Ranking Carr’s Impossibilities: The Dr. Gideon Fell Series, Part Two


( A Warning to Readers: I will say the names of victims and allude to methods in some of my rankings, so if you wish to remain completely unspoiled please skim this post or avoid it.)

                                    13: The Sealed Cottage – The Case of the Constant Suicides

One of Carr’s more technical solutions. The core idea is ingenious and would do well in a novella or short story, but it really doesn’t feel suitable for the length of a book. Carr may have tried to relieve this short coming by introducing the murder late into the book, but it actually harms it as the idea is never fleshed out and the overall result comes off as unsatisfying. This doesn’t harm the book in any way, it simply feels a bit unnecessary after you have read the book and fully collected your thoughts.

                      12: The Disturbed Coffins – The Sleeping Sphinx

Another fantastic scenario, being coffins seemingly moved around in a sealed crypt, that is marred by solution. The atmosphere behind this is gorgeous, with the situation being incredibly air tight and fascinating. However – it is ruined by a sub-par explanation and the weakest of motivations. The final explanation relies on natural circumstances and while still moderately ingenious, it doesn’t fully live up to everything before and comes of as something thrown in so that Carr could have a impossibility. The natural circumstances also give this no motivation for the why, with it simply being dumb luck, something that I generally abhor with my impossibilities.

                 11: The Flying Gun – The Man Who Could Not Shudder

The first incarnation of this idea was a gun that flew up from it’s position on a wall, stopped in mid air and then shot a man to death. That situation is genuinely one of the strangest I’ve ever encountered in novel form and would have fit perfectly in a Halter novel but Carr instead decides to tone down the impossible and reveal that the gun simply shot itself while on the wall. The toning down of the impossibility is disappointing and leaves us with a much more mundane ( only in comparison) situation. The solution isn’t a absolute stunner, but it fits the puzzle and though technical is still fairly clued. I honestly don’t dislike the use of this “gadget” here, and in the end the solution is nicely tied to the previous events in the novel with a really funny explanation for the why.

                         10: Miss Taylor’s Poisoning – Below Suspicion

This one was hard to classify, it could easily be un-impossible or only quasi-impossible in some people’s eyes, but the solution and overall situation make it impossible in my eyes. The situation isn’t as solid as other impossible scenario’s, but it has enough of a locked in element and no one else could have possibly done it if this person didn’t do it that makes it impossible in my eyes ( the same as The Judas Window).  The fact that the poisoning only resulted because of the victim’s own a actions is brilliant and Carr also uses the victim’s culpability to set up a key piece of misdirection in the beginning which may convince many that a certain person isn’t guilty. The solution also has a brilliant setup in terms of why the victim decided to do a few certain things, with a bunch of random and related event’s coming together joyously to create a delicious ending that features one of the best examples of a certain motive for impossibilities.

                         9: Sealed Room Poisoning – Till Death Do Us Part

Carr considered this to be his best solution to the classic completely locked room problem, something that I both agree and disagree with. The set up here is marvelous, with the tale of Lesley’s previous exploits as a impossible murderess leading up to a astonishing scene that reveals that the teller of said tale has been killed in nearly the exact same circumstances. The solution is very technical and though I figured it out easily after reading the explanation, a diagram would still have been appreciated. The technicality isn’t disappointing at all in this case and in fact helps the novel through it’s simplicity and the way it just fits with the overarching murder. It only falls so low due to stiff competition and the fact that it lacks a certain element that makes your mouth drop and makes everything make sense in an instant.

                              8: The Poisoned Bottle – Below Suspicion

Three impossible poisonings in a row? How bigoted am I! Below Suspicion has two very good impossible situations and both are only impossible if a certain person’s testimony is taken seriously, something that is reminiscent of The Judas Window. A water glass is fully cleaned in front of several witnesses and is left in the sight of a woman who claims that no one could have approached and but poison in the glass and that she herself did not do it. This situation is much more impossible than the first and the solution is ingenious, with it being perfectly feasible and fitting snuggly into the plot. The identity of the poisoner is a big clue in and off itself, but there’s still a large chance that you won’t get the solution if you figure out who and it’s reliance on a certain trick and object is utterly brilliant in my eyes, with the end result being a wondrous and masterful impossibility by the King of the sub-genre.

Tune in next time for the last seven impossibilities, with a few choices that will likely be somewhat strange and controversial to several readers.






5 thoughts on “Ranking Carr’s Impossibilities: The Dr. Gideon Fell Series, Part Two

  1. I love Constant Suicides as a book, but the cottage solution is, you’re right, something of a technical one and thus a disappointing note in an otherwise top notch book. Very interested to see what your top bunch turn out to be; I’m guessing the poisoning from The Devil in Velvet ain’t number 1…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. CotCS is a masterful book with a gorgeous front and center impossibility and resolution ( did I just spoil my own ranking!), and in all honesty the locked cottage situation doesn’t harm it in any way ( I just remembered that Carr reused the solution from an earlier short story so that may explain it’s poor execution).
      The impossible poisoning in DiV is too good to be on this list. It’s obviously the best impossible solution anyone ever came up with and the solution to Nigel Mason’s fall in DoD seems minor in comparison 😉


  2. Fun article, although I had to skip over The Sleeping Sphinx – that one is next on my list.

    It’s funny – I remember every single solution to every single mystery that I’ve read, but for some reason, I can’t recall the solutions to the crimes in Below Suspicion. I certainly recall who committed them, but the exact mechanics of how they played out is frustratingly stuck on the tip of my tongue. It’s actually a nice thing though – Below Suspicion is a vastly under-appreciated work and now I have an excuse to read it a second time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Enjoy TSS, it’s one of Carr’s most underrated works and I can’t wait to see what you make of it.
      I too suffer from that grave affliction called memory that makes rereading many books a challenge but Below Suspicion is also quite hazy for me. It’s definitely under appreciated, and after reading it I distinctly remember wondering why people had hated it so much.

      Liked by 1 person

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