We’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) …
10. 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.
8. 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.
7 – 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.
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)
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)
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’ delivered by Dr Gideon Fell.
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 – so, 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.
1. 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 amazingly well – I reviewed it here.
Having made our way through this terrific top 10 (well, 11 really), I thought it might be worth also looking at those that nearly 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, 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 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:
Jointly 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 but never one to be rated in the top tier (sic), Suicides did surprisingly well none the less; on the other hand, Hinge, once considered a top ranking Carr title, has fallen surprisingly low by comparison. But I still like it a lot and as 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!