John Dickson Carr Poll – The Results!

Carr-GreeneWe’ve had some great responses to this poll, both here and over at the Golden Age Detection group on Facebook, leading to some genuine surprises. Let’s put it this way, if I’d put money on which book would come top of the poll, I’d have lost! However, everyone did agree that limiting the list to just 10 books was much too difficult with Carr! Marks were awarded out of 10 for each book, with 10 for the first ranked and 1 for the last. Points were spread equally across the top 10 where no ranking was given.

But enough of the intro – drum roll please as we pull back the curtain to reveal your top 10 book by the master of the impossible mystery.

So, in reverse numerical order (well, I have to drag this out a little bit) …

Carr-910. The Nine Wrong Answers (1951) – 36 points (6 votes)
Unfairly ignored because it’s a stand-alone post war novel with no recurring detective and not one of his historicals, this is none the less an often dazzling performance, based on his classic Suspense radio play ‘Will You Make A Bet With Death?’ (you can listen to it here). Yes it’s overlong (which is why most paperback reprints were often considerably shortened – the reader is, er, warned …)

9. Nine – And Death Makes Ten (1940) – 37.5 points (6 votes)
(aka Murder in The Submarine Zone aka Murder in the Atlantic)
The second Carr I ever read so very glad to see this ship-bound mystery do so well here.

Carr-lady8. She Died a Lady (1943) – 39 points (7 votes)
A great whodunit and a great impossible crime mystery in which Henry Merrvale has to figure out how a set of footprints leading to an edge of a cliff without any returning is still murder for the couple found at the bottom. I came to this one after reading many of the old man’s cases – and was stunned by how good it was.

Carr-Emperors-Snuff-Box-cg7 – TIE
The Emperor’s Snuffbox (1943) – 45 points (9 votes)
One of Carr’s own favourites – a stand-alone that relies on a brilliant piece of misdirection that I think even severe critics will agree is perfectly fair. I previously reviewed it here.

7 – TIE
The Black Spectacles (1939) (aka The Case of the Green Capsule) – 45 points (8 votes)
Combining stagecraft with moviemaking, Carr pulls a massive narrative coup to deliver a stunning surprise ending despite a pool of suspects so small that this should not be possible. I previously reviewed it here.Carr-part

6. Till Death Do Us Part (1944) – 53 points (8 votes)
Like She Died A Lady, but this time featuring Gideon Fell, this is too often overlooked in the detective’s cases – but it’s a superb mystery, brilliantly realised and deserves its place here at the high table.

5. The Plague Court Murders (1934) – 54.5 points (8 votes)Carr-plague
I was surprised to see Merrivale’s debut adventure score quite so well but there is no denying that it is a strong performance, oozing with atmosphere.

4. The Burning Court (1937) – 70 points (12 votes)
I thought this might come in at number one for a while – perhaps the best-known of his historical mysteries and perhaps, for its hint of the supernatural, maybe his most controversial. Unforgettable, either way.

3. The Hollow Man (1935) – 85 points (13 votes)HollowMan
And here we have our biggest surprise and to me a major upset – one had got so used to this one coming on top that it’s a bit of a shock to see it not only come third but also by a considerable margin. It’s hard to imagine it ever falling out of top echelons of Carr mystification though as it is a smashing performance – and who can forget the ‘Locked Room lecture’

2. The Judas Window (1938) – 98 points (16 votes)
A brilliant locked room puzzle, a great courtroom story and with a surprise villain too that sees Merrivale at something like his best (even Victor Meldrew has read this one!). This is just the most fantastic entertainment imaginable really. If you are in the mood for a classic Golden Age mystery with a baffling plot, well, I think we all agree, there is just no need to look any further. Incidentally, I previously reviewed it here.

Carr-whispers1. He Who Whispers (1946) – 100.5 points (16 votes)
I was utterly stunned by how well this book did – it says a lot about the perspicacity of the voters that one of the lesser-known titles did so well – I will certainly be rereading this one very soon! [update: I reviewed it here]

Having made our way through this terrific top 10 (well, 11 really) I though it might be worth also looking at those that also made the cut. We should in fact also congratulate the runners-up, because the next three did extremely well and came very, very close to making it into the list. In effect what I realise we have generated here is something of a top 14 – but then, ten choices really were far too few! So, after the top 11, next up, we have:

In eleventh position: The Ten Teacups (1937) (aka The Peacock Feather Mystery) 30.5 points (6 votes)
One of my personal top 10 for this poll, but a book that seems to have fallen slightly out of favour, perhaps due to the elaborate and perhaps overly complicated method of its murder and its admitted reliance (or over-reliance) on coincidence – I still love it for its sheer ingenuity and bravado though! And then we come to another draw between two titles:

Carr-constantJointly twelfth: The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) – 28.5 points (5 votes)
The Crooked Hinge (1938) – 28.5 points (5 votes)

Always a popular title, Suicides is not usually put in the first rank so did surprisingly well none the less; on the other hand, Hinge was considered for a long time a top ranking Carr but has fallen surprisingly low by comparison – but I still like it a lot! Also, it’s the book that got this poll started, so honour is due. The PuzzleDoctor and myself discussed its merits over at his blog, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.

If anyone is interested in downloading a spreadsheet with all the results, click the following link: CARR-TOP-10 – revised

Special thanks to the PuzzleDoctor and to all those who participated – it was great fun!

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This entry was posted in 'In praise of ...', Carter Dickson, Gideon Fell, Henry Merrivale, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to John Dickson Carr Poll – The Results!

  1. Colin says:

    Excellent. I honestly couldn’t argue with any of the top 10 (or 11) and I’m not entirely surprised by the No1 – it’s such a terrifically entertaining story.

    • Thanks Colin. It is always good when you get a clear winner (especially with several ties) but I of course assumed it would be Hollow Man / Three Coffins as usual …

      • Colin says:

        Sometimes reputation can work against things and force people to consider the alternatives where they might not normally do so. Either way, it still comes in very near the top.
        Also, it’s good to see The Nine Wrong Answers edging its way onto the list.

  2. richmcd says:

    Oh sorry, I forgot to submit my Top 10. I doubt I would have upset much, although I also like The Ten Teacups a lot. It’s maybe not the strongest book outside the impossible crime, but the idea that makes the impossibility possible is sheer genius. Probably Carr’s second best impossible crime idea, outside of the one in The Hollow Man. Simple and unique.

    I’d also have ranked Nine and Death Makes Ten a lot higher, probably at the expense of Till Death Do Us Part, which I think is far too obvious to rank in the Top 10.

    I’m surprised The Reader is Warned didn’t feature. I’d have put that high as well. Not without its flaws, of course, but then what Carr is? I think the blending of atmosphere and puzzle there is just brilliant.

    It’s amazing how divisive Carr is, even among fans. I’d bet a Christie Top 10 wouldn’t show as much variety, despite there being almost twice as many novels to choose from.

    • We did miss you Rich, but fair enough chum, you’re on medical leave 🙂 I know what you mean about Christie, though it’s about the same number of books to choose from and I am always astounded when it turns out people love Brown Suit or the other thrillers, which I have never thought much of. I ended up dropping Reader is Warned, which did get several votes though, in favour of Door to Doom as I wanted some short stories and radio plays. Amazed no one nominated his biography of Doyle actually …

  3. realthog says:

    It’s a very good Top Ten (or Eleven, or Twelve, or . . .). I’m surprised that It Walks By Night and The Waxworks Murder seem never to feature in Carr-related lists. I can remember the former scaring the pants off me in a way no other Carr novel has ever done.

    Among my own top ten Carr books (as opposed to novels) I think I might also find space for The Department of Queer Complaints.

    • Thanks John – the Bencolin books certainly got votes, but got elbowed out by the better-known titles,as did Queer Complains – I suspect most people went with novels rather than collections.

  4. Ah. I hope you realised that my list, like yours, was chronological, not ranked… Might have given She Died A Lady a bit of a boost. Surprised to see Plague Court there but otherwise, that’s an outstanding list of recommendations for anyone.

  5. I’ve really enjoyed this whole venture very much Sergio, and am now determined to do some JDC re-reading – and feel I have a handy checklist of which ones to go for! Thanks for organizing, it’s been great.

    • That’s the best one could hope for Moira – in the spirit of the, err, amateur sleuth, it turns out I got my numbers wrong with regard to the PuzzleDoctor’s votes – so am just about the revise the totals, with He Who Whispers actually coming out on top ahead of Judas Window! I am definitely going to be re-reading it this Christmas.

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        I repeat my comments which I made regarding He Who Whispers in Puzzle Doctor’s post on it in August 2013:
        ” I regard it as a masterpiece, a must for mystery fans. I rate this higher than even
        “The Three Coffins” (which in my opinion contained a serious flaw—the time mix up of 40 minutes, clearly absurd).
        The book is a page turner and it is difficult to put down the book till the end. It is very well clued without any flaw.
        In creation of supernatural atmosphere , Carr is at his best here.”

  6. lesblatt says:

    What a great list. I’ve linked to it with a post from my blog because, as I say to my readers, newcomers to Carr can pick any one of those ten…er, eleven…and couldn’t possibly go wrong. I’m very glad “The Nine Wrong Answers” crashed into the top – I think that book is often seriously underrated. It’s one of the very few books that completely took me in (along with Elizabeth Daly’s “The Book of the Dead” and Christianna Brand’s “Green for Danger).

  7. Great list, Sergio. I hate to admit but I’ve never read a John Dickson Carr story—I think I have one or two but don’t remember which—but I will be using this as a reference to determine which I’ll read first. So from my perspective, it’s a VERY useful list, thanks. 🙂

  8. Cool. I’ll be bookmarking this so I know what to add to the to-read list!

  9. Sergio, many thanks for lining up the best novels by Dickson Carr. I’ll be starting with “He Who Whispers” and proceed from there. In my limited reading experience, I have found that some of the best work by authors are often their least or lesser-known titles.

  10. John says:

    It’s amazing that HE WHO WHISPERS come out as number one since it employs a cliché final twist that is almost universally derided when it is encountered by modern readers in any mystery. I love it! It earns a very high place in my Top Ten. Not sure if it’s #1, but it’s easily among the Top 5. Carr can get away with almost anything, even the old chestnut tricks, and still be thought innovative.

    Yesterday, in literally tearing apart my “book warehouse” (aka the second bedroom, off limits to all almost like a forbidden wing in a Gothic novel) while looking for a Gil Brewer book I found a copy of NINE AND DEATH MAKES THEN that I had no idea I owned. And I bought it last year according to the tag inside! Never read it but will be doing so soon.

    Had fun reading other’s opinions and seeing what ranks high. Thanks for this, Sergio!

    • Thank you John 🙂 I am really, really looking forward to re-reading Whispers as I don’t remember much (certainly not the last twist) and as for Nine – and Death Makes Ten, really hope you enjoy it. As a teenage Carr newbie there was some cleverness over fingerprints that completely knocked me out at the time!

  11. TomCat says:

    Did I miss this post? I missed this post. Obviously, I have to read The Nine Wrong Answers and The Crooked Hinge might have lost popularity due to its mislabeling as an impossible crime. Technically, it really isn’t, and in recent years it has become available again and readers might have expected more from it.

    I boo the fact that Captain Cut-Throat didn’t made the list. Now there’s an under appreciated John Dickson Carr novel. None of the historical mysteries seem to have made the list. Not even The Bride of New Gate, The Murder or Sir Edmund Godfrey or The Devil in Velvet! Baffling. Truly baffling.

    • We missed you TC 🙂 Well, Burning Court did well and represents the historicals to some degree at least, but the vote was spread among the other several titles (my other historical choice, Fire, Burn did quite well). I agree, the Napoleonic Captain Cutthroat is overdue some love. It’s not one of his hardest to find thamnkfully …

  12. Pingback: The Puzzly – The ISOTCMN Book Of The Month – November 2014 – In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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