If there’s anything that I enjoy as much as reading GAD works, it’s reading about them. I can’t resist – if only because my phone goes with me when the books don’t. It’s that desire to discover the unknown – the story I haven’t heard of or the familiar title that I didn’t realize I need to read. The blogging community makes it all too easy. Type the name of a book/author into a search engine and maybe narrow the search to WordPress or Blogspot and you’re guaranteed hours of slack-jawed enjoyment.
Of course, the blog posts are only part of it. The comments are almost better – the debates on fair play, the piles of recommendations, and best of all, the merciless criticism. When a review of The Unicorn Murders spirals into a defense of Below Suspicion, and a post on The Emperor’s Snuff Box leads to a dissection of the merits of The White Priory Murders vs The Plague Court Murders, that’s when I’m in my element.
Unfortunately, there’s a danger in all of this – the careless comment, always innocent, that risks ruining a puzzle. I’ve had it happen a few times, I hate to say. I’ll be reading along, cautious for any language that hints of spoiler, and then wham! My eyes flick away instantly, but my brain has processed what they saw. I tell myself that I’ll forget, but unfortunately that just doesn’t happen.
Continue reading “Five books to read before they’re spoiled for you – John Dickson Carr edition”
If you’ve read my reviews up to now, you know that I haven’t shied away from the supposedly weaker Carr titles. The Problem of the Wire Cage – loved it. Death Watch – I wish every Carr book was that good. Below Suspicion – I have no clue why people dislike it. Seeing is Believing – ridiculous ending but otherwise a strong title. Panic in Box C – mmm, it meandered here and there with Carr’s love for trivia, but overall it was decent. And then of course, The Hungry Goblin – not a book to enthusiastically recommend, but an enjoyable Carr historical.
Naturally, my enjoyment of these supposedly weaker titles has me second guessing myself. Am I an unabashed JDC fanboy, so blinded by the enjoyment of a few good reads that I’m willing to choke down any mediocre swill the author felt fit to put to page? Of course not – at least that’s what I tell myself.
Well, I hate to say it, but I’ve finally met my match. As much as I wanted to love her, there isn’t much to appreciate about the Mocking Widow. The comedy is bad, the characters are Carr’s shallowest, the plot feels disjointed, the mystery is meh, and the whole read feels like a phoned in facade.
Continue reading “Night at the Mocking Widow – Carter Dickson (1950)”
“In all ages, everything changes. Manners, customs, speech, views on life, even morals – all change. But fear is the same. Only fear is the same.”
The only historical John Dickson Carr book published under the name Carter Dickson, Fear is the Same is the one full length novel in which the pseudonym is used without featuring Henry Merrivale. It feels very much like the other Carr historicals that I’ve read – The Demoniacs and Fire, Burn (I don’t quite count The Witch of the Low Tide as being in the same category). In fact, Fear is the Same neatly straddles these two novels, featuring the adventure and swordplay of The Demoniacs, while mixing in the time travel aspect of Fire, Burn.
Yes, you read that correctly, time travel. If you haven’t read a historical Carr, much less a time travel one, you’re probably hastily scrambling to change the page. Whoa there, it’s alright. I had the same healthy skepticism for this type of story before I accidentally mistook Fire, Burn for The Burning Court. The notion of a historical mystery on its own is actually fairly easy to swallow. Take a good GAD storyline and drop it back in the past a hundred years or so. The times may have changed, but we’re still dealing with the same thing, right? Ok, now comes the part that I’m not going to convince you on. Let’s say that the main characters of said mystery inhabit the 1950s and suddenly just find themselves back in the past.
Continue reading “Fear is the Same – Carter Dickson (1956)”
It’s funny how some books don’t really draw your attention. With 70+ John Dickson Carr books to choose from, some stand out as obvious reads. Others have a reputation as being the bottom of the barrel. Then there is the great middle ground. Even there, some books just jump out at me more than others. Perhaps it is the title, the cover art, or just the brief background that I know about the story. Who knows what my brain is up to, but it’s up to something
The Gilded Man is a prime example of my brain saying “I’m not interested in reading that book”, and I couldn’t even tell you why. Some part of me probably came to that conclusion when I had an awkwardly high TBR pile on my desk and I had to make some priority decisions. And then that reputation just stuck, and the book sat there, way down on my reading list…until now (cue dramatic music).
Continue reading “The Gilded Man – Carter Dickson (1942)”
Roger Bewlay has made his fortune by marrying women who have a habit of disappearing without a trace. His use of aliases has allowed his first two crimes to pass by unnoticed, but a slight slip up with his third wife has drawn the attention of the police. Under the close observation of the law, Bewlay goes on holiday with a fourth lover. She vanishes from a guarded house, and the next day, Bewlay is gone, never to be seen again.
That was 11 years ago. The police were never able to track down the killer, nor did they ever figure out what happened to any of the bodies. Now, a script for a play shows up at a theatre company in London. The author is unknown, but the play tells the tale of the infamous wife-killer’s life, both before and after the murders. The script reveals too much – facts that would only be known by the police…or the killer.
Continue reading “My Late Wives”
If I could wrap up everything that I’m looking for in a Carr work perfectly, it would be The Plague Court Murders. No, it’s not his absolute masterpiece – that designation is better bestowed on works such as The Problem of the Green Capsule, He Who Whispers, or even a short story like The House in Goblin Wood. Yet, in many ways, The Plague Court Murders excels in dimensions that each of those titles doesn’t quite reach. To that effect, this title – the first Merrivale tale – is the purest representation of what I search for in the author.
Let’s start with the puzzle. After all, that’s why we read these things, right? Carr’s reputation centers around the impossible crime, and he delivers more often than not. His best puzzles don’t just perplex, they leave you fixated on the problem for every last page until the solution is finally revealed. The Plague Court Murders offers that two-fold with a single crime. A man is found violently stabbed to death in a stone hut that is completely locked down. The only door is tightly barred from the inside, the fireplace is impenetrable, and the small dwelling is so barren that there isn’t a place for a culprit to hide. As if the classic locked room set up wasn’t enough, Carr add in a footprint puzzle. You see, the hut is surrounded by an expanse of untouched mud. Not a single footprint is present and none other than Chief Inspector Masters (a staple of Merrivale mysteries) was watching the grounds and could hear the murder being committed.
Continue reading “The Plague Court Murders”
The definitive locked room mystery novel. For an author whose name is so entwined with the locked room genre, The Judas Window showcases Carr at the top of his game. Too often, the label “locked room” is applied loosely, covering a range of impossible crimes in which a murder occurs in an inaccessible location. Not so here – this is text book locked room. Steel shuttered windows. A door thoroughly bolted from the inside. No conceivable way in or out of the room. And, yet, as Henry Merrivale repeatedly states, every room has a Judas window.
Carr wastes no time, presenting us with the impossibility immediately. A man is found dead in a comprehensively locked room, stabbed through the heart with an arrow that had been mounted on a trophy display. There’s a twist though – the victim is not alone. Young Jim Answell is found passed out on the floor, a gun in his pocket and his fingerprints on the murder weapon. Upon coming to, he swears to his innocence, claiming that he had been drugged and that the victim was still alive when he slipped out of consciousness. Yet no trace can be found of the whiskey tumblers and decanter that he swears delivered the dose that put him under.
Continue reading “The Judas Window”
Whenever I finish reading a Carr book and hit “Publish” on my latest post, the hunt begins. I pull up a browser window and comb through some of my regular haunts, seeing if I can track down other reviews of the same book. I love seeing how others’ experience compare to mine – did they enjoy the same aspects? Did they hate it? Do they have some interesting insights that I hadn’t thought of? Well, the answer to that last question is always ‘yes’.
My post-read ritual has been fairly clumsy up to now – pull up Google and type in “John Dickson Carr”, the title of the book, and “wordpress” or “blogspot”. Sure, there are other review sites out there, but I tend to find the best material on these platforms. As you may expect, my searches lead me down some well tread paths – Beneath the Stains of Time, The Invisible Event, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and several others.
Continue reading “John Dickson Carr review index”
The Cross of Murder
Published in 1941, the same year as The Case of the Constant Suicides, Seeing is Believing falls in the middle of an amazing eleven year stretch for Carr. Starting with Death Watch and The Hollow Man in 1935, and finishing with He Who Whispers in 1946, the author churned out 31 novels, many of them considered to be his best work. Consult a Top 10 Carr list and they’re almost all guaranteed to come from this era.
One could question if Carr experienced a brief dip in quality around the time Seeing is Believing was published. Although the period from 1939-1941 features some of his best work (The Problem of the Green Capsule, Nine – and Death Makes Ten, and the previously mentioned Suicides), it also features a string of titles that were less well received (The Problem of the Wire Cage, The Man Who Could Not Shudder, Death Turns the Tables, And So to Murder,….and Seeing is Believing). In fact, pretty much all of the “weak” titles from the 10 year period came out during these three years.
Continue reading “Seeing is Believing”
Like its namesake, The Unicorn Murders is an unusual beast. Part spy caper, part impossible crime, it’s a unique entry in the Carr library.
The story revolves around a duel between a master thief and a master detective. The thief publicly boasts of his intentions to steal a mysterious object, referred to as “The Unicorn”, during a flight to Paris. The detective, in turn, issues a public exclamation that he will be onboard the flight as well, with the intent to capture the thief. Both hero and villain are masters of disguise and nobody knows what they look like.
Not your standard Carr set up, am I right….? The whole premise of a super villain playing cat and mouse with his nemesis feels somewhat cardboard and out dated, although I suspect that this is Carr’s homage to The Mystery of the Yellow Room.
Continue reading “The Unicorn Murders”