Among those of us who enjoy locked room and impossible crime mysteries from the Golden Age, I think there is general agreement that the mysteries of John Dickson Carr are the standard by which such books are judged. His books featuring Gideon Fell, Sir Henry Merrivale, even Bencolin and the stand-alones, are remarkable achievements. While there were some, particularly in later years, where the master hand obviously faltered (insert your own least favorite Carr here), I think he produced a remarkable body of work.
It's worth noting, however, another side to Carr's writing - his historical novels, set in a romanticized version of the past. Again, we find Carr's trademark impossible crime stories, but taken away from a modern-day (or mid-twentieth century) setting and dropped into a past era.
One of the best of these, I think, is Fire, Burn!, originally published in 1957. It is a novel that manages to combine time travel with an impossible murder, as a modern detective finds himself mysteriously transported back to 1829 to assist in the founding of Scotland Yard while also trying to solve an impossible murder: a woman is shot to death in a closed passageway practically in front of three witnesses - including our detective - and yet nobody saw the firing of the fatal shot and the murder weapon is not to be found.
Fire, Burn! is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here. I think you'll find that review more complete than this one, and it also contains a few reservations which I have about the book. It's really a mixture of a very good impossible crime story with a historical thriller, complete with illicit gambling clubs, plenty of violent fights, a challenge to a duel, a beautiful woman for our detective to fall in love with, some truly villainous opponents…and, beyond it all, there’s always the question of what’s really happening, and how (and why) did this 20th century police detective find himself in 19th century London - and can he or will he ever get back?
It's not the book I would recommend for someone looking to meet Carr for the first time, but it's certainly a book that regular fans of these excellent mysteries would enjoy!
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Fire, Burn! is my entry for the square (fourth row, sixth column) calling for one historical mystery.