Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher (1940)

Ahasver, who claims to be the legendary Wandering Jew, leads the Children of Light cult in San Francisco. Wolfe Harrigan has made it his business to expose phoney religions. It is not entirely surprising that the former curses the latter with the Nine Times Nine and prophesies his death within a month.

Shortly afterwards a figure dressed in Ahasver’s trademark yellow robe is seen threatening Harrigan in his study but when the locked door is broken down only Harrigan’s corpse remains. The killer could have exited through one self-locking door but an unimpeachable (for reasons explained later) witness swears that no one did.

Ahasver is quick to take credit for what becomes known as “The Astral Body Murder” but the police aren’t yet ready to believe in his miraculous powers and don’t take his confession seriously.

Over-educated policeman Lieutenant Terence Marshall is in charge of the investigation, helped by his wife, Leona, who is a fan of detective fiction:

“Now locked rooms are my special weakness in mysteries. I don’t care about terrific alibis that take a two-page timetable to explain, or brilliant murder-devices that need machine shop diagrams or involve the latest scientific developments in the use of insulin; but give me a locked room and I’m happy.”

Fortunately she is reading “The Three Coffins” by John Dickson (to whom the book is dedicated appropriately as there are distinct parallels between the solutions) and so “The Locked Room Lecture” can be discussed as they try to classify which type of method they are dealing with.

In the end however it is Sister Ursula of the Sisters of Martha of Bethany who is able to identify first killer and finally method.

Another cracking read from Boucher so three out of three good reads so far from the “Black Box Thrillers 4 Novel Omnibus” – currently on Amazon secondhand for £10, get yourself a copy –  with just “Rocket to the Morgue” to come.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Wh0 – Vicar/religious figure”






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