Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dark of the Moon, by John Dickson Carr

Dark of the Moon
By John Dickson Carr
1968

Gather round while I relate to you the epic saga of how I attempted to make my way to the end of John Dickson Carr's Dark of the Moon. I picked up a cheap paperback copy quite some time ago at a used bookstore and I was rather keen to read it. After doing so for a short time I put it aside. Then I came back to it. Then I put it aside. Then I came back to it. Then I put it aside. You get the point.

Finally I put it aside for good, on a stack of books that I intended to trade in at the aforementioned store. Or so I thought. Many months later, more or less on a whim, I dug the book out of the stack and started it again. And found, to my surprise, that it was relatively smooth going. For a while, anyway, until about the two-thirds mark, when I put it aside again. Finally, not so long ago, I came back to it and finished it off.

Which might lead one to believe that I didn't like this book very much. But that's not quite true. Right here, I'll note that I'm not real well versed in Carr, having read perhaps ten of his books in all. But from reading the opinions of others I gather that his later books are not nearly as well regarded as the earlier ones. If Dark of the Moon is any indicator I think I can see why. This was the fourth to the last of the books to be published before his death in 1977 and the last to feature his series character Gideon Fell.

Who is called to the house of an acquaintance on a coastal island in South Carolina, a state where Carr apparently spent his later years. After rather a lot of slow-paced preamble and working around to the point someone is bumped off in a manner that anyone who knows Carr will find familiar. This time around the master of the impossible crime trots out another of those sandy beach type gems, in which the victim is found in an expanse of sand with no footprints around but his own.

The pace hardly picks up from here, if I do say so myself, but eventually the whole meandering conglomeration of a contraption of a story works its way around to one of those lengthy reveal scenes. As for the explanation of the crime, I wouldn't go quite so far as to cry foul, but I would say that the author really stretched my credibility to the limit. Of course, if the killer had merely clocked the victim with a blunt object and been done with it it would hardly have been a proper John Dickson Carr book, now would it?

I guess what I found trickiest about this book, as I've noted, was that languid pace and meandering nature of the plot. Perhaps it was because he was getting up in years and living in and writing about a place where things move at a slower pace that things played out this way. On the plus side, however, Carr does what I've always felt he does best - perhaps as much or even more than all that impossible crime stuff - and that's to create a truly memorable atmosphere and sense of place.

3 comments:

  1. Quite an epic struggle there! I know what you mean.

    I dragged myself though all the late Carrs, except The Hungry Goblin, which has never been reprinted. This one rather reminded of late Agatha Christie. There's a kernel of a good idea here, but the ability to narrate a story has vanished. Plus some really irritating things, like the adults all acting like children and the absurd nicknames people come up with to address each other.

    Nobody should judge Carr by this book, he did so much better.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great point about the characters acting like children. Overwrought children, as it seemed much of the time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This book has a pretty lousy reputation, and it's not great by any means. However, I do think it's slightly better than many would have us believe. The impossible crime is interesting - the solution may be a bit of a stretch, but I've seen Carr pull far more unlikely stunts at times.
    I quite agree on the atmosphere. Carr's grip on the narrative may not have been what it once was but the scenes in the old school in particular do have a lot to recommend them.

    Colin

    ReplyDelete