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Hag's Nook (Dr. Gideon Fell, #1)
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Buddy reads > Hag's Nook - SPOILER Thread

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Susan | 9627 comments Mod
Welcome to our Jan/Feb Buddy read of Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr, the first Dr Gideon Fell mystery.

There is no country house, but, instead, a disused prison, a family curse and a little romance...

Feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 696 comments I have just finished this. I failed to solve the mystery (I'm not sure if there were enough clues to allow anyone to do so), but I did work out the puzzle verse (but surely Dido is most famous for standing among the ruins of Carthage, not Tyre!).


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8601 comments Mod
Well done, Rosina - I don't think I would have got anywhere with the puzzle.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8601 comments Mod
On the plot, I don't think we were given any clues about the vicar not being who he was supposed to be - this seemed to be a bit of a cheat and was a slight disappointment, since I'd always heard that John Dickson Carr's plotting was so brilliant. However, since this is the first in the series, I'm hopeful the plot twists will improve in later books.

Vicars and doctors often seem to be worth watching in Golden Age novels!


Leslie | 592 comments I agree that the clues Fell mentions that led him to be suspicious of the vicar were a bit tenuous. What I mean is that what to Fell seemed significant or odd wouldn't necessarily strike a reader so. One example was old Mr. Starberth talking alone to the vicar on his deathbed. Yes, the reader was told that he hated the church but it isn't unusual for people to have deathbed change of heart in this regard. Fell's knowledge of Mr. Starberth's character was key and we readers didn't have that key.


Leslie | 592 comments Rosina wrote: "I have just finished this. I failed to solve the mystery (I'm not sure if there were enough clues to allow anyone to do so), but I did work out the puzzle verse (but surely Dido is most famous for ..."

It seemed clear to me that each line represented a word but I didn't put it together enough to solve the cipher. Of course, I went wrong with the first line (I thought Lincoln) and had no clue for some of the lines so my not solving the cipher is no surprise!

For a while before & during the cipher solving section, I was slightly suspecting Dorothy as being the murderer! She could have been using Rampole to help her solve the cipher. But my experience with GA authors made me pretty sure that she was innocent (after all, as Agatha Christie said in her autobiography, all detective stories of this period had to have a love story subplot!).


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8601 comments Mod
Must admit I never take the time to try to work out puzzles, codes and ciphers that crop up in detective stories - I should have a go, but as I am hopeless at crosswords etc I probably wouldn't get very far.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 696 comments It wasn't so much that I solved the entire puzzle, but I did recognise that the lines led to words (and that the initial letter would then spell the answer). It was more that Fell and the others didn't cotton on to that, and actually wrote down all the first and last letters, when just the first verse would have shown that that was not going to work!

And could Timothy, and the vicar, have really been so certain that the solicitor wouldn't open the package and read it, before putting it in the box? And why didn't he just get some gelignite and blow the doors open? No one would have noticed, surely.


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
I will admit that I never even tried to work out the puzzle either. Well done, Rosina!

I totally agree with you that there was more than enough time to come up with a way to blow the safe up. If there was a bang, you could be long gone by the time anyone did come to investigate...


Leslie | 592 comments I am not sure that the safe could have been blown open without damaging the contents. If the vicar wanted to see the contents of the safe, rather than just destroy them, that might have been the difficulty. However, I suspect that he just didn't have the means.


message 11: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 1948 comments Haha We have all seen The Italian Job where Michael Caine says" You were only supposed to blow the bloody door off!"


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Judy wrote: "Must admit I never take the time to try to work out puzzles, codes and ciphers that crop up in detective stories - I should have a go, but as I am hopeless at crosswords etc I probably wouldn't get..."

Same here! I wasn’t really getting into the melodramatic style, and gothic vibe, but I would be open to trying another Carr mystery, to compare.


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Jill wrote: "Haha We have all seen The Italian Job where Michael Caine says" You were only supposed to blow the bloody door off!""

😂


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
Ah, The Italian Job. I have always had a fondness for Michael Caine. Did you know, in the Ipcress File, it is actually Len Deighton's hands that are filmed cracking the egg, one handed?

I would say I was surprised that a criminal could not work out how to crack a safe when they had months to do so. However, having done jury duty, I feel that the stupidity of most criminals is what undermines their efforts...


Sandy | 2631 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Ah, The Italian Job. I have always had a fondness for Michael Caine. Did you know, in the Ipcress File, it is actually Len Deighton's hands that are filmed cracking the egg, one handed?

I would s..."


The stupid ones may be the ones standing trial. The ones that are good at it are less likely to be arrested.


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
Good point. However, I was astonished that people could not come up with a better story as to why they did, what they did. Having read so many crime books, I feel sure most mystery fans could concoct a fiendish alibi, if necessary!


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Leslie wrote: "Rosina wrote: "I have just finished this. I failed to solve the mystery (I'm not sure if there were enough clues to allow anyone to do so), but I did work out the puzzle verse (but surely Dido is m..."

Oh, I wondered why so much time spent on the tedious young lovers. I kept reading Rampole as Rumpole, which would’ve made Dorothy She Who Must Be Obeyed! Not that Carr could have possibly had an inkling when he wrote this, just my unfortunately quirky memory...

I really found this one quite a slog by the end, he sure created a wonderful atmosphere, just a bit too gothic for my taste. I’d be curious about a book further along in the Dr. Fell series, sometimes first books can be rather uneven - and as Rosina says, there were certain constrictions at the time (had to have young lovers, etc.)


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Leslie wrote: "Rosina wrote: "I have just finished this. I failed to solve the mystery (I'm not sure if there were enough clues to allow anyone to do so), but I did work out the puzzle verse (but surely Dido is m..."

What is the name of that Christie bio? I have a creaky old copy of Come, Tell Me How You Live Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan I picked up years ago at a used book sale, is that it?


Leslie | 592 comments No, it was Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It was the nonfiction group read of another group I belong to...


Leslie | 592 comments Susan in NC wrote: "I kept reading Rampole as Rumpole, which would’ve made Dorothy She Who Must Be Obeyed! ..."

LOL - I did that one or two times myself (read Rumpole instead of Rampole)!


message 21: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8601 comments Mod
Not just me who kept thinking of Rumpole then. Love the books and series!


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Leslie wrote: "No, it was Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It was the nonfiction group read of another group I belong to..."

Thanks!


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Judy wrote: "Not just me who kept thinking of Rumpole then. Love the books and series!"

Me, too - more fun, I kept thinking...


message 24: by Fred (new)

Fred Haier | 28 comments Susan in NC wrote: "Leslie wrote: "Rosina wrote: "I have just finished this. I failed to solve the mystery (I'm not sure if there were enough clues to allow anyone to do so), but I did work out the puzzle verse (but s..."

I am re-reading Hag's Nook now. It is interesting to read a mystery again when you know the killer. For John Dickson Carr, it helps to know that the atmosphere in his books was a homage to Edgar Allan Poe. Yet most had a romance in them. Books before the Fell series were even creepier. I just started the 2nd book in the Fell series "The Mad Hatter Mystery"--a book I have never read so I am curious to see what Carr does with this mystery. I suggest you try the Fell books "Three Coffins" aka "The Hollow Man" or "The Crooked Hinge."


Leslie | 592 comments I second the suggestion of The Three Coffins!


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2572 comments Thanks, Fred and Leslie!


Sandy | 2631 comments Mod
I read The Mad Hatter Mystery soon after Hags Nook and liked it. The story is less Gothic and there is still young lovers.


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
The Mad Hatter Mystery is difficult to get in the UK. I am hoping a kindle edition does appear soon.


Colin | 208 comments The Mad Hatter is a solid, straight mystery which makes good use of the Tower of London setting and the outwardly grotesque elements of the central crime.
The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man often gets cited as the best of Carr, and it is a book I rate very highly myself, but I'd point out that it is very densely plotted and that might deter some.

Carr generally did the Gothic atmosphere well, although his very early books may lay it on a bit thick for some tastes. So which are his best books, or those I'd recommend? I'd say:
He Who Whispers
Till Death Do Us Part
The Burning Court
The Emperor's Snuff Box
She Died a Lady


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
I really struggle to read a series out of order, Colin, but I appreciate the suggestions :)


Colin | 208 comments Fair enough, I know a number of people who feel the same. I would say though that these books were never written as a series in the modern sense of the word - the continuity, where it's present at all, is extremely vague and tenuous. There's not, in my opinion, all that much to be gained or lost by reading them entirely at random.


Susan | 9627 comments Mod
I know, I know. You are quite right and I do try to read books out of order, but I come out in a cold sweat. I do understand it isn't logical though...


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Nick | 110 comments Like Rosina I found it easy to solve the puzzle but failed to identify the murderer. Like Judy and Susan I thought that the clues were a little tenuous, although I think we were given enough ... see next comment.


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Nick | 110 comments Physics and Whodunnits - At one point in this book Fell comments about clearly distinguishing what we really know from the various paths our imagination takes us. In physics, and other problem solving pursuits, we do the same thing, using the things we know for sure to constrain the solution from various possibilities we might imagine. In this case the fact that Timothy Starberth specifically asked to speak to Thomas Saunders before he died, given that his intent was to torture his murderer with the knowledge that he would be uncovered on Martin Starberth’s birthday, was the crucial fact (I failed to spot this). Then, the various paths our imagination might take us are considerably narrowed, enabling us to realise the significance of the way that “Thomas Saunders” came to his position and the possibility that he wasn’t the genuine article (other whodunnits have made use of this ploy). Overall, I think that Carr plays fair with us because, while we aren’t told “Thomas Saunders’” history, we are told enough to know he did it, even if we couldn’t know the back story that tells us how and why he came to be an imposter etc..
In physics, facts directing/constraining imagination have led to surprising, unintuitive and difficult to arrive at theories like relativity and quantum mechanics. The same can be said for whodunnits ... see recent discussions on certain Poirot’s.


message 35: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick | 110 comments Imagination and whodunnits - An interesting and enjoyable aspect of reading novels in general is the way the author’s and our imaginations intermingle; The author’s imagination guides the content of what he writes, which in turn stimulates our own imagination. (In film/TV our imagination is more constrained by the visual content; witness the effects of the TV adaptions of the Dalgleish novels on our perception of his appearance.)
In whodunnits there is a more complex intermingling of author and reader’s imaginations. The successful whodunnit author imagines multiple narratives; What actually happened, and what, almost, could have happened. All of these narratives are hinted at and the reader’s imagination is stimulated to explore these various paths. For me there is an immediate richness to a good whodunnit novel that arises in this way, even if, sometimes, other aspects of the writing might be less rich than the best of novel writing in general can be.


message 36: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick | 110 comments I actually enjoyed Carr’s writing, which had some enjoyable flourishes of metaphor and thought stream. And I enjoyed the use of gothic romance to deceive, however familiar (from Northanger Abbey (albeit in a different sense) to Scooby Doo, with many stops in between).


message 37: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick | 110 comments I enjoyed Carr’s reference/dig at Conan Doyle (Study in Scarlet): When Fell says “You’re young Rampole, aren’t you?”, Rampole could not have been more startled if Fell had added “You come from Afghanistan, I perceive”. However this is not Fell displaying an amazing flight of deduction (more like adduction); he simply explains that he has been expecting him, having been written to about him by Bob Mellon.


message 38: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick | 110 comments The name Rampole meant that I also couldn’t help but think of Rumpole - very much a favourite of mine too. Rampole himself is completely unlike Rumpole, but the suggestion resulting from the many instances of the name meant I had to fight off the temptation to make comparisons between Fell and Rumpole, which were ultimately superficial, but there are slight similarities. E.g. both enjoy their alcohol and defend that enjoyment with spurious arguments; Rumpole insists the cheap red wine he enjoys at Poeroy’s keeps him astonishingly regular; Fell, at tea time, provides historical references to argue that drinking beer is more English than drinking tea.


Sandy | 2631 comments Mod
Very interesting and insightful comments Nick. I suppose its obvious (in retrospect) but the author does have to work through, and hint to, several murder methods so the reader does not latch onto the only solution.


Angie | 11 comments Thanks to Colin for his suggestions on which Carr books to read next. I did like the author's gothic atmosphere and descriptions. I felt like a dunce at the end as far as picking out who might have done the murder. I agree with Susan's comment that sometimes a first in a series is a bit uneven until the author gets things up to speed. I have been on a "new kick" reading Locked Room mysteries. The first one I read was Ellery Queen's "Chinese Orange Mystery." I have to say I am really enjoying reading these older books written in the 20's through 40's. Everybody wrote better. Don't you think? I have just been taking my time reading these older books more for the enjoyment of the words, the descriptions, than sometimes for the plot's solution at the end. But, I have to admit, I was speeding through the last couple chapters of Hag's Nook, because I almost thought that Dorothy had done it. Anyway, thanks for the read!


message 41: by Franky (last edited Mar 05, 2020 04:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Franky | 42 comments Sorry I just realized that there was two threads to this book ( posted my thoughts to this book in the other thread). It took me so long to finally get to finish this book (because of other things going on), but ended up really enjoying it. I've read through the comments though and enjoyed the thoughts on the book. I like Carr's style with writing and enjoyed how the mystery unfolded. I also liked the light romance and though Carr and Rampole were interesting protagonists to this book. I'm looking for more like this one.

Angie, I agree about locked room mysteries. I also seem to try to seek out and find them. They interest and fascinate me.

Anyhow, thanks everyone who suggested this book. It was a fun read and look forward to reading more of Carr in the future.


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