The Burning Court

burningcourtBlind Man’s Hood was the second story I ever read by John Dickson Carr.  Beyond an enjoyable story, what struck me was the eerie quality introduced by the supernatural element.  The notion of supernatural should normally be a deterrent for a fan of locked room mysteries and impossible crimes.  How can you truly have fair play if anything is possible?  Carr pulled it off perfectly – providing a faithful impossible crime with a clever solution, and then introducing just enough of a supernatural element to make you rethink what you just read.

I approached The Burning Court with curiosity.  Not only does it seem to make most Top 10 Carr lists, but reviews suggested that a supernatural element was at play.  But good reviews were hard to come by – I prefer blogs that tease me enough into making me want to read a book (or avoid it), rather than put me at risk of stumbling upon some detail that ruins the puzzle.  My favorite sources provided nothing on this non-series novel.

The story revolves around what I suppose could be considered a locked room mystery.  A man dies of a stomach ailment, but members of his family suspect murder.  A cup containing arsenic is found in the room and the family cat is poisoned.  An employee of the family was snooping through a window and saw a mysterious woman hand the cup to the victim and then exit the room through a door that doesn’t exist.

As with many Carr novels, there is a second puzzle, and in this case it is even more intriguing than the primary.  The victim’s body vanishes from a granite tomb whose only entrance is buried beneath several inches of dirt, covered with a slab, and then paved over.  The entrance to the tomb is located next to the caretaker’s home, and any attempt to access the tomb would have surely been overheard or left visible trace.

I felt that I did fairly well with this story.  I was able to detect some meaningful details in the early chapters that I would have glossed over when I first started reading the genre.  I didn’t know exactly how the murder occurred, but I had a guess that it was something along the lines of what it turned out to be.  With that said, I wasn’t close to guessing who was responsible nor figuring out the mystery of the empty tomb.

So, how did the book fair?  Is it Carr top 10?  Well, I can’t answer that, having yet to read several of his key novels, but I can tell you that it didn’t disappoint.  Within the first chapter I knew I was in for a treat.  Carr creates a fog of supernatural atmosphere and manages to maintain it throughout.

As with several other stories, Carr injects references to historical crimes.  An aspect of the plot deals with poisoners from past centuries and Carr provides you with plenty of footnotes, although not quite as interesting as in The Problem of the Green Capsule.

The ending is phenomenal.  Carr uses the last 20 pages to unleash an unrelenting assault on the reader.  The solutions are gratifying, and beyond that, I can say no more…

Combine a well placed plot, brooding atmosphere, satisfying solutions, and an explosive ending, and I would be surprised if I don’t hold this book in my final top 10.

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