“Fly open, lock, to the dead man’s knock”
The Dead Man’s Knock marks a return of John Dickson Carr’s series detective Dr Gideon Fell following a nine year hiatus. Carr had published Fell novels on at least a yearly basis throughout the 1930’s, and almost as reliably in the 1940s, aside from a smattering of gaps. Below Suspicion (1949) marked an end to the detective’s run, as the author took a detour into historical mysteries starting in 1950 with The Bride of Newgate. It’s interesting to note that although Dr Fell had been abandoned, Carr’s other contemporary series detective, Sir Henry Merrivale, would still feature into a smattering of books up until The Cavalier’s Cup in 1953.
At that point, Carr was pretty much focused exclusively on the historical mystery genre. While locked rooms and other impossibilities would make fleeting appearances in each book, the stories were more plot driven swashbuckling adventures soaked in historical trivia – not something that appeals to me on paper, but with Carr at the helm they hit the spot. Interestingly enough, only one contemporary mystery was published between 1952 and 1958. Patrick Butler for the Defense (1956) was a spiritual sequel to Below Suspicion, but didn’t actually feature Dr Fell.
Continue reading “The Dead Man’s Knock – John Dickson Carr (1958)”
“The rose in darkness: with the last darkness, closing, closing in.”
Wow. Just wow. If I were to claim that The Rose in Darkness has Christianna Brand’s best ending, I’d probably be wrong. Hell, I’d probably find myself combatting an alternate version of myself. Between the “I’m going to lie in bed for two weeks crying” conclusion of Green for Danger, the shocking final sentence reveal amidst the blitzkrieg that is Suddenly at His Residence, the slow sickening realization of Fog of Doubt, the jaw on the floor finale of Tour de Force, or even the rat-tat-tat neck-twisting ending of Cat and Mouse, Christianna Brand has paved a trail of stomach punch endings. In that respect alone, she may be amongst the best of the golden age.
Still, excuse the enthusiasm of my still shell shocked mind as I rave with fan boy enthusiasm that The Rose in Darkness features one of Brand’s most powerful endings. Of course, I’m not going to tell you any actual details about the ending, other than it was like watching a slow cascade of dominos without actually grasping how the remaining ones would fall. Oh, and it’s one of those emotional ones that will stick with you – but again, most of Brand’s do.
Continue reading “The Rose in Darkness – Christianna Brand (1979)”
My first encounter with Helen McCloy was through the highly touted Through a Glass, Darkly. The story may be most well known for making position #12 in Ed Hoch’s 1981 collaborative list of top impossible crime novels. I personally didn’t see what justified that ranking, as I can think of 12 novels by John Dickson Carr alone that I’d rank ahead of it. I’ll concede that if you’re looking to create a list diverse in both author and types of impossibility, the novel is worth noting.
For my second McCloy, I decided to jump to another of her better regarded novels – Cue for Murder. I spent a long time holding out for the Dell map back edition of this book, but finally succumbed to a well priced 1965 copy by Bantam Books.
Continue reading “Cue for Murder – Helen McCloy (1942)”
How on earth was The Skeleton in the Clock not on my radar? Well, I mean, I obviously knew about the book – I’ve owned it for a few years and it’s shifted positions in my To Be Read pile enough times as it is. It’s just that I didn’t realize it was going to be this good. Let me explain.
Although I’d describe myself as being more of a fan of John Dickson Carr’s series detective Dr Fell, my favorite run of books may well be the near dozen early Sir Henry Merrivale novels published under the name of Carter Dickson between 1934 and 1940. The set ups to those books were classic – confounding puzzles that set the standard for the genre of impossible crime. Better yet, Carr wrapped these stories in a smothering atmosphere of pure dread. Rooms that kill, ghostly hangmen, killers who commit their crimes by mere thought; I just love this stuff. Granted, there’s a natural explanation behind it all in the end, but these are stories that make you question whether you’re dealing with something much more sinister.
Continue reading “The Skeleton in the Clock – Carter Dickson (1948)”
My last encounter with Ellery Queen – 1942’s Calamity Town – left me wanting more. It was with some restraint that I didn’t immediately pick up The Quick and the Dead, instead electing to mix up my authors a bit. Well, I’ve done my mixing and I’m back for more.
I’ll spare you the tales of boredom that I experienced with the early period one Queens – dry monotonous tomes filled with chapter after chapter of never ceasing investigative footwork. I found a different Queen with the second period’s The Four of Hearts – cardboard in a Hollywood sense, but not boring; even clever in the end. It was Calamity Town that won me over though. This was no classic mystery by a long run – if you’ve read more than five GAD books then you’ll see through it in an instant – but the milieu was so damn fine.
Continue reading “The Quick and the Dead (There Was an Old Woman) – Ellery Queen (1943)”
It’s been about a year since I first jumped into reading Paul Halter, and I’ve already made my way halfway through the Locked Room International translations of his work. It’s been hard to drag it out this long – every book has been a direct injection of exactly what I’m looking for in an impossible crime novel. That isn’t to say that they all work out in the end (I’m looking at you, The Invisible Circle), but every story has been a rush of endorphins.
There’s one Halter title that’s always struck my curiosity – The Picture from the Past. This could just be me, but it seems to be the book that flies under the radar. You have the ones that everyone raves about – The Demon of Dartmoor, Death Invites You, The Madman’s Room, etc, etc. You have the ones that people tend to criticize – The Vampire Tree, The Seven Wonders of Crime, maybe The Lord of Misrule. And then you have this weird little guy – The Picture from the Past. I rarely see it come up in reviews or conversation.
Continue reading “The Picture from the Past – Paul Halter (1995)”
Because death’s old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind…
Ok, well, it doesn’t quite go like that. The song referenced in the title of Jonathan Stagg’s Death’s Old Sweet Song is much more obscure by my standards – Green Grow the Rushes, O, an English folk song that I’ve never heard of in my life. It’s one of those songs where I listen to it the first time thinking “why on earth is this song even notable?” and then find it oddly sticking around in my head a few hours later.
The song is cumulative in each verse, similar to The Twelve Days of Christmas. It plays into the novel in that each verse is associated with a murder victim, a la And Then There Were None. In this case we get “the lily white boys clothed all in green”, “the rivals”, “the gospel makers”, and so on. Suffice to say, Death’s Old Sweet Song has quite the body count…
Continue reading “Death’s Old Sweet Song – Jonathan Stagge (1946)”