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5.0 out of 5 stars Undoubtedly a masterpiece, but not the place to start with John Dickson Carr
A conflict presents itself once an author has written a certain number of books: you want to read the good ones, but where to start? Assuming you can even find their first novel, it probably isn't going to fly to the heights of some of their later work, and if you start with what by common consensus is their best book then surely it's all downhill from there. I have...
Published 4 months ago by jxn

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A locked room classic because of the plot, not the writing style!
If books were rated purely on plot, then this novel would garner an immediate 5-star rating.

PLOT
The plot itself leaves the reader wanting to know HOW the murders were done. How could two different men get shot with the same gun within the space of about 20 minutes when one was shot in a room locked from the inside, and the other was shot in the middle of...
Published 11 months ago by W. H. J. Yip


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5.0 out of 5 stars Undoubtedly a masterpiece, but not the place to start with John Dickson Carr, 29 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Hollow Man (Paperback)
A conflict presents itself once an author has written a certain number of books: you want to read the good ones, but where to start? Assuming you can even find their first novel, it probably isn't going to fly to the heights of some of their later work, and if you start with what by common consensus is their best book then surely it's all downhill from there. I have this exact problem with Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels - and if I read too many duffs I'm likely to be put off and miss out on some amazing writing.

And so to John Dickson Carr. Around 80 novels to his name, most of them currently out of print, the most oft-cited of the rest being The Hollow Man in which a murderer disappears from a locked study in a manner so audacious that even his victim - dying but not dead following the attack - proclaims with his final breath "God knows how he got out of that room". People discuss this book with the type of vocabulary usually reserved for religious conversions, and if you've heard of it but not read it then I'm guessing you haven't read any Carr at all, and so the issue becomes, as described above, whether this is the place to begin.

Well, frankly, no. See, I'm not convinced that it's the best novel Carr wrote, but the reason it's so adored is that it highlights everything he did so well throughout his career: firstly, the impossibilities are beautifully technical, patterned out in a way that fits every gear of his howling, cascading, tumbling plot together into a perfectly tidy and compact machine; secondly, the density of his plotting builds a hair-on-the-backs-of-your-arms atmosphere in a way that pitches you almost entirely out of what could have been a rather vacuous standard crime melee - the horror of the unknown is hidden in grubby backstairs entrances, melting snow mixes with human amorality and self-preservation, and everything is crushed together under the weight of the frank impossibility of what has but provably can't have happened; thirdly, his characters, while possibly a little broad at times, fill out the story in a way that makes it breathe - the history, the sense of betrayal, the sleight of hand that enables the entire thing to run feels authentic even given the obvious artifice involved in such an undertaking as this (no-one, after all, is pretending this is even remotely true to life, rather that it's probably just about possible).

But everything being turned up to 11 is a little overwhelming, and I'd suggest that you need to appreciate Carr first independent of the stature of this book. From those currently available, I'd suggest beginning with The Man Who Could Not Shudder followed by The Case of the Constant Suicides (don't be put off by the title, it's a riotously hilarious book) to get an idea of how much fun Carr is having, then the genuinely curious amongst you could try Death-Watch or The Four False Weapons for the density of his plotting, and then probably The Judas Window to see how he can turn an entire plot in the space of a sentence. I'm aware that takes reading one book and turns it into a syllabus of four or five, but there's so much richness there that if anything I'm doing you a favour. And then, as you will hopefully still wish to, you get to read The Hollow Man and appreciate its many wonders.

I'm a lover of Carr and keen to convert others to his ways, but I'm also a realist and appreciate that taken on its own this won't be everyone's cup of tea. If the above syllabus doesn't appeal, I'd suggest at least one of them before trying this - they're all excellent books for different reasons - or just dive in and see how you fare. Either way, if the journey is still ahead of you then I consider you very fortunate indeed and bid you good travelling!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A locked room classic because of the plot, not the writing style!, 28 Jan 2014
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W. H. J. Yip ""squodge photography"" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (Paperback)
If books were rated purely on plot, then this novel would garner an immediate 5-star rating.

PLOT
The plot itself leaves the reader wanting to know HOW the murders were done. How could two different men get shot with the same gun within the space of about 20 minutes when one was shot in a room locked from the inside, and the other was shot in the middle of a road (some distance away from the first crime) with no footprints of the perpetrator left in the snow? The answer is revealed towards the end of the book, and it does make sense.

STYLE
The characters in the book are dreadful. Dr Fell is the protagonist, if you like, the man who will solve these "impossible crimes". However, he's about as interesting as a Sunday league football match. And most of the "support cast" have personalities that are as hollow as the book title itself. The way they talk seems unnatural and too contrived, even if we accept that this is a work of fiction. The dialogue works, but it's purely functional - most of it has no emotional impact. The book was written almost 80 years ago, but that doesn't excuse it from having drivel for dialogue. The style, in itself, is enough to lose the rating 2 stars.

PAGE TURNER?
In a sense, this novel is a page turner. You're desperate to find out how the crimes were committed, and you don't want to miss a single word in case you think you'll miss out an essential little detail. However, it was more a sense of relief than joy when I discovered the full reasons for how the crimes were committed (I guessed some of the more obvious things, which I've kind of learned over the years from other such stories). You'll find yourself racing to finish the book, mainly to put it out of its misery.

SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
If you want a story that's very close to the perfect "impossible crime", then it's a must-read. But if you're after literary excellence, look elsewhere. This book really is for the fans of locked room mysteries. I had to buy the paperback, as it's not even released on Kindle. Perhaps if more people voted for the book to be published on Kindle, then you'd all be able to get a lower-priced copy - in which case, it would become quite close to "essential reading". For the current price (£6.29, as of 28 January 2014), it's a bit steep for what I consider a badly-written book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Poor stuff. Cardboard characters, 2 Dec 2014
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (Paperback)
Poor stuff. Cardboard characters, unreadable dialogue and a plot which starts promisingly but in the end requires the author to draw diagrams to explain it. A good illustration of how some "classics" age very badly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 9 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (Paperback)
great book thanks Sue
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Hollow Man, 28 Nov 2013
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This was very disappointing. I had hoped for a cosy old-fashioned locked-door murder mystery and though it is this to some extent, the characters are dull and uninteresting and the story is boring. The "hero" (Dr. Fell) does little throughout yet manages to solve the mystery with little input except right at the end using some information not previously provided to the reader.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars clever plot but rather tedious reading, 28 Nov 2013
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redversb (Kendal, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (Paperback)
This is justly famed for its ingenious plot, but I found it was in places quite difficult reading. Particularly when Dr Fell outlines all the different ways in which a murder might be committed in a locked room. Frankly, I found I was "ploughing through" the book, rather than really enjoyable. It is worth reading once, but I doubt if I shall read it again.
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The Hollow Man
The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr (Paperback - 29 Aug 2013)
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