Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The White Priory Murders - Carter Dickson

This is the 2022 mystery for Christmas from the British Library Crime Classics series, which I did actually start on Christmas Eve, though I got a little bit distracted by other books along the way so it's taken me a while to finish. Which is okay. As a rule, I like to stick to one book at a time, but it's been a tough month so I'm giving myself some leeway. 

The White Priory Murders doesn't have a particularly Christmassy feel although when I check back I see it is specifically meant to take place over Christmas. It's mentioned briefly in the opening chapter and then never referred to again. Possibly because a murder gets in the way, but maybe because the family at the White Priory is so magnificently dysfunctional that the idea of Christmas with them is too horrible to examine.

James Bennett is the son of someone important in American diplomatic circles and employed in the same business in a small way himself. He's also the nephew of noted sleuth Sir Henry Merrivale. Bennett unexpectedly finds himself in England for Christmas and with an invitation to The White Priory in the train of film star Marcia Tate, herself a daughter of the aristocracy. He stops by to see his uncle first to tell him about some odd things that have been happening around Marcia, then arrives at the priory just as her body is discovered.

Carter Dickson is John Dickson Carr writing under a pseudonym and a classic locked room mystery. Marcia's body is found in a pavilion surrounded by snow in every direction. There is only one set of prints, they've just been made, and they lead to the pavilion, not away from it, but Marcia died after the snow stopped falling so how was it done?

Several ingenious suggestions are made and dismissed throughout the book before the eventual answer is revealed (and it's a good one). I love John Dickson Carr for his gothic atmosphere which isn't lacking here, although some of the more macabre details he delights in seem to have been dialed back - the book is all the better for it. Maurice Bohun is believable in his awfulness, which makes him much worse. So is Marcia Tate which gives the reader some sneaking sympathy for whoever had enough of her (not enough to condone murder, and John Bennett emerges as an actual character which isn't always the case with Carr's signature handsome young American.

Altogether an excellent mystery for the long winter nights, and not just for Christmas. 


  1. I tried to "read" this book by listening to the audiobook, and gave up about 25 percent of the way. I just couldn't bring myself to care. But perhaps it would be a better read than listen, I hope someday it becomes available in the US in eBook format, as I am trying to not buy more physical books, due to space and eyesight issues. For some reason, a lot of the British Library reissues of golden age detection novels are made available as audiobooks in the US a year or so before they are made available as eBooks.

    1. I like John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson to read, but I don't think he'd be ideal to listen too. Much of his charm for me is in the atmosphere he creates and the way I picture that. If you're listening a lot depends on the reader and my experience with audio books is mixed on that score. Like you I'm battling with space issues and have finally given into audio books (so I can knit and listen) a couple of books I loved reading did not fare well listened too.