Monday, May 14, 2012

The Problem of the Green Capsule aka The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr

 Plot: A mad man/woman poisons chocolates in a tobacco shop in the quaint village of Sodbury cross, which leaves a child dead and few others terribly sick. Marcus Chesney's niece is suspected of the crime but Chesney does not agree with these suspicions.

Marcus Chesney is a man with many idiosyncrasies. One of which is, he believes that eye witnesses are unreliable. Marcus postulates that people are poor observers and can seldom narrate simple incidents reliably. He wants to prove this to his family and friends, who often disagree with him.

To prove his theory he sets up an elaborate charade where he sets up everything as series of traps to confuse and vex the audience. During his Pantomime, an insect like man wearing dark glasses enters the stage and makes Marcus swallow a green pill. The audience think that this part of a preconceived plan. The only problem is that Marcus ends up dead after a few minutes and the person who was supposed to play the part of the Phantom or the man who looked like a "giant insect" is also found critically injured.

Chesney's theory becomes fact. There are witnesses but all have conflicting stories to tell and even the camera which caught the whole thing seems unreliable. Dr Fell is called in to solve the problem of the green capsule.

Review: Children getting poisoned, really? is this something that you would want to read. I mean this isn't something that happens only in fiction. Crimes against children are very common and in a recent TV program called "Satyamev Jayate" perhaps the eyes of a whole nation of hypocrites were opened. But we are not here to talk about real crimes we are here to talk about fiction. 
I think that the subject of child poisoning is very precarious and if it wasn't carefully handled it could have turned out to be the biggest mistake of this writer's professional career. Thankfully, the writer steers clear of the topic and does not dwell too much on it, which I think is a good thing. The writer focused his attention on the mystery and the impossible crime instead.
Carr is in brilliant form in this book, even two days after reading "The Problem of the Green Capsule" I still can't get the image of how the the pantomime was performed out of my mind. I think this is a specialty of the great books they always have that one thing which sticks in your mind like super glue. The atmosphere that Carr creates is always mesmerizing but the one created in this book is so palpable that you sometimes feel you are right there in the middle of it. For E.g. When the four detectives sit down to watch the film in black and white and the way Carr describes what is going on in the film and what the detectives are doing, for a few moments the reader forgets that he is in his drawing room or bedroom and is transported to the room with the detectives where they are watching the film. Now, that is the real joy of reading!

The book scores on almost all points, the solution to the mystery is so simple that you will slap your face for not seeing it. I don't know why "The Hollow Man" is rated far above then "The Problem of the Green Capsule" I think that the mystery in the latter is much better and simpler although it is not a locked room mystery.

Fell is in good touch and keeps the reader engaged. He keeps confusing the reader by throwing inverted clues. The other characters are also well done especially Marcus who I really liked and I thought it was a shame he got killed so soon, I would like to have seen him for a few more pages. He kind of reminded me of someone ;)

We keep on coming back to the child poisoning in the book, in retrospect I think the author should have avoided this, the only thing it did was give the villain a nasty touch but the motive behind him/her doing this was absurd.

Lastly, a thing which kept grabbing my attention was the treatment of clocks and time by Carr. He seems to treat time especially clocks in a very unusual and peculiar way. I can't really explain it but he sometimes describes clocks like they are from another dimension and this isn't to create terror or build atmosphere or anything like that. He just does that because he used to see them like that I think, he treats them like they are evil. You will really have to read it to understand yourself.

IMO the best of Dr Fell from whatever I have read.

Where can I buy it? in print from Langtail press, it's about Rs 675, can be ordered from Infibeam or FlipKart.

I'm submitting this review as part of the Color coded challenge 2012.

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