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Literature / Sir Henry Merrivale

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Sir Henry Merrivale is an Amateur Sleuth who features in numerous novels and short stories by Carter Dickson (pen name of John Dickson Carr).

This series contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: The Plague Court Murders involved a murder where the victim was shot by a bullet carved from rock salt that dissolved in his body, leaving no trace.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Sir Henry Merrivale.
  • Batter Up!: The killer in The Skeleton in the Clock used a cricket bat.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The character arc between Monica Stanton and William Cartwright in And So To Murder. Tilly Parsons, the experienced script doctor, can see exactly what's going on.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Sir Henry, as well as being a Quintessential British Gentleman, is also a Socialist.
  • Claustrophobia: Pennik in The Reader is Warned is claustrophobic, so the prospect of being arrested (and therefore locked in a cell) terrifies him.
  • Courtroom Episode: The Judas Window takes place at the trial of James Answell for murder, with Sir Henry appearing as his defence counsel.
  • Curse of the Pharaoh: In The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, an archaeologist dies from a scorpion sting soon after unearthing a tomb. Two of his colleagues seemingly vanish soon after a prophet curses them.
  • Cut Phone Lines: In She Died A Lady, the narrator arrives at the house where he's been invited for dinner, and is met by the owner grumbling that some vandal has cut the telephone line. Mysterious deaths follow before the evening is out. What puzzles the detectives is that the cut phone line doesn't seem to be related to the deaths in any way; even if this is a murder plot (it is) rather than a suicide pact, it doesn't seem to be a plot that requires the telephone to be out of action.
  • Electrified Bathtub: This is the cause of death/murder method in The Reader is Warned. Sir Henry, while delivering The Summation, points out that the London County Council had banned electrical fittings in bathrooms for that reason.
  • Evil Gloating: The murderer in The Reader is Warned is kind enough to tell their latest intended victim (and hence the police, who are eavesdropping, and the reader), in detail, how they committed the crime.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: Carr's stories always showed you all the clues. The only problem was usually that the murder was impossible to begin with, so you couldn't figure out how, much less who.
  • Fauxreigner: Belle in She Died A Lady is actually from Birmingham, but affects an American accent and dialect for the benefit of the patrons at the dance club where she works.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Defied in The Plague Court Murders — Sir Henry warns Inspector Masters not to taste the white powder he's just found. Not because it's poisonous. It's salt residue from the Abnormal Ammo, and Sir Henry wants to keep that particular clue to himself.
  • Get Out!: In The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, John Loring survives a murder attempt at the hands of a trusted colleague who was stealing from him, then confronts the crook in his home after Fell makes a long summation while letting the villain think the murder was successful, largely to make him have a Villainous Breakdown about being hanged. John says that he won't press charges, but tells his formerly trusted friend to "get out", saying this three times in a row for emphasis.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Used in The Ten Teacups, in which the victim is wrongly assumed to have been shot at close range because he had a powder burn from when the killer "accidentally" shot him with a blank cartridge the previous day.
  • Important Haircut: In And So To Murder, Tilly persuades Bill that if he's to stand a chance with Monica, he's got to shave - she can't stand beards.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Sir Henry dreads being elevated to the House of Lords, fearing it would mean the end of his career.
  • Lady Swears-a-Lot: Belle Sullivan in She Died A Lady shocks the Devon locals with her unfiltered vocabulary.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Carr, the acknowledged master of this back in the golden age of crime fiction, provided all sorts of different ways to accomplish this. If the detective is Henry Merrivale, there is an excellent chance you've got a locked room or impossible crime on your hands.
  • Mystery Writer Detective: William Cartwright in And So To Murder is a detective novelist who performs the bulk of the investigation, though Sir Henry Merrivale is the one who finally resolves the case.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: The Punch and Judy Murders has a counterfeiter who hid the real money with the fake money.
  • The Nicknamer: Sir Henry is inclined to refer to people by nicknames he's given them (such as 'Horseface' or 'Lollypop') and expect everyone present to know who he's talking about.
  • Psychic Powers: In The Reader is Warned Pennik boasts that he has telepathic powers, including mind-reading and the ability to kill with "teleforce". Nobody believes him... until people who accuse him of being a fraud start turning up dead.
  • Quicksand Sucks: The murderer in She Died A Lady gets rid of the victim's car by sinking it in quicksand. It comes as rather a shock for the person hiding in the back, who has to get free before the car goes under.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Sir Henry Merrivale is a Zig-Zagged version. He technically has all the qualities associated with this trope, while also reversing or defying them:
    • He's the holder of a three-hundred-year-old baronetcy... and his politics are socialist.
    • He's a highly educated man, qualified as both a doctor and a lawyer, and peppers his speech with cultural allusions... and he also uses terrible grammar on purpose.
    • He moves in high-class circles, knows tons of important people... and has so few social skills that it borders on Ambiguous Disorder.
  • Revenge Porn Blackmail: The Judas Window had a plot point in which a female character was blackmailed using sexual photos of her taken with her consent by an ex-boyfriend.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In one story Sir Henry is compared to Mycroft Holmes. Like Mycroft, he's a member of the Diogenes Club.
    • She Died A Lady makes some subtle allusions to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, with the story being narrated by the kindly old family doctor and the early introduction of a character called Ferrars.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Monica and Bill's First Kiss in And So To Murder follows this pattern to the letter - two slaps from Monica, and then a series of passionate kisses.
  • Slipping a Mickey: In She Died A Lady, the protagonist is on the point of setting out in search of vital evidence when he learns that a well-meaning character put a sleeping tablet in his Ovaltine. He decides to go anyway, in the hope that the drug won't take effect before he finds what he wants.
  • Spear Counterpart: Sir Henry strongly resembles a genderflipped version of "Duchess" Agatha Alison in the Bencolin book Castle Skull.
  • The Spymaster: Sir Henry's day job is a senior post in Intelligence.
  • Suicide Pact: At first, the murders in She Died A Lady appear to be this, before the police spot inconsistencies and suspect murder.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Nearly all of She Died A Lady is narrated by the kindly old local doctor, but the epilogue is narrated by another character because the doctor was killed in an air raid before the truth came to light.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In-Universe example in And So To Murder — in a Running Gag, Mr Aaronson's film about the Duke of Wellington continually drifts further and further away from actual history.