And so on to the non-Gideon Fell John Dickson Carr books. I’ll add a quick proviso here – I haven’t read everything in this category – the primary books that are missing from my reading here are The Devil in Velvet, which I believe is highly rated, and the majority of Carr’s later output, which generally isn’t. Anyway, on with the list.
1. The Emperor’s Snuff Box
OK, the murderer’s pretty obvious to anyone versed in the mystery genre – especially Agatha Christie, but the added complication of a witness to a murder who cannot say anything due to being in a compromising situation with an ex-partner whilst engaged to someone else adds some characterisation to an intriguing mystery. Nothing impossible here, but an excellent detective story all the same.
2. The Burning Court
A woman who walks through a bricked up wall, a body that disappears from a sealed crypt and a man’s wife who is the spitting image of a past serial killer. This sets the scene for a mystery with heavy supernatural overtones. It has an ending that was considered fairly controversial at the time, but is still a fair-play mystery, and a very intriguing one at that. I can’t really say much more without spoiling it, but this one is highly recommended.
Where to begin with this one – it’s a bit like reading a crossword puzzle. By the use of footnotes spread throughout this Hitchcockian adventure, Carr proposes nine questions and gives you the wrong answer that you might expect to be correct. All is revealed in the final chapter, along with the nine correct answers. It’s a work of technical genius, but I can see how some could find it annoying. It worked for me, though.
4. The Witch of the Low-Tide
There are a few books of Carr’s that depict the development of the London Police force over the years, and this is my favourite. A woman is found strangled in a beach-hut, with, of course, no other footprints in the sand leading to it. I prefer this one to Fire, Burn, which has a strange time-travelling set-up which has never sat well with me, and also relies on a knowledge of whether a certain item was invented at the time the book was set. Read this one instead.
5. Um… Pass
Run out of books for this one – thought that might happen. The Bencolin books have never stood out for me, The Four False Weapons being the best that I’ve read. Poison In Jest was good, I think, but I honestly can remember nothing about it. OK, going to cheat here and go for the collection The Department of Queer Complaints (good luck searching for that online!) written as Carter Dickson. A number of classy short stories in here – do try and find a copy.