I’m trying to imagine what a normie would think of Carr. (Where is the theme, the character development, the story?) His novels have little in the sense of narrative momentum. The penultimate chapter starts with a character we’ve never met, throwing us off the problem we’re so invested in and grinding things to an unbearable halt.
There are elements of ‘normal’ fiction including comedic–Merrivale (or Fell–doesn’t really matter) involves himself in some well-contained comedic high jinks (in the case of skeleton in the clock not so well-contained) and romantic–Where Hillary was concerned, he and Pennik were like two dogs round a bitch. But the concern with identifiable human behavior is lacking. If a reader were not aware of the game… Take for example how Merrivale (or Fell–it doesn’t matter) keeps everything to himself at the damndest times. I’ve actually started laughing at the deflecting moments. I’ll paraphrase:
Okay, you clearly have an idea of the killer and method. If you told us now, we could work together and catch the killer with ease.
Don’t you see it? It’s like a half-baked dream resting on the tip of your tongue in dazed deja vu reverie.
No, I don’t see it. If you’d just tell me–
Y’know, son, my fear is that it ain’t over yet. And if I’m right, God help us.
That’s why you have to tell me–
Seven chapters later: You see I couldn’t tell you because you were head over heels in love/sure of his innocence/emotionally tied up in the case. You woulda ruined the whole plan.
Ah, the difficulties of writing a brilliant sleuth without revealing his knowledge to the reader.
What does the reader of modern mysteries think of this stuff? Don’t know, don’t really care.
I want clues to be meaningless until they’re not, until they depend on a misunderstood event to become clear. I want villains to be harmless and victims to be sinister. I want atmosphere instead of a sense of place. (How long before we learn there’s a balcony to Constable’s window?) I want to be sure of the killer and then be wrong and then be right after I changed my bet. In short, I want The Reader is Warned
He Who Whispers remains the Carr benchmark. I love menace and that book is the most disquieting so far. (I’ve only read 11–long way to go). The Reader is Warned might be the most typical Carr. It’s a lot of fun, Pennik is a fantastic villain (he might remind you of a certain Paul Halter character if you read out of order like I do), and it’s expertly clued–as in, you don’t have a prayer in hell of solving this thing. You have been warned.