9 July 2014

Review: DEATH-WATCH, John Dickson-Carr

  • format e-book (Kindle) supplied by NetGalley by the Hatchette Group.
  •  ISBN 9781480472372
  • originally published 1935.  This e-book version published 2014 by Open Road Integrated Media
  • available from Amazon - read a few pages through this link
  • #5 in the Gideon Fell series
  • author aka John Dickson
Synopsis (NetGalley)

John Dickson Carr, a master of the Golden Age British-style mystery novel, presents Dr. Gideon Fell’s most chilling case, in which a clock-obsessed killer terrorizes London

A clockmaker is puzzled by the theft of the hands of a monumental new timepiece he is preparing for a member of the nobility. That night, one of the stolen hands is found buried between a policeman’s shoulder blades, stopping his clock for all time.

The crime is just peculiar enough to catch the attention of Dr. Gideon Fell, the portly detective whose formidable intellect is the terror of every criminal in London. Working closely with Scotland Yard, he finds that the case turns on the question of why the clock hands were stolen. And learning the answer will put Dr. Fell squarely in the path of a madman with nothing but time on his hands.

from Amazon
For Dr Gideon Fell this is the only case that has ever really frightened him, and before he can solve it he must find answers to some seemingly impossible questions: why was Calvin Boscombe standing near the corpse with a silencer on his gun? Who locked the attic door? And what has become of the sixteenth-century death-watch?

My Take

A number of the Gideon Fell titles have been released recently as e-books with a collective title THE MURDER ROOM.

DEATH-WATCH has the reputation of a classic of Golden Age crime fiction. In some ways it's main protagonist Dr Gideon Fell reminded me of detectives who went before and those who came after. He has a reputation for his great powers of deduction as did Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. And the similarities don't end there - there is the companion/observer Melson who compares favourably with Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings, and the policeman/foil Hadley who serves to demonstrate the superiority of Fell's deductive powers.

The plot is very complex and convoluted with a number of red herrings. At one stage Hadley is ready to make an arrest for the two murders that have taken place, but Fell manages to prove to him that he has been cunningly led to his conclusions by the real murderer. I think the complicatedness of the plot gives the reader a greater appreciation of the pared down simplicity of Agatha Christie's novels.Add to this some of the absurdity of detail: why use the gilt covered big hand of a clock as your weapon?; the meaning of why there is a sliver rather than a patch of light; a multiplicity of skylights, staircases, and sliding panels - just to identify a few.

To be honest, this title is not going to send me rushing to find another, but students of Golden Age crime fiction will appreciate that these out-of-print titles are being made available for modern readers.
I was interested in reading this for my participation in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2014

My Rating: 4.0

Biographical Notes  (Hatchette UK)

John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked-room mystery, was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of a US Congressman. He studied law in Paris before settling in England where he married an Englishwoman, and he spent most of his writing career living in Great Britain. 

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Golden Age mystery writers, his work featured apparently impossible crimes often with seemingly supernatural elements. He modelled his affable and eccentric series detective Gideon Fell on G. K. Chesterton, and wrote a number of novels and short stories, including his series featuring Henry Merrivale, under the pseudonym Carter Dickson. 

He was one of only two Americans admitted to the British Detection club, and was highly praised by other mystery writers. Dorothy L. Sayers said of him that 'he can create atmosphere with an adjective, alarm with allusion, or delight with a rollicking absurdity'. 

In 1950 he was awarded the first of two prestigious Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America, and was presented with their Grand Master Award in 1963. He died in Greenville, South Carolina in 1977.


realthog said...

I'm a big fan of the Gideon Fell novels (also the near-indistinguishable Henry Merrivale novels, which he did as Carter Dickson) in good part because of all those complications and red herrings that you find annoying! Some of the later ones, when Carr was getting old, are a bit tired, a bit rote, but the vintage ones have a special place in my mystery-loving heart.

Ryan said...

I have not been able to get started on these books yet, though I'm going to at some point in time.


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