In Spite Of Thunder (1960) by John Dickson Carr

1939, Berchtesgaden. When visiting Hitler’s Eagles’ Nest, Eve Eden’s fiancé seemingly flung himself to his death from a balcony. No one was near him at the time, but questions persisted about Eve’s involvement in his death.

Years later, and Eve is married to actor Desmond Ferrier. She assembles a group at her villa in Geneva, many of who were in Berchtesgaden, but it seems the past has long shadows with dangerous things hidden within it. After a clumsy attempt to murder Eve with a perfume bottle filled with acid, death does strike as someone plummets once again from a balcony with no one near. Brian Innes is desperate to save the woman he has been in love with for years, Audrey, from being blamed for the death – but it will take Dr Gideon Fell to find the truth.

At this point in John Dickson Carr’s career, he was favouring his historical mysteries as opposed to his more traditional detective novels. Gideon Fell had only made one appearance in the 1950s, in The Dead Man’s Knock, and Sir Henry Merrivale’s last appearance was in 1953. Fell would return three more times after this, but the complexity of Fell’s great works is woefully absent from this one. You really feel that Carr’s heart wasn’t in it, especially when you read this.

The set-up is intriguing enough – how could someone fall from a balcony under observation – twice – but it’s only a small part of the plot, and the solution is amazingly weak for Carr, relying heavily on chance and coincidence. The majority of the plot seemed to consist of people arguing until Fell, who is off-page for quite a lot of the book, decides to reveal the not-desperately-interesting truth.

It’s odd, I had memories of enjoying this one the first time I read it, and I’d forgotten almost everything about it (as the first and only time that I read it was at least fifteen years ago). Apologies to anyone to whom I’ve uttered the phrase “In Spite Of Thunder is all right” too. This time, it just came across as tiresome, with people hiding the truth and lying about inconsequential matters just to prolong events. And I found one part of the method of hiding the murderer somewhat lazy – far from unique amongst classic crime writers, but lazy for Carr.

All in all, I’ll have to tag this as a disappointment. I’m a bit trepidatious now about revisiting other late Fell books. I have fond memories of Panic In Box C – I do hope that the memory isn’t cheating there too…

19 comments

  1. It happens that this and Panic in Box C (and some other Carr from the same years) were among the earliest ones I read — just by happenstance; they were the first ones I found or acquired. They seemed pretty good at the time. On rereading, after a decade or two, not so much.

    Like

    • Panic In Box C was my very first Carr novel and I thought it wonderful at the time. I read this one quite late in my first run through Fell – maybe I read it directly after The Blind Barber, as that makes anything look good (NB the memory might be cheating on that one too)

      Like

      • I would find The Blind Barber a lot more enjoyable if everyone in the story wouldn’t keep insisting what a fantastically hilarious romp it was. (That’s how I remember it, anyway.) Nothing kills (attempted) comedy faster than the teller digging you in the ribs and exclaiming what a laugh it all is.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What I miss most in the later Carr books is the delighted glee that suffuses the earlier works. Post-war Carr is much more sober minded. Almost tired by comparison, lacking the sense of fun, and playfulness.

    Like

  3. I found this one disappointing as well when I read it in 2015. From my review: “Honestly, this is the most exasperating book. Not only did I feel as though I were in the middle of a shouting match for the entirety of the thing, but conversations that weren’t annoying for their emotional tenor were just down-right confusing. The characters (when not shouting, though sometimes even when shouting) tend to speak in half-sentences and non-sequiturs. Between the shouting and the rather incoherent speaking style, it seemed that Carr must have felt that he needed to distract the reader with all the language and emotional hocus-pocus just in case the impossible crime wasn’t mysterious enough and we all figured it out.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I doubt anyone will figure it out because it’s such a dull solution that doesn’t really make sense anyway… I think that might be what Carr was trying to distract from

      Like

  4. Like you, PANIC IN BOX C was my first Fell mystery and I still think it may hold up as I recall the solution quite well in fact, usually a good sign for me 🙂 (my first ever Carr was the Merrivale classic, THE READER IS WARNED). I also remember thinking this one was fine when I read it about 20 years ago but can’t remember much at all now. Hmmm

    Like

  5. Why is the film poster for the Alfred Hitchcock 1953 film “I Confess” — w/ Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter—the cover to this John Dickson Carr novel???

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.