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


( 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.)

                              7: The No Footprints Murder – The Hollow Man

Perhaps somewhat strange in some people’s eyes, but it’s here not fully based on it’s solution but based on the way it fits with everything that proceeds it. The solution itself is very good just as a solution and Carr plays fair with it, even revealing it in his locked room lecture though you likely won’t catch on. It however has it’s greatest success when the big picture of the crime is revealed. When you realize just how much everyone’s perception of this crime and the one that precede’s it was wrong then the impossibility is fully elevated. The way that all of these connected events end up with this death and the way that opinions and misinterpretation caused a certain viewpoint to be the only viewpoint is magnificent and upon seeing the tangled web Carr has created in this book you can see exactly why it’s so revered. It does have a flaw when it comes to one of the clues, but it hardly hurts this in any manner.

                            6: The Tower Fall’s – The Case of the Constant Suicides

Yes, the science behind this is questionable, but all in all it’s utterly brilliant. The way that the entire crime is structured is completely flawless and Carr shows true mastery in his resolution of the crimes separately. We discover the reasoning behind the first death before the two others and Carr uses this perfectly in order to setup the second and third murder’s in conjunction with the first. As said above, the method is questionable, but it does have very real roots and I can see it actually working in several other scenario’s besides this one and the way that Carr integrates the essential item into the plot is another stroke of genius with the dog carrier being icing on the cake. Why does it fall this low then? It simply lacks as much pizazz as some of the other methods or doesn’t have special attribute that fully takes me in.

                          5/4: Grimaud’s Death – The Hollow Man

I could not choose between this crime or the next one on my list, but this is a more technically superior solution whose  laws stop it from going ahead or below the next one. The crimes of The Hollow Man all share one common element that makes them so amazing and thats reversal. The reasoning behind Grimaud’s death is quite simply, some of the best in the history of impossible crime fiction. It completely changes all of our ideas about the book while making perfect sense at the same time. It makes all of the little clues and discrepancies beforehand add up and makes you see that everything before this had a purpose and was there for a reason. It’s core idea is also stunning, with it probably being the best example of this kind of trick in any form of detective fiction and this is the crime that truly showed the world that Carr could do the impossible and you can see why. It however fails only due to a few basic mistakes. The chief among them being how the police could have missed a very obvious object that could have easily solved the entire puzzle much quicker and that flaw is too glaring for me to put this solution any higher than this.

                      5/4: Eve’s Defenestration – In Spite of Thunder

This is probably one of the bigger surprises on this list, given the near invisibility of this book in the blogging community, but I absolutely cherish it. I love impossible defenestrations. They are my favorite kind of impossible crime ( do I smell a new list coming soon?) and I will read any book featuring one ( my bias is showing!). This was one of my first Carr reads and I completely adored it. The impossible crime is magnificent with a beautiful setup and a incredible scene in which it goes down. The solution itself is just as good as the setup, with it directly tying to several previous event’s in both the fictional and real world. It provides a excellent solution to a sub category of explanations for impossible crimes while also being completely engrossing in execution and reveal. Part of my love for this comes from the true awe I felt reading this, seeing a incredible solution for a favorite conundrum while also reading a latter Carr that featured one. Yes, the solution to the puzzle would easily be revealed with a autopsy, but that’s how many a good impossible crime works and the way accident plays in is astounding. The use of a common household object that connects both potential crimes in the book is also very subtle in design and helps create a truly powerful ending. I am probably overrating this to an extreme, but I could not place this any lower than here.

                         3: Dr. Nemo Comes to Town – The Problem of the Green Capsule

This is purely an alibi problem, but it’s an impossible alibi problem. Only three people had the motive for killing someone and the ability to do it ( four technically if looking at the assistant, but his bludgeoning knocks him out) and yet they all were present during the murder and seemingly couldn’t have left their positions to commit the murder. There is an entire argument that can be built around whether this is impossible or not, but given the circumstances and the solution, a impossibility is very clearly defined in my mind. The end result is perfect with the solution being such a reversal that I had to put the book down for a solid few minutes before returning to my reading. It makes everything that occurs during the murder and after it clear and concise while also providing the ideal reason for a second murder. There are no flaws with this, it is the zenith of the alibi problem and showcases all of Carr’s talents at once. He manages to create something out of seemingly nothing here and produces what could easily be called his best book in the process all while instilling the overall motive and murder will a macabre tone that mixes beautifully with everything else.

                          2: The Thing and John Farnleigh – The Crooked Hinge

The solution is exceptional with it fitting all the details snuggly and being astonishing in reveal and execution, but it is not the solution that makes this so incredible, it is the effect the solution produces. The magnitude of the horror that the victim must have felt when being at death’s door is unimaginable and it sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it. The way that everything in the past and in the present has lead to this moment of pure evil or pure retribution is gorgeous and the end reveal has shocked generations of readers and will continue too do so. This solution does not play completely fair, but this is a case where I ignore that based on the merit of the setup. Carr does not dispel a stifling atmosphere by solving the crime here, he only add’s to it and creates something that will be nearly impossible to replicate in any other work of crime fiction. This is a gothic horror mixed with the detective story in a perfect manner and it deserves all of the praise it garners.

                       1: The Vampire Tower – He Who Whispers

A flawless setup, flawless solution, and flawless effect. As opposed to The Crooked Hinge, this solution brings up sadness as an effect instead of horror. There is horror in the crime, but the sadness it produces provides the horror. The way that certain actions come into play and the character of people blend in to create the overarching solution is spectacular and the raw emotion that is packed into this changes both the characters in the fictional world and the readers in the real world. The solution is also based on perfectly placed clues that are easily ignored by us during reading but become obvious upon rereading while also coming off as a true tragedy created by the follies of human nature. He Who Whispers is a masterpiece: because of it’s characters, because of it’s atmosphere, and because of it’s resolution.


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

  1. I’m delighted to see that someone else rates the somewhat overlooked horror element of The Crooked Hinge so highly — I think it’s a beautiful piece of plotting, and am a little baffled that Carr, with all his narrative skills, didn’t seek to make more of it once the solution is revealed (but, well, I suppose that nature of that reveal…). I can’t believe he didn’t have it in him in either skill or insight to play up to aspects of that solution, but equally he slides past so much of it that I think it was very more a desire on his part to try resolcing something in a new way. Either way, it doesn’t get enough love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Crooked Hinge seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years and has been replaced by works like Till Death Do Us Part and He Who Whispers. Its’s a marvelous story and solution that has some of Carr’s best atmosphere and I can easily see why it has been so heavily praised by others and though I understand why some people dislike it because of the solution, most of the stuff previous to that is quite wonderful. Nearly all of the titles on the 1981 list are now considered to be less than other works, perhaps a byproduct of such a list making them seem to be the best of the best, something that inevitably lead’s to disappointment in many a reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always think The Green Capsule as an unbreakable alibi problem instead of an impossible one. The reader knows from the beginning how the murder was done. The problem is that all the suspects have a perfect alibi.

    Either way, the solution to the ‘how’ problem is brilliant and even though I struggled with the other aspects of the book (Elliot’s behavior, the poisoned chocolates subplot, the guy shot at the end for no reason at all) and was 90% sure about the murderer’s identity, I still enjoyed it.


    1. There is an entire argument that can be built around whether a unbreakable alibi can be an impossible one, though I’m sure that’s already has been discussed thoroughly. I feel that if all the possible suspects are present in a way that makes any of them committing the crime impossible, the crime itself is impossible.
      Yes, the shooting near the end is utterly ridiculous, putting a stain on a near perfect book. I didn’t mind any of your other dislikes, but the identity of the killer was very obvious, though figuring out how they did it was not!


  3. Crooked Hinge and He Who Whispers are my two favorite Carr’s, bar none! Although I haven’t read CH for many years, I still remember the resolution of the witchcraft plot as making me shiver and the killer’s secret as doing pretty much the same thing. HWW was a recent read and a perfect one. Yes, I glommed onto the killer’s identity almost immediately, and yet the whole plot had me flummoxed. And that final page . . . you said it perfectly above: both sadness and horror can tear you apart!


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