Wow! John Dickson Carr’s The Judas Window is a ripping impossible-crime whodunnit filled with bristling suspense and intelligence. It’s the best Carr I’ve read since The Problem of the Green Capsule and my first unquestionable masterpiece of 2021. Believe me, I needed one!
The Problem: It’s the kind that’s keeps you reading deep into the night. James Answell makes an appointment to meet his future father-in-law, Avory Hume. Hume’s staff had heard their boss’s earlier disparaging of Answell: My dear Answell, I’ll settle your hash, damn you. (Ahhh, you Brits and your adorable threats.) When the meeting finally arrives, Answell enters Hume’s study. Both men are on guard. Answell takes a drink of whisky and passes out. When he awakens soon after, Hume is lying dead on the ground with an arrow stuck in his heart. The door is bolted shut on the inside. The windows were already shut and locked. The whisky decanter and the soda siphon are full and untouched (and not laced with anything). Answell has a gun in his pocket. Anything else? Oh, yes! There’s no alcohol on Answell’s breath. An open and shut case if ever I have heard one.
The investigation: There isn’t one. This is a court room drama–one of my least favorite subgenres. And yet, like The Poisoned Chocolates Case, the story manages to investigate the crime just fine, presenting us with the clues just as if they were being slowly discovered by a detective. In fact, I’d say the book gives us Carr’s best allotment of clues. They are shocking, contradictory, relieving, and always necessary at the time. The case against Answell starts strong, but Merrivale (his defense attorney!) takes it down piece by piece, one inimitable fact at a time. A missing feather and an inkpad turn out to be very important clues.
The solution: I know some of you will disagree with me. While the solution (on its own) is not remarkable, its use within this narrative is brilliant. I’ve read a few comments here and there, arguing against this point. I’ll put it very simply–you’re wrong. There. Argument over. The brilliance of Merrivale’s detection is so complete and so entertaining (and the problem so well-presented), I was prepared to accept anything. What I got was perfect for this story. And just for a moment, can we acknowledge how brilliant the short, final scene of the murderer is. I don’t know the last time I read something so strangely horrifying and touching.
This book does even the smallest aspects well. I’ve always had a joking criticism of detective fiction (and Carr in particular): At so many points, the sleuth could reveal his/her knowledge and make things so much easier. In fact, I’ve laughed out loud hearing Fell and Merrivale explain why they couldn’t share information with their client/police colleagues/friends. The real reason is obvious–the reader can’t know. Understand, this doesn’t really bother me. It amuses me more than anything. The reasons for Merrivale’s silence in TJW are…absolutely reasonable. Part of this (I think) is that Carr needed to fully flesh out why he wouldn’t go to the police before going to trial. In any event, it’s really satisfying to read a book that has even this minor issue covered.
The Judas Window is a triumph. I feel like I should have some criticisms, but I don’t. This is a book completely deserving of its place on locked-room enthusiasts all-time lists. Everything fits, everything works, and everything is in balance. So, if you haven’t read it…what in the hell are you still doing on my website?