The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr (1938)

After 25 years of banishment to America by his family, John Farnleigh returned to England to claim his inheritance and title.  One year later, a stranger the claiming to be the real John Farnleign appears, and he says he has the evidence to prove it. Farnleigh’s childhood tutor, Kennet Murray, is produced to quiz the pair. But more importantly, Murray produces a fingerprint, taken when Farnleigh was a boy, which will ultimately discern which is the true heir. But before Murray can give his opinion, John Farleigh is killed, his throat slit multiple times, in the presence of witnesses, and no one is seen near him. Luckily Dr. Gideon Fell is close at hand to investigate.

Carr’s tells an excellent story filled with tension and atmosphere. An heir banished for his unsavory behavior, stolen identities, the sinking of the Titanic, hints of witchcraft and Satanism, a decaying automaton, and a previous murder with potential ties. 

I’m continually amazed at Carr’s plot devices, the number of ways he can come up with to hide the how. Opinions vary regarding the “impossible” nature of the crime in The Crooked Hinge, and there are some malcontents out there that feel it is an improbable cheat. Okay, yes, there is a cheat. One that makes it improbable for the reader to solve the crime. But, regarding how it was done, that the solution is so unlikely is also what makes it so striking and memorable. I know Carr is doing everything in his power to subvert the truth and pull the wool over my eyes. And, as usual for me when reading Carr, I wasn’t bothered by it at all.

There were a couple of standout features for me. The automaton, its history and “movements” throughout the story, added just enough creepiness and diversion. Also, the characterizations of Farnleigh and the claimant, which is a study in contrasts. The one, so changed by his experiences, once an indolent, arrogant child, now rigorously proper and principled. Hesitant and frustrated when asked to pull answers from deep memories that he would rather forget, yet always with the correct response. The other, unrepentant, as haughty as the young man who left England 25 years before, and confident in his responses. He is the charismatic, yet repellent, showman. 

You are a little too suggestive of Mestopheles in Kent. You don’t belong here. You disturb things, somehow, and you give me a pain in the neck.”

While by no means perfect, I still think this one is a topper! And could someone please tell me, what dark corner of his brain did Carr have to go to pull one this out? 

My Judgment – 4.25/5

Prior Rulings – Ben @ The Green Capsule, JJ @ The Invisible Event, The Puzzle Doctor & Sergio in a joint review @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2020 – Fulfills # 18: A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. (Van Dine #17) Any book that features a death looks like accident or suicide–whether it winds up really being murder or not.

Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Crime Scene: Garden or gazebo

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – October #6: Original publication month

11 thoughts on “The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr (1938)

  1. The, er, history of automatons would have played a big part in Carr’s thinking here, I’m sure. The solution to the crime and the inclusion of that aspect of the story have what I’ll call “a lot of overlap”.

      1. And you therefore begin wondering where it will turn up (like the clown doll in horror movies that gets thrown in the closet the suddenly turns up sitting in a chair staring at you 😜)!

      2. I seem to remember another book (by another author) wherein automotons are brought up and their usage discussed in such a way as to spoil the solution to The Crooked Hinge. Can’t for the life of me remember if it’s pre- or post-TCH, but you’d be annoyed if you read that one first and had this, superior novel and its creativity ruined for you…

      3. The only story that come to mind is really macabre one, “The Dancing Partner” by J. Jerome…and I think Poe wrote something too. I’m going to end up googling it to find out!

      4. I shall not name the book I have in mind for risk of spoilers, but it came after The Crooked Hinge and was doubtless making a nodding reference to it.

  2. Bev Hankins

    Carr is terrific–as is your review here. I read this one long ago and remember being very interested in the automaton aspect–I’m sure I probably need to revisit it. [For the Challenge–Suicide is actually Rule #16 on the list.]

    1. Thanks Bev! I’m a huge Carr fan. This one was one of my favorites of his so far. Are you sure about the rule number? I just checked your original post and it has suicide as #18. I’ll change it in the post…just want to make sure.

      And thanks for all the challenges. They are fabulous!

      1. Bev Hankins

        So, I apparently was cross-eyed when I looked at the rules the other night. You are right it should be #18. I don’t know what I was doing on the tenth. I thought I might be able to edit your entry in Inlinkz (I used to be able to)–but the new set-up won’t let me. I’m sorry to make you change it back. 🙁 I’m glad you enjoy the challenges–even if your hostess occasionally has a fit of craziness. 🙂

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