The Witch Of The Low Tide (1961) by John Dickson Carr

The murderer had to leave the pavilion after he’d killed Glynis. He’s not there now. And in some fashion, explain it how you like, he or she or some damnable witch of the low-tide managed to leave here without leaving a single footprint in all that wet sand.

David Garth, a doctor with a secret is in love with the young widow Lady Betty Calder, but Detective Inspector Twigg has concerns about the young lady. Notably that she is a blackmailing prostitute, fresh from the finest Parisien establishments. Oh, and she’s probably a satanist too. Twigg really likes her…

Betty is accused of attacking a woman and then after fleeing into a locked cellar, vanishing without trace, but it soon becomes clear that her similar looking sister, Glynis, is in town and up to some nefarious doings. Things turn very serious when Glynis is found dead inside a beach-hut surrounded by sand that is only broken by the victim’s own footprints…

Well, after my last three post on John Dickson Carr, I felt that I just had to take a look at one of the master’s books, notably one of titles that I hadn’t read since the blog started (i.e. over ten years ago). One title that I noticed in the non-series books that didn’t get much love in the poll but that I had fond memories of was this one. It’s the final book in a very loose trilogy about the history of policing – very loose in the sense that Fire, Burn!, the first one, involves time-travel and Scandal At High Chimneys is utter rubbish.

This one is set in 1907 but you couldn’t really tell, apart from a few name-drops along the way. There’s also what seems to me to be an anachronistic over-use of a car, but only one or two characters have one, so maybe that’s realistic.

I had fond memories of this one, and I can see why, although it’s not up there with the best of his work. The central problem is cleverly done, although it is veeerrrrrryyyy similar to another book by the same author, although there is a good twist to make people look away from the murderer. Having said that, the identity of the murderer seemed a bit of an afterthought. While there is rationale as to why they did what they did, it seemed to me that while the impossibility had a clear solution, the murderer could have been one of a few characters without changing anything in the plot.

There’s a decent tension between the two sleuths, Garth and Twigg, but it does go on a bit at times with Carr padding the page count with what seems to be them engaging in a pissing contest. There is an awful lot of arguing between Garth and Betty as well, come to think of it.

At the end of the day, this is a decent enough mystery – it doesn’t come close to his best but it doesn’t come close to his worst either. If you see a copy, you could do a lot worse.

2 comments

  1. Thanks Steve, will definitely have to re-read this one. We know it’s going to be second tier Carr by the 1960s, so nobody should expect his best from the previous decades. But to me second tier Carr is so much better than the best efforts of most other detective story writers of his vintage that I can’t wait to look at it again.

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