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Carr, John Dickson - Death-Watch (1935)



Review by Nick Fuller


Although I am not one of those who "will always consider the clock-face problem as being Dr. Fell's greatest case", there is much to be said in its favour. The problem, as always with Carr, is bizarre and mystifying: a policeman, come to arrest one of the women in the Lincoln Inn's Fields house of Johannus Carver for murder and shoplifting, is stabbed with a clock hand. In the darkest Carr since the early Bencolins (and in stark contrast to the earlier Fells), the atmosphere is menacing and claustrophobic, with a strong taint of madness—indeed, human virtues seem to be almost entirely absent from the subtly drawn gargoyles; much needed comic relief is provided by the servants. Dr. Fell is in superb form, dominating the book from the beginning, and giving fascinating (if irrelevant) lectures on clocks and the Spanish Inquisition; he is rather H.M.ish, referring to himself as "the old man", to others as "son", and saying "gimme". His debate with Chief Insp. Hadley over the guilt of the chief suspect is one of the book's highlights; and, although Hadley ignores some evidence, the treatment of left-handedness is clever, and the logical argument ancestral to the third section of The Arabian Nights Murder. The detection is particularly strong, the clues, including a lovely one borrowed from Chesterton's "The Dagger with Wings", placed with classic timing; it is, however, a pity that Ames' lodgings were not searched earlier. The identity of the superbly characterised villain is inevitable, although Carr resorts to unfair misdirection on the first page; a greater flaw is that the plot is too subtle and too involved to be entirely convincing. Indeed, Carr admits that the strands of the plot are "intricate and unecessary." I do not, however, see any problem with the method and motive (which Christie borrowed for Towards Zero).

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