Monday, November 25, 2013

Is This Carr's WORST Novel?

By J. Morris.
CADS Supplement 13.
2011. 54 pages.
Illustrated with diagrams, maps, and photographs.
Appendix I: Floor Plan of the Crime Scene.
Appendix II: "The London of THE THREE COFFINS" by Tony Medawar.
Previously on ONTOS, there was a posting about John Dickson Carr's immensely popular THE THREE COFFINS (a.k.a. THE HOLLOW MAN) editorially wondering out loud whether it might be his best novel.

If you're in the same crowd with Edward D. Hoch and Julian Symons who thought it was, after reading J. Morris's CADS monograph, you might change your mind.

In his introduction, Morris tells us:
There are elements of THE THREE COFFINS which I admire greatly, and these will be pointed out from time to time in what follows, and highlighted in the concluding section. However, my analysis is overall extremely critical of Carr's book. Unlike, for instance, THE CROOKED HINGE or THE JUDAS WINDOW . . . THE THREE COFFINS, in my view as against [Douglas] Greene's, can only disappoint, the more carefully it is reread. Its defects are wider and deeper than the two or three most commonly noted difficulties with the main plot construction.
Essentially, by a close reading of the text, Morris has identified over two dozen mistakes which Carr and his supposedly punctilious editors somehow overlooked when the book went to press. Typically these errors are of a factual or logical nature, given what has been established in Carr's narrative, thus threatening to unravel the author's own carefully wrought construction:
I will point out discrepancies, unexplained facts, impossibilities, implausibilities, misdirection that I consider unfair—and occasional moments of inspired mystification. In any analysis of this sort, meta-questions about fair-play conventions will necessarily arise, and I will point these out but not pursue them at great length.
As Morris notes, Carr occasionally trips himself up due to a tendency—not always indulged in—towards what Morris terms Unnecessary Webwork, imposing thematic resonances that could easily have been dispensed with.
Among the twenty-five "problems" Morris discovers in THE THREE COFFINS, he pinpoints six of them as being major flaws:
"The Problem of the Unnoticed Haze"
"The Problem of the Dying Man's Lie"
"The Problem of the Bamboozled Detective"
"The Problem of the Panicked Murderer"
"The Famous Time Problem"
"The Problem of Twenty Minutes"
To be fair to Carr, Morris also gives six good reasons why THE THREE COFFINS should not be scorned, even with all its defects.

And be forewarned: Morris tells us that A HOLLOW VICTORY? is "one huge spoiler, for obvious reasons. Those unfamiliar with THE THREE COFFINS should leave the premises."

All in all, A HOLLOW VICTORY? is a fine addition to Golden Age of Detection scholarship.

Category: Detective fiction

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