Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr

The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr (Harper, 1942) is a dazzling display of plotting pyrotechnics. No locked room but a puzzle so tightly woven I had to read the explication twice before I fully understood all of the moving parts.

Eve Neill has finally convinced her cheating husband Ned Atwood to cooperate in a divorce. In conservative France where they are living in a resort area, there is every incentive for a woman to remain in a marriage but Eve has had it with Ned. She doesn’t even care about the potential for embarrassing publicity, she just wants him out of her life. Since they were married in France and the divorce action completed in France, there was little mention in the English papers to her great relief. After a few months Eve is bored and lonely and a little depressed when the stuffed shirt son Toby Lawes of the English expatriate family across the street begins to court her. His family kindly expresses happiness when she accepts his proposal of marriage, although her status as a divorcee shocks them a little.

The murder of the family patriarch, Sir Maurice Lawes, late one night, changes everything. Sitting up late admiring a new and expensive acquisition for his collection of tchotchkes, Sir Maurice is brutally and fatally attacked with a poker. The French police zero in on Eve, whose clothing has unexplained blood and who has no alibi. She also has no motive but that does not bother them. The French inspector calls in Dr. Dermot Kinross, an eminent English criminal psychologist who often works with the police, because he does not believe Eve is guilty. Dr. Kinross also decides Eve is not guilty and begins looking hard at the family of the victim, who after all were in the house at the time and had the easiest access. From that point on one startling plot twist after another unfolds.

All of the clues are available in this fair play mystery and I missed about half of them. Highly recommended for Golden Age fans.

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