Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

JOHN DICKSON CARR

The Three Coffins / The Hollow Man

THE THREE COFFINS (THE HOLLOW MAN) (1935) by John Dickson Carr is celebrated for its exceptional execution of the locked-room mystery, a subgenre demanding ingenious plotting and cerebral depth. Many consider it the best locked room mystery of all time. Carr’s complex puzzles, cryptic clues, and taut, suspenseful atmosphere make it a mystery fiction masterpiece.

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The Hollow Man - The Three Coffins - John Dickson Carr - Tea Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast

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John Dickson Carr: Conversation Starters

The Hollow Man - The Three Coffins - John Dickson Carr
The Hollow Man - The Three Coffins
The Hollow Man - The Three Coffins - John Dickson Carr

Check out conversation starters on The Three Coffins (The Hollow Man) by John Dickson Carr. And share your thoughts below!

The Novel as a Riddle

“To the murder of Professor Grimaud, and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street, many fantastic terms could be applied — with reason. Those of Dr Fell’s friends who like impossible situations will not find in his case-book any puzzle more baffling or more terrifying. Thus: two murders were committed, in such fashion that the murderer must have been not only invisible, but lighter than air. According to the evidence, this person killed his first victim and literally disappeared. Again according to the evidence, he killed his second victim in the middle of an empty street, with watchers at either end; yet not a soul saw him, and no footprint appeared in the snow.”

We really liked the turned about solution to the riddle in The Three Coffins (The Hollow Man) by John Dickson Carr. Grimaud tried to kill his brothers, and therefore they have a motive to murder him … becomes … Grimaud tried to kill his brothers, therefore he has the motive and psychology to try to keep them dead. It makes total sense but was still unexpected.

Locked Room Lecture / Breaking Down the Third Wall

Ch. 17 contains the oft-cited “locked room lecture,” where Fell speaks directly to readers. Fell says, “[W]e’re in a detective story, and we don’t fool the reader by pretending we’re not.” Fell then describes the various ways murder can be committed in a locked room.

From the books we’ve read, Is this the first break in the third wall?

Method #7 from The Three Coffins (The Hollow Man) by John Dickson Carr: “The victim is presumed to be dead long before he really is. The victim lies asleep drugged (but not harmed) in a locked room. Knockings on the door fail to rouse him. The murderer starts a foul-play scare; forces the door; gets in ahead and kills by stabbing or throat-cutting, while suggesting to other watchers that they have seen something they have not seen. The honour of inventing this device belongs to Israel Zangwill [The Big Bow Mystery].”

Check out our episode on that one. The book is very clever.

Pettis says, “[It] would seem pretty sound to say exclude the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four, 1890) (Compare with Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, 1934: “The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”)

In The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017), Martin Edwards called this chapter “an extraordinarily bold move.” Do you agree? How did you feel about this chapter? And have the books John Dickson Carr mentioned stood the test of time as greats? 

G.K. Chesterton was mentioned for the man in the passage. In The Wrong Shape, similar to Israel Zangwill, the killer rushes in pretending they are already dead and kills them while asleep. 

John Dickson Carr certainly seemed to hold it in high regard, saying “ Let’s candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book.”

The Supernatural Club

Foreign-born Grimaud no longer has an accent. He does some unpaid work at the British Museum. Several nights a week, he and a few others meet in the Warwick Tavern in Museum Street to talk about ghosts, witchcraft, and the supernatural. 

His goal is to always prove there is no supernatural. Why was this his pastime?

Ted and Dorothy Rampole

Dorothy forms hazy, speculative projections and dislikes Rosette. Dorothy and Rampole discuss the case over beer in Ch. 11. “Even when Rampole quoted Rosette’s remarks to the debating society, a motto of which they both approved, [Dorothy] was not mollified.” Carolyn wanted to see more of this delightful couple. Character-wise, they seemed the most interesting of the bunch.

Ted so reticent to suspect yet another suspect, Mangan, his friend. Dorothy less so, and loses respect for Mangan based on how he lets Rosette treat him. 

Attitudes on physical violence – We were honestly intrigued by how the characters considered physical violence between couples, as related between the Rampoles. 

“And if I had ever treated you the way she treats Boyd Mangan, and you hadn’t landed me a sock under the jaw, I’d never have spoken to either of us again…if you see my meaning?” – Dorothy

How do you feel about this violence against a woman by a woman in The Three Coffins (The Hollow Man) by John Dickson Carr?

Mme. Dumont’s Life Advice vs. Rosette’s Life Advice

“If someone does you a hurt, good. You lie in wait for him and kill him. Then your friends go into court and swear you were somewhere else.” Do you have friends like Mme. Dumont’s?

Rosette studies at London University. She’s against the “Tyranny of Man,” and her debating team debates women’s rights in the world. Mangan calls her a “strong feminist.” She argues that for an ideal existence, women need “less talking and more copulation.”

Hadley says she has “the Old Nick [devil] in her … She wants a master in both senses. She and Mangan will never hit it off until he has sense enough to punch her head or take her own advice.”

Dorothy and Hadley seem to be in agreement on punching Rosette. What on earth does it mean and has it ever meant to be a strong feminist?

John Dickson Carr: Weigh In

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About Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, detective stories, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will dive into the history of mystery to get a firsthand look at how the mystery genre evolved.

Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with fabulous guests. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

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