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.