My Book Notes: The Door To Doom, And Other Detections (1980) by John Dickson Carr


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Harper & Row, 1980. Format: Hardcover. 352 pages. ISBN: 9780060106287.

930194Book Description: Edited and with an introduction by Douglas G. Greene. The Door To Doom, And Other Detections includes five stories of crime and detection, six radio plays, three stories of the supernatural, two Sherlockian parodies, two essays and a bibliography of the works of John Dickson Carr.

From the Introduction: The Door To Doom, And Other Detections is offered as a memorial and a tribute to the genius of John Dickson Carr. The best of his previously uncollected work is included to show his mastery of various types of mystery writing, from his firsts short stories of the 1920s and 1930s to his last essay, written in 1973, four years before his death. In this book I share the joy of those who are becoming reacquainted with the world of John Dickson Carr, and I envy those who are reading the works of this grand master for the first time. (Douglas G. Greene)

My Take: Before John Dickson Carr’s first novel, It Walks by Night, came out in 1930, he wrote a number of short stories that were published anonymously in The Haverfordian, the literary magazine of Haverford College, where Carr himself was a student. Four of these stories were impossible-crime mysteries featuring Henri Bencolin. Bencolin made his first public appearance in the short story “The Shadow of the Goat” published in the November, December 1926 issue of The Haverfordian. This story will be followed by  “The Fourth Suspect” (January 1927), subtitled Another adventure of M. Henri Bencolin, “The Ends of Justice” (May 1927), and “The Murder in Number Four” (June 1928), subtitled Further adventures of Bencolin and Sir John Landervorne . They were collected, three years after Carr’s death, in The Door to Doom and Other Detections (Harper &  Row,  1980), edited by Douglas G. Greene. Bencolin had one further case published in The Haverfordian: a novella titled “Grand Guignol” (March, April 1929), which was later expanded into Carr’s first full-length novel It Walks by Night (1930).

“The Shadow of the Goat” is also included in It Walks by Night (British Library Crime Classics, 2019) and “The Fourth Suspect” is included in Castle Skull (British Library Crime Classics, 2020). At this stage I don’t know if the new edition of The Lost Gallows (1931) that, edited by British Library Crime Classics, will be published this coming 10th of November will also include some other Bencolin short story. Besides “Grand Guignol” is available on-line. 

During this long weekend in Madrid, from 31 October to 2 November 2020, I have read the five stories. It is not very often to have the opportunity to get to know the initial works of a writer in the making and that is, perhaps, the most attractive feature of the four short stories and of the novella that have occupied my reading hours these days. I found “Grand Guignol” very interesting, even though undoubtedly It Walks by Night is substantially superior. Of the other four short stories my preferences lean more towards  “The Shadow of the Goat” (1926). But in any event I enjoyed them all for the freshness and ingenuity of their proposals. As Douglas G. Greene stresses:

In these early stories Carr already demonstrates a magician’s ability to misdirect his audience. For instance, in “The Fourth Suspect” he mentions the mask, but we miss the true significance because he directs our attention to the unimportant similarity between the eyeholes and the bullet hole. “The End’s of Justice” provides a good example of Carr’s fair yet misleading use of clues; we should have known the meaning of Darworth’s conversation with McShane, but it takes Bencolin to interpret it correctly. Even in the opening statement of a case Carr legitimately direct us away from the key point; reread, for example, the first few pages of “The Murder in Number Four” …..

“The Shadow of the Goat”: A man disappears from a tightly closed room that was being closely watched, while another man is found dead in a locked-room and his death can only be attributed to supernatural causes. 

“The Fourth Suspect”: A man’s wife has run away from home with his lover when her husband was away. The husband upon returning home decides to seek his wife accompany by a policeman. When reaching the house where they are supposed to be, the sound of a gunshot is heard. His wife’s lover is found dead. All doors and windows are locked and no one else is found inside.

“The Ends of Justice”: Tom Fellowes has been tried and sentenced to death for having murdered his cousin Roger Darworth. They were both in love for the same woman and Fellowes was Darworth’s heir. For that reason, when Darworth is found murdered in a locked-room whose door was being watched from outside, Fellowes becomes the main suspect and is promptly arrested. But could he have committed such a crime when no footprints were found in the snow that surrounded the house?

“The Murder in Number Four” is set on a train called the Blue Arrow that connects Dieppe with Paris. The story revolves around the mysterious murder of a man who was found dead between the seats of an empty compartment, strangled. The victim was seen entering the train,  and he’s been seen sitting next to the window and handing his ticket to the conductor, according to the testimony of the latter. At the time the door was not bolted. But just before he was found, both the door and the windows were locked.
Besides, none of the passengers that were in the corridor had seen anyone entering or leaving the compartment.

Regarding “Grand Guignol” my previous post is here.

The Door To Doom, And Other Detections has been reviewed, among others, at Death Can Read, Mysteries, Short and Sweet, Justice for the Corpse, and Mystery File.

About the Author: John Dickson Carr was born on November 30, 1906, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of Julia Carr and Wooda Nicolas Carr. His father, a lawyer and politician, served in Congress from 1913 to 1915. After four years at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, John Carr attended Haverford College and became editor of the student literary magazine, The Haverfordian. In 1928, he went to France to study at the Sorbonne, but he preferred writing and completed his first books, a historical novel that he destroyed, and Grand Guignol, a Bencolin novella that was soon published in The Haverfordian. Expanded, it became It Walks by Night, published by Harper and Brothers in 1930.

In 1932, Carr married an Englishwoman, Clarice Cleaves, moved to Great Britain, and for about a decade wrote an average of four novels a year. To handle his prolific output, he began to write books under the nonsecret pseudonym of Carter Dickson. In 1939, Carr found another outlet for his work—the radio. He wrote scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and after the United States government ordered him home in 1941 to register for military service, he wrote radio dramas for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) program Suspense. Ironically, the government then sent him back to Great Britain, and for the rest of the war he was on the staff of the BBC, writing propaganda pieces and mystery dramas. After the war, Carr worked with Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to produce the first authorized biography of Sherlock Holmes’s creator.

A lifelong conservative, Carr disliked the postwar Labour government, and in 1948 he moved to Mamaroneck, New York. In 1951, the Tories won the election, and Carr returned to Great Britain. Except for some time spent in Tangiers working with Adrian Doyle on a series of pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, Carr alternated between Great Britain and Mamaroneck for the next thirteen years before moving to Greenville, South Carolina. Suffering from increasing illness, Carr ceased writing novels after 1972, but he contributed a review column to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and was recognized as a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1963. He died on February 27, 1977, in Greenville. (Source: “John Dickson Carr – Biography” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson. eNotes.com, Inc. 2008 eNotes.com 30 Oct, 2020 https://www.enotes.com/topics/john-dickson-carr#biography-biography).

About the Editor: Douglas G. Greene (born September 24,1944) is an American historian, editor, and author. Greene is Emeritus Professor of History at Old Dominion University, specialising in Tudor and Stuart Britain. He was co-owner and editor of mystery publisher Crippen & Landru through 2017, continuing as senior editor beginning in 2018, and has edited numerous Mystery fiction collections for both his own and other publishing houses. In 2014, the non-fiction anthology Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene was released to celebrate his 70th birthday, with ten Edgar Award winning or nominated authors among those contributing. Greene’s biography John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles was nominated in 1996 for the Edgar Award Best Critical / Biographical Work. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Door To Doom, And Other Detections, de John Dickson Carr

Descripción: Editado por y con una introducción de Douglas G. Greene. The Door To Doom, And Other Detections incluye cinco relatos breves, seis obras de teatro para la radio, tres historias sobrenaturales, dos parodias sherlockianas, dos ensayos y una bibliografía de las obras de John Dickson Carr.

De la introducción: The Door To Doom, And Other Detections se les presenta como un monumento y un tributo al genio de John Dickson Carr. Se incluye lo mejor de su obra no recopilada previamente para mostrar su dominio de varios tipos de escritura de misterio, desde sus primeros relatos de las décadas de 1920 y 1930 hasta su último ensayo, escrito en 1973, cuatro años antes de su muerte. En este libro comparto la alegría de quienes se están familiarizando con el mundo de John Dickson Carr, y envidio a quienes están leyendo las obras de este gran maestro por primera vez. (Douglas G. Greene)

Mi opinión: Antes de que apariciera la primera novela de John Dickson Carr, It Walks by Night, en 1930, escribió una serie de relatos que se publicaron de forma anónima en The Haverfordian, la revista literaria de Haverford College, donde el propio Carr era estudiante. Cuatro de estos relatos eran misterios de crímenes imposibles protagonizados por Henri Bencolin. Bencolin hizo su primera aparición pública en el relato “The Shadow of the Goat” publicado en la edición de noviembre, diciembre de 1926 de The Haverfordian. A este relato le seguirán, “The Fourth Suspect”(enero de 1927), subtitulado Otra aventura de M. Henri Bencolin, “The Ends of Justice” (mayo de 1927), y “The Murder in Number Four” (junio de 1928), subtitulado Nuevas aventuras de Bencolin y Sir John Landervorne. Fueron recopilados, tres años después de la muerte de Carr, en The Door to Doom and Other Detections (Harper & Row, 1980), editado por Douglas G. Greene. Bencolin protagonizó otro caso mas en The Haverfordian: una novela corta titulada “Grand Guignol” (marzo, abril de 1929), que más tarde se convirtió en la primera novela extensa de Carr It Walks by Night (1930).

“The Shadow of the Goat” también está incluida en It Walks by Night (British Library Crime Classics, 2019) y “The Fourth Suspect” en Castle Skull (British Library Crime Classics, 2020). A estas alturas no sé si la nueva edición de The Lost Gallows (1931) que, editada por British Library Crime Classics, se publicará el próximo 10 de noviembre incluirá también algún otro relato breve de Bencolin. Además, “Grand Guignol” está disponible en la web.

En este fin de semana largo en Madrid, del 31 de octubre al 2 de noviembre de 2020, he leído las cinco historias. No es muy frecuente tener la oportunidad de conocer los trabajos iniciales de un escritor en ciernes y ese es, quizás, el rasgo más atractivo de los cuatro cuentos y de la novela que han ocupado mis horas de lectura estos días. “Grand Guignol” me pareció muy interesante, aunque sin duda It Walks by Night es sustancialmente superior. De los otros cuatro cuentos, mis preferencias se inclinan mas hacia “The Shadow of the Goat” (1926). Pero en cualquier caso disfruté de todos ellos por la frescura y el ingenio de sus propuestas. Como destaca Douglas G. Greene:

En estas primeras historias, Carr ya demuestra la habilidad de un prestidigitador para desviar la atención de su audiencia. Por ejemplo, en “The Fourth Suspect” se menciona la máscara, pero perdemos su verdadero significado porque dirige nuestra atención a la similitud sin importancia entre los agujeros de los ojos y el agujero de la bala. “The End’s of Justice” nos ofrece un buen ejemplo del uso justo pero engañoso de las pistas por parte de Carr; deberíamos haber conocido el significado de la conversación de Darworth con McShane, pero necesitamos a Bencolin para interpretarlo correctamente. Incluso en la presentación inicial de un caso, Carr nos aleja legítimamente del punto clave; releer, por ejemplo, las primeras páginas de “The Murder in Number Four” …..

“The Shadow of the Goat”: Un hombre desaparece de una habitación firmemente cerrada que estaba siendo vigilada de cerca, mientras que otro hombre es encontrado muerto en un cuarto cerrado y su muerte solo puede atribuirse a causas sobrenaturales.

“The Fourth Suspect”: La mujer de un hombre se ha escapado de casa con su amante cuando su marido estaba ausente. El marido al regresar a casa decide buscar a su mujer acompañado de un policía. Al llegar a la casa donde se supone que deben estar, se escucha el sonido de un disparo. El amante de su mujer es encontrado muerto. Todas las puertas y ventanas están cerradas y no hay nadie más adentro.

“The Ends of Justice”: Tom Fellowes ha sido juzgado y condenado a muerte por haber asesinado a su primo Roger Darworth. Ambos estaban enamorados de la misma mujer y Fellowes era el heredero de Darworth. Por esa razón, cuando Darworth es encontrado asesinado en una habitación cerrada cuya puerta estaba siendo vigilada por afuera, Fellowes se convierte en el principal sospechoso y es arrestado de inmediato. Pero, ¿podría haber cometido tal crimen cuando no se encontraron huellas en la nieve que rodeaba la casa?

“The Murder in Number Four” se desarrolla en un tren llamado Blue Arrow que conecta Dieppe con París. La historia gira en torno al misterioso asesinato de un hombre que fue encontrado muerto entre los asientos de un compartimiento vacío, estrangulado. La víctima fue vista entrando al tren, y se le ha visto sentado junto a la ventana y entregando su boleto al revisor, según testimonio de este último. En ese momento la puerta no estaba cerrada. Pero justo antes de que lo encontraran, tanto la puerta como el las ventanas estaban cerradas.
Además, ninguno de los pasajeros que se encontraban en el pasillo había visto a nadie entrar o salir del compartimento.

Con respecto a “Grand Guignol” mi publicación anterior está aquí.

Acerca del autor: John Dickson Carr nació el 30 de noviembre de 1906 en Uniontown, Pennsylvania, hijo de Julia Carr y Wooda Nicolas Carr. Su padre, abogado y político, fue miembro del Congreso de 1913 a 1915. Después de cuatro años en la Hill School en Pottstown, Pennsylvania, John Carr asistió a Haverford College y se convirtió en editor de la revista literaria de los estudiantes, The Haverfordian. En 1928 se fue a Francia a estudiar a la Sorbona, pero prefirió escribir y completó sus primeros libros, una novela histórica que destruyó, y “Grand Guignol”, una novela corta portagonizada por Bencolin que pronto se publicó en The Haverfordian. Ampliada, se convirtió en It Walks by Night, publicada por Harper and Brothers en 1930.

En 1932, Carr se casó con una inglesa, Clarice Cleaves, se mudó a Gran Bretaña y durante aproximadamente una década escribió un promedio de cuatro novelas al año. Para manejar su prolífica producción, comenzó a escribir libros bajo el seudónimo no secreto de Carter Dickson. En 1939, Carr encontró otra salida para su trabajo: la radio. Escribió guiones para la British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) y, después de que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos le ordenara volver a casa en 1941 para inscribirse en el servicio militar, escribió dramas de radio para el programa Suspense de la Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Irónicamente, el gobierno lo envió de regreso a Gran Bretaña, y durante el resto de la guerra estuvo en la plantilla de la BBC, escribiendo piezas de propaganda y dramas de misterio. Después de la guerra, Carr trabajó con los herederos de Arthur Conan Doyle para elaborar la primera biografía autorizada del creador de Sherlock Holmes.

Conservador de toda la vida, a Carr le disgustaba el gobierno laborista de posguerra, y en 1948 se mudó a Mamaroneck, Nueva York. En 1951, los conservadores ganaron las elecciones y Carr regresó a Gran Bretaña. Excepto por un tiempo que pasó en Tánger trabajando con Adrian Doyle en una serie de pastiches de Sherlock Holmes, Carr alternó entre Gran Bretaña y Mamaroneck durante los siguientes trece años antes de mudarse a Greenville, Carolina del Sur. Afectado por una enfermedad que iba en aumento, Carr dejó de escribir novelas después de 1972, pero continuó escribiendo una columna de reseñas para el Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine y fue reconocido como Gran Maestro por los Mystery Writers of America en 1963. Murió el 27 de febrero de 1977 en Greenville. (Fuente: “John Dickson Carr – Biography” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson. ENotes.com, Inc. 2008 eNotes.com 30 de octubre de 2020 https://www.enotes.com/topics/john-dickson-carr#biography-biography).

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