Well, I had a lot of fun giving The Ten Teacups a kicking with JJ over at The Invisible Event the other day, so I thought I’d have a think about what my favourite Carr novels are. “But you’ve already done that” I hear my very long-serving readers cry, but that was way back in the nascent days of the blog. And that was three Top Fives. And, more importantly, I’ve since re-read some of them and found that the memory cheats – I’m looking directly at you, The Red Widow Murders.
But what am I using as a criteria here, as, let’s face it, Carr’s style ricochets all over the place? Well, a solid mystery and an enjoyable read. And just for clarity, the following weren’t considered – The Plague Court Murders, Poison In Jest, The Mad Hatter Mystery, To Wake The Dead and The Witch Of The Low-Tide as I remember enjoying them all, but it was so long ago that I can’t give an informed opinion of them. And not The Devil In Velvet either, as that’s the only unread one that seems to get any positive comments. So, what’s in the Top Ten?
Possibly a surprise to kick off, as there isn’t an impossibility in sight here? The “vanishing bodies” bit is obvious, especially if you’ve got my copy which has a detailed picture of where the bodies are, but the mystery is an absolute cracker, one of the real surprises that Carr managed to pull off. He was far more than just a locked room gimmicky writer and this one shows it.
A psychic predicts that someone is going to die and then they drop down dead in view of reliable witnesses. Is Teleforce a real weapon? Can it be used for the war effort – or worse, by Hitler against the Allies? As the hysteria grows, it falls to Sir Henry Merrivale to unmask a devious murderer… One of my earliest Carrs and still a favourite. My review of it was written when I was in an exceptionally grumpy mood and I plan on revisiting this one soon, but it’s a clever idea done extremely well.
Nine passengers are crossing the Atlantic in the early days of the War when one of them is found with their throat cut. Luckily the murderer has left two bloody fingerprints. Unluckily, they match nobody on board… Another book where the impossibility is a bit irrelevant, but the mystery itself is damned clever. Like The Reader Is Warned, Carr uses the wartime atmosphere to crank up the tension and it would take a clever reader indeed to spot the killer.
A book that Carr must have enjoyed writing as he poses nine questions to the reader as the story progresses only to eliminate, via footnotes, the obvious answers that the reader might have guessed at. Bill Dawson is asked to pose as the heir to a fortune. When he meets his potential benefactor, he receives a simply offer – he will receive a vast fortune if he can avoid being murdered in the next six months… and then it gets more complicated… I know some people think this book contains a massive cheat – I’m not one of those people.
At an isolated Scottish castle, someone leaps to their death from a locked tower room. Someone else hangs themselves, also in a locked room. As two squabbling cousins try and help Gideon Fell solve the crime while falling in love (possibly), and real science takes something of a back seat to fictional science, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this one. Probably the book that got me really hooked on Carr.
- The Black Spectacles
A stunningly clever mystery – Marcus Chesney is determined to prove that nothing is as it seems by staging a demonstration. Ten questions are to be answered about a filmed performance which can then be checked by watching the film – but when Chesney is murdered by a masked figure during the performance and the person designated to play the “killer” was incapacitated at the time, who could have changed the script? A fascinating tale of observation and mis-observation, with a simple idea underpinning everything. Often overlooked, this loses a position or two for a clumsy misdirection near the end. Otherwise, this is near perfect. Review coming soonish…
A woman who believes herself to be a vampire. A man who was killed while alone atop a tower, where only a vampire could reach him. A woman nearly scared to death while alone in her room – alone apart from a mysterious whisper… One of Carr’s strongest pieces of character work with another clever-but-simple murder method, one that was pinched almost wholesale quite recently (won’t say where – spoilers). With an interesting lead in Fay Seton and an intriguing ending, this is one of Carr’s finest.
Aargh… how to sort the top three? Here goes…
Two lovers walked to the edge of a cliff and jumped over. So how on earth did that happen when they were shot from close range from the front before they fell? Their footprints clear show that nobody else was there… Sir Henry Merrivale is on hand to find the truth. A simply set impossibility, but another cracking mystery, playing a narrative game that only becomes apparent as the tale closes.
Probably Carr’s finest locked room – a young man passes out while talking to his prospective father-in-law. When he wakes up, he finds himself with a corpse, stabbed with an arrow, inside an extremely locked room. As Sir Henry Merrivale takes up the case, which, as it has already made its way to the court, involves him donning his legal wig. A clever trick, an enticing setting and, yet again, a well-hidden murderer.
And finally… well, I haven’t mentioned The Hollow Man yet, so surely…
Yeah, no Hollow Man nonsense here. Till Death is, I think, Carr’s finest mystery, with its intriguing opening as Dick Markham’s fiancée is accused of being a serial killer, to the locked room – why did someone shoot at the victim after they had apparently injected themselves with poison? – to, yet again, another well-hidden murderer. Carr’s best attempt at the English village mystery and I think his finest book, because it doesn’t hide behind tricksy nonsense.
And a quick word on the lack of The Hollow Man. It’s my personal opinion that it’s vastly over-rated. It’s an average Carr with some of his weaknesses on show, bolstered by the locked room lecture. But more on that one soon – in case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t reviewed it on the blog yet…
For more of my thoughts on Carr: