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.