Faulkner’s Folly (Wells)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Famous artist Eric Stannard is skewered with one of his own etching needles in his studio. The only suspects are his wife and his model, both discovered in the room with him. Nobody else could have entered or left the room; the windows were impassable, and the doors were watched. So which one of them did it?

If you guessed ‘Neither, and the murderer entered by a secret passage’ … have a cigar. Still, this is a more sophisticated detective story than The Clue or The Gold Bag six years previous. As Mike Grost points out, it’s “startlingly close to the traditions of the Golden Age novel”.

We have a country house full of suspects, with a locked room murder. While the inquest remains, gone are the innocent parties traipsing around the place, discarding bus tickets and handkerchieves. The characters are more human (even if they quixotically confess to protect their loved ones); and the police are smarter and more observant. There are good, logical discussions of evidence and how the crime could have been committed; a medium with a convincing (too convincing?) vision of the crime; and stolen jewels. What’s not to like?

Well, the secret passage, for a start. “Often a secret passage is the solution, but this is trite; and to invent a cleverer explanation is the aim of the ambitious author.” That’s Carolyn Wells, writing in 1913.

Does Wells play fair? I think so; the murderer (ROT13: gur jvqbj bs gur nepuvgrpg jub qrfvtarq gur ubhfr) was best placed to know about the secret room. The motive, though, is poorly clued.

Curt Evans wondered whether Carolyn Wells wrote juvenile fiction. The viewpoint character is teenage detective Bobsy Roberts – pictured on the jacket.

Faulkner’s Folly was well received. The New York Times (21 October 1917) said it was “cleverly contrived and worked out with ingenuity and ample resource”, while the Boston Transcript (1 December 1917) found it “especially baffling”.

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