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The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr
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The Mad Hatter Mystery (1933)

by John Dickson Carr

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259668,249 (3.54)4
"At the hand of an outrageous prankster, top hats are going missing all over London, snatched from the heads of some of the city's most powerful people. But is the hat thief the same as the person responsible for stealing the lost story by Edgar Allan Poe, purloined from a private collection, which Dr. Gideon Fell has just been hired to retrieve? Unlike the manuscript, the hats don't stay stolen for long; each one reappears in unexpected and conspicuous places shortly after being taken. When the most recently vanished hat is found atop a corpse in the foggy depths of the Tower of London, the seemingly harmless pranks become much more serious -- and when the dead man is identified as the nephew of the book collector, Fell's search for the missing story becomes a search for a murderer as well. Reissued for the first time in thirty years, The Mad Hatter Mystery is the second novel in the Dr. Gideon Fell series, which can be enjoyed in any order." --… (more)

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Warning: This review contains spoilers

For a description of the plot, I can’t do any better than what’s on the back of the American Mystery Classics edition:

At the hand of an outrageous prankster, top hats are going missing all over London, snatched from the heads of some of the city’s most powerful people—but is the hat thief the same as the person responsible for stealing a lost story by Edgar Allan Poe, the manuscript of which has just disappeared from the collection of Sir William Bitton? Unlike the manuscript, the hats don’t stay stolen for long, each one reappearing in unexpected and conspicuous places shortly after being taken: on the top of a Trafalgar Square statue, hanging from a Scotland Yard lamppost, and now, in the foggy depths of the Tower of London, on the head of a corpse with a crossbow bolt through the heart. Amateur detective and lexicographer Dr. Gideon Fell is on the case, and when the dead man is identified as the nephew of the collector, he discovers that the connections underlying the bizarre and puzzling crimes may be more intimate than initially expected.

It’s just totally bananapants and I love it. The setting was definitely a draw—death at the Tower of London is suitably macabre. And the way Carr writes about these settings always has me totally convinced that he is British, even though he is actually American. The only thing that felt in any way stereotypically American was the description of Laura Bitton—she’s got a full bosom and is wearing a slinky dress, which doesn’t feel like something a British writer of the period would have written about or noticed (at least not among the writers I’ve read).

Gideon Fell makes an amusing sleuth, because he doesn’t take himself seriously and he has a good working relationship with the police. He helps them out, but he doesn’t think they’re dumb, as many amateur sleuths might do. And the police get some amusing dialogue as well; my favourite was when the chief inspector did his impression of Socratic dialogue and asked why nobody in these dialogues whacked Socrates over the head with an obelisk.

I did feel the solution went a bit like M. Bencolin (one of Carr’s other sleuths), in that a perfectly plausible solution was presented, and the reader thinks “Great, the case is closed!” except PSYCH! it isn’t, actually — here’s what happened. To be fair, though, this book did that only once, whereas the one Bencolin book I read had like three different PSYCH! moments.

I would for sure recommend this if you’re interested in checking out John Dickson Carr’s work and you like British Golden Age writers as well. But maybe get a cover to hide the really creepy Mad Hatter on the cover of the American Mystery Classics edition. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Aug 21, 2019 |
This was my fourth Carr book and seeing the amazing skill of the writer to weave a perfect mystery i wish to continue the Carr books with pleasure.
As far as this book is concerned..i can only highly recommend it. Rest is for you to explore. All the best. ( )
  Shivam_Singh | Sep 5, 2015 |
This Golden Age mystery not only involves a "mad hatter" (someone stealing hats off people's heads and then leaving them prominently displayed elsewhere) but also a murdered man at the Tower of London who is wearing one of these stolen hats.

I enjoyed this very much and found Dr. Fell less bombastic than usual. However, it struck me as an atypical Carr mystery since it wasn't a true locked room or impossible mystery. Everyone was prevented from leaving the Tower once the body was found but there was a period of time when people could come in or go out. ( )
  leslie.98 | May 21, 2015 |
The flagrantly bizarre tone is in some ways more like Carr's Carter Dickson stories than he average Gideon Fell mystery: murder by crossbow bolt at the Tower of London with 7 hats as clues. ( )
  antiquary | Sep 9, 2014 |
This is a classic John Dickson Carr novel. It is highly original and very unpredictable to the end. A body is found at the bottom of some steps at Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London. This seemingly unexplainable crime is tied to mysterious thefts of people's hats and the disappearance of a valuable manuscript. Gideon Fell is on the case, and he is not disturbed by all the extraneous information that comes out in the investigation. The action takes place over one evening and night which tightens up the mystery considerably. Carr's classic mysteries are always enjoyable reading. ( )
1 vote Romonko | May 23, 2009 |
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Tämä juttu alkoi baarissa, kuten useimmat tohtori Fellin seikkailut.
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Called in to investigate the theft of a rare manuscript from collector Sir William Bitton, larger-than-life detective Dr. Gideon Fell is greatly amused to find London agog over "The Mad Hatter"--a prankster who steals the hats of the rich and famous from their very heads. But when Bitton's nephew is found dead inside the Tower of London with a stolen hat on his head, Fell's interest quickly turns from manuscripts to murder.
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