The Mystery of “The House In Goblin Wood”

My regular readers will probably remember that I’ve already reviewed The House at Goblin Wood, the only short story written by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr featuring Sir Henry Merrivale. But I’m asking for a little in solving a little mystery.

Recently I passed 20,000 visits to my little blog and I was perusing my most visited pages. Most of the top ten are pretty obvious – mostly top fives and best of posts and one of my earliest reviews, The Finishing Stroke by Ellery Queen. There’s also my rant about Jennifer Garner being the new Miss Marple, the review of The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin and the review of The House in Goblin Wood.

Now I understand The Death Maze – Ariana Franklin has a large number of ardent followers – and quite rightly too, it’s a very good book and I’m planning on revisiting the rest of the series in the nearish future. But The House in Goblin Wood has more than three times the views of any other Merrivale and is the fifth most common search term leading to the site – along with a number of variations as well. Some people seem to be searching directly for a plot summary of the story.

So, put your thinking caps on, fellow armchair sleuths. Why is this little story, excellent as it is, so popular?


  1. Well, over at my blog, the most popular posts have been my review of “Scream 4” and one of my earliest posts on my Top 10 Plot Ideas. It’s kind of alarming how many people made their way to my site by typing “mystery plot ideas” into Google. What was going through their heads? “I guess I’ll write a mystery, because anyone can do that… Uhm…”

    “The House in Goblin Wood” is not just an excellent short story, it’s practically a legendary one. It’s one of Carr’s best and most popular, and I suppose that is why it’s the most often searched.

    Either that or it must be the title of some obscure Korean horror film…


  2. Hi Steve – I’ve had something similar over at my blog with a review of OBELISTS AT SEA which I have assumed is because it is a fairly rare book and there are simply not a lot of reviews of it online to be found elsewhere. If you run a Google search, your review seems to have been indexed three separate times from different references on the blog so that they all appear in the top six searches so lots of people are clearly make it move to the top of the tree – you also have a an excellent WordPress address which would inspire confidence from even those unlucky not to have read your posts yet – which is to say, well done mate, you are clearly doing it right!



  3. If there is a rhyme or reason to the honest drawing of hits on a website which mostly features classic novels–and mysteries in particular–it is beyond me. I have a similar blog over at Little Known Gems and have drawn considerably less than you, even counting the many hits I get from people who are just searching for the book art images I post.

    I hadn’t been keeping track, but I see now that the interest in my blog has dropped off significantly since July. I haven’t changed the themes or the quality of my blogs in any way; I’ve only upped the frequency of my posts–eleven so far in October, dealing with October’s novels and themes.

    Your total of 20,000 discourages me since I have been posting more frequently but drawing far fewer hits and apparently fewer readers. Oh, well. I’ll be coming up on the one-year anniversary of my blog in November. Maybe I’ll just go back to being a silent reader again and devote the blog time to other endeavors..


    • Richard – very early on in my blogging, a fellow blogger who had started at around the same time posted that they had zoomed past a certain mark – can’t remember which – and I had barely one fifth of those visits. I would probably have chucked it in there and then, except that the reason for my scribblings has first and foremost always been a way to keep me reading – anyone who’s interested in what I have to say is a bonus. Also bear in mind that a lot of my posts are on popular authors – Christie, Carr and Queen for example, always generate interest.

      I’ve had a quick look at your blog – rest assured I’ll be having a proper look as it later as it’s full of stuff that I want to look at properly. I do hope you continue with it – I’ve added it to my links.


  4. Doc,

    I’m glad to read that my celebratory introduction, in which I noticed how in a relatively short period I had garnered over 10.000 page views and hundreds of comments, to one of my reviews didn’t make you split from the blogosphere. The Paul Doherty renaissance may have never have happened if you had dropped out of sight there and then!

    Anyway, it’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly makes a post popular, but it’s good to know that we actually provide fellow fans with information and honest, spoiler-free opinions on often-obscure titles. I get regular visits from people who stumbled on my blog after searching for such writers as John Vandercook, Herbert Resnicow and Peter Hunt.


  5. Of course, the other pattern worth mentioning – don’t post twice in the same day or no-one notices your earlier post. Assassin in the Greenwood got a few visits but once I put up this post – virtually none. Lesson learned.


  6. I have another interesting observation: extremely negative tinged reviews seem to generate less activity than positive ones. The review I posted last night of Doherty’s The Assassins of Isis garnered only half of the page views I usually get after posting a new review (and I have seen this before with other less than enthusiastic notices).


    • I suppose that if you give it away in the first paragraph – i.e. the bit that turns up on the RSS feed – that it’s a duffer, then people will not go to the site to read the full review. I try not to give my opinion in the opening section, although sometimes it is difficult if the book has annoyed me. But that’s a trend that I hadn’t noticed.

      Of course the other way to increase views is to slip in provocative phrases to see if anyone searches for those – let’s try an experiment – “Naked pictures of Agatha Christie”. Now let’s see if anyone visits here after searching for that!


  7. Just getting empty hits isn’t worthwhile, to my mind. The search engine specialists that offer to sell you guaranteed hits miss the point. You’re not selling porno, you’re sharing intellectual reviews of worthwhile books.

    I’ve reviewed hundreds, probably thousands now, of books on-line, every one of them positive or at least neutral. Books that I can’t finish or books that I finish but are definitely not my cup of tea, I don’t bother reviewing. Reading is such a subjective thing. The fellow down the road might think the book grand (and he often does after I pass it on to him).

    I often revisit books I once thought empty and find them full of meaning. Books that hit me right many decades ago now seem contrived formula and shallow. Everything changes. Earlier in my blog, I reviewed VERTIGO and quoted Wendy Lesser’s excellent NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME: REREADING AND REMEMBERING, at length. The first time, she underestimated the movie but later she began to see the magic in it. Still later, even deeper meanings began to take hold.

    And that’s how it works, the magic of the mind.


    • Well, there have been no hits on that search term yet!

      Seriously, it did miff me a bit that I’ve had a couple of hundred hits (in total) from various spam sites. When I first hit 1000, I only “celebrated” once I’d gone back and deducted the fake hits. Now WordPress is better at blocking them (or they’ve given up), it’s not so much of an issue.

      In terms of revisiting books, I do that quite regularly – some are better than I remember, especially She Died A Lady and some, with the surprise removed, were a little lacking, such as A Reader is Warned. If anyone visiting here is encouraged to try any of the books I’ve reviewed (and it seems that is the case at times) then that’s how I measure success here. That and the fact that the blog continues, meaning that I’m continuing to read.


  8. Rather than ask what has drawn readers to your reviews of The House on Goblin Wood—I’ll leave it to great word of mouth—I’d rather like to focus on what makes THIS story so good. I have yet to read Carr’s essay (spoken by Dr. Gideon Fell) in The Hollow Man on the various ways to commit an impossible murder, but to me the answer is simple. Impossible crimes are basically magic tricks, and all magic tricks ultimately rely on misdirection. One of the conditions the reader assumes makes the crime impossible is wrong, and it’s up to the detective to figure out what’s what.

    This is one story where the misdirection is focused on the nature of the crime itself. If this was a story where it was clear that a diamond necklace was stolen, it would be obvious who the thief was and with careful analysis, how the necklace was stolen. But in this case, you don’t realize a necklace was stolen but that a window was broken. So the reader is doubly surprised once the solution is given.

    Secondly, this story surprises the reader about just how far the criminal is willing to go to steal that darn necklace. The reader doesn’t say, “Oh, so THAT’S how it was done!” so much as “They did WHAT?!?!?!” LIke many good mysteries, this story makes you go back not only to see the clues you’ve overlooked, but also to read characters’ words and actions in a new light. People you think are annoying unexpectedly become sympathetic, and somebody you think is an innocent victim becomes a calculating villain.

    I have probably said too much, and it won’t surprise me if the Puzzle Doctor decides to delete most of this entry. But this story is worth hunting down, even if it means getting a used book from an on-line merchant. If whomever owns the rights to this story had any sense, they would put it up as a cheap Kindle single at Amazon, and use this story to promote the rest of Carr’s novels.


  9. I read Goblin Wood around a quarter century ago. It was brilliant then to my young mind.
    There was another story I read back then, but I dont remember the name or author. It consists of the butler of a dead man, who goes to visit his employer’s friends asking them to dispose of his body. There was a twist to that story closely followed by another great twist. Does anyone know that story?


  10. A possible solution for you, sir. “The House in Goblin Wood” appears in the Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction (used for many detective fiction college literature classes) and there are no summaries, references, analyses, or the other web pages that students usually check out. When you type the name of the story this is the first site that comes up so I suspect that it’s a lot of students looking for “help”. You might see if there are more hits during the first 3 weeks of the academic year than any other time as the story is the 5th one in the book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.