The House of the Arrow (A.E.W. Mason)

Mason - The House of the Arrow.jpg
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

By A.E.W. Mason

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924

John Dickson Carr’s favourite detective story — fitting, for it was clearly an influence on his work.  The atmosphere of overwhelming dread, as though all Hell was, quite literally, about to break loose; the praiseworthily difficult problem, not so much impossible as inexplicable; and the carefully concealed clues, all above board and visible, but never seen by the reader — one thinks of the pen-holder, of the smoke in the chimneys, and, above all, of the clock — an object-lesson in making innocent characters unwittingly lie. A classic.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Harold Hannygton Child, 21st August 1924):

One sits down to any book by Mr. A.E.W. Mason confident that whatever sort of story he is going to tell he will make the best of it in the telling.  The new story, The House of the Arrow, is a detective story; but Mr. Mason brings to the telling of it workmanship no less fine than goes to his higher flights in fiction.  It is needless to say that it passes all the ordinary tests of the detective story: one may safely disbelieve the person who states either that he stopped reading it from any less cause than compulsion, or that he guessed the murderer before Mr. Mason meant that he should.  And the proper elements are all there: an old house in Dijon, a mysterious African poison, a rather stupid English lover (Mr. Mason still now and then remembers the old tradition in which his earliest novels were conceived), two murders, one bloody and one mysterious, two very charming young women, and, best of all, a French detective who is a real man as well as a real detective—the oddest and most alluring mixture of a baby, a music-hall comedian, a bon papa, and an avenging Fury.  As from The Villa Rose, so from The House of the Arrow one gets the impression that Mr. Mason wanted to do much more than fill a thrilling and baffling detective story with more of many kinds of queer knowledge of the world, its crimes and its means of crime, than most writers of such stories can command.  He wanted to make it a story about real people, without disturbing the correct atmosphere of the detective story.  And he has succeeded so well as to leave one almost uncomfortable.  The circumstances, we sigh with relief, are as yet strange to us.  But let the great detective Hanaud be as flamboyant as he pleases, we feel that we have drunk coffee next to him more than once on a Paris pavement; while as for the others, including the chief criminal, so admirable, so detestably perverted a nature, their names might as well be in our private address-book at this moment.  Plot and character are often a badly matched pair in double harness; Mr. Mason handles them so that the drive is not only exciting but full of various interest.