Books

by John Dickson Carr
Rue Morgue Press, March 2008, $

The Rue Morgue press has re-issued two of John Dickson Carr's classics, The Judas Window, and The Crooked Hinge.

The Judas Window, undoubtedly the finest book written by Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym, has it all. It's a fast-paced, fair-play detective novel with trial scenes running throughout most of the book, and two thundering climaxes in court at the end. It's also a locked-room mystery, with one of the best practical solutions to murder in a locked room ever devised.

The book features Sir Henry Merrivale, known as H.M., grumpy, paranoid, ruthless, and devious, defending young James Answell who is accused of murdering the father of his fiancee. The evidence is all against Answell, who went to Justice Bodkin's house to ask for the hand of his daughter. While in Bodkin's study, Answell is drugged into unconsciousness, and when he awakens he finds that Bodkin has been stabbed to death, and the room has been bolted--from the inside.

It's a murder that no one else could have committed, and other evidence is also stacked against Answell, but H.M. believes in his innocence and agrees to defend him despite not having been in court in years. What results is a virtuoso performance by H.M. and by Carr. In other books, Carr used Merrivale for comic relief, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but here the humor is effective and comes directly from character.

This edition omits the floor plan which is commonly included, and which is useful in understanding a key plot point--although it's not needed to understand the locked room itself. It also has a cast of characters up front, and an introduction by Rue Morgue which is identical to the one in the new edition of The Crooked Hinge. The cast of characters contains a minor error (Reginald Answell is James' cousin not his brother), but these details won't affect your pleasure in what is one of the five best detective novels ever written. The Crooked Hinge, written under the Carr byline and featuring his other major series character, Dr. Gideon Fell, has created two distinct camps of readers.

The first camp praises the book's wonderful writing, atmosphere, and plot construction, all of which show Carr at the height of his powers. At stately Farnleigh Close in Kent, Sir John Farnleigh, squire and baronet, has lived an honorable and respectable life after surviving the sinking of the Titanic years ago. But a man arrives claiming that he is the real John Farnleigh, and has been usurped.

Carr's narrative skills have never been better, and he manipulates the reader into believing first one man's story, then the other's, then back again. When one of the key players is killed under impossible conditions, the stakes are raised and the quest to find the truth escalates until the final denouement and solution.

The second camp of readers agree with most of the above, but also point out that the impossible problem is not as clearly explained as in most of Carr's work, leaving the reader a bit unsure as to the actual issue, and the solution to the impossible murder is, in fact, impossible. This reviewer and Carr fanatic is in the second camp. You may love the first 180 pages, but the 181st may make you throw it across the room.

Brian Skupin

The Rue Morgue press has re-issued two of John Dickson Carr's classics, The Judas Window, and The Crooked Hinge.

The Judas Window, undoubtedly the finest book written by Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym, has it all. It's a fast-paced, fair-play detective novel with trial scenes running throughout most of the book, and two thundering climaxes in court at the end. It's also a locked-room mystery, with one of the best practical solutions to murder in a locked room ever devised.

The book features Sir Henry Merrivale, known as H.M., grumpy, paranoid, ruthless, and devious, defending young James Answell who is accused of murdering the father of his fiancee. The evidence is all against Answell, who went to Justice Bodkin's house to ask for the hand of his daughter. While in Bodkin's study, Answell is drugged into unconsciousness, and when he awakens he finds that Bodkin has been stabbed to death, and the room has been bolted--from the inside.

It's a murder that no one else could have committed, and other evidence is also stacked against Answell, but H.M. believes in his innocence and agrees to defend him despite not having been in court in years. What results is a virtuoso performance by H.M. and by Carr. In other books, Carr used Merrivale for comic relief, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but here the humor is effective and comes directly from character.

This edition omits the floor plan which is commonly included, and which is useful in understanding a key plot point--although it's not needed to understand the locked room itself. It also has a cast of characters up front, and an introduction by Rue Morgue which is identical to the one in the new edition of The Crooked Hinge. The cast of characters contains a minor error (Reginald Answell is James' cousin not his brother), but these details won't affect your pleasure in what is one of the five best detective novels ever written. The Crooked Hinge, written under the Carr byline and featuring his other major series character, Dr. Gideon Fell, has created two distinct camps of readers.

The first camp praises the book's wonderful writing, atmosphere, and plot construction, all of which show Carr at the height of his powers. At stately Farnleigh Close in Kent, Sir John Farnleigh, squire and baronet, has lived an honorable and respectable life after surviving the sinking of the Titanic years ago. But a man arrives claiming that he is the real John Farnleigh, and has been usurped.

Carr's narrative skills have never been better, and he manipulates the reader into believing first one man's story, then the other's, then back again. When one of the key players is killed under impossible conditions, the stakes are raised and the quest to find the truth escalates until the final denouement and solution.

The second camp of readers agree with most of the above, but also point out that the impossible problem is not as clearly explained as in most of Carr's work, leaving the reader a bit unsure as to the actual issue, and the solution to the impossible murder is, in fact, impossible. This reviewer and Carr fanatic is in the second camp. You may love the first 180 pages, but the 181st may make you throw it across the room.

Xav ID 1
1249

by John Dickson Carr
Rue Morgue Press, March 2008, $

Carr
March 2008
the-judas-window-the-crooked-hinge
Rue Morgue Press