Friday, November 8, 2013

Is This Carr's Best Novel?

THE THREE COFFINS.
By John Dickson Carr.
Harper's.
1935. 306 pages. $2.00
[a.k.a. THE HOLLOW MAN]
Many think THE THREE COFFINS is the epitome of JDC's work, but there are demurrers. Let's just say it's "one of his best" and let it go at that.

Here is a contemporary review in THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 21, 1935), archived here:
Murders of London "illusionist" and dabbler in magic reveal Dr. Fell's knowledge of vampires and the black arts. - Imposingly transparent solution of "impossible" crime involves almost too many "traps"—but takes the cake for creeps. - Verdict: Class A.
Excerpts from other, less contemporary assessments:
As Douglas Greene pointed out in THE MAN WHO EXPLAINED MIRACLES (1995), his exhaustive and authoritative study of Carr, THE THREE COFFINS (1935) is that rare exception—a book that can be read with equal enjoyment two, three, or more times, even though the ending is already known. — Edward Marston, THE RAP SHEET (August 29, 2008)
Modern readers are often dismissive of locked-room mysteries, thinking them hopelessly old-fashioned. Yet, as John Pugmire and Steve Lewis point out in an excellent assessment at the MYSTERY*FILE site, these tales have not only enjoyed a robust history but continue to be written and relished today. — J. Kingston Pierce, THE RAP SHEET (September 25, 2007)
Above all, Carr takes risks. He goes all-out to baffle and mystify the reader. Red herrings abound; nothing can be taken for granted. His job is to fix, baffle and misdirect; the reader's job is to see through it all and penetrate to the heart of the mystery before the detective does. And Carr tries to be scrupulously fair. The clues are all in place; in some books, in fact, their location is pointed out with footnotes during the denouement. A Carr book is a Times Crossword Puzzle for detection fans . . . at the height of his powers Carr was the detective writer's detective writer—and THE HOLLOW MAN is one of his very best. — Jon, The GAD Wiki
Certainly not Carr's best work. However the plot, setting, puzzle, clueing and deductions are so superior to much written in the golden age with the result the book has to be recommended as well worth reading. — A. G. McLean, The GAD Wiki
Category: Detective fiction 

3 comments:

  1. Hi -- You might be interested in a monograph I wrote that was published as a CADS supplement a couple of years ago. It's called "John Dickson Carr's The Three Coffins: A Hollow Victory?" and contains a complete analysis of the novel's strategies. My conclusion is that "the plotting, execution, and solution are all seriously askew." It's available only in England, I'm afraid, but I'd be glad to send you a copy.

    Best,

    J. Morris

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  2. I would certainly like to read your monograph. What is its format? It would be ideal if it's a PDF.

    Best regards,
    Mike

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    Replies
    1. My text probably exists electronically somewhere on my computer, but the published booklet includes some photos and a terrific essay by Tony Medawar on "The London of The Three Coffins." Therefore, I would be happy to mail you a copy gratis, if you'll email me your snailmail address. I myself live in Maryland, so postage is no biggie. morris.jr@comcast.net

      Best,

      J.

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