JOHN DICKSON CARR – He Who Whispers. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1946. UK edition: Hamish Hamilton, hc, 1946. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback, including International Polygonics, 1986. (Cover art: Roger Roth.)


   Gideon Fell is amusingly absent-minded in this eerily atmospheric novel set in London in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War:

    “Waterloo, its curving acre of iron-girdered roof still darkened over except where a few patches of glass remained after the shake of bombs, had got over most of the Saturday rush to Bournemouth.”

   This description of the iconic London railway station is the height of the book’s achievement. The solution to the murder, which took place in pre-war France, is also very clever, and there’s a well-made philosophical point to the story about how easily facts can be interpreted differently depending on how one wants β€” or has been influenced β€” to see them.

   Unfortunately, melodrama and coincidence dominate these finer points. And the psychological point of view is so absurd it must have been ridiculed even when in vogue. A ladylike female character’s fate is tragic because she “had to have men.”

   This continues on page 136 with, “In women so constituted β€” there are not a great number of them, but they do appear in consulting rooms β€”the result does not always end in actual disaster…” The murderer is neurotic and weak, dominated by his father, and at the same time terribly clever and cruel.

   Whatever the clinical facts of nymphomania and neurosis, they’re overblown here to a degree that undermines the narrative.