Friday, December 30, 2011

John Dickson Carr's The Case of the Constant Suicides

John Dickson Carr was considered to be a master of the locked-room mystery, and in The Case of the Constant Suicides (written in 1941) he gives us not one but two locked-room puzzles! One of which has a particularly ingenious solution.

An interesting feature of the book is that Carr’s detective, Dr Gideon Fell, keeps somewhat in the background. Mostly we see things through the eyes of two young scholars, Alan Campbell and his distant cousin Kathryn, who met unexpectedly when both are summoned to Scotland after the apparent suicide, or possible murder, of old Angus Campbell.

Carr goes to a great deal of trouble to show us the many differences between English Law and Scottish Law. Apart from being interesting in their own right, at least one of these differences turns out to be fairly important to the plot.

It’s all highly entertaining – Carr gives us a remote Scottish castle (really just an old house but with a suitably mysterious tower), a suggestion of ghosts, old family scandals, lots of colourful minor characters and a complex but rewarding plot. I loved it.


  1. It's a terrific book. I'm a great fan of Carr, and it's a surprise that there has been no real attempt to transfer his books to TV or cinema. There has been quite a bit of debate amongst fans about whether the first murder method is possible (if not perhaps likely). To the great surprise of some people it turned out that it is possible.

  2. One of my favorite Carr books (and that's high praise, in my opinion). Not just a great mystery, but a good story as well, with a fun romance and great atmosphere.

    Love that cover.

  3. Definitely one of Carr's best.

  4. Atmosphere, baffling puzzles, and laugh-out-loud humor in the right places (in one novel Carr describes his detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, who is nearly obese and walks with two canes, as "swaying like a tethered elephant"!). I suspect, given the low attention span of modern audiences and their unwillingness to think even a little, that selling a film adaptation of a Carr novel to a producer or a studio would be uphill work. On the other hand, the impossible-crime mystery was done quite entertainingly with the "Banacek" TV series in the 1970s. So it can work.