The Best Novel By John Dickson Carr – Round One

A long time ago, I ran a poll – three polls in fact – to ascertain the best Agatha Christie novel out there. People asked at the time if I was going to do any more, but I was pushed to think of another author who was well-enough read for it to be worthwhile. The only one who I felt fitted the bill (and who I liked enough to bother doing the poll for) was Brian Flynn John Dickson Carr. But I wasn’t sure…

Anyway, prompted by my ex-blogging chum Sergio, who use to Tip His Fedora at crime books here, I’ve decided to resurrect the idea.

Now the trouble with Carr is that, I think it’s fair to say, the Gideon Fell and Henry Merrivale books are the best read of his titles. There are some significant non-series works and there’s also a number of titles that only the purest of Carr fans have read (and regretted doing so). So I’m going to run three polls – the best Fell, the best Merrivale and the best non-series. To answer some questions:

  • Yes, I’m counting Bencolin stories in the last section.
  • No, I’m not doing short stories or novellas.
  • No, I’m not counting The Murder Of Sir Edmund Godfrey.
  • No, I’m not counting the biography of Conan Doyle.
  • Yes, I’m counting Devil Kinsmere and Most Secret as one book.

I’ve grouped each category into four groups. The two with the most votes get through to the next round. As picking the groups chronologically would not work for hopefully obvious reasons, I’ve seeded them based on their Goodreads ratings. Yes, I am that sad… Don’t worry if you’ve only read a few – if you liked a book, feel free to vote for it.

Gideon Fell, first of all. Here are the polls – just vote for your favourite, and yes, I’ve hidden the results for now…

Now, the great H.M., Sir Henry Merrivale himself

And now for the miscellaneous extras.

OK, you’ve got until Friday 18th October until midnight, local time, so vote now!


  1. I’ve done my best but it was tough – had to leave off some fabulous books! Great fun – thanks as ever! Can’t wait to see how this plays out. Truly, the grandest game in the world 🙂


  2. Yeah, if I was British, I would write out a sentence like, “The seeding was bollocks, mate!” One group had two of my favorite titles competing, while another group had four books I hadn’t read. Luckily, the one I had read I like very much. I ended up voting for TWO Bencolin titles, when I don’t think Bencolin comes close to representing the best of Carr!!!

    JJ put it well in his post on She Died a Lady: Our favorites change with the wind. If I voted in this poll again in ten minutes, no doubt my votes would be different. So I’m going to go take a deep breath and get on with my day. Grrrrrrr . . . . .

    P.S. I am trying desperately to get through one book and post a review in order to turn to my first Brian Flynn. I’ve got two lined up, and if I don’t enjoy them, you’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do, Lucy!


    • Yes, the seeding has produced a wonky group, but that’s about the norm for sporting tournaments so why not here? To put my statistician hat on for a moment, you derive the rules and then do the test, not do the test and then decide the rules…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have no idea how any US citizen’s thoughts could be anywhere but there…

        And if I’d been inclined to fiddle things, I’d have given my personal favourite a much easier ride to the next round…


  3. I could spend all day discussing the seeding. You’ve got to whittle things down eventually, so I guess you can’t complain if top 15 titles drop out early, but…

    Fell Group A – brutal, at least for me. Hag’s Nook, The Problem of the Wire Cage, Till Death Do Us Part, The Hollow Man…

    Fell Group B – again, that’s hardcore. Death Watch, Green Capsule, Constant Suicides. It’s a pity to see a book as great as Below Suspicion fall off automatically.

    Fell Group C – not as bad, but Crooked Hinge and He Who Whispers are tough, and I really enjoyed Arabian Nights.

    Fell Group D – funny because I think these books are surprisingly equal, with the exception of Satan’s Elbow. When I first saw the group I thought “oh, this will be easy” because none of these are top tier, but then it proved to be difficult because the first four all have their charms.

    Merrivale Group A – easy for me.

    Merrivale Group B – another tough one because the first four books are of nearly equal quality.

    Merrivale Group C – easy.

    Merrivale Group D – agonizing.

    Miscellaneous Group A – easy, but it means two good books get scratched quickly.

    Miscellaneous Group B – I would be interested to see how this would have played out without The Emperor’s Snuff Box in the mix.

    Miscellaneous Group C – Easy.

    Miscellaneous Group D – the mix of Fire Burn and Bowstring in the same category made this kind of tough.


    • It’s interesting how different people see things – I saw Fell A as an easy choice, the easiest of the lot, as, in my opinion, it contains Carr’s finest book, and not the one that most people would pick (and keep republishing). Group B was harder, C was easy and D… well, that’s the way the seeds fell. What this brought home to me was (bracing myself for a reaction to this comment) how few truly great Fell books there are. There are plenty of very good ones, but for me, four stand head and shoulders over the rest. Won’t say which just yet.

      On the other hand, Merrivale A has three of my favourites, although I can see why one of them isn’t doing very well in the poll at the moment. The others were quite easy…


  4. Fell
    Group A: The Hollow Man
    Group B: The Problem of the Green Capsule
    Group C: The Arabian Nights Murder
    Group D: The Mad Hatter Mystery
    (all easy choices!)

    Group A: Nine – and Death Makes Ten
    Group B: The Reader is Warned
    Group C: Death in Five Boxes
    Group D: The Red Widow Murders

    Group A: The Nine Wrong Answers
    Group B: The Emperor’s Snuff-box (hesitated between this and The Waxworks Murder)
    Group C: The Devil in Velvet
    Group D: Most Secret / Devil Kinsmere (rollicking swashbucklers!)


    • Well done for re-inserting the hyphen into Nine – And Death Makes Ten. Which is one of three that we agree on – I think. Can’t actually remember which one I voted for in one very close category…


  5. I can’t help wondering how the results may be affected by the fact that most people won’t have read all of these – there are some good titles (eg Murder in the Submarine Zone – or Murder in the Atlantic, as my copy is called) which have been out of print for at least 50 years, as far as I know.


    • That is the exact reason why I didn’t do this after the Christie polls. But when Sergio suggested someone do it, I thought I’d better pitch in before someone else did.

      There was a US reprint of Nine – And Death Makes Ten at some point – the eighties? – but that’s probably (in my opinion) the only quality title that’s going to suffer from this as there isn’t a Green Penguin of it.


  6. I’ve done my part in stuffing the ballot box, but my choices were, with exception of Captain Cut-Throat, Nine-and Death Makes Ten and Poison in Jest, rather conventional.


  7. I’m a long time lurker and hardcore GAD fan from Argentina. Carr is my favorite author, so I felt compelled to answer this poll.
    For Fell A, B and C, I went with the usual suspects: THM, TPotGC and HWW.
    Fell D was way harder. I chose TEoS, as I feel it is both clever and entertaining without becoming a full blown farce.

    I forgot my pick for Merrivale A, but it was either TJW or MLW.
    TRiW wins Merrivale B in my book.
    Group C was pretty tough. I gave some love to AstM not because it needed it, but because it deserved it. Extremely underrated novel right there!
    AGtL gets the last group.

    Misc A. Both TNWA and PBftD deserve it. Yes, I like the second Patrick Butler novel. It’s like Punch and Judy but better (controversial, I know).
    Misc B goes to Waxworks. I consider it a top 10 novel with a perfect ending.
    For C and D i went with TFFW and FB respectively.

    I would love to see how everything turns out. Keep on blogging!


    • Thanks for the kind words. THM is indeed a usual suspect – no regular reader with a long memory with think that I voted for it though…

      There’s some very interesting choices there – you’ve certainly stopped one novel from getting no votes!


  8. Wire Cage in Fell group A, how could you do me like this! It’s gonna be crushed!
    If I were to actually vote for my fave, it would be TDDUP, but I don’t think I have to worry about that one getting through… but Wire Cage for me is above Hollow Man, the dead cert.
    The real question is will it be possible for something to win that isn’t Hollow Man? I hope so!


    • Well, quite. I’m not a fan of Hollow Man either, but it is definitely winning that group… let’s see what it comes up against next round – which is going to start tomorrow…


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