It’s 1940 and young Monica Stanton, author of the surprise bestseller Desire, is writing a screenplay for Albion Studios. Things are not going entirely smoothly; while she’s adapting a mystery novel by William Cartwright for the flicks, Cartwright’s been assigned to do the same to her book. The two of them, forced to work in close proximity, get along like cats and dogs. Oh, and it seems someone keeps trying to kill her. Luckily, Cartwright knows a guy (Chief Inspector Masters), who knows a guy (Sir Henry Merrivale)…
There are a lot of things to like about And So to Murder. The pervasive atmosphere of a time when the world was plunging into war and no one knew how it was going to turn out; the running gag, actually funny, of Aaronson and Van Ghent and the awful-sounding film they’re making; and when the time comes, a pretty baffling crime for H.M. to solve.
Yet I would never put AStM in the hands of a first-time Carr reader, because it contains a blatant (and completely unnecessary) piece of cheating that is supposed to steer us away from the actual solution… and does, but by out-and-out crossing the line from misleading the reader into outright lying.
And if Carr had slightly rewritten the passage in question, he could have stayed on the right side of that line!
I can’t say anything more without spoiling things… so be warned: the rest of this review spoils the ending of And So to Murder, and those who haven’t read it should do so before going further! (I won’t use the guilty party’s name, so there’s no danger of your eye landing on it accidentally, but I will give away enough that you’ll know who it is if you read the book after this piece. Last chance to stop…)
OK? Well, those of you who have read AStM will remember that at one point, H.M. is asked if he is pulling a double bluff – if the character he’s just cleared of being an enemy spy actually is one after all. H.M. denies it and says this person is absolutely honest. Which is a strange way to describe someone who has a history of using phoney identities, runs out on his wife after cleaning out her bank account, marries bigamously, and skulks around trying to kill the first wife before she can lay eyes on him and get him in trouble.
Now, there are mystery stories where the detective “clears” a character for a legitimate reason – for example, telling X that Y is in the clear because he knows X will immediately report the conversation to Y and unknowingly lull him into a false sense of security. That’s what Carr would call “legitimate mystification”. But H.M. has no such good reason here, or at least none I can think of. (Really, Ken Blake deserved better in his final appearance.)
And if H.M. had just said the guilty party was absolutely loyal to Britain or something, that would have been just as effective and honest to boot, since it turns out the crimes have nothing to do with espionage.
And So to Murder could have been one of the good ones, if not the great ones, but Carr really sabotaged it with that one passage. Oh, well, even the best writers slip up sometimes.