Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Tuesday Night Club: John Dickson Carr’s Best Book?



John Dickson Carr Week 5


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. April author: Phoebe Atwood Taylor.

Logo courtesy of Bev Hankin.


Noah Stewart collected the links again this month:
Carr logo

The week 1 posts are gathered here.
Week 2 posts here

Week 3 posts here
Week 4 posts here





For my last John Dickson Carr entry, I chose to read a book recommended by many trusted fans. And they were so right…


The Emperor’s Snuff Box

published 1943

JDC Week 5 Emperor
 


In her bedroom Eve Neill heard the noise.

She knew who it was.

Eve was sitting before the mirror of the dressing-table, brushing her heair with slow steady sweeps of the brush/. A hanging lamp above the mirror, the only light in the room, brought out the warmth of her colouring: the fleece of chestnut hair, falling to her shoulders, and the luminousness of the grey eyes. When her head was pulled backward to the sweep of the brush, it showed the roundness of her neck above the defiant set of her shoulders. She was wearing white silk pyjamas and white satin slippers.
 
 

commentary: I had a couple of nitpicks with this book – the infuriating French policeman whose French is translated literally to tedious effect, and the fact that one of the clues is rather too much of a giveaway. But all that fades away (yes, even the fact that I had a good idea whodunit) compared with the absolute gotcha of the plot at the end – can’t spoiler, but it is perfection. A clue perfectly placed in fair sight, one whose blatancy is truly one of the cleverest tricks I have come across in 40 years of reading crime fiction. (Only to be compared with the crime book which is prefaced by one of those dreary poem extracts. At the end of the book you realize that the murderer’s name is spelt out in the first letters of the lines. No, wild horses wouldn’t drag the title from me. Does anyone else know it?)

More good things: Carr makes Eve Neill an attractive but flawed heroine, and makes her awful dilemma (is she going to let herself seem unfaithful or a murderer?) real and sympathetic.

He makes clear his disdain for any attempt to impose double standards for men and women. I liked Eve’s potential future mother-in-law encouraging her to tell the truth to their (small!) family:
‘I hope we are all broad-minded,’ said Helena. ‘that is, all except Toby and perhaps poor Maurice – a bit.’
One of the Carr short stories I read recently, The Silver Curtain, has the same French setting as the book, and he uses almost the same words – ‘the look of a town in a Walt Disney film’ to introduce it. It must have been a place Carr knew well, and I liked the sense of place in the book – the south of France, the flower shop, the two Frenchwomen, sisters, who feature in the plot.

I had already had second thoughts about a previous week’s top 10 of Carr’s books: I decided that the presence of Plague Court Murders must have been a momentary aberration – it is not one of my favourites at all. And now, easy peasy, I can drop it out and add in Emperor’s Snuff Box – which I think actually goes in at number one, outranking previous favourite The Crooked Hinge.

What a great way to end our Tuesday Night Club on John Dickson Carr

My friend Sergio has an excellent review of the book over at his Tipping My Fedora blog.

The picture is a Russian stamp issued to mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of the painter, Zinaida Serebriakova. The painting is called At the Dressing-table (The Self-portrait). As I said the first time I used it on the blog: Why can’t we have cool stamps like this in the UK?












16 comments:

  1. That's Carr for you, isn't it, Moira? That fantastic twist at the end that you don't see coming, even though he's practically told you. I think that's part of what sets his work apart. I've had quibbles with things in his work, too, but overall, he was so good at plotting...

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    1. Yes - and this wasn't even one of his impossible crime/locked room puzzles. But just SO clever. The entertainment level is pretty much guaranteed with him...

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  2. So glad you liked this one as much as I did Moira, it really is a classic. Now of course I am try to recall that poem thingamie - it'll come to me, probably, eventually, maybe ...

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    1. Aha - got you guessing! It is not a book you hear about now, it was a one off I think, but was fairly well-known in its time...

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  3. It is brilliant, isn't it? I remember the first time that I read it, getting to the twist and slapping my forehead like Homer Simpson. D'oh! Wonderful when a crime novel can trick you like that (I don't know the book where the murderers name is spelt out in the poem extract, but I do remember reading one where the murderers name is the first two words of the book).

    Carr is sometimes accused of putting plot ahead of character, but I really did find myself sympathising with, and getting angry on behalf of, Eve. You get the feeling that Carr made a real effort with the characterisation without sacrificing the plotting.

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    1. Everything about the book was great, and poor Eve's problems were beautifully done - in that early scene you really felt for her with that infuriating oaf threatening to land her in it.
      And now I'm intrigued to know which book starts with the murderer's name. Not AS name? famous author? Clues please...

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    2. There's a Christie where the murderer's name is in the first sentence and the last...

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    3. Thanks - I've got an idea for that one, will have to go and check out the books. I do remember when I was much younger 'catching sight of' just one sentence on the last page which unfortunately gave away the goods in someone's jokey remark - I wasn't trying to look, but...

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    4. You know, I keep thinking that it was an Ellery Queen, but I've been trying to remember which one it is without success. Looks like I'm going to have to check up...

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    5. It's not. It's a one-off, which might only have been published in the UK.

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  4. This one is one the short list of titles I was considering for purchase. Maybe it would be good to start with a standalone rather than one of the series books.

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    1. Yes actually it would be - no series detective, a real standalone, and absolutely superb!

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  5. Moira, I'm going to have to select any one book from yours and Sergio's reviews of Carr's books. It's not going to be easy. Still, it has been informative to read about the author and his work.

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    1. Prashant - go for this one! I really recommend it.

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  6. Glad you read this, Moira, and rate it as much as I do. I think it is my favourite so far - though I really liked The Reader is Warned, too.

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    1. Great recommendation Chrissie. I'm looking forward to reading it again one day - remembering the solution and spotting the clues. I liked The Reader is Warned, but not as much.

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