THE WHITE PRIORY MURDERS, A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY THAT DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED (Martin Edwards, 11/28/23, CrimeReads)

The White Priory Murders is an “impossible crime” novel by the master of the locked-room mystery, John Dickson Carr, masquerading as Carter Dickson, the name associated with his stories featuring Sir Henry Merrivale. Originally published in 1934, this was Merrivale’s second recorded case, written with youthful verve at a time when the author was still in his twenties.

This is a mystery set in the run-up to Christmas, and the presence of snow on the ground provides the scenario for the paradox at the heart of the book. How could someone be beaten to death in the Queen’s Mirror pavilion, when it is surrounded by snow, and there is just one set of footprints leading to the pavilion, and none leading away? […]

Sir Henry Merrivale, often called “H.M.” or “the old man,” had made his debut in a locked-room-mystery novel published earlier in 1934, The Plague Court Murders. When writing that book, Carr envisaged the official police detective Masters would take centre stage. Merrivale only enters the story half-way through. […]

Sir Henry Merrivale was a baronet and a man of varied accomplishments. A qualified physician, he was also a barrister, as we see to dramatic effect in The Judas Window (1938), widely acknowledged as one of the finest locked-room mysteries ever written. Initially characterized as “a fighting socialist,” he eventually shifts his political affiliations to fall in line with Carr’s conservative worldview. During the First World War he served as head of the British counter-espionage operations (earning the nickname “Mycroft”), and he continued to hold this post in the post-war era. Secret service work plays a part in three of his recorded adventures, The Unicorn Murders (1935), The Punch and Judy Murders (1936), and And So To Murder (1940), but his greatest gift is for detecting ingenious crimes and unravelling the puzzles which arise from what he calls “the blinkin’ awful cussedness of things in general.”

Carr took a great deal of care when constructing his intricate plots, but like most crime writers responsible for a long series, he proved fallible on matters of detail about his protagonist. He admitted in a letter to Smith that: “Errors or contradictions…abound in H.M.’s saga… During the nineteen-thirties, being young and full of beans, I was grinding out four novels a year.” As for bringing Merrivale back to life, he said: “Many readers seem fond of…the old gentleman… I also am fond of him. But that’s just the trouble. For many years certain critics…have been bewailing my ‘schoolboy’ sense of humour. H.M. usually enters the story with a rush and a crash, heels in the air. Once, in an unwise moment, I gave the date of his birth: February 6th, 1871. If he were alive today he would be ninety-six years old. His customary antics at so venerable an age would be as inadvisable for him to perform as for me to chronicle.”

The audio is available at Internet Archives.