Vote for your Top 10 John Dickson Carr books

Carr_Crooked-Hinge_dellWhat are your favourite books by John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson)? The topic came up while re-reading The Crooked Hinge, a title that regularly turns up in lists of the author’s best works, though few think it as ‘perfect’ a performance as say The Hollow Man or The Judas Window. Blessed with one of the most intriguing titles of any Golden Age detective story, the PuzzleDoctor and I have decided to jointly take a closer look at it. Our decidedly varying view(s) appear over at his blog, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel while below I consider what my favorite Carr titles are … and would like you to participate by contributing a list of your top 10 book by the master of the impossible crime.

““I’ll tell you what it is, gentlemen,” said Elliott, “it’s an absolutely impossible crime” – from The Crooked Hinge

I have my own top 10, which I am listing right at the bottom of the this post – but first, here are some lists of ‘best of Carr’ prepared by some very famous people indeed, where Crooked Hinge features prominently. In a poll undertaken in 1981 by Edward D. Hoch on behalf of the Mystery Writers of America, 17 authors (including Jack Adrian, Barzun, Jon L. Breen, RE Briney, Jan Broberg, Ellery Queen, Douglas Greene, Howard Haycraft, Hoch himself, Marvin Lachman, Richard Levinson & William Link, Bill Pronzini, Julian Symons and Donald Yates) were asked to come up with a list of their favourite locked room mysteries: Crooked Hinge was voted as the fourth best locked room mystery of all time. Here is their top 10:

  1. The Hollow Man (US title: The Three Coffins) by Carr
  2. Rim of the Pit by Hake Talbot
  3. The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
  4. The Crooked Hinge by Carr
  5. The Judas Window by Carr (as ‘Carter Dickson’)
  6. The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill
  7. Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson
  8. The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen
  9. Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher
  10. The Ten Teacups (US title: The Peacock Feather Murders) by Carr (as ‘Carter Dickson’)

Otto Penzler recently wrote about his favourite locked room mysteries to coincide with his new anthology, The Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries (you can find it here), and gave a rundown of some of his favourite Carrs:

  • Below Suspicion
  • The Bride of Newgate
  • The Burning Court
  • Castle Skull
  • The Crooked Hinge
  • Death-Watch
  • Fire, Burn!
  • He Who Whispers
  • The Lost Gallows

Do you have a favourite or three that you would like to share with us? There are lots and lots of great titles to choose from!

Dickson-Queer-Complaints-panCarr wrote contemporary mysteries featuring Henri Bencolin, Gideon Fell and Henry Merrivale (when writing as ‘Carter Dickson) and most are locked room / impossible mysteries. However, he also wrote many historical mysteries. Indeed Carr was perhaps the first to really popularise the form with The Burning Court, The Devil in Velvet, The Bride of Newgate et al. He also wrote dozens of fantastic radio plays too.  One can of course include novels as well as short story collections (including The Department of Queer Complains, The Men Who Explained Miracles and The Third Bullet and other stories) as well as Douglas Greene terrific posthumous anthologies The Door to Doom, The Dead Sleep Lightly, Fell & Foul Play and Merrivale, March & Murder.

I’d love to know what your top 10 Carr books are – I have all his books listed on my website under his two main publishing names, if you need to be reminded of some of the titles:

The books as by John Dickson Carr

The books as by Carter Dickson 

The PuzzleDoctor has compiled his own top 10 and here it is, with the fabulous short story ‘The House In Goblin Wood’ added as the next item on the list if I weren’t focussing on books / collections rather than individual stories:

The PuzzleDoctor’s Top 10 books by John Dickson Carr

1. The Hollow Man
2. The Burning Court
3. The Judas Window
4. The Black Spectacles
5. The Case Of The Constant Suicides
6. She Died A Lady
7. Till Death Do Us Part
8. He Who Whispers
9. The Nine Wrong Answers
10. Murder in The Submarine Zone (aka Nine – And Death Makes Ten, aka Murder in the Atlantic)

But I have delayed, dallied and misdirected quite enough – drum roll please, here are my top 10 John Dickson Carr titles (for today). Wasn’t an easy choice and I might change my mind again after some feedback! Glad to see how many the PuzzleDoctor and myself agree upon – in chronological order (yes, I know, it’s a cheat …):

The Fedora’s Top 10 books by John Dickson Carr

  1. The Hollow Man (1935; aka The Three Coffins)
  2. The Burning Court (1937)
  3. The Ten Teacups (1937; aka The Peacock Feather Murders)
  4. The Judas Window (1938)
  5. The Emperor’s Snuffbox (1943)
  6. She Died A Lady (1943)
  7. He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944)
  8. Till Death Do Us Part (1944)
  9. Fire, Burn! (1957)
  10. The Door to Doom (1980) edited by Douglas G. Greene

Do you agree? I’d love to have your choices and create some sort of consolidated reader’s poll. So please let me know what your Carr favourites are and I promise to publish a full list of the results.

Oh, and I submit my Crooked Hinge review (published over here) for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the (of course) ‘locked room’ category:

vintage-golden-locked

***** (3.5 fedora tips)

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This entry was posted in 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, Carter Dickson, Gideon Fell, Henry Merrivale, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery. Bookmark the permalink.

111 Responses to Vote for your Top 10 John Dickson Carr books

  1. tracybham says:

    I am sure I read some of Carr’s books in my early mystery reading, but don’t have memories of specific books. So I cannot participate with a list. But it is nice to see these favorites all together in one post, to use as a guideline when I give his books a try again. Great post, Sergio.

  2. What an interesting undertaking, Sergio! Thanks to you both for doing this.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    My list is as follows. For a proper representation, I include 3 Fell, 3 Merrivale, 1 Bencolin, 1 non-series, 1 historical and 1 short stories.
    He who whispers (Fell)
    The hollow man (Fell)
    Till death do us part (Fell)
    The Judas window (Merrivale)
    She died a lady (Merrivale)
    My late wives (Merrivale)\
    The lost gallows (Bencolin)
    The Emperor’s snuff-box (non-series)
    Fire, burn ! (historical)
    The door to doom (short stories )

  4. Bev Hankins says:

    The Man Who Could Not Shudder
    NIne and Death Makes Ten
    The Peacock Feather Murders
    To Wake the Dead
    He Who Whispers
    The Men Who Explained Miracles
    The Case of the Constant Suicides
    Below Suspicion
    The Three Coffins
    The Lost Gallows

  5. Santosh Iyer says:

    Regarding The Crooked Hinge, I have given my comments in Puzzle Doctor’s blog.

  6. Yvette says:

    I read all the books once upon a time, but since I can’t remember which were my faves, I can’t participate either, Sergio. But one thing I do know, I loved CASTLE SKULL. Your post makes me realize I’m going to have to reread lots of these – well, it will be as if I’m reading them for the first time, so I have that to look forward to.

  7. Colin says:

    Great! I love lists!

    1 The Hollow Man (though I think I prefer Three Coffins as a title)
    2 The Judas Window
    3 The Plague Court Murders
    4 The Nine Wrong Answers (the first Carr I ever read)
    5 The Problem of the Green Capsule
    6 The Burning Court
    7 The Red Widow Murders
    8 The Crooked Hinge
    9 It Walks by Night (I like Castle Skull for atmosphere but the convoluted geography of the castle is mark against it for me)
    10 Death in Five Boxes

    That was tough actually.

  8. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    If I could remember anything about the JDC books I’ve read (and I read *many* about 30 years ago!) I would vote. But I can’t – age is a terrible thing! 🙂

  9. That’s an odd list of books from Otto Penzler. Maybe those are the ones where it’s easiest to describe the puzzle, rather than his favourites, as Death-Watch rather than The Judas Window? Seriously?

    And it’s always a shame to see that classic list that you opened with, Sergio. Notwithstanding the inclusion of The Crooked Hinge and The Ten Teacups (review – http://wp.me/p1fNuE-wK), one other book is spoiled by announcing it as a locked room, as it’s only an impossible crime in the sense that only one person could not have committed it. By announcing it as a locked room, it gives away the killer. Grrr.

    • I know what you mean, but ‘locked room’ means ‘impossible crime’ usually and it is a very bizarre murder scene so I’m not sure it is really a problem (but I remember how it bugged you).

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        It is immaterial whether it is called locked room or impossible crime. Both descriptions are spoilers. The reason is that it is locked room/impossible crime for only one person. Hence one can infer that that person is the murderer.

        • I take the point but that would only be apparent right at the end, right? After all, the reader doesn;t know if there is another murder in the last 15 pages and this is the locked room mystery all the critics were referring to, right? On the other hand the murder method so bizarre that I think most readers really enjoy this anyway. It was one of the first of the author’s books I read up to that point in my teens and I thoguht it was pretty nifty then – no idea what I’d make of it now.

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            Yes, the general reader would not think so deeply and would be least bothered. He will simply infer that there has been a misclassification. However, one has to be careful when dealing with people like the Puzzle Doctor !

          • It is definitely a fair point because the book is wrapped around the explanation of the bizarre murder and I got a huge kick out of it as a teen and would hate to see it spoiled, no question about it.

  10. I enjoy John Dickson Carr’s work, mostly the early mysteries. Here’s my list of my favorites:
    1 The Three Coffins
    2 The Judas Window
    3 The Plague Court Murders
    4 The Nine Wrong Answers
    5 The Problem of the Green Capsule
    6 He Who Whispers
    7 The Red Widow Murders
    8 The Crooked Hinge
    9 Castle Skull
    10 Death in Five Boxes

  11. Patrick says:

    Here’s my list, in no particular order and with no justification of any kind:

    HE WHO WHISPERS
    TILL DEATH DO US PART
    THE ARABIAN NIGHTS MURDER
    THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES
    NINE- AND DEATH MAKES TEN
    THE JUDAS WINDOW
    THE RED WIDOW MURDERS
    THE EMPEROR’S SNUFF-BOX
    THE BRIDE OF NEWGATE
    THE MURDER OF SIR EDMUND GODFREY

    I could probably justify my inclusions via blog post form, but that would take me time. I can try to do it, but for now, this hasty list will have to do.

  12. John says:

    Interesting to see the recurring titles on these lists. He Who Whispers and The Three Coffins seem to be the most popular. Here’s mine in alphabetical order because although I find it easy to pick a Top Ten I cannot rank them best to worst within that list. You’ll note I tend to rate highly the more fantastic of his books. That’s the reason I keep returning to Carr. Master of not only the locked room/impossible crime mystery but of the surreal & bizarre detective novel.

    The Burning Court
    Death Turns the Tables
    Department of Queer Complaints
    The Emperor’s Snuff Box
    He Who Whispers
    The Judas Window
    The Man Who Could Not Shudder
    The Problem of the Green Capsule
    The Reader Is Warned
    She Died a Lady

    • Brill – great to have Queer Complaints in there as well as reader is Warned, which keeps recurring but which I dropped at the last minute but am now having second doubts! I agree, ranking them for me would be impossible – just love his stuff too much for that. Thanks very much John 🙂

  13. Sergio, I can’t help you there as I have never read John Dickson Carr but yours and all the other lists should help me decide which ones to read first. Thanks for an eye-opening post.

  14. Stefano says:

    Mine:

    1) He Who Whispers
    2) The Judas Window
    3) The Emperor’s Snuff Box
    4) The Reader Is Warned
    5) The Burning Court
    6) The Plague Court Murders
    7) The Three Coffins
    8) The Peacock Feather Murders
    9) The Corpse in the Waxworks
    10) The Third Bullet

  15. Stefano says:

    I should also mention other 20-25 books 🙂
    Great lists!

    • I know – a top 10 is hopeless – a top 25, now that’s a bit more realistic 🙂 Really looking forward to bringing all the data together and seeing what comes out of it!

  16. What a fascinating read this is Sergio, great idea!
    I’m going to do a list of eight, and they’re not really in order, except for number one. After I’d written down 8 I liked, deciding against another half-dozen for my list, I looked at my reading records (going back more than 20 years) and there were 20 more books that I have read, but I couldn’t remember a thing about them. So I didn’t feel justified in adding the final two – time for some re-reading I think! But I could make it up to 10 with the Devil in Velvet and the Demoniacs, which were memorable, and I loved reading them years ago, but I don’t really put them in the same category as these:
    1) Crooked Hinge
    2) Till Death us do Part
    3) And so To Murder
    4) Judas Window
    5) Plague Court Murders
    6) Curse of the Bronze Lamp
    7) He wouldn’t Kill Patience
    8) He who Whispers

    • Thanks very much Moira – and great, considering where this all started, that you put Crooked Hinge first! Great list, thanks. I loved Devil in Velvet, though it has also been a while since I read that one.

      • Blimey – a mention of And So To Murder. Wasn’t expecting that…

        • Yes, and Curtis over on Facebook has been mentioning his love for another great atumaton story, The Gilded Man – but i’m not surprised as he is such a Rhode scholar (sic) … 🙂

          • When I blogged on And So To Murder a while back, I was a bit snooty, and said ‘not one of his best’. But when I was thinking about this list, I thought of how much I loved the filmset atmosphere, and the good characterization, and the Waterloo jokes – it earned its place!

          • Precisely Moira – so often with Carr it’s the tang and atmosphere that you remember as well as the mind-blowing plots! Apparently that one it was inspired by Carr’s experience of working on a film script with JB Priestley on a Korda production!

  17. 282daniele says:

    Here’s my list, in no particular order :

    Fire, Burn!
    The Bourning Court
    The Third Bullet
    He Who Whispers
    The Judas Window
    The Hollow Man
    The Plague Court Murders
    It Walks by Night
    The Lost Gallows
    The Red Widow Murders

    If the list had been more long (20 titles: perfect !), I would have inserted other titles :

    The Case of the Constant Suicides
    She Died a Lady
    The Crooked Hinge
    He wouldn’t Kill Patience
    Department of Queer Complaints
    The Emperor’s Snuff Box
    The Peacock Feather Murders
    To Wake the Dead
    Arabian Nights Murder
    The Problem of the Wire Cage

    Best.

    Pietro

  18. Santosh Iyer says:

    More than an hour ago, I received an email regarding your new post An Easter Egg Hunt, but it does not show on your site.

    • That is what, in the trade, we call a 100%, solid gold, cock up on my part 🙂 I got the settings wrong as that review won’t be ready to post for about another week – sorry about that …

  19. lesblatt says:

    OK, Sergio, here’s my list – in no particular order and (to be honest) including only ones I’ve reread relatively recently (and try saying THAT five times fast!):

    1. The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man
    2. The Judas Window
    3. The Case of the Constant Suicides
    4. He Who Whispers
    5. The Nine Wrong Answers
    6. The Plague Court Murders
    7. Hag’s Nook
    8. A Graveyard to Let
    9. The Blind Barber
    10. The Peacock Feather Murders

  20. John says:

    Just checking in (after your email alert) to see if that comment bug is still alive. Also wanted to say that it seems that there are definite “Best of Carr” titles as many are appearing repeatedly. I like seeing the occasional “white elephant” title like AND SO TO MURDER which I haven’t read and is rarely called one of his best. But even more interesting is the utter lack of some titles I thought would turn up at least once or twice in one of these lists. And so far not one mention of THE UNICORN MURDERS or THE WHITE PRIORY MURDERS each of which would make it to my Top 20 along with several books already mentioned.

    • My blogger incompatibility sadly continues – so far I am at a loss to understand what has happened as it was fine a few days ago. it doesn’t affect blogger sites that allow commenters to use the name / URL combination, but it didn’t used to matter – grrr! Yes, I was surprised especially by the absence of Unicorn but pleased to see Reader is Warned doing well. When ti comes to Carr, 10 is just not a big number (can;t imagine this happening with Sayers, can you? 🙂 )

  21. Colin says:

    I’m very much enjoying reading these lists as they come in. Some surprises and some titles that pop up time and again.
    I have a tradition that I always read a Carr at some point over the Christmas holidays (when I have time to just kick back and drink in all the fun) and I’ve been wondering which one to go for this year. I’ve been toying with the idea of maybe rereading Hag’s Nook or He Who Whispers as it’s been a while since I looked at either. I also have a fair number of titles (some mentioned here) I’ve yet to read and might go for one of those. Decisions, decisions…

    • Nice to be spoilt for choice, isn’t it? 🙂 I was thinking the same and am definitely leaning towards He Who Whispers, which so far is doing surprisingly well (I thought He Wouldn’t Kill Patience would get a lot more votes for instance) and none so far, as pointed out by John, for The Unicorn Murders.

      • Colin says:

        I haven’t read The Unicorn Murders myself yet although it’s sitting on the shelf. I think I may just give He Who Whispers the nod for Xmas.

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Initially I thought of Including He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, but because I wanted to give a proper representation of his entire work, it got excluded.
        I agree that a top 10 is hopeless and a top 20 would be the right thing considering that Carr has written so many excellent books.

        • Yes, I ended up cutting several myself (such as he Reader is Warned) for exactly the same reason, wanting to have some Fell, Merrivale, historicals and one collection with radio plays and short stories – so I stand by it but 10 is not enough … 🙂

    • Noah Stewart says:

      I like your idea of a Carr over the Christmas season, but you know there’s no police like Holmes for the holidays 😉

  22. Ronald Smyth says:

    Carr is my favourite author but I find it almost impossible to choose favourite books. Nevertheless, in no particular order:
    The Black Spectacles
    Castle Skull
    The Three Coffins
    The Judas Window
    Hag’s Nook
    The Peacock Feather Murders
    A Graveyard to Let
    The Peacock Feather Murders
    The Nine Wrong Answers
    He Who Whispers

  23. TomCat says:

    I hope Sergio and the ghost of John Dickson Carr can forgive my late response.

    THE PLAGUE COURT MURDERS (1934)
    THE HOLLOW MAN (1935)
    THE JUDAS WINDOW (1938)
    THE CROOKED HINGE (1938)
    NINE-AND DEATH MAKES TEN (1940)
    SHE DIED A LADY (1943)
    TILL DEATH DO US PART (1944)
    HE WHO WHISPERS (1946)
    THE BRIDE OF NEWGATE (1950)
    CAPTAIN CUT-THROAT (1955)

    By the way, did I ever mention JDC is my favorite mystery writer?

  24. Santosh Iyer says:

    SPOILER ALERT (The comments below are spoiler for The Nine Wrong Answers by Carr)

    I have just read The Greene Murder Case by S.S. Van Dyne. An incident in it reminded me of the “almost cheating” mentioned by the Puzzle Doctor.
    Vance tells Von Blon that –—— has been poisoned with morphine. Von Blon asks when was the murder discovered, assuming that the person is dead. Later, Vance clarifies that though ——- has been poisoned, ——–is alive and will survive.

  25. Noah Stewart says:

    Here’s my top ten by John Dickson Carr, under his own name and any of his pseudonyms. I think everyone finds my choices quite incomprehensible since I deliberately do not include Three Coffins; it simply is not one of my favourites. I should say that I am completely familiar with everything that Carr ever wrote so, no, it’s not that I haven’t read someone else’s favourite. These are in chronological order because so was the list I used to prepare this.
    * The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)
    * The Plague Court Murders (1934)
    * The White Priory Murders (1934)
    * The Red Widow Murders (1935)
    * The Burning Court (1937)
    * Death in Five Boxes (1938)
    * The Black Spectacles (1939)
    * She Died a Lady (1943)
    * The Sleeping Sphinx (1947)
    * The Skeleton in the Clock (1948)
    I haven’t even posted this yet and I’m already thinking I might change my mind about a couple of these, but … I’ve delayed enough already.

    • Thanks Noah – 10 is most definitely too few for Carr and I will be including a lot of honoyrable mentiuons in the final list – thanks again chum!

      • Noah Stewart says:

        I didn’t realize it was a weighted list!! Here’s my reranking, most favourite to least favourite:
        * The Red Widow Murders (1935)
        * The Plague Court Murders (1934)
        * The White Priory Murders (1934)
        * Death in Five Boxes (1938)
        * She Died a Lady (1943)
        * The Black Spectacles (1939)
        * The Sleeping Sphinx (1947)
        * The Skeleton in the Clock (1948)
        * The Burning Court (1937)
        * The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)

  26. neer says:

    Sorry for this late response, Sergio but for some reason I was unable to access your blog since this was posted.

    I haven’t read much of Carr, so cannot give you his top 10 (haven’t even read these many:), but here are the ones I like:

    1- 8: THE BURNING COURT (For the time-being it has replaced AND THEN THERE WERE NONE as my favourite mystery of all-time)

    9: THE THIRD BULLET AND OTHER STORIES (The title story is not too impressive but the other stories are fairly good)

    10: THE EIGHT OF SWORDS

    Sorry, but unlike the others I have no great affection for THE THREE COFFINS, BLACK SPECTACLES, and HE WHO WHISPERS.

    Looking forward to the final list.

    • Thanks very much Neeru – actually, I have been having a terrible time posting on Bliogger accounts for the last week (and have resorted to creating a blogger account just to leave comments) – this warfare with WordPress must end! 🙂

  27. curtis evans says:

    The Burning Court
    The Judas Window
    The Crooked Hinge
    He Who Whispers
    The Reader Is Warned
    She Died a Lady
    The Case of the Constant Suicides
    The Man Who Could Not Shudder
    Nine–and Death Makes Ten
    The Emperor’s Snuff-box

  28. Pingback: Fedora’s 2014 in numbers | Tipping My Fedora

  29. Anne H says:

    Maybe little late, and choosing among Carrs under either attribution is like nominating your favourite child, here’s my list:

    Undoubtedly no.1: The Crooked Hinge

    2 – 10 in no particular order:

    The Judas Window
    The Hollow Man
    A Graveyard to Let
    He Wouldn’t Kill Patience
    Hag’s Nook
    The Case of the Constant Suicides
    The Skeleton in the Clock
    He Who Whispers
    She Died a Lady

    • Thnaks Anne H – well, I donlt think many would argue with you here – all great titles and a very even spread between Fell and Merrivle – not a fan of the historicals then?

  30. Anne H says:

    The Devil in Velvet in particular and Fire, Burn! are both high on my personal list, but the later historicals are not in the same class as these and probably Fear is the Same. I don’t recall seeing any of them on other lists, where some popular choices are inspiring me to do some more re-reading to see what I may have missed.

    • Well, I think you picked the best three there, Anne! There is some truth in the received wisdom that Carr was at his bext until about 1950, whoch coincides with his turning to historical subjects – there were plenty of terrific novels ahead of him of course, but inevotably the titles from the 30s and 40s are the best remembered and I think with cause.

  31. Pingback: The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr – A Joint Review | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  32. matxil says:

    Here is my list:
    1. The Three Coffins aka The Hollow Man
    2. He Who Whispers
    3. The Arabian Nights Murder
    4. She Died a Lady
    5. The Problem of the Green Capsule aka The Black Spectacles
    6. The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey
    7. The Judas Window
    8. Poison in Jest
    9. The Mad Hatter Mystery
    10. Till Death us do Part

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  34. Pingback: The Lost Gallows – The Green Capsule

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