Wed 30 Jun 2010
CARTER DICKSON - He Wouldn’t Kill Patience. William Morrow & Co., US, hardcover, 1944. Wm.Heinemann, UK, hc, 1944. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback, including: Dell #370, mapback edition, 1954; Berkley X1339, pb, 1966; International Polygonics, 1988.
The only reputedly good Sir Henry Merrivale I had not read before now, Patience had been set aside by me as a little treasure to be opened someday. I decided to read this weekend and I quite enjoyed it.
Other critics and readers, including Doug Greene, have noted the problems with the later HM novels (particularly the last two), with the great HM becoming completely farcical and rather repellently reactionary.
But back to Patience….
This is the one involving a mysterious gassing deaths in a locked and sealed room of a London zoo director and a snake named Patience. It’s soon suspected that murder is involved!
Sir Henry, who appears in the first few pages, is on hand to solve the crime, along with Inspector Masters, who does very little, and a pair of rival magicians, one male and one female, who provide Carr’s much favored bickering love interest.
I found the obligatory bickering lovers easier to take here because they are theatrical people to start with (and the man actually is not that bad). No other memorable characters outside a splendidly misanthropic zoo caretaker, but they are sufficient and not irritating (except for a middle-aged woman who at least is meant to be irritating).
There is some fine slapstick humor at Merrivale’s expense in the beginning of the tale, and he is in good form throughout it. The zoo setting is nicely none, amusing and sinister by turns, and it is merged with the the current London Blitz very effectively.
Near the end something happens which may seem absurd, but it is all beautifully explained a few pages later.
Ironically, the weakest part of this book may be the sealed room problem, the explanation of which may disappoint some by being not quite so miraculous. But it is fairly clued, as is the identity of the murderer. This may not be considered one of the great Carr’s, but, all in all, I found it one of his more entertaining tales.
Editorial Comment: Curt has recently been re-reading a number of books by John Dickson Carr, aka Carter Dickson. This is the fifth in a series of reviews he wrote as a result. The Problem of the Green Capsule was the fourth, and you can read it here.
WARNING: PLOT ALERT! In Comment #8, some aspects of the solution are discussed.