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
But Noah does get his own credit! He has collected the links to this weeks posts on Carr at his blog here.
I’m starting out by looking at one of the early books, featuring Henri Bencolin. For some reason I thought it was perhaps his first – but it was the fourth Bencolin book, and Carr published another two books the same year as well. He hadn’t yet started writing under his other name or no doubt there would have been a Carter Dickson book too. He was very prolific – the opposite of last month’s author, Dorothy L Sayers.
I wanted to read this book to compare it with another, similarly themed….
The Waxworks Murder by John Dickson Carr
The lounge was another long hall, rather narrow, and even more dimly lighted. It was hung in black velvet. Its only illumination came in scarlet glowing from the mouth and eyes of bronze figures shaped like satyrs, and holding nymphs in their arms. They were life-size these figures; they reminded me of the satyr in the waxworks, and the scarlet light from their eyes and mouths trembled with changing weirdness on the black hangings. About ten feet down, on my left, I saw great glass doors - these, I knew, led to the covered passage communicating with the big hall in the court. I caught the scent of hothouse flowers; the passage was banked with them.
The murmur of the orchestra, through these doors, grew louder. I could hear a buzz from inside, and somebody laughed breathlessly. Arm in arm, a man and a woman - both wearing black masks - drifted from the lounge through the passage. They looked hypnotized in the red-and-black swinging shadows, and the woman's lips were fixed in a faint smile. She looked old; he looked young and nervous. Another couple sat in a corner with cocktail glasses. Now suddenly the orchestra changed its tempo; it pounded with the fleshly beat of a tango, and the invisible crowd seemed to breathe with something of its murmur and hysteria. Then, in the gloom, I saw another figure.
commentary: When I blogged on Ethel Lina White’s Wax last year – a book with a splendidly creepy waxwork gallery setting – a couple of people mentioned this one, and so I chose it as the ideal opener for John Dickson Carr month. I’m a huge fan of JDC, but found this one of the rare disappointments in his work. It promised well, with a very atmospheric beginning: his sleuths out and about in Paris late at night, in nightclubs and riotous streets ‘where brothels abound’. There are grimy sinister alleyways and, of course, there is a waxworks museum run by a young woman and her father.
The high point of the book comes when the narrator wanders round the museum and admires the waxworks:
‘I wanted to see the satyr [a Parisian killer of the past]. It’s damned good, the whole expression of the satyr, and the woman in his arms –‘But there is now: and so we have the first victim. But that came on p30 of my edition, and nothing quite matched that. The atmosphere of Paris in the 20s and 30s was nicely done, the contrast between formal stuffy old families and modern young hedonists. I like the description of what a young woman wants:
Augustin’s head jerked on his neck.
‘What?’ he demanded. ‘What did you say?’
‘I said, it’s damned good: the satyr, and the woman in…’
Augustin said, like a man hypnotized: ‘You must be mad yourself. There is no woman in the satyr’s arms.’
She wants to dance all night in the Chateau de Madrid, and see the dawn come up over the Bois. She wants to drink queer concoctions in bars…; to drive fast cars, experiment with lovers, and have a flat of her own.Not so unreasonable, and JDC is (as I have pointed out in the past) usually very ready to accept young women’s sexuality. Part of the setting of this one is the Silver Key Club, a place for men and women to go to keep assignations, meet up with an illicit lover, or pick up someone new.
The book is narrated by Jeff Marle, assisting sleuth Henri Bencolin – and they can’t hold a candle to Carr’s great moments with Gideon Fell and Henry Merrivale. The deaths are mysterious but there aren’t any real locked room moments (though a couple of good clues), and – most unusually – the solution left a bad taste with me, it was a nasty story.
Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat, published in 1924, also enjoys a bit of hot stuff in Paris: his nightclub is featured in this entry:
‘She suspected they might be thinking she was going to more than powder her nose. They were, she was, who cared?’… and there’s more, with added tango, here. I’m sure Arlen would have liked the ‘fleshly beat of a tango’ phrase above. Apaches – ie Parisian underworld heavies – turn up just after the excerpt above, and the whole questions of apaches, the tango, and apache dancing got a going-over in this past entry. Click on the John Dickson Carr label below to see more from him.
Top picture is by Brassai, whose photos show him to be the true artist of Paris nightlife of the era. There’s another of his pictures in this entry.
Lower picture illustrating a book called Lucy and Their Majesties: A Comedy in Wax