Friday 16 October 2020

Forgotten Book - Deadly Hall

Deadly Hall is a relatively little-known novel by John Dickson Carr dating from 1971. His penultimate book, it is another of his history-mysteries, set in New Orleans in 1927. Jeff Caldwell is summoned by an old friend, Dave Hobart, to the family home in the Big Easy. It's called Delys Hall, and it is an old English manor house which has been transplanted to the United States.

Delys Hall has earned the nickname Deadly Hall: some years ago, a man died there in mysterious circumstances. Now Dave is perplexed by the will of his late grandfather, who has bequeathed the Hall to Dave and his sister Serena. It seems that the Hall contains a great deal of gold, but the treasure is well hidden...

There is a good story lurking in Deadly Hall. The treasure sub-plot is, I feel, really neither here nor there, but the method by which a murder is committed on the premises, and the motive and identity of the perpetrator are interesting and satisfactory. The main difficulty is that it's quite a slog to get to "the good bits" of the story. The narrative is, to put it kindly, discursive. Pace is often lacking as the narrative gets bogged down time and again.

Carr was not a well man at the time he wrote this book, and it certainly doesn't compare with his best novels. There were, I must confess, moments when I thought that Deadly Dull might have been a better title. However, developments later in the story did engage my interest. If you haven't read Carr before, I certainly wouldn't start here. And if you're a fervent fan, you need to manage your expectations of this one. Overall, however, I was glad I battled through to the final revelations. 


Puzzle Doctor said...

Well, it sounds a tad better than the preceding The Ghosts’ High Noon. I was very excited to get a first edition with DJ for a pittance, until I actually read it! I wonder, is there any author who’s quality declined as much as Carr’s?

Martin Edwards said...

It was a considerable decline, that's for sure. Then again, he did have significant health problems for a long time and these undoubtedly made things very difficult for him. He kept going, admirably, but writing his kind of story demands a lot of energy.

The Small Fabric Of My Life said...

I have just rediscovered your wonderful blog Martin and I am looking forward to reading your new novel.

I hope you are well.


Martin Edwards said...

Hi Jane, lovely to hear from you. It's been a long time! Incredibly I am still a part-time solicitor-consultant, but writing is now predominant, which is great.

Chris Doby said...

Dear Mr. Edwards,

I feel I am jumping the line here - asking a question about something totally different. However . . . .

Have you any interest in, have you ever written about, humour in the classic golden oldies murder mysteries? Are there any authors you could direct me to?

I search out these little gems, but I would so like to find something written specifically on the subject, or a list of titles, or commentary on the authors.

I was once thrilled to fine stuck away at the back of a paperback, adverts for other mysteries from the publisher with very short but pertinent descriptions.

In those descriptions, I searched minutely for pointers such as "funny in right places," "with humor and an awesome precision of phrase," "perceivings of the droll human animal," "cynical humour," "ironic social criticism," "wittily diverting prose," "witty and subtle quiet and literate wit," "old sardonic humour" and "good writing above mere ingenuity."

Naturally, Michael Innes, Cyril Hare, Thomas Sterling and Julian Symons were tops among this group.

My very favorite of all time is a writer I have never seen mentioned by others, that is V. C. Clinton-Baddeley. [See My Foe Outstretch'd Beneath the Tree.] As far as I am concerned, he spent way too much of his time on the BBC and writing plays. The world of charming mystery humour/literature is the poorer.

Anyway, I don't think I could put these questions to a more knowledgeable mystery buff. Thanks for reading this. Chris Doby

Martin Edwards said...

Hello, Chris, and nice to hear from you. I share your interest in VCC-B, and I have all his detective novels. In terms of other witty writers, I'd mention Edmund Crispin, who would be high on most people's list. Clifford Witting I also like. Examples in the British Library Crime Classics are George Bellairs and Alan Melville, not perhaps my personal favourites, but very popular to this day with many readers. John Kennedy Melling wrote Murder Done to Death which may be of interest. So too Bruce Shaw's Jolly Good Detecting. If you need more info, email me at

Chris Doby said...

Hi, Thank you very much for the tips. I'm off and running.

I should throw in there among my favorite mystery humor Joyce Porter's detective Dover books and Colin Watson, especially his rascally Miss Lucilla Teatime (both of whom/which date from the Awkward Age of Mysteries 1960-70's).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Chris. Joyce Porter (who came from Cheshire, like me) and Colin Watson are very good shouts. Their early books in particular were hugely entertaining.