The Ghosts’ High Noon (1970) by John Dickson Carr

New Orleans, 1912, and Jim Blake, journalist and novelist, has arrived to do a story on his namesake, James Clairbone (Clay) Blake, a candidate for congress in the upcoming election. But there is an unnamed threat to Blake’s (the second one) ambitions and Blake (the first one) is determined to get to the bottom of it.

Obstacles stand in the way – first, Blake (still the first one) has only gone and fallen in love with the first woman he sees, who just happens to be heading from New York to New Orleans on the same train. Second, an impossible murder of Blake (still the first one)’s friend – everything points to suicide apart from the lack of gun. And third, he has to try and stay awake through all this tedious guff…

No, I didn’t enjoy this one. I didn’t really hate it either… it was just sort-of there. I picked it up in Hay-On-Wye a couple of months ago, to add to my collection of first editions of second and third-tier Carr titles. I don’t think I’d quite realised how late a title it was – it was Carr’s antepenultimate title, with only Deadly Hall and The Hungry Goblin to follow.

I’m not going to say much about this, other than it was a struggle to get through. The entire first section is meeting more and more different people with nothing much actually happening. If there had been a quiz as to who is who and doing what to whom at the end of the first section, I’d have failed miserably. The review of this one over on The Green Capsule points out how much of the tale is told in dialogue, and it really didn’t work for me. Oh, there is an impossible knock on the door at one point. And that’s got a really crap solution…

Anyway, eventually someone gets killed in an impossible kind of way and there’s a bit of romance, and then a bleedingly obvious solution to the impossibility that it beggars belief that the police wouldn’t have spotted. Oh, and someone did the murder, but at that point, I’d stopped caring.

I’ll admit, with trying to keep work running as smoothly as possible and just the general terror of the incompetent-government/global-pandemic convergence, I don’t have the attention span that I usually do, but this really didn’t help. Carr wrote some magnificent books. This is not one of them – not his worst, but definitely one of his dullest…

19 comments

  1. Was the solution to the knock on the door something akin to a tree branch tapping on it…
    Sorry to see you’ve had some not so good reads lately. Though if it’s any consolation I have had quite a few too lately. Not necessarily dire awful but just not as good as I was hoping.

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  2. Really sorry that this was such a downer (and that Kate has been stuck with a few lately, too) but since I’ve been voraciously reading any Golden Age (or so) mysteries I can in lieu of a real life or writing, I do appreciate being warned away.

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  3. I read this maybe a year ago and really have to stretch to remember much about it other the train, the cars, and the core impossibility. There are certainly worse Carr novels, but not much worthwhile in this one.

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  4. Puzzle Doctor – thanks for warning me off this one. It reiterates to me that I’ll stop reading Fell after The Sleeping Sphinx and Merrivale after The Skeleton in the Clock. Life is too short and my TBR pile too big to read meh books.

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      • I’d go a little further – Night At a the Mocking Widow is decent enough (although Crimson Blind and Cavalier’s Cup are poor) and for Fell, In Spite Of Thunder and Panic In Box C are fine. The last was my first Carr novel – didn’t do me any harm.

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  5. I read this again this evening, and have to admit I still rather liked it, Perhaps the author of the article has forgotten just how bloody tedious the preambles of authors in the late 90’s and the first ten years of the 1900s tended to be(Fergus Hume for instance). I have always preferred Mr Dickson Carr’s works set in London or Paris and have thought the American based stuff a bit lacking. Let us not forget Carter Dixon and the great HM. I have been reading these for a very long time and am prejudiced in favour.

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  6. I read this a long, long time ago, when I was 14; I thought it was OK, but not outstandingly so. Mike Grost’s a fan:

    “Carr’s comeback continued, and in 1969 he published a genuine mystery classic, The Ghost’s High Noon. Although a “historical” novel, the book is actually set in the world of Carr’s childhood, the only Carr novel so placed. The book contains a well done impossible crime, that while by no means as good as The Three Coffins, say, is still a real achievement. This book makes a fine Last Hurrah for Carr’s career. He published only two more detective novels, and some well informed mystery criticism in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, that should be collected and made available.”
    (http://mikegrost.com/carr.htm)

    Deadly Hall, Carr’s penultimate book, is much better, even if the opening is slow. Clever method, well-concealed murderer. In fact, I enjoyed Deadly Hall so much I read Ghosts’ High Noon straight after.

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