The House at Satan’s Elbow by John Dickson Carr (1965)

Garret Anderson agrees to travel to Greengrove with his old friend, Nicholas Barclay, to bear witness to recent unusual events. As they are arriving they hear a shot. Racing to the library they find Barclay’s uncle Pennington Barclay quite shaken, but unhurt. Pennington insists he was murderously attacked, shot with a blank cartridge by a robed and veiled figure which then vanished through a locked window. Is it the ghost of Mr. Justice Wildfare, the long-dead hanging judge who previously inhabited Greengrove?  Gideon Fell arrives to sort things out just as another attack occurs. Pennington, is in the library with the doors and windows locked. He has been again shot at, but this time the bullet is very real. 

Surprisingly, THaSE is not as bad as I thought it would be. But sadly, it’s not very good either. There are actually the bones of a very good story here. It’s as if Carr had a vision of what he wanted to write, but then grew too tired to carry out the vision. The story, the majority of which takes place in the course of twenty-four hours, just meanders on.

The beginning is a very long set-up for red herrings that never fully develop or fulfill their purpose. The middle consists of endless dialogue in which the characters maunder on in language that is stilted, and at times antiquated. The Dead Man’s Knock and In Spite of Thunder consisted mostly of constant yelling, raging, and crying. While THaSE is more sedate it has its moments, and there are enough conversations left unfinished, ending with exclamations or interruptions, to exasperate any reader.

The ending is a bit of a letdown. In both cases the idea behind the locked room element is clever. But Carr barely hid the solution. The clues to each were laid bare in every conversation, and in the end, they just fell flat. And, I will admit that I never actually pinned down a culprit—mostly I just bounced from one suspect to another.

This was not anywhere near even the middle tier of Carr, but it’s also not (in my opinion) the worst. While I can’t in all honesty recommend it, I’m glad I read it so that now I can relegate it to the been there done that pile, and forget all about it.

My Judgment – 3.5/5

Prior Rulings – Justice For A Corpse, Moira @ Clothes in Books

6 thoughts on “The House at Satan’s Elbow by John Dickson Carr (1965)

      1. Maybe you should save it until you’ve read a really good book. The problem with reading a really good book is that the next book can then seem more inferior in comparison. So if you read Panic in Box C after a really good book, it wouldn’t matter so much, as it is unlikely to be a great book anyways.

  1. Laurie – I enjoy your blog very much and am impressed with how often you deduce the murder.

    I stopped reading Carr’s Fell books after The Sleeping Sphinx as I don’t want to spend time reading Carr in decline. There are so many great GAD books to enjoy that I can only spend time searching for and reading the good ones. At least I now know that I made the right decision to skip past this one.

    1. Thanks! It’s more my highly suspicious mind than anything 😜.

      As I’m a huge fan of Carr I want to read all of his books…even the ones that aren’t that great. I’ll take the bullet for the rest of you 😁

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