Blind Man’s Hood by John Dickson Carr
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.