TOM MEAD – Death and the Conjurer. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 2022.

   This homage to John Dickson Carr (and co-dedicated to the acknowledged master of the locked room, impossible mystery) takes place in 1930s London, right in the heart of the so-called Golden Age of Detection, and if it doesn’t quite measure up to the best of the mysteries written at the time, it’s an attempt well worthy of your attention.

   If you’re a fan of the form, that is. Aficionados of private eye stories and/or grim noir or more hardboiled fare need not read any further. (Though of course you may.)

   There are in all three impossible crimes in this tale: (1) the death of a noted emigre psychiatrist in his London home office, locked on the inside of course; (2) the theft of a valuable painting during a party during a party where all attendees are searched or closely watched; and (3) the murder of someone in an elevator with no access to it except by a watched door.

   In what follows I won’t go into details. I’ll try to be as general as I can while at the same time describing what I thought were shortcomings, some more serious than others. May I say first, though, that I found the book well-written, with both good characters and even better dialogue. I really wish I could say the same about what’s – dare I say – even more important in a detective story, the plot itself.

   To wit. The first chapter begins at a theater where a new play is about to open. Acting as a consultant is Joseph Spector, an illusionist of some note (part of the play’s apparatus is a trap door which is to be used for especial effect). But. Much of the focus is on an actress who is looking for a missing earring. The actress is mentioned only once more, and the earring never again.

   Much later on, a Challenge to the Reader is provided. (This is a Good Thing.) I failed, but there’s no surprise there. I had no more success at it than I’ve had with any of Ellery Queen’s, to take the most obvious example. But. I found Spector’s followup explanation to be, in a single word, glib. Allow me to explain further. Tom Mead provides footnotes during the lengthy explanation to all three impossible events, each referring to the page where such and such previous observation or factual description was made.

   All very well and good. Excellent, in fact. But. None of the footnotes led to an observation or description was “clueworthy,” a word invented by my brother to describe a fact that yes, it was there, and it came up earlier, but there was no way a detective could take that fact and connect it up to the solution he was in the end expounding upon. He was too glib. Too much “this happened, then this, and he did this.”

   There was not enough explanation as to what his deductions were, where, when and how. I think this important. (It is also extremely difficult to do.)

   Continuing. You cannot in a locked room mystery leave the setting so carefully and yet so vaguely described, both inside the room and out, so as to make impossible to visualize where the killer was where and how. (A map would have been exceedingly useful.)

   Saying more would be boring to those who haven’t yet read the book, and of course I’d be totally at risk of spoiling it completely. For those of you who have, I hope it’s enough so I’m clear as to what I am saying.

   If you’re a fan of Locked Room mysteries, you should still read this one. Few authors even try to write more than the minimum of “fair play” in their detective stories any more. This is far better than that. What I consider shortcomings may not even bother you. It’s a good attempt. If Tom Mead writes another, I will read it, and gladly.

NOTE: Credit where credit is due. Much of this review was shaped by a long conversation my brother Merwin and I had about the book in Michigan together last weekend.