Till Death Do Us Part (Gideon Fell 15) by John Dickson Carr

He didn’t see that coming…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When Dick Markham’s brand new fiancée, Lesley Grant, shoots a fortune teller at the village fair, it looks accidental. But then the injured fortune teller reveals himself as a famous Home Office pathologist, and tells Dick that he had recognised Lesley as a serial poisoner of her previous husbands and lover, but that the police have never been able to get enough evidence to arrest her. Naturally Dick is shocked and unwilling to believe this, but he realises he knows very little about Lesley – she appeared in the village of Six Ashes just a few months earlier, and he knows nothing of her life before that. So reluctantly he agrees to help find the proof the police need. But later that night, the pathologist dies, in exactly the way he described Lesley’s former crimes as having been done – his body found in a locked room, his death by poisoning made to look like suicide. Then the famous amateur detective Gideon Fell arrives in the village…

I’ve loved Carr’s earliest books starring his French police detective, Henri Bencolin, but this was my first introduction to the detective he is best remembered for, Gideon Fell. In style, this is more in line with the normal Golden Age tradition, without the delicious atmosphere of decadent horror that pervades the Bencolin books. Carr is considered one of the greatest proponents of the locked room mystery, or impossible crime, and the emphasis in this one is very much on that aspect, although there’s plenty of room for some good characterisation and lots of clever misdirection.

On first meeting, I found I wasn’t wholly enamoured with Gideon Fell. He’s one of these arrogant know-it-all detectives, who is extremely rude to everyone around him, and he keeps his cards close to his chest except for the occasional enigmatic utterance. Perhaps he’ll grown on me as I read more of the books. Dick Markham, however, is a very likeable lead character, and his confusion over his feelings about Lesley is done very well. There is a mild love triangle, in that there is another woman everyone in the village expected Dick to marry before Lesley came along, and she provides another layer to Dick’s jumbled feelings. Lesley herself, as is necessary in a chief suspect, is not so well revealed – Carr very successfully keeps her ambiguous so that I swayed back and forwards many times as to whether she was guilty or innocent. If she is innocent, there are plenty of other characters who may have done the deed, though Carr doesn’t concentrate much on possible motives for them – the focus is more on how the deed was done than why. The same problem applies if Lesley is guilty – how did she do it?

John Dickson Carr

The locked room solution is excellent, and I think fair play for those who have the kind of mind that can work these things out. I almost never can, and this was no exception, but at least I understood the explanation at the end of how it was done and felt it was all quite feasible, which is considerably more than I can say for a lot of impossible crimes. The whodunit solution I found to be a bit of an anti-climax after all the intriguing ambiguity and false scents which came before, though again in retrospect I think Carr gave enough clues for the discerning reader to be able to beat the detective – not this reader though! But despite my slight disappointment with the ending, I enjoyed it very much. Often I find locked room mysteries are so focused on the puzzle they can be a bit dull, but Carr gives enough weight to the characterisation and Dick’s inner turmoil to keep it interesting. Personally I prefer the style of the Bencolin books, but that’s merely a matter of subjective preference due to my love of the horror aspects of those. For people who love a more traditional locked room mystery, then I can quite see why Fell would be the detective of choice. I look forward to getting to know him better.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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29 thoughts on “Till Death Do Us Part (Gideon Fell 15) by John Dickson Carr

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, FictionFan. Carr was such a master of the ‘locked room’ and ‘impossible’ sorts of crimes, and I always appreciate that about his work. Fell isn’t, perhaps, the most approachable of fictional detectives, but he’s certainly brilliant. I think you make a well-taken point that the focus of this series is much more the GA-type focus on plot than on characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I like is that his locked room scenarios might be unlikely but they seem possible, which isn’t always the case in “impossible crimes”! I’m not sure whether Fell will become a favourite simply because I’m not a huge fan of the locked room type of mystery, but I’m looking forward to reading a few more to see if Carr can win me round. Even though the emphasis is on the puzzle, he’s very good at making sure there are other interesting factors too

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  2. This sounds like a good read, but resistible for me right now, as just at the moment, I seem to be turned toward non-crime reading, so I’ll go with that! (Though I am reading The Moonstone, but for me the ‘classic’ element seems more predominant than the ‘mystery’.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seem to be being driven by what the publishers are sending me at the moment, which I don’t really like – it leaves me too little time for books of my own choice. I must start getting stricter about not trying to read them all. I’ve never been able to appreciate Wilkie Collins – something about his style simply doesn’t work for me. But I know I’m in a minority on that, so I hope you’re enjoying The Moonstone. Just remember that Sergeant Cuff is NOT the first detective – Inspector Bucket was solving crimes in Bleak House more than a decade before, so Dickens wins! And I’ll challenge anyone to a duel who says otherwise! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, this one does sound intriguing! Don’t feel bad about not solving the locked room mystery before the detective though — a good writer hopes that will be the case with all his/her readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a brother who is a pathologist, so the premise grabbed me from the start! I enjoy locked room mysteries, but at times they can seem a bit contrived, just to make them work. (which can make them more difficult to work out ahead of time)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I hope your brother isn’t like this pathologist! Can’t tell you why though – spoiler… 😉 Yes, I’m often not a big fan of locked room mysteries for that reason. I always end up wondering why a murderer would go to those lengths rather than just shooting, stabbing or poisoning his victims like normal murderers!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the ending let it down a little, plus I’m just not a huge fan of the whole locked room thing. But the good writing and characterisation in this one kept my interest anyway!

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  5. This sounds great! My memory for plots is awful so I often can’t remember if I’ve read a GA mystery or not. However, I excelled myself this time when you described Fell, thinking ‘that’s not how I found him at all’, before realising I was thinking of Gervase Fen 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I get those two confused too – they shouldn’t have used such similar names! As characters I preferred Fen, though I’ve only read one of each, so I’ll need to get to know them both better before I decide. But I liked the other characterisation in this one, and at least I understood the solution to the locked room aspect – not always the case!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m similar in that I enjoy locked room mysteries because I can never figure them out myself, but in totally honesty, I don’t really try either. Like, I’ll pause for a few seconds and ponder it when something is revealed, but I can’t say I dedicate too much time to just sitting and thinking through the problem LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I don’t try either – I always assume the detective will tell me at the end so why should I do the work? 😉 But I do like when I understand the explanation at the end, which doesn’t always happen with locked room mysteries especially if it all involves technical wizardry and widgets.

      Liked by 1 person

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