cover image Death from a Top Hat

Death from a Top Hat

Clayton Rawson. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-61316-101-2

First published in 1938, this reissue in Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series from Rawson (1906–1971) introduces the Great Merlini, the owner of Miracles for Sale, a Manhattan magic shop. Merlini’s mastery of misdirection enables him to assist his friend with the NYPD, Insp. Homer Gavigan, who has two bizarre murder cases to solve. In one, anthropologist Cesare Sabbat was found on a pentagram in a locked room all of whose keyholes were stuffed with cloth on the inside. Around the pentagram were written the names of various deities and demons, including that of Surgat, “who opens all locks.” The second case is quite similar. Rawson bends over backward to play fair with the reader. He not only leaves relevant clues in plain sight but at the start focuses the reader’s attention on the essential questions: “what it was that all suspects had in common” and “what the two things were that one of them was able to do that no one else could possibly have done.” This is one of the all-time greatest impossible murder mysteries. [em](Oct.) [/em]