To Wake the Dead, by John Dickson Carr: A Short Review

To Wake the Dead, by John Dickson Carr (Macmillan, 1965)

To Wake the Dead, by John Dickson Carr (Macmillan, 1965)

As readers will know, Carr is credited as being a master of the “locked room” mystery, a sort of puzzle which requires the reader to pay close attention to a number of small details of architecture, clothing, personal histories… The variations are many, and the quality of the experience often depends on how closely the reader follows the text. As I am a somewhat lazy and definitely casual readar, I tend to enjoy these stories without usually solving the mystery before the characters.

That being said, and without re-reading, To Wake the Dead felt as though the author didn’t entirely play fairly. Some of the resolution depended upon an almost deus ex machina solution: well-crafted, as Carr’s books always are, but slightly thin on the established details.

The plot is entertaining; a South African writer, Christopher Kent, has made a bet with his old acquaintance Dan Reaper that he cannot travel to England and meet Reaper’s group of friends in several months’ time solely on the back of his own labors, without invoking his own minor celebrity status en route or drawing on his other earnings. Kent has made it as far as England, but on the last day before the bet is to be won, he succumbs to temptation and hunger and attempts to obtain a meal by pretending to be registered in a hotel room. When he is unexpectedly asked to retrieve something from the room by hotel staff, and when he finds the dead body of a woman he knows in the room, things take grim turn, which of course means that Carr’s mountainous detective, Dr Gideon Fell, cannot be far from the scene.

Enjoyable and recommended, but see if all of the clues add up for you. I really must start reading these with my little black notebook and stub of pencil poised and sharpened. Four of five stars, nonetheless.

Originally reviewed 9 July 2011.

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About Bill Bibliomane

Reader and writer, collector and cataloguer. Amateur mineralogist, astronomer, numismatist, philatelist: I have too many hobbies. I'm somewhat compulsive when it comes to book shopping. Fortunately for my budget, there are no bookshops near to my home. Unfortunately, I've discovered the Internet. I started out reviewing books for my own amusement. Now I've decided to assemble them on my own site.
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