The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr – Review
By Sandra Callard
The Crime Classics is a collection of books that were all written roughly between the two World Wars, and are being republished by the British Library, with each book quoting the original year of publication and the name of the author. Published in 1931, The Lost Gallows was originally a huge success.
Today’s readers may look upon these old books as out of date and uninteresting – and while they can occasionally be the former they are almost always totally fascinating. I have read many and I love them, but this one is longer and vastly more complicated than the norm. It requires 100 percent attention whilst reading and often necessitates a second reading of a paragraph or even a page to keep yourself up to press on the rapidly moving story. These early 20th century sleuths had their own ways of tackling the unusual murders that many of these books contained, and some were often wide of the usual mark of detection, but were nevertheless interesting, sometimes quaint and occasionally became so baffling that it becomes doubtful that these murders would ever be solved.
This book obviously has murder in mind, or should I say multiple murders, and as the deaths and the clues mount up, it takes the skills of various characters to route out the dominant ones, and the deadly aim of one individual to build these clues into the final pointer that will break the case wide open.
The years between the Wars I find totally compelling, and not only because those alive then must have felt that they had just won the war to beat all wars, but did not know the future. I simply look at it for what it was; a time when the only King in this country’s history gave up his throne for a woman; when cinemas brought new hope for the poor who could see the world outside of their own little world for very little money, and a time when women were finally being seen as useful people who actually had a brain.
But we are talking about a story of murder whilst the above was going on, and the characters who are scattered throughout the story are not of this world, in the true sense of the word, and the descriptions of post World War One are fascinating, with great divides being obvious between the rich and the poor. These stories always seem to put the wealthy in charge, even though some of them are murdered and others attempt to find these killers, but they all seem to have the accepted idea that these things will happen, so the intelligentsia had better sort it out. The upper crust in most of the books are always wealthy and seem to kill as a sort of pastime, without any thought for the horrors that have just been produced. It is not actually acceptable, but is nevertheless extremely entertaining.
Modern writing, especially crime novels is undoubtedly superb and I read it with relish, but these old books are such a change and so very different from their modern day counterparts. This one in particular is a real brain teaser and a very welcome change with its slightly tongue-in-cheek feeling and its very clever working out of the culprits. It is something way out of the norm and may just give old school crime readers a pleasant jolt.
‘The Lost Gallows’ by John Dickson Carr is published by the British Library, £8.99 paperback