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The Three Coffins (Dr. Gideon Fell #6)

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,412 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
Professor Charles Grimaud was explaining to some friends the natural causes behind an ancient superstition about men leaving their coffins when a stranger entered and challenged Grimaud's skepticism. The stranger asserted that he had risen from his own coffin and that four walls meant nothing to him. He added, 'My brother can do more... he wants your life and will call on ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published April 28th 1986 by Intl Polygonics Ltd (first published 1935)
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And Then There Were None by Agatha ChristieThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha ChristieThe Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston LerouxThe Sign of Four by Arthur Conan DoyleMurder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
Locked Room Mysteries
11th out of 86 books — 73 voters
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonThe Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Detective Fiction
111th out of 768 books — 903 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,656)
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Oct 16, 2014 F.R. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Locked room mysteries are just really magic tricks. This book cleverly and overtly acknowledges this fact. The beauty of the book lies in misdirection; it lies in presenting all the facts but conning the reader into following the wrong ones; it lies in creating a design which produces gasps of amazement and then nods of satisfaction. (All mystery stories do that, obviously, but this is a howdunnit wrapped up with a whodunit and so playing at a higher level than your standard mystery.) Of course, ...more
Apr 26, 2015 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clever locked room mystery. Carr's style when writing Dr. Fell is a bit didatic and may turn off some readers but I loved the (somewhat lengthy) exposition Fell gives about the various types of so-called "locked room" mysteries. As he says himself:

" "When the cry of 'This-sort-of-thing-wouldn't-happen!' goes up, when you complain about half-faced fiends and hooded phantoms and blond hypnotic sirens, you are merely saying, 'I don't like this sort of story.' That's fair enough. If you do not like
Jul 19, 2008 Dianna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Poirot fans, mystery readers, and those who love to play Clue!
Recommended to Dianna by: Wikipedia
I picked The Three Coffins (aka Hollow Man) up when, after I started reading the Poirot mysteries, Adam mentioned the term "Locked Room Mysteries". Having not read many classic mysteries before, I was ignorant of the genre. So, what does any internet-savvy person do when they want a superficial introduction to a subject, of course I Wikipedia-ed it (you can burn me later). Anyway, this book was listed as the epitome of the locked-room mystery.

This book is actually a fantastic way to get acquain
Nancy Oakes
You know pretty much immediately that this is not going to be your average mystery story. A group of friends who meet regularly to discuss odd & diverse supernatural topics such as ghosts & ghost stories are interrupted by a strange man by the name of Pierre Fley who addresses himself to one of the group, a Dr. Charles Grimaud. The stranger discusses a story about three coffins and then tells Grimaud that either Fley or his brother would be calling upon him soon. It is not long afterward ...more
Jan 03, 2009 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you like traditional whodunnits, you may well love this book. In my case, The Three Coffins served to remind me why I quit reading traditional whodunnits.

The best part of the book is its famous twenty-seventh chapter, "The Locked-Room Lecture." This disquisition could be read with enjoyment apart from the rest of the novel. (Indeed, this is what I wish I had done myself.) Here, John Dickson Carr's detective-hero, Dr. Gideon Fell, gives an entertaining history and theory of locked-room mysteri
Janne Varvára
Apr 07, 2013 Janne Varvára rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
Staying up past your bedtime because you simply *have* to know... Most likely you're reading John Dickson Carr.

A murder is committed by a man in a mask, who leaves no footprints in the newly fallen snow outside, and who, after having done the deed, disappears into thin air in a locked room.

Just writing that sends a shiver up my spine.

I can remember hearing a radio theater version of this when I was a kid. I couldn't remember any details, just that it really creeped me out. And it still does.

Nihal Vrana
Feb 07, 2015 Nihal Vrana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
I tip my hat to anyone who can figure this one out before the explanation part. As far as mysteries go, this one is really ingeniously designed and deserves its fame as the best locked room mystery. Also, the part towards the end where Gideon Fell deconstructs the Locked Room subgenre in detective stories is interesting too.

These being said, the style of writing was too awkward for me to enjoy it. For a series at its 6th book all the characters lacked depth and were totally inaccessible. And alt
Nickolas the Kid
Το βιβλίο κυκλοφορεί στην Ελλάδα με τον τίτλο " ο ασώματος άνθρωπος".
Η πλοκή είναι εξαιρετική. Θα θυμίσει σε πολλούς τον Poe. O λεξικογράφος Δρ. Φείλ καλείται να λύσει ένα έγκλημα που εκ πρώτης όψεως φαίνεται ότι είναι πέρα από κάθε λογική. Η συνέχεια είναι πέρα από κάθε αναγνωστική προσδοκία. Κι ωστόσο είναι ταυτόχρονα απόλυτα πειστική, απόλυτα σατανική στη σύλληψή της, καθώς τα επάλληλα γεγονότα εξηγούν αλυσιδωτά το ένα το άλλο μετατρέποντας με πανούργο τρόπο τον αναγνώστη σε αθέατο "συνένοχο
Jan C
Dec 02, 2015 Jan C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jan C by: Kirsti
Shelves: mystery, england, 2015
This one has a different cover.

Bizarre. One of the classics. A bag of magic tricks. Dr. Fell advises that the resolution was determined by the weight of a picture.

John Dickson Carr is the master of the locked room mystery. This was the sixth in the series.

Peter Lovesey pays homage in Bloodhounds.
Martin Ortiz
Jun 18, 2015 Martin Ortiz rated it really liked it
Here is a review I prepared using only excerpts from the book. I believe they give the flavor of the work.

*The Three Coffins* (1935) by John Dickson Carr (alternatively titled, *The Hollow Man*) appears on many all-time classic mystery lists. Although there are frequent hints of the fantastic, the story does not broach the supernatural. Rather than writing a traditional review, I thought I'd try an experiment: I intend to capture the flavor of the story in ten excerpts.

#1. "You do not believe th
Girish Kohli
'I have committed another crime Hadley' said the detective, 'I have guessed the truth'

This is how the book ends.

The whole problem with this detective story is that the detective 'guesses' the truth and does not deduce it.

This is a closed room murder mystery. The mystery in itself is hardly compelling. The resolution of the mystery is over complicated and totally uninteresting.
The murder may well have happened in a circus and not in a house because too many tricks and illusions and gimmi
Nov 29, 2013 Lena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting tale, it was interesting the way the story was integrated with the atmosphere of magic and illusions. I also liked very much Dr Gideon Fell and the fact that contrary to detectives of this era he is not infallible and he confesses it. I also liked the lecture about the locked room mysteries even though it contained spoilers. Fortunatelly I have already read the yellow room by Leroux that is considered the best one.
Nov 27, 2015 Jon rated it really liked it
A pretty decent who/howdunnit / locked room mystery.

I'm pretty new to this genre, but I did enjoy this one. The characters were interesting, there was enough intrigue in there to keep you guessing, and just enough threads for you to grab hold of to start untangling the mystery yourself.

I think my key criteria with such stories as this is around whether or not I feel I could've deduced the murderer and the method from following the clues and picking up on sneaky bits of evidence presented in the
John Yeoman
This is the classic Locked Room mystery, followed by a second Impossible Crime, in which John Dickson Carr confirms his laureate as the master of complex conundrums. His style is packed with craft techniques - creative body language, inventive dialogue beats, seamless scene transitions - and just about everything else to delight the connoisseur of tropes.

Alas, it didn't work. It failed to engage me. In a word, it was boring. I abandoned the story two-thirds of the way through. Why? Too much vapo
Pratik Chakravorty
Mar 29, 2015 Pratik Chakravorty rated it it was amazing
Regarded as the best locked room mystery ever and I couldn't agree more. From the start you will be drawn into a murder which will seem impossible to perform and will make you guessing till the end and I must say the reasoning was spot on. Another thing to note in this novel is the Locked Room lecture, it's a chapter in which the great Dr. Gideon Fell discusses the means by which you can perform such an impossible murder. That chapter alone showcased how brilliant and ingenious John Dickson Carr ...more
Nov 30, 2015 E rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was rated the best locked-room mystery of all time, and indeed it is very good. In fact, it is two locked-room murders. I don't think the suspects were developed enough to make any plausible inferences while reading, but Carr's strength is clearly plot. He also puts an interesting meta-discussion on the lips of the detective, as he reviews famous fictive locked-room mysteries of the past (which, if nothing else, provides some interesting reading suggestions). The "reveal" is plausible, even ...more
Mar 12, 2015 Paul rated it it was ok
Most famous for Chapter 17: The Locked Room Lecture--go ahead and read this chapter (warning: contains spoilers for other 80 to 100 year old books) & skip the rest.
Bob Mackey
May 13, 2015 Bob Mackey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strangely enough, I got into reading mystery novels by playing video games that focus on the same kind of locked-room murders, so I'm not surprised that I found The Hollow Man pretty enjoyable. It takes a bit of a different approach than the mysteries I've read lately, though: Carr's writing puts the mechanics of the mystery front-and-center, and characters aren't nearly as much of a priority. In fact, the "whodunnit" is essentially presented as a game for the reader, and I even found myself tak ...more
Mandy Dejonghe
Apr 08, 2016 Mandy Dejonghe rated it liked it
This book was alright, I felt the beginning was slow and it was hard to get into but got progressively better. Also slight spoiler, (view spoiler) ...more
Jun 25, 2015 sanny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: suspense-mystery
Short and stimulating. The meta fiction part about the locked room discussion is brilliant. There is no such thing as 'improbable', indeed.
Practically perfect in every way.
Craig Herbertson
First Carr novel and already addicted.

Professor Charles Grimaud and his circle meet at a tavern. They are interrupted by a mysterious stranger who says that men can rise from their graves. The stranger, an illusionist called Pierre Fley, claims to have this rather natty ability, and couples this with the news that he has an even more dangerous brother who wants to kill Grimaud. He tells Grimaud to choose which of the two brothers he wants to pop round (him or the naughtier one), and Grimaud tel
Li'l Vishnu
Jan 22, 2014 Li'l Vishnu rated it liked it
“But she’s not guilty. That’s been proved. Besides I like her.” — Dorothy, p. 187

I think my enjoyment of this book suffered because, during a long monologue, the principal sleuth reveals the endings to numerous other mystery novels — among which is The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux. This was supposed to be my very next read. Ah, well. Now I’ve read both.

This guy is a plot guy. The characters weren’t bad or anything. The three brothers were particularly interesting—I really liked ho
Mar 19, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Harrumph! "The Hollow Man" is a locked room crime mystery which at times feels quite dated in terms of the...Harrumph!..prose style, but other than that is sufficiently intriging and well plotted to keep this reader's attention. Without giving too much away, a murder is committed in a locked room and shortly afterwards another murder is committed on an empty street, with no indication of how these could have occured. I always get the feeling with these plots that the reader is left to unravel a ...more
Tim Foley
Jul 09, 2013 Tim Foley rated it it was amazing
I saw this book (UK: The Hollow Man) had been voted Number One Locked Room Mystery by a panel of experts back in the 80s. Locked Room Mysteries were a genre of crime that had started to intrigue me, so I gave it a whirl.

I'm glad I did. The book made me a John Dickson Carr convert. I love the gothic backstory of the three coffins, it really helps embed the crime in a more believable, if still fantastic, world. It was my first encounter with Dr Gideon Fell. I'm a big fan. He's a rather generic de
Dec 30, 2008 Tony rated it liked it
Carr, John Dickson. THE THREE COFFINS. (1935). ***. Enter, again, the brilliant Dr. Gideon Fell, master criminologist and the world’s maven of the locked room mystery. This time he is after one of the most clever sleuths of his career. The police called him the “invisible murderer” He killed his first victim and literally disappeared – from a locked room, of course. He killed his second victim in the middle of an empty street, but with watchers at either end – yet not a soul saw him commit the c ...more
Rachael Stein
Jan 08, 2014 Rachael Stein rated it it was ok
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why, I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
--Thomas Brown

Sam gave this to me as an example of the kind of mystery he likes. I posit that this is not so much a mystery as a 200 page word problem: if a dude wearing a yellow overcoat leaves Cagliostro street at 9:00, and his fairly unpleasant daughter leaves the drawing room at 9:15, etc.

There are also a couple of cheerful endorsements of punching women in the f
The Crime Scene Scene
The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man is the sixth novel in the Gideon Fell series by John Dickson Carr. Pierre Grimaud receives a visitor in his study who is seen by witnesses. A few minutes later gunshots are also heard and after members of the household breakdown the door they find Pierre dying and both the visitor and the weapon missing. Dr Fell soon discovers that the murder links to the past of the man who is not quite what he seems.

This novel is considered one of the best locked room mysteries
Tiana Hadnt
Apr 03, 2016 Tiana Hadnt rated it it was amazing
I love this story. I read it some years ago, and liked it a lot. I had forgotten all the details and was just as shocked by the denouement this time as I was the first. The "Locked Room Lecture" he delivers towards the end is a masterpiece in and of itself. Definitely a must read for mystery fans of all types, and especially for Golden Age fans.
May 09, 2015 Ankur rated it it was amazing
There's a reason this is considered the best locked room mystery to be written. As Carr explains in chapter 17, one cannot help being disappointed when the trick is revealed - we expect too much. I have a similar feeling now, because I know how it transpired - magic tricks lose their appeal when revealed. Having said that, the trick here is pure genius! Dr. Fell outdoes himself, as he does so often.

This one's a must read.
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The best "locked room" mystery? 10 69 Jul 12, 2013 08:24AM  
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AKA Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson and Roger Fairbairn.

John Dickson Carr was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1906. It Walks by Night, his first published detective novel, featuring the Frenchman Henri Bencolin, was published in 1930. Apart from Dr Fell, whose first appearance was in Hag's Nook in 1933, Carr's other series detectives (published under the nom de plume of Carter Dickson) were the b
More about John Dickson Carr...

Other Books in the Series

Dr. Gideon Fell (1 - 10 of 23 books)
  • Hag's Nook (Dr. Gideon Fell, #1)
  • The Mad Hatter Mystery (Dr. Gideon Fell, #2)
  • The Eight of Swords (Dr. Gideon Fell, #3)
  • The Blind Barber (Dr. Gideon Fell, #4)
  • Death-Watch (Dr. Gideon Fell, #5)
  • The Arabian Nights Murder (Dr. Gideon Fell, #7)
  • The Crooked Hinge (Dr. Gideon Fell, #8)
  • To Wake the Dead (Dr. Gideon Fell, #9)
  • The Problem of the Green Capsule (Dr. Gideon Fell, #10)
  • The Problem of the Wire Cage (Dr. Gideon Fell, #11)

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“I am a mathematician, sir. I never permit myself to think.” 10 likes
“I have committed another crime, Hadley,' he said. 'I have guessed the truth again.” 3 likes
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