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C. Daly King
Charles Daly King (1895-1963) was an American author and psychologist. He was educated at Newark Academy, Yale, and Columbia University. After Army service in WW1 he trained in psychology and wrote several textbooks. In the 1930s he wrote seven detective novels. His central detective, Michael Lord, is attached to the New York police department. Lord’s cases are recounted by a Watson figure, Dr L Rees Pons. King coined the word ‘Obelists’ to describe suspects, and used it in three of his titles. Another series character, Trevis Tarrant, appears in a book of very entertaining short stories, and this has become King’s most popular contribution to the Locked Room genre. After Bermuda Burial (1940) King wrote no further fiction.
(Source: Edited from Wikipedia)
C. Daly King Locked Room Novels
Available only in used and hardcover editions.
Note: King’s best impossible novel!
A very tough mystery critic, Mike Grost, commented on Obelists Fly High: “It has a clever impossible crime plot, and surprises in its murder mystery that completely fooled me.” However, he also goes on to note, with some justification, that: “The storytelling drags interminably, especially in the second half where King explores an all too obvious alibi subplot. The characters are nasty. There is endless propagandizing for King’s controversial views on psychology, religion and science. It continues King’s vicious stereotyping of minority groups, this time of gays. It is not a pleasant reading experience at all. King has been overpraised by mystery critics. While his works have too much plot creativity to ignore, they have too many other problems to be actually good.” MikeGrost.com
Though Grost’s comments are somewhat valid, they are perhaps rather overstated. Grost is clearly not a fan of C. Daly King, but this author’s fantastic plots make up for many of these glaring faults when measure by our current social standards. If you are going to only read one of his novels, this is clearly the best bet!
Careless Corpse (1935)
Detective: Deputy Inspector Michael Lord
Available only in rare used paperback editions. No image available.
Note: Need information!
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders: “Death by poisoning in guarded area.”
Arrogant Alibi (1939)
Detective: Lieutenant Michael Lord
Available only in a rare used paperback edition. No image available.
Note: Need information!
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders: “Death by stabbing in a locked room.”
C. Daly King Locked Room Short Stories
Notes on the Mr Tarrant Collections:
The only comprehensive review of C. Daly King’s, ‘Mr. Tarrant’ collections, is the one by Mike Grost on Gadetection, which comments on most of these stories, as well as the major themes of C. Daly King’s short fiction. For this reason, there are no separate reviews of individual stories, though a new Locked Room Review is pending!
The Curious Mr. Tarrant (1986) contains only the original eight stories, and is only available in used paperback and hardcover editions:
The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant (2003), contains the original eight stories, plus four previously uncollected stories. This title is also available only in used paperback and hardcover editions.
(but currently far less expensive to import!)
This is one of my favourite locked room collections, and is clearly a ‘must read’ title for every serious locked room fan!
Note: An ancient codex disappears from a locked room!
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “King’s work is full of horror. He likes to depict bizarre religious rituals as part of his horror atmosphere. These rituals often seem to involve cycles of time: the Aztec cycles in “The Codex’ Curse”….
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Disappearance of a codex from within a locked room with a witness in attendance.”
Note: Ghostly hauntings!
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “The Episode of the Tangible Illusion” (1935) does much to characterize Phelan and his family, and has some pleasant romance. It is set in a small town in New Jersey; King himself lived in Summit, New Jersey, and frequently set his works either in that state, or in nearby New York City. Another set of perennial characters in King are the mild mannered, ineffectual authority figures of various institutions where the horror is taking place, who have clearly lost control of their turf.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Haunting of a house by footsteps that follow on the stairs and a ghostly vision in an upper room.”
Note: Anticipates Hannibal Lector?
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “One of the best locked room tales in The Curious Mr. Tarrant, “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem” (1935), oddly anticipates The Silence of the Lambs, of all things. The mad killer’s escape from the box-like penthouse in King, seems oddly similar to Hannibal’s escape from his box-like cage toward the end of the movie (I’ve never read the book). King’s tale, in turn, bears a family resemblance to MacKinlay Kantor’s “The Light at Three O’Clock (1930) … “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem”, however, succeeds as a puzzle plot tale – it is a significant contribution to the locked room story.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Murder in a locked room”
Note: A motorized Mary Celeste!
‘Torment IV’ is King’s version of ‘The Mary Celeste’. A motorboat runs aground on the shore of a small New England lake – minus the family onboard! Not the best solution, but still an entertaining read.
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “By contrast, King’s version of the Mary Celeste, “Torment IV”, is ridiculous, one of the all time dumb mystery tales. Caveat lector! (Which could mean either “Let the reader beware”; or “Beware of Hannibal Lector” – not bad advice either way. This is my first Latin pun.)”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Each time Torment IV sails she is abandoned by her crew, none of whom survive.”
Note: Headless corpses litter a New Jersey highway!
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “King was fascinated with architecture, and many of his most creative works deal with it. Even when it plays little role in the mystery plot, such as the New Jersey highway landscapes in “The Headless Horrors” and Obelists Fly High, it is a fascinating part of the tale. King likes the engineering aspects of architecture, such as the infrastructure of the buildings, machinery in them, such as elevators or gas stations, and their industrial construction. King’s creative use of architecture is part of Golden Age mystery tradition, while his interest in their engineering aspects is relatively personal and unique.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Appearance at intervals of headless corpses on one particular road. No indication of how, or by whom, and no trace of the heads.”
Note: Ancient harp goes missing from a locked room!
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “Not all of King is horror based. “The Episode of the Vanishing Harp” is a country house, Golden Age style mystery, complete with a wealthy couple, the family secretary, the family banker, and the family physician. It is a pleasant enough piece of storytelling, but its locked room problem’s solution, while fair and believable, is easily guessed.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Disappearance of an ancient harp from within a locked room.”
Note: One of the weaker stories in this collection
Gadetection: Resonse to Mike Grost by Jon: “Did King realise he was setting up expectations he couldn’t fulfil? It would explain the last story, “The Episode of the Final Bargain”, which concludes a long-winded ramble about psychic phenomena with a chance for Tarrant to bow out more or less gracefully. It would explain the references in the text of this story and “The Man With Three Eyes” to other Tarrant stories which appear never to have seen the light of day. It would help to explain how the series combines first-rate tales of deduction with the kind of feeble-minded occultism we associate with Carnacki the Ghost Finder.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Murder of a woman in a confined area. Neither of her companions was the murderer.”
Note: Multiple choice solutions!
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “The Episode of the Little Girl Who Wasn’t There” (1944) is a locked room story. It is full of ingenious ideas. It keeps proposing different solutions to its central riddle, in the tradition of E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case (1912), Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), and other Golden Age multi-solutioned tales. The story is hard to read, and lacks gracefulness. It is perhaps more intriguing than fun. But still, it shows lots of thinking. Aspects hearken back to “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem”, and can be considered as a development of the ideas in that tale.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Disappearance of an actress from within a guarded area.”
Note: A one way elevator?
Gadetection: Mike Grost: “The Episode of the Absent Fish” was not published till long after King’s death (EQMM April 1979). It is an imaginative story, in the tradition of “The Nail and the Requiem”. Like that earlier story, it is a locked room problem, which takes place in an architecturally complex penthouse apartment.”
Robert Adey, Locked Room Murders. “Death by blunt instrument on a penthouse terrace accessible only by an automatic lift that was used by the first person to discover the body who could the find no trace of a third person on the terrace.”