Thursday, January 23, 2014

The White Priory Murders, Carter Dickson

The White Priory Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson (a pseudonym of John Dickson Carr) is the second novel to feature Sir Henry Merrivale.

Unfortunately, it's overly talky and fails to live up to the potential promised by the clash of cultures as Hollywood meets British academia.

Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor's review in A Catalogue of Crime (1971) says it best:

"Sir Henry Merrivale is caught up in the murder of a wilful actress; it's done inside a pavilion, snow is on the ground, and there are crowds of candidates for her favors and for the role of murderer. ... The telling is done in Carter Dickson's usual long and diffuse talk which he thinks conversation; oddities are added for pseudo suspense; people shout, whirl, say "What!" in italics, and generally the thing is irritation unrelieved even by a second murder."

Merrivale is an entertaining character but after a brief appearance in the early pages doesn't return until the last quarter of the book. My theory that he owes more than a little to Rex Stout is bolstered by Merrivale saying not only "flummery" but also "phooey," in the Archie Goodwin spelling, though, rather than Nero Wolfe's "pfui." [A theory not borne out by facts, however. See comments section.]

Dickson has Merrivale point out early on that another character is "talkin' like a fool detective in a play. This is real. This is true." Later on, he says, "I must 'uv read a dozen stories like that, and they were funnier than watchin' somebody sit on a silk hat."

One-and-a-half daggers out of four.


  1. I'll have to respectifully disagree on this one - well, in as much as I am usually out of sympathy with Barzun and Taylor's to me somewhat wayward standards of excellence. Never, ever occurred to me to consider a link to Stout, not least because the first Merrivale book, THE PLAGUE COURT MURDERS, came out several months before FER-DE-LANCE, the first Nero Wolfe mystery (WHITE PRIORY, the second in the series, was in fact only published a month after the Wolfe debut)

  2. Well, you've got me there! I need to check my dates a little closer before making pronoucements!