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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Panic in Box C: Review

Sometimes it doesn't pay to go back and reread. I'm not sure when I read John Dickson Carr's Panic in Box C the first time--but I liked it well enough to originally assign it four stars on Virtual Bookshelf. I'm not sure why. This is one of Carr's later mysteries and reading it this time around...well, it just didn't sit quite right.

The story begins on board ship. Dr. Gideon Fell and his friend Philip Knox, a writer, are sailing from England to America. Each have been invited to the States for a lecture tour. While crossing the Atlantic, they are introduced to an odd assortment of characters--Lady Tiverton (the former actress, Margery Vane), her latest young lover, and her female companion of over 30 years. There is, as Fell remarks, an atmosphere surrounding Lady Tiverton and she brings that atmosphere to him as she insists on meeting both Fell and Knox and gathering them into her circle. As they are all exchanging secrets, as it were, a shot rings out. Did someone intend to kill and miss? Or was it just a warning?

Some weeks later, all paths lead to a dress rehearsal of Romeo & Juliet in Connecticut at a theatre recently endowed by Miss Vane--a theatre where she happened to begin her career. Unfortunately, it will also be the theatre where her career will end. While occupying Box C at the theatre, Miss Vane is struck by a quarrel (a bolt from a cross bow) which has apparently been shot at her from either the stage or the box opposite. Who among this new crop of actors could want their benefactress dead? Or is it someone she brought with her? Or maybe even someone from her past?


The mystery is a bit of a disappointment. Dr. Fell is not nearly as prominent as one might like and the wit and humor that one is accustomed to falls flat. There is a bar scene with grown men singing college songs and a bit of a brawl that's obviously meant to be funny, but isn't. The supposedly snappy dialogue between the men and women doesn't work all that well either. The explanation of the "impossible" crime is a good one (as always). Truly, the best parts are the intro scenes aboard ship and the wrap-up at the end...but there's a long way in between the two. I miss the Gideon Fells of the vintage years. Out of fondness for those, I'll give it three stars on this go-round.

6 comments:

Marce said...

This is one of the reasons I do not reread, I want to enjoy the moment and remember it that way.

J.G. said...

Some books just don't hold up to that second reading. Sorry this turned out to be one of them.

Still, a candle is a candle!

John said...

Last year I re-read a few of Agatha Christie's books (having first read them when I was in hiigh school so many decades had passed!) and was surprised how much I really enjoyed them all over again. One of them I thought I remembered the culprit but she tricked me again! But as for this book...

Even when I read PANIC IN BOX C the first time I thought it was the worst book Dickson Carr had ever written. So uninspired. I'd never bother re-reading it. And there are about four others which I think I will never read that come from this late period in his career. He either got tired or was just writing for the money.

BTW - the cover illustration on the edition you pictured is a huge spoiler for the book. Unbelievable!

Ryan G said...

I don't remember reading a book by this author, even though his name has been known to me. I think I'll skip this one when I get around to his work. Thanks for the review and the warning.

Bev Hankins said...

@John: Most of my rereads have turned out very well. And, given how much I love Carr, I expected this one to as well. You're right about the cover (trust me in my post-surgery haze to have missed it)....I try very hard, when possible, to display the actual cover of the book as I read it and this is my copy....

Bev Hankins said...

@Ryan: Carr's earlier books are definitely better. Don't let my review put you off of him.