In Spite of Thunder by John Dickson Carr (1960)

Audrey Page, has come to Geneva for a gathering at the Villa Rosalind, home of retired actress Eve Ferrier. There have been dark rumors following Eve since 1939, when she and fiancé, Hector Matthews, visited Hitler at Kehlsteinhaus in Berchtesgarden. During this visit Matthews fell to his death off a balcony, the only other person on the balcony—Eve.  Audrey’s father is none too happy about it and asks his friend, Brian Innes to intervene. Despite Brian’s warnings, Audrey go to the Villa, but the next morning another mysterious death takes place. This time it is Eve. She has fallen to her death from the balcony of her bedroom, the only person near her—Audrey. Brian sole aim becomes keeping Audrey from being accused of murder. Luckily Dr. Fell is on the spot to sort it all out…

Let me just start by saying—HOLY CRAP ON A CRACKER! This one just boggles the mind—and not in a good way. If you by chance read my review of The Dead Man’s Knock you may remember I said it was “a morass of marital squabbling and attempted infidelity with a murder thrown in.” Well, ISoT is just a morass of squabbling, and oh by the way there was a murder? 

The plot feels uneven and confusing. Jumping from a possible murder in the past, to a potential murder in the present, it doesn’t hang come together at all. In past works, such as Till Death Do Us Part, Carr’s use of cliffhanger chapter endings was compelling. Not so here, where the transitions are poorly done, and resulted in a lack of continuity from one chapter to the next. A chapter would end in a highly tense situation, the next would open sometime later, in an entirely different setting with no mention of the previous event, all of the tension, and any suspense, allowed to dissipate. There were times when I was left wondering if I had missed something, or looked back to make sure I hadn’t skipped over a page or two. 

The dialogue is chaotic and clamorous, with phrasing that feels stilted and stagey. The characters are continually exclaiming, but as they speak in unfinished sentences, or are interrupted before a sentence—or thought, can be completed, they never seem to say anything. And there’s more yelling here than in The Dead Man’s Knock, which I didn’t think could be possible. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Fell has a relatively small part to play, which means more time given over characters who just grate on the nerves. We get to witness the squabbling between the flighty and childish Audrey, and her swain Innes, who is forever chasing after her. We have to listen to the boorish Sir Gerald Hathaway forever trying to prove that he is a better detective than Fell. And we are subjected to the continued overacting of Eve’s husband, Desmond Ferrier in each and every one of his interactions.

When Fell does appear it is in very strange circumstances. He materializes at the end of a bar in a crowded nightclub where the entertainment is tom-tom drums and Apache dancers. Not a usual environment for the good doctor. Fell has also been well traveled of late. He’s been to a college in Virginia. Now he turns up in a weird bar in Geneva, Switzerland. I’m afraid to think of where he’s going to be in the next book…an ashram in Kathmandu maybe?

This is a book with a narrative that is terribly confusing, situations that are often absurd, and characters that are beyond annoying. In short, it was an infuriating read. But I must confess that, whereas with other books I’ve read that I’ve found just as irritating, I’ve put them down and never picked them up again. Not so with Carr. Even a not so great Carr has something in it that keeps me reading. 

My Judgment – 3/5

Prior Rulings – Curtis Evans @ The Passing Tramp, Bev @ My Reader’s Block

5 thoughts on “In Spite of Thunder by John Dickson Carr (1960)

  1. JFW

    Oh dear, I had heard that this was meant to be a good Carr… Looks like I should read it with lowered expectations!

  2. Andrés S.

    I’ve read this one fifteen years ago and found it to be a pretty good novel. I guess I should reread it now in my late thirties and with a much more solid grasp on the matter. When it comes to later Carrs, I liked Panic in Box C as well. Dark of the Moon, not so much…
    Luckily for you, you still have a lot of great Merrivale novels coming your way!

      1. Andrés S.

        The Bencolins are a weird bunch. If you tell people to rank them, you’ll end up with a lot of different opinions. I’d say all five novels are good with Waxworks and False Weapons being the best, It Walks by Night right in the middle and Castle Skull and Lost Gallows at the bottom. Anyway, rest assured you won’t find something like Dead Man’s Knock in there. 😛
        Hope you enjoy them!

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