Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (1944)

Lesley Grant insisted on seeing the fortune teller at the Six Ashes village fair. While she’s inside the tent, her fiancé Dick Markham learns that “The Great Swami” is actually Sir Harvey Gilman, well-known Home Office pathologist and crime expert, who happens to be staying in the village. When Lesley emerges she is visibly upset, and Dick storms in, trying to find out just what the man has said to her. But before Gilman can reveal anything, he is accidentally shot and wounded, by Lesley herself. 

Later that night, Sir Harvey insists on seeing Dick, then tells him that Lesley is not the sweet young girl she appears to be. She is in fact a 41 year-old woman named Jordan, and a poisoner who has killed three men, and gotten away with it. Two husbands and one fiancé—all found dead, in locked rooms, and each has injected themselves with hydrocyanic acid. He believes Dick may be next, and asks for his help in catching her. But in the early hours of the morning Sir Harvey dies, in a locked room, from a seemingly self-administered injection of hydrocyanic acid. And Dick is left wondering whether Lesley can be trusted, or is a threat to his life.

I started reading Till Death Do Us Part somewhere around 8PM, and finished around midnight (my Penguin edition is only 205 pages). It was just an outright page turner. Every time told myself to put it down, Carr would end a chapter with a cliffhanger, or there would be some revelation that I just had to see through to the end!

From the outset it was so wonderfully atmospheric, without the Gothic overtones of old.

…the shadow of the storm gave everything a nightmarish and unreal quality, like sunlight through smoked glass.”

And filled with warnings of what was to come…

The sign of the human hand was agitated, grotesquely as though it were beckoning to them or waving them away.”

Carr plants suspicion everywhere. Every character must be looked at as a suspect, and every incident evaluated for it’s motive. But, as soon as you get a grip on things, and think you understand what’s happening, Carr flips the script on you. But the changes are never jarring. One scene flows seamlessly into the next. The twists continue, and tension is heightened as Carr keeps the mystery going—right up until the very second the culprit is revealed. I never saw it coming!

Carr continues to amaze me, and has truly become my favorite author—of any genre, in any era. 

My Judgment –  5/5

Previous Rulings – Sergio @ Bloody Murder, JJ @ The Invisible Event, TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time, Ben @ The Green Capsule, and @ Dead Yesterday

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza –  2013 Scattergories – #22 Repeat Offenders (Favorite author)

Calendar of Crime – August #6 Original publication month (August 23, 1944)

33 thoughts on “Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (1944)

  1. Jonathan O

    This is a favourite of mine as well. It’s just a pity that my 60s Penguin edition has a major spoiler in the blurb (not for the killer, but a twist that occurs about halfway through). Great cover art on that edition, though.

    1. Mine edition is actually the penguin too. I try not to read the blurbs…they are always either too far-fetched or do have spoilers. The cover I put up is the International Polygonics 1989 edition…which would be nice to have if I could find one☹️

    1. Great review PD! I’m about to start He Who Whispers (I took a peek at your review), so we’ll soon see how my thoughts compare. I know that this these are considered the pinnacle for the Fell series, so I’m not looking forward to the near future and the slide downhill.

      1. In hindsight… maybe I prefer Til Death to He Who Whispers, but it’s a close run thing. But there are still a few other good Fell books – and some terrible ones too

  2. JFW

    Thanks for the review. 🙂 I thought this was the very best Carr title I’ve read thus far. I’ve left some strong titles to the end, so I’ll wait and see if it gets toppled by either He Who Whispers or Death Turns the Tables.

  3. I seem to remember Ben of The Green Capsule leaving a comment on a review of this somewhere to the effect that it’s always so much fun to read people having discovered just how damn great TTDUP is. So much fun, possibly the pinnacle of the puzzle plot, and amazingly doesn’t standout in Carr’s oeuvre because he still wrote a bunch of genius works to surround it with.

    1. I’m don’t see how anyone could not see the brilliance of TDUDP. The cliffhanger endings alone just pull you in. And you can definitely see the evolution of his writing with this one.

      Now I’m six chapters into HHW and I’m already mesmerized!

      1. I, perhaps controversially, am less a fan of HHW than most. It’s…very good, and has some lovely moments, but overall I find it falls short of the high notes it seems to inspire in everyone else. Hopefully you get more out of it than I did, because it’s another one that those who love really enjoy seeing others love.

    2. JFW

      Curious to hear what titles JJ has in mind as the genius works surrounding ‘Till Death’? I believe it was published in 1944, and the ones I’ve read that were written in the 4-year-ish period before and after didn’t strike me to be in the same class or league as ‘Till Death’. Though I confess I haven’t read, from that bracket, ‘He Who Whispers’, ‘Death Turns the Tables’ and ‘The Reader is Warned’ – all of which have garnered high praise. But I believe both Puzzle Doctor and JJ (and maybe Kate?) would rank ‘Till Death’ above ‘Whispers’.

      1. If I were to pick ten genius works from Carr’s output besides TDDUP, they’d currently be:

        The Eight of Swords (1934)
        The Plague Court Murders (1934)
        Death Watch (1934)
        The Punch and Judy Murders (1936)
        The Problem of Green Capsule (1939)
        Reader is Warned (1939)
        Nine–and Deaths Makes Ten (1940)
        The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941)
        Death Turns the Tables (1941)
        She Died a Lady (1943)

        With the following in contention depending on my mood on any given day:

        The Lost Gallows (1931)
        The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)
        The Hollow Man (1935)
        The Unicorn Murders (1935)
        The Burning Court (1937)
        The Four False Weapons (1938)
        He Wouldn’t Kill patience (1944)
        The Devil in Velvet (1951)

        My Carrian reading gets a little sketchy after 1951, so this isn’t even close to a complete list, but I’d rank all 18 of these above He Who Whispers.

        Let the disagreement commence…!

      2. Unfortunately my Carr reading is currently confined to Fell so I’m unable to contribute to the discussion in the who. What I can say is, having now finished He Who Whispers, I would definitely rank TDDUP, and several others above it. It’s a great work, mesmerizing in parts, but…to be continued in my review…

      3. No, you’re in the lucky position of still being able to discover which one you’ll lo e for yourself. And the great thing is, there’s almost certainly something by him out there that a lot of Carr readers disdain and you’ll get completely blown away by — mine was Death Watch, which the common wisdom will tell you is a solidly average one. For you it might be hat I’d consider to be middle of the road like The Curse of the Bronze Lamp…you never can tell with Carr…!

      4. JJ….could you!!?? Bronze Lamp was my first Carr…and our blog introduction. I’m going to go down to the garden and eat worms now😜

      5. Which — come, now — is precisely why I chose that book, because I know you’ve read it and I know how little I think of it, and I needed an example of something I didn’t like that I knew you’d understand.

        Good heavens, I’m almost offended myself now 😉

      1. Oh, I very much doubt there’s a Crofts or Freeman to Kate’s taste, she has far more refined requirements. And, besides, if we start agreeing with each other too much then the surprise and delight will go out of it 🙂

    1. JFW

      I definitely agree with Kate – I thought ‘Till Death’ is just about the only Carr novel I’ve written that scores top marks on virtually every front. I wondered if the impossibility/locked room was slightly mechanical for my taste. But I still loved the book! Not that my concurrence with Kate is as significant as JJ’s concurrence with Kate – I’m still waiting for them to agree, not on a title by Crofts, but by the amazing Penny! 🤩

  4. The mark of good book is remembering how it made you feel long after you finish reading it. TDDUP is special that way.

    I remember finding an excellent copy of the Bantam edition of this one in a used bookshop for next to nothing. It was like discovering buried treasure. I finished it the same evening (during a thunderstorm no less) and I still remember the pleasure of reading it that night. A Carr classic and as JJ says, great to see others discover the fun of this one.

  5. TomCat

    Carr continues to amaze me, and has truly become my favorite author—of any genre, in any era.

    One of us! One of us!

    I reread, and reevaluated, Till Death Do Us Part last year and it was better than I remembered. More than deserving of its current reappraisal as one of Carr’s best detective novels.

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