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Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr

Three Coffins (1935)

by John Dickson Carr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Doctor Gideon Fell (6)

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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
I used to love Gideon Fell books, having first come across them in my early twenties. Something has gone wrong, though.
Maybe I just got tired of the terrific stretching of reality required to set up the locked-room mysteries, of which Carr was the acknowledged master. Or maybe I’ve outgrown the ponderous musings of Dr. Fell. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but the bloom’s surely gone off this rose.
Anyway, a man is killed in a locked room, with no visible evidence of anyone possibly being able to enter or leave the room. Then another man is shot in the middle of a deserted cul-de-sac, at night, with no one near him. Plenty of suspects, and a bizarre and creepy backstory keep this one from being a total snoozer.
But it could be me. The “challenge “ of this story is so far-fetched that the sharpest reader will only dimly see what’s going on. If you like locked-room mysteries, try “Hag’s Nook”, “The Man Who Could Not Shudder,” or “The Problem of the Wire Cage,” all by this author, first. They’re much more approachable and fun. ( )
  bohemima | Jul 29, 2018 |
The Hollow Man is possibly the most famous locked room mystery ever written. Published in 1935, it is also perhaps John Dickson Carr’s most influential work. In the US, it is known as The Three Coffins.

A fellow mystery buff praised this book to such an extent, that I had to read it just to see what is so unique about it.

The narrative, though interesting in places, is rather dull. I found it to be monotonous after a while.

Some of the characters are interesting. But most of them are rather predictable. Hadley is the gruff, no nonsense police man who doesn’t believe in all that supernatural mambo jumbo. Dr. Fell is the old all knowing gentleman; etc.

But what exactly is the purpose of the character Rampole? He sees this, he hears that. Couldn’t these things have been just written instead of having him around? His wife is another unnecessary character. I found the scenes in which these two discuss the case absolutely futile.

This book’s most celebrated aspect is the "locked room lecture" given by Dr. Fell. He describes the wide-ranging ways to commit a murder in a locked-room or an impossible-crime situation. I really enjoyed this part of the book. Especially when he gives examples of several famous murder mysteries. It was fun for me identifying all of the stories I’ve read among them.

One little problem I had with the book (which may seem quite silly) is that even though the language is satisfyingly good, words that describe noises of laughter or annoyance or any other emotion (words such as 'Harrumph!' and 'Heh - heh – heh.') are used too frequently. It takes away from the seriousness of the plot.

The end was very clever. But it is rather complicated. Perhaps it’s too clever.

I enjoyed The Hollow Man but only in parts. Not one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. But definitely not terrible either. ( )
  Porua | Apr 25, 2018 |
This book was referenced in another book I was reading, but I can't remember which one. It was quite an effort to finish this book. It wasn't very long, but the murder was complex and took many twists and turns. The volume of hypotheses which could explain "whodunit" were provided in such excruciating detail that I forgot the facts of the case in the course of reading the possible solutions. Perhaps my age is beginning to tell on me, but I reached a point where I was no longer enjoying the book and I just wanted to finish it and find out who the murderer was. By the time the reveal was made I was worn out. The ending was quite abrupt and the journey was wearying. Dr. Gideon Fell is a popular character apparently, but not one of my favorites. ( )
  bcrowl399 | Oct 19, 2017 |
The Hollow Man was apparently voted the “best locked room mystery of all time”, so it comes as no surprise to discover its one of those completely contrived murder mysteries which are set up in order to make the protagonist – eccentric detective Gideon Fell, who is based on London – appear enormously clever. The Hollow Man is split into three sections. In the first, an emigré professor is threatened in a pub, and then is later murdered in his room after admitting a stranger – but when the locked door is forced, the stranger has vanished and there’s no other exit. In the second section, the chief suspect is then shot in the middle of an empty street, with no visible assassin, by witnesses. The final section reveals the back-history of the two dead men (they were brothers) and Fell explains, with diagrams, how both murders were committed. The first was deliberately contrived to be a locked room mystery, the second only became a mystery through a sequence of unlikely events. Although set in London, Dickson Carr completely fails to evoke time or place, and most of the characters are painted very broadly. It’s a mildly entertaining, but slight, intellectual exercise, and requires about as much suspension of disbelief as your average space opera. ( )
  iansales | Dec 18, 2016 |
This is the one with Dr. Fell's lecture on locked-room mystery plots. The solution is pretty baroque but undeniably ingenious. A classic of the genre. ( )
1 vote middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Carr boasts that he has devised over eighty different solutions to the locked-room puzzle, and in one of the novels Fell, a monologist with the best of them, delivers a fascinating lecture on the subject. This is The Three Coffins, to quote the inexcusable American retitling of the British edition The Hollow Man, which perfectly suggests the macabre menace of the story. That man must indeed have been hollow who, watched of course by a responsible and innocent witness, was seen to enter a room without other access in which, later, there is found the corpse of the room’s occupant, but of course no hollow man. This is Chestertonian, or Brownian, though its explanation has a Carrian validity.
added by SnootyBaronet | editSpectator, Kingsley Amis

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carr, John Dicksonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bocchino, Maria LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
To the murder of Professor Grimaud, and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street, many fantastic terms could be applied - with reason.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Known as The Three Coffins in the US
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Book description
Dr. Grimaud was working in his study on Saturday evening, when a man wearing a mask ran into his study, and locked the door behind him. Witness's heard the two arguing, then gunshots. When the door was opened, Superintendent Hadley, and Dr. Gideon Fell found Grimaud alone, the murderer having walked through a locked door, in front of witness's, and not been seen or stopped.

Suspicion automatically turned to a deranged magician named Pierre Fley, who had threatened to kill Grimaud. But, shortly after Grimaud was killed, Fley is shot dead on a snowy street. Witness's on both ends of the street see no one shoot him, despite the fact he was shot at close range. No footprints were found in the snow, and the gun was found laying ten feet away. Once again, the murderer was invisible, and lighter then air.

The only man who can solve this case is Dr. Fell. With his locked room lecture, and curiosity of bells, can he solve how a man was invisible, and lighter then air?
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Two murders were committed, in such a fashion that the murderer must not only have been invisible, but lighter than air. According to the evidence he killed his first victim and literally disappeared. He killed his second victim in the middle of an empty street, with watches at either end ; yet not a soul saw him, and no footprint appeared in the snow.… (more)

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