Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Tuesday Night Club: John Dickson Carr and the flirting furs


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.
Carr logo
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:


week 4 Judas Window fur


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 JDC

I 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…

 
week 4 Reader is warned

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.
 
JDC week 4


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.)

week 4 Witch of the low-tide 2
 
 
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.























18 comments:

  1. I'm very glad you've put the focus on Carr's short stories this time, Moira. I don't always think they get enough credit, to be honest, and they are good. And you're right; he was pretty skilled at conveying clothes and fashion. I actually like his ability to create atmosphere, too, 'though I wouldn't call him a 'moody' writer.

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    1. I'm not a big fan of short stories, but I liked these - and as I say, can see myself reading them again in a few years. Excellent quick entertainment, very satisfying.

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  2. Hope you enjoy SNUFFBOX, I think it stands up with the best of his stuff and yet is in some ways quite different from his usual style. Really enjoyed this post Moira - I so rarely think of Carr and fashion and now I won't be able to stop myself checking all his reference to fabrics!

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    1. Oh good - I hope you will report back. I'm looking forward to Snuffbox with all these respected recommendations.

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  3. Oh good, glad you are going to read Snuffbox and am looking forward to your post on it. I really like JDC as a short-story writer, too. I remember being impressed by 'The Other Hangman' which he wrote as Carter Dickson.

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    1. Oh yes, I just read that one, it was very good, and very very clever. I wouldn't have guessed it was JDC if I read it blind!

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  4. The Emperor's Snuff Box is one of my favourite Carr novels so I look forward to reading your views on it next week.

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    1. I am looking forward to it - you can't all be wrong!

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  5. I'm really pleased that you enjoyed the short stories so much. I think that there's a tendency for some mystery fans to overlook short fiction, but Carr really had a talent for them and it would be a shame to forget them.

    The short stories have a real snap which makes them easily re-readable. JDC understood the need to convey everything to the reader as smoothly and as quickly as possible, and I love the economy with which he tells you all you need to know about his characters. WILLIAM WILSON'S RACKET does this particularly well: Lady Patricia is "...one of those languid ladies with a bored, blank eye and sullen underlip...she photographed perhaps better than she looked...a highly enamelled sort of beauty, and her jaw looked as hard as porcelain." You know everything that you need to know about her before she even says a word.

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    1. I did really enjoy them thanks, I am full of enthusiasam. I also have Patrick Butler for the Defence, which I think might be short stories too? And yes - his character descriptions are excellent, and from my point of view his occasional forays into clothes descriptions are equally productive of clues to character.

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  6. PATRICK BUTLER FOR THE DEFENCE is a novel, and a failed attempt to start a new series character (he appeared before this in BELOW SUSPICION). The book seems to be a bit love/hate with some of his readers, but it's definitely worth a look.

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    1. Right, I really must pick it up and try it then. I once worked with someone called Patrick Butler, and always mentally added the words 'for the defence' to his name.

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  7. I have actively been looking for a Carr to read. I have two but obviously they are not grabbing me. I can't buy until April anyway, but I will find something (from various suggested lists).

    I have also thought of trying short stories but that will wait until I read a novel or two.

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    1. The one I'm reading for next week is supposed to be one of the best, so I may be able to recommend you look out for it!

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  8. Who are you concentrating on for April?

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    1. Phoebe Atwood Taylor, American writer, really really not your thing I think...

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