After a lifetime of denial, I finally gave Carter Dickson a try a little over two and a half years ago. My experience was so pleasant that I picked up another right away. I based my choice on the fact that a trusted friend was posting a spoiler-filled piece on this one, and I wanted to get in on the action. That experience was . . . not so pleasant.
I mention this here because the next two books on my journey to review and rank every Carter Dickson novel are this very same pair of starters! The Judas Window was my first, and for some unfathomable reason I did not review it. I defended it (oh, yes, JJ!!!) a number of times, but I did not review it. And so I plan to re-read it in the nearish future and give its due.
But the next title up happens to be The Ten Teacups (a.k.a. – for no good reason at all – The Peacock Feather Murders), and I did write a review of that one after the fact. You can read that review here because I don’t plan on rehashing the whole thing again.
What I will say is this: taking TTT in context after the delights of The Punch and Judy Murders, we see Dickson returning to the more traditional locked room format and style of before. It’s almost impossible to compare these two books because they are so different, but I can do a blow-by-blow if we size this one up to, say, The White Priory Murders.
Teacups is, to my mind, better than TWPM, particularly at the beginning. Sergeant Bob Pollard is a much more delightful and interesting point of view character than Merrivale’s lovestruck nephew, James Bennett. Pollard is right on the scene of the first crime, and it’s a stumper of a murder of the invisible man/locked room variety.
And while both novels plod along intolerably in the middle, at least Teacups introduces us to new people and a new setting. I can barely remember the characters in White Priory, which I read only a few months ago, but a quick re-read of my own review brought several of the people we find in Teacups back to life. Still, there’s a murder game and a secret society, and I don’t think either is rendered particularly satisfying for my tastes. Murder games are tough! Christie avoided them and stuck to seances, thank you very much. Ngaio Marsh nearly ended her career at the start with one. As for secret societies, give me The Seven Dials any day over these darn teacups.
Finally – and I won’t belabor the point, just read my old review and JJ’s discussion with the Puzzle Doctor – the solution to the first crime is outrageous. Maybe not quite Hake Talbot territory, but it just pisses me off! Still, it was without a doubt more interesting than the mechanics of White Priory, and while I figured out the murderer in the earlier book, I did not solve anything here. (Good lord! How could anyonefigure this one out?)
All this is why I am ranking The Ten Teacups just above The White Priory Murders. A much much better experience awaits us next with The Judas Window.
- The Punch and Judy Murders
- The Red Widow Murders
- The Plague Court Murders
- The Unicorn Murders
- The Ten Teacups
- The White Priory Murders
- The Bowstring Murders
17 thoughts on “ACDC, PART SEVEN: Smashing the Teacups”
Glad you agree about the nonsense of the murder method – an impossible crime doesn’t mean that the solution has to be physically impossible!
Surprised you rate Red Widow so highly, given it’s use of a technique that should NEVER be used in detective fiction, in my book at least…
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I might have rated RW higher because I gave it such a close reading – and, of course, because I was so impressed with my own cleverness at spotting the killer. I enjoyed the whole “cursed room” bit and the connection to the operators of the guillotine. But yes – that whole cheat regarding that thing that should never be used in a mystery to explain anything is just that! a cheat!!
We’re at early days yet. I don’t expect Red Widow to stay up top for long.
When I did a top five in the verrrry early days of my blog, I included Red Widow but when I re-read it… Which reminds me, I must redo that list…
And when I went back and re-read some of the posts from two years ago, I was shocked at my own opinions!!! What an ignorant cuss I was! But rewriting all those embarrassing early posts would take . . . well, years! And so – onward!
SPOILER ALERT !
(I have said it once)
SPOILER ALERT !
(I have said it twice)
(I have said it thrice. Now let there be no complaint!)
I have no problem withb the first murder. It would be possible for a man with strong arms to throw a gun 60 feet away. Also, the window was wide enough.
The fact that the second shot hit the body was just luck. There was no such intention. The killer simply wanted to land the gun near the body. Even if the second shot had not hit the body or even if the gun had landed far from the body, it would not have mattered.
It is the second impossible murder (that of Bartlett) that actually annoys me. He is stabbed with a knife thrown from back in presence of several policemen but nobody notices it. It is mentioned that it was dark and hence the knife could not be seen; only the outlines of the persons could be seen. Then why the swinging arm of the culprit while throwing the knife was not seen especially since he was tailed by a policeman ? And why didn’t the victim cry out ? The victim had opened the side door when he was stabbed in the back. He doesn’t cry out or turn around, but calmly proceeds on, closes the door behind him and then falls down. As if he was trying his best to protected the culprit !
There is another impossibility here which has no solution. The first Teacups incident took place on April 30 which is a Monday. The second incident took place two years later on July 31 which is stated to be a Wednesday. This is not possible. It is possible only if the second incident took place 1 year later and not 2.
I really like The Ten Teacups, even if it does drag a bit in the middle. The set up of the crime is simply mind bending – easily one of Carr’s best. And the ending. Man, the ending.
I personally have no issue with the solution for reasons Santosh mentions above. However, I think that the solution to the main crime receives far too much attention. The ending of The Ten Teacups is an absolute avalanche of major revelations, with the solution to the impossibility being just one of them. There is so much that happens and so much that gets explained.
I actually think that The Burning Court is a good analogy. There’s a controversial part to that novel that receives all of the attention. What gets ignored is that even if you trim that part, you’re still dealing with one of Carr’s most amazing conclusions.
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Nothing will convince me that the solution to the impossible shooting is anything other than fabulous. Unlikely? Hell, yes. But so much fun, and so inventive, that you can feel others reading it and going green with envy that they didn’t think of it themselves. Is is perfect? No, certain aspects could be cleared up, but the more I dwell on it, the more I love it.
The Burning Court is a great comparison, because that has just as many problems as it does brilliant bits. The “sealed vault” solution is riddled with all manner of problems, as is the impossible stabbing and vanishing body that comes late in Ten Teacups, but both are marked in their own ways by particular flashes of ingenuity that make them far too interesting to dismiss or ignore,
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Of course I’m not trying to convince you otherwise; I simply have a lower threshold for absurdity. The success of the plot relies on the killer being able t do something that the odds says will fail, but the killer succeeds because otherwise there wouldn’t be an impossible crime. And then Dickson doubles down on the “fabulousness” of the impossibility by providing a coincidence whose result is just as unlikely.
Meanwhile, there’s a disconnect for me between the first victim and all the other characters because of the setting of the first murder, a setting that not even you can buy because it makes no sense for him to own that house!! Even with its final twist, I find The Burning Court more plausible, and The Judas Window, which you find overrated, contains a far more organic and pleasing confluence of mystery elements than one finds here.
And I would add, “But who cares? It’s all terrific fun,” if that middle part didn’t drag on and on. Rim of the Pit was even loonier, but the action never stopped. TTT never left me breathless.
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Yeah, I can’t disagree with most of your points — except that I feel the first murder here to be actually pretty smart (okay the — and I’ll ROT-13 this — cbjqre oheaf gb gur onpx bs gur urnq ner snveyl yhqvpebhf). But, well, one of these days I’ll work out how to define my threshold for absurdity…because even I struggle to identify what will and won’t pass muster.
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Agreed on your ROT -13 here and I always felt: Jul qvq gur frpbaq fubg unir gb uvz gur crefba, V jvfurq vg unq fgehpx n jnyy be fbzrguvat, whfg gbb ybbfra gur jubyr guvat hc n ovg. – A threshold for absurdity is an interesting concept because it’s seems for me to shift depending on the story itself. (I’ll write more about that below)
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So many good points in this discussion. I feel like there is a difficult balance here for Carr. In response to what Ben what saying about the watertight, mindbending setup, TTT slightly falls into the category of too watertight to be true, which I have spoken about before. In that Carr makes such an amazing start it’s almost impossible to live up to… AND YET…
Maybe because the setup is so watertight and gorgeous, we are expecting an elegant/simple/mind-blowing solution to match, not an audacious one? Maybe the set up blinds us a little form seeing the solution as credible because we have certain expectations of what we want from the resolution?
Take for example the Men who Explain miracles series of shorts, or even Constant Suicides to a certain extent – these are filled with wild solutions that because you are contextualised into them being ‘crazy’ tales the solutions come across as fun, audacious and ingenious for that aspect. If I readjust my lenses for Ten Tea Cups and see it all as much more ‘sensational’ (for want of a slightly better term, but using it relating to victorian melodrama here) then I feel like the solutions sits better. And actually, as JJ said, grows to be more and more wonderful.
I guess what I’m saying is. is there a type of Carr/impossible crime story, or a point in a story that allows this kind of solution to have its space to breath and be what it is?
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I wonder what the reactions were to JDC/CD novels were when they were written- I have enjoyed reading some of them because some of the implied attitudes to sexual morality were ahead of their time (and this is from someone born in the early 1960s) and also in one book at least expressly acknowledging that while it would be logical to murder others to conceal a crime only the initial victim deserved murdering and that it would have been immoral to have killed anyone else.
I do recall a year or so ago there was a discussion on a blog of interesting combinations of authors and JDC/CD with Gladys Mitchell at their best could have resulted in a gloriously barking amoral classic (although is hard to imagine how Merrivale or Fell would have dealt with Mrs Bradley).
As a throw a way line I wonder whetherJ K Rowing ever read Gladys Mitchell as her best female villain was Beatri(ce()(x) Lestrange.
Yes, I have been consistently surprised – since the very first Carr novel – by his modern take on sexual morality. Perhaps my favorite Carr title deals with sexual morbidity in a powerful and sympathetic way. That aspect doesn’t really help me here, though. The ludicrous aspect of the mechanics and the dull middle get in the way.
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