The Hollow Man (1935 novel)

The Hollow Man (1935 novel)

infobox Book |
name = The Hollow Man
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Recent UK paperback edition
author = John Dickson Carr
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series = Gideon Fell
genre = Mystery, Detective, Novel
publisher = Hamish Hamilton (UK) & Harper (USA)
release_date = 1935
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Death-Watch (1935)
followed_by = The Arabian Nights Murder (1936)

"The Hollow Man" is a famous locked room mystery novel by the American writer John Dickson Carr (1906-1977), published in 1935. It was published in the USA under the title "The Three Coffins" and has frequently been hailed as the best of all locked room mysteries. Fact|date=April 2007

Plot summary

One wintry night in London, two murders are committed in quick succession. In both cases, the murderer has seemingly vanished into thin air.

In the first case, he has disappeared from Professor Grimaud's study after shooting the professor -- without leaving a trace, with the only door to the room locked from the inside, and with people present in the hall outside the room. Both the ground below the window and the roof above it are covered with unbroken snow.

In the second case, a man walking in the middle of a deserted cul-de-sac at about the same time is evidently shot at close range, with the same revolver that killed Grimaud and only minutes afterward, but there is no one else near the man; this is witnessed from some distance by three passersby -- two tourists and a police constable -- who happen to be walking on the pavement. It takes Dr Gideon Fell, scholar and "a pompous pain in the neck," who keeps hinting at the solution without giving it away, some 200 pages to finally condescend and minutely reconstruct the two crimes and thus solve the mystery.

Literary significance & criticism

This novel is especially famous for the "locked room lecture", Dr. Fell's explanation of the various ways a person can commit a near-perfect murder in an apparently locked-room or otherwise impossible-crime situation. Thus, it became one kind of a "textbook for crime writers." In the course of his discourse, Dr. Fell states, off-handedly, that he and his listeners are, of course, characters in a book.

"The lecture is very good indeed -- some 20 pages of sound reasoning and fine imagination in lively words. For the lecture alone "The Three Coffins" deserves a place on the shelf. As for the story, it is ingenious, to be sure, but three problems in impossibility is two too many. We are asked to believe in one hairline adjustment after another -- time, place, angles of vision, behavior, and so on. ... the characters are not even credible puppets, for they behave not in keeping with their feelings or situation, but only for temporary excitement. And Dr. Fell is a dull dog, in spite of his tricks."Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. "A Catalogue of Crime". New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8]


The hypothetical third brother of Grimaud and Fley is nicknamed Brother Henri. This is a reference to a skit by J. M. Barrie, in which a conversation saddled him with a brother named Henry who did not exist; rather than correct the error, the timid Mr. Barrie was burdened with this error afterwards. The incident was also referred to by G. K. Chesterton, the model for Dr. Fell.


External links

* [ review] criticizing the novel's plot construction
* [ wiki collection of quotations] from "The Hollow Man"

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