John's Reviews > The Gilded Man

The Gilded Man by Carter Dickson
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's review
Jul 30, 2017

really liked it

Not one of John Dickson Carr's great classics but -- so far as my own moderately broad experience of his works goes -- one of his most entertaining: I laughed aloud on several occasions.

Undercover copper Nick Wood has been invited as a guest for the New Year weekend to the home of plutocrat Dwight Stanhope to see if he can expose a particular piece of criminal activity -- a piece of criminal activity that no one has thought to outline to him. Just to add to the difficulties of his task, the other house guest on the premises is Nick's old schoolfellow, the somewhat older Vincent James; Nick doesn't know quite how to behave toward him. And then there's Stanhope's stepdaughter Betty, with whom Nick has to his annoyance fallen immediately in love.

The first night he's there, the house is awoken by a tremendous crash. Downstairs, Stanhope is found clad in a burglar's outfit, seemingly having been stabbed (nonfatally) midway through stealing one of his own paintings -- an El Greco. Clearly he was trying to swindle the insurance company by faking a theft . . . except that it very soon emerges that the picture wasn't insured. And, besides, who could have stabbed him? Even if the perpetrator had thought s/he was stopping a genuine burglar, wouldn't s/he fess up afterward to what was a justifiable attack?

Soon enough Sir Henry Merrivale, the series detective for Carr in his "Carter Dickson" guise, is on the premises . . .

The mystery aspect of the novel is extremely well plotted. There's a gesture toward making the attack an impossible/locked-room crime, and technically I suppose it is; but it doesn't really feel like one and the delights of the bamboozlement lie elsewhere. Betty Stanhope succeeds in being one of the, er, hotter of Carr's pleasingly intelligent heroines, and Nick contributes more to the solution than is, if memory serves, customary in a Henry Merrivale novel.

The humor of Merrivale -- old H.M. -- is a bit hit or miss for me, but here it was decidedly a hit. His grand entrance to the story, typically an excuse for some slapstick, is as funny as they come: if you're young enough to enjoy watching custard-pie fights (and who among us isn't?) you'll have something to roar at here. His other hilarious sequence comes when he stands in as conjurer The Great Kafoozalum for a children's charity gig, a performance bedeviled by the fact that the elderly spinster in charge of the kids, Miss Clutterbuck, insists on announcing in piercing tones after each trick how it was done. (Curiously, when she gets her comeuppance, as inevitably she does, Carr keeps it offstage. I'm not sure quite what was going through his mind here.)

And there's some lovely observation of the kids:

The Commander cleared his throat again.

"What I mean to say is," he pursued, sticking his hands into his pockets and immediately taking them out again, "that at this festal season of the year it is meet that we should wish each other festal greetings: you know what I mean?"

"Hear, hear!" applauded Major Babbage piously.

Miss Clutterbuck also applauded.

The children remained respectfully but stolidly silent.

Most of them had left home with a festal clip over the ear, and instructions to behave themselves or expect reprisals. Under the eye of Miss Clutterbuck, they had trudged half a mile or more through the first real snow of the year, without being so much as allowed to stick each other's heads in it. On arriving at Waldemere, they had been told that there was "a very ill person" upstairs: that they must walk on tiptoe and speak in whispers

This is bad for the mental balance. Toes were beginning to wriggle inside creaky shoes. Fingers tugged at collars, a universal gesture. Under plastered hair, ideas churned. Indeed, anybody but a child psychologist would have seen that this bottling-up presaged signs of explosion in a first-class beano.

A lovely romp of a read. Much recommended.
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Started Reading
July 29, 2017 – Finished Reading
July 30, 2017 – Shelved

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