The Burning Court Analysis
by John Dickson Carr

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The Burning Court Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Burning Court’s epilogue provides a surprising ending. Readers of the book tend to be not fantasy fans but detective story addicts who are astounded and often irritated by the nontraditional ending. This unusual, mixed-genre novel draws most appreciation from readers who are not committed to a particular genre. As a detective story, it seems not to “play by the rules” in calling on supernatural forces as the story’s resolution. As an occult horror novel, however, it spends too much time on the particulars of investigations.

The Burning Court does, however, succeed in mixing the ratiocination of the standard detective story with the intuitive, mythic reasoning of the horror story. Carr skillfully buffets the reader back and forth between the occult and the realistic explanations of events. For example, Marie is terrified of funnels—her face changes, looking more “lined,” when confronted with one. A book describing the history of witchcraft describes the water torture (water forced through a funnel into the witch’s mouth) that was inflicted on suspected witches in previous centuries. Contradicting this, however, is the suggestion that Marie’s aunt used a funnel to punish her as a child. In the epilogue, it is made clear that the old book provided the “real” explanation. This kind of device is used throughout the novel, and the detective story reader, accustomed to Carr’s Gideon Fell mysteries, expects all the supernatural elements to be explained away at the end as the truth is presented in the clear light of reason.

The careful reader of the old-school detective story, in which the rules are carefully and consistently kept, is aware that there are holes in the apparently satisfactory explanation to the case. Marie seems to have knowledge she could not...

(The entire section is 446 words.)