Rediscovering John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man

Juliet Ewers, Orion Publishing Director, on reissuing The Hollow Man, and how she got hooked on one of crime’s greatest classics.

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One of the great things about publishing classics is that sometimes an opportunity arises to rediscover (or, sometimes, discover) an author. John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man is a perfect example of this. I confess I had not read this before – it was one of those titles sitting firmly on the ‘classic crime’ shelf, but not one I’d actually got round to reading.  So, a new edition, a new cover – and a new reason to read the book.

The detective in The Hollow Man is Dr Gideon Fell, a larger-than-life character in all senses of the word. Gargantuan is how he is often described; a vast, black-caped figure. His presence fills the book; he is an old-style investigator, big voice, large moustache, spitting his cigar ends into the fireplace. Sometimes gently polite (to the ladies) and sometimes scathing in his retorts – ‘Control yourself and think’! – with powers of deduction to rival the best detectives.

The first victim, a former lecturer who now spent his time at the British Library studying ‘low magic manuscripts’, was shot, while in a locked room, after which the murderer apparently vanished; there seemed to be no other explanation as to how he escaped. So it is up to Dr Gideon Fell to unlock this most baffling of puzzles.

Often chosen as the best ‘locked room’ mystery of all time, it was first published in 1935, and is deservedly presented to a new audience in the 21st century. Give it a try – you’ll be hooked from the first page.