To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr (1937)

In 24 hours Christopher Kent can step through the glass doors of the Royal Scarlet Hotel to meet his family and friends. But now, a cold and hungry Kent is staring longingly through those doors, and trying to figure out how to get through those 24 hours. When a hotel registration card flutters down and into his hand, he decides to use it and cadge himself a free breakfast. Sated and warm, he is about to make a clean getaway. Unfortunately, the hotel staff need him to return with them to “his” room because they don’t want to disturb “his wife”. Once inside, he expects to find a woman, what he doesn’t expect is to find her dead. He may be innocent, but it won’t look that way. And so he flees, to seek the help of Dr. Gideon Fell.

At 1 Adelphi Terrace he lays the facts before Fell and Superintendent Hadley. What they then tell him is quite shocking. The dead woman is Josephine Kent, wife of his cousin Rodney Kent. And what’s more, Rodney is also dead, killed two weeks previously at a country house in Sussex, and in the same way as his wife. And at both scenes witnesses report seeing a mysterious figure, dressed in a hotel attendant’s uniform.

This was by far the best opening of any Carr I’ve read. I was drawn in immediately. It starts strong, builds from there, and remains engrossing throughout. No, there’s no impossible crime and no spooky atmosphere. But there are lots of red herrings, loads of clues, and a hidden passage or two. Everyone is a suspect; everyone also has an alibi. The story moves very quickly, and flows from situation to situation easily. And as always, there is that subtle, descriptive language that Carr is so good at.

At just after daybreak on that raw January morning, Christopher Kent stood in Piccadilly and shivered. The air seemed painted grey as though with a brush…A wind had begun to blow from the east, shaking the bitter air as you shake a carpet. Christopher Kent noticed a flake of snow, and then another, blown suddenly past him. He eyed them without animosity, but he was not amused.”

But there is also a pretty big coincidence, the resolution of which left me more than slightly disappointed. And yes, he did it again…there’s a cheat…and one that he has used previously. I blame myself though, because no matter what, with Carr you can never get complacent. Always remember, suspect everything and everybody. A lesson I will forget again and again when reading all further Carr’s. 

Still, the clues really are all there. Carr even has Fell lay them out for you in the form of 12 questions, and if you can see through the subterfuge to answer them, you may find the solution. I didn’t, and I still loved it!

My Judgment – 4.5/5

Previous Rulings – Dan @ The Green Capsule, Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy, Sergio @ Bloody Murder, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Bev @ My Reader’s Block, and JJ @ The Invisible Event

Murder Mystery Bingo – Weapons: Fireplace poker

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