Authors: John Dickson Carr

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

It Walks by Night, 1930

The Lost Gallows, 1931

Castle Skull, 1931

The Corpse in the Waxworks, 1932 (pb. in England as The Waxworks Murder)

Poison in Jest, 1932

Hag’s Nook, 1933

The Mad Hatter Mystery, 1933

The Bowstring Murders, 1933 (as Carr Dickson; as Carter Dickson in England, 1934)

The Eight of Swords, 1934

The Blind Barber, 1934

The Plague Court Murders, 1934 (as Carter Dickson)

The White Priory Murders, 1934 (as Carter Dickson)

Devil Kinsmere, 1934 (as Roger Fairbairn)

Death-Watch, 1935

The Three Coffins, 1935 (pb. in England as The Hollow Man)

The Red Widow Murders, 1935 (as Carter Dickson)

The Unicorn Murders, 1935 (as Carter Dickson)

The Arabian Nights Murder, 1936

The Burning Court, 1937

The Four False Weapons, 1937

The Punch and Judy Murders, 1937 (as Carter Dickson; pb. in England as The Magic-Lantern Murders, 1936)

The Peacock Feather Murders, 1937 (as Carter Dickson)

To Wake the Dead, 1938

The Crooked Hinge, 1938

The Judas Window, 1938 (as Carter Dickson)

Death in Five Boxes, 1938 (as Carter Dickson)

The Problem of the Green Capsule, 1939 (pb. in England as The Black Spectacles)

The Problem of the Wire Cage, 1939

Fatal Descent, 1939 (as Carter Dickson, with John Rhode; pb. in England as Drop to His Death)

The Reader Is Warned, 1939 (as Carter Dickson)

The Man Who Could Not Shudder, 1940

And So to Murder, 1940 (as Carter Dickson)

Nine–and Death Makes Ten, 1940 (as Carter Dickson; pb. in England as Murder in the Submarine Zone)

The Case of the Constant Suicides, 1941

Death Turns the Tables, 1941 (pb. in England as The Seat of the Scornful, 1942)

Seeing Is Believing, 1941 (as Carter Dickson)

The Emperor’s Snuff-Box, 1942

The Gilded Man, 1942 (as Carter Dickson)

She Died a Lady, 1943 (as Carter Dickson)

Till Death Do Us Part, 1944

He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, 1944 (as Carter Dickson)

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, 1945 (as Carter Dickson); pb. in England as Lord of the Sorcerors, 1946)

He Who Whispers, 1946

My Late Wives, 1946 (as Carter Dickson)

The Sleeping Sphinx, 1947

The Skeleton in the Clock, 1948 (as Carter Dickson)

Below Suspicion, 1949

A Graveyard to Let, 1949 (as Carter Dickson)

The Bride of Newgate, 1950

Night at the Mocking Widow, 1950 (as Carter Dickson)

The Devil in Velvet, 1951

The Nine Wrong Answers, 1952

Behind the Crimson Blind, 1952 (as Carter Dickson)

The Cavalier’s Cup, 1953 (as Carter Dickson)

Captain Cut-Throat, 1955

Patrick Butler for the Defence, 1956

Fear Is the Same, 1956 (as Carter Dickson)

Fire, Burn!, 1957

The Dead Man’s Knock, 1958

Scandal at High Chimneys, 1959

In Spite of Thunder, 1960

The Witch of the Low-Tide, 1961

The Demoniacs, 1962

Most Secret, 1964 (rewrite of Devil Kinsmere)

The House at Satan’s Elbow, 1965

Panic in Box C, 1966

Dark of the Moon, 1967

Papa La’-Bas, 1968

The Ghosts’ High Noon, 1969

Deadly Hall, 1971

The Hungry Goblin, 1972

Short Fiction:

The Department of Queer Complaints, 1940 (as Carter Dickson)

Dr. Fell, Detective, and Other Stories, 1947

The Third Bullet, and Other Stories, 1954

The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, 1954 (with Adrian Conan Doyle)

The Men Who Explained Miracles, 1963

The Door to Doom, and Other Detections, 1980 (Douglas C. Greene, editor)

The Dead Sleep Lightly, 1983 (Greene, editor)

Fell and Foul Play, 1991 (Greene, editor)

Merrivale, March, and Murder, 1991 (Greene, editor)

Nonfiction:

The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, 1936

The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1949

The Grandest Game in the World, 1963 (pamphlet)

Biography

John Dickson Carr was one of the leading authors of the so-called Golden Age of the detective novel that lasted from roughly 1925 to 1945. He was the only child of Wooda M. Carr, a lawyer and one-term Democratic congressman, and Julia Kisinger, with whom Carr had a contentious relationship. From his father, Carr inherited his love of reading and reverence for the past as well as a tendency toward alcoholism, and some of his leading characters’ histrionics can be attributed to those of his father.{$I[A]Carr, John Dickson}{$S[A]Dickson, Carr;Carr, John Dickson}{$S[A]Dickson, Carter;Carr, John Dickson}{$S[A]Fairbairn, Roger;Carr, John Dickson}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Carr, John Dickson}{$I[tim]1906;Carr, John Dickson}

During his youth, Carr wrote a newspaper column in his hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, revealing in one a lifelong antipathy toward realism in fiction. His years at Hill School (1922-1925) and Haverford College (1925-1927) were scholastically uneventful, but at both he revealed indications of his later stunning productiveness, publishing poetry, plays, and fiction. In 1927 he cut his education short and traveled to Europe, where his stay in France gave him the background for some of his early novels. In 1929 he moved to Brooklyn Heights, New York, after taking up his parents’ challenge to support himself solely through his writing.

During his second trip to Europe in 1930, he met Clarice Cleaves, an Englishwoman, whom he would marry in 1932. By this time, Carr had come to an agreement with his publishers that he receive, instead of biannual royalty checks, a monthly stipend, in return for publishing two novels a year. Carr, however, had more than merely two novels a year in him, and he arranged that another publisher bring out a different series of novels; this publisher settled on him the transparent pen names Carr Dickson and Carter Dickson. Carr’s need to publish so much appears to have been not merely financial; a friend said Carr had to produce four books annually “to stay happy.”

In 1933, Carr and his wife moved to Britain, ostensibly for economic reasons; however, given Carr’s conservatism, perhaps the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal contributed to it. They would spend much of the next fifteen years in Britain, living at times near Clarice’s parents near Bristol, at others, at various locations in London. During these years, Carr’s three daughters were born, with whom he had a distant yet affectionate relationship. This period was by far his most productive, with twenty-eight detective novels published during the 1930’s alone.

During World War II, Carr was allowed by the American government to remain in England to produce propaganda plays for the BBC, but his most important radio work was for two classic series: Suspense in the United States and Appointment with Fear for the BBC. Some of the fall-off in Carr’s book production can be attributed to his having to come up with so many plots for these series; indeed, he would recycle some of them in his later works. In 1947, incensed at the beginnings of the modern welfare state in Britain, Carr returned to the United States. Soon after, he began writing historical adventure-romances in addition to his detective novels, but they almost always contained a strong mystery element as well. During the 1950’s, Carr peripatetically moved among the United States, Tangiers, and, for a five-year period, Britain once again. In 1963 he suffered a stroke, from which most critics date a significant decline in the quality of his works. In 1965, Carr moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where he spent the rest of his life.

Carr was the supreme practitioner of the locked-room or “impossible crime” type of mystery. He relished the form precisely for its unreality, always emphasizing the “how” and the “who” of the mystery over the “why,” leading to the widespread accusation that he could not draw characters. Indeed, his most memorable characters, like those of other Golden Age authors, are his detectives: Henri Bencolin, whose Mephistophelean air reveals him as the liminal figure between “reality” and the gothic mysteries he solves; Dr. Gideon Fell, part G. K. Chesterton and part Samuel Johnson, Carr’s most successful creation; and Sir Henry Merrivale, part Mycroft Holmes and part Winston Churchill, by way of P. G. Wodehouse and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy–Carr’s most comic creation, although for some, a little Marrivale goes much too long a way.

In Carr’s best mysteries, the duel is not between villain and detective but between author and reader. “Baffling, ludicrous, terrible” are the three key words to describe Carr’s mysteries. Like the magicians he so loved, Carr relished misdirecting the reader in his use of the enigmatic clue or the disparate set of clues (which could also be used for humorous effect). The atmosphere of the supernatural that surrounds so many of his mysteries exists, on the basic level, to be dissipated by the light of reason in what Carr called the “thunderbolt ending.” The effectiveness of this ending delicately depends on the fair play, ingenuity, and overall construction of the presentation of the mystery, so that the reader does not feel in any way cheated. In short, Carr strived for that elusive “sense of wonder” that so many authors of popular literature of the time sought, and his achievement lies in the impressive consistency with which he achieved it.

BibliographyAmis, Kingsley. “Unreal Detectives.” In What Became of Jane Austen? and Other Questions. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970. An appreciation of Carr (among others) by one of Britain’s leading postwar writers. To Amis, Dr. Fell is one of only three worthy successors to Sherlock Holmes, and Carr’s best novels are “minor masterpieces.”“Carr, John Dickson.” In Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks and Maureen Corrigan. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1998.Greene, Douglas C. John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles. New York: Otto Penzler Books, 1995. Indispensable biography and full-length study of Carr’s works, with an exhaustive bibliography. Greene’s main thesis is that Carr’s explanations of seemingly miraculous events reveal a fundamental belief in the rationality of the universe.Greene, Douglas C. “A Mastery of Miracles: G. K. Chesterton and John Dickson Carr.” Chesterton Review 10 (August, 1984): 307-315. This article pays homage to Carr’s work particularly as it relates to that of G. K. Chesterton. Greene concentrates on Carr’s short fiction but includes some biographical information too. Notes on sources are given at the end of the article.Joshi, S. T. John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990. Joshi’s study complements that of Douglas C. Greene. Joshi finds Carr’s thematic interest to be ethical: Carr’s explanations show the pervasiveness of human evil. Valuable chapters on Carr’s philosophy and theories of detective writing.Keirans, James E. Poisons and Poisoners in the Mysteries of John Dickson Carr: An Aficionado’s Vademecum. South Benfleet, Essex: CADS, 1996.Malmgren, Carl D. Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green States University Popular Press, 2001. Includes readings of four of Carr’s novels. Bibliographic references and index.Panek, LeRoy. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987. References to Carr’s work–in particular, his short fiction–are scattered throughout this text. Good for setting Carr in the context of his time. An index and a list of reference works are given at the end, and a separate list of history and criticism texts is also included.Panek, LeRoy. “John Dickson Carr.” In Watteau’s Shepherds: The Detective Novel in Britain, 1914-1940. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1979. Despite Carr’s nationality, he is considered one of the finest British mystery writers. In his text, Panek devotes a detailed chapter to Carr, covering Carr’s most famous detectives and works, including both long and short fiction. An appendix outlines the structure of the detective story. Supplemented by a chronology of Carr’s works, notes on the Carr chapter, and an index.Taylor, Robert Lewis. “Two Authors in an Attic, Part I.” The New Yorker 27 (September 8, 1951): 39-44, 46, 48.Taylor, Robert Lewis. “Two Authors in an Attic, Part II.” The New Yorker 27 (September 15, 1951): 36-40, 42, 46, 48, 51. This pair of articles is extremely useful for detailed biographical information, as well as for Carr’s own thoughts on his writing. Carr discusses with Taylor which writers influenced him most and goes into detail about his political and philosophical views. Invaluable for getting a personal look at Carr, despite its lack of references.
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