I’m a bit behind on reading (and reviewing) after giving a biggish knitting project that had been hanging around since early December my full attention over the last few days. I’ve finally finished it (apart from the washing and dressing bit, but close enough) and am planning an early night with Sylvia Townsend Warner, possibly followed by some more John Dickson Carr to catch up with the books again.
I got the Polygon editions of ‘She Died a Lady’ and ‘Hag’s Nook’ for Christmas, but until now all I’d read by him was the earlier Polygon reprint of The Constant Suicides which I principally remember enjoying for its humour and an enjoyably twisty plot. Reading ‘She Died a Lady’ I recognised what I’m assuming is going to be a Dickson Carr hallmark - a larger than life in every way detective.
He’s also turned out to be just the author to suit my current mood. It’s not that these mysteries are especially good - there are clues as to who did it, but there are a couple of loose ends that don’t make much sense as well. Or that the characterisation is particularly good, because it’s not. What is good is the pleasingly gothic atmosphere that Dickson Carr conjures.
In ‘She Died A Lady’ the reality of war is building through the sultry summer of 1940. People are beginning to worry but this is before rationing really kicks in or life has changed much for most people. Retired doctor, Luke Croxley is having dinner with his friends the Wainright’s, the tension increased by the presence of Mrs Wainright’s young lover. Even so their apparent suicide halfway through the evening is unexpected.
The mystery is solved by Dr Croxley and eminent barrister Sir Henry Merrivale, who is confined to an electric wheelchair due to a broken toe for most of the book. Sir Henry is the most splendid gargoyle imaginable and is used to excellent comic effect. Dr Croxley is the emotional and moral ballast to the book - a decent man who finds himself in terrible situations and dilemmas so that in the end I cared far more about him than the victims. I’m fairly sure that that’s intended and it’s another thing that makes this book something a bit out of the ordinary.
I also had an odd sense of deja vu reading it - I’m almost sure I’ve watched a film version of this, though a quick search didn’t turn anything up. I know I haven’t read it before, to many details which would have been unforgettable were new to me, but I could almost see the opening scenes in black and white. If it hasn’t been filmed it ought to be - it would be an excellent alternative to mangling Agatha Christie in search of something new.