He Who Whispers

He Who Whispers is a mystery novel (1946) by detective novelist John Dickson Carr. Like Many of the works by this author feature so-called impossible crimes (for the most part, falling into the category of the locked room mystery). In this case, the novel falls into a smaller category of Carr's work in that it is suggested that the crime is the work of a supernatural being (here, a vampire). The detective is Dr. Gideon Fell, who ultimately uncovers a rational explanation for the novel's events. Carr considered this one of his best impossible crime novels.

He Who Whispers
First US edition cover
AuthorJohn Dickson Carr
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreMystery, Detective novel
PublisherHamish Hamilton (UK) & Harper (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Preceded byTill Death Do Us Part (1944) 
Followed byThe Sleeping Sphinx (1947) 

Plot summary

A few months after the end of World War II, Miles Hammond is invited to the first meeting of the Murder Club in five years. When he arrives, no one else is there except Barbara Morell and Professor Rigaud. When no one else shows up, Rigaud tells the story of Fay Seton.

Seton was a young girl, working for the Brookes family. She fell in love with Harry Brookes, and the two became engaged. But Harry's father, Howard, did not approve. One day, he agreed to meet Fay in a tower—all that remained of a burned-out chateau. It was a secure location on a lonely waterfront, and was the perfect place for such a meeting. Harry and Professor Rigaud left Howard alone at ten minutes before four. When they returned, fifteen minutes later, Howard had been stabbed, and the sword-cane that did it was found in two pieces beside his body. At first it seemed an open-and-shut case, but a family that was picnicking a few feet from the entrance of the tower swore that no one entered the tower in those fifteen minutes, that no boat came near the tower, and no one could have climbed up, because the nearest window was fifteen feet off the ground. The only one with any motive was Fay Seton, who was believed to be able to bring a vampire to life and terrorize people.

Miles quickly becomes involved in the affair because the new librarian he just hired is Fay Seton.

Literary criticism and significance

This novel is of some significance in the field of the Golden Age mystery because of its treatment of a sexual theme, that of nymphomania. This is one of a few Carr mystery novels to deal with such a psycho-sexual theme (others are The Judas Window, where a woman character poses for obscene photographs for her lover, and The Sleeping Sphinx, which deals with sexual hysteria). Many whodunnit novels are criticised for being artificial puzzles with little or no characterization, and this novel stands as an example of a writer attempting to bring some semblance of psychological realism to the motivations of his characters.

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