And so Week Two of the Reprint Of The Year rolls around, and have I got a beauty for you this week. (This reads better if you don’t look at the title of the post, but never mind.)
One of the all-time great classic mystery novels, and most often overlooked by the general populace, is John Dickson Carr. The writer of over 70 mystery novels, he created such sleuths as Henri Bencolin, Gideon Fell and, under his pseudonym of Carter Dickson, Sir Henry Merrivale, but reprints of his work have been a tad erratic in the past few decades.
I started collecting Carr after reading a short story in the Mammoth Book Of Locked Room Mysteries coincided with finding a copy of Panic In Box C, the penultimate Fell mystery, in a charity shop. Despite the two stories having the same basic solution, this discovery (for me) of Carr’s work was probably what inspired me to return properly to detective fiction after some years in the wilderness – rather nice wilderness admittedly as at least Terry Pratchett was there…
A year later, and I had a wonderful trip to New York, basically raiding two second hand bookshops of their entire Carr back catalogue. I must have gone back severally times, deciding to get “just one more”, managing to acquire a near complete set of the Fell and Merrivale titles – luckily I managed to get them into the suitcase to bring home.
Meanwhile, the only reprint, bar a one-off reissue of The Hollow Man – that I’d noticed was Orion reprinting a number of titles as ebooks, but generally speaking, it was a low quality selection of mostly later and non-series titles. I spoke to the brains behind the line, and apparently the rights to the back catalogue were split into three or so groups, and the rights to the better books were much harder/impossible to acquire.
And then, out of nowhere, Polygon Books released Hag’s Nook (Fell’s debut, decent enough), The Case Of The Constant Suicides and She Died A Lady (both stone cold classics). And then that dried up, with no future titles in sight and Carr no longer listed in their author index…
And then the British Library started to reprint Carr – but, disappointingly to me at least, the books chosen/available – again, there was apparently a limited selection to choose from – meant that the first four books that appeared with the first four Henri Bencolin titles. Interesting books, yes, and a great demonstration of Carr’s early fondness for Grand Guignol, but not great examples of what Carr is famous for – the locked room mystery.
And then, almost out of nowhere, in August this year…
Till Death Us Do Part is generally regarded as one of Carr’s finest titles – to me, I think it is certainly the best Gideon Fell title, far better than the more orchestrated The Hollow Man.
It details Dick Markham and his new fiancée Lesley, who is accused of being a husband-poisoner by the fortune teller, who is promptly wounded when Lesley “accidentally” shoots him through the side of the tent. Later, the fortune teller is found dead inside a room locked from the inside. The cause of death was poison, so why did someone shoot at the victim as well?
I’m not going to say any more of the plot, bar that it features Dr Gideon Fell. It’s such a clever mystery that keeps you guessing as to what’s going on, as to how the victim was killed, and as to who the murderer is. I’ve said a few times that while Carr is famed for his locked rooms, I think one of his under-rated skills is producing surprising murderers and this is definitely the case here.
Till Death Us Do Part has long been due a reprint and I’m so glad that it’s out there for everyone to read. The British Library has got more treats lined up for next year, but in the meantime, if you haven’t read one of the greatest mystery novels ever… what are you waiting for?
And if you have read it, why not pop over to Cross Examining Crime and vote for this one?