John Dickson Carr used the name Carter Dickson for the books he wrote about Sir Henry Merrivale, a detective whom some fans prefer to Dr Gideon Fell. Today's Forgotten Book, Night at the Mocking Widow, was published at the start of the Fifties but is set in an English village - with the excellent name Stoke Druid - in 1938. It's an English village mystery, and has a touch of nostalgia about it, as well as displaying Carr's love of England very clearly.
Stoke Druid is plagued by poison pen letters, and when one of those accused by the letters dies in tragic circumstances, the letters stop,only to start up again. The Mocking Widow (another great name) is a dominant stone in an ancient circle, and there is an "impossible situation" which does not actually involve a murder, with murder only taking place towards the end of the book. Stone circles have often featured in crime novels, and no wonder -they are so often spookily atmospheric.
I can't better the summary of this book to be found in Douglas Greene's biography of Carr, a book I regard as one of the best biographies of a detective novelist ever written. He is largely positive, though he recognises that the novel does not have the power and grip of Carr's best pre-war work. I thought that the ingredients were impressive and appealing, although I find the comedy associated with Merrivale much less appealing than do his biggest fans - for me, the Fell stories are on the whole markedly better.
I didn't guess the culprit in this one, but I felt this was in part due to the fact that the motivation is very thin. Carr made strenuous attempts, especially in the comic scenes, to compensate for the lack of a murder investigation from the outset, but by this time his powers were just beginning to fade. Perhaps the classic example of a village poison pen letter campaign is Agatha Christie's The Moving Finger. Even though that too is not one of her masterpieces, which perhaps explains why I've not mentioned it on this blog before, it is a smoothly accomplished whodunit and, to my way of thinking, clearly superior to Carr's effort. Overall verdict on this one- not bad, but unfortunately anti-climactic.