Saturday, September 07, 2013

Almost 3 for the price of 1

So I read my first mapback, Death In Five Boxes by Carter Dickson. It is really not very good, but then I'm no Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr fan. The mystery is contrived, the detective hero is exaggerated which makes him a charicature and not a character, and come to think of it not one character in the book is fleshed out enough to be a real, believable person. I trudged through it, mentally comparing it to The Singing Sands that I read just before and thinking Jesus, THERE IS NO COMPARISON yet Dickson's/Carr's name is often mentioned among the classics while Tey is more forgotten. It's the locked room thing. Him and his fecking locked rooms. Haha, just saw that Wikipedia has a great quote from a critic in its article on the book:
"As usual, Carter Dickson's plot is extremely complicated and it depends on a variety of gimmicks, most of which are barely plausible. One good one is the method of poisoning the White Lady cocktails without anybody's going near the shaker or the glasses. For the rest, the dialogue is in the worst style of false excitement and byplay, particularly the part allotted to the egregious Sir Henry Merrivale, who calls everybody "son" and yells "shut up" whenever he is stumped. The early portion is dull, the middle chaotic, and the end interminable."


Directly after Death in Five Boxes I picked up the other mapback, Rinehart's The Window at the White Cat and wow, immediately drawn in by engaging writing and characters - NO COMPARISON. I was actually so offended by how much more enjoyable these two women writers were compared to the one man that I put the book away thinking I'd postpone reading it until I could write a detailed, exhaustive, comparative analysis of the three books in manner of highly intelligent well-read academic person. Since this obviously isn't going to happen, unfortunately, we'll settle for just writing about them, shall we. And I'll just finish the damn book this week.

While I read The Singing Sands I made mental notes of about twenty places I'd have liked to quote, and now sadly it's been a while and I've forgotten. But it's just gorgeous. There are so many period details which make it so interesting if you're the slightest bit into retro, and Alan Grant is just fantastic. The books starts with him being on sick leave for panic attacks connnected with claustrophobia. He heads up to Scotland to his cousin and her husband. Just as he's getting off the train after a sleepless, tortured night, the carriage attendant discovers a dead body in one of the sleeping compartments. Grant can't let this mystery go, and thinking about it distracts him enough to help cure his, well, mental illness we'd say now. The mental illness is treated with respect and delicacy, all things considered. I see on Wikipedia that this was found among her papers after she died and published posthumously. How I wish, selfishly, that she'd lived and written more. I don't know how much this was edited before publishing, but it's pretty perfect and doesn't feel unfinished.


Anonymous said...

I really like John Dickson Carr's novels, though he writes in a style very different to Tey! I enjoy his Dr Gideon Fell books rather more than the Sir Henry Merivale ones, but I think Carr plots very well, and his characters are interesting. I've enjoyed The Mystery of the Green Capsule and He Who Whispers very much.

bani said...

Now that you mention it I do think I remember GUSHING about Carr some other time in a post about Gideon Fell. But I can't find it. But possibly I am being very fickle then. See, I can never follow the plots very well anyway so I care more about the characters and the settings. ;)