

   Between you and me, though, while all the clues are there, the solution to the matter seems a little more forced than the best of Carr’s works. But as any fan of the author knows full well, a little less than his best is better than 98% of what the competition has to offer.