The Reader is Warned by Carter Dickson

How straightforward. A man drops down dead and someone else owns up to the murder.

The only problem here – the confessor, Pennik, has an ironclad alibi and insists that he used Teleforce – the power of his mind – to commit the crime. There is the added complication of there being no visible cause of death and the fact that Pennik predicted the crime in advance. More predictions – and more deaths – follow and the public hysteria at such a weapon begins to rise…

Luckily (of course) Sir Henry Merrivale is soon on the scene – but can even he sort out a killer who can kill from a distance without leaving a mark on the body?

MY READER IS WARNED: I was very busy and tired when I read this book and I think my general knackeredness comes across in the review. Rather than re-write it, please take the negative points with a pinch of salt and dwell on the positives.

A Reader Is Warned is generally considered one of the great Merrivale mysteries, along with The Judas Window and She Died A Lady. This is the second time through it for me – it was one of the books that introduced me to Merrivale and Dickson/Carr in the first place about eight years ago and, while I remembered most of the plot, I thought I would give it another go.

This is going to be an odd review because I can’t help focussing on the negatives. The first time I read it, I absolutely loved it to bits, but it seems that once the damned-clever mystery is put to one side, a lot of the rest of the story is a little wanting.

First of all, there aren’t exactly a lot of suspects knocking around the place. After the bodies have settled, there’s a grand total of three, including Pennik, and one of these is given very little pagetime, so even if you don’t get the how – which you won’t – the who is pretty clear.

There’s also the problem that others have cited about Pennik’s appearance at various windows when he’s some distance away. While it’s not anywhere near as bad as the misconception on the author’s part in The American Gun Mystery, it’s pretty unconvincing. Similarly, Pennik’s mind-reading abilities – very precise for both Sanders, the POV character, and Masters – is never explained, or even seriously questioned. The Masters bit especially is amazingly precise, but this is never investigated. CORRECTION: It is explained towards the end of the book. I’m an idiot.

Oh, and there’s some completely unnecessary (borderline?) racism concerning Pennik’s origins towards the end of the book. Possibly a sign of the times, but still unnecessary.

Back to the positives. A very clever mystery indeed, with a nice bit of misdirection and a clever method. Some of the public reaction to Pennik’s powers is interesting (although it does all seem to be from the East End of London) and I’d be impressed if anyone could put it all together despite the clues being there – although there are other Carr books where the clueing is cleverer. Highly recommended, if you haven’t read it before. If you have… be careful. The memory cheats sometimes. With the surprise removed, this doesn’t come close to She Died A Lady.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
This entry was posted in Carter Dickson, John Dickson Carr, Locked Rooms and Impossible Murders, Sir Henry Merrivale. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Reader is Warned by Carter Dickson

  1. Patrick says:

    You mention that bit of racism at the end, but if I’m not mistaken, it comes from the killer’s mouth and serves to show just what kind of nasty person has been behind the crimes. I read it twice and loved it to death both times.

    • You’re right, most of it comes from the villain of the piece, so it does make it a little more excusable, especially given the date the book was written, if it wasn’t so irrelevant to the plot. Oh, and to correct another mistake in the review – on flicking to check that last bit, it also does explain how Pennik knows about Masters for the mind-reading bit. It’s all a bit throwaway but it is there. Whoops!

      I’ll stick with my opinion that She Died A Lady is better, though.

  2. Thanks for the review – this was my first ever Carr (coming up to 30 years ago – scary …) so, like you I have a great soft spot for – and the title of course is such a disarming one that it is hard not to be swayed. But I haven’t re-read it in a long while so I shall gladly give it a go and see how well it holds up.

  3. You know, I’ve just looked back and re-read this review and I think it demonstrates how tired I was when I read the book over the last week. It’s far too negative. Rather than delete it, I’ve put a health warning at the beginning!

  4. Pingback: Carter Dickson Top Five (Sir Henry Merrivale) | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  5. TomCat says:

    The only thing I really remember from this book is the method and that I liked it, but a reevaluation is in order (ha, ha – as if I have the time to re-read books). I also loved seeing someone else, for a change, tackle a review when he’s busy/tired. It’s not that easy, eh? ;)

    • Patrick says:

      Depends on the book! I Of course, that will usually result in a dunderheaded error or two– like when I reviewed “La Mort Vous Invite” by Paul Halter. Here I have a decent review, and I decide to translate a small chunk of the text to illustrate the review a bit more. So I open another file so I do nothing silly with my review itself and… I forget to include it when I go to post!

  6. Pingback: The Assassin In The Greenwood by Paul Doherty | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  7. Pingback: The Judas Window by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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