Among my at-times multiple versions of various John Dickson Carr titles, I have four Mercury Mystery editions like the one shown on the left above — The Plague Court Murders (1934), The Red Widow Murders (1935), The Unicorn Murders (1935), and The Department of Queer Complaints (1940) — which are of additional interest to me since the novels are all abridgements. So, having just read the unedited text of The Unicorn Murders, I thought it might be interesting to see what was excised from this abridged version.
When a man is found dead, stabbed between the eyes by a unicorn (of indeterminate nationality) — a, yes, fictional animal that can nevertheless apparently turn invisible at will — you don’t expect to find yourself in the GADU. And when a second victim is then killed in the same way but in full view of witnesses, if one can witness an invisible animal, you better hope you’re in the GADU or else things are about to get silly. Well, it’s your lucky day, because you are in a classic impossible crime mystery and things are about to get silly — this book is probably the final time John Dickson Carr had all the ingredients for a classic and didn’t actually write it, instead leaving a few edges untouched so that the overriding impression is slightly more “Er…what?” than “Hell, yeah!”.
Department 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…
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…
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.
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…
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?
Well, we’ve already had John Dingbats Carr, now it’s time for another word puzzle to, er, honour the finest detective novelist of all time!
As part of my month of occasional Carr-related shenanigans in the build-up to #Carr110 on 30th November, I’ve created a crossword around the titles of novels published under Carr’s various pseudonyms over his career. Yes, I am that…cool?
“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.”