Monday, June 09, 2008

I Love a Mystery

A colleague (who has a master's in English lit) and I were discussing mystery writers. One of my favorite authors is John Dickson Carr, but my friend didn't share my enthusiasm. "He's somewhat old-fashioned," she sniffed, " Dickson writes puzzles. I prefer stories with fully-developed characters."

Ouch! I have to admit that John Dickson Carr is old-school. His first novel was published in 1932, and his final book came out in 1972, five years before his death.

Apparently, puzzle mysteries are far too quaint for today's readers -- although I suspect it's more a case of a change in reading habits.

In the 1920's and 1930's, the mystery was the thing. One had to read carefully, follow the provided maps and charts, and diligently work out the timetables to deduce the culprit before the end of the story.

Carr's specialty was the "locked room" murder. His "impossible" crimes took place in hermetically sealed rooms or other locations where the question of "how" was as important as "who." I have nothing against more modern mysteries, but Carr's work is (in my opinion) unsurpassed in ingenuity and logic.

Unlike other writers of the between-war years, Carr doesn't rely on complicated timetables or the reader knowing arcane bits of information. Instead, Carr simply uses his mastery of misdirection.

By the third chapter of a typical John Dickson Carr novel, the reader will have already been introduced to the killer(s) and have been presented with all the information they will later need to solve the crime. And in most cases (at least with me), they will have missed it all.

There's more to John Dickson Carr than I can cover in a single blog post. He was also a master at characterization (despite what my colleague said), often had wild comedic elements in otherwise serious stories, was an extremely knowledgeable historical fiction writer, and also was successful in other media.

I've always found his books worth a read -- and perhaps, if you enjoy a well-crafted tale or two -- you may, too.

- Ralph

(Give yourself some bonus points if you recognize the source of the post title).

No comments:

Post a Comment