Henry Morgan rushes off of the Queen Victoria as soon as she docks and quickly goes to visit Dr. Gideon Fell. Why? In order to relate to him the extraordinary events that occurred on the ship during it’s voyage from New York City to Southampton.
The first event to occur during the voyage is the theft of a reel of film that was created by the relative of a very important U.S politician. That film contains video of said politician denouncing enough national and international institutions and figures to create several diplomatic incidents, meaning that it must be recovered at all costs. Someone is then bopped on the head by a elusive criminal known as The Blind Barber, who is a well known thief and is believed to be on the ship (they also has a nasty habit of softening people’s heads!). A stakeout is soon held by Morgan, Curtis Warren ( the creator of that scandalous reel), young Peggy Glenn, and a former Norwegian captain named Valvick in order to capture the Barber as he attempts to steal the other half of the film. However – they soon hear a woman calling out Warren’s name and discover her after her head is bashed in. They soon chase who they assume is the Barber after putting the woman to bed and eventually recover a emerald elephant that belongs to a Lord Struton ( a object that the Barber is also on the prowl for).
Upon returning to the cabin were they left the woman, they make a horrifying discovery. The woman has completely vanished and a blood-stained razor is found, leading to a horrible conclusion by most of them. They are soon told that all of the passengers are present on board and that no one has been reported missing, creating the impossibility of the novel. The puzzle is also interrupted by a alcoholic performer, giant marionettes, harsh critics, horrible accent’s, and a whole other batch of strange comedic characters and events.
This is the most derided novel in the Gideon Fell series, and for good reason! Let’s start with the main feature of this book. Not the mystery, but the comedy. This book is around 80% comedic endeavors and line’s while 20% mystery, and while I can enjoy a comedic novel with a light hearted puzzle, this fails completely in that respect. The main things that I abhorred were the accents. Oh how I despised them! There is a horribly written Norweigan man who is paired with a Spaniard to create dialogue that is almost unbearable and made the book a chore to read for chapters at a time. There is also a woman with a accent that I can’t even put my finger on. Perhaps toddler mixed with Cockney?
Most of the “funny” scene’s rely on characters acting completely out of character or being idiotically drunk. Almost everyone here is drunk at some point in the book with random outbursts of singing and wild judgement mixed in to spice things up ( those only succeed in making everything a whole lot blander) making almost everyone there seem ridiculous to the point of disbelief. Maybe all of this was funny in the 30’s, but here in the 2010’s it all seems outdated and cheap.
The novel has an incredibly dark crime and yet no one seems to care at all. They seem to forget that a innocent woman had her throat slit and choose to focus on the most trivial things instead of attempting to solve the murder and actually feel bad about what has happened. The crime and comedy are like oil and water and I honestly feel grief over the fact that such an enticing impossible scenario was squandered on this garbage experiment in humor.
The novel’s pace is also horrible. There are exciting scenes here and there but they often have to deal with completely tedious scenes that do not matter in the slightest and I am honestly sure that I nearly fell asleep several times.
Now for the positives:
All of the scenes featuring Fell are a delight. He produces 16 clues that are beautiful allegories and offer tantalizing hints to the solution of the mystery that showcase how good of a mystery writer Carr still was in some of his worst moments. The mystery itself has a very satisfying conclusion, with the culprit being a big surprise in a way that makes the plot make perfect sense in retrospect. It is a cheat, but after enduring the previous 3.5/ 4ths of the book, I was happy to even get a good conclusion.
The deductions Fell makes from the 16 clues are all decent, with a few being exceptional in presentation and importance. The impossibility of the disappearing woman, which I was really excited about, is a disappointment. The solution is very basic and though it does work and is decent, it in no way lives up to the situation around it.
All in all, this was just a little bit better than what I expected. It isn’t a complete travesty but I dislike it all the same. For a better ship set mystery by Carr look no further than Nine – And Death Makes Ten or Cabin B-13 (the impossibility of which is very similar to this novels with a much better explanation).
A grade of 2.5/5 for this one.