If you're reading this, then you probably know about Carr, but if you don't, I'll summarize. John Dickson Carr is considered to be the master of the locked-room mystery, and the writer of two of what are considered to be the best in the sub-genre, The Hollow Man and The Judas Window. Needless to say, it was inevitable that I would end up looking at him at some point, but do I start with one of those famous novels or maybe one his most popular? No, I start with radio plays!
The Dead Sleep Lightly is a collection of some of Carr's many radio plays. Really, he wrote a lost of these things, not jus mystery, but propaganda as well. This probably played a role in weakening his later novels, as he seemed to carry over some of the techniques, but that's neither here nor there. We're here to look at the stories presented here, and see if they're worth your time. Let's begin!
The Black Minute
Many, including Dr. Fell , gather for a séance held by a Mr. Riven. He claims that he will contact the wife of one Sir Francis Church. Obviously, this goes wrong, and Riven joins the dead, courtesy of a knife to the throat. Now there's the problem of figuring out who could have stabbed him in a locked room, where everyone in there was holding hands...
An excellent start. This is an excellent mystery; fairly clued, and with a simple yet clever solution. No complaints here...
The Devil's Saint
Lord Edward Whiteford, like all of Carr's heroes, has fallen in love at first sight. The object of his affections is Ileana, niece of Count
More of a thriller than a mystery story, this is still a great inclusion. Tension is handled well, the ending is good... Really, I only have one question (SPOILERS What will happen to Whiteford now? END SPOLIERS)
The Dragon in the Pool
Swimming pools can be very dangerous places. This is a bizarre enough statement to open a story, and it only get more bizarre form there. Revenge, a mysterious death, a vanishing weapon...All of it will be resolved at an underground swimming pool...
Decent story. Carr's used this trick before, but it's still well done, and the ending is terrifying. Although (SPOILERS I have to wonder why Tony didn't notice the huge spike in the water. Glass or not, I would think that it would be more visible. At least, the tile damage would be. But there I go, nitpicking. END SPOLIERS)
The Dead Sleep Lightly
Kensal Green 1-9-3-3. A number that won't leave George Pendelton's head. It's the number on the gravestone of an old flame of his. Eventually, he accidently calls it and hears her voice...over a disconnected telephone...
As the title story, this has a decent amount of weight to hold up, and it does pretty well. The story is pure Carr, with a focus on the apparent supernatural, a perfectly rational explanation, atmosphere, and a focus on justice than the letter of the law. Unfortunately, the solution is technical, though the intelligent reader (not me) can at least figure out part of the trick. Still a good story.
Death Has Four Faces
An unlucky streak at the gambling tables leaves Ralph Harvey hurting for cash. Lucky for him that this nice man wants him to smuggle a bottle of pills past customs, and he gets paid for it! In the end though, it's the employer who winds up in a mess, stabbed to death in an open square, with no one near him...
Can I just say that I like the scenarios Carr comes up with in his stories? Now that I've got that bit of praise out of the way, I'll say that this is another good story, though the solution doesn't appeal to me. (SPOLIERS How can you drop a knife onto someone's back with enough accuracy for near-instant death? I've read the Colonel March version of this story, and I like it better, because it's easier to buy that the killer could drop the knife onto his neck. END SPOLIERS)
"Just how far does any man trust his wife? Or his fiancée for that matter?" It's a question Carr would pose many times, here asking if a man can trust that his fiancée hasn't made a habit of poisoning people despite not getting near the drinks. Of course, one should always remember that Carr loves to twist things....
Once again, more of a suspense story than anything, but it's a good suspense story, even if Barbra's behavior is intensely bizarre. The ending makes up for a lot, though. Except for the fact that there are no vampires (expect the metaphorical kind), towers, and definitely no vampire towers!
The Devil's Manuscript
A young couple has car trouble in the woods and notice a man in a house. The same man who made a bizarre bet with a horror author that has put his life in danger. Is there really a story so terrifying that it can kill?
More suspense than anything, this is an adaption of some horror story that I've never heard of. It's still very good, but I have to wonder (SPOLIERS why Colston was still standing outside that window. It didn't occur to him to run? END SPOLIERS)
White Tiger Passage
Bill Stacey has had enough. For too long he has been Willie Whiskers of the Daily Record, nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Now he's on the something big: the identity of a serial killer. Al he has to do is figure out was his murdered informant meant in his last limerick....
Yes, a comedy with a serial killer. Whether or not you consider it good comedy will depend on your sense of humor, but this is an all-around good mystery.
The Villa of the Damned
Alan Stannard is greatly enjoying his vacation in Italy, taking in all of the sights... including a bizarre ritual that can make a whole suburb disappear in the mists of time..
A great end to the collection. All the usual praise applies, though with one flaw: the situation is audacious yes, but it leaves very little room for any alternate solutions.
All in all, this is an excellent and well-rounded collection. My only real consistent gripe is that some of these are more suspense stories than mystery stories, but they're good anyhow. Besides, they were written for a radio program called Suspense... (and an American counterpart...)
I give this collection a 7.5 out of 10.
Next time, Pronzini! Though it's not Nameless I'm looking at...
Also: I would like to apologize for the atrocious amount of time it took for this. I say that I'll have these done earlier, and then I take forever...