I did a recent post where I’ve started to break down the John Dickson Carr books based on reputation that I’ve found on the internet. To review:
I’ve created these categories based on the vibe I’ve gotten from blogs, forums, and other lists that I’ve found. I’m obviously sensitive to avoid sources that tell me too much about the stories or could spoil the puzzles. Here are some examples of the resources I’ve used:
For this post, I’ll be looking at “Highly Recommended”. These are books that almost everyone seems to recommend, but they don’t cross over to the point of unanimous classics. I don’t recall seeing anyone suggest that any of these books should be avoided. Here they are, listed in order of reputation
- The Case of the Constant Suicides
- She Died a Lady
- Nine–and Death Makes Ten
- The Emperor’s Snuff Box
- Till Death Do Us Part
- The White Priory Murders
- The Red Widow Murders
- He Wouldn’t Kill Patience
- The Curse of the Bronze Lamp
- The Nine Wrong Answers
I’ve marked the ones that I’ve read already in bold. My reading in the next few months will probably by heavy with items on this list, combined with my next category “Recommended”. Here are my thoughts so far.
She Died a Lady – I thought this was a bit overrated. The puzzle was certainly vexing, but it didn’t grab my curiosity as much as others. The story was one of my first encounters with Carr’s use of slapstick humor (the whole HM as Nero scene and the wheelchair ordeal), which I think detracted from the story. At the same time, I rate The House in Goblin Wood as possibly his best work, despite the banana peel incident.
The Emperor’s Snuff Box – Not really an impossible crime, but a solution that makes you want to slap yourself for not seeing it. The pacing of this book was fantastic. It lacks the gothic atmosphere of stories like The Red Widow Murders or The Burning Court, and yet the tension is still there.
The White Priory Murders – The way Carr unveils the solution to this is brilliant. I read a single sentence, and suddenly it all made sense and it was all so simple. I still have a lot of Carr books to read, but I’m convinced this is going to be my favorite solution. The pacing of the books wasn’t great and it lacked atmosphere compared to others.
The Red Widow Murders – This had every potential to be the best Carr novel. The atmosphere smothers you, the impossible crime nags at you, and the passage about the French Revolution is exquisite. There is one thing that disqualifies this book for me, but I feel like even hinting at it could drag down the reading experience for others.
The Nine Wrong Answers – This book is very different than the rest of Carr. I don’t recall anything that I would classify as an impossible crime. Instead, Carr taunts you directly throughout the book, laying out a series of conclusions that the reader may incorrectly make. In a sense, he builds a puzzle for you, and then brilliantly solves it at the end. Very uniquely done and definitely recommended reading.
As with my other posts on Rating Carr, I’m curious on thoughts from the community. Are these the books you’d select for “Highly Recommended”, but not quite “Classics”?