The Crooked Hinge: A Dr. Fell Mystery (Rue Morgue Vintage Mysteries) Paperback – 15 Mar 2008
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The Crooked Hinge This 1938 Dr. Gideon Fell British mystery is considered one of the best locked room mysteries of all time. Full description
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John wasn't the heir, but the black sheep of the family when he was packed off to Colorado via the spanking, new ocean liner, 'Titanic.' He was thought to have died when his ship sank on her maiden voyage, but after his older brother dies without issue, not one but two John Farnleighs show up within a year of each other to claim the family estate and title. The first one to appear marries John's childhood sweetheart and settles down to manage Farnleigh.
Then up pops John Farnleigh #2, one of the competing heirs dies, and someone steals Murray's thumb-o-graph. The reader is beset with conflicting stories and clues, when Dr. Fell finally lumbers onto the scene with his shovel-hat, swirling cape, and crutch-headed cane. He figures out who killed whom right away, but the reader is left grasping at hints (some of them pretty darn subtle - I think Carr cheats a little on this mystery) until the final denouement, which involves that fateful night when the 'Titanic' went down.
As always with this author, the eerie, suffocating atmosphere surrounding a mysterious death is tinged with an aura of the supernatural. "The Crooked Hinge" features devil worship and a horrible old eighteenth-century automaton called, 'The Golden Hag.' Her sinister appearances alone make this a novel worth savoring, and Carr also provides a meticulously plotted mystery (although I could do without a few of his great detective's tics and his refusal to blab out the name of the murderer as soon as he figures out whodunit. And what the dickens is a shovel-hat?)
If the book helps you find other John Dickson Carr books, you really should buy it. His books were usually published in England and the US with an English title and a different American title. This is one of the most annoying habits of publishers--since the American publishers will then re-release the book years later under the English title, tricking you into buying the same book again.
From the claimant's death onward, the story is crammed with arcane dialogue and little other action. My biggest problem with this short book is the stilted and opaque language that doesn't allow any real flow to the story. A second criticism is the lack of flesh and blood in the characters. They have no credibility as living people with personal stories, and when they speak, their language is alternately blustering, convoluted or hysterical. This is the antithesis of an Agatha Christie mystery of the same period, where the plot is advanced by open and meaningful dialogue. At "Hinge's" end, the whole tortured mess is brought to a close by an improbable letter from the killer who sums up in numbing detail how crimes were committed and for what reason.
My advice is to avoid this book and the stick with Agatha Christie, if you want a period mystery.