The Doorstep Murders (Wells)

The Furthest Fury had a double murder in a Biblically named community; six years and 20 books later, Wells presents a triple murder in Gilead.

John Carman, a sheriff from Wyoming, criminal lawyer Montcalm Nichols, and rich Antony Dane are stabbed with the same weapon, at the same hour, and all on their doorsteps. Are we looking for one murderer, or three?

This is a competent piece of work. The opening anticipates Miles Burton: prominent members of a small community are introduced at their regular meeting (Saturday night poker game, rather than pub); and a working-class man (milko) discovers the first body.

The detection focuses on characters’ movements and their alibis – and the murderer is the one with the cast-iron alibi. The trick (vzcrefbangvba ol n qbhoyr) is clever, but not original; it had already been used by Bush, and would be by Christie. But it’s solidly clued, if transparent. And not a single secret passage in sight – nixy, not on your life!

Kenneth Carlisle, ex-movie star turned sleuth, disdains the dropped handkerchief or the broken cuff-link (the sort of clue found in Wells’s earliest books): “They were all very well in an old-fashioned detective story, but nowadays such things looked more like intentional efforts to mislead.” A rosebud is found near one body, and a watch-key near another, but they’re plants (so to speak).

That brings to a close this series of Carolyn Wells reviews. Five of them, and no disasters – but all’s well that ends Wells.

Contemporary reviews

Books (Will Cuppy, 18th May 1930, 150w)

New York World (E.C. Beckwith, 18th May 1930, 170w): Barring the usual fault of consuming excess space with irrelevancies, the story is first rate.

New York Times (15th June 1930, 180w)

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