A modest but genuine discovery: four previously unpublished plays first staged between 1942 and 1945 by the unquestioned master of the impossible crime, two of them co-written with his frequent BBC collaborator.
None of the four shows Carr at his best—the spirit of his mannered, cluttered novella The Third Bullet (1937) hovers over three of them—but all are full of interest. Not surprisingly, both of the two three-act comedy-dramas co-authored by Gielgud involve wartime radio broadcasts. Inspector Silence Takes the Air asks what became of a handgun—not the one loaded with blanks, not the one that had never been fired, but the one that fired the bullets that killed an actor in a closed studio during a live broadcast. Thirteen to the Gallows, the best of the four, features a pair of impossible crimes, two fatal falls from a belfry by victims who seem to have been alone when they plunged to their deaths. The two one-acts written by Carr alone exhibit a considerably greater tolerance for justified homicide. Intruding Shadow shows what happens when a blackmail victim’s suitor’s plan to intimidate the blackmailer is interrupted by murder, and the Napoleonic thriller She Slept Lightly presents the miraculous reappearance of a hanged young woman just in time for the turbulent battle of Waterloo.
Despite the perfunctory characterization, often labored exposition and sometimes mind-boggling denouements, this is suspenseful period fare, very like prolific Carr’s radio plays, certain to satisfy readers with a taste for sleight-of-hand.