Friday 19 August 2016

Forgotten Book - The Seat of the Scornful

My Forgotten Book today is a John Dickson Carr novel that tends to be under-estimated, perhaps because it does not offer a locked room mystery. The Seat of the Scornful (known in the US as Death Turns the Tables) was one of the first Carr books that I read in my teens; it appeared in the "Fingerprint" reprint series that also included fine books by the likes of Julian Symons and Richard Hull. Coming to it for a second time, I was again impressed.

This is a Gideon Fell novel, but in many ways the real focus is on an acquaintance of his, a tough-minded judge, Mr Justice Ireton. We see the judge in court at the start of the book, meting out his brand of justice in a manner that borders on the sadistic. Fell plays chess with him (and there's quite a bit of symbolism in the chess game) but is defeated by the judge, who is a very clever chap indeed.

The judge is a widower, with a pretty but headstrong daughter. He wants her to marry an affable barrister called Fred Barlow, but Constance has fallen for a man called Tony Morell, who appears to be a shady customer. When the judge learns that the couple are due to marry, he isn't impressed,and he soon has reason to believe that Morell is nothing more than a gold-digger.

Morell is then found dead, and the judge is at the scene, brandishing a revolver. It appears to be an open and shut case, but things quickly become complicated. This is a book where there is a good deal of focus on the subject of justice, and if I'd had more space in The Golden Age of Murder, I'd certainly have discussed it in more detail, as I think that it reflects some of the concerns about justice that preoccupied members of the Detection Club during the Golden Age. Doug Greene, the greatest Carr expert, has questioned the ethics of the final scene, and I can see why, but I found it in keeping with the mood of the times. To say more would be a spoiler. This is a really good Carr story, which deserves to be better known.  


Clothes In Books said...

Yet another JDC to take a look at - I KNOW I have this one somewhere... A look at your blog and it seems my weekend's reading is settled.

JJ @ The Invisible Event said...

It really pains me to see someone as brilliant as Carr as out of print as he is, especially given the quality of even his second-tier stuff like this. Perhaps, y'know, the British Library Crime Classics series could reprint a quality and long-neglected Carr to rouse some interest in him -- no less than he deserves, especially as he'll be 110 in November. Whaddaya say, Martin? Eh? Eh?

Clothes In Books said...

Martin, I did pick it up, read it in almost one sitting, and blogged on it this weekend!

Martin Edwards said...

JJ, like you, I am a big fan of Carr and I'd very much like to see his work more readily available. You never know!

Martin Edwards said...

Moira, as I commented on your blog, I did find your review terrific.