You might think of it as a disgruntled author's revenge: an arrogant and well-disliked publisher gets into his small, private elevator on the top floor of his office building. The door locks automatically and the elevator descends. The publisher can even be seen through windows in the locked access doors, and he is standing in the elevator as it descends. The elevator never stops. Yet suddenly a gunshot is heard, and when the elevator car reaches the ground floor, the publisher is dead - shot through the heart. And there is no way anyone could possibly have shot him in that elevator, especially as there is no gun to be found either in the car or in the elevator shaft.
Impossible? Why of course! Welcome to Fatal Descent, by Carter Dickson and John Rhode - or, to give them their correct names, John Dickson Carr and Cecil Street. Both authors were masters of the impossible crime novel as well as being friends - and they collaborated on just this one book, in 1939. Fatal Descent is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Fatal Descent is a fascinating mystery, with two sleuths who team up to solve it. One, the Police Surgeon, Dr. Horatio Glass, is very much the type of detective favored by John Dickson Carr - full of ideas that give elegant solutions to impossible problems, brilliant in their conception and flawed only in that they are invariably wrong. Chief Inspector David Hornbeam is a realist who seeks the scientific explanations for crime, and he is quite representative of the kind of sleuth that Street wrote about under his "John Rhode" pen-name. Between them, they will eventually solve the case - but only after a second murder.
It’s a fine story, written with wit and good humor, quite fairly clued for the reader who can find the hints, and with some first-rate characters. It’s a pity that Street and Carr only wrote this one mystery together. Readers who enjoy a good impossible crime story really should read Fatal Descent. It’s been out of print for a while, but there is now an e-book edition available.
This is another entry in Bev's My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge. As this 1939 mystery was originally published under the title Drop to His Death, I am entering it in the category called "A Mystery by Any Other Name," a book that has been published under more than one title.