1930 was an important year for the detective novel. Among much else, it saw Jane Marple's first appearance in a novel, and the beginning of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Strong Poison. This was also the year when a young American detective novelist, aged just 23, published his first book. The novel was called It Walks by Night, and his name was John Dickson Carr.
Actually, his original title for the novel was With Blood Defiled - a good job he changed it, I'd say! The story was an expansion of a novella, "Grand Guignol", which he'd published in his college magazine, The Haverfordian. There is an excellent account of the genesis of Carr's writing in Douglas Greene's marvellous biography of him.
It Walks by Night is set in Paris, and it brims with macabre atmospherics. It's a young man's book, definitely, and he would go on to write finer mysteries, but it's absolutely full of interest. And, of course, it boasts an impossible crime - the inexplicable beheading of Duc de Savigny. A case for Henri Bencolin to investigate, narrated by his Watson-like American friend Jeff Marle.
The late Bob Adey was a Carr fan, and I was thrilled to acquire from his estate the American first edition of this book (no jacket, but never mind), complete with an inscription from Carr about water flowing "over the matrimonial bridge". You can see in the book traces of the opened seal - a marketing gimmick from the publishers, Harper, who sealed the last third of the novel, and offered purchasers their money back if they returned the book with the seal unopened. I bet there are few copies with the seal unbroken...
Anyway, the good news is that the British Library is bringing this landmark title back into print, and there will be a bonus extra in the Crime Classics edition - the inclusion of a short story featuring Bencolin called "The Shadow of the Goat". I'm looking forward to its reappearance on the shelves.