Death Turns the Tables by John Dickson Carr (Sep 1941)

Mr. Justice Horace Ireton is well known for his belief in his own abilities to interpret the law and pass judgment. His idea of which is not tempered with mercy, and his method of delivering that justice is often compared to that of a game of cat and mouse. Then he was found with a pistol in his hand, the body of his daughter’s fiancé, whom he had no reason to love, lying dead on the floor. Surely death has turned the tables.

Death Turns the Tables is complicated. It is one of those books that I find hard to review without giving away too much information, so…this review may be just a bit terse. 

There is no “impossible crime”, there is no locked room to be found, and Carr never once indulges in any sleight of hand to divert the reader. The plot is serious, the mood somber, the humor discreet, and Dr. Gideon Fell is more restrained than usual —not words one usually uses when speaking of a work by Carr. Even the prerequisite romance, with two very down-to-earth and serious individuals, matches the mood of the piece. 

As a make my way through Carr’s novels I continue to find myself amazed at his writing ability. Here, it is crisp, with descriptions that are subtle, and dialogue that is succinct yet powerful.

‘My dear Fell, I never realized until this minute how much you dislike me.’

I? Dislike you?’

Mr. Justice Ireton made a gesture of impatience. ‘Oh, not me personally perhaps!’

‘Then may I venture to inquire what in blazes you did mean?’

‘I mean my principles. They irk you sentimental soul. I would not insult your intelligence by referring to feelings, friendly or unfriendly. There is hardly anything in this world of less value than relationships based on mere feeling.'”

Regarding the ending I will say only two things. First, that the puzzle of how the victim met their end came as a complete surprise to me. And second, I can say, as someone who spent the greater part of their career in the field of surgical neurology, it is totally plausible

Now, from the above, it may sound like I found this was just an ok read, but I didn’t. This is definitely going in my Top Ten Carr’s (when I get to the point when I can legitimately say I’ve read enough of him to do that). I read this cover to cover and never put it down. This was a book that I found myself totally immersed in, and loving it. 

My Judgment – 5/5

Prior Rulings – JJ @ The Invisible Event, John @ Pretty Sinister BooksMoira @ Clothes in Books

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories –  22. Repeat Offenders: Favorite author book 2

7 thoughts on “Death Turns the Tables by John Dickson Carr (Sep 1941)

  1. Yeah, completely agreed — this is a masterpiece, and Carr really excels here; there are a number of Carr books that wouldn’t be even half as good had someone else written them, and this is on that list — he does such a great job selling you all the loopy goings-on, and then hits you with that kicker of an ending…gorgeous stuff.

    1. I just wish I could have gone on and on about it the way I wanted to, but would have given way too much away. Like I wanted to say something about the two titles, and how each in it’s own way suits the book…especially in terms of the moral argument that Carr poses in the ending…

      1. I know what you mean, but at the same time there are certain books that it’s good not to be able to talk about too much, so that the surprise is retained for others — I remember the torrid time I had trying to review The Howling Beast by Noel Vindry on account of how similarly tightly-packed the plot is. It’s wonderful to see less regarded titles by Carr getting some love, though, and goes to show the sheer depth of the man’s output: away from She Died a Lady, The Hollow Man, The Crooked Hinge, The Judas Window, and He Who Whispers there are still so many great books, and it’s always nice to see them get the praise they deserve (the days of everyone else finally recognising how brilliant The Punch and Judy Murders is can’t be far away…!),

  2. Wow a 5/5 rating. I don’t think that happens frequently. Sounds like it might be a good Carr book for me to read. It has gone on the list – so there is half chance I won’t forget about it!

    1. It’s a sneaky one… and definitely not what most people think of when they think of Carr.

      And considering your list is about a mile long I’ll expect to see a review sometime next year?

  3. JFW

    Full marks! 😱

    I believe this title first came onto my radar when Martin Edwards praised it on his blog, and since then I decided to keep this as either my final or my penultimate Carr/Gideon Fell read. And so it’s a toss-up between this and He Who Whispers… 🤩 Otherwise, my reading of Carr/Gideon Fell might peter out unto mediocrity.

    1. I’ve not yet read He Who Whispers…almost there though, as I’m reading Fell chronology…then maybe I can help with the coin toss😉. My only regret in deciding to read Carr this way is seeing the rise and knowing that there is a big fall coming my way. And then I’ll start the ride all over again with Merrivale.

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