Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Judas Window by John Dickson Carr

author aka Carter Dickson

published 1938






Mary Hume looked momentarily at the back of Captain Reginald’s head as she went up to the witness box. With the exception of Inspector Mottram, she was (or so it seemed on the surface) the calmest person who had yet testified. She wore sables: a flamboyant display, Evelyn assured me, but she may have been feeling in that mood with defiance. And she wore no hat. Her yellow hair, parted and drawn back sleekly, emphasized the essential softness and odd sensuality of the face, dominated by those wide-spaced blue eyes. Her method of putting her hands on the edge of the box was to grasp it with both arms extended, as though she were on an aqua-plane. In her manner there was no longer any of that hard docility I had seen before.




observations: The Judas Window is generally agreed to be one of John Dickson Carr’s best books (it first appeared under his pseudonym, more in this entry) - and thus one of the best locked room mysteries ever. It is not my favourite of his works, because the explanation seems so unlikely - I do see that’s not something to worry about with JDC, but there is a range… But it is still a great read: tense, and almost entirely in a court-room setting. The best of his books keep you reading simply because you HAVE to find out the explanation for some extraordinary setup, and The Judas Window is definitely in that category.

There is another very odd aspect to it. I have floated the idea before that JDC wished he could write more about sex, and that his young women were quite sexually adventurous. The young woman above (a highly-respectable heroine) is about to give evidence of being blackmailed, by a former lover who has compromising photographs of her:

Mary Hume [said] clearly, ‘without any clothes on, and in certain postures.’
‘What postures?’ asked Mr Justice Rankin.
[The barrister says:] ‘I’ve got one of those photographs here. Across the back of it is written: “One of the best things she ever did for me”’
The photograph is then shown to judge and jury.

When I first read this book as a young teenager I was shocked witless by this, forming my own conclusions as to what the photo must have shown. I’m still quite surprised that it pops up like that in a traditional Golden Age mystery. It is stressed in the book that this is not a court of morals, and no judgement should be passed on Mary for having an affair outside marriage and (presumably) consenting to the photos being taken. Unexpected all round.

Another pressing matter of great importance: what on earth does gripping an aqua-plane look like? And here we can help you, with a startling photograph from the very year of 1938:





-- if you look closely you can see that she has not had her legs sliced off at the knee (that would be a quite different JDC book…), it’s just a trick of the angle.

Normally an aquaplane is, apparently ‘a board on which a standing rider is towed behind a speeding motorboat’ – so perhaps like a single waterski, a monoski? The one above seems to have its own power supply.

****ADDED LATER: Blog readers have helped out with information on aquaplaning. JS found this newsclip of the sport from Pathe, called Skidding Along. And Bill Selnes from the Mysteries and More blog found this helpful article on the history of aquaplaning.  Looking at both would convince you even more that the picture above is wholly posed.****


The main picture is by Glyn Warren Philpot, the sitter was Mary Borden. Now, those probably aren’t sables in the picture, and I’m hoping that one of my most helpful and knowledgeable blog commentators, Ken Nye, will be able to give me more info on that (see Ken's helpful input on insertion kisses below yesterday's entry)


*****ADDED LATER: Yes, Ken did come to help, see below in the comments *****

But I did like this picture, she seemed to look how Mary should.

My friend Sergio over at the Tipping My Fedora blog is a huge fan of John Dickson Carr, and his blog contains informative pages on him, a review of this book, and links to other relevant websites – anyone with any interest in the author should definitely go over there.

For more of and about JDC on Clothes in Books, click on his name below

22 comments:

  1. I do love this book (and thanks for the link back Moira) and I remember Julian Symons holding up the photographic evidence bit as being fairly eye-opening for his day - that aquaplane photo is actually a bit scary!

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    1. Oh I'm glad I felt the same as Julian S, that gives me a warm feeling. That picture is extraordinary isn't it? I started researching aquaplanes just hoping to find a few facts, and that picture popped up and my jaw dropped.... What a find!

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  2. I have not read a book by John Dickson Carr, although my father and uncle loved his locked-room mysteries. Somehow my crime fiction education skipped the author.

    I sent this book to a relative as a gift, and am waiting to hear about it.

    I also wonder what fur drapes the woman's neck in the top photo. It looks a bit like mink, but maybe it is sable.

    And I laughed at your teenage reaction to that passage in the book. I would have gasped myself at that age.

    I love books with a lot of courtroom scenes, so I must read this one. I hope there aren't "isms" in it.

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    1. It is a very tense courtroom drama Kathy D. I think the fur is too light for sable, but I'm sure someone reading this will know.

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  3. I think if I do try him and don't have anything already, which I'm 90% certain I don't I'll try for this one. I think if I ever try and finish a line on my Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo card I need a locked room thingy to get me over the line. This may fit the bill and what's one more books among friends/ Hopefully it isn't too expensive.

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    1. It's yours if you want it - I don't expect I'll ever read it again, and every book sent out makes me feel I'm doing good....

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  4. Moira - I do like the courtroom scene in this one. And I love the locked-room 'impossible' mystery, even though I confess I like The Hollow Man/The Three Coffins better. Still, some great characters here and yes, more sexually charged than some people thought appropriate at the time...

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    1. Even if it's not my favourite, you can only admire the cleverness of the book, and that extraordinary solution. And good characters too, as you say.

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  5. The fur looks like mole to me. It is plushy and grey, and came into fashion in the early 20th century. Definitely too short and too grey to be sable, and not strongly shaded enough to be chincilla. Seal is plushy like that, but seems to have almost always been dyed either dark brown or black.

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    1. I knew you would see more than the rest of us! Thanks for the details Ken.

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  6. It definitely is gray fur, but who would have thought of mole? I had no idea people wore that. Chinchilla looks very plush and thick. Over here it's been a lighter shade. It's a beautiful fur, but I've become opposed to wearing fur and I never see women here wearing it in the streets.

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    1. I know, I was really surprised too. Chinchilla is one I can usually identify because it has a distinctive striped effect.

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  7. Although I count myself a great Carr fan, I haven't read this one. You've encouraged me to make sure I put that right before long - thanks!

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    1. I do think it is the archetypal one, so everyone should read it!

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  8. Great piece. I just love this one, it's one of my all-time faves. The courtroom scenes, the locked room, the whodunit aspect--all great!

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    1. Yes, and you made a good point elsewhere that this isn't only an 'impossible' murder, it's a proper whodunit with clues and surprises.

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  9. Moira: I really enjoyed the book. I have not read many locked room mysteries.

    I especially enjoyed the courtroom antics of Sir Henry. I envisioned him as the predecessor to Rumpole in style and appearance.

    As the son of a Canadian trapper I saw lots of fur while growing up. I do not claim Ken's expertise but my first reaction was mink. The colour of the fur in the painting is not mink but the texture of the fur looks like mink.

    On aqua-planing here is a link to a site which provides a good description and a photo of a two handed grip more likely to resemble the witness desperately clutching the rail of the witness stand - http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2012/07/history-before-water-skiing-there-was-aquaplaning.html. Considering how little support there was for the rope an aqua-planer had best have a strong grip.

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    1. Thanks for the link, Bill - that link is really descriptive and helpful. The picture above looks even more obviously posed when you read what the article says! But then that was a really good metaphor, wasn't it, even if it needs some explanation these days.

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  10. Moira, I plead guilty for not reading Carr in spite of his overwhelming popularity among readers of detective and mystery fiction. I have a feeling I'll be hooked on to his novels when I start,

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    1. I think you will like them Prashant if you give them a go. This might be a good one to start with in fact...

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  11. Like Prashant, I haven't read Carr, or maybe I just don't remember, which is essentially the same thing. I am glad to be getting some good suggestions from you and Sergio and other bloggers.

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    1. I'm surprised none of them has turned up in your booksale! You'll have to get round to him sooner or later.

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