Born to Sir Dudley and Lady Farnleigh in 1898, John Farnleigh had been a troublesome youth – a wild and moody boy, he had an affair with a maiden girl. So as to avoid a scandal, his father decided to send young John to be raised by relatives in America, along with his tutor Kennet Murray. Unfortunately, they embarked on the Titanic en route to it’s ill-fated voyage; while the ship was sinking, John was separated from his tutor and ended up living in Colorado. As long as his family was alive, the young Farnleigh never returned to his native England; when his last relative passed away in 1935, he came back to Mallingford as sole heir to the Dudley estate. John married his childhood friend Molly Bishop, and lived a good life… until Patrick Gore showed up and claimed he was the real John Farnleigh!
After having spent over twenty years in the United States, John had obviously changed, and very few people that could identify him were left. For that purpose, Kennet Murray was asked to provide the ultimate proof – a fingerprint that was taken a year before they left. On the night that was to reveal the rightful Farnleigh, a crime occurred… John Farnleigh was found slain, his throat cut and his corpse floating in a basin. And while everyone was distracted, Murray’s thumbograph containing the fingerprint was stolen. Was John Farnleigh murdered or did he commit suicide? And is there a connection between the crime and the theft?
Original Title: The Crooked Hinge
Year of publication: 1938
Number of victims: 1
Detective: Gideon Fell
Murder weapon: Knife
Overall, it’s a captivating novel at first glance that unfortunately seems to drag after the murder is committed. Although the mobile is weak at best, and the execution is quite frankly unbelievable, the atmosphere throughout the novel, which oscillates between mystery and witchcraft, has some entertaining value.
Considered the fourth best locked-room mystery of all time according to a poll, it is noteworthy to mention that the murder wasn’t even committed in a room, let alone a locked-room. The plot is driven by too many elements that Carr is trying to fit together: a change of identity, the sinking of the Titanic, fingerprints, witchcraft, the circus, an automaton… Whereas any of those ideas would make a crime story more intriguing, it almost seems like Carr wanted desperately to make an over-the-top mystery novel.
Several characters are introduced, but many of them do not have a remote mobile for the crime, hence reducing the cast of suspects. A meagre excuse is provided for the fake Farnleigh’s murder. As Kennet Murray’s test is about to reveal the real heir, Gore eliminated the impostor lest he divulged Molly’s use of witchcraft (which, in turn, is indirectly responsible of another character’s murder). Couldn’t they have worked it out? Why was Molly so adamant that Farnleigh would rat on her being a witch?
Furthermore, there is a swerve at the end – a first ending describing how Molly had murdered her husband using a bohemian type of weapon – before the real one is actually revealed. If I thought at first that it was an underwhelming ending, I was in for a ride! When Patrick Gore reveals that he has no legs, a fact which allowed him to kill the impostor Farnleigh without being seen and use the automaton to frighten the maid, I was simply aghast. How could the others not notice that Gore was using a prosthesis? Especially when he switches to the automaton’s body, in full view of everyone? The suspension of disbelief is hence impossible, and this is probably the biggest flaw of The Crooked Hinge.