Monday, May 14, 2012

MOST SECRET by John Dickson Carr

During my Carr shopping, this was one I picked up at random, knowing nothing about, and having few expectations of. It's not the best-known of his works, rarely gets mentioned at all in articles about Carr. And that's a shame. This is a damn rip-roaring read, the best Carr novel I've ever read.

The year is 1670, and Roderick Kinsmere, known as Rowdy, is up from the country to London to collect an inheritance. He drops by to pay a call on the Duke of Buckingham, but then ends up being challenged to a duel, makes a new friend, and suddenly finds himself plunged into a web of intrigue and murder.

Most Secret isn't part of Carr's oeuvre of locked-room puzzles that he was known for. It's more of an espionage thriller with a historic setting. That said, it's a lot of fun. Carr throws in a duel, a scene in a theater (he loves his theater scenes), and even a part on the high seas with piracy thrown in.

The Restoration setting is a fun touch, and Carr takes his time getting his setting together. The first chapter or so is setting up the character of Rowdy Kinsmere and his home, and I found it rather reminiscent of Henry Fielding and Tom Jones. I wonder if Carr was thinking if Fielding with this book. I've also noticed that Carr frequently has scenes in theaters; I guess theatrical history was one of his big interests.

But the intrigue is the real star. Kinsmere has an heirloom ring that he doesn't realize has a certain significance, and is made a target because of it. And it leaves him in a position where he's taking secret papers to France at the behest of King Charles himself, but still trying to figure out who the main plotter is, and why? Rowdy and his friend Bygones Abraham know WHO is trying to kill them, but the don't know WHY or the identity of the mastermind. And that's all the fun.

Most Secret is a bit on the dense side; it took me a while to read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed any other Carr work. Highly recommended!

1 comment:

Jeff Perren said...

Thanks for the very helpful review. Knowing that Carr/Carter's books are chiefly contemporaneous mystery fiction I thought the Goodreads and Amazon descriptions suspicious. Good to know they were accurate and that the story is worthwhile besides.