I know my London friends will wake up, open this and mutter, “Dude’s a day late!” However, it is still November 30thin these parts, and so it is still John Dickson Carr’s birthday! Since the man has given me cause to celebrate multiple times since I was about 13, I figure I owe him at least a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow!” and a slice of birthday cake.
Hell! I’d bake a whole cake for the man. And in the cake, I’d place the only key to the study door of Osgood Smedlington, the publisher who has made it his life’s work to see that Carr’s work is not re-issued to modern audiences. I’ve locked Osgood into his sanctum, telling him he will not come out until he has rethought his position. Sadly, JDC will nearly swallow the key when he cuts into the cake. And then, upon hearing of my foolhardy gesture, he will rush to the study, unlock the door . . . and find Osgood sprawled dead on the hearthrug. The door is locked, the windows bolted, and the chimney – wait! there’s no chimney! On every wall hangs a portrait of a sad-eyed child, and when we burst into the room, there is moisture dripping from each picture – as if each child is crying!!!
If this is Carr’s birthday, it’s also that of another great mystery author, one whom I have oddly and unfairly ignored until I started blogging about this stuff. And that author is none other than – Carter Dickson! When I was an opinionated little twit younger, I made the decision to read Carr and avoid Dickson. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t because I had attempted one of CD’s books and found it wanting. No, with the sheer ignorance stubborn determination of youth, I chose Gideon Fell over Sir Henry Merrivale and stayed faithful . . . until 2016.That’s when I read The Judas Window and had a great time with it, although for some strange reason I don’t seem to have reviewed it! After five of them, filtered through an arguably more mature sensibility than I possessed as a teenager, I still have a sense that the Carr books are richer in some ways, mostly in terms of character and atmosphere. They seem more novelistic in that I care about the people more, and the mystery elements, quite frankly, richer.
But in some ways H.M. and his adventures are more fun. They’re breezier, often to the point of being rollicking; they seem altogether a lighter read, but the ones I’ve read have generally satisfied as a puzzle. And let’s face it: second tier Carr is better than the best of almost anyone else attempting an impossible crime novel. So here I was, having essentially discovered twenty-odd “new” Carr titles at a ripe middle age. It was almost as good as learning that a dozen previously unknown Christies had been found by John Curran whilst rummaging through her journals. (I said almost as good!)
The result was that I made yet another impetuous decision. Don’t binge – savor! I decided to parse out the Carter Dickson Experience over an indeterminate number of years. Recently, however, I had a change of heart. Here was a body of work by perhaps my second favorite author of all time, and I had virtually nothing to contribute about him. Why wait?!? Why not gather all the Carter Dickson titles together and concentrate more of my reading time on them? And while I’m at it, why not post reviews of the books in chronological order and then rank them in order of preference????? In a typical “tree in the forest” moment, I asked myself if anyone would care. But you know what? I want to be better at Carter Dickson than I currently am. I want to write a mystery someday and perhaps include an impossible element. Why not read the best?
And so today on A.C.D.B. – A Carter Dickson Birthday– I am announcing that, beginning January 1, I will be inaugurating my Carter Dickson Reading Project. It isn’t that my blog is about to go exclusively Dickson – there’s too much out there we’re all discovering together, too much to read, enjoy and discuss. All those Paul Halters in the distance!!
Nor am I setting a time limit of, say, one year, for this. I’m young at heart, and I want to savor the man’s work. Plus, as you who have read them know, as I get closer to the end, it might be rougher going. Why rush to that?!? So, at my own pace, I am going to tackle my Dicksons, one by one, and see where they lead me.
The big black book (3rd at the top) is The White Priory Murders.
Over the past couple of months, I have gone to some lengths to complete my CD collection. I’ve succeeded in finding every title published under this alias – except for one. The short story collection, The Department of Queer Complaints, was too rare and/or too expensive, for me to consider. (Hell, I more than I would have liked for The Unicorn Murdersas it is!) I had to give some thought to whether or not I would include the non-Merrivale and the controversial titles. The Bowstring Murders was actually first published under the name “Carr Dickson,” but it has since evolved into “Carter” – and since the title shares characters who later appear in The Red Widow Murders, I will begin with that one.
Next comes the novel co-written in 1939 with John Rhode called Fatal Descent (aka Drop to His Death). Based on reviews I’ve read, I’m not too excited to read that one. But if I want to be a complete-ist, it must go on the list. I’ve also added the novella “The Third Bullet,” which Wikipedia says was published by Dickson.
Below you will find the list and order of the books I will be reading. I have attached links to the reviews for those I have already read. I don’t plan to re-read those I have already reviewed, although I will have to refamiliarize myself with the older titles before I can rank them appropriately. I may re-read The Judas Window because 1) it was my first CD novel and the one I read longest ago (a whole two years!) and 2) for some reason, I never reviewed it.
Accompanying me on this adventure will be perhaps the best source book about Carr – Douglas Greene’s John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles. Within its pages, Doug provides commentary and historical perspective on each title, which gives me the perfect excuse to re-read this brilliant biography!
I know that many of you have a profound love for Carr’s work. I don’t lay claim that I will find anything new or definitive here; I just want to add my voice and opinion to the mix – and have, I imagine, a helluva good time at it. And if any of you are willing to follow me on this adventure, I hope to generate some discussion on each title and some serious laying down when it comes to my rankings.
LIST OF CARTER DICKSON TITLES
- The Bowstring Murders – 1933
- The Plague Court Murders -1934
- The White Priory Murders -1934
- The Red Widow Murders – 1935 (this was actually a read-along: part two is here)
- The Unicorn Murders – 1935
- The Punch and Judy Murders -1936 (UK title: The Magic Lantern Murders)
- The Third bullet (novella) – 1937
- The Ten Teacups – 1937 (US title: The Peacock Feather Murders)
- The Judas Window- 1938 (alternate US paperback title: The Crossbow Murder)
- Death in Five Boxes – 1938
- The Reader Is Warned – 1939
- Drop to His Death (in collaboration with John Rhode) – 1939 (aka Fatal Descent)
- And So To Murder- 1940
- Murder in the Submarine Zone- 1940 (US title: Nine – And Death Makes Ten, also published as Murder in the Atlantic)
- Seeing is Believing- 1941 (alternate UK paperback title: Cross of Murder)
- The Gilded Man – 1942 (alternate US paperback title: Death and The Gilded Man)
- She Died a Lady – 1943
- He Wouldn’t Kill Patience – 1944
- The Curse of the Bronze Lamp – 1945 (UK title: Lord of the Sorcerers, 1946)
- My Late Wives – 1946
- The Skeleton in the Clock – 1948
- A Graveyard to Let- 1949
- Night at the Mocking Widow – 1950
- Behind the Crimson Blind – 1952
- The Cavalier’s Cup – 1953
Next up: You can expect to see my take on The Bowstring Murders around January 1.