The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr (1939)

Detective-Inspector Eliot has been sent to Sodbury Cross to investigate a recent outbreak of poisonings that have led to the death of a child. Circumstantial evidence points to Marjorie Wills as the culprit. Her uncle, Marcus Chesney, believes he knows how the poisonings were done and sets out to prove it. And before Eliot can even begin his investigation a call comes from Chesney’s home.

…the Chief Constable hung up the receiver with some care.

…’Marcus is dead. The doctor believes he was poisoned with cyanide.’

Again the ticking of the clock filled the room, and Major Crow cleared his throat. 

‘It would also appear,’ he went on, ‘that Marcus proved his pet theory with his last breath. If I understand what the doctor said, every single one of them saw him poisoned under their eyes; and yet not one single person can tell what happened.’

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You can always count on Carr to deceive and disguise, and this is definitely no exception. Here he is at his trickiest and produced an ingenious plot, with a solution that so simple, if you are able to follow the clues he lays before you. And he does lay them out, they are all presented in black and white, filmed for your personal pleasure. A murder committed in front of three witnesses. They saw how it was done, but not one of them can agree on any of the circumstances surrounding the crime. You see, the victim helped, albeit unwittingly, to stage his own murder, and muddy the waters by creating alibis for all of the suspects.

Of course the prime suspect is still Marjorie. But she was in the audience, so did she orchestrate the murder? Perhaps with the help of her fiancé George Harding? But he was filming the scene, so maybe she used poor Wilber Emmet, who would do anything for her. But then how could he cosh himself over the head? Chesney’s friend Professor Ingram? No, he was sitting right beside Marjorie the entire time. That leaves the dead man’s brother, Doctor Joe Chesney, the only one not in attendance. But according to the clock on the mantle, which all the witnesses saw, Marcus was murdered on the stroke of twelve, just as Doctor Joe was leaving a case across town.

Carr laid out all of the clues, and of course he still kept me guessing. I had my suspicions, but as usual, once I would settle on one suspect, Carr would divert me to another. Luckily he also gave us Dr. Fell, who provides answers to many questions along the way. And not just the drips and drabs, but big dollops. Except for the most important ones, who and how? That he saves till the end, with a solution that left me smacking my head in a “I knew it all” moment.

I knew I was going to love this book from the opening paragraph. Not because of the mystery, which was excellent, and not because of Fell, who was truly on form. No, like so many times before, it was Carr’s writing. With the deftness of a magician using sleight of hand to pull that rabbit out of his hat, Carr uses words and phrases to conjure up images and atmosphere. I know I keep haranguing on this, but the man could write!

It began, as a certain man remembered, at a house in Pompeii. He never forgot the hot, quiet afternoon; the silence of the Street of Tombs broken by English voices; and the girl in white standing in the midst of a group of masks.”

This is officially my favorite John Dickson Carr…so far…because I know there is more greatness to come.

My Judgment – 5/5

Prior Rulings – Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime,  JJ @ The Invisible Event, John @ Pretty Sinister Books

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2019: Just the Facts, Ma’am –  What – Color in the title

Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Clues & Clichés: Someone in disguise, Empty poison or med bottle, Crime Scene: Office

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – May #8 Original publication month

8 thoughts on “The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr (1939)

    1. I love this book so much, I’ve entirely forgotten about the bit in the car with the gun. Pristine Carr, just the purest and most brilliant deployment of the detective novelist’s arsenal ever seen.

    2. The only reason I even made sure to look out for the car episode is because The Puzzle Doctor called JJ out on it in his review 🤣! When I read it, I thought of it, not only in terms of the misdirection, but as Carr’s way of introducing Marjorie’s growing ambivalence towards another character.

  1. How did this two month old post suddenly appear on my e-mal feed??? WordPress has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!! Anyway, I love He Who Whispers more for the emotional impact, but this one is better for the puzzle. He Who Whispers for the Green Capsule would be the perfect murder mystery!! I like Carr’s prose style more in the 40’s because he has shaken off most of the “Grand Guignol” and is just producing one superb mystery after another.

    1. How weird! WordPress gremlins strike again.

      I love that title “He Who Whispers for the Green Capsule.” I think it should be the next GAD online mystery you write!

      Since I’m working my way through Fell in order, every one that I read is my “new” favorite. I’m enjoying them much more though as he puts the garishness aside. But I did just get a big dose of it by reading Castle Skull. Very OTT!

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