#168: Death on the Radio – John Dickson Carr and ‘Murder by Experts’

murder-on-the-radio

Since reading Max Afford’s radio-set mystery The Dead Are Blind, I’ve had a new-found appreciation for the art of creating radio drama, especially during the age when radio held such a huge sway in the homes of most people.  My interest in detective fiction from this era inevitably lead to some passing awareness of the serials produced at this time, but Afford’s novel really brought home the level of technical expertise required to produce something so much more complex than simply four people sitting at a microphone with a script.

Now you’ll be aware that John Dickson Carr was involved in writing episodes of the radio serial Suspense in the early 1940s, and one of those scripts — ‘Cabin B-13’ — was the basis of a spin-off serial of the same name in the later 1940s.  A full list of Carr’s radio writings can be found over at Sergio’s Tipping My Fedora, since you’re bound to be curious.

I’ve also recently discovered that Carr was involved in the first series of another set of radio mysteries in the United States going by the name Murder by Experts in 1949-50.  This time he was the host of a weekly radio play selected by “one of the world’s leading detective writers” such as Craig Rice, Bruno Fischer, and, er, Alfred Hitchcock.  Produced by David Kogan and Robert Arthur (who would go on to develop and write the mystery/supernatural/whattheheck serial The Mysterious Traveller), Murder by Experts won the Edgar for Best Radio Drama in 1950 and was clearly an excellent opportunity for up-and-coming radio dramatists to get the work rubber-stamped by authors with a huge amount of sway in the publishing industry.

Except…possibly not.  The more you dig, the more it appears that the authors who selected these plays actually had nothing to do with it, simply allowing Kogan and Arthur to use their names as a gimmick, and in fact many of the scripts were simply written by a pool of writers (including Arthur, who would go on to swell the banks of Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators novel series) specially for Murder by Experts.  Who knew such innocent times could be so cynical?  Either way, what was produced was a lot of fun and very classically-styled, offering much to enjoy to the curious.  I realised as I was listening to the first one that I’d never heard Carr’s voice before, too, and that added an extra level of excitement as he sounds every bit the gentleman you’d expect.

The first 10 episodes can be found here at Archive.org where you can stream them for free, and other websites will doubtless contain more episodes if you wish to explore further.  A full list of all the episodes and their transmission dates can be found here at Thrilling Detective to help you.

Man, ain’t the internet wonderful?  Apart from all the considerations below, that is.

internet-is-bad

And Buzzfeed making everyone stupider.

 

~

This piece of Carr-endorsed mayhem is brought to you in preparation for the great man’s 110th birthday.  Help celebrate his influence and wonderful work by posting something Carr-related on 30th November and I’ll do a round-up post here on TIE at the end of the day.  C’mon, he was the finest exponent of detective fiction ever to have lived…what are you waiting for?!

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10 thoughts on “#168: Death on the Radio – John Dickson Carr and ‘Murder by Experts’

  1. Great fun – I love his radio stuff. And, I feel honour-bound to mention, Curtis Evans’ fine anthology, “Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene” which includes an essay on these (yes, by me, but don’t let me put you off, it’s a great book).

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  2. Undoubtedly, the greatest aspect of Murder by Experts is hearing Carr speak. If you’re interested, you can listen to voices of some other GAD greats: Anthony Boucher used to present an opera program (Golden Voices) and Rex Stout had a war-time talkshow (Speaking of Liberty), which can both be found on archive.org.

    There also used to be youtube videos of Arthur W. Upfield talking about Bony and Cecil Day-Lewis (a.k.a. “Nicholas Blake”) reading poetry, but they were both pulled after copyright complaints.

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  3. I realised as I was listening to the first one that I’d never heard Carr’s voice before

    Neither had I until just now. Interesting that his accent is a sort of amalgam between UK and US.

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    • Yeah, good point — I guess if this was recorded in ’49 he’d been back in the States for about a year and was probably picking up some of the twang again 🙂

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  4. Any recommendations on where to start with the radio material? Most importantly, I don’t want to ruin any of the novels. I think I heard that some of the radio plays share puzzles/twists with the books.

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    • There may be one or two, but they escape me at present. Dunno if someone else will be able to fill you in… Either way, you’re safe with these episodes of Murder by Experts because Carr only introduces them, rather than writing any of them. It’ll be Suspense and others you need to watch out for. Will have a read around and see if I can find out any more details…

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    • I am honestly past of point of being surprised that you know this kind of stuff, Santosh, but I’m still not past the point of being impressed — your brain must be like…a library…a staggeringly detailed and specific library…accessed by a computer. Seriously good knowledge, this!

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