The Ghosts’ High Noon (John Dickson Carr)


Reading The Ghosts’ High Noon during the US elections was bizarre. The plot concerns a smear campaign against a Democrat candidate, accused of sexual relations with under-age girls. Apparently QAnon was active in 1912.

 John Dickson Carr’s late period is notorious for interruptions, heavy historical detail, a tendency to verbalise room descriptions, and odd ideas about sex. But The Ghosts’ High Noon, his third last novel, isn’t a Carr-crash – unlike poor Leo Shepley, football star and man-about-town, who drove his Mercer Roundabout into his garage, then shot himself. Or did he?

This is more of a historical novel with crime elements than a detective story proper; the murder is committed halfway through, and the problem is not enthralling. (The situation was probably inspired by one of Jacques Futrelle’s Thinking Machine stories.)

As a mystery, its ingredients are less interesting than Papa Là-bas (a more New Orleans novel, which I first read while playing Sierra’s adventure game Gabriel Knight), and less ingenious than Deadly Hall (which has a strong whodunit pull, a well-concealed murderer, and a fine method, ample compensation for its slow pace and stylistic flaws). The political angle and the threat against candidate Clay Blake peter out.

As a recreation of the days of Carr’s youth, however, it’s fascinating. Carr was five at the time the book is set; his father was elected to Congress that year; and the book opens in the offices of Harper, his publisher for half a century. The strongest part is the long, slow opening in New York and Washington, and by train to New Orleans – a vivid but leisurely wander through early 20th century America.

The title, of course, is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, a parody of melodrama.

See also At the Scene of the Crime; Beneath the Stains of Time; The Green Capsule; In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Library J (M.K. Grant, 1st November 1969, 50w)

Best Sell (15th December 1969, 60w): [This] is somewhat heavy in language and style.

NY Times (A.J. Hubin, 4th January 1970, 100w): The politician, it develops, is threatened owing to sexual peccadilloes, both real and imaginary.  Then comes impossible murder.  If the verbal posturing seems too heavily laid on here, if Mr. Carr’s tale has a mite less vitality than in times past—still its charm and intricacy easily make it worthwhile.

Sat R (Sergeant Cuff, 31st January 1970, 90w): Here is a pleasant period piece that includes some real people of the period, notably George Brinton McClellan, a New Jersey colonel who was once president of Harper & Brothers and editor of Harper’s Weekly.

Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer: John Dickson Carr,  who brought New Orleans back so successfully in Papa Là-Bas, is happily revisiting the city again, and readers will enjoy his new whirl through it.

Omaha (Nebr.) Morning World-Herald: The puzzle, as noted, is fine and the background stuff delectable.

Lewiston (Me.) Journal: This is a fastpaced novel guaranteed to keep the reader alert.  It is one of those mysteries where the reader can match wits with the protagonist.

Birmingham (Ala.) News: It’s a superlative detective novel in the picturesque setting of the author’s recent Papa Là-Bas.

Denver (Colo.) Post: Another nostalgic whodunit set in old New Orleans by the master of the locked-room puzzle.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): One of his sober and sustained efforts.  It is a reconstruction of pretence and skulduggery in New Orleans before 1914, with politics, love, and murder interwoven.  Too much research shown off in “period fact” and not enough attention paid to “period language”, but up to nearly the end the plot is skilfully treated and the people are entertaining.

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