JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Door to Doom and Other Detections. Edited by Douglas G. Greene. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1980. International Polygonics, paperback, 1991.

   For this audience it goes without saying that mystery author John Dickson Carr will be remembered longest for his many unmatchable novels of locked-room detection, published both under his name and as the easily identifiable Carter Dickson.

   In his work the greatest emphasis was most often on atmosphere – and what better magician’s device to thwart he mind and eye of the reader could there be than clouds of (figuratively) black swirling darkness and ominous threats f the supernatural?

   Such hints rarely extended beyond what was needed to trick the reader’s thoughts into taking yet another false trail, however. Carr’s conservative roots never allowed him to stay an iota from the credo of fair-play detection he so firmly believed in. To the discerning reader, the clues were always there, but if you missed them, you needn’t worry — you were far from being alone!

   In his introduction to this anthology of previously uncollected short work, Douglas Greene downplays Carr’s ability at characterization, but I demur. True, as with most of Carr’s contemporaries in what is fondly called “The Golden Age of Detection,” the story was the thing. I still suspect that few who have read any of the cases solved by Carr’s most famous character, Dr. Gideon Fell, will ever forget the picture they have in their minds of that jovial, triple-chinned detective with the shovel hat, bumbling manners, and the razor-sharp mind for the smallest false detail. Carr just did not happen to believe that the personal lives of his detectives were a matter of concern to the reader.

   The stories in this collection are themselves a mixed bag. They range from the early stories of Carr’s first detective, Henri Bencolin of the Paris police, recently discovered in the pages of his college’s literary magazine, to a selection of radio plays from the famous CBS series Suspense, vintage early 1940s, to a trio of horror stores done a few years earlier for the pulp magazines. Needless to add, when Carr wrote a horror story, it was a horror story.

   Nor has Greene included (or more likely, could not find) a story, no matter its source, which does not reflect an obvious professional finesse in mixing plot with atmosphere.

   Also included are a pair of Sherlockian playlets, parodies for which the best one might say for them is that you had to be there. Closing out the book, just before the inclusive 26-page bibliography, is Carr’s famous essay on “The Grandest Game in the World,” the game he played with his readers for over forty years. The game of fool-them-if-you-can, but never at all costs.

   John Dickson Carr died in 1977. After finishing this book, the only regret one can have is that there are no more stories out there somewhere to be discovered someday to make up another such volume as this. There are more radio plays, to be sure, but so low is the state of dramatic radio in this country today, it seems highly unlikely that any publisher would consider a followup collection of more of these to have a chance for commercial success.

   But we have the novels, and the other stories, don’t we, a wealth of riches to read and enjoy, if not for the first time, why then, again and again.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.