The Seat Of The Scornful aka Death Turns The Tables by John Dickson Carr

Seat Of The ScornfulTo describe Judge Ireton as arrogant would be something of an understatement. His daughter, Constance, introduces her fiancé Tony Morrell to him, and the Judge immediately (well, once Constance is out of the room) offer £3,000 for the undesirable Morrell to clear off and never bother her again. Morrell agrees and they resolve to meet again the next night to conclude their business.

The next night, a phone message is received from Judge Ireton’s study – a cry for help and then the sound of a bullet being fired. When reaching the house, the body of Morrell is found on the floor with the Judge sitting next to it holding a gun.

Could the Judge really be so confident that he can shoot a man in his own house and get away with it? Or is there someone out there determined to frame him? Only Gideon Fell himself can get to the bottom of things.

Why this one? Well, that’s one of the temptations of having your entire book collection laid out on the floor of your study. I fancied a Carr and picked this one because you don’t often see much said about it. It’s not considered a classic – possibly due to the lack of an impossible crime – but it’s not mentioned as one of the worst – The Problem Of The Wire Cage, The House At Satan’s Elbow, etc. So what can we say about it?

It actually seems at times that we’re reading a pre-cursor of Columbo as we seem to be presented with the murderer who seems to be challenging Fell to prove their guilt. As the story progresses, there becomes more and more doubt that the Judge is the killer and more viable suspects are presented.

We’ve got some of the Carr staples here, notably the lovebirds who suddenly realise that they are perfect for each other, but Fell is in rather restrained form – we get a couple of “Archons of Athens!”  but that’s about it.

The puzzle is rather a clever one, and I’d be impressed if anyone could work the whole thing out. It’s fairly clued and a really enjoyable read. Highly Recommended…

… but, without spoiling anything, there is some very bizarre behaviour on the last few pages from Fell. It’s not the only time he does something similar, but in this case, it seems completely motiveless. Very odd, but don’t let it spoil the rest of the book for you.


  1. The ending has, i think always been the sticking point for a lot of readers and it made me uneasy at the time, but it was a Carr characteristic (he had a very personal sense of what was just you might say) – must re-read it too – thanks Steve.


  2. I like this one a lot. I recommend this Carr mystery to anyone who disliked him on their first reading because of his tendency to include over-the-top farcical scenes. There’s only one in this book – the pool party. It’s so much more somber than any of his other books. So much to appreciate here, especially the re-enactment of the bizarre murder in the final pages. I have no problem with the ending. I think Dr. Fell expects a psychological punishment will follow the culprit for the rest of their life not to mention their career will be ruined. I can think of similar endings in the works of J. J. Connington, Gladys Mitchell (at least three times!), Patricia Wentworth and even the Grand Dame herself.


  3. I agree that the puzzle is clever and it is an enjoyable read. But the bizarre behaviour on the part of Fell at the end spoiled it for me.


  4. Pretty much agree about both the cleverness of the puzzle, and the slight weirdness of the conclusion. One of the things that struck me was the scene where the heroine goes for a late night swim in an indoor swimming pool. It is so close to a scene in the classic 40s Horror movie CAT PEOPLE that I have to wonder whether the scriptwriter/director had read the book before making the movie (the book came out a year before the film).


  5. Psychological punishment? For a ruthless killer ?
    I was just seeing the film Circus Of Fear (1966) recently reviewed by Cavershamragu. Here a character named Carl says, “Justice can’t be cheated. A person who kills in cold blood does not deserve to live in freedom.”


    • Justice is cheated on a daily basis all over the globe. Obviously you require ideal endings in your fiction. I don’t. And I’m not about to enter into a discussion of my personal moral and ethical beliefs about fit punishments for murderers. But if I did I wouldn’t start by quoting a horror movie to support my beliefs.


      • I quoted from the movie only because I had just finished seeing the movie and the statements came readily to my mind. I can give more forceful arguments against the behaviour of Dr. Fell but I don’t want to enter into a discussion.
        And, I do not require ideal endings in fiction, but I do require just behaviour on part of the main character..


  6. I’ve got this one on my towering TBR pile (thanks to John’s recommendation that it needed to be read). Glad to see another positive review from you, Steve. You and John always point me towards good ones.


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