The Best John Dickson Carr Books – Part 2 – Sir Henry Merrivale

So yesterday I summarised the results of the best non-series John Dickson Carr books, and today I’m moving across to the Sir Henry Merrivale titles, published under the pseudonym. In my humble (and obviously correct) opinion, these are the high points of Carr’s output – I enjoy H.M. as he is known more than Fell and find his cases more consistent in quality.

Just a reminder, this is a poll I conducted a few years ago and I’m summarising the answers here – these aren’t my choices, they’re yours – well, yours if you were here a few years ago… Carr has such an extensive canon and one that is arguably the most variable of any Golden Age author, so hopefully this will be a guide of which ones to look out for and which to avoid. Be back tomorrow for the Gideon Fell titles.

Merrivale first appears in The Plague Court Murders investigating an impossible stabbing inside a sealed building and eventually appeared in twenty-two novels, one novella (All In A Maze) and the finest short story ever written (The House In Goblin Wood). I ignored these for the purposes of the poll, and here are the results:

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

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

Out In The Quarter-Finals (one had three books in it)

Out In The Semi-Finals

Out In The Final

Which Leaves…

I think these results are fair enough because there are many great books featuring the Old Man and the nature of such a poll will, I think, produce different results at the top end depending on who’s voting, what mood they’re in, what time of day it is, etc. The only one I’d quibble with from the quarter-finals onwards is The Red Widow Murders, due to its use of a mechanic that should never be used in mystery fiction – the murders are very clever though. To varying degrees, all of these are good or better though, with the exception of The Cavalier’s Cup and Behind The Crimson Blind, which are both pretty awful.

If I Had To Pick Three?

Much, much harder than the non-series. Definitely The Judas Window (REPRINT THIS NOW!), but, depending on what mood I’m in, what time of day it is, etc – much as I love She Died A Lady, I’ll go for Murder In The Submarine Zone/Nine And Death Makes Ten for its atmosphere and, I think, unique impossible crime, and what I think contains one of Carr’s best hidden murderers, My Late Wives (although not the version with the spoiler on the cover!) Ask me again tomorrow though, and it could be three different titles.

Be back next time for the Gideon Fell stories.

13 comments

  1. Aa you might imagine, I find the low ranking of Ten Teacups really baffling (and not in a good way). But otherwise no disagreement here, I would go for JUDAS WINDOW at the top, then HE WOULDN’T KILL PATIENCE and SHE DIED A LADY with READER IS WARNED as my fourth. I clearly MUST re-read MY LATE WIVES

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to see this list again. I remember first finding your blog a few years ago and starting with your ‘best of Carr’ posts. It led me to my first two Carr novels and they’re still favourites: She Died a Lady and The Judas Window.

    Despite never believing the culprit would have the skill to commit the murder, The Judas Window, has an irresistible setup, a brilliant Merrivale in the courtroom, an amazing mid-book reveal, no sagging in the middle, etc. If someone asked me for an example of the quintessential locked room mystery, I immediately would point to this one.

    She Died a Lady suffers perhaps from a too well-hidden culprit and the slapstick of Merrivale won’t appeal to everyone, but I love the atmosphere, pacing and alleged impossible crime of this book.

    Finally, I agree with you on My Late Wives. I won’t defend it as one of his classics, but it definitely is far from bottom-tier Carr.

    Like

  3. Punch and Judy Murders doesn’t get enough love, and neither does Unicorn. But you’re right, there are some wonderful books featuring H.M., and most of them have some excellent features — Gilded Man is a superb puzzle with some brilliant humour, and nice to see And So to Murder get some love as time wears on.

    Like

  4. I would go for Death in the Submarine Zone, the Judas Window and She Died a Lady as the best.

    Among the Merrivale books we have a few where no murders take place, which I wish Carr (and other authors) would have used more.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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.