Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Black Spectacles - John Dickson Carr

This is the first book I've managed to finish since the beginning of September - it's been full on at work, mum had Covid and then ended up in hospital after vomiting blood, all the gynecology appointments I spent over a year waiting for have landed at once, and D has a cold that's making him very unhappy. I can't handle a cold either so I'm genuinely sympathetic on this one but it all takes up time and energy. It's barely been a month and I'm desperate for another holiday - it seems like a long haul until January when i next officially have a week off. 

Stress and a general lack of sleep have gifted me with a perpetual headache which is not conducive to reading either, and definitely not conducive to reading elaborate impossible crime plots - but I do love John Dickson Carr, so although it took me a while I really enjoyed this one. 

Someone has poisoned a box of chocolate creams in Sodbury Crosses sweet shop, one child has died and others were very ill. Suspicion has fallen a young woman - as a fan of Fry's chocolate creams since an early age this is a plot I take seriously - Marjorie Wills has no reason to poison people but there are circumstances that connect her to the chocolates and it's more than enough to rose both suspicion and enmity. 

Her uncle takes her away for a break, but as soon as soon as they return home so does the hostility towards her. There's a fiance who doesn't seem quite satisfactory, a policeman who is fascinates with her (a very Carr touch) and of course, Doctor Fell in all his glory (I imagine him as a kind of human walrus). The uncle is in the process of trying to prove how the poison might have been administered when he's murdered in plain sight, and soon there's another corpse. The atmosphere is almost hysterical at this point - you can almost hear a chant of Burn the Witch going up and Dr. Fell will have his work cut out to untangle everything.

Of course, he does it, and the solution is ingenious. The person I most wanted to be guilty was, even if I couldn't see until the explanation quite how they were. That's possibly due to not feeling any too bright at the moment - someone reading a bit more intelligently could have worked out the clues rather better I think. In the process there's a really good portrait of a manipulative abuser operating in plain sight and mostly with the approval of others who cannot see their behavior for what it is. 

The portrait of Marjorie as a woman on the edge is deftly done too - Carr saves his gothic flourishes for Gideon Fell and some of the details surrounding the muder victims. It's a smart balancing act that makes for for more sophisticated and nuanced plotting than some of his more outrageous mysteries. It's easy to see why this one is considered a masterpiece and amongst the greatest impossible crime stories of all time. 

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