In addition to being the acknowledged master of the “locked-room” mystery story John Dickson Carr also wrote a number of historical detective novels. The most interesting is The Devil in Velvet, a wonderfully entertaining concoction that combines crime fiction, horror and science fiction. He also wrote three more conventional detective novels with period settings, as a kind of tribute to the evolution of the Metropolitan Police. Fire, Burn! was set in 1829 and The Scandal at High Chimneys takes place in 1865. It’s the third and last of these books, set in 1907, with which we are concerned however - The Witch of the Low-Tide.
Dr David Garth is a prominent London doctor, a pioneer in the fields of neurosurgery and psychiatry. He’s also a man with a secret. He is in love with a young widow, Betty, and she’s a woman with a secret. In fact everybody in this novel has something they’re trying to hide. Garth’s friends Marion and Vince and Marion’s former guardian Colonel Selby are no exception.
These interlocking webs of deception lead to murder, and to a battle of wits that pits amatuer sleuth against professional police detective (in this case the hard-bitten Scotland Yard man Inspector Twigg). Carr manages to insert two locked-room puzzles into the novel, as well as plenty of satisfyingly obscure plot twists.
Not everybody enjoys John Dickson Carr’s style, but I find him to be consistently entertaining and I particularly like his historical mysteries, although I’ve yet to track down a copy of Fire, Burn! despite my best efforts. Carr wrote The Witch of the Low-Tide in 1961, and it’s a nice combination of Edwardian period detail with juicy sex scandals, which makes it even more fun. I liked this one quite a bit.