The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Burning Court is an unusual novel—a cross between a traditional detective story and an occult horror tale. Without the epilogue, it is a detective novel similar to John Dickson Carr’s other works, in which the murderer is caught and the woman who was wrongly suspected is vindicated. The epilogue unexpectedly brings in the supernatural as the true explanation, turning the story into a horror tale.

Edward Stevens, an editor with a New York publishing house, is working on a book about nineteenth cen-tury murderers when he finds a photograph of Marie D’Aubray, a woman guillotined for murder in 1881. He is disconcerted to see that she closely resembles his wife, Marie. He realizes how little he knows about his beautiful wife, who captivated him with what he calls her “spiritual” look. A professor friend tells him that another Marie D’Aubray was condemned as a murderer in 1676. Watching Marie as she goes about her housewifely duties in their Philadelphia home, Edward wonders about her ancestry.

Edward’s friends Mark and Lucy Despard are concerned that their Uncle Miles’s death from gastroenteritis may not in fact have been from natural causes. Mark even wonders if Lucy is involved, considering that they inherited Miles’s property. Mark, Edward, and a doctor friend attempt to disinter the body to check for poison, but it has been removed. Meanwhile, evidence suggesting that Marie is a witch accumulates, making Edward...

(The entire section is 444 words.)