WANTED TO RENT: HAUNTED HOUSE
Preferably in run down condition.
Must be adequately supplied with interesting ghost.
Write details, location, history, price.
A mystery starting with the above want ad is going to get my attention, so Clayton Rawson’s 1939 outing for The Great Merlini went to the top of my reading list when I recently came across it. I was actually looking for a series about another magician detective, but I’ll save those books for another post.
The Footprints on the Ceiling was the second of only four Great Merlini novels , which along with a dozen Merlini short stories make up the bulk of Rawson’s literary output – but what a dazzling output it is. Working from his own love of magic and illusions and his own stagecraft experiences as an amateur magician, Rawson makes magic integral to his plot, establishing his theory that just as the art of the illusionist is based largely on misdirection, so too is the fine art of murder.
THE FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING
The house that surfaced in reply to the ad in the World-Telegram was a psychic investigators delight, bleak and brooding, haunted by the malevolent spirit of a long-dead pirate king. But there was nothing delightful about the cold, staring thing in the little room at the top of the stairs – or the ghostly footprints that crept up the wall and across the ceiling.
On fog-shrouded Skeleton Island in New York’s East River, The Great Merlini encounters not only a corpse and a shadowy killer, but one fantastic improbability after another.
Using every trick of magic and manhunting at his command, Merlini searches for answers in a maze of con games and crystal gazing, séances and psychiatry in this spine tingling thriller that will claim your rapt attention and applause.
If all of this sounds a bit like Scooby-Do and The Mystery Gang, you’d be right, except Rawson does a fabulous job of keeping his mystery grounded in reality with clever plotting, clever detecting, and compelling prose.
The Great Merlini, a master of the art of misdirection, and his Watson Ross Harte are a match for every fiendish ghoul and evil-doer as he clears away the fog of lies hiding the killer.
Rawson clearly was having a great deal of fun while writing this story, tossing in plenty of crime fiction in jokes and adding a good-natured tongue-in-cheek quality to the story.
If you haven’t discovered Rawson then surrender yourself to the powers of The Great Merlini and enjoy the show . . .