He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

He Who WhispersThe war has ended and for the first time in years, The Murder Club reconvenes in London. Miles Hammond is invited along by none other than Dr Gideon Fell, but when he arrives, he finds that no-one from the Club has arrived. Only he and a mysterious woman, Barbara Morrell, are there to hear the tale of Professor Rigaud. He tells of the death of Howard Brookes, stabbed with his own sword-stick, while along on top of a tower. The only suspect is Fay Seton – but the only reason that she is a suspect is because of the stories about her. For only a vampire could float on air to the top of the tower…

Hammond finds the story intriguing and sets out to find out more, by hiring Fay as a librarian for his collection. But strange events seem to follow her about – not least when his sister is almost literally scared to death while alone in her first floor room…

Another novel from the Golden Age and after the disappointing Castle Skull, I figured it was worth giving John Dickson Carr another shot. And what better book to try than the highly rated He Who Whispers? Can it possibly live up to its reputation?

That’s not a completely stupid question. There are plenty of “classic” mystery novels that I don’t think live up to their reputations. There are a number of highly regarded Poirot novels, such as Cards On The Table or Murder On The Orient Express that I don’t particularly rate and I feel similarly about Carr’s own The Crooked Hinge. Often “highly rated” is interchangeable with “memorable” – it’s rare to see “Til Death Do Us Part” on many “best of” lists (it’s on mine!), as it’s an extremely well done locked room mystery but without any bizarre events, if you know what I mean. He Who Whispers is “the one with the vampire”, but is that the only reason that it’s rated?

Of course not – it’s a brilliant read.

I’m reluctant to go into any real detail about this one, as I’d really hate to get anywhere close to a spoiler for this one. The characters are very well done, especially as Carr is dealing with a certain psychological issue, which he does in a surprisingly sensitive way. The plot is outstanding – extremely well-plotted with so many clues hidden in plain sight. This really is Carr at the height of his powers. There is one massive coincidence, but every good mystery should be allowed one of those.

So, to summarise, if you are a fan of classic mysteries, you simply MUST read this book. It’s right up there with Carr’s very best – Til Death Do Us Part, The Problem Of The Green Capsule, She Died A Lady, The Judas Window, etc. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of those, then you will love this book.


It’s available as an ebook (although not cheaply) or a paperback (even less cheaply). I’d suggest a trawl around second-hand shops – as you can see it’s available as a Green Penguin, although I wouldn’t pay the £18.50 that someone is asking on eBay for such an edition. Abebooks has some reasonably priced copies that can be imported from the US for about £6-7. Happy hunting!


  1. I think Carr even singled this one out for praise as I recall – but I’m with you, it’s been ages since I read it (in Italian in fact) but I thought it was one of the greats – really want to re-read it now – thanks Steve!


  2. Read it again last year. Superb. It was just as enjoyable the second time around, partly because it was now possible to see how cleverly some of the tricks had been played.You’re right, though: the quality of the writing is really very high. The characters are well done, and the description of post-war London is fascinating–people unable to quite believe that the conflict was over, but anxious to find stuff that had survived the war. The stuff at the beginning of the novel, with the hero attending the first meeting of the Murder Club since the beginning of the war, sounds suspiciously like Carr attending the Murder Club for the first time in 5 years in 1945.


  3. I read this book about 2 years back and I regard it as a masterpiece, a must for mystery fans. I have read all Carr’s books and if I have to rate those, this book will certainly come in the top three. I rate this higher than even “ The Three Coffins” (which in my opinion contained a serious flaw—the time mix up of 40 minutes, clearly absurd).
    The book is a page turner and it is difficult to put down the book till the end. It is very well clued without any flaw.
    In creation of supernatural atmosphere , Carr is at his best here.
    Incidentally, a woman is expected to die soon in this book. If any reader is distressed at this, let me assure him that she does not die. Twenty years later, she is mentioned as being alive and well and married in another book by Carr (Panic in Box C).


    • Aw, that’s good to know, although imho it deflates the ending a bit knowing that. And I agree, this is better than The Hollow Man, although it’s the silly things like the mask that annoy ne about yhat one. Must have a look at it again though as the one thing that had bugged me about this one turned out not to be me misremembering sonething and wasn’t actually in the book.


      • Interesting. I think I’ll have to read the book again, in case I’m doing the same thing. It’s weird how easy it is to have an exaggerated reaction to a particular aspect of a book, or even completely imagine flaws that don’t exist.

        So, my (confused) reaction, with reservations:

        I agree that this is a very well-constructed mystery, although I think the identity of the murderer is pretty obvious, at least in an “I don’t know why, but that’s who I’d make the murderer if I was writing this” way. If I was going to criticise the impossible crime aspects, I’d say that one murder technique is rather far-fetched, while the other is a bit banal. But I think the atmosphere more than compensates for that.

        But my (very strong) memory of the book is that it’s neither well-written nor sensitive. In fact, I remember finding Fay’s behaviour so improbable, annoying and tactlessly handled that I almost stopped reading, even though I was quite near the end.

        I don’t think I’m particularly precious, and it’s not like I hadn’t read a lot of Carr at that point, so I knew how he tends to approach characterisation. And of course giving up would have meant not finding out the solution to one of Carr’s most intriguing setups! So that was a really strong negative reaction, all things considered.

        But maybe I was having a really, really off day? It was probably four or five years ago that I read it, so the details of exactly why I reacted like that are very hazy… Which makes my criticism completely toothless! All I know is that’s what I remember feeling.


      • My mis-remembering was plot-wise. I was under the impression that the victim climbed to the top of the tower only to be found dead on it, rather than being left on top of the tower. I’ll say no more, but the former required something superhuman that I didn’t believe could be done. And, in fact, wasn’t.

        As for the characterisation, I may be influenced by the fact that it’s usually Carr’s weakest point and therefore any attempt beyond the basic has to be applauded, but I don’t think so. But I have been reading a lot of Golden Age recently and characterisation is a common weakness – maybe this was just better than the norm at the time…


  4. This was one of the first Carr books I owned. Which means I read it way too many moons ago to really remember it well. I do know that I enjoyed it enough to make me search out more Carr books over the years. It’s a shame that you don’t think highly of Castle Skull….I’ve still go that one on my To Read list. It will be interesting to see if I think any better of it than you do.


  5. I reread it this week, having only the dimmest memory of it. It’s a grand bit of mystification and it fooled me (again I presume). I do rate several of the other novels higher, especially Judas, Till Death, and She Died. So not a top 5 for me but certainly top 10.

    I found in ebook form.


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