Why has it taken me so long to get round to reading Carter Dickson's The Judas Window? It is regarded highly by a number of good judges who are fans of Dickson - better known as John Dickson Carr. I suppose my main justification for describing it as a Forgotten Book is that I've forgotten, or at least neglected, to read it until now.
I've long admired Carr's work, and his mastery of the intricacies of the "impossible crime". In particular, I am a fan of the books featuring Dr Gideon Fell, the Chestertonian lexicographer who strs in classics such as The Hollow Man. A good many people prefer Sir Henry Merrivale, alias "H.M.", who is the rumbustious hero of the books written under the Carter Dickson alias. This is, in part, because of their humour - one of the neat features of the stories is that sometimes a slapstick scene will conceal an important clue to the mystery.
Merrivale features in a truly brilliant short story, "The House in Goblin Wood", but I've not been quite as keen on some of the Merrivale novels I've read. But The Judas Window is a high calibre mystery, no question of that. It's also rather different from "typical" Carr stories, in that it centres around a murder trial at the Old Bailey- and Merrivale is counsel for the defence.
His client is Jimmy Answell, a young man who seems the only possible suspect in a locked room murder case. We know Jimmy is innocent, but how on earth can this be established, in the face of apparently overwhelming evidence that he killed his prospective father-in-law? As the trial proceeds, we come across testimony from various people in the dead man's circle - but how can any of them have committed the crime? And if one of them did do the dastardly deed, for what reason?
The technicalities of the crime are very cleverly handled. I was much less convinced by the culprit's motivation, but the fact is that Carr was not as preoccupied with criminal psychology as some of his colleagues in the Detection Club. Yet he could weave a tantalising mystery, and I agree with those who rate this book highly. If you are a locked room fan, I recommend you get round to reading it more quickly than I did..