He Wouldn’t Kill Patience by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr

He Wouldn't Kill PatienceWe’ve all had those days. Carey Quint meets the last surviving member of the family with who his family has been feuding (over a stolen magic trick no less) in the reptile house of a small private zoo. He loses his temper, throwing a zookeeper into a glass case, setting a couple of lizards free, which also happens to upset the visiting Sir Henry Merrivale. They all get dragged off to the house of Edward Benton, the owner of the zoo but luck is with him. He ends up with an invite to dinner instead of any repercussions for vandalism and assault.

Of course, it’s not that simple. When he and his rival magician Madge Palliser arrive with Sir Henry Merrivale, the house is deserted. As an air raid starts, a cry goes out that there is a light on at the back of the house. They discover a room where every crack is sealed with tape from the inside and Benton lies dead inside, having gassed himself. His daughter, on finding her father declares that he couldn’t have killed himself because Patience, a valuable Bornean tree-snake, was killed in the room too, and “He wouldn’t kill Patience”

Some things have dated about this book. Let me quote the great H.M. for a moment, giving some romantic advice to our hero.

If she starts raggin’ you, son, you just wallop her one. That’s the way to treat wenches when they get out of hand.

Actually, I take back the dated comment. How the hell was that an acceptable thing for our hero to say even in the middle of the war? It’s completely appalling and really took the shine off this book. You can also add in an inappropriate use of the term rape as well, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t changed its definition over the last seventy odd years. And Carr doesn’t seem to know what a misogynist is…

Right, that’s the moan out of the way. Let’s have a look at the rest of the book.

It’s one of the more highly regarded of the H.M. books. The locked room is one of the cleverest and also simplest of the author’s ideas. Yes, mistaking SPOILER with a SPOILER is arguably unlikely, but as I’ve never encountered one of the things, it may well be possible. There are certainly plenty of clues knocking around none of which give the solution away, but I think it can be worked out.

I was looking forward to this one, as I’d completely forgotten whodunit – oddly, the murderer still didn’t leap to the fore of my memory as I read it, but unfortunately, it’s blooming obvious. The misdirection is unsubtle as well.

If you can overlook the aforementioned quote, then there’s a lot to like here. While Quint is a bit annoying at times, things jolly along nicely, with the Old Man on good form, and the denouement is pure Merrivale as he puts his life on the line (or does he?) to extract a confession. A bit silly, but entertaining, nonetheless.

So, a better impossibility than My Late Wives but a much more obvious killer (to me at least).  Well worth a look.



  1. I really must re-read this one as I remember liking it a tremendous amount (I love magic) but have no idea who did (just how)- but I really, really don’t think you are supposed to take HM’s outrageous advice on women seriously, but rather as an ‘homage’ to Noel Coward’s infamous quote about gongs in “Private Lives” – it’s not like anybody actually gets walloped after all!


  2. I’m like Cavershamragu — I remember enjoying this a lot and I remember the basic setup, including the snake, but nothing else whatsoever about the book. I must try it again sometime, preferably sooner rather than later.

    The “wallop her one” line is pretty vomitworthy, I agree. On the other hand, it’s HM saying it, not Carr. If it were Fell saying it rather than HM I’d be a bit more worried. I’ve always had the odd feeling that some of the time Carr quite disliked HM, though I couldn’t explain why I’ve felt this.


  3. I tend to go along with the idea that it’s meant to be HM being outrageous, rather than Carr revealing his attitude towards women (if you read Doug Greene’s biography of Carr, he comes across as anything but a misogynist). It’s like the bit in NIGHT AT THE MOCKING WIDOW where HM is asked by a bunch of kids if he has any cigarettes that he can give them. “You shouldn’t be smoking cigarettes” he tells them, and starts handing out his cigars instead!

    I wouldn’t put it in the first rank of Carr, but it’s a good, enjoyable read, and like THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES the Wartime setting is fascinating.


  4. This is quite good and enjoyable, one of my favourites. A page turner and unputdownable. Often humorous.
    I agree that the locked room solution is very clever and also simple.
    It is also well-clued.
    Regarding “mistaking SPOILER with a SPOILER”, I agree that unless one has actually encountered both at that time, one should not argue.
    Regarding “an inappropriate use of the term rape”, where does it occur?


    • Quint says to himself that under the influence of the gas, he nearly raped Madge. Seemed to me to trivialise what is a serious crime which I would have hoped would have been treated seriously 75 years ago as well. Or maybe he was serious, in which case he’s more unstable than I thought!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think he’s being humourous here. The character is talking to himself at this point and given that he’s already thrown an annoying but innocent man into a reptile case (containing a poisonous Gila Monster) one has to question his mentality.


      • The book is presently not available with me as it has been borrowed by someone. I will check it up after it is returned.
        However, I also have an ebook version and there is absolutely no reference to rape in it. Perhaps it has been removed. The first page of the ebook states that it is International Polygonics 1988 edition. Moreover, when Carey is alone in the theatre, Madge NEVER shows up there. She simply telephones in the morning.


      • Yes, it has been removed from the ebook version. The para in the ebook reads as:
        “With regard to the first count, Carey decided, he was definitely in the dog-house. She hadn’t let him take her home last night after the group broke up: “home”, that is, to her own flat above the Isis Theatre. A polite divisional detective inspector (D Division, Paddington) had kept them all there until one o’clock in the morning, patiently repeating questions which did nothing except reduce nerves to rags.”
        I will check the book later.


      • Actually, it is not much of an issue with me. It is what is known as hyperbole.
        In fact, I found the prologue of the Martin Edwards book which you recently reviewed much more offensive—–pornographic stuff !


      • I think that the word rape shoudn’t be used so casually, hyperbole or not.

        The Martin Edwards book is a different kettle of fish entirely as it never presents itself as a humorous mystery. The scene in question sets the tone for what to expect.

        But everyone has different sensibilities and the world would be a dull place if they were all the same.


      • The book has been returned to me and I find that there is absolutely no reference to rape in it . It is International Polygonics Ltd. 1988 edition. Thus it seems that the offending sentence has been removed, which should be satisfying to you.


      • Yes and no. Part of me is pleased that modern publishers spot this sort of thing, but part of me prefers that books ate left unedited. Just wish Carr hadn’t said it in the first place, really. Anyone got a spare time machine?


  5. Hi Puzzle Doctor,

    1) do you read Detective Conan?
    2) What is your favorite Maigret novel?
    3) Who do you think is smarter/a better detective between SFX Van Dusen and Sherlock Holmes?


    • To answer the questions:

      1) Never heard of it until you mentioned it.
      2) I think I read a Maigret novel once upon a time… no recollection of it though. I think Sergio over at bloodymurder.wordpress.com is better informed on that one than I am,
      3) I’ve only read a couple of Thinking Machine short stories (and, to be honest, not all of the Sherlock Holmes ones) as I’m not a fan of writers who don’t give the reader enough information to work out the killer for themselves. So I’ll say neither due to lack of knowledge.

      Sorry not to be able to help.


  6. I dunno. I think this one’s a complete duffer. But then I hate Carr’s “humourous” bickering couples, so this was never going to be a favourite. They’re even more annoying than the wazzocks in Case of the Constant Suicide!

    But it’s not just them. The killer is one of Carr’s flattest characters, and the impossible crime is simultaneously obvious and ridiculous. I don’t care how similar those two things are (although I’d bet good money they weren’t), even if they were indistinguishable when motionless, it’s really obvious when something like that is moving and when it isn’t. Let alone the distances/directions involved. Maybe one person could be mistaken, but a whole group?

    And thanks for calling out out all the casual misogyny. It’s really offputting in so many of Carr’s books.


  7. Puzzle Doctor, why do some people think you are a kid ?
    I remember another occasion when you were asked whether you were a boy or a girl !


      • Um… who thinks I’m a kid? If you’re referring the Manga comment from sherlupin, plenty of adults (not me) like that sort of thing – if you look at the follow up question, then not many kids would know who SFX Van Dusen is. I barely remembered…


      • I find that Lucy is an eight year old girl comic character. Any specific reason for this picture ? Or shoudn’t I ask ?


      • It was sent to me, as one of her things (I gather – I don’t read Snoopy) is that she runs a booth with a sign saying The Doctor Is In. They adjusted it to add the “In Search Of The Classic Mystery Novel” to the top of it. Of course as the only place it appears is now is as my icon thingy (it used to be in the header), you can’t read the writing any more.


  8. Do you know the back story of how the book came to be written? I see that no one mentions it above, which is why I wonder. It’s connected to who the book is dedicated to.


      • I’m afraid that I haven’t read the bio, and I can’t remember where I did read this–it was long ago. Clayton Rawson had come up with the impossible situation used in his short story “From Another World”, which is probably his most anthologized story. He wrote to Carr telling him the set-up of the story, but not the solution, and Carr then wrote “Patience” as his solution to it. As a result, Carr dedicated the book to Rawson. The two stories have the same impossible situation, but the solutions are completely different.


      • Yes, it is mentioned in the biography by Douglas Greene.
        In the Clayton Rawson story, a rich man whose most recent obsession was ESP is found murdered in a locked room sealed with gummed tape from inside. However, the difference is that an unconscious bikini clad medium is also found in the room. The suspicion falls on her.


      • Carr’s solution is clever, especially given that he was handed the problem by Rawson, but Rawson’s is clever, too, and more elegant. Also, Carr’s solution, like a lot of his solutions, is rather silly if you think about it.


      • I don’t see any elegance in Rawson’s solution. What if the woman had regained consciousness earlier…? Also, to do the thing with the book at the precise moment the door was forced open without detection would be virtually impossible.


      • I guess elegance is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t remember the details of the unconscious woman, but magicians do things like the book business all the time successfully. Anyway, you can nitpick any of these stories to death if you want to.


  9. The rape comment is not in my copy either, a Swedish translation from 1974.

    I liked the book. They mystery was a good one and its solution was clever and simple, barring the issue the doctor spotted. A modern reader at least would be hard-pressed to guess that the mistake was possible (especially for people who have previously seen the same SPOILER used), but to be fair there were plenty of clues pointing towards SPOILER.

    The introduction of Carey Quint is rather odd if he is supposed to be sympathetic, Carr could be amazingly amoral as an author, but after that I rather like both him and Madge and their romance.

    Liked by 1 person

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