#424: Oh, Henry! – Ranking the First Ten Henry Merrivale Novels (1934-40) by Carter Dickson

Merrivale 10

I have previously ranked the first ten Gideon Fell novels by John Dickson Carr, and having now read And So to Murder (1940) — the tenth of his novels to feature Sir Henry ‘H.M.’ Merrivale, written under the pseudonym Carter Dickson — it seems only sensible to do the same for this deca…tet.

So, in reverse order, we have…

10. The White Priory Murders (1934) [Merrivale #2]

White Priory Murders, TheIf we’re ranking impossibilities this goes higher, but as a book overall I struggled with the too-dramatic tone of this.  It shows Carr really embracing the complexity of his setups, sure, and spinning a staggeringly layered puzzle ever-outwards from what look like simple beginnings, but there are only so many final-line-of-chapter cliffhangers that are resolved almost immediately that I can take, and too much of too little consequence is piled on too quickly for my liking.

9. And So to Murder (1940) [Merrivale #10]

And So to MurderIf Monica Stanton — new to the world of movie making — knows no-one at Pineham studios, who can possibly hate her enough to make repeated attempts on her life?  Contains not only a brilliant half-way reversal, but also a final chapter where everything is seen in its true light that is punch-yourself-in-the-head clever for how much has been waved plainly under you nose.  And it’s funny like The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) is funny, so clearly Carr was in a good mood in 1940.

8. The Judas Window (1938) [Merrivale #7]

Judas Window, TheOh, I know, I know — what am I doing?  Look, it’s a good book, but has the reverse problem of The White Priory Murders above: the plot is perfectly integrated and developed, and it’s surprisingly free of most of the pitfalls of this type of undertaking, but the resolution of that impossibility is handled abysmally.  I have gigantic problems with the virtual last line reveal, and think the mid-book reversal is infinitely smarter and better handled.

7. The Ten Teacups, a.k.a. The Peacock Feather Murders (1937) [Merrivale #6]

Peacock Feather Murders, TheThree very smart short stories, not quite gelling into a full novel.  I love both the impossibilities here — a man shot in a room with no-one present, and a man disappearing in a house where there’s really nowhere for him to’ve gone — but you get to the end and realise a loose thread is hanging, and once you start pulling it the whole thing just comes apart in your hands.  Very clever, but imperfectly realised.

6. Death in Five Boxes (1938) [Merrivale #8]

Death in Five BoxesIn a career stacked with great opening hooks, the five people here found poisoned around a table with unusual objects in their pockets is one of the greatest, but I do so wish this wasn’t needlessly unfair in its solution.  Still, the first half is brilliantly developed, and forms a textbook all aspiring puzzle plotter should study at great length because of how easy Carr makes it look.  Would qualify as a great continuation novel.

5. The Red Widow Murders (1935) [Merrivale #3]

Red Widow Murders, TheI always remember this ‘room that kills’ plot extremely fondly, and then someone reminds me of the unfortunate h*******m element.  That aside, however, it’s near-flawless, containing a corpse that’s been calling out even though it’s been dead for an hour, and a very clever conceit that finds out victim dying without apparent cause.  Also highlights Carr’s use of Merrivale’s tendency to stack a deck in his favour, roping in our poor protagonist into a very clever scheme.

4. The Unicorn Murders (1935) [Merrivale #4]

Unicorn Murders, TheFor the ripsnorting joy of its reversal-settling-reversal-settling-reversal structure, this takes some beating.  Wrong-foots you almost every step of the way, with the sort of plotting only Carr could devise — the manner of their greeting at the castle is sublime.  A great ‘who is the master thief?’ plot, too, often overshadowed by the impossibility of a man being stabbed in the head by a unicorn which is simultaneously too obvious for words and complex beyond measure.

3. The Punch and Judy Murders, a.k.a. The Magic Lantern Murders (1936) [Merrivale #5]

Punch and Judy Murders, TheThis is Merrivale’s The Eight of Swords (1934) — an effortlessly genius piece of plotting that gets overlooked on account of more highly-regarded titles around it.  Common wisdom has it that detective authors shouldn’t write adventure plots, and so of course Carr wrote an adventure plot that moves at a staggering lick and is stacked with clues.  How better to spend the night before your wedding than running around the country after a man who can perform astral projection?

2. The Plague Court Murders (1934) [Merrivale #1]

Plague Court Murders TheToo much going on here to accurately precis in 75 words — a man stabbed in the back in a locked, bolted hut that’s surrounded by mud unmarked by the attacker’s footprints…yet the attackee was heard pleading with his attacker before being discovered alone.  Plus a séance, a dead cat, and more awesomely-developed shenanigans than you can shake a rational explanation at.  Virtually impossible to maintain this standard of plot, but Carr wrote at least another dozen this good.

1. The Reader is Warned (1939) [Merrivale #9]

Reader is Warned, TheA near-flawless execution of the ‘I can kill you just by thinking about it’ conceit, only slightly sullied for me by a big Villain Monologue at the end.  Even makes adroit use of the at-times questionable attitudes towards race that sometimes occur in this era of novel, and has a psychology that is effortless in how the tricks at its core are explained.  A behemoth of impossible crime fiction, but as light and difficult to pin down as a normal moth.


The obvious question is then how this folds into my ranking of the top ten Fells, to give a ranked list of these 20 novels.  Well, something like this…

20. The Arabian Nights Murder (1936)
19. The Blind Barber (1934)
18. Hag’s Nook (1933)
17. The White Priory Murders (1934)
16. To Wake the Dead (1938)
15. The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)
14. And So to Murder (1940)
13. The Judas Window (1938)
12. The Crooked Hinge (1938)
11. The Ten Teacups, a.k.a. The Peacock Feather Murders (1937)
10. Death in Five Boxes (1938)
9. The Red Widow Murders (1935)
8. The Hollow Man, a.k.a. The Three Coffins (1935)
7. The Unicorn Murders (1935)
6. The Eight of Swords (1934)
5. Death Watch (1934)
4. The Punch and Judy Murders, a.k.a. The Magic Lantern Murders (1936)
3. The Plague Court Murders (1934)
2. The Reader is Warned (1939)
1. The Problem of the Green Capsule, a.k.a. The Black Spectacles (1939)

Now, while virtually everyone will manage to have a slightly different ordering for this score of books, I imagine few would contest that Merrivale fares better than Fell in his opening ten titles — only my baffling fondness for the oft-derided Death Watch (1934) prevents the top 10 titles here being a 7:3 split in Merrivale’s favour.  Does this indicate some sort of prevalence for the Merrivale style of story, and — if so — how does a Merrivale story differ from a Gideon Fell one?  Or is it sheer, blind luck that Merrivale happened to be in some books and Fell in others, almost as if Carr simply allocated them in an alternating pattern as each idea occurred to him?  Any and all thoughts, as ever, are welcomed.

You may consider this a light primer, too, for the upcoming return of The Men Who Explain Miracles: there’s a new episode out next week, in which we discuss the career of Mr. John Dickson Carr.  Or at least there is if I can get it edited in time…


With Carr being the doyen of the impossible crime, now would be the perfect opportunity to let those of you who aren’t aware know that Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders — a dearly desired acquisition for every right-minded fan of impossible crimes in fiction — has been republished by Locked Room International.  The second edition (from 1991) has been fully revised to correct as many errors as possible, and plans are afoot for a supplementary edition to be released next year, containing all manner of new books not featured in Adey.  More detail can be found at the Locked Room International site.

72 thoughts on “#424: Oh, Henry! – Ranking the First Ten Henry Merrivale Novels (1934-40) by Carter Dickson

  1. Well, obviously your list is completely wrong…

    What you meant to do was stick Ten Teacups as number ten – we’ve gone through this before – and The Judas Window at number one.

    Those are the obvious places where we differ, but I expect others will put Unicorn and Punch & Judy a lot lower…


    • Judas Window was one I agonised over a little, given that overall it’s pretty tight story and does a great job of resolving the central conundrum…but I just struggle with the fi al solution and how it’s achieved, which spoils a lot retrospectively for me.

      Upon rereading I may revise my opinion, but the fact that others manage to get through without any retroactive spoiling puts them ahead in my current mood. But I’m sure that even I will disagree with this list in a year or two…


  2. I’m in partial agreement with Steve in that JUDAS would normally go right at the top for me but on the other hand he is dead wrong about TEN TEACUPS and just has to live with that 😉 But I think all three of us were basically turned on to Merrivale by READER IS WARNED (massively underrated by most, it still seems to me) and would all rate it very highly. But you know what JJ? This just makes me want to re-read PUNCH AND JUDY as well as UNICORN espoecially – loving all this TLC for Carr right now, just loving it. Well done mate, your enthusiasm as ever is a real tonic.


    • Punch and Judy was, again, a Carr I came to without any knowledge or preconceptions…and not knowing what to expect left me conpletely free to experience the craziness of it entitely pure. It does a lot of very creative things in a way that no other writer in this genre could, and as such remains so undeniably Carrian that I’m always going to love it for that alone.

      Plenty more Carr to come on here over the years — and be sure to check out next week’s podcast; it’s coming together very well, I think!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am a bit torn by Teacups. It’s much better than Puzzle Doc thinks, but scent of “you must be kidding me” is strong here. And the other trick, not about the gun, is brilliant even for Carr.

      I would put in somewhere near where you did. It’s vastly better than that toe-cheese Shudder, about which you and the Doc are both so wrong!


      • I shall attempt to avoid spoilers here, but anyone not au fait with the events of The Peacock Feather Murders/The Ten Teacups should probably look away now…
        The thing that I especially love with the “gun trick” — and the thing a lot of people seem not to like — is that it doesn’t matter where the second shot goes. The first shot is the crucial one, and the second one could have gone anywhere and still had the same effect. That it happens to go into the victim (who is, lest we forget, already dead — as er the plan) is pure convenience. Had it gone into the wall or the floor or literally anywhere else, well, the effect still stands.

        If anything, it frustrates me that Carr didn’t acknowledge this at some pont, since it seems to be the biggest issue people have with it.


          • Also the way Merrivale explains it, it isn’t at first clear whether he believes (or knows if) the earlier grazing of the head was intentional or not. But that was just Merrivale’s way of not letting too much out at once— he knows fully well it was intentional, and all part of the plan. I wish Carr had clarified that as well.


            • It’s interesting how this is the sort of thing the reader picks up on having read at least some previous H.M. titles. The perception of GAD novels as standalone is typically fair — relationshiops don’t evolve in the same way (even if the same characters turn up again and again), events in book D don’t lead on directly from book C and book B — but these little character wrinkles are definitely present and necessary in understanding elements of certain key details and occurrences.


            • I think in this case he is guilty of over egging the pudding.

              As Jonathan Creek said, people look for the plausible not the logical. The solution should be logical, but here it comes with a one in a billion billion on top. I think that is dubiously fair, and certainly an unnecessary provocation. It ruins the aha, of course moment you get when told the answer.

              I mean, the odds of that with the SPOILER second shot is less than the chance no-one noticed a cherry picker in the street, so the whole thinggoes blooey if that kind of wild improbabilityis allowed. All GAD does really, so I think that is why people object.


            • I guess JJ’s point— and I agree with it— is that if the second shit had gone into the bookcase, the apparent possibility would still stand. And indeed, maybe Carr should have left it that way, not calling upon remarkable coincidence where it wasn’t necessary.


  3. I’ve to re-read some of the titles on this list, like The Red Widow Murders, The Unicorn Murders, The Peacock Feather Murders and Death in Five Boxes, but, in general, agree with your ranking. I would switch And So to Murder with The White Priory Murders and place The Judas Window higher on the list. And probably would have moved The Plague Court Murders to the first spot. But, on a whole, I pretty much agree with it.


    • White Priory is one that I wonder if I might like more on second encounter, kniwing how it all pays off. But for the time being I can only go on how relieved I was to find the slug of reading it actually worth the effort.

      However, I’m delighted we generally agree in principle. Not least because it means we’re likely to agree on the merits of any of these modern locked room novels that I’m trialling. Got a couple lined up that I have agood feeling about…here’s hoping.


      • Got a couple lined up that I have a good feeling about…

        John Gaspard?

        I also have a couple of posts lined up that you might find interesting, but, since I’m still a month ahead, you’ll have to wait until September. I’m currently reading a relatively modern (1980s) impossible crime novel myself and the premise certainly something out of the ordinary. Hopefully, the plot lives up to it.

        And this concludes the teasers for what’s coming next month. 😉


  4. Thanks for your rankings, which has affirmed my decision to leave ‘Reader is Warned’ to be my final foray into Henry Merrivale. 😊 It has made me slightly less excited about ‘Death in Five Boxes’, but also slightly more curious about ‘Punch and Judy’. 🧐 Like you I’m not as fond of ‘Judas Window, and find it to be slightly overrated – but I’, not sure I’d like ‘Red Widow’ or ‘Peacock’s Feather’ more than it.


    • There are at least two classics not in the first ten, namely He Wouldn’t Kill Patience and Nine – and Death Makes Ten aka Murder In The Submarine Zone, definitely worth your time…


      • HWKP I read and reviewed a little while back prior to looking at the Ed Hoch list, and i agree that it’s a superb book. NaDMT is one I have in the queue — I have a feeling that it’s the next Merivale — and I’ve heard good things about it (I seem to remember Dan and Ben being fans). I’ll definitely get to it before the year is out, so it’s good to know you rate it — or, given that we disagree about the order here, is it…? 😉


  5. The readers are warned: I really like the cover of the Pocket Books edition of The Reader is Warned reproduced above, but if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t look at the “Cast of Characters” at the start of that edition – it will point you straight at the killer.


    • Huh. Gotta wonder why publishers of certain editions allow that to happen. Equally, I’ve read and reviewed a book recently wherein the list of charatcers gives away a great surprise about 30% in, which is equally baffling to me…


  6. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Carr intended the H.M. books, at least at first, to deal each with a different classic gambit: locked room, no footprints, room that kills, no one near victim. (Was this in Greene’s book? Joshi’s? I don’t have copies handy to help me out!) If true, that might explain why certain ideas were assigned to the early Carter Dicksons.


    • I says so in Greene, yes, page 127. To Carr, his Carter Dickson books were for a popular audience, and featured “hackneyed” situations. Carr’s words not mine!

      That being said Greene noted that he said that when assuring publishers that the Carr books he was doing for them were better than the Carter books he was doing for the other guys, so. But does seem to have been a focus on one particular problem as opposed to the multitude in the Carr books, but I’m not sure how much of a deliberate choice it was.


      • Still an interesting point, nonetheless. I’d never thought about it like this, though I’m now greatly amused by the prospect of Carr running between publishers and assuring each of them in teurn that the work he’s doing with them is definitely better than it is for the other bunch…


        • It would be strange if he did try to pass off the idea that the Carrs were better than the Dicksons! The folks at Hamish Hamilton and Harpers (the “Carr” publishers), after all, were as capable as anyone else of reading his “books for those other guys”, and while people will disagree over the exact ranking of the early Fells and H.M.s, I can’t imagine anyone saying “the Fells have it all over the H.M.s,” or vice-versa for that matter. I wonder if maybe his original idea was that he’d bat out the H.M. books faster and with less care than the Fells (and the non-series “Carr” books)… but he turned out to be too much of a craftsman to be able to bring himself to do it?


          • The Carrs were undoubtedly more layered, and the Merivales more direct and sleek. It’s always debatable which would be preferable, but the more I think about this, the mor distinct the two streams appear.

            Man, thus is fun. Thank-you to everyone who has contributed to this discussion to continuing for this long down these paths. This is the precise thing I want to accomplish with this blog.

            Well, this and a complete Carr and Crofts reprint. And a good haircut.


  7. Honestly, do the people with whom you vacation ever complain?!?

    All these fellows are talking about rereading, whereas I have only read half of the first ten; I was a Fell fan, thank you very much, so I have a lot of Merrivale left to discover – which must make you guys quite jealous! 🙂

    The Judas Window was my first Merrivale, and it remains one of my favorites. The opening premise is brilliant, as is that midpoint reveal you mentioned. The court scenes are genuinely hilarious, and while I suspected the killer, I didn’t actually pick them. The only nonsense was the method, but then I have no business reading impossible crime stories anyway as I never understand the solutions to them!

    I know you folks all love The Reader Is Warned. I picked the killer out the moment they appeared, and their final rant is excruciating. I like the psychic angle, but this title just didn’t do it for me. I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more when I reread it . . . in forty years.

    And I can’t say I read The Punch and Judy Murders, but I sure gave it the old college try. You called it “Merrivale’s Eight of Swords, but the few chapters I read felt more like The Seven Dials Mystery!!! I suppose I’ll have to try again . . . one of these days.


    • TJW was my first Merrivale, too, thanks to Rue Morgue, and I remember being delighted as I read nore and found them to be as good and better. I’ve not yet got to the weaker, later ones, but I had half been expecting the Cartet Dickson material to be Carr’s b-grade stuff (remember, I was new to this…!), and yet they proved to be stronger in my estimation.

      I don’t disagree about the rant in TRiW, and am pretty sure I mentioned it in my review, but I’m more favorably inclined to it upon reflection. Sure, it’s very convenient, and perhaps a bit lazy, but…well, I’ll take it.

      As for P&JM, we’ll agree to disagree. I love it, but then I love Eight of Swords, and they’re undoubtedly under-appreciated in the rich pickings of Carr’s career. I just think they could both do with a little more love.


    • Yes, the final rant at the end of The Reader is Warned does tarnish it a bit in my memory. A brilliant book besides that though. I’m shocked you guessed the killer, but then again it is one of Carr’s smallest casts.


      • People will twig by guessing, and i think that’s how a lot of people will get it, to be honest. Some will figure it out, but the majority will tumble to it by sheer mathematics and then claim they solved it, the cheeky beggars. Not that I’m claiming that’s what you’ve done, but I reckon this gets a lot of grief for being “easy” for the above reason. Anyone simply playing along and letting it happen is in for a great time.


        • I’m not going to use the murderer’s name, but I’m still going to spoil The Reader is Warned here, so don’t read on if you haven’t read it…

          The murderer plays a role in the story that you find someone playing in most Carr books, but their relationship with the viewpoint character plays out so differently from the usual – even before the unmasking – that I did find myself suspecting them for just that reason. This has nothing to do with solving the puzzle on H.M.’s terms, but I did wonder, given the tiny cast of characters, why Carr did it that way. After all, there was no reason why the viewpoint character had to be one who had already appeared in another book.

          On the other hand, there are only so many ways for the identity of the murderer per se to come as a stunning surprise. Was I able to solve the mystery with the clues provided, that’s the real question.


          • Adding on to Justice’s response, I know JJ is being at least partly tongue in cheek with his “tumbling onto (the solution) by sheer mathematics” comment. But does the means really matter or spoil the book any less if one can make a correct guess so easily? For me, the “proof” came early on when – SPOILER – the character made a dramatic entrance that in any other story could be read as rom-com shenanigans. That’s not how I read it, however, and the case was closed. I think Justice’s observation about how differently the relationship played out clarifies even more why it seemed to obvious to me.


            • I’d argue that it’s technically always possible to guess the culprit early — you simply guess it’s someone who has apeared in the story and, again by simple mathematics, a certain proportion of people will automatically be right. A lot of the time when someone says “I knew the killer was X the second they appeared on the page” it sounds good, but it’s really nothing more than a complete guess — a guess about their function,. about how their role will play out in the remainder of the book, a guess that the author is being as uncreative as you the reader are imagining in that moment.

              A smaller cast simply makes this more of a mathematical certainty, and tneds to give an added credence to what is still the exaxt same type of guess work purely becaue a lot of people will have made the same guess and thus the solution is called “easy” or “obvious” because in a cast of five suspects 20% of guessing will be correct and some will be able to make that initial guess, and then speculate upwards and so increase the percentage. If I give you 100 suspects it would be a less good book, and not need to be even close to as well written, because the prospect of guessing shortens the odds. it is ahrder to solve? No. Is it hardet to guess correctly? Yes. That’s what guessing is.

              The onus, then, falls both ways. In certain instances an author should do more to direct us away from the guilty party if in a small cast — I feel the same way about Brand’s Tour de Force as you do about this one, because I happened to look at a key event in the correct way. Is that less good a mystery? Many would argue not. Equally, we as readers should be more honest about what we guess — and what that guess work actually entails — and what we’re able to deduce and detect from the information provided. A far larger number of murderers sre detected by readers using the former method than the latter, I’ll posit, and that rasies a tremendous outcry in defence of commonality. Alas, it’s more often a case of blind luck on our part than any inherent fault on the author’s.

              In the second part of this essay [REDACTED]


            • Christie does a great job in Five Little Pigs – five suspects, but of the readers who actually tried to work out which one was guilty, I’ll bet a lot fewer than 20% were right!

              Anyone remember the “Zebra Mystery Puzzlers” from the late seventies? Paperback original whodunits, with illustrations that provided clues the solution on pages that were sealed until you cut them open. I can’t remember the title, but there was one where I did deduce the murderer’s identity the first time they appeared, because there was an illustration that furnished a clue I was able to spot.


            • Brad, I see what you’re saying, but I feel that things strike different readers in different ways. I myself was so fascinated with the question of “how could this be happening?” that I wasn’t even dealing with the “puppet master” aspect of the culprit— and therefore really even with the question of whodunit (similar situation with “He Who Whispers” for me). On the other hand, A Murder is Announced hit me as tremendously transparent the moment the murder occurred, as it was quite apparently (to me) just another example of an oft-used device. And I believe it was either JJ or Dan who found the solution to Death on the Nile transparent (I didn’t) and others who feel the same way about Five Little Pigs. To be satisfyingly clued and yet deceptive to all comers is something I doubt any work has achieved.


  8. I still have a hard time seeing how you could place Blind Barber above Arabian Nights!
    Anyway, I still have a number of Merrivale titles to read for the first time, and a few that I need to read again as I remember absolutely nothing about them beyond the fact I read them once, so I can’t contribute anything all that constructive regarding your placings.
    I do think the Merrivale titles veer towards the fantastic and the miracle problem to a much greater extent than the Fell books – the latter feel a little more grounded.


    • For all Blind Barber’s faults — and there are more than a few — the central impossibility is beautifully wrangled and misdirected away from. And Arabian Nights goes downhill into ponderous restatement without anything like enough fun for my tastes.

      And, well, you have a lot of joy ahead of you if these books are still on your TBR!


  9. Of course you post this when I have nothing better to type on than a cell phone keyboard…

    My biggest observation stimulated by your post is the contrast between Merrivale and Fell. Ask me to order the first 10 Fell stories and it would be a relatively simple task – I have a clear order of preference, and would perhaps find myself debating the positioning of two or three novels. With Merrivale it is agonizing. This is a tightly packed bunch. At best I can say that while Death in Five Boxes is amazing, it probably falls to the bottom (I have yet to read Punch and Judy and And So to Murder). The rest of the titles? Put them in almost any order that you want and I’d be hard pressed to argue.

    The Judas Window probably comes out near the top for me, but I personally love the solution. The White Priory Murders is tempting to rate high on account of it having one of Carr’s best solutions, but as you say, it has about seven too many cliff hanger chapters that are immediately resolved as non-issues in the following pages. The Red Widow Murders vies for a top spot, but it has one of the weaker solutions of the bunch. Well, I could go on about all of them in this way…

    At the end of the day, I think the first ten Merrivale stories are consistently better than the first ten Fell stories – by a mile. With that said, there are higher peaks in the Fell stories, and I prefer Fell/Hadley as characters over Merrivale/Masters any day. It’s almost like we should do a breakdown of Carr’s career…


    • We are in agreement in all major matters — the quality of these Merrivale titles is very, very high, almost unmatched in similar series from contemporary authors…and it’s not even everything he wrote in this period.

      Interesting point about Fell/Hadly vs. H.M./Masters, too, and you make me realise that I always anticipate the former pair meeting much more eagerly than I do the latter. I’d even go so far as to say a Fell novel without some sparring with Hadley isn’t really a proper Fell novel. But then we probably get into the tropes and expectations that drag down so many pastiches of popular fiction (e.g. Sherlock Holmes), and that’s a spiral I’m not getting into here. Perhaps another time…


  10. Hmm, was Carr in a good mood in 1940, or, given the world situation – it was quite possible Hitler was going to win this thing – did he make a conscious decision to make his books lighter in tone than The Three Coffins or The Burning Court?


  11. I still can’t see what you see in And So To Murder (except the humor). When I wrote that my All Talking! All Singing!! All Murder!!! coincidentally shared the same milieu and motive but that I consider my plotting and clues in it more interesting than Carr’s, it was meant far less as a pat on my own back than a way to express how little meat I found in AStM.

    I would rate The Judas Window higher, though I agree it’s generally (and unreflectedly) somewhat overrated. I too love The Reader is Warned, though I find the initial death in it far too much a matter of coincidental good luck. It’s as if I fear the scorn of non-Carr readers sneering with, “oh, come on, what are the odds of THAT!” Maybe I should get over that.

    There are admittedly some flaws in the Ten Teacups, but a few aspects— complex to explain— that are not nearly as faulty as they appear. I’ve read criticisms of this book that I’d love to refute, but it’s a matter of highly detailed work I’m too lazy to approach.

    I had almost the opposite experience of Brad with The Punch & Judy Murders. After a couple of difficult experiences getting through Carr books (almost always worth the journey ultimately, but sometimes difficult for an unsophisticated reader such as myself, who has an easier time with Christie’s unvarnished style), I found TP&JM a surprising breeze to get through.

    My first and most urgent re-read is of The Green Capsule, to which I seemed to have somehow missed the point. I was extremely impressed by the clueing, but I really seemed to have missed any motive that seemed strong enough for murder. It all seemed to be about people on opposite sides of a theoretical discussion, each trying to prove their point— like something that might go on here in an online discussion. And someone even cheating to prove their point. But how that somehow accelerates to a motive for real murder is beyond me. Must reread.


    • sometimes difficult for an unsophisticated reader such as myself

      What you sum up perfectly here, Scott, is my feeling when I finished the likes of The White Priory Murders or (to a lesser extent, where I acknowledge my expectations were at fault) The Bride of Newgate — the sense that Carr is so great elsewhere that, in not enjoying something of his, I’m the one who has erred. Weird how authors do that sometimes — there are a few other cases I could cite of this, too, where I’m missing the point or purpose of a clearly brilliant novel.

      As for AStM… I dunno what to add to my review from Thursday: it’s fast, fun, misdirects well, has great character sketches, gives a surprisingly full account of H.M. and his actions, and makes you reconsider everything very smartly come the end. The question is how could anyone not enjoy that?! 😛


      • I know it bothers me that I don’t like Endless Night. Most people suggest that if Christie’s powers were failing her as the 60’s progressed, EN showed a return to form and a willingness to experiment. Yet each time I return to it, I find it . . . dreary. The criticisms I have heard about AStM focus on the crime itself, or lack thereof. Since you, JJ, are someone who tends to place great stock in the mechanics of a crime and it didn’t bother you here, I tend to think that a comical Dickson romp set in a movie studio and featuring some really fun reversals will give me a great deal of pleasure when I take it down off my shelf!


        • I think this is among the monst Christie-an Carr I’ve read, so hopefully it’ll be right up your alley. Of course, you’ll now write a 57 point list on all the ways it diverges from Christie, but at least we’ll get a good conversation out of it 🙂


  12. It’s been decades since I read (almost all) of these. Judas Window is so obviously the best Merrivale that I feel I must, like John Cleese as a French knight, taunt you. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

    I have not though read Warned yet — or And So — so clearly I need to seek it out.

    I recall liking Death Watch, but remember little about it. I did like Arabian Nights, but it was my first Carr.

    I definitely prefer Dickson to Carr. I think it’s that he is more light hearted most of the time, but it might just be better gimmicks.

    I have a heart breaking tale to share. A couple years ago I scoured bookstores in Ann Arbor (there are several good ones) looking for unread Carrs, and found a few. Pricey, and maybe 20 titles in total. Then a month later I wondered into a local hole in the wall mass market place I lived near and had been in a couple times. They had 54 different Carr titles! 54 titles in one spinner rack in one place! Alas most were in terrible shape. Green Capsule was just loose sheets, the cover being only an envelope. And no Warned, alas.


    • The profligacy of poor condition Carr paperbacks (and, indeed, paperbacks from this era) is a little heartbreaking. I found a copy of Seeing is Believing (which I do not currently own) recently, but all the opening copyright and title pages had been torn out, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

      On balance I definitely prefer the earlier H.M. books, even if the most popular on (TJW) is a book whose core idea I dislike the most; it’s fine, I’ll just be the one saying “I told you so…” when it eventually falls from grace 😛


  13. I love the early Merrivales, they have a perfect balance of atmosphere and puzzle that cannot be found in any of Carr’s work after the period. The early Fell’s have always failed for me because, even if they are incredibly complex, they don’t lavish you with impossibilities like the early Merrivales. And who doesn’t read Carr for his impossibilities?
    If I were to rank the novels it would be something like this ( I’m excluding TPFM and TPJM because I haven’t got to them) :
    8 – And So to Murder ( A good novel, just lacking in many departments)
    7 – The White Priory Murders ( Stellar impossibility, but drags)
    6 – The Unicorn Murders ( Very good on most fronts, but the spy element annoys and the final culprit is a little too complex)
    5 – Death in Five Boxes ( The impossibility is easy, the culprit is too well hidden, but the plot is perfect)
    4 – The Red Widow Murders ( Amazing, but the final solution disappoints)
    3 – The Judas Window ( Divine, but overshadowed by the other 2)
    2 – The Plague Court Murders ( The atmosphere, the impossibility, the solution)
    1 – The Reader is Warned ( A man who kills with his thoughts, I say no more )
    Can’t wait for the podcast, always excited for a new episode.


    • I’M one who doesn’t read Carr for the impossibilities! Mind you, the bulk of my favorite Carr works include impossibilities, and I love those aspects, but that isn’t the core common aspect that draws me to Carr. What thrills me about his best works— and those of other top puzzle plotters— is the great paradigm shifts, when my understanding of a situation totally changes, due to great reversals and clueing. For instance, the great shift halfway thru The Judas Window— which explains the sudden, extreme attitude change of a character— is a tremendous reversal that has nothing to do with an impossibility (though I myself do also like the explanation for the impossibility at the end). Or the explanation of Pierre Fley’s cryptic words spoken near the beginning of The Hollow Man… almost like the fulfillment of a prophesy in a Greek tragedy. The explanations of the impossibilities are often examples of such great paradigm shifts, but these shifts— what I refer to as moments of “sudden retrospective illumination”— are not limited to impossibilities.


      • Completely agree with all of this, Scott — except the bit about the ending of the Judas Window, of course 😛 — those midway reveals are exquisite, and part of what sets Carr so far above his contemporaries. Even on his standard days, he thrashes all-comers aside, and it’s the very best of practically everyone else that we can put at the same standard of Carr’s second-tier work.


        • Well, I don’t want to be misunderstood here. While Carr is probably my favorite GAD writer, I don’t necessarily see him as far ahead of all of the rest of the pack. My personal list of favorite whodunit novels would probably include about as many Carrs/Dicksons (He Who Whispers, Till Death Do Us Part, The Reader is Warned, The Case of the Constant Suicides) as Christies (Five Little Pigs, And Then There Were None, After the Funeral, Death on the Nile), and maybe one or two each by Brand, Berkeley (and maybe a single work apiece by Queen, Blake, or Talbot). Yes, I’ve heard Carrs defense of implausibility, but still, in exchange for wild ingenuity, he sometimes stretches credibility beyond my personal liking (for instance, He Who Whispers may be my very favorite Carr of all, but I have to admit that the whopper of a coincidence at its center is both necessary AND a flaw). Carr is at the top of my pantheon, but there are others there with him, at least nearly s high.


          • Oh, sure — sorry, Scott, that was me adding to your own comments with my personal perspective, and I realise that the line between the two was not so much blurred as frankly disregarded. My apologies if I misled anyone on what Scott was saying, or appeared to be setting up a straw man to endorse my own views.


      • Proven wrong once more 😅
        Carr drew me in because of the impossibilities and I for the longest time only focused on said impossibilities, but Carr’s work is also built around those great shifts in perspective. Many of his best reveals aren’t at the end, but in the middle of his books when a fact is revealed that destroys your preconceived notions and forces you to scramble for a new solution. I think what I was trying to say with that statement is that people are initially drawn to Carr by his impossibilities, you don’t read a summary of The Hollow Man and expect that reveal near the end of his last words. You never know if Carr will pull a stunning turn in his novels, but you can almost always expect an impossibility.


    • I started off reading Carr for the imposibilitites, I won’t deny, but when I loved an early one with no impossibility — Death Watch — I swiftly became very excited for all the potential out there in the rest of his works. And we’re in broad agreement on your ordering, too, so that’s pleasing — doesn’t prove anything, but it’s always encouraging to find like-minded people!

      I can now reveal that the podcast episode will be a two-parter, as I’ve finished putting together the first part. And there’s a surprise involved, too, though obviously I have no intention of spoiling that. Because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Having just finished “Punch and Judy Murders”, I returned back to this post – and I confess feeling surprised that you ranked it as a stronger novel than “Death-Watch”. On the one hand, I’m not very fond of the picaresque elements in Carr’s writing, and “Punch and Judy” felt like it played up the adventure of “Unicorn” at the expense of the detection – in page count, anyway. On the other hand, I am very fond of “Death-Watch”, and rate it only below “Till Death Do Us Part”.


  15. Pingback: My Book Notes: The White Priory Murders, 1934 (Sir Henry Merrivale # 2) by John Dickson Carr, writing as Carter Dickson – A Crime is Afoot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.