Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Tuesday Night Club: John Dickson Carr’s Memorable Books

 
 
 
The Tuesday Night Club is an informal group of crime fictionCarr logo 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


This week I was reading the 1944 book Till Death Do Us Part, and that got me thinking about Carr’s books overall. (As ever on the blog, I am including everything by Carter Dickson in this.)

In my mind I often link Carr with my great favourite Agatha Christie. I have read, I think, everything Christie wrote, some of her books several times. For a majority of them I could tell you (without checking) both the plot, and who the murderer was – at least by status ie it was the doctor, the cousin, the spouse. In many cases I could tell you the names of the murderers, the victims, and of other key characters. (I can do the same for Dorothy L Sayers though she wrote many fewer books, and to some extent with Margery Allingham.)

Carr in fact gives me more potential entertainment, because I often remember little of his books. That’s odd in one way – the puzzles are so sophisticated, the details of the crimes so distinctive, you’d think they would be highly memorable, but I don’t find them so. And that means I can read them a second time and still have to try to solve the crime.

I offer this with no explanation, I don’t know why this is so. I do remember the settings and atmosphere of the books – something he does very well.

I counted up his books - it’s difficult to be exact with various omnibuses and collections, but it seems safe to say there were 70+ distinct books. (Perhaps one of the experts can say exactly?) Going through the list, I decided that I had read for certain more than 50. (It is also true that every time I look through the list I see titles that I swear I have never heard of before.) And then, looking at the titles,  I would say around half of them had memorable plots to some degree – looking at the title I could describe for certain some aspect of the crime.

And so after all that I did pick my ten favourites, not in order:

I’d be interested to know what other fans consider his most memorable books,and whether they do hold plots and character names in their heads.

And now I will look at what makes this one memorable:

Till Death Us Do Part

1944

 
Death us do part


Extract: In an enclosure barely six feet square, a shaded electric light hung from the roof. It shone down across a gleaming crystal ball, against the plum-coloured velvet cover of the little table, and added a hypnosis to this stuffy place.

Behind the table sat the fortune-teller, a lean dry shortish man of fifty-odd in a  suit and with a coloured turban wound round his head. Out of the turban peered an intellectual face, a sharp-nosed face, with a straight mouth, a bump of a chin, and an ugly worried forehead. His rather arresting eyes were pitted with wrinkled as the outer corners.

commentary:  The plot has no resemblance to anything anyone would ever do in real life, but it is well setup. A village fete, a fortune teller, mysterious widows, the poisoning of husbands, lost jewels and femmes fatales from years gone by. Impersonation, and a Major, a doctor, and a Home Office expert. And, of course, Dr Gideon Fell. It all spins along at a fair rate, you just have not to think about it too hard. (Though I was left with one major question: What DID the fortune teller say to Lesley Grant in the tent?)

So it is a farrago, but the mixture of English village life and exotic details make it memorable and highly enjoyable, and deserving of its place on my list. 













20 comments:

  1. A succinct commentary of this book, Moira. Quite an absorbing story, I think.

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    1. Yes, a real page-turner with a lot to try to work out!

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  2. You ask such an interesting question about Carr's work, Moira! When I think of Carr, he puzzles stand out in my mind more than the characters, for the most part. But that's fine, because he did create some fascinating puzzles. The Three Coffins, and Judas Window are definite standouts, from my perspective.

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    1. The Three Coffins (which I think we Brits call Hollow Man) is where I part company with many Carr fans: it's the one of his books that I don't get on with, I find it tedious. But luckily we can agree on Judas Window!

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  3. While I can recall plot details on SOME of the best Carr mysteries, it has been so long since I read a few of them that there's nothing in memory. "Till Death Do Us Part" is a perfect example. My copy is an old Berkley paperback printed in 1971, which was probably the last time I read it. Time for me to add it to the TBR pile.

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    1. It's funny, isn't it, the way our memories work. This IS a good one.

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  4. I haven't read nearly as many as you, Moira. However I did like He Who Whispers. The last few pages of The Burning Court astonished me. I enjoyed The Reader is Warned - very atmospheric and scary. And I thought The Emperor's Snuffbox was an excellent fair-play puzzle.

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    1. I've got Emperor's Snuffbox on my list on your reco...

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  5. I do plan to read some books by Carr, just because. (I even bought a reference book on his works; kind of silly to have that if I am not going to read them.) But still nothing really calls to me.

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    1. This wouldn't be a bad one to start with, Tracy, but do you feel that you need to start at the beginning....?

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    2. I had never thought of reading them in order; I assumed there was not that much change or development within the series.

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    3. No you're quite right - I only asked that because YOU say so often that you want to read books in order!

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    4. You are correct, I do usually prefer that, but in this case I fear I would not get very far at all if I started at the beginning. I don't know why I don't run into more of them at the sale. And I don't know what keeps holding me back from jumping in and reading one.

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    5. We are all waiting for you to jump Tracy...

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  6. I would rate it very highly amongst Carr's books. He tended to shy away from the rural, village mystery of the type that we tend to think of as traditionally British. Carr was much more of a city-slicker. That said, he manages to capture it perfectly. The puzzle is very cleverly done, but the thing that stayed with me afterwards was the nightmarish mood. It's as if the central hero hss taken the wrong turning and suddenly found himself in a world where everything that he believes has turned out to be wrong. It has the feel of a more modern paranoid thriller.

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    1. Oh yes, that's a great description of it - there's nothing cosy or village-y about the plot, just the setting, and that makes the contrast even sharper.

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  7. First off, that is a great top 10 Moira, I'd pretty much agree with all of them (interesting how often THE HOLLOW MAN is left off nowadays, when for so long it was, seemingly, everybody's favourite). SHE DIED A LADY is the only one that I would have to include (maybe in place of AND SO TO MURDER, but probably only sexes it has been ages since I read it). I remember thinking TILL DEATH was absolutely superb but cannot remember who did what at all now, so really look forward to reading it again - great post Moira!

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    1. Thanks Sergio - as I say above, I never took to The HOllow Man: but I do like She Died a Lady, it hovered on the edge of my list. I thought And So To Murder needs a push - I think it's a good one, love the film setting. Which should appeal to you!

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  8. Probably not someone I'm that bothered about reading TBH. A lot more you than me, I reckon.

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    1. I think you probably can safely leave John Dickson Carr to the traditionalists - so long as there are none lurking in the tubs.

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