And so, with John Dickson Carr’s 110th birthday coming to an end on this side of the Atlantic, let’s have a look at what those people who got involved had to say of the man and his work…
First up, Brad at AhSweetMsteryBlog, with a reflection, a best-of and a poem-cum-mystery — busy times indeed!
I read and enjoyed most of the Dr. Gideon Fell novels without reservation. In fact, I gobbled them up. Oddly enough, this did not endear me to the impossible crime sub-genre as a whole. I can almost never remember the “howdunit” aspect of Carr’s books, although I bow to their skill. It was the element of surprise in terms of “who,” coupled with an excellent sense of atmosphere and my enjoyment of Dr. Fell, who made me laugh, that kept me coming back for more.
No-one’s yet risen to the challenge of providing a solution to Brad’s poem mystery, so get your brain cells working on how to get a man into a room where every entrance is too small to admit him and get on over there to share your thoughts…
From that general overview let’s take in individual books, with the first Gideon Fell novel, Hag’s Nook (1933), being selected by two people. First-up, Jonathan with this review at Amazon:
Carr is renown for intricate solutions and cunning choices of culprits, and Hag’s Nook offers an early sampling of these gifts. While the circle of suspects is slightly too narrow for Fell’s identification of the culprit to be thoroughly staggering, the subtlety with which Carr handles details ensures that the scene leading up to the unveiling of the culprit packs some punch.
Then Sergio at Tipping My Fedora also chipped in on the same book, with much the same feeling:
When I first read this one, thirty years ago, I recall that I did almost manage to crack the case before the reveal, but I am obviously not nearly as sharp as I used to be as this time I was completely bamboozled by Carr. It’s a great story, very well told, and makes for a marvellous introduction to Gideon Fell, one of the great detectives of the Golden Age – don’t miss it!
Let’s keep going chronologically, making the next one Puzzle Doctor’s review of The Unicorn Murders (1935) at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel:
Like the following book, The Punch And Judy Murders aka The Magic Lantern Murders, this has a massive element of farce running through it. The two masters of disguise, coupled with Ken Blake pretending to be the secret service agent assigned to the case because he’s a bit bored and clearly fancies Evelyn, add a madcap element to the story which is fairly necessary as there isn’t really much there.
The recently-established Green Capsule Blog is, as some of you will figure from its name, devoted to the works of Carr and can be forgiven for not posting this review of The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940) today on account of the several Carr posts put up this month alone.
Although interesting, the theory behind the butler’s death is preposterous enough to where you don’t even entertain that is what really happened. A similar issue occurs with the novel’s core murder. A pistol in a mounted display jumps off the wall, hangs suspended in the air, and shoots a character in the head. In both scenarios, your natural reaction is “well, obviously that isn’t what really happened”. This is a bit of departure from the Carr that I’m used to. Often, we’re treated to a scenario that, while impossible, seems entirely convincing. In this case, I immediately rejected what is reported to have happened, just because it sounded so outlandish.
I’ll say it again: if you’re a fan of Carr and you’re not following The Green Capsule Blog, you’re missing out.
New player Glint took the opportunity to read Carr for the very first time, starting with my suggested jumping off point, The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941):
It’s a good start for me, I think. The trick not really that strong but a good one . The character and side story beside the main Mystery (love story of the relative in which end up legal?) is fun to read. not dragging at all. enjoyable story Not a perfect one and I know JDC have more better stuff than this . But as an introduce book it really hook me, and satisfied me . Pay my expectation in those big name, and I’m a fans now.
Yup, Constant Suicides is a great one for making new fans; very pleased to see it work its magic once again…!
At His Futile Preoccupations, Guy is another new Carr-ite and took on one of my very, very favourite novels in the shape of Till Death Do Us Part (1944):
The solution to the crime is wrapped by Fell who hugs all of the information to himself and then does a Grand Reveal at the end–this happens to be something I dislike in my crime books, and since I’ve never read this author before, I can’t say if this is usual or not. The set-up, the writing, the atmosphere were all great fun. I tried finding Jon Dickson Carr at the library, but the cupboard was bare. Have other readers out there found this author at the library?
Does anyone have Carr in their local library? He’s certainly not in any of the ones near me…
At CrossExaminingCrime, Kate sallied forth onto The Nine Wrong Answers (1952), sneaking in some confessional material that is frankly shocking…
In the main I have never really warmed to either Dr Fell or Sir Henry Merrivale, Carr’s two main serial sleuths, so it is to this book’s advantage that neither appear in it.
Well, let’s gloss over that and move on…
From the beginning there is an immediate sense of uneasiness and lack of trustfulness in what the characters are saying. Added to this Carr, a bit like Gaylord in the book, plays with the readers’ minds with his nine footnotes, which outline a surmise the reader might have just thought based on the narrative, to then indicate that it is wrong. Now this might just seem like Carr being unusually fair and helpful, but be warned! They are far sneakier than you realise.
I gotta say, it’s the unapologetic game-playing that makes Carr so appealing to me, so this is one I’m now even more eager to track down.
Santosh took on Behind the Crimson Blind (also 1952) and, er, well, didn’t exactly love it…
The book is a mixture of comedy, thriller and mystery. It fails miserably in each aspect. It is a rubbish comedy, a rubbish thriller and a rubbish mystery. The explanations of the impossible events are rubbish. The reason why the thief always carries a chest under his left arm is laughable. The writing style is atrocious. A complete mess! It is very difficult to believe that the same author wrote books like The Hollow Man, He Who Whispers and The Judas Window.
It has a lovely cover, though… I’ve not read this, but I trust Santosh’s opinions on a lot of things and it looks pretty bleak for this one. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?
Next up, unapologetic Carr fanboy and impossible crime aficionado TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, who delved into one of Carr’s later-career historicals with Captain Cut-Throat (1955) and had a whale of a time in spite of some structural issues:
But after these opening chapters, the story becomes somewhat atypical for Carr. One of the most notable examples of this is how he treated the impossible crime element of the story, which does not take the center stage of the plot and is easily explained by Hepburn around the halfway mark of the book. I found this to be a minor mark against the book, but I can understand why it was done as Captain Cut-Throat is more a novel of adventure and intrigue than one of detection and ratiocination.
This is increasingly the feeling I’m coming to on Carr’s historical novels, and I get the impression that going in expecting a reduced detection element is the way to go — he was all about the history by then.
Finally, then, are my two posts from earlier, the first a look at one of the factors that may contribute towards Carr much-vaunted atmosphere (where I sort of lost track of my own argument at time, sorry about that…), and the second assessing the frank sacrilege that is Carr’s continued unavailability to the mass market.
Many thanks to all who were involved, it’s been a great day reading about everyone’s experiences; if you have a post going up after this on account of you living in a later time zone to me, worry not — let me have the link and I’ll add you in, no muss no fuss. The more Carr enthusiasm we can gather in one place, the happier the world becomes — fact. All we need to do now is convince someone to republish him in his entirety…