“Do not worry, Mr. Duluth. And remember that, if you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, that thing is real and has its basis in fact. Do not let anyone or anything persuade you that you are suffering under a delusion.”
Traumatised by the death of his wife, who burnt to death in front of him, theater actor and director, Peter Duluth has sought solace in a bottle. But after two years of becoming a nuisance to his friends and family, Duluth checks into a sanitarium to cure himself. The sanitarium run by Dr. Lenz and managed by competent doctors and nurses is not for those who are incurably insane but people who perhaps with medical help and guidance can get over their neuroses and psychoses.
When the novel opens, Duluth has recovered to the extent of the staff asking him to sleep without medication. A frightened Duluth tries to sleep but then starts hearing voices and when his own voice asks him to beware as soon there would be murder, he is scared to death and runs out of his room. When he is presented before the director, Dr. Lenz, the man doesn’t laugh away his fears. Instead, Lenz says that something untoward is definitely happening in the sanatorium. Lenz also feels that Duluth needs a preoccupation they would cure him of his alcoholism and thus asks Duluth to find out what is causing the unrest among the patients.
Excited by the prospect of playing detective Duluth starts investigating and realizes that a few other patients too have been hearing voices, apart from one who as it is hears astral voices and makes proclamations. The mystery seems to centre round a wall-street financier and before long there is a murder. The patients, the staff, even the Director seem suspicious to Duluth. He also finds himself drawn towards a woman-patient and when that girl is implicated in yet another murder that rocks the institute, Duluth has to race against time to save her. But can Duluth and his friend, the British Martin Geddes who suffers from narcolepsy and cataplexy, apprehend the master-mind?
This is the first of the Peter Duluth series written by Patrick Quentin. I thought the setting was novel and the mental and physical fragility of Duluth and others while confronting dangers was well depicted. It was also interesting to read about the British gentleman who had spent so much of his time in India. That once-familiar character has now virtually disappeared and it was nice to see him get a plum role. However, the ending dragged and I am not too convinced about how the second murder was carried out. Still this novel was better than Death in the Dovecot, my first read of these authors. I especially enjoyed the narrative asides of Duluth:
I looked up to see Moreno in pajamas and dressing gown. He had been on the stage for a while, and he always looked like a handsome young stage doctor, the type who gives the heroine a third act turn-down in the interests of Humanity.
Have you read this series? What are your views?
First Line: IT always got worse at night.
First Published: 1936
Series: Peter Duluth #1
Other Opinions: Classic Mysteries; Dead Yesterday; In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel; The Invisible Event; Mystery File (1); Mystery File (2); Only Detect; Seeing the World Through Books; Wordsmithonia
Other books read of the same author(s): Death in the Dovecot