When I first started reading mysteries, I was greatly influenced by "And then there were none" by Agatha Christie and so I started looking for books similar to it. My arduous search efforts led me to "Nine and Death makes Ten" and corollary the discovery of John Dickson Carr, but alas the book was out of print and me being a novice classic mystery hunter had no idea on how to get my covetous hands on it. So I searched some more titles from the then obscure author, and ordered The Judas Window from an online bookstore.
I kept reading others books and simultaneously kept looking for that elusive book with the cover of a black ship in the front and that green skull in the background. Finally after much efforts and properly utilizing a lot of money and time I have got hold of the 1940 Classic.
Abroad an ocean liner called the Edwardic, are nine passengers who are travelling at the beginning of the second world war from New York to England. The ship has to go through the submarine zone where a Nazi torpedo could sink them to the bottom of the sea. The Edwardic's nine passengers who are risking their lives for this travel are faced with the additional problem of Murder!
One of the passengers among the nine is found murdered, throat slit and blood splattered in the cabin, but the murderer has committed a grave mistake and left his/her fingerprints at the scene of the crime. The ship's Captain orders that everyone's fingerprints be taken and then matched with the murderer's to determine the perpetrator of this ghastly crime, next comes the impossible mystery which is that the murderer's fingerprints do not match with anyone on board the Edwardic, neither the passengers nor anyone from the ship's crew. The Ship's Captain orders the old man to take over the investigation but this time HM is up against a willy opponent who might just make it his last case.
It is a legendary book in the annals of detective fiction. It has lots of new things even for the ingenious Carr like murder on a ship, the mystery with the finger prints and the added tension of being trapped on a ship which might be bombed by the Nazis at any moment. The book has all the elements of a great mystery novel but...
The characterization is up to Carr standards nothing out of the ordinary in this department. I did find the character of Valerie, one of the passengers as very irritating and the romance between Max, who is the protagonist and Valerie looks fake and forced, also how can impersonating someone not be a crime? It is simply ignored by HM and others. Valerie looked like a superfluous character in the book not at all needed.
Carr's speaciality is atmosphere, and here he had to create one of immense tension among the crew and passengers but I though that this wasn't very well done. I think Carr had a gold mine here, a ship with just 9 passengers that too travelling in complete darkness with the threat of the torpedo always in their mind. In the end Carr ended up with Silver from this Gold mine. He spends very little time is creating an atmosphere for the reader, although the situation that he throws to the reader is such that it required little from him, but all I'm trying to enunciate is that he could have done more with this brilliant setup.
One thing which ruined the atmosphere a little bit for me was that the ship does not actually have only 9 people it has tens of more people called the ship's crew, who are all conveniently ignored as suspects just because the Captain says that they all had alibis.
The murderer is a genius, and the trick that he conjures is unbelievably clever. After reading each whodunit with an impossible premise there is a question which begs to be answered and that is has the author taken it a little too far? I will say this that you have to be blind to see one person and not the other, if that did not make any sense then all I will say is that you should read the book and this is not a spoiler but it will be if I say anything more.
All in all I can't help feel a bit disappointed. I was really looking forward to this and it turned out to be not what I expected. but thanks to this book I got introduced to Carr and the conundrum of the impossible crime.
3 stars out of 5. too many expectations maybe If I had read the book without so many expectation I would have given it another half a star.
Where can you buy it? most of the readers of my blog are from US and Europe so I think it will be easier for them to get this, but for my fellow Indian mystery readers, you will have to be really ardent to get this one.
I'm submitting this as a part of the Vintage Mystery and the Global Reading Challenge.