Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Love that cover blurb: "A Modern Masterpiece of Ancient Evil." A woman screaming and running from a sinister house. Ghosts, curses, supernatural stuff, right?

My ass.

Pardon me for being vulgar, but this book cover is a total bait-and-switch, and considering this is a 1968 printing, was probably done to capitalize on the then-current craze for gothic romances. Scandal at High Chimneys is really just a standard historical mystery from Carr.

I picked it up because I'd come across a reference somewhere to it involving ghosts. Well, there's a murder with someone posing as a ghost, but hardly anybody believes for a second it's a real ghost so it's hardly mystifying.

The year is 1865. Young Clive Strickland is visiting the Damon household, proposing to Celia Damon as a favor to her brother Victor, for complex reasons. There's also sister Kate (who does not shimmy) and father Matthew Damon (who was never in Good Will Hunting). But a man's ghost is seen in the house, dressed in bizarre clothes, and suddenly the "ghost" shoots Matt between the eyes and makes a getaway. And that's about the limits of scandal.

Who was it? Unfortunately, the book meanders and is hard to follow at times. Damon has an unfaithful wife, the girls' stepmother, who also turns up dead. We get confrontations with various family members, and a visit to a music hall, and some discussions of theater, before the murder is solved.

I wasn't impressed. Maybe it was just me, but the progression of events often didn't seem logical to me, and sometimes the characters would go to some location just as an excuse for Carr to show off his research. He has postscripts discussing the theater world of the 1860s, and quite honestly I'd love to have an old-style music hall in town, but it just doesn't come together as an organic whole.

Not recommended, except perhaps for some of the commentary on Victorian theater. There's several mentions of a play, It's Never Too Late to Mend, which was made into a film featuring that master melodramaticist Tod Slaughter, which is in my collection. I'll be sure to discuss it later.

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