Experiment Perilous (1943) by Margaret Carpenter

This is a book I acquired after seeing a post by Xavier in the Facebook GAD Group. I cannot find the original post so I can’t remember why this seemed like such a tempting book to purchase. Having now read the book I cannot fathom a reason either! Suffice to say this book has been my first poor read of the year. Margaret Carpenter was born in 1893 and died in 1987 and this is the only novel she published. In hindsight this does not seem like a bad thing! Incidentally in 1944 the book was adapted for film, starring Hedy Lamarr, George Brent and Paul Lukas. Perhaps it made for a better film than it did a book.

Synopsis

‘Contented Dr Bailey, New York bound, meets an appealing spinster on the plane, learns enough of her story to catch his interest, finds himself obsessed with speculation about her, and suggests that she stay at his hotel. The next morning he hears she has died at her brother’s home, and he determines to close the door on the incident. But chance, circumstance and curiosity, plus real apprehension, forbid him to remain inactive, and he finds himself drawn deeper into the plot.’ (From Goodreads)

Overall Thoughts

I had a sinking feeling about this book from the get-go as the opening struck me as being written in a rather ponderous manner, which reminded me of the Victorian novels I had not enjoyed when doing my degree. This ponderous tone somewhat hampers the intriguing lines which dart into the prose from time to time: ‘I do hope I’m not going to be killed! You see no one knows I’m here. Not even the sanatorium. I’ve practically run away. And I’ve got to be home for tea! I’ve simply got to be home for tea!’  You have a feeling there is a story to be told here, but it smothered by the prose style, amongst other things I will get on to. Below is an example of the wordiness of the writing:

‘The lady was like an unidentified chemical in a test tube. He could add this reagent or that, shake it a little, hold it up against the clear light of his own knowledge of human nature, and something recognisable would appear. Once this curiosity of his was appeased and the essence of this lady had precipitated out of the bizarre media with which she had herself so sketchily provided him, he could leave her to her own devices with the courteous impersonality which was part of the defensive equipment of any unattached male.’

Doctor Huntington Bailey’s thoughts only continue to be long winded and as the narrative progresses, they become suffused with cliched sentimental drivel which this particular reader found pretty tedious.

When the characters make it to New York there were a smattering of pages where I began to have some hope that the story might pick up. There is some comedy over the doctor regretting his impulse to talk with Clarissa Bederaux, as he becomes lumbered with her ‘interloping luggage,’ which he has to take to his hotel, with the lady herself supposedly coming along later to check in. Things become ominous when days later she has not turned up to even claim her baggage. The reader is not surprised when it is discovered that she died hours after departing from Dr Bailey.

Yet this moment of intrigue was quickly obliterated by a plot which makes a one-legged tortoise look spritely! Chapter after chapter Dr Bailey is bothered by the death but gets into a fuss about nothing and doesn’t try to do anything about Clarissa’s death. From there he meets Clarissa’s brother and sister-in-law, who she was going to surprise with a visit and then in true Victorian melodrama fashion he falls for the lady of the house who is married to a brute of an older husband.

This predictable melodrama is made even duller by the languid prose and the pace which doesn’t shift out of first gear. It is a real skill to be able to write a showdown involving a firearm, gas, explosion and fire, in such a boring and slow manner. This book is one of those rare occasions in which the reader is disappointed when the protagonist survives!

Rating: 2/5 [I think brevity and a lack of disturbing content prevented this rating from going even lower.]

9 comments

  1. I got this book in the Pocket Book paperback for a dollar, alongside a few other bids from one seller. Having not gotten around to it yet, it seems to me that (even for my copy which is in pretty good shape) it was not the steal which I thought it had been. I wish I could compare your review to a few others, but the problem is that I have not found many reviews at all, and even then the ones I did weren’t exactly raves. I suppose I’ll read this one eventually and see what I think of it myself, but I won’t be in any hurry for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes there is not much comment about it online. I think there are some on Goodreads. I think this is not one to rush and read immediately lol It is good you got a nice edition though. Mine is a hardback without dust jacket.

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    • Yes it has been a long while since I have rated anything under 2. I think that is probably because I have a better idea of the types of mystery I enjoy and I have a number of reliable authors I return to. But yes 2 out of 5 definitely meant “I want those hours of my life back!” Oh Doctor Bailey so got on my wick!

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