Friday, December 20, 2019

Review of The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr (1935, Orion)

A stranger interrupts a conversation between Dr Grimaud and his friends in a London pub. He says he’s an illusionist and that his brother is a more powerful one and will call on Grimaud and take his life. A few days later the brother seemingly performs that feat, entering the room of Grimaud, shooting him, then vanishing. On the same night, the illusionist is also killed, shot at close range in the middle of an empty street, two men just a few steps ahead and a policeman nearby. In both cases, there are no footprints in the snow. The killer seemingly appears, commits murder, and vanishes. Trying to solve the case is Superintendent Hadley and criminologist Dr Fell. Fell is convinced there is a logical solution, the difficulty will be in identifying it.

The Hollow Man was the sixth book in the Dr Gideon Fell series than ran to 23 instalments. In this outing, Fell and Superintendent Hadley seek to solve two puzzles – one a traditional locked room mystery in which a murderer seemingly vanishes from a closed room with only one viable exit, the other a play on the theme, in which a man is shot a close quarters on a street by a seemingly invisible man. In both cases it has been snowing, but there are no footprints in the snow surrounding the house or on the street. It is clear there is a direct link between the murders and the reason for the deaths are rooted in events many years before in Europe. Solving the mystery, however, is far from straightforward. The story is all about the plot and puzzles, and the writing is quite functionary, the characters one dimensional, and the sense of place pretty lifeless. The story is one long plot device and the puzzles convoluted and contrived to the point of parody. Carr is seemingly aware of this, even slotting into the story a chapter long treatise on locked room mysteries. In some ways, that is the most interesting and believable section of the book. The story itself was far from credible, though it is held together and propelled by the fantastical spin of events.

No comments: