The Reader is Warned, by John Dickson Carr writing under his alias Carter Dickson, is my Forgotten Book for today. First published in 1939, it features Sir Henry Merrivale, a formidable sleuth whom some prefer to Carr’s other great detective, Dr Gideon Fell. There is more humour in the Merrivale stories than in those about Fell, and to some extent one’s reaction as a reader depends on how appealing one finds that humour.
The premise of this story is fascinating. A mysterious chap called Herman Pennik turns up at a country house party hosted by a writer and her husband. He claims that he can influence events by “thought waves” and is provoked into predicting the death of the host before dinner. When Sam Constable duly dies, and without a sign of violence upon him, it seems to some that he may have been killed by the power of the mind alone.
The average mystery reader will be reluctant to accept this conclusion, of course. But what exactly is the murder method, if not “Teleforce”? When the deceased’s wife dies mysteriously, again after a prediction by Pennik that she will die, there is a tabloid sensation. Pennik becomes a media celebrity; these passages are the wittiest in the book.
The revelation of what was really going on left me in two minds. I admired Carr’s ingenuity, but felt that the motivation was rather slender, and not entirely convincing. The problem was that there are too few suspects other than Pennik, and to an extent the story seems like an expanded novella in comparison with some of Carr’s other work. All the same, I enjoyed this book, and I think that others who like outlandish plots in the Carr tradition will enjoy it too.