The Hollow Man (1935 novel)
|The Hollow Man|
1st UK edition
|Author||John Dickson Carr|
|Genre||Mystery, Detective, Novel|
|Publisher||Hamish Hamilton (UK) & Harper (USA)|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|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 US under the title The Three Coffins, and in 1981 was selected as the best locked room mystery of all time by a panel of 17 mystery authors and reviewers. It deals with Dr. Gideon Fell's investigation into the fatal shooting of his acquaintance Prof. Charles Vernet Grimaud, who has apparently been killed by an assassin wearing a papier-mâché mask, who has managed to escape from a locked room guarded by Grimaud's secretary and housekeeper. Fell is also, along with Superintendent Hadley, called in to investigate the death of Pierre Fley. The story is told in the third person, though it follows he character of Ted Rampole, a young American friend of Fell.
The story says from the outset that the testimonies of Stuart Mills and the witnesses of Cagliostro Street were as genuine as the characters could possibly give. The meeting at the back of the Warwick Tavern on Wednesday, 6 February, was reconstructed by the police from his story. While he was there, a stranger entered the room, claiming to be an illusionist and stating that men can get up and walk out of graves. After an angry outburst from Grimaud, the stranger, Pierre Fley, leaves, ominously announcing that his brother will call on Grimaud and wants his life.
||This article is incomplete. (May 2011)|
One wintry night in London (Saturday, 9 February,) 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 has evidently been 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, a scholar and "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 and 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 situation. Thus, it became a kind of "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.
It was placed at No. 40 on the Crime Writers' Association's list of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time and No. 96 on theMystery Writers of America's Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time. It was also selected in 1981 as the best locked room mystery of all time by a panel of 17 mystery authors and reviewers.
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.
The Problem of Cagliostro Street
Gideon Fell reveals that the murderer was in fact Dr. Charles Grimaud himself (Karoly Grimaud Horvath), who was assisted by Mme. Dumont, and that there was no brother Henri (Nicholas Reveille Horvath), the actual third brother having died inside his coffin. Fell also shows that the murder of Pierre Fley (Pierre Fley Horvath) by Dr. Grimaud on Cagliostro Street happened first. Grimaud killed him so as to prevent Fley from blackmailing him by threatening to reveal his crimes of bank robbery, two counts of murder, and a previous attempted murder of Fley. However, Fley, although mortally injured, was still alive; and while trying to get to the surgeon across the street, he spied Grimaud and took his revenge by firing a bullet from the same gun Grimaud had used on him. After crying, "The last bullet is for you," he succmbed to the exertion brought on a hemorrhage and died. To the witnesses, who saw none of this, it looked as though someone invisible had shot Fley, left the gun behind, and then vanished without leaving a single footprint in the snow. They reported a time of 15 minutes later than Grimaud's being found, as the only clock on the street was a good 40 minutes behind. As Dr. Fell puts it, the key is that the cases were turned the wrong way around—and that Grimaud had not planned the "impossible" elements of the crimes, but that they appeared impossible by accident.
The Problem of the Savant's Study
Fell further elaborates that Grimaud had sustained significant injuries from the shooting but was still fit and alive. He decided to carry out his plan, even though Fley's death looked nothing like a suicide and, since snow had been falling, Fley would unfortunately appear to have escaped through Grimaud's window without leaving footprints. Grimaud entered his own house in disguise, "greeting" a secretly placed mirror within the room—which made it look to observer Stuart Mills as though Grimaud was already within the room, greeting a stranger (Grimaud himself). Once locked inside his study, he had thrust the mirror up into the narrow, flat passage of his chimney, and that exertion brought on his final hemorrhage and death. The end result was not what Grimaud intended: an "invisible, lighter-than-air" man (the mythical Brother Henri) who had vanished from Grimaud's study, leaving no footprints in the snow, and had who shot Fley in the street, heard but unseen by witnesses.
- Susan Moody, ed., Hatchards Crime Companion: The Top 100 Crime Novels Selected by the Crime Writers' Association (London, 1990) ISBN 0-904030-02-4
- Mickey Friedman, comp., The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, selected by the Mystery Writers of America and annotated by Otto Penzler (New York, 1995) ISBN 0-517-88115-2