Friday, 1 April 2011

Forgotten Book - The Burning Court


My choice for today's Forgotten Book is a novel first published in 1937 by the master of the locked room mystery, John Dickson Carr. The Burning Court is unusual in that it does not feature either of Dickson Carr's two regular series detectives, and extraordinary in terms of the twist in the epilogue.

Another unexpected facet of the book is its setting. Although Dickson Carr was American, he was a confirmed Anglophile, and often set his mysteries in England. However, he wrote this novel at a time when his British publisher was pressing him to write something less "grotesque", and he chose not only to set the book in Pennsylvania but also to start the story in a relatively low key, commonplace manner, with a young publisher's editor making a trip to his holiday home in the countryside.

Needless to say, things do not remain commonplace for long. There are two brilliant "impossible" mysteries. How could an entombed corpse disappear from its coffin? And how could a mysterious woman walk through a solid wall in the room of a dead man? The answers are enjoyable to discover, but Dickson Carr then throws in a further amazing development that is open to more than one interpretation. Quite a good book choice for April Fool's Day, actually!!

I have been on the lookout for this book for a while, and so I was absolutely delighted when Langtail Press made it available again. I do think that Langtail are doing a real service for fans of hard to find crime fiction classics – long may they continue to do so!

11 comments:

Sarah Allen said...

Looks cool :) I'll have to check it out.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, Carr was a master at the "impossible crime," and this one sounds like no exception. Thanks for sharing.

John said...

A true classic! I would never consider it forgotten, though. It's very well remembered (treasured even) by any devotee of Golden Age Detection. Carr's masterpiece, IMAO. But purists tend to have issues with the surprise twist in the final pages. I for one love iconoclastic detective novels like this one. Break the rules, I say! And break them often.

Christine said...

The London Library has a copy, Martin. I intend to take it out. Might be worth your while joining?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sounds like an amazing mystery. Set in Pennsylvania! Hope someone will start putting some of these books up on Kindle soon.

Jerry House said...

A great book, one of JDC's best! Thanks for spotlighting it, Martin.

George said...

I've enjoyed John Dickson Carr's novels for decades. THE BURNING COURT is right up there. Love the Carter Dickson books, too.

Dorte H said...

Missing corpses? This one sounds like a delicious Dickson Carr. I think I have read 2-3 of his novels, books I have picked up for an old song in Danish second-hand shops, and I agree that he is a great plotter.

Chelsea said...

Great review Martin. Elizabeth, The Langtail Press has made six of John Dickson Carr's books available on Kindle, and many by other early crime fiction writers too.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for your reaction.
John, I agree. Some of my favourite crime novels of the unrepeatable one-offs.
Christine, I'm very tempted!
Elizabeth, as Chelsea helpfully mentions, the publishers are making these books available on Kindle.
Dorte, I think you'll like this one!

Richmonde said...

Got it (with a lurid cover), but finding it unreadable. Going to cheat and skip to the end. Info about witchcraft was popular in the 30s, wasn't it?