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
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:
- Crooked Hinge
- Case of the Constant Suicides (last week’s entry)
- He who Whispers
- Till Death us do Part
- And so To Murder
- Judas Window
- Plague Court Murders
- Curse of the Bronze Lamp
- He wouldn’t Kill Patience
- The Devil in Velvet
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 Part1944
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.