The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson – A snowy mystery in the British Library Crime Classic series

The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

The book may have been referred to as a seasonal book, but essentially the only important thing is that the weather is snowy. Originally published in 1934, this is another reprint in the fantastic British Library Crime Classics series. The helpful Introduction by Martin Edwards reveals how John Dickson Carr wrote his stories of the multi – skilled Sir Henry Merrivale, baronet, barrister and physician. His skills appeared in twenty-two novels and two short stories, and this book demonstrates his special abilities in solving mysteries that others are finding impossible. This is not a locked room mystery in the obvious way, but a combination of an upmarket outbuilding near a large house with only one set of footprints in the snow. There is a relatively small group of potential suspects for the brutal murder of actor Marcia Tait, film star, who is on a mission to reveal her talent on the London stage. A list of the key characters is included in the Introduction to the novel which I found very helpful for reference, apparently it featured in the first edition and as an extra has been developed by various authors. It is an intense book in parts, with virtually every character coming under suspicion at some point, but also with a certain humour in the oddities of the inhabitants, temporary or permanent of the White Priory. I really enjoyed this book and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

James Bennett first meets his uncle Henry Merrivale in his characteristic office, a bit overwhelmed and baffled by this venerable and memorable man with his extensive experiences. James is over from America armed with warnings from his father about the man who seems to specialise in impossible situations, and an ill defined mission to accompany those travelling with the mercurial Marcia to the Priory for Christmas. Her producer, agent, lover and a playwright are all present, the last being the Master of the house, Maurice Bohun. Two young women, Louise Canifest, daughter of the play’s backer, and Katharine Bohun are present, and become thoroughly involved in the mystery of the murder and the apparent dangers in the unique house. The discovery of Marcia’s battered body in the Queen’s Pavilion following a night which she demanded to stay the night alone shocks all of those present, involved as they were with the proposed play in which she was to star. Chief Inspector Masters quickly arrives to attempt to identify the culprit but is baffled by the reactions of those he tries to interview. Revelations and twists ensue, where there seems no relief from the dangers and disturbances in the house which holds its own secrets added to the murder mystery. With little personal stake in the fate of the actress, James becomes the observer, counsellor and most impressed by Merrivale when he arrives. In a situation which is at best confusing, at worse dangerous. Merrivale must draw on his suspicions and talents to get to the truth of what truly happened in the pavilion that night.

I found this book an intriguing mystery which was at times a little confusing, but was always entertaining because of the characters which are well drawn. The tracks in the snow is not an unusual mystery complication, but it is well handled and there are lots of additional red herrings, twists and turns. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a classic murder mystery with some unusual characters and the redoubtable skills of Henry Merrivale.