There has been an interesting discussion lately among members of the Golden Age of Detection mail group on Yahoo about two particularly fine books by John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked room/impossible crime genre. The debate is about which is better - "The Three Coffins" (known in the UK as "The Hollow Man) or "The Judas Window."
To me, it's like having an argument over which is better - white wine or red. I would have to agree that both books are among Carr's best plotted and written.
For "red wine" lovers, there's "The Three Coffins," a book whose opening paragraph defines the mysteries within and challenges the reader to solve them. The detective is Carr's main series detective, Dr. Gideon Fell. It's also famous for the chapter called "The Locked Room Lecture," in which Dr. Fell expounds on the various ways in which seemingly impossible crimes can be created - and explained. Unfortunately, it is out of print - and getting harder to find.
For those who prefer "white wine," there's "The Judas Window," written by Carr using the name "Carter Dickson," and featuring his other primary series character, Sir Henry Merrivale. This doesn't pose the same direct challenge to the reader, but it is one of the best-plotted mysteries I have ever read - and the reader's nose will be rubbed quite thoroughly in the concept of a "judas window," through which murder can be committed in a locked room, before the solution is explained. This one IS still available, thanks to the Rue Morgue Press.
Which is "better"? Both. As a matter of personal preference, I still like "The Three Coffins," because Carr manages to create such a frightening and uncanny atmosphere around the events of the story. On the other hand, "The Judas Window," with some classic Merrivale humor, can be quite funny even as the central character's life and freedom are threatened. But both books are well plotted - and both give the reader all the necessary clues, marvelously hidden. to solve the puzzle - if you can.
White wine? Red wine? Both can complement a meal very nicely, thank you. No need to choose - enjoy them both!