Another Look – It Walks By Night (1930) by John Dickson Carr

The latest from the British Library Crime Classics range finally gets round to John Dickson Carr – the reason for the delay is, no doubt, he’s not actually British, but he spent a good part of his life over here. I’ve already reviewed It Walks By Night – I’ve appended the review below – but this book also contains a short story featuring Inspector Bencolin, The Shadow Of The Goat, a story that has very rarely been reprinted since it first appeared in The Haverfordian – the only reprint that I’m aware of is in The Door To Doom (which I’m lucky enough to have a copy of. #humblebrag)

The Shadow Of The Goat is an atmospheric tale of a man vanishing into thin air (twice) along with a murder or two along the way. Carr’s short tales are usually impressive, so you might expect that the unreprinted ones were the ones that fell short. You’d be wrong, though, as The Shadow Of The Goat is a great read.

It’s an atmospheric tale, with enough ideas for a novel, although the unlikelihood of the initial trick actually working possibly stopped Carr from doing that. In a short story, it can be a little easier to forgive. This is a very entertaining little story and almost worth the price of the book alone.

All in all, this is an excellent package – especially if you haven’t read the novel before. It’s not Carr’s finest work, but definitely worth your time.

And here’s my review of It Walks By Night.

“In a gambling house in Paris, the newly married Duc de Saligny is entertaining himself. But the police are in attendance because Laurent, the first husband of the Duc’s new wife and well-renowned psychopath, is allegedly on his trail. But the police, and in particular Juge D’Instruction Henri Bencolin, are in attendance, so nothing possibly could go happen. Could it?

Of course it could. Despite Saligny being seen entering a card room alone and the doors being watched, when the steward arrives to see answer the service bell, he finds Saligny’s head some distance from the rest of his body. Has Laurent found a way to spirit himself into and out of a room without being seen? Even if, as rumour has it, he is a werewolf or something similar, invisibility doesn’t tend to be one of their traits, so how could he appear and vanish without trace?

The werewolf thing disappears pretty quick. It feels like it was inserted to justify the spoooooky title, but it doesn’t serve any other real purpose. Shame really, there aren’t enough locked room mysteries with werewolves in them. They could kill someone, pretend to be a wolf-skin rug, and then sneak away when no-one’s looking. There you go, aspiring writers, you can have that one for free!

OK, back to this book. It’s my first offering for 1930 for Past Offences’ Crimes Of The Century, with at least two more to come, and was Carr’s first novel, featuring his relatively short-lived hero Bencolin, who is an insufferable know-it-all here. For some reason the narrator, Jeff Marle, puts up with him, especially given his “I’ve solved all of my cases in half-an-hour” boasting. Didn’t stop the second murder though, did it, smart-arse?

It’s funny, but I’ve less than fond memories of this one from when I first read it yonks ago. They centred around a certain gambit performed by the villain that seemed utterly ridiculous to me, but it seemed a bit more sensible this time. It is still utterly ridiculous, don’t get me wrong, but there are reasons that just about make it work – well, for almost everybody. I can’t see one character falling for it, but at least this time there’s a better reason that the abject stupidity demonstrated when Dame Agatha tried the same thing more than five years later.

So, if you can accept that and also Carr’s strange misconceptions as to how drugs work, this is a rather fun read, with a nicely complex scheme going on with a murderer that caught me out (even though I’d read it before). The impossible murder is a little straightforward at the end of the day, but it is effective given the Grand Guignol that surrounds it.

So, it’s a strong start for 1930 and for John Dickson Carr. There are a few cheap second hand copies out there, so if you haven’t read it, you should be able to pick up a copy. Proof positive that the memory cheats, this is Highly Recommended.”

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHERE – A country other than the US or UK

 

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, and I’m thinking of purchasing this one on Kindle just for the short story alone – I already own a copy of, and already have read, “It Walks by Night”.

    Good to see Carr being reprinted, not just by the British Library, but also by Polygon/Burlinn, as well as the Penzler American Classics series. Seems like BL is concentrating on Bencolin: I think Castle Skull is next?

    Like

  2. Simenon is another great British writer, when will they get to him I wonder.

    I think it was JF Norris who argued that the American style of mystery was better than the British. Not when poaching is allowed!

    Glad you liked it. I have read it, but don’t remember a thing. I do recall not much liking the Bencolin books compared to the Fell or Merrivale books.

    Like

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