JOHN DICKSON CARR – He Who Whispers. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1946. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted several times, in both hardcover and soft.


   Sometimes you go back and reread an old classic that really impressed you first time out and find the magic is gone. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with He Who Whispers.

   Carr’s eerie tale about the mysterious murder on top the ruined tower in prewar France that haunts a group of people in present-day, postwar England is considered by many fans today to be his single best work. I wouldn’t put it quite at the very top, but it’s certainly in the top ten.

    As Doug Greene has pointed out, it effectively combines supernatural elements of his earlier work with the male-female emotional and sexual tension of his forties works. The tale is both thrilling and moving, with some greater character interest than usual.

   Indeed, the character interest is arguably the strongest element of the book. I would think many readers could deduce the identity of the culprit of the book’s crimes (hey, I did), though the mechanism of the tower murder and its motive may well prove elusive. They are quite cleverly clued.

   Character interest is so strong here, I felt like the presence of Dr. Fell was not really needed, though he is pretty restrained here. Still, he takes me a bit out of the story.

   Other than that, there’s hard to find much to criticize. A grand work. The opening of the book, where the visiting Professor Rigaud tells the tale of the murder on the tower, and the closing section, which tales place in an evocatively portrayed blitzed London, in particular are spectacular set pieces.

Editorial Comments:   This is the first of several reviews Curt has sent me following his recent (re)reading of the works of John Dickson Carr and Carter Dickson. Doug Greene, whom he mentions in this review, is the author of John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, generally considered to be the definite biography of Mr Carr.