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Summary

A dark shadow looms over the Rhineland, where Inspector Henri Bencolin and his accomplice Jeff Marle have arrived from Paris. Entreated by the Belgian financier D'Aunay to investigate the gruesome and grimly theatrical death of actor Myron Alison, the pair find themselves at the imposing hilltop fortress Schloss Schädel, in which a small group of suspects are still assembled. As thunder rolls in the distance, Bencolin and Marle enter a world steeped in macabre legends of murder and magic to catch the killer still walking the maze-like passages and towers of the keep.

©1931 The Estate of Clarice M Carr (P)2021 Soundings

What listeners say about Castle Skull

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Extraordinary.

Recently started reading John Dickson Carr and don't know why I haven't done so before. This book, with its two dueling, egomaniac and chilling detectives is unique. Brilliantly read by John Telfer.

3 people found this helpful

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Startling Bulges In Extraordinary Places

Mediocre murder-mystery from Golden Age 'Locked Room' maestro, John Dickson Carr. Here, a burning man plunges from the titular castle's parapets and the curious legacy of a dead magician sets the story in motion. First published in 1931, this is the third of four novels featuring Carr's Mephistophelian French detective, Henri Bencolin, and his 'stooge assistant', American writer, Jeff Marle. Carr was only in his mid-twenties when he wrote this, so perhaps it's unfair to judge him too harshly, but Castle Skull displays little of the complex ingenuity upon which his reputation rests; instead, we have a journeyman mix of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, but without the charm of either. The plotting feels perfunctory, the culprit arbitrary (well, one of them anyway); at the conclusion, sub-plots and red herrings still dangle in the breeze. The only real points of note are the lurid nature of the crimes and the Gothic melodrama of the setting (a skull-shaped castle overlooking the Rhine). Still, Carr's characterisation is briskly efficient and some fun is to be found with the outré cast, particularly the boisterous old "Duchess" and Bencolin's heel-clicking, monocle-sporting Teutonic rival, Baron von Arnheim (basically Herr Flick). Bencolin himself seems a stepping stone between Poirot and George Smiley.
Carr would abandon Bencolin shortly afterwards and concentrate on his more famous creation, Dr. Gideon Fell. He also has the distinction of co-writing a book of officially-sanctioned Sherlock Holmes stories with Conan Doyle's son. This last point leads me neatly to the narrator, John Telfer, who has done much excellent work in the extended Holmes universe. Telfer has a refined, elegant voice, a versatile range, and it's a little bit of a shame that he has to adopt an American accent for the central POV character in this story.

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  • John
  • 09-03-22

Life Runs True to Melodrama

The title is an observation by our narrator, a friend of the subtle, inscrutable Henri Bencolin. And it sums up this book to a nicety.

Because for all its Castle-of-Udolpho atmosphere, for all the histrionic rivalry and revenge that drives the story, the characters and their motivations remain tenaciously plausible. No matter how many suits of armor and secret passageways surround you, regardless even of the title (and I defy you to come up with a more melodramatic one) you never feel that self-conscious cringe that’s inevitable when a story goes over the top.

The quality of the writing has a lot to do with it. Whether describing the beauties of the Rhine, the violence of a storm, or a character’s inner turmoil, Carr draws consistently vivid pictures. And Bencolin, despite his semi-Mephistophelean cunning, is but one of an equally vivid cast of three-dimensional characters.

Finally, John Telfer’s masterful performance, ranging from shouts to whispers, can nevertheless pose problems for anyone listening on public transportation.

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  • lulu
  • 29-11-21

wonderful

one of the first John Dickson Carr books on audible. well read and such a creepy, scary, brilliant horror mystery. hopefully audible will put more Carr to audio.

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  • Dave M
  • 03-07-22

More Carr please

I love Carr. I can't say all of his stories are 5 stars, so this gets 4 for being interesting and enjoyable. As far as the Audible version, the narration is excellent. Hope to see more Dr. Fell mysteries. Crooked Hinge perhaps?

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-02-22

Entertaining as mystery and melodrama,

Very well read, only negative was the volume too low, especially first few chapters