Saturday, 24 December 2016

Xmas Eve: A Seasonal Ghost Story

 

Blind Man’s Hood by John Dickson Carr


from the collection Department of Queer Complaints


published 1940
 

Blind Man's Hood
 

Mr Wilkes had always been tall, and now he was finely stout. He always wore frock-coats. Though he had lost most of his hair, his beard was full and curly; he had twinkling black eyes, and twinkling ruddy cheeks, and a bluff voice.

On Christmas Eve, then – remember, I am not sure of the date [ie year] – the Fentons gave a Christmas party. The Fentons were the very nice family who had taken this house afterwards you know. There was to be no dancing, but all the old games. Naturally, Mr Wilkes was the firt of all to be invited, and the first to accept; for everything was all smoothed away by time, like the wrinkles in last year’s counterpane; and what’s past is past, or so they say. They had decorated the house with holly and mistletoe…
 
 
commentary: Earlier this year the crime fiction fans’ Tuesday Night Club chose John Dickson Carr as the subject. I asked one of my most knowledgeable commentators, ggary, which were his favourite Carr books. Amongst the list he gave me (which you can find in the comments here, and also reproduced in this post) he said this:
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 obviously I had to read it, and indeed it is a tour de force, which I have saved for Christmas because the festive atmosphere is one of the best things about it. A young couple turn up at a lonely house on Christmas Eve: the house is lit up but empty, but their hosts are unaccountably missing. The door is open, they go in. They are very relieved when a pleasant young woman greets them, and says she will explain why the house is empty.

So she tells her story. It moves the action back to Victorian times, and there is love and adultery and death. It is a gripping and sad story, beautifully done. When I thought about it afterwards I was amazed that Carr fitted so much into a very short story: the double structure, and two complex events. It is truly a seasonal masterpiece, and I am very grateful to ggary for pointing it out to me.

The perfect Christmas story.

The picture is by Carl Larsson, a detail of Christmas Eve.













10 comments:

  1. Oh, it sounds like a great Christmas tale, Moira. I've read Carr, but never this one, and it sounds as though I ought to. What is there about ghosts and Christmas? And I'm not just talking of Charles Dickens, either. There's definitely something...

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    1. Yes, nothing like a ghost story at the dark turn of the year. And I have to say, this IS a great one, and I strongly recommend it...

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    2. And it appears to actually be quite rare. I could only find five copies of any type on abebooks. I'll take your word on this one, but I have to admit I really didn't like "The Golden Spaniard." I read about the first 20 pages, flipped to near the end and read the last 20 or 30 pages. It was enough. Also enough to have guessed the surprise ending of the book...it seemed obvious to me even with as little as I read. I just couldn't get into reading glorification of Fascists -- no matter how silly. Sorry to be such a grump!

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    3. I always say I have a very high threshold for high-grade tosh, I can put up with more of it than most people, and you have just proved my point! (I have just had to have a long think about whether it's a high or a low threshold in this context. Willing to be told I am wrong.)

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  2. Still haven't read a Dickson Carr, Moira. It's interesting that there is more to this novel than the rather innocuous passage you quoted.

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    1. I saved the shocks and chills for you to discover for yourself Prashant!

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  3. I'm a great believer that a dose of Xmas chill every now and then makes the fire seem even more warm and cosy, and this story wonderfully tskes stuff like snow, country house parties, and festive games and flips them on their head to make something genuinely unsettling...until the end of the story, when all is flipped back again to make something rather solemn and beautiful.

    Ggary (because livejournal is playing up!)

    Merry Christmas Moira!

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    1. Thanks again for a perfect recommendation! What a great story. And Happy Christmas to you too...

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  4. This one sounds very good. I recently have read a Christmas short story with a ghost by Peter Lovesey that I liked. Titled The Haunted Crescent.

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    1. Oh thanks - I love to hear of them, will try to find this one. Short stories always a bit harder to track down than novels. Before now I've bought a collection to get hold of one story - and later realized I had the story already in a different collection on the shelf.

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