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  #1  
Old January 19th, 2001, 11:38 PM
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The Reader is Warned (1939)



Rate this book.

Read synopsis of this book at:

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Old July 26th, 2004, 05:47 PM
Patrick Gore Patrick Gore is offline
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I think this is one of the weaker novels by the master, and it's certainly too highly rated here. The premise (and title) are so enticing that the implausible solution struck me as twice as feeble as it really is. The killer’s behavior in the penultimate chapter (not to mention that of the officers of the law) is ludicrous, and the brutalilty of the second murder impossible to square with the characterization (such as it is) of the culprit.


I give it 2/5.



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Old August 20th, 2004, 12:47 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

A genuine classic, and one of the three best Merrivales. Telepathy is neatly combined with pseudo-science, as a sinister mind-reader, with cast-iron alibi, claims to be able to kill with the powers of his mind ("Teleforce"). Naturally enough, this plunges Britain into a panic, a panic fostered by H.M., for subtle purposes of his own. The solution is genuinely surprising, with superb misdirection, every piece fitting together perfectly. The same idea (and, indeed, motive) were re-used in "The Empty Flat," a Colonel March story.
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Old August 29th, 2004, 10:45 AM
Patrick Gore Patrick Gore is offline
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

Quote:
Originally Posted by stoke_moran
The same idea (and, indeed, motive) were re-used in "The Empty Flat," a Colonel March story.
Did the story come after the novel? I'm curious, because usually it works the other way round.
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Old August 29th, 2004, 01:38 PM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

Carr often recycled plots, but changing the approach. This was especially true in the 1940s when he was doing most of his short stories and radio plays. It's not as though he was running out of new ideas, just that he had many that deserved repetition. The short form does not lend itself to full expansion. He did not 'rewrite' his longer works, such as "Three Coffins."
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Old August 29th, 2004, 01:45 PM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

The Reader Is Warned is one of the poorest Carr I ever have read, and its short-story version were much better, if only because it doesn't had Merrivale.
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Old July 10th, 2005, 08:59 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

Not the best of the Merrivale's but not the worst. A bit average but an enjoyable read.
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Old November 11th, 2007, 09:00 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

isn't the chief flaw that the motive is completely unguessable until we reach the denouement?
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Old October 20th, 2008, 02:14 PM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I had read this book many years ago, but I have re-read it again this weekend.
Well, I liked the book the first time and I still like it. I don't agree with those who say that it's one of the poorest Merrivales. But I can't help thinking that there are some flaws in the book.
First flaw (a matter of probability):
Spoiler
The murderer takes a big risk. It is possible and indeed it often happens that a body dead for electric shock has no burns if immersed in water at the moment of the shock. So it's not unlikely that the corpse of Sam Constable had no sign whatsoever of electrocution. But there is a significative chance that replicating the same method, not only once but twice, at least one of the corpses should bear burn marks. This is good luck indeed on the murderer's part.

Second flaw (a matter of personality):
Spoiler
The murderer is depicted a little too good to be reconciled with the ruthless picture of her that we have in the end. There are too few signs of her true evil nature, although there are fair clues as to her motive. True, it is perfect fair play if the murderer is a good actor that plays his/her part fooling the other characters and the reader, but the same fair play rules require that at least some clue as to his/her true personality are shown in the picture. Even in a very unfair (and really poor) book like Below Suspicion we have some "slips of the tongue", so to speak, that could give us a clue about the true nature of the murderer. Here, we have none: the murderer asking Sir Henry why he doesn't like her is not enough. And I can't help feeling a little sad for the beautiful girl with the sweet blue eyes who will hang from a rope.

Third flaw (a matter of "the game"):
Spoiler
There are too few suspects. If we rule out Dr. Sanders, as we are compelled to do, we can only choose between Herman Pennik, Hilary Keen and Lawrence Chase. So we have one chance out of three to find out the murderer choosing at random. Another character would have given the reader more food for thought. But I admit that this might be a deliberate choice by Carr who wants to show us that he can win even giving the reader all possible warnings and advantages.

Anyway, some ideas are great: the opening scenes have the trademark "Carr's" atmosphere and the plot is ingenious, if at times a little stretched. I would give this book 3.5/5 stars.
BTW, the basic idea of the book
Spoiler
has, in fact, been used also in "The Empty Flat", a Colonel March story, but only with reference to the electrocution. In the short story, death happens by accident. I don't know which one has been published firts: "The Empy Flat" was not included in Department of Queer Complaints (1940), but it was in The Man Who Explained Miracles.
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Old November 17th, 2009, 03:20 PM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I found The Reader is Warned very strong. The solution was devilishly clever of Carr. I was completely fooled because Carr drew me in completely into the story. Right to the end, I was convinced

Spoiler
that Pennik really could kill people, although not necessarily by thought, and I was positively on the edge of my seat as the body count began to rise. I did not see the end coming at all; indeed, I was convinced the ending would be like so many other romances in mysteries, and she would end up 'happily ever after' with the main character. The manipulation of my prejudice (as an experienced mystery reader) was, I found, brilliant.


I disagree with S.T. Joshi when he calls it the best H.M., though. That should go to The Judas Window, Nine and Death Makes Ten, or The Peacock Feather Murders (out of the ones I've read so far at any rate), IMO. Joshi also made the mistake of underestimating H.M. while overpraising Bencolin.
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Old February 4th, 2010, 04:09 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I am currently rereading this book, having finished Death in Five Boxes, and to my delight, I discover that the 'hero' of the previous book, Dr. Sanders, reappears in The Reader is Warned!

Spoiler
Of course I know the solution and so on and so forth, but I hadn't read Death in Five Boxes before reading this the first time around. This ought to add another layer of enjoyment to my rereading, as the romance that started in the previous book pans out, whilst another one goes on...


Pennik has just appeared (I literally just started this morning), and I am enjoying the book as much as I would if I were reading it the first time 'round.
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Old March 23rd, 2010, 12:20 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I rate this book very highly. The teleforce idea is worked out brilliantly. I agree the trap for the killer and the killer's behavior at that point is all pretty silly, however. It's like something out of Edgar Wallace.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 05:07 AM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

Let the reader be warned indeed.
In order for you to accept or figure out the solution of this book, you would have to believe that
Spoiler

1. Chloroforming people to death and then electrocuting them in the bathtub will lead to a death “without perceptible alteration of structure”—“nothing on Earth will tell what killed him.”
2. Not only will it leave no trace, but such a method of murder, which, come to think of it, is quite easily achievable in everyday circumstances, will suggest nothing of the method—why wouldn’t everybody who want to bump off their rich uncle use this is beyond me.
3. A police surgeon would be unable to tell the difference between a corpse dead for quite a few minutes and a man, who just dropped dead.
4. Two eye-witnesses, including a doctor, could mistake post-death twitches of an electrocuted corpse, sliding off a banister, (“you saw his body twitch; and one of his hands go up in a little jerk”)for a pre-death dance and collapse of a livng man.
5. The police and public would accept as the next logical victim for the Teleforcer a woman who is the stepmother of the supposed psychic’s girlfriend, whose death greatly benefits the girl, without getting suspicious.
6. The said girl would choose an elaborate murder scheme to kill her stepmother, a scheme which has high risk of being caught, and which surely directs suspicion to her (see the connection to psychic—previous point) over a simple bonk on the head.
7. A witness would mistake an African voodoo mask for the face of an acquaintance, and even be dead certain of it afterwards.
8. There is a condition in which a victim can be “chronologically run down in every organ, except for actual physical strength”. This however is indistinguishable from “every organ healthy” certificate given to another victim. If it’s not meant to be indistinguishable, why assume cause of death is the same?
9. A careful hypochondriac would let his stumbling bumbling wife give him a bath with an electric heater nearby (and ask his wife to move it towards the bath, no less!--this is described as sheer lunacy by Merrivale, I describe it as sheer lunacy by Carr!).
10. The suspect being half-African would explain everything or anything, so essential, clever and relevant it seems for Merrivale to have established this.
11. A woman would hide in a house for a night, knowing she could easily be accidentally detected, without any certainty the victim would make a phone call that would make the entire scheme work.
12. Pennik’s actions over the duration of the book can not be considered “material assistance” to the culprit, even though he is definitely assisting her. (Here I must add that I am a bit lost as to whether Hilary told him to call the papers to proclaim he killed Mina (if so, how and when did she do this, without yet being certain she would kill Mina) or whether he just happened to have accidentally made this proclamation the same night, without knowing she would make that phone call or that Hilary was planning to kill her, and time her murder just right too, so that Sanders wouldn’t accidentally get the wind up earlier than expected).
13. Having set an elaborate trap in a house, the police would not take precautions so that two people would be able to enter it at will; this is all the more surprisinig as one of those two men is a police officer and the other one is a man, they just released from custody, who is openly brandishing a knife no less.
14. After accidentally dropping an electric heater in a bath, a woman, with proclivity for hysteria and screaming that can be heard from two rooms away, would not call for help or make any other sort of sound.
15. Rather than carrying one candle, a person would choose to light and grab two. The only reason I could think of for their being precisely two spots and of her taking both candles is to make us think that the candles were moved to those two spots within the room, rather than dislocated from the room.
16. Not even going to comment on what you would have to accept as far as the racist implications of Pennik’s attitude towards Hilary.
17. A man can be “revived” several minutes after death from electrocution by the act of him getting dressed--I dare you to find me where Taylor says that or that getting dressed can be “aritificial respiration”.
18. A culprit would check downstairs to see if she’s been detected. This is because her draining water might have been heard. However, there is nothing to indicate it’s been heard (and didn’t she think it might have gotten heard anyway before she started the whole scheme?). Instead of disposing of the evidence, she goes downstairs to check if she’s been detected, an action which will require an incredible amount of running and sneaking and likely lead to her getting caught, and far increases the chances of Sanders going to check on Mina. It is unclear what she might have learned from her sojourn that would indicate that Sanders heard the water or what she might have done if she figured out that he did.
19. The culprit would start the attack on his victim without being in any way certain that the cover-up (“radio speech”) was going to take place.
20. Upon learning that another murder has been committed in a high-visibility case, the police would still hold off the arrival to the crime scene till morning.


Goddamn it, the solution in this book is awful. And what makes it worse is that the book has one of the most intriguing collections of clues in all of Carr, each baffling and mysterious, not clearing anything up. The plot is well-constructed too, there is definite structure to it, the narrative moves forward rather than just wonders all over the place, you feel for the characters, there is lots of suspense.
And then you get to the revelation and it’s a big giant piece of idiocy. I have spotted most of the clues, the Joe Keen, the tumblers with soap, the heaters, they all were very well placed, I can not accuse Carr here of having solution based on the color of somebody’s tie. But if I as reading the book at the same time as one of you guys and you gave me this as your solution, I would have laughed In your face and told you it was asinine and way too far-fetched, depending upon everybody doing exactly what was necessary for the culprit to succeed.
There are Carr books whose solutions depends on the acceptance of a single not very plausible fact. That’s ok, but in this one there are about a dozen.
The explanations for the two intriguing bits of telepathy by Pennik’s part are even worse.

Spoiler

Sanders neglects to tell us over the duration of the entire narrative that the bust of Lister is something he always thinks about when trying to blank his mind. Chase neglects to tell us that he mentioned this aforementioned fact to Pennik, even though it would completely blow away the latter’s credibility. A police Superintendent casually shares a deeply private fact about the arriving Inspector’s personal life with the suspect—I find it unlikely that this could have somehow come up in conversation, much less that Pennik would “learn a whole lot” about Masters in such circumstances.
Any idea why Merrivale wanted Sanders on the back balcony of the Constable apartment, when what he expected was for Keen to enter the upstairs apartment through front door and have the entire confrontation take place within the apartment?


Overall this is the kind of book that makes you understand Raymond Chandler’s frustration with the genre and John Dickson Carr’s own comment about the suspects’ parade in front of the library window.
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Old October 21st, 2010, 05:14 AM
richmcd richmcd is offline
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

[This is closely related to my post in this thread: http://jdcarr.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6868]

I should stress upfront that I basically agree with you. It's a particularly stupid book with a very disappointing solution (the murderer and the motive, I mean.)

Also the murderer's plan is a complicated mess which relies on them having
Spoiler
more psychic powers than Pennik ever claimed to have.


Still, I think maybe a quarter of your points are unfair, although in most cases it's probably Carr's fault and not yours. ie. He should have realised that the average reader would require more convincing than he gives. Carr has a tendency to assume that quoting out-of-date text books gives him an air of unimpeachable authority. I actually find it often works against him.

Forensics points:

Spoiler
Quote:
1. Chloroforming people to death and then electrocuting them in the bathtub will lead to a death “without perceptible alteration of structure”—“nothing on Earth will tell what killed him.”
2. Not only will it leave no trace, but such a method of murder, which, come to think of it, is quite easily achievable in everyday circumstances, will suggest nothing of the method—why wouldn’t everybody who want to bump off their rich uncle use this is beyond me.
...
4. Two eye-witnesses, including a doctor, could mistake post-death twitches of an electrocuted corpse, sliding off a banister, (“you saw his body twitch; and one of his hands go up in a little jerk”)for a pre-death dance and collapse of a livng man.
All I can say is that electrocution is really weird. My forensics textbooks indicate that Carr is substantially correct; electrocution in water leaves almost no traces. You almost never see the burns which occur which other sorts of electrocution and there are many recorded cases of Medical Officers getting it wrong.

The death spasms are what's weird: electrocution actually causes localised rigor mortis! So I think what Carr describes isn't that stupid. After all, just because Sanders is a doctor doesn't mean he's able to recognise every symptom in every context. It would have lasted barely two seconds and would have looked extraordinary. I think they can be forgiven for getting confused.

You're probably right about No. 2. Hillary's plan does make her very suspicious. But electrocuting people isn't as easy as all that. The circuitbreaker is a very old invention, and circuitbreakers good enough to save lives were almost certainly around when the story was written. You'd have a difficult time electrocuting yourself in the bathtub nowadays.

[As a complete aside, my forensics book has a whole chapter on electrocution. Under the section on 'lightning strikes' it says "needless to say, all deaths by lightning are accidental". That sounds like a challenge to me!]

Quote:
3. A police surgeon would be unable to tell the difference between a corpse dead for quite a few minutes and a man, who just dropped dead.
As we discussed in the thread about Patrick's story, I just don't understand what you expect the difference to be?

Quote:
17. A man can be “revived” several minutes after death from electrocution by the act of him getting dressed--I dare you to find me where Taylor says that or that getting dressed can be “aritificial respiration”.
I'm really not sure about this one, but it has a ring of truth about it. It sounds like the sort of thing Carr would have heard anecdotally from a doctor friend and then decided to use without considering how unlikely it was. Of course Carr is wrong to say "artificial respiration" which refers only to providing air for someone. But dressing a corpse almost certainly would pump blood some way around the body.

I'm going to say that Carr probably had something in mind here but didn't bother to actually research what that was. As a result what actually made it into the book is nonsense.


Psychology

Spoiler
Quote:
7. A witness would mistake an African voodoo mask for the face of an acquaintance, and even be dead certain of it afterwards.
There was a very good documentary series called 'Eyewitness' recently. In one episode people were tricked into thinking that they were taking standard psychological tests but during the lunchbreak in a pub a 'fight' broke out and escalated into murder. It was amazing what people thought they'd seen and what they just plain made up.

I mention this mainly because it was a good show, not to justify authors putting in any old witness report because humans are generally terrible eyewitnesses.

Still, it's not impossible.

Quote:
6. The said girl would choose an elaborate murder scheme to kill her stepmother, a scheme which has high risk of being caught, and which surely directs suspicion to her (see the connection to psychic—previous point) over a simple bonk on the head.
Well, okay, this is a fair point. But then you may as well chuck out 90% of detective fiction. The 'bonk on the head' is almost always preferable but rarely is it story-worthy.

Quote:
9. A careful hypochondriac would let his stumbling bumbling wife give him a bath with an electric heater nearby (and ask his wife to move it towards the bath, no less!--this is described as sheer lunacy by Merrivale, I describe it as sheer lunacy by Carr!).
But being a hypochondriac is not the same as being paranoid. Plenty of people take ridiculous risks despite being overly-cautious in other areas of their life. In many cases (as in the story) these overlap, because being over-sensitive to an imaginary risk can make you blind to an actual one.

Quote:
14. After accidentally dropping an electric heater in a bath, a woman, with proclivity for hysteria and screaming that can be heard from two rooms away, would not call for help or make any other sort of sound.
Well it's a very different circumstance. If I remember rightly, she's just accidentally caused something to happen that she had written about and secretly wished for? I think Carr's idea of how she would respond is subtle and plausible for once.

Still I agree that this only tallies with how Carr thinks he's characterised her and not how he actually did. Still, this means it's a problem with the writing, not the plot.



More generally,
Spoiler
a lot of this is refusing to go along with Carr's silly premise about the public reaction to Teleforce. Hilary's plan is surely that after three 'demonstrations' by Teleforce everyone will be convinced that it's possible and all investigation will cease. This is stupid, of couse, but isn't substantially different from a lot of 'supernatural' mysteries where the murderer plans to make things so spooky and unexplainable that the investigating officers will have no choice but to believe in ghosts and go mad.

Of course it's your prerogative to not go along with Carr on this point but, as with the 'bonk on the head', I think this is something that just crops up fairly frequently in the genre. I'm not saying it's not stupid, just that a few of your points are probably actually the same, because they just relate to this.
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Old October 22nd, 2010, 01:37 PM
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Re: The Reader is Warned (1939)

I think your argument can be summed up as: “But, PatienceKiller, your common sense could be wrong.” Well, that’s the risk we take when we put forth an opinion or even think. But I would argue that you yourelf state that you largely agree me with my objections, and the general evaluation of the book as not presenting a very realistic case, motivation and explanation.
There is a lot more consensus when it comes to things like that than we would think. Especially once stuff is pointed out by somebody else, we may not notice some of the flaws, but we will agree that it is.
Some of the psychology may be plausible, sure. Some of the forensic evidence may be not what I suspect. But I find that an unrealistic book commits more than one pratfall and a few of them of such gross nature that a mind can’t help but cry out (and even, most astute enough minds will cry out in unison, “Wait, what?”). It also matters that there are 20 objections I have. It’s like taking a case to court, one or two pieces of forensic evidence may be dismissed as false or insignificant, but overall, when you have that many, you will take it to trial! J

On to your specific charges:

Quote:
He should have realised that the average reader would require more convincing than he gives. Carr has a tendency to assume that quoting out-of-date text books gives him an air of unimpeachable authority. I actually find it often works against him.
Very well put, and you will note that on the subjects on which Carr actually is an authority (such as Louis the XIV era he has not the least trouble sounding like an unconvincing smartie-pants show-off)

Quote:
My forensics textbooks indicate that Carr is substantially correct; electrocution in water leaves almost no traces.
Really? It actually is something almost impossible to establish forensically, from anything? I relied here not just on common sense, but on Moran’s comment above. In all those electric chair scenes, the corpse looks significantly affected, but I could see it being wrong. Carr, in this book, puts electrocution death into not just the category of “impossible to establish the exact cause” “Your honor, the victim died of a heart attack, but we have no idea what caused it,” but in a flat-out “nothing separates it from a perfectly healthy body” “Your honor, every organ is healthy”. Is that really true of electrocution victims?

Quote:
After all, just because Sanders is a doctor doesn't mean he's able to recognise every symptom in every context.
No, but here he is what I call an “expert witness,” which means to me, that according to the rules of the mystery game, unless there is a reason to suspect his diagnosis it should be assumed to be correct. I found the description of the twitching and Sanders’ reaction to the corpse to be misleading. Sounds like an elaborate dance, but you say it should only have taken two seconds. And you have to add the incredible coincidence of Sanders opening the door during precisely those two seconds, otherwise you either see a standing corpse or a laying corpse.

Quote:
As we discussed in the thread about Patrick's story, I just don't understand what you expect the difference to be?
I am no forensics expert, can you really not tell that somebody has been dead for ten minutes?

Quote:
But dressing a corpse almost certainly would pump blood some way around the body.
[Enough to cause a Vitus-like dance, you really think?

Quote:
There was a very good documentary series called 'Eyewitness' recently. In one episode people were tricked into thinking that they were taking standard psychological tests but during the lunchbreak in a pub a 'fight' broke out and escalated into murder. It was amazing what people thought they'd seen and what they just plain made up.
May I rephrase my point sarcastically to see what I am getting at? I ask permission because I am mocking not you, but the story:
Spoiler
Hilary made a sock puppet of Pennik and showed it through a window to a witness. This produces the only reason for us to suspect that Pennik can be and has been at the scene of the second murder, when witnesses say he was in the pub. The witness’s eyesight is fine. He is in a fairly good mental state, though a bit stressed. The explanation does not reveal that his vision is affected by smoke, hallucinogens or anything else.

See how incredibly convenient it is for the author and how little reason there is to suspect something like that would actually take place?


Quote:
Well, okay, this is a fair point. But then you may as well chuck out 90% of detective fiction. The 'bonk on the head' is almost always preferable but rarely is it story-worthy.
Yeah, I agree that that is one of my weaker points. But, as largely pointed out in another thread, in better detective fiction there is usually a reason why the murder was done to appear to be impossible, or turned out to look impossible, without the killer trying to make it so.

Quote:
But being a hypochondriac is not the same as being paranoid.
You are right, of course. But the overall impression of Constable is of paranoid hypochondriac, so I would imagine the latter would exacerbate the former. Besides, he just said, half-realistically, we are told, that
Spoiler
”you will be the death of me” I think it’s a bit much that he would go into a William Tell act after that.
.

Quote:
I think Carr's idea of how she would respond is subtle and plausible for once.
I guess it’s possible, but my natural reaction was
Spoiler
she would have screamed
and yours seems to be too. That some of the characters would have to behave in rather uncharacteristic manner makes this a not very interesting case to solve for the reader. Let him be warned.

Quote:
a lot of this is refusing to go along with Carr's silly premise about the public reaction to Teleforce.
I actually found Carr’s idea of how the public would react to Teleforce to be quite correct and realistic. We already grasp at supernatural-spiritual, we easily indulge in paranoia, especially in waves of public hysteria and here is there is such nice potential proof.

I don’t think most of my objections are to him incorrectly gauging public reactions, in fact, only #5 is.
But that’s a big one. Think about it.
[SPOILER]Here is this amazing new psychic. Who, apparently, is able to kill people at will. He gets ready for a big public pronouncement. Traveling to Paris, no less. “Who is my next victim!” People are thinking, afraid, excited. Hitler? Stalin? King George VI? “No…my girlfriend’s stepmom!” That’s when people go “Huh?” and start thinking maybe everything is not quite as Telekosher as they thought. The suspicion in such a scenario is even directed a lot more at Hilary than it would be with the “bonk-on-the-head,” don’t you agree?

But her only intentional act, which serves that purpose, is her method of murder (and convincing Pennik to say what needs to be said.) Everything else is a series of errors, logical flaws or coincidences, which very conveniently confuse the reader and are the main reason for the deception. No actual explanation is offered or is very good, when it is. This all=bad solution for a puzzle.
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