The Best John Dickson Carr Books – Part 1 – Non-Series Books

A recent post on the Facebook Golden Age group asked for information on the best John Dickson Carr books. I posted a bit of info, but then decided that I’d expand on it here.

A few years ago, I ran a poll to find the best John Dickson Carr novel of all. It wasn’t really a fair fight for every title, as I did it as a sort of World Cup of Carr, with some books getting harder draws than others, both in the opening round and in some head to head “matches”. Looking back at it to share these results in the Facebook group, I realised that I hadn’t really summarised the overall results. So for your delectation, here is the definitive (not really) final word on the best Carr titles.

I divided the poll initially into Gideon Fell, Henry Merrivale and non-series (including Bencolin) titles. For this post, I’m going to look at the results for the non-series titles. I do think these suffer a little from being less well read than the Fell and Merrivale titles, but let’s have a look at the results and then I’ll share my thoughts.

Nobody Loves Me (i.e. less than 5 votes)

Vaguely Honourable Mention (i.e. didn’t make it to the quarter-finals but got a few votes)

Out In The Quarter-Finals

Out In The Semi-Finals

Out In The Final

Which Leaves…

The unloved books first of all – you can see that the historicals, especially those that don’t involve time-travel, seem to suffer the worst. In my opinion, The Witch Of The Low-Tide and Captain Cut-Throat are very good books, better than any of the Bencolin titles, so it was a shame to see them go so early. Fire, Burn! was a surprise too, although I’m not a massive fan of it.

And as for the winner, well, I was surprised. I was surprised that The Nine Wrong Answers wasn’t there at the end, as that is an outstanding piece of work, but seeing The Burning Court (excellent) being beaten by The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (perfectly fine) was a real surprise. Perhaps that ending is just too annoying for some people… Also, The Four False Weapons really isn’t that good.

If I Had To Pick Three…

The Nine Wrong Answers, The Burning Court and The Witch Of The Low-Tide (which I haven’t read in years, so the memory might be cheating).


  1. What a weird selection ! mine would be, The Hollow Man. The White Priory Murders and It Walks by Night. Runners up, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience and The Crimson Blind.


  2. Very much looking to seeing where this all goes. Like you Steve, BURNING COURT would have to go first for me. After that it all gets a bit more difficult as NINE WRONG ANSWERS (preferably the uncut version), THE EMPEROR’S SNUFFBOX and FIRE, BURN are all superb. And I loved DEVIL IN VELVET and CAPTAIN CUT-THROAT, though it’s been a long since I read either. I never can quite understand why BOWSTRING always does so well in polls as it is clearly inferior to some of the Bencolins (and I think I prefer POISON IN JEST too), and usually put it down to the fact that it has always been one of the easiest of his books go get a a copy of.


      • Well, I do have the advantage of having read it in both versions (decades apart, admittedly) compared with most bloggers I suspect as I get the impression most have only have onky ever read the short version. Yes, the original edition is a bit too wordy (it’s 350 pages) but I always prefer the original. I’m not that impatient a reader and it’s not THAT long 😁 Also, it’s worth remembering two things: 1. Carr didn’t do the cuts himself and 2., the cuts were done to make it more saleable at a shorter length in paperback, not for reasons of quality.


    • I agree as The Burning Court and Emperor’s Snuffbox come top of the table for me for the non-series books. I remember reading The Burning Court late into the night and not being able to put it down. Yes – the ending is controversial for some, but I liked it and even better upon re-reading it.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. PS I forgot to add, I must re-read WITCH too as I remember liking it a lot but not much else (last read it in the mid 1980s I reckon, in an Italian translation that, while very good per se, was probably cut for length).


  4. Captain Cut-Throat is perhaps not the best piece of detective or even historical mystery fiction Carr produced, but it certainly has become his most overlooked and underappreciated novel. One that deserves to be listed among his better, more well-known work. During the 1950s, Carr became more at home in historical settings, where he regained a lot of his old strength as a writer/plotter, of which Captain Cut-Throat is a great example.


  5. Good grief! I woke up and found this on my reading list. I felt like Inspector John Cheviot stepping into a cab and ending up in the past . . . and not the very distant past either!!!

    Didn’t we all just do this? I remember voting, like, fifty times!! Couldn’t you have directed that nice person on FB to the poll results and gotten busy on publishing books 91 – 1003 of Brian “The Burp” Flynn????

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was October 2019, so not thaaat long ago. The problem is with the poll results is I never collated them – you have to go back to various rounds to find out who gets knocked out early. I figured it would be nice way of pulling it all together.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think your readers made excellent choices, I would agree that the 4 novles in the semi-finals are the 4 best. So good seeding on your part as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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