If you were planning to murder someone...would you invite the police to come witness the crime? No, it's not a silly question. It happens - twice - in "The Peacock Feather Murders," by John Dickson Carr (writing as Carter Dickson). This 1937 doubly-impossible but fairly clued mystery is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Here is the situation: two years before the start of this story, the police receive an odd message reading "There will be ten teacups at number 18, Pendragon Gardens, W. 8, on Monday, April 30 at 9:30 P.M. The police are warned to keep an eye out." Was it a joke? Apparently not, for when police went to the house after the appointed hour, they found a man dead inside the only room provided with any furniture in the otherwise vacant house - and that furniture includes a big round table, set with ten empty teacups with a design on them like peacocks' feathers. The police investigation after the fact got nowhere and the case remained unsolved.
Now, the police have been sent another message with a very similar invitation. This time, they station police officers in the house across the street. And one officer even conceals himself inside the house mentioned in the peculiar invitation. That officer sees a man walk into a room across the hall from him, closing the only door to that room behind him. A couple of minutes later, the police hear two shots. The policeman inside the house runs into that room and finds the man who had entered it earlier has been shot to death - apparently shot in the back, at very close range. But nobody else is in the room. And there is no way anyone could have entered OR left that room by the only door (under police observation) or the windows (observed by the police across the street). And once again, in an otherwise empty house, there is a large round table in the murder room with ten teacups on it...
Like it so far? Fortunately, Carr's detective in this story is Sir Henry Merrivale, the Old Man, H. M., as he is known - irascible, with a deep appreciation for practical jokes and a well-deserved reputation for solving such "impossible" puzzles. And this one certainly seems impossible...doesn't it?
So there you have it. How was it done? By whom? And why were the police told to be on hand?
H. M. will find out. But you'll have to read "The Peacock Feather Murders" to get the answers. Fortunately, this Golden Age classic locked-room mystery, is back in print, from the Rue Morgue Press. If you enjoy matching wits over a good puzzle, try your hand at this one.