Aug 07


FT + The Brown Wedge14 comments • 1,849 views

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.)


  1. 1
    DV on 2 Aug 2007 #

    Do locked room mysteries always resolve by revealing one of the following?

    1. the room was not really locked after all
    2. there is another way into the room
    3. there was someone else in the room all along


  2. 2
    Admin on 2 Aug 2007 #

    There are further possibilities which i think are more common in JDC (I’m only picking this up from what fans tell me). Last person out/first person in lies/misleads. Physical change requiring no human agency at all. Contriving significant change through limited access (keyhole). and then combinations of all these

  3. 3

    non-euclidian geometry: room is revleaed to be a KLEIN BOTTLE (as is universe outside room obv)

  4. 4
    byebyepride on 3 Aug 2007 #

    does the speckled band count as a locked room mystery?

  5. 5

    there’s an awesome father brown one called the invisible man, where the murdered millionaire is discovered alone in a roomful of his own robots! (tho they’re not called robots as the word hadn’t come to mean this yet)

  6. 6
    Admin on 3 Aug 2007 #

    My favourite Mission Impossible episodes involve a sort of locked room mystery but from the reverse perspective of watching it being carried out without knowing the final effect. then the patsy is at a loss to explain what happened.

    there was one (i might be misrembering another show) where they stole a load of gold from a safe by MELTING it using a heater introduced through a tiny bore hole and draining off the gold through same. which is sort of like the JCreek ep with the statue.

  7. 7

    actually the first ever father brown is a very funny locked-room: “the absence of mr glass”

    (and i think there are several others)

  8. 8
    Pete Baran on 3 Aug 2007 #

    If the locked room mystery < the impossible mystery then all Jonathan Creek fit these.

  9. 9
    Tom on 3 Aug 2007 #

    There are a few JCs which are actual pure locked-room mysteries – the one with the skeleton disappearing in the garage for instance.

  10. 10
    Admin on 3 Aug 2007 #

    i’m sure renwick would count JDC (and prolly many others) as inspiration

    the vanishing painting (hidden in the door). there was a meta-locked room one later (quite ropey too IIRC) with framed-up snoring problem. (or something.) satan’s chimney one (false roof descends) was locked room-ish. er

  11. 11

    haha “the winger dagger” is a LOCKED OUTDOORS mystery (using fresh-fallen snow instead impenetrable walls)

  12. 12
    Alan on 3 Aug 2007 #

    JC “ghost’s forge” xmo special had a fresh-fallen snow mystery

    (must try not to stay logged in as admin)

  13. 13
    Tom on 3 Aug 2007 #

    “Ghosts Forge” is an impossible punctuation mystery which includes a locked room mystery set up by MADDY to fool Jonathan. You’re thinking of “Black Canary” with the fresh fallen snow.

  14. 14
    Alan on 3 Aug 2007 #

    YR RITE!

    ah, the locked apostrophe mystery genre

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