Wednesday, December 20, 2023

John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles

 John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) by Douglas G. Greene

Carr is widely recognized by Golden age fans as a grand master when it comes to locked rooms and impossible crimes. He spent his writing life coming up with more ways to kill people in impossible situations than just about anybody. And he did it while (mostly) playing fair with his readers. He believed, as did most of the Golden Age detective novelists, that all of the clues should be fairly displayed--that the reader should have every chance to beat the detective to the solution. Or at least arrive there at the same time. Even when he was writing his historical novels, he still included a bit (or more) of mystery and followed the same rule. 

Greene has given mystery fans a detailed, intensely researched look at Carr's life, but more importantly a detailed look at the books he wrote. The themes, the tricks, the process, and the evolution of Carr's series characters. If you haven't read all of Carr's books, then there are parts you'll want to skip because in talking about the author's writing process and themes Greene often needs to spoil a plot or two. But he gives ample warning so no one will read a spoiler unawares.

I will say that this isn't really a book to sit down and read straight through (though I did). It will be far more useful as a reference book to have handy when I read the Carr novels still left on my TBR pile. I'll enjoy reading The Unicorn Murders, for instance, and then turning to Greene's book to see what I missed and how things came together for Carr as he was writing. 

A fine literary biography. Recommended for mystery fans--especially those who enjoy impossible crimes and those written by a master. ★★★★ 

First line (preface): For more than forty years, John Dickson Carr created and explained miracles in novels, short stories, and scripts.

Last lines: When John Dickson Carr was asked whether he would change any part of his life, he answered, "Oh, I've been a damned fool, sometimes, you know, but otherwise, no." The world has plenty of damned fools--all of can claim that title--but it had only one John Dickson Carr.

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