Keirans_JOHN-DICKSON-CARR-COMPANION_ramblehouseThis large and lovingly crafted tome is devoted to one of Fedora’s favourite authors, which made it a truly irresistible purchase. John Dickson Carr (1906-1977), truly the master of the locked room mystery and one of the greatest of Golden Age mystery authors, generated hundreds of short stories and radio plays as well as over 70 novels, many appearing under his transparent ‘Carter Dickson’ pseudonym. He was highly prolific (at his height in the 1930s he produced some 4 novels a year) and also helped establish the historical mystery genre and introduced fantasy elements too. Kierans has provided a dedicated alphabetical guide to his assorted works well as the people and places in them. And much more besides …

Inevitably, despite its impressive size, material has had to be left out, though one does also have to get used to its conventions to find what you are looking for. Indeed, I was instantly aware of this as the first thing I decided to look up, the ‘Murder Club’ from He Who Whispers, wasn’t apparently listed – or rather not under ‘M’ but I later found it, very satisfyingly, appearing instead under ‘L’ for ‘London’s Gentleman’s Clubs.’ Indeed, it appears with hundreds of other places as a dozen pages are devoted to London locations!

However, and let’s get this out of the way, there are also a few factual errors – but then, in a book this size, there were bound to be. Kierans provides a useful if slightly scrappy guide to international film and TV adaptations from Carr but admits he hasn’t actually seen most of them. This explains why he claims that the 1950 film, The Man in Black, was adapted from one of Carr’s scripts from Appointment with Fear as it definitely isn’t; while the Italian title for Julien Duvivier’s 1962 adaptation of The Burning Court is I peccatori della foresta nera, not ‘peddatori’ (a typo rather than a factual error). But really, this is merely nitpicking – who can resist a book delivered on such a great topic with such enthusiasm and attention to minute detail? One in which the section devoted to ‘Carrian methods of committing murder’ runs to 9 pages and is broken down into as many subsections? Just fabulous.

Packed full of info, this guide comes in at over 400 pages, 50 of which are given over just to the index (which, incidentally, was compiled with the help of Francis M. Nevins and Gavin L. O’Keefe). One of the delights is that along with details on his various works, we also get plenty of info on articles and essays on and by Carr, which I found to be incredibly helpful. And the 10-page section devoted to Latin phrases and proverbs was a real eye-opener! Thanks Mr Kierans, we loved your book and you made us very happy indeed.

You can get the book from all good booksellers (and Amazon too) as well as directly from the publishers, Ramble House. Let’s hope that for 2017, for the 50th anniversary of Carr’s death, they can be persuaded to bring together a collection of essays on the great man’s work, perhaps reprinting many of the tantalising essays listed in this one – that would make for a perfect adjunct to this highly entertaining compendium, which I recommend to all Carr fans without the least hesitation.

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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

59 Responses to THE JOHN DICKSON CARR COMPANION by James E. Keirans

  1. Santosh Iyer says:

    I note that an ebook version can also be ordered from Ramble House.

  2. Colin says:

    Thanks for calling attention to this as i was totally unaware of it. It looks like an invaluable resource for all Carr fans, and good fun too.

    I have some time off for Easter now and, like the Christmas holidays, I’ve decided to read some Carr when I have a bit of peace and quiet. I’ve just started on The Witch of the Low Tide, one I’ve not read before, and it’s shaping up very nicely indeed.

  3. Thanks for this review – I’m really looking forward to dipping into this one.

  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sounds fantastic, Sergio! And it sounds really helpful (even with a few factual errors) to the new-to-Carr reader who’d like some depth on his life and work. Thanks for sharing.

  5. realthog says:

    Sounds wonderful!

    This explains why he claims that the 1950 film, The Man in Black, was adapted from

    And, ahem, the movie was called just Man in Black, not The Man in Black.

    • Actually John I think there is legitimate room for debate here, much as I hate to disagree with you (specially after the splendid review of the film you wrote for you Noirish blog), as the definite article definitely (ahem) appears on screen:

      • realthog says:

        How curious. I double-checked (as always in such instances) with the opening credits while writing the piece. I’ll have to dig out my copy and see if one or other version is a reissue, or something.

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    The imdb article on Man In Black (1949) does give credit to John Dickson Carr.

    • James got the info from IMDb, but it’s misleading – Carr created the radio series the film is based on, and deserves a credit on screen most definitely (which he doesn’t get), but the film was not based on any of the actual Carr scripts from the show. It was an original script created in-house at Hammer.

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Yes, I checked all the Carr scripts from the radio series and find that the film is not based on any of them. Also, I have seen the beginning of the film (it is available on You Tube) and as you mentiond, Carr does not get any credit in the film.

        • In those days I think it was an arrangement between the BBC and the film company – the original authors were rarely involved – and in this case, it’s easy to see why. Obviously if one of his scripts had been used, they would have credited him. Ah well …

  7. I’m in two minds about getting the book, mostly because while I’d like to get info on a particular book, I don’t want to be spoiled on one that I haven’t read or just forgotten about. How disciplined is the book at not dropping casual spoilers?

  8. tracybham says:

    I love mystery reference books and this one isn’t too, too expensive. I had not thought of the possibility of spoilers… if anything, my definition of spoilers is about as extreme as can be. I want to know very little about the tale going in. But since I have little experience with this author, it seems like it would be useful to me.

    • realthog says:

      I love mystery reference books and this one isn’t too, too expensive.

      The ebook is $3.99, which seems a bargain.

      • If you have an e-reader (which I don’t) – also, how do indexes work on those devices as there are no page numbers on kindle, right?

        • realthog says:

          Usually with clicky-type links, I believe. My own e-reading experience is in its infancy!

          • Thanks for that – my parenst are always complaining about the lack of page numbers on their kindles!

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            Amazon introduced the provision of real page numbers (i.e. page numbers same as in a print edition) in their kindle books some years back. There is now an option in Kindle to display the page number at the bottom of the screen.
            To find out whether a kindle book has this facility, go to the description page of the kindle book at Amazon. After the kindle price information, the length is mentioned. Check whether “Contains Real Page Numbers” is mentioned in brackets. If so, click on the drop down arrow at the end of the line to find the ISBN no. of the print edition whose page no. is being used.
            If real page numbers are used, the word appearing at the top left of the screen is taken as the reference. Whatever page number this word appears in the print edition, it is displayed at the bottom of the screen.

          • So it depends on the specific edition – i.e. it depends on the publisher, yes? Thanks, I’ll pass that along.

    • All the publishged novels, short stories and radio plays are given a brief synopsis, and that’s it – but the 400 pages provide much more besides – well worth it Tracy!

      • tracybham says:

        The price of the e-book is very good, but I find in a reference book that I want to pull it off a shelf. So I will aim for a paperback edition.

        • This is what is stopping me getting into e-books frankly – but I also think this is why paper editions will not be going away any time soon. At least, I hope not …

  9. Santosh Iyer says:

    Incidentally, the ebook version of this book is available only at Ramble House and it costs 6 dollars. They accept only paypal or cheque. I have sent a request to Ramble House to get the kindle edition published at Amazon which will benefit many readers.

    • It is certainly a very good price – I dare say Ramble House would have to put up the price if it went on kindle though because Amazon takes such a large cut while insisting that the price they have is applied universally.

  10. Sounds great, will have to get a copy. I love my kindle, but I think in this case a paper copy is called for.

  11. Sergio, I have started reading my first ever book by John Dickson Carr (title concealed for now) and will review it as soon as I finish reading. This one’s going to be for you, Sergio!

  12. Zeno says:

    Does this book contain spoilers?

    • Not as far as I could tell 🙂

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Yes, most people would regard it as spoiler-free. However, there is one mystery blog site owner who may think otherwise.
        For example, the entry on “And So To Murder” by Carter Dickson mentions,” Attempts are made on the lives of both women.” However, the attempt on the second woman is made only after 80% of the book is over. Now the mystery blog owner follows the 30% rule I.e. he doesn’t want to know any significant thing beyond 30% of the book. Hence he may regard it as a spoiler !

        • I think the good Doctor would accept that such a broad plot description falls well within the bounds of the acceptable in that people’s definitions do tend to vary – murderer names are never given away and murder methods are not spoiled – with Carr that is what I would consider to be important.

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