Death in the Dentist’s Chair is one of only six mysteries written by Molly Thynne and the second of three with the intriguing Dr. Constantine, a socialite and chess master. Originally published in 1932 by Hutchinson & Co, this Golden Age classic was re-issued by Dean Street Press in 2016 with an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.
The opening finds one person after another congregating in the waiting room of a dentist’s office, including the enigmatic Dr. Constantine. They all move in the same social circles and find a lot to chat about but after awhile begin to wonder what is taking the dentist so long. The dentist has taken a plate to the lab to modify and finds his procedure room locked upon his return. After taking the door off the hinges, he finds his patient, whom he left well and alive, in the treatment chair with her throat cut. Everyone in the waiting room can mostly vouch for the others, turning this story into a nice locked room puzzle.
Detective-Inspector Arkwright and Constantine team up once more to sort it out. They learn with little difficulty the victim was hard up for money, despite being married to a well-off jeweler. She had recently attempted to blackmail someone she had known years ago. Then there was the patient who left just before the victim went into the treatment room, whom the police could not locate. He seemed simply to vanish into thin air. The victim’s husband was worried about something and he was known to have friends on the wrong side of the law, so he definitely interested the investigators. We get to watch Arkwright work through the police processes for homicides while Constantine does a little looking around on his own.
Thynne has an effortless and flowing writing style that is a pleasure to read. The plot got a little fuzzy midway, although I enjoyed the story anyway. I wish she had written more.
Just why so many Golden Age writers wrote a few mysteries and then moved on would make an interesting essay. Thynne wrote six, Mavis Doriel Hay wrote three, Ellen Wilkinson wrote one, and of course Dorothy Sayers wrote eleven novels and some short stories. I expect there are others. It seems as if writing a mystery was a bucket list item, once achieved, there was no reason to write another. Perhaps one of our crime historians will give the subject some consideration for a future article.