The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr

“What’s he done? bellowed Sir William…He’s stolen my hat, that’s what he’s done! And it’s the second hat he’s stolen from me in three days!”

Sir William Bitten is the latest victim of the “Mad Hatter”. He has also had a valuable manuscript stolen. But there is worse to come when Sir Phillip’s nephew, Phillip Driscoll, is murdered. Bizarrely, his body is found at the Tower of London, wearing a golf suit, with Sir William’s top hat shoved on his head. Dr. Gideon Fell, called in to investigate the theft of the manuscript, is now trying to untangle a puzzle, and an outcome that may lead to devastating repercussions.  

Right off the bat I think I made a mistake in reading Hag’s Nook before Mad Hatter, and so close together. Hag’s Nook left me with expectations that weren’t really met. Not saying that Hatter isn’t good, because it is, just in a different way. There is much less use of the detailed visuals that I found so compelling in Hag’s Nook. While there a sense of atmosphere created out of the fog and darkness, the impression of uneasiness and foreboding is not in the forefront. 

The plot Carr constructed is complex, with not one, but three mysteries to solve. There are lots of potential suspects and the investigation uncovers some messy complications. The combination creates a puzzle (or should we say puzzles) that the reader will find difficult to solve. There was a timeline which was a little difficult to keep track of, but Carr kept coming back to it which did help. And yet again, even though I spotted the murderer at the beginning, Carr’s diversions had me questioning myself and jumping from suspect to suspect until the very end. 

In Mad Hatter Carr seems to be experimenting with his new character. We’re given more information about Dr. Fell’s past. It has already been established that he had some connection with Scotland Yard, but now we learn of his involvement in solving incidents of past espionage. He also makes more use of how humorous Fell is, mostly in the form of Chief Inspector Hadley’s irritation with him, and their bickering. But we also get more than of hint of Fell’s own sense of the absurd; such as having hip pockets full of curio-shop purchases of dummy pistols, hand-cuffs, badges and other props useful in an interrogation.

“Dr. Fell lifted his hand and shook it in the air. ‘Confess Marks!’ he thundered. ‘Miserable wretch, your guilt has found you out!’ He crashed his hand down on the table. To Mark’s stupefaction, and Dr. Fell’s own irritation at the anti-climax, a large rubber mouse with white whiskers popped out of his hand and ambled slowly across the table towards Hadley.”

Lots of humor, solid story, and an entertaining read. More Carr to come!

My Judgement – 4/5

Prior Rulings – The Green Capsule, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery NovelDead Yesterday 

7 thoughts on “The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr

  1. I remember enjoying this one, especially the solution to the vanished *ahem*, which seemed too absurd for words upon first encounter and then made more and more sense the more I thought about it.

    Interesting, too, to think of Fell — one of the great Amateur Detectives bestriding the genre — as a callow, nascent presence. I failed to pick up on that, since I’d read a bunch of his cases before this one, but of course Carr would have been feeling his way at the start.

    You’ve got me wanting to reread this now. Shall have to get the reprint and give it a second look.

    1. I think it may be that I am new to Carr, and revel in a good character.
      I did have one quibble…the ending. It feels too pat. Allowing Fell to be judge and jury in Hag’s Nook worked, but here it felt gratuitous.

      1. Without spoiling too much, that’s an occasionally recurrent theme in Carr’s work, and — while sometimes it works brilliantly — the ones that don’t land really do leave a weird taste in the mouth.

    1. Thanks! I really appreciate the feedback and encouragement that I have gotten from those, such as you, JJ and others, who are mire learned in the genre.

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