Two Books by John Dickson Carr: It Walks by Night (1930) and The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)

Sometimes you read books which are so popular and talked about that it is difficult to write anything on them. In the past couple of months I read two of Carr’s novels: His debut, It Walks by Night featuring his (not-so-popular) series character Henri Bencolin, and The Mad Hatter Mystery, the second in his Dr. Fell series. Both books have been much written about, especially the first one which has recently been republished by the British library.

It Walks by Night is a deliciously creepy atmospheric tale which borrows heavily from Edgar Allan Poe. The characters are memorable none more so than the Juge d’instruction Henri Bencolin. It seems that he is not as well-liked as Dr. Fell and Henry Merrivale but I found a lot to admire in this Mephistophelian man with a satanic visage and liked him much better than Dr. Fell [Haven’t read anything of Merrivale except a short story]. The plot too is gripping with the sand constantly shifting under one’s feet.

The Mad Hatter Mystery doesn’t have the kind of spine-tingling atmosphere of the previous book nor of Hag’s Nook, the first Dr. Fell outing. It again involves Edgar Allan Poe though this time in the form of an unpublished story which goes missing. I wasn’t too convinced about the plot point that the missing papers would be so hard to replace. And have to admit that it was what happened to Poe’s story that hurt me a lot and which I found unforgivable rather than the killing of a man (face palm).

I have decided to keep the reading of Henri Bencolin for a later date, after I am through with Dr. Fell’s cases, and perhaps start with Sir Henry Merrivale. What do you think?

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Opening Lines: .. and not least foul among these night-monsters (which may be found even m our pleasant land of France) is a certain shape of evil hue which by day may not be recognized, inasmuch as it may be a man of favoured looks, or a fair and smiling woman; but by night becomes a misshapen beast with blood-bedabbled claws. So I say to you, even you who live in the city of Paris, when your fire burns low by night, and you hear a gentle tapping of fingers at the window-pane, do not open your door to this supposed traveller, who…”

Title: It Walks by Night

Publication Details: NY: Zebra Books, 1986

First Published: 1930

Pages: 253

Source: Open Library

Other Opinions: Crossexamining Crime; Death Can Read; Fiction Fan; The Grandest Game in the World; The Green Capsule; Kagsy’s Bookish Ramblings; Past Offences; Patrick T Reardon; The Reader is Warned

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First Line: IT BEGAN, like most of Dr Fell’s adventures, in a bar.

Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1966

First Published: 1933

Pages: 216

Other Opinions: Classic Mysteries; Clothes in Books; Dead Yesterday; The Grandest Game in the World; The Green Capsule; Mysteries Ahoy

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Other Books read of the same author: (Among Others) The Black Spectacles; The Burning Court

13 thoughts on “Two Books by John Dickson Carr: It Walks by Night (1930) and The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)

  1. Can’t recall reading any of his books. I should grab a copy of HAG’S NOOK. When it comes to Carr’s era, I am much more a fan of hard boiled stories. Also, you are right when you wonder what new thing you can say about a well-known book. I will write about such a book if I have just discovered it, and maybe the post will point the way for others – as you have done here for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hard boiled stories have a charm of there own, isn’t it? But I’d definitely recommend the reading of Carr too, he has written some real unputdownable books.. I am happy to read that this post has made you want to read Carr and Hag’s Nook is a very good place to start.

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  2. I’ve read several John Dickson Carr mystery novels over the years. Yes, they are contrived and not realistic. But, I see reading them as a game. Can I figure out the Locked Room puzzle? Can I identify the culprit? When I was a teenager, I started reading the early Ellery Queen mystery novels where the authors would stop and issue a “Reader’s Challenge” claiming all of the key clues had been revealed and an astute reader should be able to solve the murder. As I grew older (and maybe wiser) I found mysteries by Carr and Queen less satisfying. In small doses, they’re enjoyable. But I’m not sure I could read two of their mysteries in a row.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to the blog. I love reading whodunnits and puzzles and agree with what you have written about their primary attraction: the challenge to the reader. However, I always hope that I’d be unable to guess the identity of the criminal:) Curious to know, what kind of books you like now.

      Would love to see you visit again.

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      1. neeru, 1412064gk is the new ID WORDPRESS has imposed on me. It’s really me, George Kelley (as in http:\\georgekelley.org). I don’t know why WORDPRESS did this to me, but I’m just dealing with it. As you know from visiting my blog, I try to read a book a day. I like mysteries, Science Fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction books. Much of my reading is ruled by the Library. When a Library book is coming due, I drop everything and quickly read it. Love your blog! Keep up the good work!

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        1. Oh God! Just what is WordPress up to. They changed my name too from Neeru to Neeruahcop but at least it is better than being given a number. Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog, George. I am so glad and thankful that you visit and drop in a comment. I know about your eclectic tastes and enjoy reading your posts ranging from ice creams to other cool stuff:) A book a day! That’s remarkable.

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  3. I loved It Walks by Night – some of the writing is deliciously spooky. I haven’t yet read any of his other series but he’s an author I’d definitely like to explore further, I’m sure Hag’s Nook is somewhere on one of my many lists! Thanks for the link. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome, FF. I really loved the atmosphere and the mystery of It Walks by Night. Hag’s Nook is the same: the atmosphere is spine-tingling and the mystery is good though I wasn’t too enamored of the characters. Hope you read it soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review Neeru! I loved both of these books, each for very different reasons. I started with the Fell books (keep in mind that the later Fells are also in the lower tier of his writing), and will now be reading the Merrivales. I throw in a Bencolin every once in a while. Don’t forget the standalones!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laurie. I am trying to read the books in order (as long as I get them).Of the books read so far, I have enjoyed the stand-alones more than the series ones: Emperor’s Snuffbox is great and The Burning Court is a masterpiece. Looking forward to your reviews of the Merrivales. I plan to read his first book this year too.

      Liked by 1 person

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