Friday 13 October 2023

Forgotten Book - The Four False Weapons

Henri Bencolin, the Great Detective who appeared in John Dickson Carr's first four novels returns in The Four False Weapons, a story written a few years later and offering a modified presentation of the character. I gather from Doug Greene's biography of Carr that he felt the detective was, in effect, too dark, and here he's retired and in lighter and less devilish form than in the earlier books. 

The story begins, however, with Richard Curtis, a young partner in a London law firm who dreams of adventure being summoned to France to assist a client who is caught up in a very difficult situation. Ralph Douglas wants to marry Magda Toller, but his former mistress, Rose Klonec, has been found murdered in the villa where he had 'installed' her. Soon Richard is getting all the adventure he could ever have wished for. Such assignments never came my way during my legal career, I have to say!

Rose's body has been surrounded by weapons, but it's not clear how, let alone why, she came to die. I did wonder if this scenario was a distant inspiration for Agatha Christie's The Clocks, which name-checks Carr, whose storyline does actually feature a clock. Christie was a friend and admirer of Carr and inscribed at least one book to him, which is still in the family's possession.

Even more so than The Clocks, I'm afraid the brilliance of the set-up is not maintained throughout the story and I agree with Doug Greene that it's a minor work. I think the changes to Bencolin's character are not for the better while Curtis is simply a substitute for Jeff Marle in the earlier books. The plot and indeed the motive disappointed me. Yet there are occasional flashes of Carr's customary zest which make the book worth reading as long as you're not hoping for one of his masterpieces. 

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