The Sleeping Sphinx by John Dickson Carr (1947)

It has been seven years to the day since Donald Holden last saw the woman he loved, Celia Devereux. That was the day her sister Margot married Thorley Marsh, and Holden walked away from Celia. Now, he discovers that Margot died a year previously. Her doctor says it was due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Celia insists Margot killed herself, driven to it by Thorley’s abusive behavior. Because of her continued insistence, there are those who say that Celia is unstable. Holden has his own theory, and coincidentally, its one also held by Dr. Gideon Fell.

I’m not sure where I fall on this one. And that’s not because it’s poorly written, far from it. The plot is very well done, the characters intriguing, the puzzle that Carr lays out is good, and the suspense maintained throughout. Even the impossibility, although it had nothing to do with the murder, had me tied in knots trying to figure it out.

But then he lost me because of two things. First, Carr’s writing has become more somber. You can discern the beginning of it in his previous book, He Who Whispers. Here he continues to conjure up a darker tone, but with a psychological and highly emotional overtone. I know, it’s post WWII and times were changing, things are harder and darker, but it feels more like melodrama to me.

Second, I never saw this culprit coming, but it wasn’t because Carr created such fabulous diversions that he was able to hide the identity. No, I felt that this culprit, is a character who is on the cusp of marginal, and just comes out of left field. 

So, not disappointing, but not great either. More of a (dare I say it?) meh kind of book from Carr. With only six more Fells to read I’m wondering what will happen next!

My Judgment –  3.75/5

Previous Rulings – Noah’s Archive, Ben @ The Green Capsule, Moira @ Clothes In Books, Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza –  2020 – Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Commandments/Rules/Common Devices – #1 The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know. Criminal winds up being some random, marginal character or someone thrust upon the reader in the last half of the book; etc.

6 thoughts on “The Sleeping Sphinx by John Dickson Carr (1947)

  1. This is my very next Carr…though who knows how soon I’ll get to it. As such, given my policy of not reading reviews of books I know I’m going to read ahead of time, I’ve skimmed this liberally, but to see three Carr reviews up on the same day is a delight. Keep it up!

    1. Still on Fell (and it will be some time before I reach Late Wives), so I had to skim your review also.

      Maybe we need to storm the halls (figuratively) of BL Publishing for more reprints…I used a lot of library tape on my copy of BS (what a perfect abbreviation for this book!) in order to finish reading it.

  2. The Sleeping Sphinx is what I call a “To Wake the Dead” – an absolute belter of an opening, an overall enjoyable read, and then it just doesn’t quite hold up to its promise. You see this a lot with Carr in the forties, in particular around the time The Sleeping Sphinx came out. See also: Seeing is Believing, My Late Wives, and The Skeleton in the Clock. None of these are bad in any sense, but they just leave you having wanted something a bit different in the end. Throw those books in most other author’s catalogue though and they’d be some of their better work.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.