Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Carr, John Dickson

Entry updated 18 December 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(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 such as 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 almost 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; The Crooked Hinge (1938), like the already cited Below Suspicion, deals nonfantastically with the witch-cult phenomenon and also features an unpleasant Automaton.

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 other seemingly impossible crimes 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 collected 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

works (highly selected)


Dr Gideon Fell

  • The Three Coffins (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1935) [Dr Gideon Fell: hb/]
    • The Hollow Man (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1935) [vt of the above: Dr Gideon Fell: hb/]
  • The Crooked Hinge (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1938) [Dr Gideon Fell: hb/]
  • Below Suspicion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949) [Dr Gideon Fell: hb/Joseph Binder]

individual titles




previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies