Yes, this was supposed to be The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen in preparation for the forthcoming spoiler-filled look at Halfway House (1936). Yes, you all warned me that book was awful, and you were correct. Let’s instead board a cruise ship stuffed with munitions at the outset of the Second World War and watch the eight — or is it nine? — passengers slowly get to know each other until one of them is found murdered in their cabin, the corpse peppered with fingerprints which do not match those of anyone on board. Aaah, I feel better already — man, I love the work of John Dickson Carr; the idea of having never discovered it makes me feel a little unwell.
Anyway, first a sort of…thing. Not a confession as such, more some context. See, I was aware that Carr had written an ‘impossible fingerprints’ book, though I didn’t know which one it was, and I have carried a secret fear with me ever since learning of it: namely, that the solution would bear a striking resemblance to an episode of Jonathan Creek in which…well, in which there’s similarly an ‘impossible fingerprints’ problem. And, while it wouldn’t be an exact fit, a part of me upon encountering the impossibility herein spent about 150 pages trying to make the Creek-y answer fit this setup — huge amounts of fun, incidentally, especially as they couldn’t be more different. I recommend thinking you know the vague shape of an impossibility and turning out to be wrong; the mind turns all manner of corkscrews, and finds clues in the most unusual places…
Boats have been pretty good to Carr; anyone who isn’t impressed by the trick in The Blind Barber (1934) isn’t paying attention, but we can all agree that radio play Cabin B-13 is a little piece of genius. Here he cranks maximum atmosphere out of the deserted staterooms and empty corridors, the passengers essentially “ghosts wandering about in an over-decorated haunted house”, the surroundings leant the eerie resplendence of the Overlook Hotel vibe long before anyone had heard of the Overlook Hotel:
From the lounge, Max wandered into the Long Gallery that opened out of it. The Long Gallery was all deep carpets, deep plush chairs, book-cases, and small bronze figures holding lights. There was nobody here either.