cover image The Plague Court Murders

The Plague Court Murders

John Dickson Carr. Penzler, $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-61316-196-8

Impossible crime master Carr (1906–1977) has rarely been better than in this mind-boggling mystery, first published in 1934. After James Halliday commits suicide, his elderly aunt becomes convinced that he was driven to it by the spirit of Louis Playge, a 17th-century hangman who died in the London house Halliday inhabited in Plague Court, and agrees to let psychic researcher Roger Darworth try to exorcise Playge’s spirit. Darworth arranges to be sealed inside a small building in the rear yard, with the sole door locked from the outside and double-barred from the inside. Despite those precautions and the absence of evidence that anyone approached the building, which was surrounded by pristine mud, he’s stabbed to death by a knife used by Playge that was recently stolen from a museum. Sir Henry Merrivale, making his series debut, helps the police investigate. The macabre setup is bolstered by the author’s superior gift at creating atmosphere. This entry in the American Mystery Classic series begs rereading to note how artfully Carr misdirects readers even while planting all the vital clues in plain sight. (Feb.)