Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson

20 years ago Sir George Fleet was watching the hunt from atop of his terrace in the Fleet house, the crowd in the street below was waving at him, and naturally people watching the hunt in the gables of the dragon rest opposite the fleet house were focusing their telescopes and binoculars on Sir George Fleet, that's when it happened. Witnesses say it felt like somebody pushed the baronet and he plunged to his death, but some telescopes did not move from the terrace and they did not see anyone behind Sir George. The Police dismissed the case as a mere accident.

Present day, Sir Henry has a run in with the Countess of Brayle(a neighbor and close friend of the Fleets) over an unusual clock, a grandfather clock with a 6 ft skeleton in the background, much to the disappointment of the Brayle countess, the old man manages to outwit her and acquire the clock in a bidding war. Sir Henry drops hints that the skeleton in the clock has something to do with the death of Sir George fleet which he also believes was not an accident but murder. Stannard, a middle aged lawyer, and Martin Drake, an army captain are having another kind of dual, the duo make a bet of staying in the execution shed of the abandoned Pentecost prison not very far from the Fleet house. The sinister events that took place 20 years ago are about to repeat itself, and when the Sir Henry will unmask the killer it will be one of the most sinister ones he has had to encounter.

The majority of fellow mystery enthusiast have not given favorable reviews to The Skeleton in the Clock, and have basically termed it as one of the poor Merrivale's, while I would like to agree with them over the part of an unsatisfactory solution/explanation to the terrace mystery,  I disagree with them about it being a low quality book. I quite enjoyed reading the second half and think the murderer turned out to be one of the most reprobate among st his fictitious peers. The setting of the prison is malevolent and when Stannard and Martin play out their bet it becomes an enjoyable and creepy read. Stannard's narrative about his experience in the execution shed is the best part of the book and reminds one of another Carr book "Hag's Nook"where an old abandoned Prison was at the backdrop of the story.

The first half is quite tedious and the shenanigans of HM and the Lady Brayle were not entertaining. I think the author went a bit over board with Martin's love interest and HM's antics. Some more time should have been dedicated to the prison and the explanation at the end of the story instead of wasting it on HM's impish behavior. The Fleets are the most interesting characters in the book from the proud Sir George fleet, to his demure, beautiful wife and lastly to his brave heart gentle man son Ricky Fleet.

The solution given in the book for the terrace murder is quite inept and has large loopholes in its explanation, even the old man (HM) seemed a tad bit diffident when explaining about the same. All in all this is not a bad book to read on a lazy sunday afternoon but very far from HM and John Dickson Carr's best. 

Giving this 3 out of 5 stars, for the skeleton in the grandfather clock, the image of which keeps playing in my mind, and the discovery in the execution shed.

Where can you get it from: I ordered it from Infibeam, it got delivered in about a month but the second hand book was in excellent condition, for Rs 550.

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