book review

The Judas Window

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?

12 thoughts on “The Judas Window”

  1. My abiding memory of this is loving the mid-book reveal of how Hume came to take against Answell so completely overnight despite receiving no letters and no phone calls that couold have brought bad tidings more than the locked room…but I’ve also not read this in a number of years and your enthusiasm for it makes me want to jump back into it ASAP. It was an earliy Merrivale for me — possibly even my first — and I think I’d get more out of the courtroom scenes now having soent more time with the Old Man.

    Delighted you loved this so much; here’s hoping your 2021 reading continues to spar such joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “My abiding memory of this is loving the mid-book reveal of how Hume came to take against Answell so completely overnight despite receiving no letters and no phone calls that could have brought bad tidings more than the locked room”

      This is a great example of feeding your reader early (and keeping him satisfied) instead of letting him starve for 3/4 of the book. It’s a fun, ingenious reveal which leaves plenty of mystery to still be solved.

      Like

      1. Yes, that expresses the feeling perfectly. Man cannot live by the piling up of incidents all the way to the final chapter alone.

        Like

  2. The Judas Window is an amazing book – amazing pace (especially for a courtroom mystery), fantastic puzzle, and a solution that still strikes me as insanely clever. As you say, it’s the perfect balance. It’s always surprised me that there are those who don’t think this is one of Carr’s top five books.

    Can you imagine the scene where the murder takes place being filmed? I think it would be brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was my first experience with Carr and it hooked me on impossible crime fiction. The set up is perfect, the mid-book reveal is brilliant and HM in the courtroom made compelling reading.

    Initially I was irritated with the solution as either I did not understand it (after reading the ending three times) or thought that there was no way the culprit would have the skill to accomplish the murder.

    That said, this is a special book and shows off why Carr was perhaps the best GAD author of impossible crimes. The best compliment I can give is that I happily will re-read this one and enjoy all over again. With so much brilliant GAD fiction available (including your three books – I am a fan), a book must be amazing to get me to re-read it given my TBR pile resembles a mountain on the verge of avalanche.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “a book must be amazing to get me to re-read it given my TBR pile resembles a mountain on the verge of avalanche.”

      That’s why I have twelve TBR piles. Although… I must admit that once you hit twelve TBR piles, you kind of really just have twelve stacks of books littering your desk….

      Like

      1. The level of organisation — or is it self-delusion? 🙂 — to allow for more than one TBR is amazing to me. Sure, mine’s colour-coded and…other things, but, gee whizz, I’m tempted to do a podcast on “How I arrange my TBR” purely to get to the root of this system of yours, Ben!

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      2. Err… well… you see… it started off organized. I had a well curated Carr TBR. Then I had to spin off a Christie, as well as a “these are a random assortment of books that I want to read next” stack. Some how the “books I want to read next” stack has turned into a place books go to die, and additional piles have started to accumulate. At this point there is zero organization, and… yeah, I have a bunch of books on my desk.

        I used to fret quite a bit about reading order, but at this point, I have no clue what book I’m going to pick up on Saturday. It’s kind of fun that way.

        Liked by 1 person

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