Patrick Butler For The Defence (1956) by John Dickson Carr

Hugh Prentice is a junior partner of a law firm and finds himself in trouble when a mysterious individual going by the name of Abu of Ispahan arrives to discuss a private matter. Needless to say that while Abu is waiting for Hugh, he is stabbed. Unfortunately, nobody could have entered the office to commit the murder, so suspicion falls on Hugh.

And obviously the thing to do when you’re suspected of murder is to run around London with an insufferable arse of a lawyer, Patrick Butler, his deeply odd female companion, Lady Pamela de Saxe and at times, Hugh’s fiancée, Helen. One series of misadventures later, some of them even relating to the murder, and… oh, I can’t be bothered to finish the synopsis. This is not a good book.

Last time I tried to finish a review at that point, some readers were not impressed, so let’s take a look at this one. At this point, Carr had plenty of books still to come but not many that are thay highly regarded – none of them made the next round of my Carr poll, and I only rate Fire, Burn! (a bit) and The Witch Of The Low Tide. Carr makes the decision to promote Butler from support in Below Suspicion to lead, despite him being an unpleasant (and at times misogynistic) sleuth. It doesn’t help that Hugh isn’t that charming either – in fact, the only lead character with any interest about them is Pamela, and you have to get through a lot of irritating dialogue from her before we get to that bit.

As for the plot, it feels like a short story that has an adventure shoe-horned into the middle of it, an adventure that does little to advance the plot and is, to be honest, pretty tedious. It feels like an attempt to replicate the atmosphere of The Punch and Judy Murders – that one’s not a favourite of mine but it’s streets ahead of this one.

Ah, I have better things to do than to keep kicking this one. It’s terrible, so move along, nothing to see here…

6 comments

  1. Yeah, this one isn’t high in the oeuvre. Largely because so many characters are, as you say, insufferable.

    Still, is there anything to be said about the mystery and its solution, separately from all that? Is it ingenious or surprising? Is it fairly presented? (I remember one thing about the solution from my long-ago reading, but I doubt I’ll pluck it off the shelf now to check my memory. Life is short.)

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    • I second the Puzzle Doctor’s assessment on this. The puzzle element is marred by Hugh’s greater need to solve his love life out, than solving the murder case to prevent his arrest. An instance where S S Van Dine’s ruling on romance in detection fiction has a point. Patrick is somewhat repellent, though in the annoying stakes, Hugh comes a very close second. I think the puzzle element is also marred by the fusion of styles Carr uses mixing in thriller and gothic components into his detective novel. I didn’t think the story was fairly clued and some of the most important detective work takes place off stage. So yes I think your decision to leave PBFTD on the defence a good idea lol

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  2. Thank you for the time you put into reading and reviewing this book. I appreciate your consistent insights and honest. Stay safe, andy kelley

    Sent from my iPad

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  3. I don’t think this one is bad, although I’d never recommend it to anyone. The murder mystery is somewhat weak – much more appropriate for a short story. The actual plot is enjoyable though. Yes, it’s similar to The Punch and Judy Murders in a sense, although lacking that excellent situational comedy. I’d suggest it’s a bit closer to the action angle that Carr started with Below Suspicion and worked into his historical work. The romance isn’t great, and the way it concludes is probably the most ridiculous part of the book.

    Overall, an engaging enough read and more enjoyable than much of what I read by other authors. Patrick Butler is no saint, but not as annoying as I see him made out to be. The other novel with him – Below Suspicion – is quite a bit better, especially from a mystery angle.

    Patrick Butler for the Defense is miles better than The Dead Man’s Knock, which came two years later. This may well be his last good enough contemporary mystery, although I still have to read In Spite of Thunder.

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  4. Your love for this one is pretty similar to my feelings towards the latest Paul Halter, doc.
    I know PBftD is not one of the great impossible crime novels, but if you consider it a fast paced adventure like Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights instead of a pure detective novel, you’ll find it to be a much more rewarding experience.
    Even then, there’s a nifty piece of misdirection on how the deed was done and the suspect is not obvious enough for Carr to cheat in order to hide him/her (you know what I’m talking about).
    There’s an interesting thing I noticed about Patrick. In this novel he makes less mistakes than in Below Suspicion, so he’s smug as hell all the time…until you read the final lines of the novel, that is. Seems like Carr decided to throw a funny knockout punch his way instead of little jabs here and there.
    All things considered, I’d give the novel three and a half stars.

    To Green Capsule (Ben, was it?). In Spite of Thunder is a good book. It might not rest amongst the classics, but it utterly destroys something like Deadly Hall. Try it.

    Liked by 1 person

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