Halloween Horror: The Hungry Goblin by John Dickson Carr (1972)

It is 1896. Christopher ‘Kit’ Farrell arrives in London after years in the US where working as a newspaper-reporter, he had covered the civil war. His destination is Hotel Langham where he is supposed to meet old chum, Nigel Seagrave. Seagrave, an explorer, had been given up for dead in Africa soon after his marriage to Muriel Hildreth. However, a missionary party had found him alive and he was back in London but as his letter to Kit hints, there is a certain troubling issue which he wants to discuss with Kit. Kit is not without troubles himself. A year and a half back he had fallen in love with Patricia Denbigh when she had visiting the States with her aunt. She had reciprocated his ardour with full passion but after that there has been no correspondence between the two though Kit has written to her multiple times.

When Kit reaches Langham, he sees Patricia hurrying away from the hotel and a carriage whisks her away before he can hail her. When he meets Nigel, the latter also is in a hurry as he has to visit Muriel’s parents in the country. However, before he can leave Muriel joins the two men and soon encouraged by her sympathetic manner, Kit pours out his trouble regarding Patricia to them. Muriel says that though she doesn’t know Patricia personally, they have a common friend called Jenny. She promises Kit that through Jenny she would try to find out the reason for Patricia’s peculiar behaviour. Before the Seagraves leave however, Kit sees Jim Carver, a close friend from the US. However, when Kit hails him, Jim does a disappearing act.

While musing on these things later, Kit receives a telegram from Pat asking him to come to a particular address. When he reaches, Pat is apologetic but says she can not explain things to him as she has to leave that very night. She also introduces him to her rather unpleasant cousin, Harvey, and his friend George, who turns out to be a fan of Nigel and wants so very badly to meet him.

The next day, Nigel, comes over to Kit and tells him his problem: he fears that the woman with him now is a doppelganger of his wife, Muriel! He then invites Kit for dinner to his house, Udolpho. The next day which happens to be Halloween, a group of people meet at Udolpho but after dinner is over, Nigel is shot at. Enter author Wilkie Collins in his capacity as a detective attached to the Scotland Yard. Who wants Nigel dead? Are his suspicions about his wife correct? What is the reason for Pat’s behaviour? What role does Boston Brahmin, Jim, play in all this? Do we get the answers as Carr takes us to that haunted gallery of Madame Tussaud?

Like all Carr’s novels, this has a very interesting premise. However, the author’s habit of creating interruptions just when something momentous is about to be revealed is overdone in this book. I got especially exasperated by Pat who would leave Kit dangling – just one day more, I have to get someone’s permission, there is not the proper atmosphere for the reveal, let the clock strike ten…how Kit could still be led by her was to me a greater mystery than the mystery of who shot Nigel which I guessed almost at once. And that brings me to my greatest problem with Carr: Why do his lovers behave like adolescents? For a novel, that is frank about pre-marital, extra-marital affairs et al to see mature men and women act like love-doped teenagers and indulge in infantile talk was nauseating. And why have Wilkie Collins as the detective when he is to be sidelined for most part unless it is to offer his benedictions to the various couples because he too can never stick to the straight and the narrow?

Still Carr being Carr, the novel has its moments that makes it a good read for Halloween.


First Line: The man we are to follow landed at Liverpool that morning from the Cunarder Russia.

Publication Details: 1972. London: Hamish Hamilton., 1972.

Dedicated to: Hugh Holman

Pages: 290

Source: Open Library

Other Opinions: The Grandest Game; The Green Capsule

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Man who could not Shudder


11 thoughts on “Halloween Horror: The Hungry Goblin by John Dickson Carr (1972)

  1. You know, Neeru, I hadn’t thought abut it, but you have a point about the way Carr writes about lovers and love affairs. Perhaps he simply wasn’t comfortable with that topic, so found it harder to write authentically? I don’t know, but I know what you mean. And like you, I don’t like suspense to be dragged out. I can see how that would have been annyoing. The story does have an interesting premise, though, and Carr was good at creating atmosphere, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Margot, hardly anybody can create atmosphere the way Carr does. He was a genius in that.

      In many ways, I find Carr oxymoronic (is that the word?) in his depiction of romance. Amongst all the GAD authors I have read, he is the one who discusses the sexual nature of a relationship in a pretty open manner ( This book and He Who Whispers being prime examples) and yet those very adult characters behave in a completely childish manner otherwise. I really cannot reconcile these diverse presentations in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carr did better with romance early on in his career – The Case of the Constant Suicides, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, and The Sleeping Sphinx are some examples that come to mind where I was successfully wrapped up in the budding romance. Things really fell off around the time of The Dead Man’s Knock in 1958 and I don’t think Carr pulled off a successful romance from that point on, although perhaps one of his historicals from after that time period is slipping my mind. The issue with the later books is that Carr tried to inject drama by having the characters constantly argue with each other, and as you mention here, he also leaned heavily into the trope of the woman in the relationship holding back some big secret. 100% of the time it turns out that the secret isn’t a big deal at all and you wonder why you had to suffer through it being teased for 150 pages.

    As for The Hungry Goblin, Carr wrote a lot worse books and this finale is better than I had expected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh good! I have not read the books that you have mentioned. Glad that they present romance in a convincing manner.

      and you wonder why you had to suffer through it being teased for 150 pages.: laughing now but very exasperating while reading. I mean, Pat’s secret in this book. When I read it, I was like duh..

      Carr wrote a lot worse book: The Blind Barber immediately springs to me. Just what was it all about?


  3. I’ve found Carr uneven, too, and it’s good to know this may not be one of his best. Though I’ll second Green Capsule’s comment that the romance in Constant Suicides is pretty entertaining.

    Didn’t get around to commenting on your last two 1929 mystery posts, and none of them have I read, so I was glad to see which you liked. (I have an eBook of the Thynne.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Constant Suicides seems like a strong Carr. Looking forward to reading it. My favourite read of 1929 was The Treasure House of Martin Hews by Oppenheim. The others were more or less okay though Upfield was very tough to read, I would like to know your views on Thynne.

      Liked by 1 person

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