Friday, 7 January 2011

Forgotten Book - Hag's Nook

My Forgotten Book today is Hag’s Nook, by John Dickson Carr, the masterof the ‘impossible crime’. This novel was published in 1930, when the author was only 26 – staggeringly, he had already published five detective novels. But this was the first to feature Dr Gideon Fell, who became his most famous sleuth.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of a young American Anglophile, Tad Rampole, whose attitudes reflected Carr’s. Tad falls for Dorothy Starberth, and soon learns of the curse of the Starberth family – the Starberth men die of broken necks.

Unfortunately, the legend takes a fresh twist when Dorothy’s brother Martin is found dead – with a broken neck – while engaged in a complicated family ritual that has to do with mysterious documents and a cryptogram. The obvious suspect is Martin’s cousin, but we know what happens to obvious suspects in Golden Age novels, don’t we?

I enjoyed this one a lot. It's a long time since I read a Carr novel, but I do aim to read more soon. He was a good writer, who used melodramatic atmosphere,history, and a romantic way of evoking suspense and setting to make his elaborate and unlikely crimes seem credible. Implausible, but not impossible, is the theme of a Carr solution. If you like elaborate mysteries of the past, this one is well worth a read. And if you do read it, you may be as impressed as I am by the fact it was written by such a young man.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for this reminder of Carr's talent. I think you've described his style quite well, and I'm very glad you included one of his novels in this series.

George said...

I read a couple John Dickson Carr mysteries in 2010. Despite the sometimes overwrought style, the plotting of the JDC books I've read have all been clever, bordering on brilliant.

Evan Lewis said...

Love the title. And it reminds me of one my favorite comic strip villains - The Sea Hag.

Bill Tackaberry said...

JDC/Dickson Carr was the first detective novelist I ever read - I was about 9 years old and his books terrified me but I couldn't tear myself away!
He - or his publishers had a genius for titles: The Blind Barber, The Man Who Could Not Shudder, The Reader is Warned... lovely stuff!
One of the books I most enjoyed was The Devil in Velvet, in which a 20th century academic travels back in time to Restoration London to solve (or prevent?) a murder: it's a rollicking, ingenious, swashbuckling mystery!

BV Lawson said...

I've got "Hollow Man" in my TBR pile right now. It's been years since I read a Carr, and I'm looking forward to revisiting his writing.

David Cranmer said...

I have always enjoyed the stories of John Dickson Carr. One of the greats.

Thanks for the review, Martin.

aguja said...

Yes. I shall look this one out.

Guess what popped up in an email from amazon - your book! Should I read earlier lakeland novels before this one, or can I read this depite not having read the others?

Ed Gorman said...

He's enjoyable to read for the atmospherics alone. Well done review, Martin. I've got some of his books around here somewhere. I'll read one tonight.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments.
There is a real sense of macabre about Carr's stories that makes them special.
The Hollow Man is amazing, Bonnie.
Evan, I don't know the Sea Hag, alas!
Bill - you're right about the titles, they help create the mood.

(M)ary said...

I remember Carr from my days shelving books at a used bookstore job. I never read any of them but he sounds like a writer I would find interesting. Plus, he isn't writing anymore so no worries about 'waiting for the next book' anxiety.