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Monday, 6 April 2020

‘Castle Skull’ by John Dickson Carr

Published by British Crime Classics,
February 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5326-7 (PB)
(Originally published in 1931)

A sinister castle on the Rhine – the mysterious disappearance of a magician called Meleager – a shot man dancing to his death in a mass of flame on the castle battlements – there is plenty for French juge d’instruction Bencolin and his sidekick Jeff Marle to investigate.

Martin Edward’s excellent British Library Crime Classics series has gradually been republishing out-of-print authors of the Golden Age, though the biggest wonder to me is that Dickson Carr /Carter Dickson has gone out of print in the UK. I’ve been collecting lurid-covered editions of his books since I was a teenager and he’s my absolute favourite. His later books starred sleuths Henry Merrivale (based on Winston Churchill, and the funniest crime ever written) and Dr Fell (based on fellow crime-writer G K Chesterton). If you want atmosphere, JDC is your man, and this book is no exception, with the Gothic brooding of Castle Skull itself, and the narcissistic grandeur of  retired actor Alison’s house, filled with vividly drawn characters: his poker-playing cigar-smoking sister, the bullying financier D’Aunay and his apparently colourless wife, and of course the Mephistophelean Bencolin, with his cryptic comments and shrewd deductions.  JDC insisted on fair play, and the clues here are displayed clearly, giving the reader every chance to ‘work it out’, and there’s a clever double-solution ending. The finale is sheer grand guignol melodrama, and great stuff too.

If you enjoy a brooding Gothic mystery that’s strong on atmosphere, characters and clever plotting, this one’s a treat – and I was delighted to see that some of his later books like Hag’s Nook and She Died a Lady are now coming out on Kindle. Enjoy!
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

John Dickson Carr (1906-1977) was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1906. Through born in the USA, Carr developed a distinctly British style to his mystery writing from his time living in England and became one of only two Americans ever admitted to the Detection Club. It Walks by Night, his first published detective novel, featuring the Frenchman Henri Bencolin, was published in 1930. Apart from Dr Fell, whose first appearance was in Hag's Nook in 1933, Carr's other series detectives (published under the nom de plume of Carter Dickson) were the barrister Sir Henry Merrivale, who debuted in The Plague Court Murders (1934).

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.
 Click on the title to read a review of her recent book
Death on a Shetland Isle

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