John Dickson Carr (1906-1977)

JohnDicksonCarrJohn Dickson Carr was born on November 30, 1906, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of Julia Carr and Wooda Nicolas Carr. His father, a lawyer and politician, served in Congress from 1913 to 1915. After four years at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, John Carr attended Haverford College and became editor of the student literary magazine, The Haverfordian. In 1928, he went to France to study at the Sorbonne, but he preferred writing and completed his first books, a historical novel that he destroyed, and Grand Guignol, a Bencolin novella that was soon published in The Haverfordian. Expanded, it became It Walks by Night, published by Harper and Brothers in 1930.

In 1932, Carr married an Englishwoman, Clarice Cleaves, moved to Great Britain, and for about a decade wrote an average of four novels a year. To handle his prolific output, he began to write books under the nonsecret pseudonym of Carter Dickson. In 1939, Carr found another outlet for his work—the radio. He wrote scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and after the United States government ordered him home in 1941 to register for military service, he wrote radio dramas for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) program Suspense. Ironically, the government then sent him back to Great Britain, and for the rest of the war he was on the staff of the BBC, writing propaganda pieces and mystery dramas. After the war, Carr worked with Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to produce the first authorized biography of Sherlock Holmes’s creator.

A lifelong conservative, Carr disliked the postwar Labour government, and in 1948 he moved to Mamaroneck, New York. In 1951, the Tories won the election, and Carr returned to Great Britain. Except for some time spent in Tangiers working with Adrian Doyle on a series of pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, Carr alternated between Great Britain and Mamaroneck for the next thirteen years before moving to Greenville, South Carolina. Suffering from increasing illness, Carr ceased writing novels after 1972, but he contributed a review column to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and was recognized as a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1963. He died on February 27, 1977, in Greenville. (Source: “John Dickson Carr – Biography” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson., Inc. 2008 10 Mar, 2020

John Dickson Carr also published using the pseudonyms Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson and Roger Fairbairn. Carr’s two major detective characters, Dr. Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, are superficially quite similar. Both are large, upper-class, eccentric Englishmen somewhere between middle-aged and elderly. Dr. Fell, who is fat and walks only with the aid of two canes, was clearly modeled on the British writer G. K. Chesterton. Henry Merrivale or “H.M.”, on the other hand, although stout and with a majestic “corporation”, is active physically and is feared for his ill-temper and noisy rages. Besides Dr. Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, Carr mysteries feature two other series detectives: Henri Bencolin and Colonel March. (Source: Wikipedia)


Henri Bencolin Novels: It Walks By Night (1930); Castle Skull (1931); The Lost Gallows (1931); The Waxworks Murder (1932); The Four False Weapons (1937).

Henri Bencolin Short Stories: “The Shadow of the Goat”; “The Fourth Suspect”; “The End of Justice”; and “Murder in Number Four”.

Dr Gideon Fell Novels: Hag’s Nook (1933); The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933); The Eight of Swords (1934); The Blind Barber (1934); Death-Watch (1935); The Hollow Man aka The Three Coffins (1935); The Arabian Nights Murder (1936); To Wake the Dead (1938); The Crooked Hinge (1938); The Black Spectacles aka The Problem of the Green Capsule (1939); The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939); The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940); The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941); Death Turns the Tables (1941); Till Death Do Us Part (1944); He Who Whispers (1946); The Sleeping Sphinx (1947); Below Suspicion (1949); The Dead Man’s Knock (1958); In Spite of Thunder (1960); The House at Satan’s Elbow (1965); Panic in Box C (1966); and Dark of the Moon (1968).

Dr Gideon Fell Short Stories: Dr. Fell, Detective, and Other Stories (1947); The Men Who Explained Miracles (1963); and Fell and Foul Play (1991).

Other novels as John Dickson Carr: Poison in Jest (1932); The Burning Court (1937); The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942); The Bride of Newgate (1950); The Devil in Velvet (1951); The Nine Wrong Answers (1952); Captain Cut-Throat (1955); Patrick Butler for the Defense (1956); Fire, Burn! (1957); Scandal at High Chimneys (1959); The Witch of the Low Tide (1961); The Demoniacs (1962); Most Secret (1964); Papa La-Bas (1968); The Ghosts’ of High Noon (1970); Deadly Hall (1971); and The Hungry Goblin (1972).

Other novels as Carter Dickson: The Bowstring Murders (1934); The Third Bullet (1937); Fatal Descent aka Drop to His Death (with John Rhode, 1939); The Department of Queer Complaints (1940); Fear Is the Same (1956)

Sir Herry Merrivale Novels: The Plague Court Murders (1934); The White Priory Murders (1934); The Red Widow Murders (1935); The Unicorn Murders (1935); The Punch and Judy Murders aka The Magic Lantern Murders (1936); The Ten Teacups (1937); The Judas Window (1938); Death in Five Boxes (1938); The Reader is Warned (1939); And So to Murder (1940); Murder in the Submarine Zone (1940); Seeing is Believing (1941); The Gilded Man (1942); She Died a Lady (1943); He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944); The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945); 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), and The Cavalier’s Cup (1953).

Sir Herry Merrivale Short Stories: Merrivale, March and Murder (1991).

Other works as John Dickson Carr: The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1949); The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954).


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Morrow Mystery (USA), 1934)

The Plague Court Murders is a mystery novel by the American writer John Dickson Carr, who wrote it under the name of Carter Dickson. The first Sir Henry Merrivale mystery, it is a locked room mystery of the subtype known as an “impossible crime”.

Carr’s career as a published novelist began impressively with It Walk by Night (1930), which introduced the saturnine French investigator, Henri Bencolin. Many of his books about Sir Henry Merrivale – another detective with a flair for solving impossible crimes – equal the Fells novels in terms of quality; a notable example is The Judas Window (1938). The Merrivale books were generally published as by Carter Dickson; he also wrote as Roger Fairbairn. After the Second World War, he turned increasingly to historical mysteries, and his final book, The Hungry Goblin (1972) – sadly not in the same league as his early masterpieces – features Wilkie Collins as a detective. (Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books)

Carr’s great virtues as a writer were fourfold. He is a master creator of plots. He is able to create supernatural atmosphere with uncanny skill. His comic passages are very funny. And he is a good storyteller. (John Dickson Carr – by Michael E. Grost).

John Dickson Carr at gadetection

Further reading: Douglas G. Greene’s John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) is an excellent biography and critical study of Carr’s writings. It covers all of Carr’s novels and short stories, as well as many of Carr’s radio plays. Greene is especially illuminating about the development of Carr’s story ideas from one work to the next, tracing connections between Carr’s radio plays, and novels, for instance. He also has much to say about Carr’s characters, and their human, social, and emotional attitudes.

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