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The Blind Barber

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 11 months ago

Carr, John Dickson - The Blind Barber / The Case of the Blind Barber (1934)



Review by Nick Fuller


The Blind Barber is superb farce rather than a good detective story. In fact, although there are many clues, there is very little detection; instead, the book concerns four lunatics, who, whenever they see the captain of the Queen Victoria, attack him — with whiskey-bottles, fly-spray or professional boxers. Throw in the sozzled antics of M. Fortinbras, the master puppeteer; a pair of aesthetes who would make Philo Vance quail; and a Norwegian captain who tells pointless anecdotes, and the result is a classic comedy. Yet amidst all the comedy, the detective story is not forgotten. Dr. Fell, who appears only in brief episodes at the beginning, middle and end, functions as armchair detective, pointing out sixteen wonderfully gnomic clues, which would enable the alert reader to work out who attacked an unknown woman outside the room of one of the daft heroes, and vanished while the zanni rushed off to clonk the captain over the head with a whiskey-bottle, leaving only a bloody razor and a blood-soaked mattress behind. The MacGuffin clues, both an emerald elephant and an incriminating film of "eminent soaks," are superbly handled, especially the elephant, which, like the money in The Punch and Judy Murders, is a brilliantly double-edged clue. The murderer's identity is a grand surprise, along the lines of GK Chesterton's "The Head of Caesar", a surprise that adds to the reader's delight, for, not only has he been tremendously entertained on every page, but he has been hoodwinked and led right up the garden path.

Comments (1)

Jon said

at 12:16 pm on Dec 4, 2011

In this tale of crime on a liner, what with an emerald elephant that appears and disappears and a girl whose body, after he throat has been cut, disappears for good, Mr. Carr achieves a fair degree of mystification and gives signs of an ingenious faculty in plot-making. Unfortunately has chosen to convert it into what he describes on the first pages as “a rowdy and topsy-turvy chronicle”, which means that the characters rush ceaselessly round the ship getting themselves hit or hitting others over the head, and indulging in floods of loud (but quite innocent) oaths. Mr. Carr has not the delicacy of touch to make this sort of thing palatable through 300 pages. The characters are really neither here nor there: but in the Captain, and in one scene especially, the author shows distinct skill." -- TLS

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