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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest ever locked room mystery
John Dickson Carr's many excellent mysteries are hard to find these days, so any reissue is extremely welcome. The Hollow Man is his masterpiece, a brilliant confection of creepy atmosphere, strong characterisation and intricate plotting.
One of Carr's strengths was always his ability to imply the supernatural in his baffling 'impossible crimes', and here he is at...
Published on 13 Jun 2002

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever but wooden characters
This is not the sort of book I would normally read, but I decided to try it because my husband enjoyed it and because it is still considered one of the best examples of its sub-genre - the locked room mystery. At first I found it so weird and uninteresting that I considered abandoning it, but my attention was grabbed by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder...
Published on 18 Dec 2010 by Suzie


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest ever locked room mystery, 13 Jun 2002
By A Customer
John Dickson Carr's many excellent mysteries are hard to find these days, so any reissue is extremely welcome. The Hollow Man is his masterpiece, a brilliant confection of creepy atmosphere, strong characterisation and intricate plotting.
One of Carr's strengths was always his ability to imply the supernatural in his baffling 'impossible crimes', and here he is at the peak of his powers. It's a scary, exciting, enormously satisfying puzzle, through which we are guided by the Chestertonian Dr. Fell, one of the more endearing detectives in fiction.
Any lover of the Golden Age detective novel who doesn't know Carr (or his pseudonym, Carter Dickson) is missing out on one of the best. Get this book today!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Locked-Room Mystery, 9 Jun 2002
By A Customer
Also published under the title "Three Coffins", JDC's 1935 puzzler is the supreme example of the locked-room mystery.

A stranger calls on Dr Grimaud and announces that his brother will rise from the grave and kill Grimaud. A week later a mysterious figure enters Grimaud's study, shoots him and vanishes. The original stranger is sought, and it is found that he was shot at close range fifteen minutes later - the body lies in the middle of a snow covered street, the smoking gun at hand, but no-one's footprints are found by the body...

The solution is terrifically entertaining (and more importantly satisfying), and the novel devilishly plotted. Although the solution may rely on a piece of slightly suspect pyschology, JDC addresses the question and, as he puts it in the extended review of the mechanics of the locked-room story included in the tale, one should never confuse the unlikely with the impossible...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever but wooden characters, 18 Dec 2010
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Suzie (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This is not the sort of book I would normally read, but I decided to try it because my husband enjoyed it and because it is still considered one of the best examples of its sub-genre - the locked room mystery. At first I found it so weird and uninteresting that I considered abandoning it, but my attention was grabbed by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder - in a locked room from which no one could have escaped without being seen or leaving footprints in the snow. I read on and am pleased I did, but that's about all.

If you are prepared to accept wooden characters in a puzzle, pure and simple, you'll doubtless enjoy it. But if you prefer a character-driven story inhabited by people whose thoughts and emotions you can share and understand then this is probably not for you. To me the book was merely a puzzle in which all the clues are revealed, but easily missed. It's clever, and even involves a Gothic Transylvanian back-story, but the characters felt two-dimensional - people you didn't get to know and couldn't empathise with. And as I neared the end I realised that I didn't even know who Dr Fell was, despite him being, I suppose, the main protagonist, the person who solves the mystery. Whether he is himself a police officer, or merely a pal of the main detective, I have no idea as I wasn't interested enough to find out. Similarly, a character called Rampole - he was present throughout, but was he, I began to wonder, associated with the police, or with the strange household of the murdered man? Again, because the characters themselves were so unreal, I couldn't be bothered to look back.

Despite the criticisms though, I'd still say that if you like a mystery to solve it's a book worth reading and would recommend it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit glib in places, but basically awesome, 28 Aug 2008
By 
It can be tricky to explain the charms of the Golden Age locked-room mystery to the uninitiated. So many of the trappings of the genre are (let's face it) fairly absurd, and if the reader can't get over that fact, he or she is never really going to feel the magic. Which is a shame, because John Dickson Carr is FOR TEH WIN and Doctor Gideon Fell is a Creation of Genius. In a typical John Dickson Carr novel, a crime gets committed in a totally baffling way, surrounded by circumstances that just don't make sense, and a cerebral detective of some description turns up to puzzle out the logical (if contrived) explanation. The suspects, witnesses and general supporting cast tend to consist of opinionated eccentrics, no-nonsense coppers, and air-headed Wodehousian couples who have trouble understanding that reality won't obey the rules of the detective stories they've read. Although ironically, of course, it will.

John Dickson Carr wrote a large number of these locked-room mystery novels and and novellas, but The Hollow Man, also known as 'The Three Coffins', is widely regarded as his masterpiece. Much of Carr's output was 'variations on a theme'; Hollow Man feels like it's the closest he ever got to a definitive example of the genre. All the trappings are in place, including some fabulous bits of Gothic atmosphere. The backstory to the crimes - the tale of the three coffins - is as delightfully grotesque as anything Carr ever wrote, and at the other end of the scale Doctor Fell's perverse sense of humour is still spot-on. The mystery itself is, naturally, very clever, and although some of the details are bit contrived in the usual Carr way, there are some fantastically logical surprises in store which will really have you smacking yourself on forehead when you realize how obvious they should have been.

And yet... at times The Hollow Man almost feels like it's trying to hard to fit in absolutely everything that Carr thinks defines the locked-room mystery. This culminates in an extensive fourth-wall-breaking 'lecture' towards the end of the book, in which the detective Doctor Fell addresses the reader directly and methodically classifies all the clever methods by which Golden Age murderers commit their impossible crimes. It's not even a very rigorous classification - half of Carr's own books don't fit any of the patterns described, although maybe that's the point and Carr is showing off on purpose.

Either way, it jars a bit. It seems like Carr probably thought that his readers were already reconciled to a certain amount of ambient absurdity in this sort of mystery, and wouldn't mind another knowing wink. If so, he underestimated my powers of suspension of disbelief, at least, because I didn't find most of The Hollow Man anything less than completely immersive, implausible though it may be. If you've read other Carr, you'll know what to expect and The Hollow Man delivers it in spades. If you haven't read any Carr yet, you'll just have to take my word for it that he's the best kept secret of the Golden Age of Crime. Compared to Dickson Carr, Dorothy Sayers is a total chump. Buy this book or I will never forgive you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's not to like??, 10 Jan 2012
A corker. Luckily, this was the first JDC full length novel I ever read and have never forgotten it. A great set up, fab atmosphere - very creepy but all cleverly explained at the end, and of course, a wonderful finale!

Those who moan about the plot need to step back and see how carefully and cleverly the structure of this and many of his other books, are worked out, assembled and calculated to give a really satisfying "wrap up".

I agree that not all of his tales work and that some of the so called humour can be a bit wearing but, for Heavens sake, these are stories from the golden age, when detective novels depended on ratiocination, astuteness and first class plotting, not on gore, sex and foul language, so often present in many of todays "thrillers".

Clever, thoughtful writing, with no reliance on crudity and the lazy, predictable scripts that make the majority of todays best sellers.

The Hollow Man (or, in typically unimaginative American publications, "The Three Coffins"), is truly a masterwork!!

Long live Fell, Merrivale, March and Bencolin!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic plot but average to poor characters (and too many of them!), 24 Sep 2013
By 
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (CRIME MASTERWORKS) (Kindle Edition)
A very enthusiastic friend suggested I read The Hollow Man as I'm a lover of detective fiction and the idea of the locked room mystery is always appealing. But I have to admit that I struggled to get through this book. It has a fantastic plot, well constructed, an exceptionally well written Gothic-esque back story and a thoroughly believable solution that I didn't see coming. It ticked all the boxes for an engaging and compelling mystery/detective novel and as a locked room scenario, I can easily see why it's considered one of the masterpieces.

However, I feel that the novel was let down massively by the characters. I should preface this by confessing that I've never read any of the author's other works and I get the feeling that I would have enjoyed it much more if I'd done so. There were too many 'extra' characters that seemed unnecessary, particularly among the friends of the victim and this made it unnecessarily confusing. Even the main 'investigative team' seemed overmanned and it was difficult to see the relationships between them? I had no idea who Dr Fell is or how he came to be involved with detective work (or what he's a Dr of) and Rampole seemed completely unnecessary. I also felt some of the dialogue between characters was unrealistic and this often jarred.

There were many positives to the book but it's certainly plot rather than character led.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly tough going but worth it., 28 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Hollow Man (CRIME MASTERWORKS) (Kindle Edition)
I mark this down one notch because at times I found it was not an easy read. However, with memories of other Dickson Carr books, I kept going and was rewarded with a brilliant ending. You may have your suspicions of who may have committed the crimes but I defy you to come close to the solution of how they were done. A worthy challenge but the middle is more like a suggested reading list of classic detective stories than proper narrative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Hollow Man, 10 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Hollow Man (CRIME MASTERWORKS) (Kindle Edition)
The sixth Dr Fell mystery has a mysterious painting, three coffins, and two impossible murders.

What a disappointment. I know it is considered a classic of its kind and I agree the puzzle itself is a real puzzler. Unfortunately, there is no atmosphere, no build-up. Dr Fell does his thing but the narrative is a mess. The conversations all merge into one on many occasions as the voices are not distinct enough. Things do improve towards the end, but as has been said in one two other reviews, this book is exclusively about the presentation and solving of a puzzle. Anything else regarding sense of place, characters and atmosphere are given scant consideration.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ingenuity + Complexity = Confusion, 8 Mar 2012
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John Dickson Carr produced in 1935 a masterpiece of ingenuity in the who-dun-it genre called `The Hollow Man'. The book concerns a murder in a closed room and another in a an almost empty street where untouched snow poses the question how it was done. Dr. Fell leads the investigation and his style bought to my mind the rhyme `I do not like thee, Dr. Fell..... `
So what's wrong? The style is very `cramped' with characters engaged in dialogues which are almost a series of monologues about how, when, why and who. Settings form just a backdrop and action is limited largely to Jonsonian style discussions. In sum, the book is really a set of problems: how could the killer escape, what did the victims say, what was the motivation for the crimes? It isn't just the occasional red herring that is thrown in a la Christie, the reader is barraged with a deluge of red herrings and genuine clues at an alarming rate. The book is only just over 200 pages, perhaps it would have been better if it were double the length.
Certainly by the end my brain was so sizzled it could not really handle the convoluted solution. So I found myself questioning the role of a jeweller's window-display, the activities of wounded men, the ready identification of a flat and the circumstances of the initial motive for the crime. I feel I wasn't doing the book justice
For brains stronger than my own there's a lot in the puzzle to exercise the 'little grey cells'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic impossible crime mystery, 2 Mar 2009
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A classic impossible crime mystery with two murders being committed by someone who appears to have firstly left a sealed room and then secondly left no traces in a snow covered street. There is an excellent background story to explain the build up to the current situation. The talk by Dr Fell on the whole concept of sealed room murders is well known and worth reading, it may help the reader in solving other mysteries although there are endless possible variations. Despite a couple of possible flaws in the plot, which I cannot discuss without spoiling it, the book is still a classic impossible crime novel.
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