The Lost Gallows (John Dickson Carr)

By John Dickson Carr

First published: US, Harpers, 1931; UK, Hamish Hamilton, 1931

Blurb (US)

Carr - The Lost Gallows US.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

How did a dead man drive the great Minerva limousine through foggy London streets at midnight?  Where was the street that disappeared?  What was the diabolic reason behind the strange gifts left in the room with the green lamp?  Did Dullings imagine seeing the shadow of a ghostly gallows blocking his path?  Above all, who was the prowling killer who called himself Jack Ketch, and whose methods of terrorization dismayed even the satanic French sleuth Bencolin?

This is a tale of blood and candlelight, of luxury and champagne, love and relentless horror.  It is the second thrilling novel from the suave, sardonic pen of the author of It Walks by Night.  You will find in it the same phenomenal skill in handling an intricate plot, the same insidiously eerie atmosphere, very real terror, and a smashing climax that will all but lift you out of your chair.


Blurb (UK)

Carr - The Lost Gallows UK.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

In The Lost Gallows, John Dickson Carr has fulfilled the promise shown by his first “thriller,” It Walks by Night.

Once again Bencolin, the cold-blooded French detective, is to the fore, but this time the scene is laid in London in the neighbourhood of St. James’s on a foggy November evening.

Here are even more thrills than there were in It Walks by Night; the mystery is as baffling, the solution as dramatic.

My review

It says much for Carr’s style that he is able to make this story of a Jack Ketch who kidnaps his victims in order to hang them on a private gallows to avenge a private wrong not only entertaining but convincing. The duel between the suavely witty Bencolin and Sir John Landervorne as they each try to solve the crime first; the superb use of the London fog and what Dr. Pilgrim saw; and the lost street, “the prettiest fancy in the whole realm of nightmare,” form a logical whole. Carr’s style has greatly improved since It Walks by Night. Even though lurid in parts, the prose is generally excellent, and gives the impression of moving through a nightmare, at once theatrical and melodramatic, but thoroughly entertaining. The only serious flaw is that Jack Ketch is far too easily spotted – this is one of the few times I spotted the villain in a Carr novel. Note also a very strange but effective ending.

Contemporary reviews



Times Literary Supplement (1st October 1931):

In London, apparently on a holiday, Bencolin, the French detective, and his assistant, Jeff Marle, who narrates the story, tumble on a mystery which has many links with a case on which they were engaged in France.  An Egyptian, El Moulk, and his mistress are being harassed by a series of warnings from a mysterious person calling himself Jack Ketch.  El Moulk disappears after his chauffeur has been murdered, and Jack Ketch sends a message to the police that he has been hanged.  His mistress is then lured away, but not before Bencolin has the case well under hand and is about to put his theories to the test.  A hideous story of revenge unfolds itself.  The climax comes suddenly and eerily.


Books (Will Cuppy, 29th March 1931, 120w):

We would call the eerie atmosphere well done, though a bit thick.


Springfield Republican (5th April 1931, 150w):

The story carries the atmosphere of London, with its fogs and rains, and those who cannot admire a mystery story unless the scene is laid in such surroundings will have no cause for complaint.


Glasgow Herald:

Even better than ‘It Walks by Night.’