Title: Castle Skull (Henri Bencolin #2)
Author: John Dickson Carr
First published in 1931; republished by BL_Publishing on 10th Jan 2020
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers (Golden Age)
Actor Myron Alison has been murdered. His blazing body was seen running about the battlements of Castle Skull. D’Aunay asks Inspector Henri Bencolin and his accomplice Jeff Marle to investigate the murder. The thunderstorm along with the creepy-looking Castle Skull creates quite an eerie atmosphere. Mazes, secret passages and a gothic castle, Bencolin faces some competition from another detective von Arnheim. Who will solve the case first?
I know the blurb sounds pretty uninteresting. I can’t help it, though! As my first Dickson Carr read, I kept my expectations high (a few of my blog buddies have praised his locked room mysteries) and ended up being disappointed.
The story starts on an interesting note. In fact, I felt this could make a good Halloween read. Spooky castle, thunderstorm, secret passages and a ‘notorious’ magician, this book is somewhat similar to a gothic mystery.
The characters are well portrayed. The female characters play a major role in the story – Sally Reine, Agatha Alison and Isobel D’Aunay. The male characters are not very friendly – or at least, the reader is made to believe so. The exciting part about the story is the competition between two ‘greatest’ detectives. Herr Baron Sigmund von Arnheim (quite a mouthful!) v/s Henri Bencolin. Their sneering and snide remarks were sarcastically humorous. As the story picked up the pace, I was curious to know who would catch the killer first.
The clues are not made readily available to the reader. The story is as narrated by Marle so I suppose it is obvious – similar to a Hastings-Poirot story (Hastings hardly has a clue as to what is going on!). Bencolin was being secretive – very secretive. As von Arnheim reveals he’s going to catch the killer soon, Bencolin is silent. The killer is identified all right, but who won? von Arnheim? Or, Bencolin?
There is an interesting fact about this story that I want to share with you all. When the first edition was published (in the 1930s), the readers were offered a refund from their bookseller for returning the book without having broken the seal. What seal am I talking about here? Just before the denouement, the final pages of the story were sealed. If the reader is able to guess the identity of the killer with the clues so far, they do not break the seal.
The ending was okay. Unexpected revelation but it was not all that bad. If you are new to Dickson Carr’s works, do not start with this book.