I forget how I first encountered the topic of locked room mysteries. I want to say that it was in a forum of some sort or maybe an article on a newspaper website. I’m fairly confident that the reference mentioned The Hollow Man, and how it was the pinnacle of the genre. Intrigued by the notion that an entire category of mysteries of this type existed, I had to have some answers. What were examples of locked room mysteries? How did the killers accomplish the crime?
Having sworn off reading fiction in my early twenties, I wasn’t about to read a 200 page book to quench my curiosity. In this day of the internet, satisfaction can be had cheaply. After some hunting, I stumbled upon a website that did an incredible job recapping the crucial points of The Hollow Man in about 10 paragraphs. I’ve never been able to find this site again, and in retrospect, I’m truly astonished that someone could capture the complexities of a Carr novel in a compelling and comprehendible read that was so brief.
Enjoying the first reveal, I hunted for more and more locked room solutions. You no doubt understand the horrendous mistake I had made… I had ruined the endings of the best of the field, all for shallow gratification. The Hollow Man, The Case of the Constant Suicides, The Crooked Hinge… I know there were more, but I’m lucky I don’t recall them. Fortunately, the memories of what I’d read have faded over time. I only remember vague details about the later two books, and I refuse to allow them to replay in my mind. The Hollow Man, though, I remember clear as day. Such is my curse…
A year or two later I ordered a copy of the Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries. Still intrigued by the prospect of the genre, I had realized that true satisfaction can’t come from a simple plot summary found online. The short story seemed like the a good way to test the waters. The first stories that I went for were the two Carr entries. The Wrong Answer was a jarring start – this was some dense stuff. I had read enthusiastically when I was young, but having abandoned fiction in favor of non-fiction for over fifteen years, my literary-mind had some catching up to do. By the time I finished Blind Man’s Hood I was hooked. I spent the next few months picking off a short story a week from the compendium.
Although I enjoyed the short stories from a wide range of authors, something always drew my mind back to Carr. Book titles like The Ten Teacups, Hag’s Nook, The Nine Wrong Answers, and The Four False Weapons. Plot summaries for The Judas Window and He Who Whispers. I had to know what these were about. Thanks to eBay, I was able to do this cheaply, picking up Hag’s Nook and The Nine Wrong Answers for maybe $2 each. In retrospect, these seem like odd starting points. I had some notion that Hag’s Nook was supposed to be one of the better Carr books (I have no clue now where I got that impression) and I knew it was the first Dr Fell story. It seemed like a good starting point. The very premise of The Nine Wrong Answers was too much to resist, so I followed up with that. After a brief lull, what had started as a curiosity bloomed into an obsession. Now, here I am, about a year later, writing a blog about what I’ve read.
Why a blog? I think there are three main driving factors.
- As I started to acquire more and more Carr books, I started to obsess over the order in which I should read them. I knew there were some “bad” ones out there, and didn’t want to lose my enthusiasm by stumbling upon one of them. At the same time, I didn’t want to purely burn through the best and be left with diminishing returns. In order to get a better grasp on a proper order to read the books, I attempted to join the John Dickson Carr forum over at Golden Age Mysteries, where I figured I could post my inquiries. The forum is invite only and may be abandoned, as my attempt to join received no response. And so, what was I left to do? Start a blog. where I could ask my questions and hopefully generate some conversation.
- As I researched which Carr books to read, I found myself being drawn to a particular type of review. Reviews that gave me a sense of how compelling the plot of each book was, and which ones I should read, without risking revealing any secrets about the book. The last thing I wanted to do was to repeat my mistake of the past.
- About 10 books in, it struck me that my memories of Hag’s Nook and The Nine Wrong answers were starting to fade. I still recalled key aspects of the stories, but I realized my recollection would continue to slip over time. I’ve really enjoyed my time reading Carr and want to preserve an aspect of the memory.
I’m hoping that I can create reviews that help an alternate me decide which books to read. For those who have already read the stories, I hope that I stimulate a fond memory of the past. Ultimately, I’d like to start a conversation about Carr’s work and hear from the reader what they think.