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John Dickson Carr Locked Room Novels


j-d-carrJohn Dickson Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American author of detective stories, often referred to as ‘The King of The Locked Room Mystery ‘. Carr published under his own name, most notably producing the Dr. Gideon Fell series,  and also under the pen name of Carter Dickson, famous for the Sir Henry Merrivale series.

Carr was one of the greatest writers of the so-called “Golden Age” of mystery fiction, writing complex, plot-driven stories in which the puzzle is paramount. He was clearly influenced by the works of Gaston Leroux, the Father Brown stories of G. K. Chesterton, and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. He was a master of the locked room mystery, in which a detective solves apparently impossible crimes. The Dr. Fell mystery, ‘The Hollow Man’ (1935), is usually considered to be Carr’s masterpiece, and was selected in a 1981 survey of experts, organized by Edward D. Hoch, as the best locked-room mystery of all time.  There can be little doubt that Carr was, and still remains the single most important author in the Locked Room and Impossible Crime sub-genre!

A resident of England for a number of years, Carr is often grouped among the “British-style” mystery writers. Most (though not all) of his novels had English settings, especially country villages and estates, and English characters, and his  two best-known fictional detectives were both English. Carr was also a pioneer of the historical mystery genre.

(Source: Edited from Wikipedia John Dickson Carr)

Carr wrote 46 novels, under his own name, and another 26 under the pen name Carter Dickson – plus over 100 short stories, plays, radio plays, and non-fiction, under both names. Due to the number of works written by this prolific author, we have divided his works into five different pages. Other than this page ‘John Dickson Carr: Novels’, there are four additional pages:

Go to John Dickson Carr Novels: AKA Carter Dickson
Go to John Dickson Carr: Collections
Go to John Dickson Carr: Short Stories
Go to John Dickson Carr: Radio Plays & More

More on John Dickson Carr Wikipedia / Gadetection
More on Dr. Gideon Fell   More on Sir Henry Merrivale


John Dickson Carr Novels


Walks NightIt Walks By Night (1930)
Henri Bencolin Series

 

Best Review 
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book Only

Note: The book that launched Carr’s career!

This is the book that launched Carr’s career, though he apparently later came to despise this book, and it is not difficult to understand his reasons. The plot is bizarre and unnecessarily complex, and stretches the reader’s credulity past the breaking point. While the solution is ingenious, it is really quite absurd, and the writing style is far less developed than we find in Carr’s later work.

Louise, the divorced wife of criminal lunatic Alexandre Laurent, is now engaged to the Duc de Saligny, a popular sportsman and athlete. Of course, the lunatic escapes and undergoes an unbelievable plastic surgery, before he beheads the surgeon. Louise’s wedding night does not go as planned. The Duc also loses his head – this time in a locked and watched room.

The crime is investigated by the odd, bedevilled Henri Bencolin, who was not one of  Carr’s best characters, though perhaps more inclined to forensics than Dr. Gideon Fell. Carr provides all the clues, though some of the logic is questionable.

More on ‘It Walks by Night’


Lost GallowsThe Lost Gallows (1939)
Henri Bencolin Series

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

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Note: Dead men driving the streets of London?

A car weaves through London’s West End with a dead man at its wheel. Noose-like pieces of rope, and a spooky child’s toy, appear out of nowhere in a closely watched empty room. The shadow of a gallows looms on a wall in “Ruination Street” which exists on no map. There is even an Egyptian curse, which leads to the death of the mysterious Nezam El-Moulk. Almost an overdose of clues – all in some way tied to the ghoulish Brimstone Club.

Henri Bencolin, late of the Sûreté, comes to foggy London to deal with these impossible occurrences and find “Jack Ketch”-  a killer named only by this alias of the hangmen of England.

More on ‘The Lost Gallows’


castle skullCastle Skull (1931)
Henri Bencolin Series

 

Best Review
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book

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Note: A spooky German castle haunted by a dead magician!

Castle Skull was built by the great magician Maleger, who designed it to resemble a skull. Maleger had been murdered some twenty years before the story, and his body cast out of a train into the Rhine, despite the fact that his carriage had been under observation the entire time and no one could have entered. Maleger’s estate was then divided between two friends, a Belgian banker, D’Aunay, and an English actor, Myron Alison. However, just before the novel opens, Myron Alison had been shot several times, then set on fire, providing a flaming torch upon the battlements of Castle Skull.

Henri Bencolin is brought into the case informally and brought up to date by his young assistant, Jeff Marle. The country house of Myron Alison lies across the river from Castle Skull, and a house party was in full swing at the time of Myron’s murder, conveniently providing a closed set of suspects, and a detailed back history. Bencolin soon finds himself competing with a German detective by the name of Baron Sigmund von Arnheim, a long time rival, but the ingenious solution is eventually provided by the odd Bencolin!

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WaxworksThe Waxworks Murder (1932) 
US title: The Corpse In The Waxworks
Henri Bencolin Series

Best Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book Only

Note: The first Carr masterpiece?

Often viewed as the first real Carr masterpiece. The Waxworks Murder begins with the discovery of one young woman floating in the Seine River – stabbed in the back, then a second young woman, also with a knife in her back, is found in the arms of a wax figure known as the “Satyr of the Seine”, in a local wax museum. All the clues lead straight to the “Club of the Silver Key”, where masked aristocrats mingle in dark rooms, searching for anonymous sexual encounters. Henri Bencolin, aided by Jeff Marle, must penetrate the secret club and make sense of a few odd clues before Bencolin arrives at the solution and makes a surprising wager with the murderer.

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Poison JestPoison In Jest (1932)
No Series

 

Best Review
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book Only

Note: A locked room case in America

Jeff Marle, Bencolin’s faithful sidekick in other Carr novels, is visiting a friend at the Quayle mansion in western Pennsylvania. It is not a pleasant visit! The Quayle family all hate each other, but are still united in their hatred of the old patriarch, Judge Quayle. Marle has just been introduced to the judge, when the  judge collapses after being poisoned. Which is hardly surprising! Poisons are all over the house, shadowy figures prowl the halls by night, and  a marble hand, broken from a statue of Caligula, apparently has a life of its own. After the first two deaths, an eccentric friend of the family, Rossiter, takes on the case, aided by Jeff Marle, and together they finally unravel the mystery behind all these impossible events. 

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Hag's NookHag’s Nook (1933)
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

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Note: Fell’s first case

Chatterham prison provides the spooky atmosphere as Dr. Fell solves his first case. A sullen young drunkard is murdered during a midnight vigil. Tad Rampole is a young American traveling in England who meets and falls in love with Dorothy Starberth. Rampole has a connection to Dr. Gideon Fell, who has a cottage near the Starberth family estate.  The family has long provide the governors of Chatterham Prison, and has another unique tradition – “Starberths die of broken necks”. Chatterham is now abandoned, but the eldest son and heir of the Starberth family is still required to spend the night of his 25th birthday in the jail, to fulfill the conditions of an ancestral will. Rampole and Fell keep a strict vigil outside the room, but he still dies of a broken neck, under the balcony of  the room where he was to spend the night quite alone. A tragic accident? Dr. Fell does not agree, but he must dig through a tangle of ancient superstitions to solve this very creepy murder. 

More on ‘Hag’s Nook’


Mad HatterThe Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Rare Book Only

Note: One of the best Dr. Fell mysteries!

Philip Driscoll, a young journalist, is getting noticed for writing on a series of bizarre minor crimes where various hats are stolen, then later recovered in odd locations. Driscoll has dubbed this eccentric perpetrator ‘The Mad Hatter’, but his uncle, Sir William Bitton, is not amused when he loses two hats in three days. However, this is only the first instalment in Bitton’s problems. He has also lost something far more valuable: an unpublished manuscript of the first recorded detective story by Edgar Allan Poe! He turns to Dr. Gideon Fell for advice, just before the third disaster strikes. Driscoll has been murdered at the Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London, done in by a crossbow bolt – with Bitton’s oversized hat pushed down over his ears. It is up to Dr. Gideon Fell and Inspector Hadley of Scotland Yard to uncover the Mad Hatter,  before they can  determine the fate of the priceless manuscript and reveal the identity of the murderer.

More on ‘The Mad Hatter Mystery’


8 swordsThe Eight of Swords (1934) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

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Note: More comedy than haunting mystery!

Not one of Carr’s best! More high farce and comedy than the normal haunting Carr. A  lively spirit takes to playing strange pranks in a  haunted bedroom and an amateur criminologist and Bishop is found sliding down the banisters!  There is even a mystery novelist who writes under two different names! However, when the fun and games end, Mr. Septimus Depping is found murdered behind the closed door of his study at his Gloucestershire country house, shot with his own gun and holding ‘the eight of swords’ from a Tarot deck – which represents “condemning justice”. 

The moment Dr. Fell sees the eight of swords, a partially eaten dinner on a tray, and the button-hook which was used to blow the fuses, he knows the identity of the murderer, but proving this deduction is not so simple!  

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Blind BarberThe Blind Barber (1934)
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

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Note: Humour and a solid locked room story

The Blind Barber is both a terrific farce and a surprisingly good detective story. It is probably the most humorous of the Carr titles, yet still  provides a very good mystery read!

When the ocean liner Queen Victoria arrives in Southampton harbor from New York City, mystery writer Henry Morgan disembarks and immediately calls on Dr. Fell with a remarkable story. Curtis Warren, an amateur cinematographer and nephew of  “a Great Personage in the present American Government” accidentally brought some reels of film aboard that would initiate a political scandal for his uncle. Then someone broke into Warren’s cabin, hit him over the head, and stole most of the films.

Warren, and his friends, including Morgan, soon learned that a notorious criminal (“The Blind Barber” ) was believed to be on board the ship, and developed a plan to lure the thief into coming back for the rest of the film and fall into their trap. Unfortunately, they end up attacking the captain of the Queen Victoria – with whiskey-bottles, fly-spray, and professional boxers. They also steal, then lose, a valuable emerald elephant, and a dying woman apparently vanishes into thin air. All these clumsy efforts only result in more problems. By the end of the voyage, Warren is in the brig, the emerald elephant has reappeared and disappeared several times, and a drunken puppeteer has started throwing some of the passengers’ possessions overboard!

Fell finds the story quite amusing, and notes sixteen elusive clues. In the end, he pauses to answer the doorbell, then returns with the stolen film and announces the truly surprising identity of ‘The Blind Barber’ –  all  without leaving his armchair! 

More on ‘The Blind Barber’


Death WatchDeath-Watch (1935)
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Locked Room Review
*****

Available in ebook & paperback formats

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Note: One of Carr’s best!

The reader is moved from one of the most amusing Dr Fell stories, to one of the darkest – tinged with a touch of menace and madness. Fell is at his best as the great professor lecturing on clocks and the Spanish inquisition. Some critics claim this ‘clock face problem’ is Fell’s greatest case. That may be overstating the case, but it is certainly a bizarre and fascinating addition to the Carr library.

A clockmaker is puzzled by the theft of the clock hands on a monument he is building for a member of the nobility.  Later that night, a policeman arrives at the Lincoln Inn’s Fields house of Johannus Carver to arrest a woman for murder and shoplifting – only to be stabbed between the shoulder blades with a clock hand.

The crime is odd enough to catch the attention of Dr. Gideon Fell, who quickly realizes that the critical question in the murder case is why the clock hands were stolen. When Dr. Fell finally finds the timely answer, he discovers a madman with time to spare!

More on ‘Death-Watch’


hollow manThe Hollow Man (1935)
US title: The Three Coffins
Dr. Gideon Fell

Locked Room Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book and on Scribd

Book

Note: The #1 all time locked room mystery according to the survey!

The Hollow Man, also published as ‘The Three Coffins’, was voted the best locked room mystery of all time, by a 1981 panel of experts assembled by Edward D. Hoch. I would take that claim a step further and place it in the top 10 mysteries of all time, but no matter how it may be ranked, it is clearly one of Carr’s very best, and includes Dr. Fell’s famous locked room lecture! Unfortunately, no eBook of the ‘Hollow Man’ is available at this time. A situation which must be remedied as soon as possible!

Professor Charles Grimaud and his friend are meeting at a tavern when they are interrupted by a stranger who claims that men can arise from their graves and walk through walls. This odd character is illusionist Pierre Fley, who claims to have done these things himself, then adds that he has an even more dangerous brother who wants Grimaud’s life. Grimaud must choose which brother he wants to call on him, and he angrily invites him to send his brother and be damned.

On the appointed night, Grimaud awaits his anticipated visitor. The visitor arrives, wearing a mask, and is escorted to the study. Two witness sees Grimaud let the stranger enter and close the door, and both continue to observe the door until shots are heard inside the room. The locked door is finally broken down, to reveal a dying Grimaud, but no stranger or weapon can be found, and the yard below the only window is covered with a pristine untrammelled blanket of snow. 

That same night, two men and a police constable witness Pierre Fley walking alone down a deserted cul-de-sac, then hear a ghostly voice shout “The second bullet is for you!” – followed by a gunshot. Fley is found shot in the back at very close range, with the revolver that killed both victims at his side – and once again there are no tracks in the snow that surround his body. 

Dr. Fell soon discovers that Grimaud and two brothers (Fley and “Brother Henri”) had, many years earlier, escaped from a  forced labour salt mine by faking their own plague deaths and being buried alive in ‘three coffins’. Now, it appears, that a ghostly Henri is taking his revenge, but Fell is determined to demonstrate that this is all pure illusion in one of Carr’s most challenging puzzles. 

More on ‘The Hollow Man‘ 


Arabian NightsThe Arabian Nights Murder (1936) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book Only

Note: Another Carr masterpiece!

Some critics have suggested that this is Carr’s finest technical work, a masterpiece combining a complex plot, great story-telling, and just the right amount of humour, with a bizarre atmosphere and fantastic characters. The Arabian Nights Murder is set in a Museum of Oriental Art, where appearances are deceiving. Scotland Yard detective John Carruthers arrives at the Wade Museum and begins to investigate the interior of one of a series of carriages on exhibit. The night watchman sarcastically notes: “Watch out when you touch it! There’s a dead man inside!” – and, of course, a dead man tumbles out right on cue! The corpse, stabbed with an ornate Persian dagger, is wearing false whiskers and clutching a cookbook. Gideon Fell arrives to investigate this strange death and explain a whole host of bizarre incidents that occurred during a very busy night in the usually quiet museum. 

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Burning CourtThe Burning Court (1937) 
No Series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats

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Note: No Dr.Fell, but one of the spookiest Carr tales

One of the best all time examples of a mixed genre masterpiece. The Burning Court has a little of everything; a great, well researched, historical background; a spooky witchcraft tale; and, of course, a classic locked room / impossible crime mystery with a stunning epilogue that turns the entire rational mystery upside down. What it doesn’t have is Dr. Fell, or any other Carr detective.

The tale is all about witchcraft in suburban Pennsylvania. Edward Stevens, an editor at a publishing house, recounts the story of the suspicious death of a friend’s rich uncle. Uncle Miles had died of gastroenteritis, after a lengthy illness. The verdict was natural causes, but two strange facts were left unexplained. A housemaid who spied into Miles’s room, reported that a woman had visited him, then left through a door that had been bricked up for many years. And after he died, a strange piece of string was found under his pillow – tied in nine knots – better known as a ‘witch’s ladder’.

Stevens returns to editing a book by true crimes author Gaudan Cross, on murders by poison, and reads of the trial and execution of Marie d’Aubray in 1861. The attached daguerréotype causes Stevens to gasp – it is an exact image of his wife, Marie Stevens, but when he confronts her, she refuses to take the image seriously.

Shortly after this discovery, Mile’s nephew and a doctor arrive to announce that they now believe Mile’s death was actually murder. They ask Stevens to help dig up the corpse and perform a proper autopsy. Stevens accompanies the two men as they begin to chip away the cement that seals the crypt, then descends to retrieve the body, only to discover that Miles’s coffin is open and the corpse has gone missing. Suspicion falls on all concerned, and truth proves to be just as elusive as the ghosts.

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4 False WeaponsThe Four False Weapons, Being the Return of Bencolin (1938) 
Henri Bencolin Series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats

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Note: The best and last Henri Bencolin!

By far the best and the last of  the Henri Bencolin mysteries. This time he is called in to investigate the mysterious death of a courtesan. The infamous Rose is experienced in the art of attracting men, and also an expert at removing all their cash and jewelry, before she finally discards them. Her last target was the wealthy Ralph Douglas, and when her dead body is found in Douglas’s country villa –  in a room that contains a pistol, a razor, a box of poison pills and a stiletto – he is the first to come under suspicion.

Bencolin, now retired and somewhat mellowed, soon proves that none of these four weapons was used to kill Rose, and that she had actually been the victim of a very ingenious fifth weapon. Ralph Douglas is cleared of suspicion, but it is not until Bencolin is invited to the Corpses’ Club to play a 17th-century game of chance, never played by any living person, that he finally resolves all the apparent contradictions and solves the crime.

Carr is clearly making a case for common sense deduction over the adulation of forensic science. Bencolin is contrasted with none other than Auguste Dupin. Dupin discovers a long list of clues, including fingerprints and  the four false weapons, which all prove to be red herrings – while Bencolin patiently plods through all the evidence and interviews the witnesses.  The solution is perfectly logical and fair, though the motive is a little lacking from the reader’s perspective.  

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Wake DeadTo Wake the Dead (1938) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

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Note: Not a locked room story #1

An under-rated Carr book, obviously because he disappointed his fan base. A good mystery read – but  no locked room or impossible crime to review! It is all a question of why the murderer wore a uniform when he committed his crimes, one in Sussex, the other in a London hotel.

More on ‘To Wake the Dead’


crooked-hingeThe Crooked Hinge (1938) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book only

Note: A question of identity!

Back to another stretch of great Dr Fell impossible crime stories. John Farnleigh lives a blessed life; he is a wealthy young man, married to his childhood sweetheart, the baronet of Mallingford and Soane, and a survivor of the Titanic disaster. All this is threatened when another man enters the picture claiming to be the real John Farnleigh! An inquest is scheduled to determine the validity of this claim – until the original Farnleigh is killed – his throat slashed in front of three witnesses who all claim that no one else was present! 

Fell must determine the meaning of the phrase “the crooked hinge,” deal with an ‘automaton’ known as the ‘Golden Hag’, and separate local witchcraft from reality. The solution is quite clearly one of Carr’s best!

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Green CapsuleThe Black Spectacles (1939)
US title: The Problem Of The Green Capsule 
Dr. Gideon Fell

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats

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Note: Often subtitled: The Psychologist’s Murder Case

In the quiet English village of Sodbury Cross, Marjorie Wills is suspected of poisoning chocolates in a local shop, following in the footsteps of an historic poisoner named Christiana Edmunds. Her uncle, Marcus Chesney, refuses to accept the eyewitness testimony and sets out to prove his point by a series of staged events that will be witnessed and also captured by a movie camera – with 10 questions to follow. Chesney takes a lead role in the staged events and is fed a large green capsule by a masked figure wearing black spectacles. The poison proves fatal, but none of the witnesses can agree on the details of the play or identify the murderer. Chesney had created an illusion used by his murderer to cover his escape. Gideon Fell must view the film, before he can answer all 10 questions and the eleventh – who murdered Marcus Chesney?

More on ‘The Black Spectacles’


wire cageThe Problem of the Wire Cage (1939) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book only

Note: Never a critic’s favourite!

Not a favourite of the critics, and not one of Carr’s masterworks, but still a reasonably good light mystery read. Frank Dorrance is clearly no gentleman. He is engaged to the innocent Brenda White and openly admits that he is marrying her to gain her guardian’s money. A poor local solicitor is also in love with Brenda, but bides his time until the body of Dorrance is found strangled in the centre of a clay tennis court. The odd fact in this case is that there are only one set of footsteps on the soft clay surface, and they belong to the victim. Dorrance had made many enemies, and there is no shortage of suspects with motive, but finding the murderer requires an explanation of how Dorrance was killed! Gideon Fell must explain a number of odd clues, including a picnic basket full of dirty dishes that mysteriously vanishes. In the end, it takes the murder of  a trapeze artist, to finally break the case.

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Man ShudderThe Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats

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Note: Another Carr country house classic

The spooky atmosphere is a little weak, but this is still one of the better Fell novels. Martin Clarke is having a housewarming weekend at his refurbished country home. The house has a haunted history; two decades earlier, the frail ancient butler was killed when he suddenly had the urge to swing from the chandelier, which fell and killed him. This is only one of several odd occurrences, so Clarke’s guests are a carefully selected group of “ordinary, skeptical human beings” willing to investigate these ghostly hauntings. One guest barely enters the door before screaming about something with fingers clutching her ankle, which allows Clarke to tell the tale of a former owner, suspected of witchcraft, who celebrated his death by grabbing the servants ankles. The spooky weekend reaches a horrific climax when three witnesses see a gun jump off the wall and shoot a seated guest – without human assistance. Gideon Fell finally arrives to explain these impossible matters, in a spectacular and fiery finale.

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constant suicidesThe Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
*****

Out of print: Available only as a used book

Book only

Note: One of Carr’s very best!

More of a novella than a full length novel, but it is an excellent locked room story. A large, widespread Scottish family come together at a highland castle in order to resolve some important issues of family business following a recent death. It is all one long humorous Scottish drinking scene, until a suicide begins to arouse suspicion. As the body count slowly rises, suicide increasingly seems like an inadequate solution. Doctor Gideon Fell must make sense of a few seemingly irrelevant facts, and in the process discovers a unique means of indirectly murdering men inside locked and sealed rooms.

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death tablesDeath Turns the Tables (1941)
UK title: The Seat of the Scornful
Dr. Gideon Fell

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: A circumstantial judgement is questioned!

Justice Ireton has always been a great believer in circumstantial evidence, especially when he is the one judging the truth. He is also prepared to meddle in the affairs of his daughter, Constance, who is engaged to the handsome Anthony Morrell, a man who is well known for exacting revenge for any slights, real or imagined. However, the Judge is determined that his daughter will marry his assistant, Fred Barlow, but there are two main problems with his plan; the judge is broke and Tony Morrell is not for sale. All of these schemes serve only to make Justice Ireton the prime suspect when Morrell is found dead in the Ireton’s seaside cottage. Now circumstantial evidence looks different, and Gideon Fell is required to make sense of some odds bits of evidence – including a piece of chewing gum and an overstuffed pillow marked “Souvenir of Canada” – which finally allow him to uncover the truth of Morrell’s death.

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Snuff BoxThe Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942) 
No series

 

Available in ebook and paperback formats.

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Note: Not a locked room story #2

No impossible murders in locked rooms, but still a good mystery read about a young divorcee who falls in love, only to become the prime suspect in the murder of her fiance’s father, the theft of a pricey necklace, and the all important smashing of a snuff-box . 

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death partTill Death Do Us Part (1944) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: A strange fortune teller gets too close to the truth!

Dick Markham is engaged to a beautiful mysterious young woman named Lesley Grant. When they attend a fair in the Village of Six Ashes, Lesley insists on seeing the fortune teller. She is apparently unaware that the fortune teller is actually Sir Harvey Gilman, the Home Office pathologist and expert on crime.

Afterwords, Sir Harvey is about to tell Markham something when he is ‘accidentally’ shot and wounded by Lesley. Later that day, Sir Harvey finally tells the story of how Lesley murdered three husbands, but escaped conviction by somehow convincing the men to inject themselves with poison. That same night, Sir Harvey dies in a locked and sealed room, in exactly the same manner!

Dr. Gideon Fell assists the official investigation, but keeps his own counsel, leaving Markham to wonder whether Lesley is a woman in peril or a serious threat to his life. Fell must unravel all the clues, including a set of drawing pins scattered around the body, before he can finally provide the solution to another of Carr’s first class locked room puzzles. 

More on ‘Till Death Do Us Part’


he whispersHe Who Whispers (1946) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book   eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: One of Carr’s greatest triumphs!

The critic, Nick Fuller, has proclaimed this novel “A triumph of plotting, misdirection, atmosphere, tension, and story-telling — certainly one of Carr’s masterpieces” – and it is difficult to argue with this assessment – though I do not always agree with his opinions on other Carr novels. 

World War II has just ended, when Miles Hammond is invited to the first meeting of the Murder Club in five years. When he arrives, no one else is in attendance, except Barbara Morell and Professor Rigaud, who uses the unexpected opportunity to tell the story of Fay Seton.

Seton was a girl who had worked for the Brookes family. She soon fell in love with Harry Brookes, and became engaged. Unfortunately, Howard Brookes did not approve of his son’s choice, but he had finally agreed to meet Fay in a riverside tower, once part of an ancient chateau, which provided the perfect place for a private discussion. Harry and Rigaud leave Howard alone for the meeting, returning fifteen minutes later to find him stabbed to death with his own sword-cane atop the tower. The conclusion appeared obvious, until a family picnicking a few feet from the tower entrance, swore that no one entered the tower in those fifteen minutes, that no boat came near the tower, and that no one could have climbed up to the nearest window. The only one with motive had been Fay Seton – who the locals believed had brought a vampire back to life – but the case had never been solved.

Miles quickly becomes involved in this affair narrated by Rigaud, out of a personal interest – the new librarian he has just hired is Fay Seton, and some very odd occurrences are already frightening the members of his household. Of course, Fell was behind his introduction to Rigaud, and finally solves one of Carr’s most stunning locked room puzzles.

More on ‘He Who Whispers’


sleeping sphinxThe Sleeping Sphinx (1947)
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: An often under-rated locked room mystery

Sir Donald Holden, returning war hero, discovers he has been legally dead for more than a year. He immediately goes to Celia Devereaux, explains the mistake, and the two lovers are happily reconciled. However, all has not been well in the Devereaux household during his absence. Celia’s sister, Margot, died under very mysterious circumstances, after an evening gala where the guests all wore death masks of famous murderers. In addition, the London office of a fortune teller appears abandoned, but not entirely empty, and something has been shifting coffins about inside a sealed mausoleum. Many suspect that Celia has inherited a touch of the family madness, until the efforts of Holden and Gideon Fell finally manage to uncover a more reasonable explanation for all these odd events! 

More on ‘The Sleeping Sphinx’


below suspicionBelow Suspicion (1949) 
Dr. Gideon Fell (with Patrick Butler) 

 

Best Review
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only  

Note: Not one of Carr’s best efforts

Two otherwise respectable members of a witch’s coven are poisoned with antimony. A companion-secretary is charged with the first crime, but acquitted, while an innocent wife is suspected in the second death, as she was the only one with access to the water bottle. Dr. Fell is present, but the real hero (or anti-hero) of this mystery is the arrogant defense attorney, Patrick Butler, soon to appear in ‘Patrick Butler for The Defense’. Butler wins in court, then insults the judge and resorts to a riduculous fistfight in a burning Satanist chapel. Carr may have done some research into witchcraft, but not enough. Still it is a fairly good, though rather obvious solution.

More on ‘Below Suspicion’ 


bride newgateThe Bride of Newgate (1950) 
Historical mystery series 

 

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

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Note: Not a locked room story #3

The first of Carr’s historical mystery series is a great whodunnit, but not a locked room title. In 1815, Caroline Ross, in order to inherit a fortune, must marry and turn over control of the funds to her husband. The answer is to marry Dick Darwent, a convicted murderer waiting to be hanged in Newgate Prison the next day. However, once married, Dick is the new Marquis of Darwent, his trial is overturned; and he must be retried by the House of Lords. Darwent has been framed for murder by a mysterious figure known only as “the coachman”, and now must sort out his domestic arrangements, including both a wife and mistress, and prove himself innocent of this murder by revealing the true killer.

More on ‘The Bride of Newgate’


devil velvetThe Devil in Velvet (1951)
Historical mystery series

 

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   (ebook N/A in Canada)

Note: Not a locked room story #4

Once again no locked rooms or impossible crimes, and not even a real whodunit, yet Carr considered this to be his “single finest piece of historical fiction”, and it is quite an excellent read, a scramble of mystery, history, supernatural, and science fiction elements! Cambridge history Professor Nicholas Fenton, in 1925 England, makes a bargain with the devil and is sent back in time to London in 1675, in the body of Sir Nick Fenton, to solve a murder that is about to take place. Fenton falls in love with the intended victim, Sir Nick’s wife Lydia, and decides to alter history by preventing her murder, but he also finds himself attracted to another woman who also sold her soul to the devil and travelled back in time. Now, he must not only solve the approaching murder before it happens, but come to terms with Sir Nick’s romantic and political entanglements – and hopefully void his deal with the devil.

More on ‘The Devil in Velvet’ 


nine x wrongThe Nine Wrong Answers (1952) 
No series

 

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: Not a Locked Room story #5

Bill Dawson, an unemployed Englishman working in America, is employed by another expatriate to impersonate him for six months in order to inherit his sadistic uncle’s fortune. Shortly after, this nephew is poisoned, and suspicion falls upon Dawson, who quickly escapes to Britain. There he is confronted and found out by the sadistic uncle. and his manservant Hatto, leading to a wonderful finale in a reconstruction of the sitting room of Sherlock Holmes, where Bill reveals the very surprising tenth answer. Unfortunately, no locked rooms or impossible crimes, but still a great story!

More on ‘The Nine Wrong Answers’


cut throatCaptain Cut-Throat (1955)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only  

Note: Technically a locked room novel

Another historical mystery with only a very underplayed impossible murder. Captain Cut-Throat combines historical romance, high adventure, and a small amount of detection in a rousing adventure thriller set during the Napoleonic Wars, just as the British await the seemingly inevitable French invasion. Lots of action and a great duel of wits between the hero and Joseph Fouché that eventually leads to the revelation of Captain Cut-Throat’s true identity.

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patrick butlerPatrick Butler for the Defence (1956)
Patrick Butler series

 

Best Review
**

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: The worst Carr?

Many critics rate this as the worst Carr novel of all time, and not without good reason, it is truly difficult to find any points of praise. It is worth reading Nick Fuller’s review to get a good taste of the majority decision.

A French-speaking Arab who calls himself ‘Abu of Ispahan’ arrives at a lawyer’s office and asks for an appointment to discuss a private matter with Hugh Prentice. Prentice must deliver a brief to the famed defense lawyer, Patrick Butler, so he asks the man to wait for forty-five minutes. However, he has not even left the office when a scream pierces the air and all rush back to Hugh’s office – to find Abu stabbed, with just enough time to gasp “Your gloves”

Hugh enlists the help of Patrick Butler, and with a few romantic additions to the team, they set out to investigate this case, barely escaping from numerous threats, as they search for answers. Still, by that very same evening, the climax arrives, and Patrick Butler calls everyone together to reveal the name of the murderer, and the meaning of the Arab’s dying statement.

More on ‘Patrick Butler for the Defence’


fire burnFire, Burn! (1957) 
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Time travelling policemen?

A close cousin of The Devil in Velvet. A time-travelling policeman falls in love with a woman whose picture he has seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum – and soon finds himself in the middle of an impossible Victorian murder mystery. A rather ingenious solution helps lift this one a touch above some of the other historical mysteries.

More on ‘Fire, Burn!’ 


dead knockThe Dead Man’s Knock (1958) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: A puzzle invented by Wilkie Collins?

At a small university town in Virginia, young Rose Lestrange apparently walks into her bedroom and stabs herself with a dagger – according to the police – since the windows and the door are securely locked and bolted from the inside. Does it matter that Rose was being blackmailed? Is the blackmailer the same one who is playing vicious pranks around the College? The key to how the murder room was locked and bolted from the inside may be found in a locked-room mystery novel plotted by Wilkie Collins, but it takes Dr. Fell to sort through all the lies and reveal the grain of truth.

More on ‘The Dead Man’s Knock’


scandals chimneysScandal at High Chimneys: A Victorian Melodrama (1959)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: A haunted Victorian manor full of ghosts!

Clive Strickland, a lawyer and author, discovers a terrifying slice of Victorian life when his friend Victor Damon asks him to visit the family home, a formidable mansion filled with many odd characters, including a  ghost like figure. Of course, Matthew Damon gets murdered under totally impossible circumstances and one Jonathan Whicher steps in to solve the tangled puzzle. Reminiscent of some of the better early Carr, but far from his best.

More on ‘Scandal at High Chimneys’


spite thunderIn Spite of Thunder (1960) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Is it suicide – or something worse?

Film star Eve Eden’s fiancé, Hector Matthews, died in a strange accident after they visited Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden in 1939. He had no reason to commit suicide, but apparently flung himself off a high balcony and the only witnesses swore he was alone at the time. Years later, Eve is living in Geneva, when Audrey Page comes to to visit the city. Brian Innes, another local resident, is asked by Audrey’s father to intervene in Audrey’s growing relationship with Eve, citing a mysterious death in her past as a sign of a shady reputation. Audrey ignores Brian’s warning and goes to Villa Rosalind, where Eve repeats her old fiancé’s plummet to the ground. Fortunately, Dr. Fell is also visiting Geneva and steps in to prove Audrey’s innocence and penetrate the ingenious murder method used by the criminal.

More on ‘In Spite of Thunder’


witch tideThe Witch of the Low Tide: An Edwardian Melodrama (1961)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

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Note: One of the better late Carr novels

Perhaps the best of all Carr’s later works. David Garth, M.D., has fallen in love with the widowed Lady Calder. DI Twigg of Scotland Yard and Garth’s friend Cullingford Abbot, assistant to the Commissioner of Scotland Yard, both warn him that she has a past, danced at the Moulin Rouge, and joined a Satanist group in Paris. They also suspect her of blackmail that resulted in at least two suicides. Lady Calder responds that she is being confused with her sister Glynis. Then Glynis is found dead on the beach, in the middle of a stretch of unmarked sand, and Lady Calder is the prime suspect. It takes Dr. Garth’s forensic and literary knowledge to solve this impossible crime.

More on ‘The Witch of the Low Tide’


demoniacsThe Demoniacs (1962)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: A novel about the Bow Street Runners 

Set in 18th century London, Jeffrey Wynne has just rescued Peg Ralston from a “fate worse than death”; she was planning to attend a French acting school, until she learned that it was really a “school for the French King’s private brothel”. Wynne’s normal occupation is a thief-taker for Sir John Fielding, the man who ran the Bow Street Runners, despite his blindness. Wynne and Peg now become involved in the impossible murder of a bawd who lives on London Bridge, and the possible theft of a fortune in jewels. It is a great chase through the heights and depths of society, that eventually leads to a deeply buried secret.

More on ‘The Demoniacs’ 


most secretMost Secret (1964)
Revision of ‘Devil Kinsmere’ (1934) 
(Originally published as ‘Roger Fairbairn’) 
No series

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

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Note: Not a locked room story #6

A very obscure and often forgotten Carr title. Once again, no locked room or impossible crime, but considered a great adventure story by some critics. One even dubs it the best Carr ever! (See link below) The year is 1670. Roderick Kinsmere has come up to London to collect an inheritance. A  call on the Duke of Buckingham leads to a duel, and ‘Rowdy’ soon finds himself plunged into a web of intrigue and murder. One of the few I have missed, but will now put on my ‘to read’ list.

More on ‘Most Secret


satan's elbowThe House at Satan’s Elbow (1965) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: Another English country house locked room mystery – a Carr speciality!

Historian Garret Anderson gains a windfall and decides to celebrate by visiting Nick Carter at his family home, ‘Greengrove’, where some very odd things are happening. A missing will is at the root of the problem, but someone is playing the ghost of Mr. Justice Wildfare, an 18th century hanging judge. ‘Uncle Pennington’, the head of the family, is shot with a blank cartridge by a figure who vanishes through a locked window, then a second shot proves more serious – serious enough to call in Gideon Fell to explain all these bizarre events.

More on ‘The House at Satan’s Elbow’


panic box cPanic in Box C (1966) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
***

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: Killed by a cross bow bolt in a locked theatre box!

Lady Tiverton, is the former actress Margery Vane. In her youth she had bewitched a great old actor, Adam Cayley, who created a theatre company just to perform Romeo and Juliet with Margery – then died in the middle of the play!  Now, many years later, she returns to the theatre where Adam Cayley died. The theatre has been restored, and is under the direction of a brilliant actor, Barry Plunkett, who is planning a new production of Romeo and Juliet, with Lady Tiverton’s support. However, at the dress rehearsal, Lady Tiverton is murdered by a crossbow bolt, inside her locked and bolted private box, and the angle of the shot suggests that it was an inside job.

The explanation of this locked room puzzle, as almost always in Carr novels, is pretty good,  but it clearly lacks the wit and energy of Carr’s earlier works.

More on ‘Panic in Box C’


dark moonDark of the Moon (1968) 
Dr. Gideon Fell

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: The Last Dr. Fell novel!

Dr. Gideon Fell attends a party where the tension is so thick you cut it with a knife. The host of the party, a southern aristocrat named Henry Maynard, is so cryptic about events in his mansion, that his guests are feeling more than a little uncomfortable. The roots of the mystery go far back into the past! 

More on ‘Dark of the Moon’


papa la basPapa La-Bas (1968)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Out of print: Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: The novel Carr should not have written?

Many see this novel as a not so veiled defence of slavery. The scene is New Orleans in 1858, complete with voodoo and violence that swirl around Senator Judah P. Benjamin, a master puzzle solver, and Richard Macrae, Her Majesty’s Consul, who both witness a devilish murder.

More on ‘Papa La-Bas’


Ghost's NoonThe Ghosts’ High Noon (1970)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats. 

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: New Orleans in 1912

Author and journalist James Blake is looking into corruption in an election campaign. Like most Carr protagonists – he falls in love – this time the girl is Jill Matthews, a mysterious figure that slips in and out of the story. The politician he’s after is Clay Blake (no relation) and mutual friends confide that Clay is under extraordinary pressure to drop out of the senate race.

A complex and not very plausible series of events lead most of the characters to witness the death of a playboy named Leo Shepley, who apparently shot himself just prior to crashing his car – only the weapon is nowhere to be found. In this case the solution is not a great one. The book tends to wander and is far below the quality of Carr’s early work.

More on ‘The Ghosts’ High Noon’


deadly hallDeadly Hall (1971)
Historical mystery series

 

Best Review
****

Available in ebook and paperback formats.

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Note: The final New Orleans novel, set in 1927

Jeff Caldwell, a novelist, is summoned by a lawyer, after the father of two of his friends, Dave and Serena Hobart, dies of natural causes. The friends are planning to sell the family mansion, despite old rumours that a great horde of gold is concealed on the premises. Dave believes the clue to this treasure lies in the death of Thad Peters, a family friend who fell down a staircase at the mansion when they were still both children.

Caldwell later learns that under the will, if both Hobarts die before the end of October, he and the son of another old family friend, split the estate. He also discovers that the family finances are a disaster, which explains both the interest in the gold and the urgent need to sell. Several murky characters want to purchase the mansion, and someone is trying to reopen the Peter’s case, when the theft of an old journal raises the stakes even higher.

It all comes to a climax when Serena is murdered, thrown from the window of a locked room, and Dave is assaulted in another impossible scenario. The guilty party is not hard to guess and it is not one of Carr’s great locked room solutions. In fact, Dr. Fell’s famous lecture would have viewed it is a clear violation of the rules that make a good locked room puzzle.

More on ‘Deadly Hall’ 


hungry goblinThe Hungry Goblin: A Victorian Detective Novel (1972) 
Historical mystery series
(Wilkie Collins is the detective)

Best Review
****
Out of print. Available only as a used book.

Book only

Note: Carr’s last novel, and not a great finale!

Set in England in 1869, Kit Farrell has just returned after almost a decade in the United States, and soon reunites with old friends, including Nigel Seagrave, and Colonel Henderson, now head of Scotland Yard. Kit also has the Carr habit of falling in love at first sight, this time with Patricia Denbigh, another old acquaintance.

The rather slow pace finally picks up a little with the entrance of Sir Hugo Clavering. When Clavering goes to investigate an odd sound at the door, someone takes a shot. The next day, Henderson introduces Kit to Wilkie Collins, and they begin to investigate this complex mystery. A whole ensemble of characters enter and exit the story, until most of the suspects gather for a dinner party at Udolpho, where Nigel is apparently wounded by an intruder with a pistol. The only problem is that all the exits were watched or locked – suggesting that it was actually one of the guests in disguise! Wilkie Collins eventually unravels a rather ridiculous murderous plot, though the identity of the murderer is a bit of a surprise – but more because there was such a wealth of possibilities and the final solution truly stretches the reader’s credulity!

More on ‘The Hungry Goblin’


John Dickson Carr Bibliography


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