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This is one of John Dickson Carr's best mysteries. I spent several years tracking down copies of his work and reading them. The Crooked Hinge has his eery supernatural creepiness, the historical trivia, and a false heir. Gideon Fell is not my favorite Carr creation. I like his wildly eccentric Sir Henry Merrivale, but this is best one with Gideon Fell. I must admit the cover art for this edition strikes me as poor art and it also gives out too many plot points. I suppose the Titanic connection would help sell books, so they include pictures of the ship on the cover. But the hinge cannot possibly resemble the "hinge" in the book!
If the book helps you find other John Dickson Carr books, you really should buy it. His books were usually published in England and the US with an English title and a different American title. This is one of the most annoying habits of publishers--since the American publishers will then re-release the book years later under the English title, tricking you into buying the same book again.
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This mystery stars John Dickson Carr's gargantuan, shovel-hatted detective, Dr. Gideon Fell and takes place in England between the world wars. All of the characters act suspiciously, including the true and false heir to the extensive Farnleigh estate (and the title that goes with it), their two lawyers, the butler, Lady Farnleigh, and assorted family friends. The reader has many reasons to suspect each character in turn after the murder (or was it suicide?) of one of the two competing heirs. The only person who might be able to tell whether the true John Farnleigh died or still lives is his tutor, Murray who happens to have taken a thumb-o-graph of young John before he was sent away to America to live with a distant relative.
John wasn't the heir, but the black sheep of the family when he was packed off to Colorado via the spanking, new ocean liner, 'Titanic.' He was thought to have died when his ship sank on her maiden voyage, but after his older brother dies without issue, not one but two John Farnleighs show up within a year of each other to claim the family estate and title. The first one to appear marries John's childhood sweetheart and settles down to manage Farnleigh.
Then up pops John Farnleigh #2, one of the competing heirs dies, and someone steals Murray's thumb-o-graph. The reader is beset with conflicting stories and clues, when Dr. Fell finally lumbers onto the scene with his shovel-hat, swirling cape, and crutch-headed cane. He figures out who killed whom right away, but the reader is left grasping at hints (some of them pretty darn subtle - I think Carr cheats a little on this mystery) until the final denouement, which involves that fateful night when the 'Titanic' went down.Read more ›
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I ordered "The Crooked Hinge" after reading the glowing Amazon reviews of the book, and it's really one of the first few times that I have been seriously disappointed in that source. Published in 1938, the book has an interesting premise; two men--survivors of the 1912 Titanic sinking--both claim to be the heir to a title and estate in the English county of Kent. At a showdown meeting between the claimants, one of them dies, and although there are witnesses, it is initially impossible to determine whether the death is suicide or murder.
From the claimant's death onward, the story is crammed with arcane dialogue and little other action. My biggest problem with this short book is the stilted and opaque language that doesn't allow any real flow to the story. A second criticism is the lack of flesh and blood in the characters. They have no credibility as living people with personal stories, and when they speak, their language is alternately blustering, convoluted or hysterical. This is the antithesis of an Agatha Christie mystery of the same period, where the plot is advanced by open and meaningful dialogue. At "Hinge's" end, the whole tortured mess is brought to a close by an improbable letter from the killer who sums up in numbing detail how crimes were committed and for what reason.
My advice is to avoid this book and the stick with Agatha Christie, if you want a period mystery.