Of all the deception in The Case of the Constant Suicides, the presentation is what really impresses me. Consider, we are given the following scenario: Angus Campbell takes out no less than three life insurance policies (all containing a no-suicide clause). He intends to leave the payouts to his debt ridden brother, Colin and ex-mistress, Elspat. Then, he kills himself.
We know that can’t be true. Nothing in that narrative makes a lick of sense. And yet…That is essentially how it went down. The false narrative is true. Putting aside the question of how jumping from a window would not be perceived as suicide (the plot includes a clever double cross, a coincidence (or five), and some rather twisted motivation), my bare-bones description contains nothing that is inaccurate. We are told what happened and then coerced into not believing it. It’s that bald-faced presentation of story that really got to me on my second reading.
The important whodunit clues are bunched together in two chapters (excluding the Alec Forbes murder which isn’t all that impressive) and there aren’t many false whodunit clues. (The one I blindly followed was Swan’s heritage. On my first reading, I kept leaning to the Glencoe connection. I wouldn’t keep my detective job very long in a John Dickson Carr novel.) I noticed the howdunit clues (ice-cream is mentioned twice for God’s sake), but wasn’t able to figure out how it played a role. The best obfuscation comes in the unbelievable truth of the story which is then amended (but not destroyed) by the revelation of the plot.
Although I think Carr could have provided more clues as to whodidn’tdunit (whohiddit? whodunitlater?), the few that occur are intelligently embedded. When Duncan mentions Chapman’s avoidance of Elspat, he only does so when linking him to the Fiscal. It seems such a natural extension of his dialogue. The same can be said for Fell’s line, “Which Campbell are you sir?” He had not met Chapman previously. Why wouldn’t Fell assume him to be another member of the family? The three pertinent descriptions of looks all make sense. At one point, Chapman says, “…it’s not my money.” If you guessed the plot from that line, you are not allowed to read any of my books. (makes a finger cross and hisses while backing away)
The romance is light on its feet. We get a charming meet-cute in chapters dripping with narrative economy. Love tends to eliminate two suspects in Carr’s work, but I didn’t mind so much this time. That image of their reflections in the train window is lovely. The comedy works well. Indeed, this is an entertaining novel—perhaps a good entry point for the uninitiated. All of that is well and good.
Dat presentation, doe. At one point Kathryn speaks for the reader.
…I felt absolutely cheated! Oh, I know I shouldn’t say that: but it’s true. You’ve got us looking so hard for a murderer that we can’t concentrate on anything else.
Dr. Fell nodded as though he saw the aesthetic validity of the point.
Very funny, Carr. Although, it took me a second reading to see the humor.