Well that was quite the delightful experience. To think that this book had disappeared after 1931, and we would have been robbed--without knowing it!--if British Library Crime Classics had not gifted it back to Mystery fans everywhere. Fans of the old stuff. Like me.
I'm still digesting that conclusion...the final explanation for the impossible murders. Author Wynne has an inventive and shocking finale in store for anyone hoping that the book will deliver in the end. But--my goodness--such complex machinations--and the true explanation for all that has happened does not really get dropped...until there are about five pages left in the book! I was tense; I was nervous--I was thinking "okay, dude, you do not have enough room to get this sorted to my satisfaction! You bum, this better not be a fish-man coming out of the water, that can turn invisible or walk through walls, or we better not have a Mystery on our hands here, that ends with "and the events were never fully explained, at that strange haunted abode, but it was enough to understand, finally, that a supernatural curse, brought about by an ancient crime, would permeate the old stones of that scarred edifice, and infect all who dwelt within...". If you dare to throw that at me in the last page--which is practically here, and we know nothing, zippo--I am going to be making a host of apologizes to various pissed-off biddy readers! Sooo, DON'T!
The cool thing about locked-room, or "impossible", Murder Mysteries, is that the solution is allowed to be bizarre and outlandish, to some degree, because then that will match the craziness of the situation that it is going to have to explain. I don't want some secret passage they missed during all the searches. I don't want some booby-trap that needs a diagram, and was set years ago; that's almost as bad. The solution has to be a bit...odd. And that makes the book more successful. But it also has to make sense! If the book is really cool, the solution will be bizarre, but actually have a certain simplicity to it--almost like the equivalent of an invisible, incorporeal villain, in terms of shock value, but believable. Something that makes you think--as you would, on a Mystery that has not set the extra challenge of Locked Room or Impossible Murder--"Oh. Yes. I get it now. I see it clearly, once it's explained.". And also, the solution can be backtracked to certain clues, and descriptions of things/settings, that were there for anyone sharp enough to notice, but the significance of which evaded the reader. Well, this reader, anyway.
In other words, once the Impossible has been smashed, you've another great Mystery. Add to that the fact that in this particular case there is more psychology and human emotion at work to titillate the reader than some of the other Golden Age offerings by lesser-known authors who seem to just want to ram a clever puzzle home with a bunch of 2D characters, and that the style itself, though melodramatic at times and lacking any humor (did people not say anything witty or sarcastic from 1929-1940?--hmm, well, some writers seem to suggest that was the case), is hardly boring.
This was a lot of fun. I found it a bit talky after page 100...but the talk does allow characters to show their stripes--a certain tension never leaves, from about page 3 on--and when that talk gets broken up with twists and action, be prepared to be unprepared. I mean, if you don't see that second murder coming, I can tell you right now that is nothing compared to something that happens late in the book.
Recommended. Not as good as John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man, but should appeal to fans of that classic. Overall, I was impressed.