The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr – Review

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The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr Book Review main logo

By Sarah Morgan

I love a John Dickson Carr book – and luckily for me, there are a lot of them to go at.

He was hugely prolific, wrote under a number of pseudonyms and created a variety of memorable characters. Although American, he was much-influenced by British crime writers, and in later years focused largely on series featuring English detectives. But his first sleuth was the Frenchman Henri Bencolin, an examining magistrate in the Paris judicial system who also takes on private cases.

Bencolin made his first appearance in 1930’s It Walks By Night, 10 years after the debut of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot; whether Dickson Carr was influenced by that remains to be seen, but like the fastidious Belgian, Bencolin is an unusual character whose psyche and appearance (he’s described as looking ‘Satanic’) are as noteworthy as the investigations he carries out.

The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr book Review coverIt Walks By Night is undoubtedly a classic and should have been followed by Castle Skull, which didn’t see the light of day until 1980, three years after the writer’s death.

Instead, the follow-up turned out to be The Lost Gallows, which is also a new addition to the British Library’s excellent and beautifully produced Crime Classics series.

“Complex and gripping”

This time, Bencolin and his American sidekick, Jeff Marle, are in London. It’s shrouded in fog, which adds to the atmosphere, but doesn’t make solving a mysterious case involving a runaway car, a dead chauffeur, a disappearing street, a missing Egyptian and a threatening set of gallows any easier.

The culprit seems to be a supposedly fictional bogeyman called Jack Ketch, named after Charles II’s infamous executioner. It’s believed he’s plotting revenge against the man he holds responsible for another chap’s disgrace and suicide, but unmasking him takes an unexpected turn.

Dickson Carr may have been at the start of his career, but he crafts a complex and gripping tale of which any Golden Age crime writer would have been proud.

The final chapter perhaps contains a little too much exposition, but that’s a small point – the build-up more than makes up for any shortcomings by being utterly thrilling.

Also included in the book is ‘The Ends of Justice’, another short story featuring Bencolin.

‘The Lost Gallows: A London Mystery’ by John Dickson Carr is published by the British Library, £8.99 paperback

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