Rating John Dickson Carr – The Classics

Out of all of the impossible crime author’s I’ve read, John Dickson Carr has grabbed my obsession.  My entry point for most author’s has been the short story, although the mere premise of Leo Bruce’s Case for Three Detectives was enough to pull me in.  Satisfied with The Wrong Problem and Blind Man’s Hood, and tempted by reviews, I started my reading with Hag’s Nook and The Nine Wrong Answers, which seems somewhat humorous in retrospect.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both novels, but looking back, these are curious entry points.  I chose Hag’s Nook because the plot seemed interesting, and being the first Fell book, it seemed like a natural starting point.  I was intrigued by the premise of the author taunting the reader directly, which drew me into The Nine Wrong Answers.  Oh, and the fact that I found both books on eBay for like $2 helped influence my choice a bit.

As I’ve acquired more and more Carr books, a constant thing on my mind is what order to read them.  I don’t want to burn through all of the best stuff first and have little to look forward to.  At the same time, I’d prefer to avoid the books that everyone agrees are bad – at least, until I’m desperate.  My approach so far has been to read through the books that range from recommended and highly recommended, while injecting a classic every so often.  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 start by looking at “The Classics”.  I’ve listed them in order of reputation based on my research.

I’ve marked the ones that I’ve read already in bold.  So far, I’ve enjoyed them all.  My favorites are The Problem of the Green Capsule and The Judas Window.  I suspect that as I progress through more of the catalog, The Burning Court and He Who Whispers will maintain their spot towards the top of the ranks as well.

I’m not going to go into more detail here – each of these will get an individual review and I’ll probably put together some Top 5 lists further down the road.  My question to the community, is are these the books that you would consider to be The Classics?

16 thoughts on “Rating John Dickson Carr – The Classics”

  1. The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man is an exceptionally — some might say preposterously — clever book, no question, but part of me thinks its reputation is at least in part due to the fact that it’s the one of the only Carrs in print, and was for a little while (pre-e-readers)the only Carr in the UK available from a mainstrean publisher.

    Green Capsule is probably my favourite to date, and Till Death Do Us Part, The Peacock Feather Murders/The Ten Teacups, The Case of the Constant Suicides, He Who Whispers, She Died a Lady and others would be in the mix as well. It’s difficult to know where to stop with Carr, because there are some situations which he explores perfectly (The Man Who COld Not Shudder, for instance) and you know full well that none of his peers could do evern half as good a job…but are these books classics for that reason alone?

    If so, the list has about 30 books on it….!

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    1. I’m holding off on The Three Coffins for a while in an effort to preserve a few of the better books for later. I’m actually aware of the solution, having done something pretty stupid a few years back. I forget how I first came across the topic of locked room mysteries, but the book was recommended as the pinnacle of the genre. Naively, I figured I’d just read a plot summary, and actually stumbled upon a pretty good account that I can no longer find. Suffice it to say, I exposed myself to what I’m sure would have been a mind bending twist, and unfortunately I still remember the details to this day. I’m sure I’ll still love the book, as it seems to be Fell in his prime and I look forward to the infamous chapter.
      I agree about The Problem of the Green Capsule. I’ve read several Carr stories that come close, but I suspect this will alway remain my favorite.

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  2. As a top 5 I think that is an excellent start – I reckon, just maybe, that HINGE, which I like a lot, might get substituted by maybe SHE DIED A LADY or TILL DEATH US DO PART as JJ suggested. I would find a top 20 much easier of course 🙂

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  3. I haven’t read that many Carrs, but my two favourites so far are “She died a lady” and “The Case of the constant suicides”, with the second choice probably being an unpopular opinion.

    Out of these Classics I read the “Three Coffins” and “The Mystery of the Green Capsule”. Three Coffins bored me to no end and is easily my last favourite Carr so far.

    Green Capsule I liked a lot and it’s probably my number three on the list. It’s slightly lower than my very favourites, because I found the culprit too easy to spot. I knew that it had to be the one fvggvat pybfrfg gb gur jvaqbj. Once we were told, who that was, I was sure.

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    1. I hope to return to this topic soon. I have five Carr’s left to read (three of them having strong reputations) and once I’ve finished I’ll be exploring how I think Carr’s library really ranks, and how that compares to my early assessment of popular opinion.

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