Carr, John Dickson

Tagged: Author

(1906-1977) US author, mostly resident until 1948 in the UK, where many of his famous early detective novels, such as The Three Coffins (1935; vt The Hollow Man 1935), Death-Watch (1935) and The Ten Teacups (1937; vt The Peacock Feather Murders 1937) as by Carter Dickson, and others, are evocatively set. (However, some of his noteworthy early borderline-fantasy detections, such as The Waxworks Murder [1932; vt The Corpse in the Waxworks 1932 US], take place in France.) Early works like It Walks By Night (1930) or (most significantly) The Burning Court (1937) or He Who Whispers (1946) or (interestingly) Below Suspicion (1949), veer toward but invariably rationalize the supernatural. The Burning Court is exceptional in its capping of the rational explanation with a supernatural twist. Both The Three Coffins (with back-story roots in Transylvania) and He Who Whispers (1946) draw extensively on the Vampire mythos. Carr's regular detective when writing under his own name was Dr Gideon Fell, who closely resembles G K Chesterton in both physical appearance and love of paradox; the Carter Dickson equivalent is the irreverent and iconoclastic Sir Henry Merrivale, who has a vague official position in the UK government and in later adventures showed an increasing likeness to Winston Churchill. Perhaps the most sf-relevant Merrivale detection is The Reader is Warned (1939) as by Carter Dickson, which with great ingenuity builds up the false conviction that the only possible way for the murders to have been committed is by means of a verifiable Psi Power here called Teleforce.

After his inspiration regarding intricate locked-room mysteries and the like began to flag, and after a pious biography of Doyle, The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1949), Carr began to write mysteries less qualifiedly fantastic, in several of which modern detectives are transferred via Time Travel into the London of an earlier era, where they are involved in the unravelling of murders. These books are The Devil in Velvet (1951), set in the seventeenth century, Fear is the Same (1956) as by Carter Dickson, set in the eighteenth, and Fire, Burn! (1957), set in the nineteenth. The first achieves its time travel by diabolical means (the Father of Lies is a character though not a central one); the second and third feature unexplained Timeslips. Some of the tales in The Department of Queer Complaints (coll 1940) as by Carter Dickson and The Door to Doom and Other Detections (coll 1980) are supernatural fantasies. [JC/DRL]

John Dickson Carr

born Uniontown, Pennsylvania: 30 November 1906

died Greenville, South Carolina: 27 February 1977

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