JOHN RHODE & CARTER DICKSON – Fatal Descent. Dr. Horatio Glass & Chief Inspector Hornbeam #1. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1939. Popular Library #87, paperback, 1946. Dover, US, paperback, 1987. Published first in the UK as Drop to His Death (William Heinemann, hardcover, 1939).

   Carter Dickson is of course better known as John Dickson Carr, the most famous locked-room mystery writer of all time, and the locked room in this collaboration with John Rhode, author of many many Dr. Priestley novels, is a doozy. It’s an elevator, and to all practical purposes, a hermetically sealed elevator, into which a man steps in alone at the top floor of a five story office building. When it reaches the bottom floor, he is found dead, shot to death in the head.

   As the elevator passes each floor on its way down, no one is able to stop the car either to get in or get off. Nor could have anyone been able to stand on the roof of the car. He was alone all the way down, but someone managed to kill him anyway. The question is how? And of course, secondarily, why?

   This was the only pairing in print of the two authors and of the two detectives who handle the case. In this instance, it is the professional, Chief Inspector Hornbeam whose technique depends on interpreting facts, while Dr. Glass relies on people, psychology and motive. It is the latter, however, who comes up with more than possible solution, one of which (in my opinion) is as good as the real one, if not better.

   But of course, which checked out, Dr. Glass’s solution does not fit the facts, and that is what finely detailed detective novels depend on. In that regard, this book delivers the goods one hundred percent. Unless uncommonly diligent, the reader will still be fooled every step of the way. My only regret is how complicated the murder plan was, even though the authors do a fine job in trying to explain why the killer had to do it the way he did. (UPDATE: For more on this, please see the comments that follow this review, especially #12.)

   I do not know which author wrote what in this novel, or if one did all of the plotting and the other did the writing. I suspect it was Carr who did the bulk of the work. I recognize his style in detail and humor, but I may be swayed in this regard by having read much more of his work than I have of Rhode’s. Either way, this is a fine example of late 1930s detective fiction writing, and especially if you’re also a fan of locked room mysteries, you should not miss this one.