by John Dickson Carr

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Hamish Hamilton: London, 1935

Harper: New York, 1935
295 pages

January 2007

Balancing logic in the house of cards

Death-Watch is one of John Dickson Carr's mystery series with Dr. Gideon Fell as the unofficial but effective sleuth. It's a puzzle sort of detective novel; but the intricacies of the murder problem to be solved swamp any virtues of action, atmosphere, or characterization; and the puzzle itself is too complex.

"Odd crimes?" said Dr. Fell ... "Not at all. Those things only seem odd because a fact is stated out of its proper context. For instance," he rumbled, wheezing argumentatively, "consider this. A thief gets into a clockmaker's shop and steals the hands off a clock. Nothing else is taken or even touched; only the hands from a clock of no especial value.... Well? What would you make of that if you were the policeman to whom it had been reported? As a matter of fact, what sort of crime would you consider it?"

In fact the murderer's plot is as complex as clockwork, but also as delicate as a house of cards: one good sneeze by a participant at the wrong time would blast apart the whole assemblage of evidential springs and motivational screws.

Unless you want to draw your own house floor-plan and a Boolean-logic truth table, it is difficult to keep in mind the comings and goings of the characters, including not only who was able to eavesdrop on whom at what time, but even niceties such as who saw moonlight through what passage at what time.

A fine, but over-fine, puzzle.


© 2007 Robert Wilfred Franson

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