The House In Goblin Wood (1947) by Carter Dickson

Just a quick review – I’ve written a fair bit on John Dickson Carr recently, so I thought I’d bring to light a classic of his that may have been overlooked – The House In Goblin Wood, his only short story to feature Sir Henry Merrivale. It’s alternatively credited to John Dickson Carr or Carter Dickson, his pseudonym, but I’ve chosen the latter as I believe that is the credit on its earliest appearances in The Strand and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1947.

Twenty years prior to the events of the story, a young girl, Vicky Adams vanished from her room in an isolated house, despite the doors being locked and bolted from the inside. When she re-appeared a week later, she said that she had been living with faeries. Sir Henry Merrivale, Vicky and two friends of hers travel to the house again and sure enough, as she promised, she disappears again. It looks like she is playing her old tricks again, but could something even more sinister be happening this time?

In some ways, I think this story is Carr’s masterpiece. In eighteen pages, he squeezes in several rounded characters, two locked room disappearances and a killer of a final line. There’s more going on in this short story that in a lot of full-length crime novels. I’d strongly suggest you try and dig up a copy of this gem – my copy is in the John Dickson Carr collection The Third Bullet, but there’s a cheaper alternative, namely the Oxford University Press’s Twelve American Detective Stories, edited by Edward D Hoch, which has some other classics as well.

There’s one other Merrivale treat out there, the novella All In A Maze. I’ll get round to giving that a review soon as well.


  1. I want to thank The Puzzle Doctor for his recommendation of The House In Goblin Wood.Because this blog pointed out the unusual interest in this particular story, I ordered a used copy of The Third Bullet from Amazon Marketplace, and today I finished the story.

    I was worried that this was going to be a locked room device where the perpetrator uses some sort of contraption to lock the door from the other side and that the solution isn’t particularly fair. As it turned out, the solution was not only fair and simple, it was genuinely chilling. Just because the detective of a story can figure out whodunit and howdunit does not mean they can catch the culprit. In one of Carr’s most famous stories, not only does the killer get away, once the reader knows his side of the story, he’s genuinely glad that the killer gets off scot-free. That’s not the case here, and the ending of the story lingers with the reader long after the story is finished.

    I’m tempted to e-mail the literary estate of John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson and request that they sell this story on Amazon for $ .99 (£ .66) because it will spur interest in his short story collections (like The Third Bullet) and his other novels. But if they don’t, thank you for getting me to read this story!


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