The Best John Dickson Carr Novel – The Final Result

So, we’ve finally got a definitive answer to the question – What Is The Best Novel Written By John Dickson Carr.

I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised at how one-sided the final round of the vote was, but we’ll come to the result in a moment.

To recap, the books were subdivided into Gideon Fell, Sir Henry Merrivale and Others. These were divided into four groups based on their Goodreads ratings.

The first and second placed books went through to head to head play-offs – the most surprising casualties at this point were Fire, Burn! and The Ten Teacups.

Then we went to a knockout phase, resulting in the best Gideon Fell title being He Who Whispers, the best Merrivale being She Died A Lady and the best Miscellaneous title being The Emperor’s Snuff-Box.

I’ll admit, I was surprised by one of these – namely He Who Whispers. I thought She Died A Lady was one of three possible winners for Merrivale, with The Judas Window and The Reader Is Warned being the other possibles, but I was convinced The Hollow Man was going to walk the Fell title. I personally think Till Death Do Us Part is a better book – just – than He Who Whispers, but it’s a close run thing. And I had little doubt Snuff-box would win the third title.

But overall…

The official* best novel by John Dickson Carr is…

He Who Whispers!

Unfortunately, it’s not in print at the moment, but there are plenty of second-hand copies around, as it’s been reprinted a few times over the years. And I can heartily recommend it – one of it’s charms is a more interesting portrayal of the female characters than in a number of other Carr titles.

Many thanks for taking part. Any other suggestions for authors to do more polls on would be much appreciated – not sure who else would get the same response other than taking another run at Dame Agatha again. So stick around, and maybe in a few months…

*not really


  1. I’d be interested in seeing results of a Sayers survey, preferably structured to produce a ranking. I wonder if anyone agrees with my view that Have His Carcase is the best – by far – of the Harriet Vane books.


  2. The winner was expected, but what was not is how it crushed its competitors. There won’t be any recount needed on this one. 😉

    I had not realized until now that HWW was actually one of the “lost” Carr novels, having been out of print for some time. It would be nice if its newfound popularity could lead to it being reprinted.


  3. More interesting female characters? Hmm. For most of the plot she fills the same role of “unknowable woman” as many of Carr’s female characters. I can see that it’s done in a more interesting way in this book, in much more depth. But I find the “othering” of women in Carr annoying, and this doesn’t escape it.
    That said my pick for best would be Til Death Do Us Part, which has not one but two unknowable women in it!
    One thing I did really like about HWW was the setting – not France, or the English house, but postwar London. Though Carr doesn’t seem to focus on the war much, you always feel the atmosphere of it hanging over everything, like in She Died A Lady or He Wouldn’t Kill Patience.
    Perhaps it’s due for a reread, and I can try and see what makes it the “best” this time.


  4. Well, one thing seems very clear from the results — that most people prefer characterisation over the puzzle-plot. Not that HWW hasn’t got a good puzzle, but it’s definitely lacking compared to several other books it easily defeated.

    About other authors….how about Ellery Queen?


  5. For the last few rounds, things pretty much went my way – although I do think The Burning Court is a more important book than Snuffbox. (I’ll admit the later book might be more readable.) He Who Whispers supplanted The Crooked Hinge as my favorite Carr as soon as I read it. I think it’s a mature book, and I think it might have the best “final twist that has nothing to do with the mystery” of any mystery that I’ve read.

    At any rate, I agree with Velleic that Carr’s strength is not in his female characters – yet Fay Seton fascinates like no other. And I think it would be interesting to put Neil’s theory that people prefer character over puzzle to the test by having the next quiz be an Ellery Queen one. I assume that you haven’t read enough Queen. I have, but I don’t know how to put quizzes together. It would be interesting to rate the top Period 1, 2, and 3, novels, maybe the non-Ellery novels, including Drury Lane (although there are not so many), and the best of the ghost-written. It would be a little trickier than Christie or Carr.


  6. I’d support a similar poll for Sayers – I’m glad to find I am not the only person who really likes Have His Carcase!

    I wonder if the continuation/completion novels by Jill Paton Walsh would be included?


  7. I, too, will like a poll on Ellery Queen. It probably won’t get the same response as Christie and Carr, as they get a bit overlooked these days but they’ve always been my favourites.


  8. Thank you very much for running this poll—it’s been quite enjoyable. If I may go back to a comment you made near the very beginning of this poll, I actually had the opposite reaction to you as I was voting. I found myself thinking again and again how many truly great Carr books there are. It was often difficult to choose just one book in each category because I’d be thinking, for example, “oh, three of these are absolutely fantastic!” Like most people, I would agree that his golden age extends to the late 1940s, with very few substandard books in that run—I actually quite like most of the earliest books, as they’re so atmospheric. The 50s books are certainly more variable but I really love most of the historical mysteries—I wish those had fared better as several of them are quite superb. One thing this poll reinforced for me was that Carr remains in my highest echelon of crime writers, with many classics to choose from. I happen to love The Hollow Man, but there are many others that are just as great, so it was nice to see many of those getting votes.

    As for future polls, Ngaio Marsh seems the obvious choice…no, sorry, I couldn’t resist. Actually, a poll of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories would be quite fun, even if that might seem passé. But I sometimes get the impression from your reviews that you’re not the greatest admirer of the Holmes stories, so perhaps that’s not a great suggestion. It’s difficult to think of other authors who would be quite so widely read as Christie and Carr though. Queen is a great choice, but I wonder if most of us have read the majority of the books?


    • EQ would be an extremely interesting choice, and I might mull over if I want to put in the work of doing it. I have read nearly every Queen novel, up to when the cousins stopped writing them. Don’t hold your breath though, I am impressively lazy.


  9. It’s been a long time since I read this, but my memory dissents 😀
    Still, at least it’s an excellent mystery and one you could recommend to someone not already a GAD fanatic.


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