Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Armchair Detective

'Truly illogical', Yukawa Manabu, "Galileo"

Huh. I hadn't written anything about Carr yet?

Looking at my preference in detective novels, you'd think I'd be a big Carr fan, but I am not. Carr's The Hollow Man and The Judas Window are excellent novels in my opinion, but I just can't get very excited about Carr's works in general. Which is really weird. There are no reasons for not liking him and a lot to like him. I do want to be more enthusiastic about his works, so I'm always looking for the book which will convert me into a Carr-fan.

And I was hoping 13 to the Gallows to be that book when I started reading it. 13 to the Gallows , by Carr and Gielgud, is a collection of 4 plays by Carr en Gielgud, similar to the (excellent!) The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and other radio mysteries (Queen). It should have been the book that would have converted me, as I'm a fan of a) detective novels, b) radio dramas and c) detective radio dramas.

The last two stories in the collection, Intruding Shadow and She Slept Lightly didn't impress much, but I was very taken in by the first two stories, Inspector Silence Takes the Air and Thirteen to the Gallows. Inspector Silence Takes the Air was more Queen-ish than Carr, as the plot revolves around a gun used in a murder disappearing from a BBC studio. The setting of a BBC studio is also used in Thirteen to the Gallows which is classic Carr with a seemingly impossible murder. Both stories are great in their setting, the problem and the solution. And I quite enjoy reading detective plays.

And yet, I wouldn't say this book made me a Carr fan. I will happily recommend this book to everyone (after they've read Queen's The Adventure of the Murdered Moths...), I don't really have any complaints about this book, in fact, it features quite interesting problems. So I like it on a personal level, it's also solid on a more technical level. Heck, this book even features an introduction and notes and everything I get all happy about in book releases. And yet... it didn't convert me. Even after reading this, Carr is just "the writer who has some excellent books among his books" to me.

Therefore I conclude there is some irrational part within me that just doesn't want to get all fanboyish with Carr's work like I am with Queen's work. Or maybe it is rational, as I can only read that many books in this lifetime...

Luckily, I've already ruled the possibility I will ever like Sayers' work (except for Lord Peter Views the Body). I keep trying, but it never, ever pays off. Strong Poison, the last one I read, actually had a simple, yet effective plot. Which had its interesting parts. However, the interesting parts were either in the first chapter or the last chapter. The 20-ish chapters between those chapters were awful. This will be the last time I'll mention Sayers here. I give up on her.


  1. What's even more baffling about your lack of enthusiasm for the work of arguably the greatest mystery writer who ever lived, is that from all classic western detective stories his (and Hake Talbot's "Rim of the Pit") are the closet related to the Japanese detective story, i.e. the atmosphere conjured up by the suggestion of supernatural forces at work and seemingly impossible crimes – so by all account you should be devouring his books one after another.

    "Or maybe it is rational, as I can only read that many books in this lifetime..."

    I've only recently realize how massive and impressive the body of work is that detective writers turned out since Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and I have become aware of the impossibility of reading all the books out there, whereas I always thought that one life time would be sufficient to read all the relevant stuff – and I keep stumbling upon new writers and books that are recommended for the aficionado's of the classic detective story. * sigh *

    I need more time to read...

  2. I take it you know (of) "Time Enough At Last" ('The Twilight Zone')? :P

    At least I haven't given up on Carr. I actually have "Speak of the Devil" lying here... somewhere in the huge stack of unread books.

  3. Yes, I've seen that episode – stuff of nightmares for someone who likes to read and suffers from chronofobia. :(

    "Speak of the Devil" is an expanded and more elaborate version of "She Slept Lightly," and therefore I doubt the book will win you over to my side.

    I suggest you try one of Carr's madcap mysteries, like "The Arabian Nights Murder" and "The Punch and Judy Murders," or "The Problem of the Green Capsule," which has a plot that is somewhat comparable with early EQ (bizarre murder in front of witnesses) and another lecture by the gargantuan Dr. Fell!

  4. For now I'll just continue with the Japanese Carr, as I started reading Yokomizo's "Akuma ga kirite, fue wo fuku" ("The Devil Comes Playing His Flute") yesterday.

    Which incidentally begins with a recollection of a bank robbery by the narrator, which would be included in the Japan chapter in "Ellery Queen's International Case Book" ^_^