Captain Cut-Throat by John Dickson Carr

Cut Throat1805, Northern France, and Napoleon’s forces stand ready to cross the Channel and invade England. But here is dissention in the ranks as the night is patrolled by a shadowy figure, killing without a trace, leaving a note, signed Captain Cut-Throat, a man who can kill victims who stand in plain sight without being seen.

Meanwhile, Alan Hepburn, an English spy is at the mercy of Joseph Fouché, the Minister of Police. Rather than be executed, Hepburn is coerced into tracking down Cut-Throat. He already has an idea as to who is involved, but Fouché is playing a much deeper game than simply finding a killer. With both his and his wife’s life at stake, can Hepburn avoid both Fouché’s reach and the blade of Captain Cut-Throat?

There aren’t many Carr novels that I haven’t read before, and I think all of those are historical non-series books. When I was in New York eighteen months ago, I went to The Mysterious Bookshop and spotted a first edition of this one and bought it almost without thinking. And a belated thank you to the staff who looked up whether the US first edition or the UK one that they also had was the actual first edition.

It’s also my entry into Past Offences 1955 Book challenge and book 10 for my attempt to read 10 books for Readathon UK – hey, I did it! I did it primarily to inspire some of my students to pick up a book, but if anyone wants to donate to the children’s charities that they support, then do pop over to this link. Every little helps.

But back to this one, and it’s a fun read. I have no idea as the historical accuracy of the tale, as the Regency period (four Georges and one William) basically isn’t covered by the school syllabus in the UK, but it tallies with what little I know about Napoleon. It’s half conspiracy thriller and half adventure with some of Carr’s standard character types – notably the couple who don’t quite know at first how much they love each other, but there’s a whiff of Fell about Fouché.  But there’s also a clever mystery at the heart of this (although not the “impossible” stabbings) with one of Carr’s more impressive reveals.

It probably isn’t the best-clued mystery that I’ve read – Carr tries to explain how the truth could have been deduced, but it’s stretching things a litte – but that doesn’t stop this from being a highly enjoyable read. Highly Recommended.

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13 comments

  1. I envy you that first edition chum – this is another book I have only ever read in translation and as a teen was less keen on the historicals – but now i think i would like it more – thanks chum, time for another Carr revisit hurrah!

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  2. “I have no idea as the historical accuracy of the tale, as the Regency period (four Georges and one William) basically isn’t covered by the school syllabus”.
    Indeed. The Regency Period is specifically between 1811 and 1820 or, at the most, more loosely, from around 1795 to 1837; the period from the coronation of the first George to the death of the fourth George (or even to the death of the fourth William) is better known as the Georgian era.

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