bynight.jpgIt Walks By Night was the very first book published by Dickson Carr, master of the locked room mystery. I didn’t know this while reading it, but it makes sense: the style is rambling and florid, it feels like a book by someone pleased to be stretching out across a book’s length. Those aren’t bad things: the book is as much gothic horror as murder mystery and the occasional ornateness suits this. There is a great scene in a bower where the hero is romancing a lady and a DREADFUL THING is discovered: it wouldn’t work if Carr didn’t take his prose way over the top.

There was also a gothic element in the other Dickson Carr book I’ve read, The Hollow Man, and there was a metafictional element too, as fat detective Doctor Fell discoursed on rub solutions to locked room crimes. There’s a bit of meta here too, as various protagonists have conversations about, eg. Poe, before their lives take a distinctly Poe-ish turn. None of said characters are especially sympathetic or multi-dimensional – the women especially are cyphers – but this isn’t such a problem in a short book so filled with beheadings, hashish addicts, sinister “silky beards”, face-changing surgery, grotesque revenges, etc etc. – there is even a suggestion early on that the antagonist is a WEREWOLF! (But alas, no.)

Is it a good murder mystery? The locked room element is a bit feeble, and hurried through towards the end, once the real “did you guess it?” plot hinge is revealed. I did guess it – or bits of it – but enjoyed the clue-trail and the deduction and the staggering unlikeliness of the whole thing. The trouble is that the hinge is shown too early, and the final fifth of the book feels more like a winding down than the climax – a lot of guff about the motive of the killer, which I didn’t care about since they were so thinly-drawn anyway. MOAR GUIGNOL PLS. The book runs completely out of steam on the final page, and we hear nothing about any conclusion to the narrator’s own story – what happened to him and the gold-digging English girl he has spent 80 pages chasing, for instance? No idea – and to be fair it may be that Dickson Carr simply realised none of his readers would give two hoots.

(I read this book as part of a project to read whodunnits by 10 different authors. The others will show up on FT in due course, i.e. when I read them, but I am not going to tempt fate by making it a series just yet.)