CARTER DICKSON – The Punch and Judy Murders. Sir Henry Merrivale #5. William Morrow & Co., US, hardcover, 1937. Pocket #219, US, paperback; 1st printing, March 1943. Berkley, paperback, April 1964. International Polygonics, paperback, 1988. First published in the UK as The Magic Lantern Murders by Wm Heinemann, hardcover, 1936.

   There is no locked room or impossible crime in this early adventure of Sir Henry Merrivale, but there is certainly everything else but. Two men being watched by the police die simultaneously, 70 miles apart, poisoned by strychnine. Psychic research is hinted at.

   I really enjoyed this one. On page 185 (of the Pocket edition) even though many of the apparently unexplainable happenings have already been explained, there is what amounts to one final “Challenge to the Reader,” wherein H. M. invites both of his fellow investigators to name the killer. Each of them names another person, and each of them has a finely worked set of motives and opportunities to support their suggestions.

   They’re both wrong, of course, but not Merrivale. He’s right on the money. Me, I wasn’t even close. Fooled again, and I think it’s terrific! There are so many things going on, and so quickly, that the short summary that takes up all of page 67 is a must. This is detective fiction for dyed-in-the-wool detective fiction fans at its finest.

   What’s more, what I think is also unique about John Dickson Carr’s work is that while he always wrote rationally based detective fiction, his stories always seem to take place in a setting and an atmosphere producing more shivers and chills than any other mystery writer I know.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (considerably restructured and revised).