JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1940. UK edition: Hamish Hamilton, 1940. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft, including and shown here: Bantam #365, 1949; Zebra, 1986.

JOHN DICKSON CARR The Man Who Could Not Shudder

   I wrote first-rate! in my paperback copy of this The Man Who Could Not Shudder back in 1993 — when as a young person I was first buying Carr, all those nice IPL, Harper and Zebra editions had come out, and Carr was very much alive and well in paperback, in contrast with today. On re-reading I really enjoyed this one, though this was one where I actually recalled most of the resolution as I read.

   This is the one involving the miracle problem of guest at a country house party who is shot in the study of the house by a gun that seemingly moves of its volition. Did I mention the house is supposed to be haunted? There are strange stories of an ankle grabbing ghost of a former owner of the house who died in 1820 and, from a hundred years later,of a chandelier-swinging, octogenarian butler who died when the chandelier crash down on him.

   Though is a haunted house tale, Carr does not lay on the Gothic shudders heavily this time. It’s a very modern haunted house, convincingly set in the late 1930s, with characters who act like real, normal people. (We do have one silly outburst of jealousy on the part of the narrator’s girlfriend, but that soon subsides.)

   A couple of the characters, including the egoistic current owner of the house and one of the female guests, who is the highly desired wife of the murder victim, are very well done. (Concerning the latter there’s some discussion about sex that is pretty explicit for the period.)

JOHN DICKSON CARR The Man Who Could Not Shudder

   Dr. Fell is on hand, but I didn’t find his mannerisms irritating here. Inspector Elliot appears too — Shudder is a prequel to his later appearances in The Crooked Hinge and, what I believe was his last appearance, The Black Spectacles.

   Shudder is one of Carr’s more John Rhodeian tales (I won’t say more, but Rhode readers who have read Shudder will know what I mean). It also takes place in John Street’s (the man who was John Rhode) personal territory: coastal, southern England.

   Written shortly after the two friends collaborated on Fatal Descent/Drop to His Death, Shudder is, like The Reader Is Warned, a novel I could see being discussed over pints by the two men.

   It’s also worth noting that the 1943 John Rhode novel, Men Die at Cyprus Lodge, involves a haunted house and some other bits similar to Shudder, though the plot turns out quite differently.

   The murder method in Shudder is, as usual with Carr, cleverly clued; and there’s the bonus as well of a triple twist solution. The reader who makes it through all these hoops will be clever indeed. One action by Fell I thought outrageous, but for me it was explained sufficiently by the end, when we also learn that justice has been done.

Editorial Comment:   Curt recently undertook the task of re-reading a number of books by John Dickson Carr. This is the second in a series of reviews he wrote as a result. He Who Whispers was the first to appear, and you can read it here.