The Great Merlini

The Great Merlini is a fictional detective created by Clayton Rawson. He is a professional magician who appears in four locked room or impossible crime novels written in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as in a few short stories.

The Great Merlini
First appearanceDeath from a Top Hat
Last appearanceNo Coffin for the Corpse
Created byClayton Rawson

"His chronicler, free-lance writer Ross Harte, notes that Merlini hates the New York City Subway system, beer, inactivity, opera, golf, and sleep. He is, on the other hand, highly partial to surf bathing, table tennis, puzzles, circuses, and Times Square, where he operates a magic shop. Merlini's friendly rival is Inspector Homer Gavigan of Homicide, an intelligent man who is, nonetheless, amazed by the magician's feats."[1]

At least two movies were made based on the Merlini books. One of them, Miracles for Sale (1939), was based on Death from a Top Hat but had no character named Merlini—instead, Robert Young played "The Great Morgan". The 1942 movie The Man Who Wouldn't Die, starring Lloyd Nolan, was based on No Coffin for the Corpse, but the Merlini character was replaced by Michael Shayne, a popular fictional private eye at the time, created by the writer Brett Halliday. Merlini was shown in a brief segment where he advises Shayne, and was played by Charles Irwin.

A 30-minute pilot for a television series was created in 1951, but no further episodes were made. The Transparent Man, written by Rawson, starred Jerome Thor as The Great Merlini—who in this incarnation was a stage magician—with Barbara Cook as his assistant Julie and featuring E. G. Marshall as a criminal.



  1. Penzler, Otto, et al. Detectionary. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1977. ISBN 0-87951-041-2
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