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)
- The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp/Lord Of The Sorcerors
- My Late Wives
- Seeing Is Believing
- Night At The Mocking Widow
- The Cavalier’s Cup
- Behind The Crimson Blind (no votes at all…)
Vaguely Honourable Mention (i.e. didn’t make it to the quarter-finals but got a few votes)
- The Ten Teacups/The Peacock Feathers Murders
- The White Priory Murders
- The Skeleton In The Clock
- The Unicorn Murders
- The Punch And Judy/Magic Lantern Murders
- (Death And) The Gilded Man
- A Graveyard To Let
Out In The Quarter-Finals (one had three books in it)
- The Plague Court Murders
- The Red Widow Murders
- And So To Murder
- Death In Five Boxes
- He Wouldn’t Kill Patience
Out In The Semi-Finals
Out In The Final
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.