Friday, 22 May 2015

Forgotten Book - The Judas Window

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..

25 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

One of my all time favourites - and I would have though the legal aspect might have caught your eye sooner!

Puzzle Doctor said...

Shame on you for leaving it so long! I agree, this is a cracker. I'm curious what the books were that put you off, but heartily recommend She Died A Lady, Murder In The Submarine Zone, The Reader Is Warned and He Wouldn't Kill Patience as the best of the bunch. I'd beware The Ten Teacups though as despite regularly featuring in Top Ten Locked Room list, it's such a bizarre (and basically impossible) solution that it completely ruins the book for me.

Martin Edwards said...

I know, I know! Too many books, too little time! Thanks for the recommendations, PD. I've read The Reader is Warned, but not the others - though I do have a copy of...Ten Teacups, alas. It's now been relegated to the TBR equivalent of the Conference North...

Christine said...

I have just read The Emperor's Snuffbox and it is a cracker. I liked it better than The Judas Window.

George said...

This is my favorite "Carter Dickson" mystery. Very clever!

Jerry House said...

My first encounter with THE JUDAS WINDOW was with an old paperback that had a major printing error. The entire middle section of the book was missing. In its place were the first 60 or 70 pages of the book repeated. It was over a year before I found a complete copy to read.

John Hegenberger said...

Great pick. I need to find time to read more of these goodies.

Arthur Robinson said...

I envy you having unread Carter Dickson in store! The books are variable--some of the later H.M. novels emphasize slapstick at the expense of detection--and though I like H.M. myself, I can see why others wouldn’t. I think The Judas Window is the best of the Carter Dicksons, but She Died a Lady is one of my favorite detective novels (by any author), and I like others a lot. I think The Judas Window and Murder in the Submarine Zone (also published as Nine and Death Makes Ten) are the best Carter Dicksons for readers who don’t like H.M.—also “The House at Goblin Wood,” which, as you say, is brilliant. The only other Merrivale short story, “All in a Maze” (in The Men Who Explained Miracles), is also good; maybe H.M. is best in small doses. I second the recommendation of He Wouldn’t Kill Patience. I found The Ten Teacups a bit disappointing, but that’s partly because it was the last I read and I’d heard it was one of the best, so my expectations were too high. I liked The Reader Is Warned, but it’s a polarizing book, while everyone seems to like The Judas Window. Seeing Is Believing is also controversial; the worst case of cheating in a “fair play” author and a ludicrous explanation of the “impossible crime” aspect, but otherwise I found it entertaining.

R.K. Robinson said...

I haven't gotten to it yet either, but one day...

Good news! My copy of Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries is finally on the way, due to arrive very early June. Can't wait.

Martin Edwards said...

Christine, George, I have that one to look forward to!

Martin Edwards said...

Jerry, that's an amazing story. Though sadly printing errors are all too common. One great book by Val McDermid had a chunk of the last chapter missing, of all things.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John - and thank you also for that nice review of THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER.

Martin Edwards said...

Arthur, very interesting as always, and thanks again for all your help with my researches into that other terrific GA writer, Anthony Berkeley

Martin Edwards said...

R.K., that anthology was fun to put together and I'm optimistic you'll find some very entertaining stories in there.

Graham Powell said...

I always thought that the Merrivales generally rated as "best" were a little hokey, including this one. My own favorites are MY LATE WIVES and AND SO TO MURDER. A sentimental favorite is DEATH IN FIVE BOXES -the first Carr book I read, over 30 years ago.

Martin Edwards said...

I haven't read those, Graham, but will bear them in mind. By the way, very many thanks for that Amazon review - much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP and A GRAVEYARD TO LET. They're post-war books, but very good. Both are stories of disappearances, and the latter has a man who dives into a swimming pool and vanishes. I've read a lot of Carr, and I'm torn between the satisfaction of reading the last few, and the sadness of knowing that there are no more left to read!

Gary

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Gary, two more that I don't know!

George said...

Congratulations on the marvelous review of THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER in today's WALL STREET JOURNAL. It's part of the SUMMER READING feature so you should get plenty of sales from that!

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

The Puzzle Doctor and I disagree about TEN TEACUPS (PEACOCK FEATHER MYSTERY) - I still rate it very highly!

Martin Edwards said...

Sergio,Puzzle Doctor, what can I say? Two excellent judges, two different views. Happens all the time, I guess, so as I have a copy, perhaps I'll give it a try before long and exercise a casting vote!!

Martin Edwards said...

George, thanks so much for telling me about this. I'd heard the Wall St Journal was going to review the book, but didn't know about the Summer Reading feature. And though I don't know anything about that feature, it certainly sounds good to me!

George said...

You can probably access the WALL STREET JOURNAL review at www.WSJ.com. And RAMBLE HOUSE just published THE JOHN DICKSON CARR COMPANION. Terrific!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks again, George. And I have a copy of the JDC Companion - excellent dip-into book.

Anne H said...

The Skeleton in the Clock, My Late Wives: two I read at an impressionable age and rate highly still. My advice is - read them all. With the coming of the internet it's so easy to find these books.It took me decades to source The Unicorn Murders before it existed.