John Dickson Carr Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

John Dickson Carr was born on November 30, 1906, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of Julia Carr and Wooda Nicolas Carr. His father, a lawyer and politician, served in Congress from 1913 to 1915. After four years at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, John Carr attended Haverford College and became editor of the student literary magazine, The Haverfordian. In 1928, he went to France to study at the Sorbonne, but he preferred writing and completed his first books, a historical novel that he destroyed, and Grand Guignol, a Bencolin novella that was soon published in The Haverfordian. Expanded, it became It Walks by Night, published by Harper and Brothers in 1930.

In 1932, Carr married an Englishwoman, Clarice Cleaves, moved to Great Britain, and for about a decade wrote an average of four novels a year. To handle his prolific output, he began to write books under the nonsecret pseudonym of Carter Dickson. In 1939, Carr found another outlet for his work—the radio. He wrote scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and after the United States government ordered him home in 1941 to register for military service, he wrote radio dramas for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) program Suspense. Ironically, the government then sent him back to Great Britain, and for the rest of the war he was on the staff of the BBC, writing propaganda pieces and mystery dramas. After the war, Carr worked with Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to produce the first authorized biography of Sherlock Holmes’s creator.

A lifelong conservative, Carr disliked the postwar Labour government, and in 1948 he moved to Mamaroneck, New York. In 1951, the Tories won the election, and Carr returned to Great Britain. Except for some time spent in Tangiers working with Adrian Doyle on a series of pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, Carr alternated between Great Britain and Mamaroneck for the next thirteen years before moving to Greenville, South Carolina. Suffering from increasing illness, Carr ceased writing novels after 1972, but he contributed a review column to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and was recognized as a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1963. He died on February 27, 1977, in Greenville.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, John Dickson Carr came from a respectable, well-to-do family. His father, Wood Nicholas Carr, was a lawyer and, later, a postmaster who also enjoyed a career in politics: He was elected to the House of Representatives, as a Democrat, in 1912. The family spent four years in Washington, D.C., from 1913 to 1916. Perhaps inspired by his grandfather, who was a partial owner of a newspaper in Uniontown, Carr began writing articles on court proceedings and murder cases at the age of eleven. By age fifteen, he had his own column—about boxing.

From 1921 to 1925, Carr attended a preparatory school called the Hill School, where he wrote for the literary magazine. In 1925, he started at Haverford College, in Haverford, Pennsylvania. There, he became associate editor (in April, 1926) and then editor (in June of the same year) of The Haverfordian, although most of his literary contributions have been described as “tales of historical adventure.” English and European history remained among Carr’s principal interests, although he also commanded detailed knowledge about true crime, fencing, and other, as one critic called them, “curious bits of learning.”

In 1928, Carr went to Paris, ostensibly to attend the Sorbonne, but it was during this time that Carr wrote Grand Guignol (1929), a short novel that served as the basis for his later It Walks by Night (1930). After the success of the latter novel, Carr married an Englishwoman named Clarice Cleaves, and the couple moved to England, where Carr instituted his now-legendary regimen of producing three to five novels a year. He and Clarice had three daughters, Julia (named for his mother), Bonita, and Mary.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Dickson Carr was one of the leading authors of the so-called Golden Age of the detective novel that lasted from roughly 1925 to 1945. He was the only child of Wooda M. Carr, a lawyer and one-term Democratic congressman, and Julia Kisinger, with whom Carr had a contentious relationship. From his father, Carr inherited his love of reading and reverence for the past as well as a tendency toward alcoholism, and some of his leading characters’ histrionics can be attributed to those of his father.{$S[A]Dickson, Carr;Carr, John Dickson}{$S[A]Dickson, Carter;Carr, John Dickson}{$S[A]Fairbairn, Roger;Carr, John Dickson}

During his youth, Carr wrote a newspaper column in his hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, revealing in one a lifelong antipathy toward realism in fiction. His years at Hill School (1922-1925) and Haverford College (1925-1927) were scholastically uneventful, but at both he revealed indications of his later stunning productiveness, publishing poetry, plays, and fiction. In 1927 he cut his education short and traveled to Europe, where his stay in France gave him the background for some of his early novels. In 1929 he moved to Brooklyn Heights, New York, after taking up his parents’ challenge to support himself solely through his writing.

During his second trip to Europe in 1930, he met Clarice Cleaves, an Englishwoman, whom he would marry in 1932. By this time, Carr had come to an agreement with his publishers that he receive, instead of biannual royalty checks, a monthly stipend, in return for publishing two novels a year. Carr, however, had more than merely two novels a year in him, and he arranged that another publisher bring out a different series of novels; this publisher settled on him the transparent pen names Carr Dickson and Carter Dickson. Carr’s need to publish so much appears to have been not merely financial; a friend said Carr had to produce four books annually “to stay happy.”

In 1933, Carr and his wife moved to Britain, ostensibly for economic reasons; however, given Carr’s conservatism, perhaps the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal contributed to it. They would spend much of the...

(The entire section is 885 words.)