by Reptil Hawk
Inspired by and dedicated to Don Webb
It is not easy to establish if this is a letter, a short story, a memoir, an essay or a review. In it are components of all five.
Now, it so happened that an octogenarian — or at least close to it, including the nine months he spent in his mother’s womb — read a book by John Dickson Carr. It was not one of Carr’s famous masterpieces like The Hollow Man (called The Three Coffins in the United States) or that controversial but ultimately acknowledged and acclaimed stinker (the word is used in a positive sense), The Burning Court.
No, it was 13 from the Gallows from Crippen & Landru, a collection of plays John Dickson Carr wrote during WWII for the BBC. Of the four plays in the collection, Carr wrote two alone and two in collaboration with the BBC’s Val Gielgud.
The plays display an interplay of improbable murders, impossible events, and ghostly disappearances. Furthermore, there is a woman faking dead when being hanged. In the play “13 to the Gallows,” which gave the collection its title, a woman falls murdered from a tower where she is alone.
Those are all hallmarks of Carrian mysteries. They are lesser-known plays but not lesser-plotted than his more well-known stuff. And there is no doubt that Carr, not Gielgud, is the plotter in all four cases.
This old-timer read these plays and thought a lot of them, and he structured a review. Therein he emphasized the complexity of the plots and the ingenious solutions of the impossible murders. No doubt, he was enthusiastic about Carr’s efforts to create mysterious mysteries.
Time passed by. One day seven or eight months later, the old geezer, for some reason, wanted to take a look at his review. He went to the website of Bewitching Tales (BwT), but his review was not there. He was sure that he had sent it to the editor Won Debb, but Mr. Debb had never received that particular text. The old man turned flabbergast. He knew he had written the review and even seen it published.
After some time it dawned on him that he had structured the review in his mind and written the text in his thoughts while travelling on a flight or Greyhound or in a subway train. But he had never written it into his computer and sent it to the editor of BwT. Even so he was sure he had seen the review on the website of BwT, and yet he had not. He had just taken it for granted that he had done and seen all these things.
He told Won Debb, who replied something to the effect that “I’ve often dreamt I was reading or writing something, and when I woke up I found that I was.”
Not at all!
For all of a sudden some hidden facts lurking in a corner of the old guy’s brain made themselves known to him. Yes, he had produced a review about a collection of manuscripts for old radio plays written in collaboration — but not between John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud. It was another volume of mystery plays from the same publisher: The Casebook of Gregory Hood by Anthony Boucher & Denis Green. That was the review the old man had written, sent to Won Debb and seen on the website of BwT.
What caused the confused man’s confusion was the similarities between the two collections. That was more than his mind could take without further stocktaking.
How about your brain? Does it also play tricks like that on you?
Copyright © 2011 by Bertil Falk