Satanic Sibilants: John Dickson Carr’s He Who Whispers

‘Prof. Rigaud!’ called Miles. He lifted up his voice powerfully. ‘Prof. Rigaud!’

Again as when the absent one had himself called for a waiter, only the rain gurgled and splashed in the darkness. There was no reply.

I had heard a lot about John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins and so borrowed it from a friend and read it… only to be mightily disappointed. The atmosphere that the author had created was great and the mystery was top-notch. However, the convoluted way the murders were done was a major let-down. So I wasn’t really keen to pick up a Carr again.

But then I saw He Who Whispers in a library and realised that it was first published in the year 1946 and since I have committed myself to reading at least two books from that year for the Birth Year Honors Reading Challenge, I picked it up.

And the beginning – describing the state of a person wandering about in Post-Blitz London and wondering whether it is all real – is a winner. I was hooked.

Nobel Winner, Miles Hammond is a lost soul after the second world war. All he wants to do is to bury himself in the country estate he has inherited after the death of his uncle. On his last day in London, he is invited to the meeting of the Murder Club (taking place after five years and a reminder that the war is now over and it is time to move on). However on arrival he finds only two people present: The speaker, Professor Rigaud and another guest, Barbara Morell.

The Professor narrates the story of the Brooke family with whom he was acquainted in France. Howard Brooke and his wife doted on their only son, Harry, who dreamt of becoming a painter and wanted to go to Paris to learn the art. However, his parents would not even hear of his going away. Into their midst came a girl called Fay Seton who worked as an assistant to Howard Brooke. Harry and Fay soon became engaged though the former’s parents did not really approve of the match. Then rumours started circulating about the girl in the countryside adding to the Brookes’ disapproval of the match. The affair had a shocking end with Howard Brooke found dying in a tower which nobody could access!

Shaken by the story, Hammond returns to where he is staying, only to find that the librarian whom he had hired to catalogue his uncle’s library is none other than the same girl, Fay Seton. Against all reasoning, Hammond hires her. He travels to his country house with Seton and his sister. That very night, his sister almost dies of fright. Somebody was whispering to her in the dark…

The spooky atmosphere that Carr creates is superb but I didn’t quite like the particular character for whom everybody seemed to have a bleeding heart. I am glad I read it though because I picked up another Carr after this: The Eight of Swords and enjoyed it immensely.


My first candle for the Birth Year Honors Challenge.

Also submitted for the following challenges: A-Z Titles, AZRC, Back to the Classics (Mystery/ Horror/ Crime), Borrowed Book, A Classic Challenge, Merely Mystery (Locked Room), Mystery and Suspense, Support Your Local Library, Vintage Mystery.


Opening Lines: A DINNER of the Murder club – our first meeting in more than 5 years – will be held at Beltring’s Restaurant on Friday, June 1st, at 8:30 p.m. The speaker will be Prof. Rigaud. Guests have not hitherto been permitted; but if you, my dear Hammond, would care to come along as my guest…?’

A sign of the times, that letter in his pocket. A sign, in this year nineteen – forty – five, that peace had crept back unwillingly to Europe. And he couldn’t get used to it.

Title: He Who Whispers

Author: John Dickson Carr

Publication Details: London: Penguin (No. 948)

First Published: 1946

Pages: 206

Other Books Read: The Three Coffins, The Eight of Swords

9 thoughts on “Satanic Sibilants: John Dickson Carr’s He Who Whispers

  1. Always nice when a book turns out better than expected! Atmosphere makes a big difference, doesn't it? Also nice that you got your mother's first BYRC candle just in time for Mother's Day (in the U.S., anyway).


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