Hag’s Nook by John Dickson Carr (1932)

Hag’s Nook, and the prison built around it, has loomed over the Starberth family for generations. An entail in the family inheritance dictates that on their twenty-fifth birthday, the eldest son must spend an hour alone in the Governor’s Room of the prison; during which time he must also unlock a safe and examine its secret contents. Unfortunately, the Starberths have another tradition…male heirs will die of a broken neck. So when Martin Starberth must submit to the ritual, Dr. Gideon Fell, uneasy with the circumstances, determines to keep a watch. His fears are realized when Martin is found, with his neck broken, at the edge of Hag’s Nook. Now it is up to Fell to catch a murderer.

After my disappointing last read I needed something of a pick-me-up. And oh I got it with Hag’s Nook. This is my first encounter with Dr. Gideon Fell, and it was a good one.

“He was very stout, and walked, as a rule, with two canes. His big mop of dark hair, streaked with a white plume, waved like a war-banner. Immense and aggressive, it went blowing before him through life. His face was large and round and ruddy, and had a twitching smile somewhere above several chins. But what you noticed there was the twinkle in his eye. He wore eyeglasses on a broad black ribbon, and the small eyes twinkled over them as he bent his big head forward; he could be fiercely combative or slyly chuckling, and somehow he contrived to be both at the same time.”

Fell, outside of his grand appearance is quite an engaging character. He likes to lecture and is a font of “obscure, useless, and fascinating information”. But, he is also an observer. He notices and takes in the details, ruminate on them, and come up with the solution before anyone else. The mystery was quite well done, and while I knew the who, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out the how, and I definitely didn’t know the why. Carr constructed the plot and spun out the details in such a way that I still missed, or forgot, key points along the way…dagnabit!!

There is the usual Carr humor, not as broad as in the Merrivale books that I’ve read, quieter but still apparent. Mrs. Fell popping out of windows, and the swashbuckling imaginings of Mr. Budge were especially humorous. I was also struck by Carr’s writing in this book. It is really quite eloquent. His exquisitely detailed visuals create atmospheres that can be warm and appealing –

“But here it was – the bees astir in a sunlit garden, the sundial and bird-houses, the smell of old wood and fresh curtains; not like anything except England.”

or dark and macabre –

“I saw in the bed a large grey rat looking at me with his eyes. He was wet, and there was a large pool of black water there; and the rat was gorged fat, and seemed to be trying to shake loose from his sharp teeth a flimsy of blue-and-white-striped cloth.”

As usual if possible, I had to start at the beginning, and I think that this was an excellent introduction to a new series (for me that is). Very much recommend it.

My Judgement – 4.5/5

Prior Rulings – Tipping My Fedora,  The Green Capsule, Dan @ The Reader Is Warned, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Moira @ Clothes in Books

5 thoughts on “Hag’s Nook by John Dickson Carr (1932)

  1. Nice review of a terrific book!

    I’m glad that you singled out the writing as it is, in my opinion, the book’s strongest point – it might even be Carr’s best-written work. I don’t mean it to say that the rest of his output is weak or undistinguished in this department but his prose became increasingly economical after this one, though you still can’t mistake a sentence of his for anyone else’s.

    Which one do you plan to read next?

  2. Pingback: My Book Notes: Hag’s Nook, 1933 (Dr Giedon Fell #1) by John Dickson Carr – A Crime is Afoot

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