The Great Merlini was the lead character of four Golden Age mystery novels and twelve short stories. He was a stage magician who had retired to run a magic supply shop in New York City. Merlini's adventures were written by Clayton Rawson, himself a trained magician. (One of Merlini's signature tricks, vanishing a lit cigarette, was done the same way Rawson did it.)
The novels are:
- Death From A Top Hat (1938)
- The Footprints On The Ceiling (1939)
- The Headless Lady (1940)
- No Coffin For The Corpse (1942)
The short stories were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
between 1946 and 1971 (the last one published after Rawson's death). They were later collected in The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective
Two of the Merlini novels were turned into movies, but with heavy editing. Miracles For Sale
is based on Death From A Top Hat
, though with the lead character's name changed. The Man Who Wouldn't Die
took No Coffin For The Corpse
and spliced in a more popular fictional detective of the time (Michael Shayne).
Rawson wrote a pilot episode for a Merlini TV show in 1951, but it wasn't picked up by the networks.
The series provides examples of:
- Asshole Victim: Linda Skelton of Footprints On The Ceiling. She deliberately administered a toxin to another character to destroy his career on the stage.
- Always Murder: Averted in one short story (poisoning to scare the victim, but a deliberately nonlethal dose), but played straight everywhere else.
- Cut Phone Lines: In Footprints On The Ceiling. Ross and Merlini manage a temporary patch to call in Inspector Gavigan ... and then the lines get cut again.
- Empty Piles of Clothing: The locked room in one of the short stories contained one corpse with a gunshot wound, one unconscious nude man, the man's clothing laying in perfect order on the floor as if he'd phased out of it, and absolutely no sign of a gun.
- Fair Play Whodunnit: Six of the short stories were written as reader contests for EQMM, the rest of the series also fits this trope.
- Friend on the Force: Inspector Gavigan already knew Merlini at the beginning of the first novel.
- Last Name Basis: According to the front door of Merlini's shop, his first initial is A. Everyone just calls him "Merlini", we never learn his first name.
- Averted with Ross Harte, the narrator for all four novels and several of the stories — he's routinely called Ross.
- Locked Room Mystery
- Magician Detective
- Murder by Mistake: the solution for one of the short stories.