American college graduate, Tad Rampole, is on his way to stay with lexicologist, Dr. Gideon Fell, in Lincolnshire, when he meets a girl, Dorothy Starberth, on the station platform. She's searching for her brother, Martin, but Rampole has to board his train and isn't able to help her find him. He does discover, however, that the girl is headed for the same village as him and is positive he will be seeing her again.
Settling in with Dr. Fell, Rampole hears the story of the nearby prison at Chatterham where the Starberth family were traditionally head wardens. It was built on the site of Hag's Nook where witches were put to death centuries before and is thought to be haunted. It's abandoned now but Dorothy and her brother, Martin, are here because their father died a couple of years ago and Martin now has to undergo an ordeal by which he has to spend a night in the governer's office, open a safe, and discover a secret. Fell thinks the death of the father, Timothy Starberth, was suspicious and feels Martin may also be in some danger because of an old curse on the family.
Rampole is very drawn to Dorothy and pledges whatever help he can to Dr. Fell to try and keep Dorothy's brother alive. But will their combined efforts be enough?
This is the first book in John Dickson Carr's 'Dr. Gideon Fell' series. I actually read book two, The Mad Hatter Mystery, a few months ago and wasn't that struck to be honest. It was 'OK' but nothing wonderful. 'This' however was a much more enjoyable read. Perfect for R.I.P. in that it was really rather creepy in places. Lots of spooky goings on with the background of the centuries old curse on the family. Scenes with people wandering around the dark, abandoned prison, a deep well with many secrets, unexplained deaths and of course, the threat of The Curse.
Some of the characters are very well drawn, Dr. Fell, his strange, bird-like wife, the Chief Constable with his horsey face. Others not so much... Rampole never really came alive for me and Dorothy felt a bit sparsely drawn too. Their romance didn't really convince me either to be honest, but I wasn't reading the story as a 'romance' per se: I was reading it as a crime yarn.
There's also a very rich vein of humour running through the book:
Mr. Budge, the butler, was making his customary rounds at the Hall to see that all the windows were fastened before he retired to his respectable bachelor bed. Mr. Budge was aware that all the windows were fastened, had been fastened every night during the fifteen years of his officiation, and would continue so until the great red-brick house should fall or Get Took By Americans - which latter fate Mrs. Bundle, the housekeeper, always uttered in a direful voice, as though she were telling a terrible ghost story. None the less, Mr. Budge was darkly suspicious of housemaids. He felt that. when his back was turned, every housemaid had an overpowering desire to sneak about, opening windows, so that tramps could get in. His imagination never got as far as burglars, which was just as well.
The whole book is gently amusing like this, never taking itself too seriously, poking gentle fun at the supernatural mystery genre I suspect, while still being hugely entertaining and great fun. I have more of these Gideon Fell mysteries as ebooks and will definitely read more now that I've enjoyed this one so much.