The Judas Window by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr

Judas WindowJames Caplon Answell is visiting Avory Hume, his prospective father-in-law. As far as he knows, it’s just to sort out some business concerning the marriage to his daughter Mary. As he’s escorted into Hume’s office – an impregnable of a fortress of an office, Hume seems to be acting in a strange way. After accepting a drink, Answell collapses to the floor, drugged.

When he comes to, Hume is lying on the floor with an arrow in his chest. There are clear fingerprints on the arrow – Answell’s, of course – and the room is as locked as it could possibly be – from the inside of course.

Leap forward several months and Answell is on trial for murder. All seems lost – it’s an open and shut case. No one could possibly have got into the room, even if Answell’s story is true. But one man thinks he knows how the murderer got in – through the Judas Window – whatever the heck that is… And luckily that man is Answell’s defence council – the one and only Sir Henry Merrivale!

Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr should be on the bookshelves of your local bookshops next to Agatha Christie and it seems odd that it’s not the case. I sometimes wonder why this is – his best books are flagged up alongside And Then There Were None, Death On The Nile, etc. The conclusion that I’ve come up is that he wrote more weak books than Christie. I think it took him a while to find his voice – some of the early books aren’t desperately gripping – and his work goes into decline a long time before he stopped writing. Even at the height of his powers – roughly 1935 to 1950 – there are disappointing books, even those featuring his main detectives, Gideon Fell and Henry Merrivale. Proceed with caution if you expect great things from The Problem of the Wire Cage and And So To Murder…

But as I said, when he was good, he produced some of the finest detective fiction ever written. To Death Do Us Part, He Who Whispers, The Nine Wrong Answers, The Black Spectacles, She Died A Lady… and The Judas Window.

When I re-read The Reader Is Warned – also well worth a look – I found myself drawn to the problems in it, despite loving it unreservedly the first time round. But this one – it is one of the most exceptional examples of Golden Age crime fiction there is and the second read is as rewarding as the first. The slow reveal of important plot points, while still making the truth a mystery, keeps the reader turning the pages and still the ending is full of surprises. It’s also a great show for Merrivale – showing all his charm and idiosyncrasies, without hitting the extremes which can occur in other books. I suppose a nitpicker could find a disparity in the complexity of the crime and the murderer, but I’m not going to say anything more about the plot because if you’re reading this blog then either a) you’ve read this book and know the details or b) you enjoy murder mysteries but haven’t read this in which case you need to go out and get a copy. There’s a not-cheap reprint out there and a small number of affordable second hand copies, but trust me, it’s worth it.

One of the finest locked room mysteries – possibly the finest locked room mystery – ever written and obviously, it’s Highly Recommended.

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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.

9 Responses to The Judas Window by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr

  1. Santosh Iyer says:

    This is one of my favourites. A brilliant locked room mystery with a very clever plot. Also, an entertaining court room drama.
    One wonders till the end what exactly is the Judas Window alluded to repeatedly by H.M.
    Regarding the complexity, it is much less complex than the optics business in The Hollow Man.
    A masterpiece, not to be missed by mystery fans.

  2. TomCat says:

    I agree: The Judas Window is an excellent locked room mystery. Its only (minor) fault is why the case was allowed to enter a court room, when H.M. knew the solution from the outset. But it’s well worth seeing the Old Man acting as a defense lawyer.

    The decline in later Carr (ca. 1950s) is hardly present in his historical mysteries from the same period. The Bride of Newgate, The Devil in Velvet and Captain Cut-Throat tower above the non-historical mysteries from the same period. Although, JDC also penned a Dr. Fell novel in the early 1960s, In Spite of Thunder, which I remember being excellent and should’ve been Fell’s final case.

  3. Like you Steve, PANIC IN BOX C was my first Fell and I remember it fondly – I need to re-read the comparatively late HOUSE AT SATAN’S ELBOW as I remember liking it (but can’t remember why exactly or much about it – this happens a lot to me I’m afraid, apologies). I’m not at all sure I agree about whether Christie wrote more good books than Carr because his humour and Gothic touches go further in my view than Christie’s particular tropes do but then he’s my favourite, so I would think that! And when you add the sheer quantity (and quality) of his radio plays then I think his work starts to seriously outnumber hers – either way I certainly wish that the International Polygonics editions were all still being reprinted. Great post Steve – I agree, it’s one of the best Golden Age mysteries ever written, and you really give it it’s due here – bravo!

  4. eddiejc1 says:

    This was a good mystery. I liked the framework of a murder trial, which brings me to a criticism of the American television series Perry Mason. Why do the writers of that show, and the TV movies which followed believed that the only proper way to end a mystery story where the “detective” is a criminal defense attorney is have that attorney call the real killer to the witness stand at the end and then explain to the jury how that person did it. (In the Mason TV shows, the killer would wind up confessing.) That doesn’t happen in Rumpole stories, and thank God, it doesn’t happen here.

    This is a very good book and I thank the Puzzle Doctor for recommending it.

  5. lesblatt says:

    Agreed on all counts – The Judas Window is one of Carr’s best, which makes it very good indeed. One note for American audiences: it is available as a fairly inexpensive Rue Morgue Press reprint ($12.46 at Amazon) and even less expensive e-book ($3.99 for Kindle) in the states. If there’s anyone here who has NOT read it…you really should, you know!

  6. Bev Hankins says:

    I read this one, but it was so long ago that I probably need to give it another go. Especially after reading your excellent review. I do know that it’s one of the earliest I read and one of the reasons I keep looking for Carr/Dickson books today. I am…however…one of the few people who like Carr but cannot take his historical mysteries (at least those I’ve read so far.). I do have The Murder of Sir Edward Gorey on the TBR stack…so we’ll see if my older self likes it better than the historical works I’ve already tackled.

  7. Pingback: Women’s Mystery Month? Classic crime in the blogosphere: March 2014 | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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