The third of John Dickson Carr’s outings with the pairing of French detective Henri Bencolin and his American sidekick, Jeff Marle, The Lost Gallows is a London-based adventure full of tension, gripping atmosphere, and suspense.
The “Satanic-visaged” Henri Bencolin and Jeff Marle are in London for the opening performance of “The Silver Mask” when they become involved in a mysterious occurrence. The American driver of a wealthy Egyptian, Nezam el Moulk, is discovered murdered in a car which has just been stopped, and there is no sign of his passenger. A man called Dallings recounts having become lost in the fog only to stumble across the shadow of a gallows, complete with hanged man. A woman from Marle’s past befriends a Frenchwoman who may hold the key to some of the mysterious happenings – if she doesn’t disappear first. And a mysterious telephone message mentions a hanged man “in the gallows on Ruination Street.” But in London, there is no “Ruination Street”…
As the number of missing increase and the body count rises, only Bencolin seems to know the solution to the mystery, but for some reason, he refuses to reveal what he knows…
This early Carr is rich with atmosphere: the foggy streets of London in November between the Wars, the decadence and decay of the Brimstone Club, the threat of secret passages and long-buried hatreds, all play their part. The reader could be forgiven for wanting to immerse themselves in this shadowy world. It is as rich as any that Carr penned, and certainly this is one of his more successful works. It has never been entirely clear to me why Carr abandoned writing the Bencolin books, although one would not have missed the liked of Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale for anything. Overall, with the caveat given below, a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted effort. Four solid stars.
A note on content: in the Critic’s Choice edition, an unpleasant epithet is used twice for the black American (and former prizefighter) who serves as El Moulk’s driver and is the first victim in the story. While perhaps not unexpected for the period (early 1930s), it is still a stark reminder of how sensibilities have changed (for the better). Sensitive readers should consider themselves warned.
Originally reviewed 23 June 2015.
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