John Dickson Carr Week 4
The Tuesday Night Club is an informal group of crime fiction fans choosing a new author to write about each month – and we have picked on John Dickson Carr for March. We’ll all be producing pieces about him and his books on Tuesdays: new and occasional writers always welcome to join in – just send one of us the link to your piece.
Logo courtesy of Bev Hankin.
Noah Stewart is collecting the links again this month:
The week 1 posts are gathered here.
Week 2 posts here
Week 3 posts here
I have two topics this week – Carr short stories, and fashion:
When I first embarked on the recent round of JDC (actually before the month devoted to him started), one of my favourite commentators, Ggary, gave me a list of his favourites:
THE HOLLOW MAN/HE WHO WHISPERS/THE CROOKED HINGE/THE EMPEROR'S SNUFF BOX/THE DEVIL IN VELVET/THE JUDAS WINDOW/THE READER IS WARNED/CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP/CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES/A GRAVEYARD TO LET. I like a lot of others, but these seem to be quintessential Carr. His best, which fall roughly between the mid-30s and the mid-50s have that quality where you have to turn the page to find out what's happens next. I'm very fond of his short story collection THE DEPARTMENT OF QUEER COMPLAINTS with Colonel March as the detective. In that book, though, is one of my favourite Carr short stories BLIND MAN'S HOOD. It's an honest to goodness ghost story, but also a fair-play detective story,which is something that I've never seen done anywhere else.So I got hold of a copy of the 1940 Department of Queer Complaints (not easy – unlike most JDC books, there are not hundreds of cheap paperbacks.) I enjoyed the book enormously, and agree totally that Blind Man’s Hood is a brilliant and unsettling story. It is preceded in my copy by another very good story, Persons or Things Unknown. Both these have historical settings, and are tempting me to re-read some of Carr’s full-length historical novels – I have fond memories of The Devil in Velvet and the Demoniacs, but haven’t read them in a long time.
I also read another book of short stories: The Men Who Explained Miracles, collected in 1963. I thought both these books were great fun. It is clear that JDC had an unstoppable flow of ideas for locked rooms and inexplicable events: although he used them up at a great rate in the books, he also had the sense to see that some of them were better-suited for a quick story, a 5-minute mystery. (When we did Ellery Queen in Tuesday Night Club I discussed some comments on the whole business of short stories by Edmund Crispin – the Crispin thesis would be relevant here.)
The two stories mentioned above are on a different level, but the more everyday ones are still very good, and have a wonderful feeling of their time. Trying not to spoiler, but among the stories there are nightclubs, a mention of Disney films, radiators as quite a new thing, electricity and water mixing, service flats, a servant who isn’t noticed (a la Chesterton’s Fr Brown), the importance of radio. I enjoyed them all, and am sure will be able to read them again in a couple of years without remembering each trick. (Except for Invisible Hands – that’s a story I read years ago, remembered the murder method but nothing else, and have been trying to track down for years. And The Black Cabinet, with its very annoying ending.)
Fashion in JDCI feel I should at least try to look at the Tuesday Night authors through the specific eye of the Clothes in Books blog.
John Dickson Carr does sufficient descriptions of clothes to keep me happy, and I always enjoy looking for the illos for my posts on his books. He takes a little care with his female characters, though there isn’t a huge amount of detail. A lot of tweed skirts and nice coats. Also, a lot of negligees, and kimonos, and dressing-gowns – but that’s because characters are constantly having very disturbed nights…
The one very frequent item is fur – many many characters have either a fur coat, or a coat with a fur collar. They appear over and over.
In William Wilson’s Racket (Dept of Queer Complaints) there is this blissful passage:
‘And,’ continued Lady Patricia, flirting her furs, ‘when it comes to that red-haired hussy – actually carrying on with her in public – well, really!’‘Flirting her furs’ ! – my favourite new phrase this year, and you know exactly what he means. And you also know that in any JDC book the ‘red-haired hussy’ is going to turn out to be the goody… (as I’m always saying, he liked pushy women, and liked hinting at a lot of sex.)
And there are plenty of clothes as clues – from the hats in the Mad Hatter Mystery, via the colour of the dress in Dead Man’s Knock, to the bathing clothes in The Witch of Low Tide.
March has five Tuesdays, so I hope there will be another entry next week. When Ggary, above, and my friend Chrissie Poulson both separately recommended the Emperor’s Snuff Box I knew I would have to read it – so I hope to have a blogpost on it next week.