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It Walks by Night

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 3 months ago

Carr, John Dickson - It Walks by Night (1930)

 

 

Review by Nick Fuller

3/5

“I do not know whether it was a good play; calmly considered, no doubt, the thing was clap-trap in the extreme. The characters spoke in a dialogue like nothing in heaven or earth, but behind it was an imperially purple imagination, ‘tiger’s blood and honey’ of Barley D’Aurevilly, and a kind of grotesque smiling detachment, like a gargoyle on a tower.”

 

With this book, the world's greatest writer of detective stories began his career. It must be stated, however, that Carr later came to hate this book; and not without reason, for it is severely flawed in every department: plotting, writing and believability.

 

The plot is bizarre and complex. Louise, formerly married to the criminal lunatic Alexandre Laurent, has become engaged to the Duc de Saligny, a popular sportsman and athlete. Laurent escapes, travels to Vienna, has his face changed (to a highly improbable degree that wouldn't bear scrutiny for an instant), and kills the plastic surgeon, leaving his head in a jar. On the wedding night, the Duc is found beheaded in a locked and watched room, a theatrical crime with "the ghastly unreality of wax-works, all the more terrifying for not being human," like so many of the characters and events in the story. This crime is investigated by Henri Bencolin, who believes himself to be the Devil; one of Carr's most improbable characters, he does not become flesh and blood until the 1937 novel The Four False Weapons. Unusually for Carr, his detection displays a greater knowledge of forensics than usual, recalling the novels of Anthony Abbot. Carr plays fair with the clues, but many are either obvious (e.g. Vautrelle's calling attention to his alibi, de Saligny's English) or dubious (the reason for de Saligny's kneeling position).

 

Although the solution is ingenious, it is also bloody silly. It is marred by the same flaw that marred Christie's Murder in Mesopotamia; and the amount of double-dealing and treachery is preposterous, as every character is up to no good (probably due to all the drugs). The rest of the story can be summed up by a reversal of Carr's belief that "the ridiculous is not very removed from black fer," for too much black fear simply makes the book look ridiculous. Everything is painted in lurid hues, and the heavy atmosphere, which dissipates after Chapter 7, seems rather false. The general effect of all these is the feeling that "the thing is almost too consistently unnatural to be the work of a madman"; Carr has not yet learnt that understatement is more effective a tool than “cracking the whip and goading the adjective."

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