The Cavalier’s Cup – Carter Dickson (1953)

CaveliersCupThe Cavalier’s Cup doesn’t have the best reputation as far as John Dickson Carr books go.  Oft-derided, it tends to be lumped in with the other common undesirables – The Hungry Goblin, Behind the Crimson Blind, Deadly Hall, Papa La-Bas, and a handful of other titles.  Is it a fair reputation though?

I’ve become somewhat skeptical of the stigma attached to supposedly lower-tier Carr books.  I flat out loved The Problem of the Wire CageSeeing is Believing was a killer read up until an ending that I’ll admit was comical at best.  Below Suspicion?  How could anyone not enjoy it?  Dark of the Moon?  Yeah, it was a rambling slog, but the end spun me around so bad that I’m half tempted to recommend it.

Across forty-some Carr books that I’ve read up to now, I’ve only really read one book that didn’t work for me at all – Night at the Mocking Widow.  As such, I’m fairly open to trying a book with a bad reputation.  In fact, I look forward to it.  Even if the story doesn’t fire on all cylinders, maybe there’s a gem tucked in there to be appreciated.

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The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin (1946)

MovingToyShopI’ve been collecting Edmund Crispin books for several months now without actually reading them.  It all started with Swan Song, frequently cited as his best work, but I’ve for some reason held off on reading it.  Then I started collecting more of his books – The Moving Toyshop, Love Lies Bleeding, The Case of the Gilded Fly, Glimpses of the Moon, Buried for Pleasure.  It’s probably a questionable pursuit, collecting an author without actually having read them.

With a wide range of titles presented to me, I shook my instinct to go with Swan Song and instead went against my nature by selecting THE BOOK – The Moving Toyshop.  I refer to it that way because this is the famous one – Crispin’s version of The Hollow Man or Murder on the Orient Express.  The Moving Toyshop seems to be the “of course you’ve read this one” title when it comes to Crispin, and so I figured I might as well use it as my springboard.

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Alas For Her That Met Me! – Christianna Brand as Mary Ann Ashe (1976)

AlasForHerFear not – I haven’t abandoned my focus on GAD mysteries and impossible crime in exchange for 1970’s romance novels (well, not that I’m admitting…).  Alas For Her That Met Me! is a late career novel by my personal Queen of Crime, Christianna Brand.  Yes, the cover and the title may have you scratching your head, but I assure you there’s a reason behind this madness.

I’ve absolutely loved the Brand books that I’ve read so far.  The author has a wit to her writing, a strange ability to forge a bond between the reader and her characters, and one of the most skilled hands at misdirection that I’ve yet to encounter.  Unfortunately, she only wrote 10 murder mysteries – or so I’ve been told.  I’ve found it difficult to really piece Brand’s career together, with the best reference I’ve been able to find being Wikipedia (never a good sign…).  There’s the Inspector Cockrill series, for which she’s known, and then a handful of lesser known mystery novels featuring Inspector Chucky and Inspector Charlesworth – of those, only Death in High Heels really garners any attention.  Brand seems to have ended her core mystery writing career in the mid-1950’s, with Tour de Force being her last “classic” title.

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The Arabian Nights Murder – John Dickson Carr (1936)

arabiannightsSome books just don’t jump out at you.  When I first started collecting John Dickson Carr, The Arabian Nights Murder was one of those titles that made its way into my collection and promptly found itself nestled towards the bottom of my To Be Read pile.  Why?  Who knows.  Some novels just don’t have that hook that grabs you until you start reading them.  Across his immense catalogue, Carr has victims encased in locked rooms, corpses surrounded by untouched sand/mud/snow, and murders that defy explanation despite being committed in full view of a captivated audience.  What does The Arabian Nights Murder have to offer in comparison?

Going in, all that I really knew was that it featured a murder of the non-impossible kind – a body found stashed in a carriage in a museum.  Nothing especially compelling.  What was compelling though was that The Arabian Nights Murder was published in 1936.  As I recently detailed in a post on Carr’s publishing timeline, the author’s most inspired peak output appears to have taken place between the years of 1935 and 1939.  During that time, he was cranking out 2-4 books a year, and all of them were fairly high quality.

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The Hollow – Agatha Christie (1946)

TheHollowMy last encounter with Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect), really stuck with me.  There was something that she captured between those pages that my mind couldn’t leave alone – the tragedy of it all.  It’s been several months, and yet my thoughts continually drift back to the characters, the setting, and paint drying on a canvas.

It’s a rare thing for me to really be impacted by a mystery book.  Christianna Brand has a certain knack for it – creating a cast of characters so richly painted that it becomes anguishing in the end when one of them is revealed to be a killer.  John Dickson Carr was less effective at it, but he had his moment with books like He Who Whispers and She Died a Lady – titles in which some element of the story pulls at the mind long after the book is set down.

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Time Lines – John Dickson Carr edition

With over 70 books under his belt, John Dickson Carr has a career as a GAD novelist that surpasses most of his peers.  Across the span of 42 years are littered a respectable number of classics, a handful of lowlights, and a whole slew of books you really should read if you enjoyed the classics.  Categorizing his work may seem simple on the surface – we have the first few books staring French detective Henri Bencolin (published under his own name), the Dr Gideon Fell novels (published under his own name), the Sir Henry Merrivale works (published as Carter Dickson), a handful of non-series works in a similar vein to the Fell/Merrivale stories, and a set of historical novels published between 1950 and the end of his career in 1972.

Or would you divide the work by quality?  Surely across the 70+ books there are highs and lows and various shades of in-betweens.  What are the better years in Carr’s portfolio?  Is there truly a drop off in quality towards the end?

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The Greek Coffin Mystery – Ellery Queen (1932)

TheGreekCoffinMystery3At long last, I’ve made it…I think.  I’ve survived the brutal intrigue-barren plains of the first three Ellery Queen novels with a grim determination to make it to an oasis – The Greek Coffin Mystery.  With the promise of a nearly unanimously regarded top five Ellery Queen novel, I’ve maintained a steady yet bleary eye on the horizon as I trudged through hundreds of pages of mind-numbingly detailed suspect interviews and crime scene searches.  Now that I’ve arrived at the goal, would it be a GAD paradise or merely a mirage?

I started my journey reading Queen in publishing-order with burning excitement.  Here was one of the big name golden age authors – a true master of the craft – with a library of almost forty novels to look forward to.  I’ll never forget those first few chapters of The Roman Hat Mystery.  Mesmerized by crime scene maps, dramatis personæ, and a false forward, I waded into the chaos of those exciting first few chapters as the New York police struggled to contain a crime scene in a crowded theatre.  It took a while, but as I slowly realized that I was going to have to sit through the police interviewing every damn person in the theatre, I found my startled eyes contemplating just how many pages there were in the book.

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