Monday, March 22, 2010

John Dickson Carr

There's an interesting feature in this week's Independent, as part of their series on forgotten authors, on John Dickson Carr. I used to read a lot of John Dickson Carr when I was younger, especially the ones he wrote under his Carter Dickson nom de plume. As the article points out, realism or contemporary relevance were not a part of his make-up, but he wrote astoundingly well-plotted stories which are models of crafting. It's not the way I write, but I have nothing but admiration for the way he did it.

The fact that he wrote genre has also, inevitably, led to him being underestimated. He was a very good descriptive writer. There's a passage in one of his Carter Dickson novels, The Skeleton in the Clock, which takes place at night in the condemned cell of an old prison. It is such a creepy read it left me with an almost synesthestic taste in my mouth that I can still recall to this day. And he was also extremely funny. Sir Henry Merrivale was a truly Wodehousian character who erupted into any scene with comic brilliance. So much so that I take issue with the assertion in the Independent's article that he was the source of the Olivier character in Sleuth. I'd be very surprised if that was the case. Merrivale was a much warmer character and John Dickson Carr was a talented writer

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