The Case of the Constant Suicides by John Dickson Carr (Jun 1941)

On the night of his death Angus Campbell retired to his bedchamber at the top of Shira Castle. The following morning, his body was found at the base of the tower, dead from a fall through it’s one window. A post-mortem shows he was not overcome by drink or drugs, and therefore accidental death is ruled out. Angus locked and bolted the door from the inside; that one window is almost sixty feet above the ground. It’s obvious he jumped, but was it suicide or was he driven to it? Since his only inheritance is multiple insurance policies, suicide would have created financial pressures for the family. But given the setting, the alternative of murder seems impossible.

I knew that this was going to be a story that I loved when Carr begins by introducing two principle characters and laying out the deliciously entertaining backstory of the Professor Campbells. These scholars of history have been involved in a critical intellectual discussion via the pages of a newspaper which soon disintegrates into an all out brawl, bordering on vilification and personal offense. Then both, responding to a mysterious summons to Castle Shira, board a crowded train to Glasgow, where due to a mistake, Alan Campbell and Kathryn Campbell end up in the same single sleeping compartment. Throughout the story they are placed in awkward situations, arguing incessantly, and of course are attracted to each other. 

The other characters Carr creates are just interesting, and all play off each other so well. Angus’ younger brother Colin, has a penchant for the family whiskey; Swan, the reporter who’s run ins with the Campbell clan will either result in pneumonia or tetanus; and then there’s Aunt Elspat, Angus’ long time “housekeeper” and her interesting code of behavior. What else can I say but, “A‘weel.”

Carr’s fondness for humor is on full display throughout, and he delivers it in a masterful way. There is none of the frantic non-stop or broad slapstick that can sometimes infiltrate his stories. No, this one is simple, unforced humor created when events and characters collide. All I have to do is think of the line “Alan Campbell opened one eye” and I immediately smile thinking of the events which preceded.

And lest we forget, there is the mystery. Beginning with Angus’s death, Carr presents three impossible, locked-room crimes for Dr. Gideon Fell to solve. I may be new to the impossible mystery, but I thought they were masterfully done. The solution is ingenious (and entirely possible…yes I’m talking to you Kate, and after a bit of a literature search I may have found Carr’s source material, The Doctor Looks at Death by Edward Martens1…too bad I’ll never know for sure!). And although Carr does give us a hint very early on, the identity of the murderer was never apparent—at least not to me.

This is by far the best Carr I’ve read to date. And I already want to read it again!

My Judgment – 5/5

Prior Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy, Ben @ The Green Capsule, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Nick @ The Grandest Game in the World, Mike @ Only Detect, José @ A Crime is Afoot, JJ @ The Invisible Event, Anjana @ The Superfluous Reader

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories: #22 Repeat Offenders: Favorite author book 1

1Marten, Manuel Edward (1937). The doctor looks at murder, by M. Edward Marten. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.

5 thoughts on “The Case of the Constant Suicides by John Dickson Carr (Jun 1941)

  1. The romance (never one of Carr’s strengths) is quite fetching. I still remember vividly the image of their reflections in the train window. TCotCS is probably the best entry point for readers new to Carr.

    1. That’s the perfect description…fetching! This is a book that would be…palatable(?)…too more readers. It has a blend of everything JDC (mystery, humor, atmosphere, romance, prose) without going over the top.

  2. I am really happy you enjoyed this one so much. I obviously agree with you (thanks for the link) and share your enjoyment of the romantic subplot which is one of Carr’s more successful romances.

    1. I’m finding the his romances are more based in reality as I move through the series. I just finished Death Turns the Tables and the romance is definitely in keeping with the serious tone he takes for the plot.

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