Reprint of the Year 2020: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers

“Deserves its reputation as one of the best mysteries of all time.” – Publishers Weekly

What has happened to the ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man who killed Inis St. Erme? What has he done with St. Erme’s right hand? And, more importantly for Dr Henry Riddle, how did he not notice the murderer’s car as it sped past him that night?

Harry Riddle is our narrator and the majority of his tale is notes that he is writing whilst the murderer is still at large and he himself is trying to make sense of the nightmare situation in which he has found himself. The narrative skips backwards and forwards in time, sometimes of events that Riddle has witnessed, sometimes his version of what others have told him, and we gradually learn that more than one crime has been committed that night.

You can’t really vote for this as the reprint of the year if you’ve never read it, so if you haven’t already, get yourself a copy, set aside an evening to read it in (at night in one sitting will give the best atmosphere – a lunchbreak for chicken nuggets and potato waffles probably breaks the spell a little but a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do) and then come back here to discuss it further.

SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had read a couple of reviews of this book in the last few years and therefore knew that it was a well-respected entry in the mystery genre which was a blessing and a curse.

Positively it meant that although the narrator seems to be being set up as one that is not fully reliable, given its reputation this didn’t seem a likely explanation, so at the back of my mind was a constant reassurance that there must be a rational and more than satisfactory solution to the whole thing which indeed there ultimately is.

However it would have been even better not to have known what genre this belonged to – is it a mystery story? Or horror? Or even fantasy? I had the idea after he found his own hat in the road that somehow Riddle would travel back in time and through circumstances become the tramp and end up being forced to commit the crime that he was already aware had happened. I did recognise the Sinister Me when we were given St. Erme’s little used first initial and coupled it with Dexter but had been convinced by the phone call that they were separate people – by this time I was going down the road of it being some sort of metaphor and that the narrative was a representation of something that was real, but was not itself real.

The clues are all there but I was so caught up by the frantic narrative that I wasn’t even looking for any really and there is the repetition of the missing hand: if I wasn’t so fixated on the idea that this had been done by a lunatic then I might have asked why this had been done and come to the same conclusion as Riddle, but I never did.

When it finished I was immediately looking forward to re-reading it one day, this time in the full knowledge of what had happened and being able to pick up on all the little hints along the way.

Thanks for reading – all you need to do now is vote!

19 thoughts on “Reprint of the Year 2020: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers”

  1. Very much looking forward to rereading this one after the raves it has picked up recently. Great write-up, John, amping up my anticipation even more!

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  2. This gets my vote for the simple reason it was at the top of my “look for” list for years, and never turned up.
    (It’s been a good year for that list, since I found 7 of my top 10).

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      1. Aside from RRH, all of these have been on the look for list for years:
        Invisible Green, Sladek
        Hangman’s Holiday, Talbot
        Black Spectacles, Carr (reread after 40 years)
        Unicorn Murders, Carr
        Kahawa, Westlake (reread after 35 years)
        Build My Gallows High, Homes. I have been looking for this since about 1975!

        And none were expensive. Setting aside the mass death, lock-downs, recession, violence, and general collapse of civilization, it’s been a good year!

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  3. I finished this a few days ago. What a crazy book! **SEMI SPOILERS**

    There seems to be a belief amongst some lit crit types that unreliable narrators and non linear structure is a new thing. No one who reads GAD (or Tristram Shandy) could fall for that. This is a pretty extreme example though isn’t it?
    It completely fooled me. I am glad I read almost nothing about it before reading it.

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