#196: The Department of Queer Complaints [ss] (1940) by Carter Dickson

queer-complaintsDepartment D3 of Scotland Yard houses the gargantuan form of Colonel March, investigator of the absurd and apparently impossible whose “mind is so obvious that he hits it every time”.  It’s a shame March never got a novel of his own, because he has a lovely and direct way of dealing with the problems brought to him, but then he’s not exactly dissimilar to the Gideon Fell chap about whom Carter Dickson wrote so much under his real name of John Dickson Carr.  So, yup, it’s impossibilities ahoy as we go through ten cases of the inexplicable thoroughly laid to rest by Carr’s own brand of chicanery and misdirection; it’s true: life is good to us sometimes, and we just gotta enjoy it when it happens…

Continue reading

#194: Spoiler Warning 1 – The Ten Teacups, a.k.a. The Peacock Feather Murders (1937) by Carter Dickson


In what I’m hoping will be the first of a semi-occasional series — look, I’ve made a special header image for it and everything — we are here today to discuss the 1937 impossible crime novel The Ten Teacups, published in the U.S.A. as The Peacock Feather Murders, from John Dickson Carr under his Carter Dickson nom de plume.  Puzzle Doctor, wrangler of In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, kindly agreed to reread this one and then exchange some thoughts on aspects of the precise details and workings of the book, and the results of our efforts are below.  Suffice to say, if you click to read more of this, there are guaranteed massive spoilers from this point on; don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Continue reading

#188: Five to Try – Debunked Séances in Detective Fiction


Flying lute?  Check.  Ghostly disembodied hand?  Check.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let’s call this meeting to order…

Following a recent post on John Dickson Carr’s The Lost Gallows over at The Green Capsule, I was reminded of just how much I love a séance in fiction.  Now, to be clear, I’m with Charlie Brooker on psychics and other such manipulative awfulness, but have a real love of sleight of hand and up-close magic (as perhaps evinced in my enthusiasm for fair play detective fiction and impossible crimes therein) and a debunked séance is often a great way to explore the little ways a set of circumstances can be misrepresented, and often some fascinating insights come out of it.

So, here are five great séances from detective fiction, alpabetically by author.

Continue reading

#171: JDC OOP – WTF?


In his lifetime, John Dickson Carr published 76 novels and short story collections, plus a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and a ‘true crime’ novel predating Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey.  Following the closure of the Rue Morgue Press, who had five Carr novels in their books, and the coming disappearance of Orion’s ebook undertaking The Murder Room, who have around 14 or so Carr novels in their ranks, we’re not too far from a point in time where only two Car novels will be available to buy: Orion’s perpetually in-print version of The Hollow Man and the Mysterious Press publication of The Devil in Velvet.  So, to return to the question in the title of this post: John Dickson Carr’s out of print — where’s the fuss?

Continue reading

#157: The Tuesday Night Bloggers — A Background of History in The Red Widow Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson


“The story of the Widow’s Room…begins in the month of August, and in the city of Paris, and in the year 1792.  It begins with the Terror, but it has not ended yet.”

Upon reflection, it’s fairly astounding that John Dickson Carr published novels for 20 years before finally writing his first ‘true’ historical tale with The Bride of Newgate in 1950.  Throughout so much of his early work there is a miasma of the past pushing through, and a revelling in the detail of such times that threatens to overload the present story as Carr seems far more interested in dumping as much detail as possible from, say, the French Revolution upon you so that the Weight of History can be added to the press of his peculiarly heady tales of mystery and imagination.

Continue reading

#94: Death in Five Boxes (1938) by Carter Dickson

Death in Five BoxesFour people are discovered sitting around a table as if at a dinner party, each with only a glass in front of them.  Three of the four have been poisoned into a catatonic state and the fourth has been murdered by being run through with a narrow blade.  Of the three who remain alive, one has two bottles of poison in their bag, one has the workings of an alarm clock in their pocket, and the third is carrying four pocket watches in various pockets about their person.  At this point you are three chapters into the eighth Sir Henry Merrivale novel written by John Dickson Carr under his Carter Dickson byline and we haven’t even touched upon the revelation that greets you at the end of that chapter…suffice to say, boy are you in for a ride!

Continue reading

#77: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – An appeal to the senses in Carter Dickson’s ‘Blind Man’s Hood’ (1938)

The Tuesday Night Bloggers, you’ll doubtless be aware, is an opt-in group of Golden Age crime fiction enthusiasts who look at the work of a different classic author each month.  And with (Colonel) March being dedicated to John Dickson Carr – the single finest proponent of detective fiction ever to take up the craft, no arguments – I thought it about time I rolled up my sleeves and contributed something to this superb endeavour (also, two people asked me if I was going to get involved and I am nothing if not helpless in the face of my own vanity).

The difficulty is knowing quite where to start.  I am an avowed disciple of Carr, but a lot of his work is still ridiculously out of print and so if I’m recommending something you then have to search for months to find it may dampen your enthusiasm for it somewhat.  And then I remembered that the recently-published compendium of impossibilities that is The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries contains two stories by Carr and that the second of these – ‘Blind Man’s Hood’, first published in 1938 under his Carter Dickson pseudonym – highlights much of what I love about his writing.

Continue reading

#45: The Kings of Crime – I: John Dickson Carr, the King of Hearts

King Carr

Bookends: It Walks by Night (1930)/The Hungry Goblin (1971)

Books published 1920-59: 64

The Case for the Crown

Diversity: In a career spanning 41 years John Dickson Carr published seventy-six novels and collections of short stories, wrote a raft of mysteries for radio (many of which can be found here), penned the official biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and a non-fiction account of the mysterious murder of magistrate Edmund Godfrey, wrote a column for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and was made a member of the Detection Club as well as a Grand-Master of the Mystery Writers Of America.  He created two long-running and dearly-loved sleuths, and in his later career branched out into exquisitely-researched and detailed historical mysteries that weren’t afraid to veer into the nonsensical – the time travel element of Fire, Burn! (1957) – or the fantastical – invoking a deal with the Lucifer himself in The Devil in Velvet (1951) – if they served his purposes.

Continue reading