To: ALL Date: 05/09
From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 2:17 PM
THE THREE COFFINS by John Dickson Carr
If you're in the mood for a good old fashioned murder
mystery, this is the ticket. The first chapter was a wee
bit hard for me to follow, since it took a while to get the
characters straight, but pretty soon everything fell into
place. Don't expect too much character development, since
there are people here that Carr must have introduced in
other mysteries, but there's a murder immediately, so we get
right down to the puzzle. How can a man be killed by
someone who enters his room, does not appear to come out,
and is not there when the good guys find the (almost) dead
guy? Did he go up the chimney? Too small. Did he jump out
the window? No tracks in the snow. Was there a secret
passageway? No telling, but none that can be found. To
complicate things, the main suspect is killed almost
immediately with the same gun. Double conundrum. As I
always used to say when I wrote my fifth grade book reports,
you'll have to read to book to find out.
Sherry who's glad that Cathy recommended a murder mystery,
one of my favorite genres
=============== Reply 1 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/09
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:39 PM
Sherry, are you starting already? I'll certainly have to
keep up the thread. I was emboldened to suggest this to
this particular group in part because of the interlaced
comments on books, reading, and writing - especially the
famous Locked Room Lecture. What has always fascinated me
about Carr was his sheer, minute scholarship and love of a
good tale, qualities which more than offset his ambivalent
and sometimes distressing attitude toward women. (He had a
distressing mother and went to boys only schools.) I could
hardly believe what I read in the recent bio - this is the
work of a man who had neither a high school diploma nor a
college degree. He was interested in what he was interested
in. I've followed up on some of his historic details in
various novels, by the way, and never found him wrong. I
still disagree with his interpretation of the famous
Constance Kent murder case (not mentioned in this book), but
if it weren't for his influence I wouldn't even KNOW about
that murder case.
=============== Reply 2 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/10
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 0:04 AM
Guys & 'Ettes: Please don't drop too many spoilers on this
one in the short term; I'm still trying to scrounge a copy.
No luck at the used book store in SF nor here in Anchor
town. I may have to (gasp) try the library.
Dick in Alaska, where spring is most definitely here,
including those wretched, shrieking migratory birds that sit
outside my bedroom window during the 5:00 a.m. sunrise,
trilling "Come hither and SCREW me, oh, little Robin Red
Breast!" or some such, at the tops of their tiny little
lungs; I don't mind propagation of the various species, but
do they have to be so bloody LOUD about it?
=============== Reply 3 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/10
From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 1:14 AM
Sherry: I wanted to add two brief pieces from the Carr
remembrance written for my edition of THREE COFFINS by his
former editor, Joan Kahn...
John Carr probably never should have lived in the 20th
century. All his instincts were for a less scientific world,
a less mechanized one, a more romantic one. I think he would
have been happier in the 18th century, with sword play and
sudden personal dramas, costumes and carriages, beaus and
belles, with the long talks over mugs of wine near the
fireplace and if any crimes had been committed they were
fashionably done, with eclat, and solved by witty, elegant
experts, not plodding patrolmen. He put up with the present
day, but grudgingly--and fortunately for us his leaps into
history and the world of illusion and mysterious deduction
from seemingly trifling facts have produced a long list of
satisfactorily chilling novels...
It is a little awesome to find oneself a legend's editor,
but I needn't have been too concerned about editing John--he
was not accustomed to being edited, and he wasn't going to
start anything like that when I came along. I remember, and,
amazingly, fondly that when I first timorously suggested (I
was more timorous then than I am now) he might like to
revise something slightly in the first book I helped launch,
BELOW SUSPICION (1949), John put his finger alongside his
nose and told me he was the old master and he didn't like to
revise, and as a matter of fact, he wasn't going to.
>>Dale in Ala., who assures Dick in Alaska that, unlikely
as it may seem, Sherry's note contains not one spoiler. Carr
gets all those details out of the way, right out of the
chute. Old-fashioned, indeed...
=============== Reply 4 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/10
From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 8:36 AM
I'm starting this because I finished it a few days ago, and
I didn't want to forget stuff. I think Ernie has finished it
and I'm sure there are others. I kind of got a kick out of
the daughter and her speaking out at the feminists
convention . So Carr didn't have much formal education?
He certainly must have read a lot to have garnered so many
=============== Reply 5 of Note 21 =================
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/10
From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 8:41 AM
Does anyone know what a shovel-hat is? One of the characters
kept pushing one up on his head. You can imagine the image I
had in my mind. Yes, Dale, I found myself looking back at
the original publication date..1935? Somehow that seemed too
recent, even with the daughter talking "modern". I imagined
the characters dressed as in a Jane Austen novel.
=============== Reply 6 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/10
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 11:10 AM
Sherry: "A stiff, broad-brimmed hat, turned up at the sides,
and projecting with a shovel-like curve in the front and the
back, worn by some ecclesiastics." OED, Compact Edition.
Dick in Alaska, who doesn't believe he knows much more about
shovel hats than he did before
=============== Reply 7 of Note 21 =================
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 05/10
From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 11:49 AM
Thanks, DIA, that really clears things up. > They really
should have supplied a drawing. Does OED do such things?
=============== Reply 8 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/10
From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:53 PM
Sherry and all,
I am nearly finished with THREE COFFINS, but I have had " a
devil of a time" reading this week. Every time I sit down
to read, I fall asleep. Today I came across the "Locked
Room Lecture", and it annoyed me. I think that JDC should
have added this at the end of the novel. I am also amazed
every time that Dr. Fell says "Wow!". That seems like an
expression of the 1950's, but I must be wrong. Some of
JDC'S descriptions of his characters' reactions to various
happenings annoy me also. For example, Rosette's
cheekbones became more prominent at one point. I do enjoy
this mystery, however. Jane in gorgeous Colorado.
=============== Reply 9 of Note 21 =================
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 05/11
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 0:14 AM
Sherry, Carr actually went to Haverford for a time and
attended a nice boys' school. The only trouble was that he
wouldn't do anything there but read and write what he was
interested in, often to weird hours of the night. His
student writing is surprisingly good and kept him in the
school paper and good graces of the English department, but,
alas, not enough ever to graduate. He was fluent in French,
which is one reason I'll never try to read a Carr short in
front of Jane.
You know, I've read about that shovel hat for years
without ever wondering what it might be like. It was
supposed to be there, therefore it was. Stupid thinking for
this type of book. Dr. Fell was based loosely on G.K.
Chesterton, for whom Carr had a great admiration. Jane, if
the mannerisms get irritating (and they do me sometimes),
remember that this was the work of a 29 year old.
Unbelieveable, isn't it? He managed to break into print to
avoid having to go to law school. H'mm, you folks studying
law around here.......
=============== Reply 10 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/11
From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:30 PM
I did enjoy the last chapter in which the mystery was
resolved. I thought that it was very clever, and I remember
Dale saying that all the clues are in the first few pages.
So I reread the opening chapter and saw the murder with new
eyes. In spite of being annoyed with some of the mannerisms
of the characters, I really liked Dr. Fell. I couldn't
quite figure out the role of Rampole, because he was always
with Hadley and Fell and often didn't say anything for so
many pages that you forgot he was there. Then when he did
say something,you jumped with surprise. He and his wife had
a good section towards the end that made you think about
the suspects. Thanks, Cathy, for recommending this book. I
really enjoyed it. The particular edition I got from the
library was a reprint from the 70's, but I have a feeling
that not many people have read it, because one of the pages
needed to be cut apart as I was reading the book. Jane who
is glad that the library has out of print books.
=============== Reply 11 of Note 21 =================
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 05/11
From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:26 PM
Jane & All: I found THREE COFFINS very entertaining and
well-crafted, but like you was I was a little put off by the
people's facial reactions to events. I try to picture my
"cheekbones becoming more prominent" when I hear of
something surprising, but can't quite see it. Reminds me of
the Victorian era novels, where there are at least 579
different ways to say that a woman's, er, a *lady's* face
I also thought the Locked Room Lecture, classic though it
is, drew a bit too much attention to itself. One of several
instances where it seemed Carr put the story on hold in
order to show off, just a bit.
On the other hand, there's the Yogi Berra perspective: "It
ain't bragging, if you can do it." And he certainly does.
>>Dale in Ala., agreeing with whoever said Carr would have
enjoyed being born in an early era...
=============== Reply 12 of Note 21 =================
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/11
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:35 PM
Actually, Carr never developed his characters any further
than he needed them, though what he does develop is
surprisingly real. Professor Grimaud's mannerisms, for
example, continue to stick with me.
In the odd or inept description department, Ngaio Marsh
beat him out. I wonder her publisher didn't catch it. Most
of her Roderick Alleyn books are top notch, but there is one
problem with his beloved wife. According to Marsh, she has
a spare head. I know she meant "spare" in the sense of lean
and/or unadorned, but that's just not the way it comes out.
Glad my friends have liked it and found it more or less
available. There IS a bit of posturing here and there, but
this is definitely the fair play school. Carr was a member
of a London mystery writers' club with Dorothy L. Sayers,
Margery Allingham (who was scared to death of Sayers), and
other luminaries of the era. The bio provides pix of these
gatherings and some interesting stuff on mystery writing
=============== Reply 13 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/11
From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:42 PM
Cathy: I got a chuckle from the N. Marsh character who had a
spare head. Now, that would definitely help me keep my life
in better order.
>>Dale in Ala., who contributed worse faux pas and typos
when he was a newspaper reporter, some of which are not for
=============== Reply 14 of Note 21 =================
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/12
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 0:46 AM
Dale & All: I got my copy of 'Three Coffins' today and am
underway, if behind. The 'cozy' nature of the story's
opening (cold, wintery weather; fireside conferences)
appealed particularly to me, on a Mother's Day highlighted
by wind, cold and gray skies. This book wouldn't have been
nearly as appealing in it's opening on a cheerful spring day
-- just goes to show that even books have their proper time,
for each of us.
Dick in Alaska, who thinks somebody's butler did it
=============== Reply 15 of Note 21 =================
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 05/12
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 9:25 PM
Home with the low-grade flu symptoms today which gave me a
change to polish off 'The Three Coffins". A fun story and
one I definitely would not have picked up, but for CR. My
reprint is from 1979, and apparently they've tarted up
Carr's biography a bit since he went to that great writer's
conference in the sky -- according to the dusk jacket, he
graduated from BOTH The Hill School and Haverford. So Cathy
should update her biographical materials .
Like everyone else I was somewhat off-put by the character
descriptions -- very old fashioned, and even worse,
ineffective in conveying any information about what the
character looks like (at least to me). Here are a couple of
"The man who entered, was in his own way, an impressive
figure. His long, quiet face was hollowed at the temples;
his grey hair grew far back on the skull, giving him a great
height of narrow and wrinkled forehead. His bright blue
eyes, which did not seem at all dimmed despite the wrinkles
around them, looked gentle and puzzled. He had a hooked
nose, and deep furrows running down to a kindly, uncertain
mouth; and his trick of wrinkling his forehead , so that one
eyebrow was raised made him look more uncertain still.
Despite his stoop he was tall; despite his bony frailty he
was still powerful. He looked like a military man gone
senile, a well-brushed man gone slovenly. There was nothing
of humor in the face, but a great deal of muddled and
apologetic good-nature. He wore a dark overcoat buttoned up
to the chin. Standing in the doorway, peering hard at them
from under tangled eyebrows, he held a bowler hat pressed
against his chest, and hesitated."
"She had those decided manners which come in the early
twenties from lack of experience and lack of opposition.
Rampole was rather startled to see that her hair was a heavy
blond colour, bobbed and drawn behind the ears. Her face was
squarish, with somewhat high cheekbones; not beautiful, but
disturbing and vivid in the way that makes you think of old
times even when you do not know what times. Her rather braod
mouth was painted dark red, but in contrast to this and to
the firm shape of the whole face, the long hazel eyese were
of any uneasy gentleness. She looked round quickly, and
shrank back towards Mangan with her fur coat drawn tightly
round. She was not far from sheer hysteria."
These introductory sketches (of Drayman and Rosette Grimaud,
respectively) are apparently set-piece things with Carr (and
with other writers of the time). He brings in a fresh
character, doodles in some physical characteristics, muddled
with psychological toppings, all in 125 words max, and moves
on. Unfortunately for me, 'gentle, puzzled eyes', 'kindly,
uncertain mouths' and 'beauty that makes you think of old
times, even if you're not certain of which times', are
descriptions without meanings. I wonder: did those
descriptions create mental pictures of the characters for
the reader in 1935?
As Cathy Hill noted, Carr's attitude towards women will
probably require the deft touch of an editor, if his work is
to survive into the 21st century. Note that both Rosette and
Dorothy Rampole laud the salutary effects of giving an
uppity woman five across the chops, or in the alternative, a
sound s******g. Boy, were those the days, or what? Finally,
the locked room lecture -- I think he may have put it in
response to an editor's criticism that the story was too
unlikely -- everything turning on the chance misreporting of
the time of Fley's murder (dependent on none of the
witnesses knowing the actual time or checking their own
watches, etc.). An interesting, but distracting digression I
thought. Dick in Alaska, recovering
=============== Reply 16 of Note 21 =================
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 05/12
From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 11:17 PM
I rather enjoyed the mini-lectures on the magician's craft.
I always wondered about those ropes. And I also liked the
man on the horse illusion. So simple. But they must have had
a very high grade of paper in those days, to stand in for
cloth, and to stand up to riding a horse.
=============== Reply 17 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/13
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 0:31 AM
I liked the magic lectures, too, and there were more in
Dick, according to Douglas Greene's JOHN DICKSON CARR; THE
MAN WHO EXPLAINED MIRACLES, Carr told as many tales about
himself as Adams's infamous Zaphod Beeblebrox. Some even
the biographer had trouble checking out, though the most
notorious - that a fellow student performed an appendectomy
on him without anesthetic - is pretty generally discredited.
Actually, no light novel of the '30s comes out really well
on the woman question and probably shouldn't be expected to.
=============== Reply 18 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/15
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 0:42 AM
Did anybody notice that one of the honest witnesses on
Cagliostro Street (street named after historic personage)
was a Mr. Short of Birmingham??
Actually, the only time anybody ever pressed Carr to write
something a little more normal, the result wasn't quite what
he expected. Carr had established a strong niche market
with the puzzle lovers and historically inclined, but his
publisher pressed him to write something in a more ORDINARY
So he started out. An ordinary publisher on an ordinary
New York commuter train starts looking at an illustrated
manuscript submitted by a new author. It is a book on
famous historical poisoning cases. He leafs through the
first chapter til he finds the female poisoner's photograph
- an apparent picture of his own wife in historic costume.
Then when he gets home the nasty old man next door gets
murdered impossibly, and things go from bad to worse. Carr
provided his usual miracle-explaining ending, but,
apparently feeling it wasn't appreciated, he provided
another as well.... THE BURNING COURT came out in the '30s,
and in the mid-60s puzzled readers still occasionally wrote
to ask him what the hell he meant.
=============== Reply 19 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/15
From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 0:48 AM
Hooray. The library called today to say my interlibrary
loan, THE THREE COFFINS, is in.
=============== Reply 20 of Note 21 =================
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 05/15
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 11:58 AM
Anybody notice, after Ann's question about the 'shovel hat',
that at one point Dr. Fell emits the mild oath, "By my
sacred hat!" upon realizing some point or other? Carr
litters his book with these kinds of clues for those who
want to do the work. Take careful notes Ruth! You too can
solve this mystery.
Dick in Alaska, who gave up solving about half way through
and just enjoyed the ride
=============== Reply 21 of Note 21 =================
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 05/15
From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 12:45 PM
I doubt I can, Dick. And I can say that without having
picked up the book. Mysteries always fool me.
Ruth, failed detective
=============== Reply 22 of Note 21 =================
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 05/16
From: DHGK37A ERNEST BELDEN Time: 6:10 PM
Ruth, after reading this book I am sure about two things in
my choice of career. I would not have made it as either a
criminal nor as a detective. The last, explanatory chapter
showing Dr. Fell's acumen exhibits an incredible skill in
putting two and two together with a bit of imagination of
course. But reading this book was great fun and as Dick
pointed out, the London gloom at the onset helped to put us
into the proper mood. In crime and in writing about it
timing is everything. Did anyone remember Snoopies attempt
to write the ultimate detective novel which starts out abou
like this (if I remember it correctly). It was a rainy,
night in the Pyrennees when someone knocked loudly at the
castle door. This is where Snoopy got stuck and I would not
be surprised if he is still thinking about what to write
next. He had the setting but not the action.... Ernie in
Napa where the thermo reads 96...
=============== Reply 23 of Note 21 =================
To: DHGK37A ERNEST BELDEN Date: 05/16
From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 6:29 PM
Ernie: I'm in the same boat. If I'd had to earn a living as
either a criminal or detective, I'd have perished long ago.
As for Snoopy and his detective-writing adventures, he's
still at it. A friend sent me a clipping last week that
shows Snoopy atop his doghouse, typing "It was a dark and
Lucy takes the page out of the typewriter, reads it, and
hands it back. "No, not again," she tells him. "No."
Snoopy rolls in a fresh sheet of paper, ponders for a
while, and types, "It was one of those dark nights when
you're not sure if it's going to be stormy or not..."
>>Dale in Ala., a Snoopy fan
=============== Reply 24 of Note 21 =================
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/16
From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:29 PM
Dale and all,
I love reading mysteries! I think that one of the reasons I
love mysteries so much is that I usually can't figure them
out in advance, and I know that someone will figure them out
for me, like Dr. Fell. It is nice having some certainties
in this world. I, too, am a fan of Snoopy. If I ever had
the courage to write a novel, I think that "It was a dark
and stormy night" would be a great beginning. Aren't we all
wanting to stay at home on such nights? Jane in non-stormy
=============== Reply 25 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/17
From: KEXT98A TONYA PRESLEY Time: 10:08 AM
The copy of THE THREE COFFINS that my bookseller finally
found was part of a reprinted collection called THE JOHN
DICKSON CARR TREASURY, and THE BURNING COURT is bound with
TTC. I almost went straight into it after COFFINS, but I'll
save it for a few books later. The blurb sounds fascinating,
and I was glad to have this story thrown in for free. Well,
not actually free, since I paid through the nose for this
I enjoyed TTC, altho all those noises Dr. Fell makes were
Tonya, (HB Sher!)
=============== Reply 26 of Note 21 =================
To: KEXT98A TONYA PRESLEY Date: 05/17
From: UPDQ58A PEGGY RAMSEY Time: 11:27 PM
I finished THE THREE COFFINS last night, and have just now
allowed myself to read this thread. Many thanks to Cathy
for recommending it; my only other excursion into the
mystery genre was by force -- trapped on a rainy family
vacation where I was reduced to reading my stepmother's
Agatha Christie novels (and she, my Robert Heinleins -- I
don't know which of us was more lost).
Needless to say, I didn't have a clue whodunit (I figured
it was the daughter). And I can't believe no one plucked
my favorite exchange out of "The Locked Room Lecture..."
"But, if you're going to analyze impossible situations,"
interrupted Pettis, "why discuss detective fiction?"
"Because," said the doctor, frankly, "we're in a
detective story, and we don't fool the reader by pretending
we're not. Let's not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a
discussion of detective stories. Let's candidly glory in
the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book."
That's tellin' 'em!
=============== Reply 27 of Note 21 =================
To: UPDQ58A PEGGY RAMSEY Date: 05/18
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 0:16 AM
That was one of the bits I liked, too, Peggy. I also liked
the comments about not setting up your personal taste as
Rules, something that happens all too often in serious
I think you'll enjoy THE BURNING COURT, Tonya. The 17th
Century history is accurate. I know what you mean about the
noises; each writer has his/her own peculiar way of
irritating you. Is there anything else in the multi-volume
you got? I'm glad to hear more are coming back out; judging
by some of the comments I got from this on the Mystery
Board, I'm afraid some modern mystery readers have forgotten
how to enjoy this type of thing.
A further note - those who like Brother Cadfael, Marcus
Didius Falco, and the Pitts, Carr was the father of this
genre. His THE BRIDE OF NEWGATE was the first historical
setting in modern times. Most of his historicals are
English, though a few are set in New Orleans. The history
is always accurate, with loads of weensie details.
=============== Reply 28 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/18
From: KEXT98A TONYA PRESLEY Time: 9:00 PM
Just the two stories in this book, it looks like Doubleday
must have printed all his stuff as a set, but I only asked
for TTC. Will let you know what I think of THE BURNING COURT
at some future date.
Tonya, already missing the first scenes of THE ODESSEY!
=============== Reply 29 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/18
From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 9:59 PM
I'm well into 3C and of course completely baffled. I very
seldom read mysteries, altho I must confess to an Agatha
Christie period many years ago. But I am a great fan of the
PBS MYSTERY. I can't help seeing this book in my head as if
it were one of that series, even to the familiar faces of
the various actors, whose names I never remember.
=============== Reply 30 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/20
From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 0:30 AM
Cathy, the "puzzle" sub-genre is one I've never had any
interest in, so I was pleased that you put THE THREE
COFFINS on the list, the better to get other reader's
reactions. I have to say that having read TTC, which I
gather is a high-quality example of this species of
mystery (you wouldn't have us read anything else, after
all) I don't feel any desire to try any more. My problem
is that there's so much puzzle that there's very little
room for anything else -- characterization, action, et
cetera. The puzzle is certainly interesting in its own
right -- the mind boggles at Carr's ingenuity in con-
structing all this, and at the effort he must have invested
in doing so -- and I was never bored while reading it, but
I finished TTC feeling rather unsatisfied. I was glad to
have had the change of pace, but as a steady diet -- I
think I'll pass.
I don't have a great deal to add to what the other CRs
have had to say, so I'll just put in a few miscellaneous
observations. Like the rest of you, I found myself often
startled or bewildered by JDC's peculiar descriptions of
his character's appearances, facial expressions and
reactions; there were numerous places I had to stop and
make an effort to visualize what was being described and
had to give up. To take one instance: at some point, fairly
late in the story (I've looked for it, but can't find it),
one of the female characters is described as reacting with
"surprised indifference" or "indifferent surprise." Now,
I'm not altogether certain if this is technically an oxy-
moron, but I can tell you that it's entirely beyond my
ability to picture.
Likewise, Dr. Fell's "wows" brought me up short every
time; they seem quite out of keeping with the rest of the
Since the whole novel is so obviously a contrivance
(the diagram of the murder (or death) scene makes the
artificiality of it all quite plain), I wasn't bothered
at all by the Locked Room Lecture. (I wonder if this is
the first locked room mystery one had ever read, if this
little digression might not spoil countless others by
making them hugely easier to figure out.) My favorite part
of the whole book was that bit that Peggy pointed out
where Fell briefly alludes to the fact of his own
fictionality (is Carr fond of tossing in these odd little
bits from time to time?). At times, though, it did strike
me as perhaps self-justifying -- as though JDC was trying
to head off criticism for implausibilty.
I'm curious, Cathy: after reading so many of these
puzzlers, what kind of skill have you developed in figuring
them out before the final explanation? To do so with this
one, I guess you'd need to stop short before Fell's
lecture laying out the solution, and go back and reread the
whole novel, noting every possible clue along the way,
writing down significant points as you go. Then all you'd
need is some terrrific powers of deduction, a lively
imagination, and no small supply of patience. (I suspect,
too, that some special knowledge of conjuring methods
would be useful, if not vital, in reconstructing the
mirror trick.) This puzzle was so intricate, however, that
I have trouble believing that anyone, except perhaps
another mystery author, could ever succeed in working out
all the details independently). I was wise enough to never
even make any serious attempt to figure it all out, apart
from speculating early on that the murderer had an accomp-
lice in a small dirigible who lowered him on a rope onto
Grimaud's doorstep and picked him up from the window of
the study. Of course, the events on Cagliostro St. blew
that hypothesis pretty throughly to bits.
Thanks for bringing this one to our attention, Cathy;
it was fun to see CR move briefly into this minor key!
=============== Reply 31 of Note 21 =================
To: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Date: 05/21
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:09 PM
Allen, I've never really tried to figure 'em out ahead of
time, though the late Ellery Queen in the early part of his
(their) series always issued a Challenge To The Reader at an
appropriate point. His early works and Carr's stuff are
perhaps the best examples of the genre. Carr later matured
somewhat in character development; remember, when this was
written he was only 29.
What early exposure to these works HAS done for me is
sharpen my wits to noticing small things in all books and
everything else. It's even helped me professionally. The
particular work I do requires picking up on unusual or out
of place details that may prove quite important in building
up an overall picture of what the deleted expletive is going
on with a company's loss control. Recently I discovered
that my colleague in this specialty has a similar long time
interest in murder puzzles. Interestingly, we two have had
more success at this type of work than anybody else in the
company who's tried it, so I think the mental discipline
counts for a good deal.
=============== Reply 32 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/23
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:42 PM
Allen, I might add that when Carr first came out with the
series he wrote under the pseudonym Carter Dickson there was
critical speculation that the pseudonym really covered P.G.
Wodehouse. Yes, there's rollicking humor in there. Carr
discovered early on that you can hide clues in plain sight
if people think you're just being silly.
=============== Reply 33 of Note 21 =================
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 05/28
From: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Time: 3:55 AM
As usual here I come bringing up the rear. I did finish
THE THREE COFFINS a couple of days ago. Getting the book
was a real lucky find. One afternoon my son "needed a ride
from a local Irish Pub" located in a strip mall. While
parking the Houghton Free Taxi, I noticed they had added a
Used Book Store, so I thought I'd give it a try. And there
it was. A fairly good mystery section in fact, but not
eclectic. Most of these places reflect the tastes of the
owners more than the public that they are supposed to
serve. That's probably why so many of them don't last the
I proved that I am no smarter than any other CR, since I
didn't come close to the answer. I was close to Allen in
the lighter than air craft picking up the miscreant, but I
assumed it was a balloon rather than a dirigible. But then
I have never been good at solving these things. Even back
to my Hardy Boys days. And later, when my sister matured a
bit, my Nancy Drew days. Not in sight of the public of
course. Not that she wasn't a nice kid, but it would have
been embarrassing to be seen in public with good old Nancy.
As an aside, I wonder how much is owed to Nancy Drew by the
current crop of very good Women of Mystery? I know Sue
Grafton pays homage to Nancy. How about Sparkle Hayter?
Is there a Nancy Drew under that trench coat of WHAT'S A
GIRL GOTTA DO? I did read somewhere recently that the
Nancy Drew fans had found the real author of the books.
She turned out to be an editor for some Ohio or Iowa?
newspaper. Way up there in years now. She maintained her
secrecy all these years because she had a contract with
Edward Stratemeyer to accept money for the writing and not
tell anyone. Can you imagine in this day and age somebody
honoring a contract? Like athletic coaches?
Back to THE THREE COFFINS: There were a couple of trivial
things that caught my jaundiced eye. And I'm not sure if
it was Carr playing games or? One little line near the
beginning of the book, this little tid-bit. "...Got your
head about you? Good. I wish you'd phone the Hunter
Street police with these instructions; they'll get in touch
with the Yard. Tell 'em what happpened if they ask. DR
WATSON is to go to the address of this nursing home, and
the rest are to come on here...."
Could this be John Watson, the Army surgeon who was wounded
in India. I always wondered what happened to him.
Then, we encounter one of the policemen, a Sergeant
Preston. Maybe he is on leave from the RCMP in the Yukon.
And the wild similarity of a character named Rampole. But
Edd Houghton who will add some tomorrow, hopefully. Off to
prepare for angiography and arteriography about 8 hours
=============== Reply 36 of Note 21 =================
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/28
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:40 PM
Edd, I, too, hope your tests come out all right; I've been
worried about you from time to time when you slide off the
boards. The Dr. Watson thing was a deliberate pun on Carr's
part; he makes much more use of it in THE MAD HATTER
MYSTERY. I don't believe that John Mortimer, though a
contemporary, was writing mysteries during Carr's lifetime.
He was probably still trying cases. In his last years, Carr
wrote very nice reviews of new authors for Ellery Queen's
=============== Reply 37 of Note 21 =================
To: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Date: 05/29
From: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Time: 4:54 AM
THE THREE COFFINS (continued)
Another of Carr's contrivances was to start off the book
with mention of Cagliostro Street. Cagliostro's name only
appears where magicians are mentioned. As I recall
Cagliostro was a physician of some note, and dabbled in the
"black" arts. And then we wind up with a magician being
killed on this same street. A bit of overkill methinks.
The language is interesting in this mystery. The words
that gentlemen would use in public. Maybe a hell or a
doggone; nothing that could offend any but the most pious
of readers. Carr was probably at the tail end of the
gentlemen mystery writers. Those that were on their way
were not so refined. SS Van Dine of Philo Vance fame
called them (Dashell Hammet, etc) the erection and booze
writers. But then he was bitter because Philo Vance wasn't
selling and he had to give up his extravagant life style.
In this story Carr reminds me a lot of Ellery Queen.
Ellery used to "step outside the story" and announce that
he knew who the killer was. Much as Dr Fell admitted that
he was a story book detective. Certainly not something you
would catch Mike Hammer
But back at the mystery, the mirror seemed to come out of
left field. Didn't these cops have sense enough to check
the fireplace? I think it is implausible to believe that
something that big could have been overlooked. Also you
could not bend the thing to get in the fireplace in the
first place. The thing had to be about 7 feet tall didn't
One last little thing: JD Carr is certainly not above
advertising himself. Mentioning those other cases. With
caps, no less. Isn't that to let us know that those are
book titles. But then Conan Doyle also did that, but most
of those, like THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA were never
published. Nothing wrong with advertising. Very American.
But was John Dickson Carr an American?
On that advertising thing, a little tid-bit from Nancy
Drew, the Hardy Boys and all those other books from the
Stratemeyer writers. Edward Stratemeyer was the writer who
formulated most of the children's books in the first half
of this century. He found that he could accomplish more by
hiring other writers. But he insisted on a strict format
and adherence to the plot line that he provided. Somewhere
in everyone of his books, there was mention of the last
three books of the series. And in another chapter there
was mention of the next three books of the series. Now
that is the American way.
Edd Houghton who liked all of those old series. Even
those you may never have heard of: The Lone Eagle of the
Air, Tom Swift, Don Sturdy, The Rover Boys, Bomba the
Jungle Boy and so on.
Also thanks for the many kind words. Today I was shaved by
a nurse and had a catheter inserted into my groin. Still
haven't decided which scared me the most.
To: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Date: 05/29
From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:32 PM
I enjoyed your notes about mysteries. I was wondering about
the chimney myself. Didn't the police say elsewhere in the
book that the chimney was too small for a person to climb
down it? I have returned 3C's to the library, so I can't
look myself. I think it is all of those Nancy Drew books
that I read as a young girl that got my hooked on mysteries.
I also enjoyed playing "Nancy Drew" as well as playing
"cowboys and Indians" and "pirates".
I am happy to hear that you survived your tests. I hope
that the results are A+ marks. Jane in Colorado where all
of her French students showed up for the Final Exam!
=============== Reply 42 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/30
From: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Time: 4:01 AM
I was pretty sure Mortimer wasn't writing at the same time,
but the coincidence struck me. And it is an odd name.
Whether Rumpole or Rampole.
Edd Houghton who notes that I have occasionally slid off
the boards for fun things, but not as often as I would have
=============== Reply 44 of Note 21 =================
To: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Date: 05/30
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 10:52 PM
Gingko pills, Edd - speeds up the circulation but not the
blood pressure. Helps clean those arteries out. Your
doctor will undoubtedly have you on an antioxidant.
Yes, Carr was an American, the son of a hard-drinking one
term Congressman (with that qualification, I don't know why
he didn't make it longer!!). Most of his works were,
however, set in England, where he lived much of his adult
life. Again, he was working very hard to be successful as a
writer so his father wouldn't make him go to law school. -
Another Mortimer cross-reference there; unfortunately,
Mortimer proved not to be an Irish-American eel. Carr and
Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were good friends, as
Carr was a friend and fellow club member of Sayers,
Allingham, and the British set of his day.
Speaking of the hard boiled school, I wish I could find
the book I once got out of the library that had shorts by
famous detectives on detective story writing. The piece by
the Ellery Queen writers was called "The Sex Life of the
Gentleman Detective" and centered round a dirty trick
Hammett played on them when they were guest speakers at a
writing class Hammett was teaching them. Being Hammett, he
asked them outright to expound on Ellery's sex life, which
was purer and even more nebulous than Perry Mason's.
=============== Reply 45 of Note 21 =================
To: FBED59A EDWARD HOUGHTON Date: 05/30
From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:08 PM
Now I think about it, mention is made of a shelf in the
chimney just above the fireplace level, a safe repository
for the mirror and of course a herculanean task to get it up
there and remove it. Whether it's actually workable or not
I don't know. Carr did test many of his ploys out,
including the controversial one in THE JUDAS WINDOW (THE
CROSSBOW MURDER American Title). His widow assured the
biographer he spent a good deal of time working with
doorknobs and string. While the thing wouldn't work in a
modern house, I think there are some here in Nashville where
If you're still in a mystery mood, here are three good
ones I just devoured - WORST CASE SCENARIO by Michael Bowen,
a very savvy Washington insider mystery; WEIGHED IN THE
BALANCE by Anne Perry (anything of Perry's is worth reading)
, and MURDER, SHE MEOWED by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie
Brown. Who could resist that last title? Sneaky Pie has
recently put out her own line of cat toys and a tee shirt
for humans, and she also advertises aggressively.
=============== Reply 46 of Note 21 =================
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/31
From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 1:59 AM
If you examine 18th and 19th century fireplaces you'll find
them constructed on scales that amaze us today. The flue is
often six feet or more above the floor, and there is often
an area within the fireplace, and under the flue, high
enough for a person to stand erect. Obviously, not all
fireplaces are so grand, but many were -- so I, at least,
can believe in a fireplace sufficiently large to hide a good
sized mirror, out of sight, and above the fire box. I've a
picture of me standing inside a 17th century fireplace
(Linlithgow, maybe?) where the mantle line is a good foot
above my head (and in those legendary times, I was 6' 1").
Of course that was a royal palace, but you get the drift.
Dick in wet, rainy, cold Alaska
John Dickson Carr
What has always fascinated me about Carr was his sheer, minute scholarship and love of a good tale, qualities which more than offset his ambivalent
and sometimes distressing attitude toward women.
reading this book was great fun and as Dick pointed out, the London gloom at the onset helped to put us into the proper mood. In crime and in writing about it timing is everything.