Fire, Burn by John Dickson Carr

Fire, Burn is one of John Dickson Carr’s historical crime/mystery books. I did enjoy it.

It begins in the 20th century, the 1950s – but as Detective Inspector John Cheviot travels in a taxi to Scotland Yard he suddenly realises that he is in a horse drawn carriage and by the time he gets out of it he has been transported back to 1829, to the beginnings of the police service and the Bow Street Runners.

Bizarrely, everybody at Old Scotland Yard seem to know exactly who he is, and Cheviot can recognise the historical figures he meets there. When a murder takes place at a dance that Cheviot was attending he gets to work to solve the case.

This book was first published in 1957 and I think Dickson Carr must have enjoyed writing it as it combines murder mystery with history, which was obviously something which he took a real interest in.

At the end of the book there are a few pages headed Notes for the Curious. The second part of which is called Manners, Customs, Speech. He writes about a diary entry of a woman called Clarissa Trant, in 1829 she used the phrase Tell that to the Marines – with her own italics and meaning as we do now that, the thing which she has written about is not at all believable.

I love that sort of thing, often when I read something – a word or phrase jumps out at me as being anachronistic, you know how quickly slang words go out of fashion and seem completely dated when people keep using them after their ‘use by date’. So I was amazed but pleased to see that ‘tell that to the Marines’ was being used way back in 1829. I really thought that it was an American 20th century phrase, mainly because I remember one of Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America featuring the phrase, apparently someone, I can’t remember who, had had their arm twisted by the Nazis during World War 2 and the upshot was that they had to do a propaganda broadcast on the radio. They ended it with words something like: Tell that to the army, tell that to the navy and above all – tell that to the Marines!! Luckily the Germans didn’t see through it.

Such a shame that P.G. Wodehouse didn’t think of doing something like that when he was coerced into making broadcasts in Germany, it would have saved him such a lot of trouble after the end of the war. But then, Wodehouse seems to have been so slow witted that he didn’t even realise that what he was doing was being of help to the Nazis.

Anyway, back to the book, as I said – it was an enjoyable read although that being ‘wheeched’ back in time thing via an ordinary mode of transport does seem a wee bit cliched, but maybe it didn’t in 1957. The last Woody Allen film I watched began in exactly the same way, but I enjoyed that too!