Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Case of the Blind Barber: Review

 I love John Dickson Carr. I love his sometimes complicated, totally mystifying, seemingly impossible crimes.  I love Dr. Gideon Fell and his laughing and chortling when the other protagonists can't figure out the clues.  I love the humor and wit.  But, I'm afraid, I did not love The Case of the Blind Barber.  It is supposedly one of Carr's finest detective comedies, but it just seemed to me that there it was overly slapstick and mad-dash. It's okay--but definitely not my favorite Carr.

What we have is Henry Morgan, spy novelist and featured character in an earlier novel The Eight of Swords, traveling from New York to Southampton aboard the Queen Victoria.  Along the way he gets involved with Curtis Warren, nephew of a Very Important Person; Warren's girl, Peggy Glenn; and Capt. Thomassen Valvick (Ret.)--of the very heavy accent of apparent Swedish origin.  Warren has managed to get himself robbed of more than half of a can of film that will prove very embarrassing to Uncle V.I.P. if it falls into the wrong hands.  This happy band sets out to try and recover the film and along the way wind up bashing Captain Whistler (commander of the ship) over the head a few times, finding and losing an injured (and, quite possibly murdered) woman, stealing and losing and finding again an incredibly valuable emerald elephant....oh, and crossing paths with the Blind Barber, a rather nasty, murdering, thievin' sort of bloke who's in disguise.  They spend their time sneaking in and out of compartments, dashing about the decks, and trying to unobtrusively hunt for the missing film, missing emerald, and missing girl.  They, of course, have no luck and Morgan comes buzzing to see Gideon Fell before the Queen Victoria gets properly docked--in the hopes that Fell can see some sort of solution to the jolly mess.  And, of course, he can.

There are some good scenes--especially at the beginning.  I do like the foursome running around madly after Warren has bashed Captain Whistler a good one in the attempt to convince him that they were running to the rescue.  And Captain Whistler is rather nice--when ranting he reminds me of Carr's other protagonist, Henry Merrivale, right down to the "Burn me's."  But, in the end, the action just seems too over-the-top and silly to me.  In fact, it kind of reminds me of a Scooby Doo episode with all the dashing about....and it even ends with the culprit blaming it all on "those meddling kids."  And, there's not nearly enough of Fell.  We have him at the beginning when Morgan begins his story, in the middle for an intermission, and then the wrap up.  I much prefer the stories where Fell is more involved throughout.

Fairly decent mystery.  Too much farce.  Two stars.

Quote:
His views were based on the forthright principle that, the more respectable they looked, the more likely they were to turn out dastardly murderers. (p. 87)


1 comment:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Well, everyone has an off day I guess, though Carr had them a lot less than most! I don't remember much of anythign of this one and when it comes to the Fell and Merrivale adventures I can usually even remember stuff I read 30 years ago, so I suspect that deep inside I am agreeing with you on this one. I'll have to re-read it first though, just to check!