6/19/24

Water from a Stone: "The Sweating Statue" (1985) by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch's "The Sweating Statue" is the third short story to feature his modern-day Father Brown character, Father David Noone, who's one of Hoch's lesser-known series-characters – appearing in only half a dozen short stories since the 1960s. Hoch has said he always kept the character of Father Noone around for "just the right type of story."

"The Sweating Statue," originally published in Detectives A-Z: 26 Stories with a Sleuth for Every Letter of the Alphabet (1985) and reprinted in Murder Most Sacred (1989), is exactly such a short story. Father David Noone is a parish priest in large, unnamed city and a so-called miracle has brought nationwide attention to his aging inner city.

Two weeks previously, the first arrivals for morning Mass arrived and noticed that the wooden statue of the Virgin on the side altar "seemed covered with sweat." The statue was wiped clean, but statue started to sweat again a few moments later. Father Noone tries to convince his parishioners that no miracle has taken place. After all, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown once famously remarked, "miracles are not so cheap as all that," but it keeps happening – every day the morning Mass crowd gets bigger. Even the media is starting to pay attention. That brings Monsignor Thomas Xavier, "the Cardinal's troubleshooter," to Holy Trinity Church to investigate this reported miracle. However, "the statue seems to be having a ripple effect on the lives of a great many people." Such as the very religious Celia Orlando and her non-religious boyfriend, Kevin Frisk, who thinks Father Noone is filling her head with "crazy notions of a miracle." This situation culminates with Father Noone discovering the body of the church custodian, Marcos, beneath a flight of stairs with a broken neck. And that brings even more media attention to the place ("man found dead at "miracle" church"). So what the hell is going on?

Curiously enough, Father Noone's role as series-detective is usurped Monsignor Xavier, which I assume was done to give Detectives A-Z anthology an entry for "X." Monsignor Xavier is the one who notices the two tell-tale clues that neatly explain how a statue can sweat bullets and why Marcos ended up dead at the bottom of the stairs. Short, simple and satisfying. So another solid short story effort from Hoch with a very well handled impossible situation.

Just one little side comment. Mike Grost comments on his website that he doesn't share the general enthusiasm for this story, "the mystery of the statue itself, is solidly done," but finds the story too grim and gloomy in its storytelling with all of the characters (believers and non-religious alike) cast in a negative light. I agree to a certain extend. "The Sweating Statue" is simply a good detective story, but the characters and situation used to tell that detective story needed to be fleshed out more. I think the story would have hit very differently, if it had the room to tell why Kevin Frisk is a militant atheist or why an extremely religious woman like Celia Orlando loved him. Or why Father Noone appeared to be so passive throughout the story. I imagine a novel-length treatment of "The Sweating Statue" would read like Andrew M. Greeley-style impossible crime novel (e.g. Happy Are Those Who Mourn, 1995), except the plot wouldn't be a huge letdown.

6/16/24

Who Goes Hang? (1958) by Stanley Hyland

Stanley Hyland was a British TV producer for the BBC who worked on most of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's broadcasts from 1964 to 1970 and had previously been employed as a research librarian at the House of Commons, which gave him a thorough understanding of the workings of Parliament – providing a wealth of information for his first of three detective novels. Martin Edwards praised Hyland's Who Goes Hang? (1958) as "a beautifully constructed story which boasts as many twists as an Agatha Christie" and Erik Routley suggested in The Puritan Pleasure of the Detective Story (1972) it's perhaps the last in the line of cerebral stories of detection. Who Goes Hang? received a Japanese translation over twenty years ago and secured the 8th place on the international list of the 2001 Honkaku Mystery Best 10. Although some contrarians are out there today. So let's see where this lands.

Who Goes Hang? begins on tenth of May, 1956, when a workman is carrying out renovations in the Clock Tower, "just beneath the bell-chamber of Big Ben, the Great Bell of Westminster," that uncovers a hidden cavity. Behind the Victorian brickwork, the workman finds the body of man, "shrunken in mummified stillness," dressed in clothes of "of a fashion at least a century old" and a crushed skull ("...struck with something like a sandbag..."). So a clear case of murder.

Any death within one of Her Majesty's palaces, like the Houses of Parliament, needs to be explained to the satisfactory of the Coroner of the Royal Household, even one that happened a hundred years ago – which means an inquest on the mummy. Normally, the setting for an inquest in one of these British whodunits is a village pub or school building, but in Who Goes Hang? it's the Moses Room ("properly the Peers' Robing Room") in the House of Lords with a distinguished jury comprising of everything from a Lieutenant-General of the last war to the Controller-General of the Jewel House. During the inquest, they go over the items found on the body that include a pocket watch engraved with a motto, a phrase ("Effrenate") and a depiction of two tiny masks ("the formal tragic and comic masks of the classical theatre").

Hubert Bligh, Member for the Brackwell Division of Lambeth, recognizes the engravings and links its to an old house in his constituency. A place called Roshy House which house a grotesque looking statue of a humpback.

So what could be the link between the mummified body walled up beneath Big Ben and Roshy House? Considering the time scale involved, the investigation is going to be an academic one rather than a police investigation. After all, whoever killed and entombed the man also died a long time ago. A special committee is proposed and assembled, Bligh Committee, to investigate the historical murder. Mostly, the committee do an excellent job, if like this kind of thing, in going over the historical archives with a fine tooth comb to slowly, but surely, collecting facts and snippets of information in the hope of finding satisfactory answers to all the questions posed by the body in the Clock Tower.

Not a classical, grand-style British whodunit, but an academic reconstruction of the past and a historical crime. If you're one of those people who hated history in school and spend class jabbing away at your wrist with a math compass to make it end, you'll probably find the first two-thirds of the story dry, lifeless and probably very boring. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it for the most part and especially when the time comes for the inquest to resume with Bligh taking the stand – delivering a detailed, apparently watertight account of what happened nearly a century ago. Only for a small, until then overlooked detail to upturn the whole apple cart leaving Bligh in the witness box in a state of utter confusion. Something that puts an entirely different complexion on the case, but, regrettably, the story completely deteriorates in the last quarter. A unfair, drawn out mess of a conclusion to a story that started out so promising. But even before arriving there, the story had already lost me. I didn't care anymore about the body, who put it there and why.

Even worse, Hyland overlooked a golden opportunity to salvage Who Goes Hang? There's one character who screamed out to me to be the murderer and could have been furnished with a first-class motive (SPOILERS/ROT13): gur obql vf erirnyrq gb unir qvrq n ybg zber erpragyl guna svefg gubhtug naq jnf uvqqra va gur Pybpx Gbjre qhevat gur Frpbaq Jbeyq Jne (ernq gur obbx sbe qrgnvyf). Gur zheqrere “xarj gur obql jbhyq or sbhaq naq ur ubcrq vg jbhyq or qvfzvffrq nf na vafbyhoyr uvfgbevpny zlfgrel,” juvpu vf jul gur obql jnf jrnevat 19gu praghel pybguvat naq pneelvat bgure crevbq vgrzf – yvxr gur cbpxrg jngpu naq pbvaf. Fb gur zheqrere vf sne sebz qrnq. Jul abg znxr gur zheqrere gur jbexzna, Serq Nezlgntr, jub qvfpbirerq gur obql? Nezlgntr pbhyq unir orra jbexvat ba gur Pybpx Gbjre qhevat gur jne, gb pneel bhg gur ercnvef, juvpu tnir uvz gur vqrn gb hfr gur pnivgl sbe gur cresrpg zheqre naq cnff uvf ivpgvz bss nf na hafbyinoyr, uvfgbevpny chmmyr. Fb jul jbhyq Nezlgntr erghea gb qvfpbire gur obql, orfvqr zbeovq phevbfvgl gb frr uvf cyna hasbyq? Fvzcyr, gur uvfgbevpny pbvaf va gur ivpgvz'f cbpxrgf! Ng gur gvzr, Nezlgntr unq ab vqrn gur pbvaf jurer jbegu, be jbhyq or jbegu, n cerggl craal hagvy gur obql jnf nyy frnyrq hc. Erzrzore, gur fgbel gnxrf cynpr qhevat gur cbfg-jne znynvfr bs gur svsgvrf naq univat fhpu na vanpprffvoyr arfg rtt zhfg or znqqravat gb na beqvanel jbexzna. Jura gur bccbeghavgl svanyyl neevirf, Nezlgntr creuncf ibyhagrref gb qb jbex (onfrq ba uvf cerivbhf rkcrevraprf) ba gur gbjref, oernxf njnl gur jnyy naq gnxrf nyy ohg bar bs gur pbvaf. Bayl pbva ur zvffrf vf gur ohz craal gung raqf hc qrfgeblvat gur pbzzvggrr'f snyfr-fbyhgvba.

Yes, it's a rough, unpolished idea, but (ROT13) yvxr gur gubhtug bs gur crefba jub qvfpbiref, jung rirelbar vavgvnyyl nffhzrf vf, n 100-lrne-byq zheqre ivpgvz gheaf bhg gb or gur zheqrere nsgre nyy. Now that's an Agatha Christie-style rug-puller from the least-likely-suspect category that would have given the book a claim to the status of a minor, post-war classic of the British detective novel. Unfortunately, for us, Hyland didn't write that kind of detective novel.

So, all in all, Hyland's Who Goes Hang? has a great premise, hobbles along to a splendid, midway twist upturning everything before going to pieces in the most unsatisfactory way. The historical details and color aren't enough to carry the last part of the plot. No recommendation this time and I'll try to pick something good for the next one.

A note for the curious: if you find the idea of "an academic investigation" into a historical mystery fascinating, you might fare better with Katsuhiko Takahashi's Sharaka satsujin jikes (The Case of the Sharaka Murders, 1983). It's not the best or most well-known Japanese mystery novel to be translated, but the plot is full of historical interest and concerns the search for the identify of an 18th century woodblock print artist, Sharaka – who was only active for ten months. Again, it's not the best or most typical of Japanese detective novels, but better and clearer plotted than Who Goes Hang?

6/12/24

The Clue in the Air (1917) by Isabel Ostrander

Isabel Ostrander was an American socialite from a well-to-do New York family, of Dutch descent, who traveled and lived all over the world at various times, but she disappointed her parents when she decided to study drama and married a Broadway songwriter – before embarking on a writing career. Not without success! Ostrander prolifically wrote short stories and serial novels for the early (pulp) magazines, which widely read and made her something of a household name. You might not have read any of her stories or even heard of her name, but you have likely read Agatha Christie's short story collection Partners in Crime (1929). One of the short stories, "Finessing the King" (1924), parodies Ostrander's McCarty and Riordan series. A parody blunted by Ostrander's plunge into obscurity, but it goes to show how well-known her work was in the 1910s and '20s. More importantly, she was something of a trailblazer.

Ostrander created one of the first blind detectives, Damon Gaunt, preceded only by Clinton H. Stagg's Thornley Colton and Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados. Ashes to Ashes (1919) is credited with being one of the first inverted crime novels predating Anthony Berkeley's "Francis Iles" crime novels by a dozen years. The Clue in the Air (1917), today's subject, has been known to me as a proto-1930s detective novel listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) for ages. Somehow, The Clue in the Air proved to be remarkable difficult to find for a book that should have been in the public domain for the past twenty or thirty years.

So it was a welcome surprise to learn The Clue in the Air finally got a proper, long overdue reprint as part of "Otto Penzler's Locked Room Library" series. A new, hopefully long-running series with a so far unusual, but interesting, selection of titles – mostly covering relatively obscure titles from the 1920s. This first badge comprises of Anna Katharine Green's Miss Hurd: An Enigma (1894), Eden Phillpotts' The Grey Room (1921), Arthur J. Rees' The Moon Rock (1922), Louis Tracy's The Passing of Charles Lanson (1924), W. Adolphe Roberts' The Haunting Hand (1926), Ronald A. Knox's The Three Taps (1927) and Ostrander's The Clue in the Air. They are in the public domain, but that doesn't always mean they're readily available or undeserving of a proper edition. If this is the route this reprint series is taking, I can only hope obscure, hard-to-find public domain locked room mysteries like Fred M. White's serial "Who Killed James Trent" (1901), W.A. Mackenzie's Flower O' the Peach (1916), Charles Chadwick's The Cactus (1925) and Ostrander's Above Suspicion (1923), published as by "Robert Orr Chipperfield," are next in line to be reprinted. In the meantime, I'll pick and choose from this first round of reprints from Penzler's Locked Room Library.

The Clue in the Air introduces Ostrander's series-detective, ex-roundsman Timothy McCarty, who resigned from the police force when "the death of a prosperous, saloon-keeping uncle had made him financially independent" to become a prosperous landed proprietor and gentleman of leisure – which proved empty and monotonous. That all changed one sultry, summer evening when McCarty is out for a stroll in the city and bumps into an old colleague, Cunliffe, out on patrol. They chat a little how nothing ever happens in that quiet district of the city, but McCarty reminds him that, when he was still on the force, "all the brawls in the tough wards put together didn't give us half the trouble of one crime pulled off in a residential section." A remark thick with foreshadowing!

McCarty continued his leisurely stroll when he hears "a sharp, choking cry from somewhere overhead" and "a swift rush of air as something hurtled down and fell with a hideous crashing impact on the pavement at his feet." What crashed on the sidewalk of an apartment building is the quivering, broken body of a dying woman uttering the cryptic words, "the—flying—man," through smashed lips and broken teeth. A dying message!

I already noted Ostrander was something of a trailblazer in the 1910s, creating a blind detective and experimenting with the inverted crime, which can be extended to The Clue in the Air. The story is a prototype, or premonition, of things yet to come. A Van Dine-Queen detective novel written a decade before either S.S. van Dine or Ellery Queen arrived on the scene and has the added distinction of being the first detective novel known to use the "dying message" device. Only example preceding it is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (1891) from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891). That would have been impressive enough for a surprisingly fresh, very readable mystery novel written/published in 1917, but the deadly fall is eventually revealed to be a locked room problem and the ex-roundsman has to contend with a Sherlockian rival sleuth. So someone gets to play the fallible detective and provide the story with a false-solution, of sorts. The Clue in the Air probably deserves more credit for its part in shaping the American detective story of the 1920s and '30s, but more on that in a moment.

Inspector Druet, officially leading the investigations, asks McCarty to come back to the force in some capacity, but tries to resist the urge to get involved without much success ("I'm not able to get the thing out of my mind at all since the poor thing fell at my feet") considering the whole situation is festooned with question marks – starting with the identity of the victim, Marion Rowntree. She's stepdaughter of the noted banker, Stephen Quimby, who's the executor of the estate left her by her mother until she became of age. In two weeks time, Marion would have turned twenty-one and her stepfather would have been compelled to turn everything over to her. And that might have been a problem for obvious reasons. However, Quimby apparently has an alibi. There are other questions: What was Marion doing at the apartment building? Where was she pushed from? What's the meaning of her dying words? Who else in the apartment building could have pushed her? "Was it the blonde lady on the third floor, or the seemingly frank and straightforward young inventor, or the bizarre couple who were his immediate neighbors?" Or was it perhaps someone else ("match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you guess whodunit").

So, as the soon to be Special Officer becomes more involved, McCarty enlists his lifelong friend and (here, anyway) armchair Watson, Dennis Riordan. A city firefighter and enjoyed their little chats at the firehouse, but otherwise, Riordan's role in the story is very limited compared to the previously mentioned rival detective, Wade Terhune, "the renowned crime specialist" who's "record of success is unique in the annals of criminal investigation." Terhune is a parody of Sherlock Holmes with all the “charm” of Philo Vance and all the "scientific facilities" of Dr. John Thorndyke or Craig Kennedy. McCarty is speechless the Great Detective and subjects him to a series of observation, which turn out to be spot on ("mere observation once more, and a little deduction"), but even more interesting are Terhune's scientific gadgets. Mostly notably, Terhune hooks all the suspects to a lie-detector to scientifically measure their responses to a series of pictures ("...you have each irrefutably recorded your emotions by the pulse beats in your wrists, in pressing upon the pneumatic cushion"). Terhune and his gadgets sometimes push the story dangerous close to science-fiction and a hybrid mystery ("I have adjusted a vibratometer, a small apparatus which, as the subject sits facing the hearth, will measure the vibration of his breath"), but McCarty's ordinary, everyday common sense prevails over Terhune's spyglasses, tape measures and "machines with jaw-breaking names." So... about that ending.

Ostrander was certainly ahead of the curve and perhaps knew in which direction the detective story, and novel, was slowly headed. The Clue in the Air is an early example of the direction in which the detective novel was slowly taking, but it simply wasn't there yet. Not even close! Ostrander evidently had an idea how it would look and feel like, but the last quarter of the story and ending throws all of that out of the window. Nick Fuller said it best, "impressive because it is ahead of its time, disappointing because fair play is still in the future." However, the twist preceding this change is actually somewhat clued and something you should be able to anticipate, because it has been done before and beaten like a dead horse since.

After this point, The Clue in the Air goes from the ancestral mother of the American detective story to just another pulp story littering the popular magazines of the day. And it finally reveals why the book secured a spot in Adey's Locked Room Murders. But don't expect anything grandiose, unless you have a taste for dated, pulp-style impossible crimes. I can enjoy a bizarre, pulpy take on the locked room mystery, but this needed to be more than just pulp. This is like watching a runner collapse with the finish line in sight.

That being said, the high rise building and period setting helped to punch up the locked room angle and scenes. If only Marion's dying message had been (ROT13) "gur—fcvqre—zna," which is more accurate and funny today, but unfair to expect the book to be a complete conduit into the future. Ostrander was farsighted, not clairvoyant. The Clue in the Air is admirably enough as a premonition of the American detective novel of the coming decades. Likely served as a blueprint for some of those writers that would emerge in the coming decades, even though Ostrander is largely forgotten today. So recommended as a not unimportant genre curiosity.

A note for the curious: Isabel Ostrander died a little over a century ago, aged 40, on April 26, 1924, of "heart failure after an illness of several weeks." She was only 40 when she died in 1924 and would have been in her early fifties when the Golden Age was in full swing in the mid-1930s. I now wonder what Ostrander might have written had she seen what others can do with a detective novel like The Clue in the Air.

6/8/24

The Noh Mask Murder (1949) by Akimitsu Takagi

Now, the perceptive among you may have noticed my love for the Japanese detective novels of the shin honkaku school, simply neo-classical or neo-orthodox in English, but not to be overlooked are their original, often Western influenced honkaku fore bearers – which sadly have been overlooked by the translation wave. For the longest time, the only available honkaku works were some short stories by Edogawa Rampo, Akimitsu Takagi's Shisei satusjin jiken (The Tattoo Murder Case, 1948), Seishi Yokomizo's Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951) and two collections of short stories from Okamoto Kido and Keikichi Osaka. Pushkin Vertigo is slowly correcting that oversight.

In 2019, they published a long-awaited, second Yokomizo translation, Honjin satsujin jiken (The Honjin Murders, 1946), which was the first of currently half a dozen new translations. Pushkin Vertigo's run of Yokomizo translations is for a fan of Golden Age detective fiction akin to opening Tutankhamun's sealed tomb. A veritable treasure room of previously inaccessible Golden Age gems! Well, to me anyway. I loved Gokumontou (Death on Gokumon Island, 1947/48), Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (The Devil's Flute Murders, 1951/53) and Yokomizo's locked room classic, The Honjin Murders.

So it was promising when they expanded their honkaku catalog by reprinting Takagi's The Tattoo Murder Case, shortened to The Tattoo Murder, because it implied a new translation was likely somewhere in the pipeline. Every time Pushkin Vertigo reprints an older translation, they follow up with one, or more, new translations from the same author – like they did with Soji Shimada and Yukito Ayatsuji. My little observational deduction proved to be correct and an English translation of Takagi's second novel was announced as forthcoming last year.

Nomen satsujin jiken (The Noh Mask Murder, 1949), translated by Jesse Kirkwood, is Akimitsu Takagi's second novel, but not a sequel to The Tattoo Murder Case that introduced his series-detective, Kyosuke Kamizu. The Noh Mask Murders is a standalone novel starring Akimitsu Takagi himself, his friend Koichi Yanagi and a public prosecutor, Hiroyuki Ishikari. Just like real-life counterpart, the fictional Takagi abondoned metallurgy to devote himself to writing "reading detective novels from around the world" who "fancied himself an amateur investigator" and pined for an opportunity "to put his deductive skills to practical use." And use it to write a firsthand account-style detective novel. His friends hands him exactly such an opportunity. After the war, Koichi Yanagi returned to Japan without a job or place to stay, but found a place when the Chizui family kindly opened their home to the returning soldier. However, the Chizui family is not what they appear on the outside.

Akimitsu (both the author and character) obviously admired S.S. van Dine and The Greene Murder Case (1928) is referenced several times. Not wholly without reason. The family depicted in The Noh Mask Murder make the dysfunctional Greenes appear relatively normal.

Taijiro Chizui became the head of the family after his brother, Professor Soichiro Chizui, died from a heart attack after getting injured in an experiment ("...a glass flask exploded"), which left him bedridden before his heart gave out. So the family of his brother moved into the mansion, but Yanagi confides in Ishikari that there's "something deeply wrong" with Taijiro's branch of the Chizui clan. Taijiro is consumed by greed who would do anything to satisfy his lust for wealth, perhaps even murder. His oldest son, Rintaro is "a terrifying nihilist" to whom "justice and morality are no more than intellectual games." Yojiro is not as overtly crazy as his father or brother, but "a snake only ever begets a snake." Sawako is their sister who appears to be the most normal of the lot, but who knows what years among her crazy, half-invalided relatives have done to her. Such as Taijiro's mother, Sonoe, whose right side of her body paralyzed with palsy, which did nothing to blunt her fierce temper. And then there are the remnants of Professor Chizui's branch of the family. After he passed away, his wife lost her mind and has been a resident patient of the Oka Asylum, in Tokyo, for the past ten years and she not alone as their daughter, Hisako, "unravelled completely" – reason behind her insanity is really unsettling. Finally, there's the professor's 14-year-old son, Kenkichi, who's dying from an incurable heart disease ("...surely his days were now numbered").

So a cozy, happy little household, to say the least, which also houses a Noh mask, "said to harbour a two-hundred-year-old curse," sealed away in glass case. Someone is wandering around the mansion wearing the mask. Yanagi and Hiroyuki Ishikari even spot the mask starring at them from an upstairs window of the mansion on one of its walkabouts. Yanagi decided this is exactly to type of case his old school friend, Akimitsu, wanted to test his detective skills ("...fancies himself Japan's answer to Philo Vance"). Shortly after his arrival, Taijiro dies in his room without a mark on his body with the door and windows securely locked from the inside. The demonic Noh mask is lying on the floor and there's the fragrance of jasmine lingering around the body. Even more curious and ominous, someone called an undertaker to have three coffins delivered to the mansion.

The investigation is told as a retrospective account as imagined by Akimitsu in the opening chapters ("...a new type of detective novel, unprecedented anywhere in the world"), but journal is written by Yanagi. Not Akimitsu! Just one of the many twists and turns the plot takes as the body count begins to rise.

If you know anything about my taste, you know The Noh Mask Murder is right up my alley. And not always for the obvious reason. First things, first. Ho-Ling reviewed The Noh Mask Murder all the way back in 2011 acknowledging its historical importance and original locked room-trick, but thought it spoiled and borrowed too much. I agree it bluntly spoiled a few very famous detective novels, however, it didn't lazily borrow from them. Just modeled and tried to improve on certain ideas with various degrees of success. The Noh Mask Murder, as a whole, essentially improves on Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case ("the holocaust that consumed the Greene family"), which is not a spoiler as the opening states "before long, the entire illustrious family had reached its demise" in addition to several references to the novel. Reason why it worked better here is that Akimitsu didn't structure it like a last-man-standing-did-it process of elimination, but as a genuine, fairly clued detective story – marred only by using a well-worn idea as the main thrust of the plot. Something the seasoned mystery reader is certain to pick upon, but even then the ending has a final twist of the knife in store. And then there's the solution to the locked room murder.

While the explanation really needed a diagram, it's easier to follow than the locked room-trick from The Tattoo Murder Case and one part of the trick is very pleasing to visualize. A dab of artistry to an otherwise technical locked room-trick, but really good for such a type of locked room mystery. More importantly, the historical significance of The Noh Mask Murder and other translations of original honkaku mysteries is greater than Ho-Ling gave it credit for, even more so today than in 2011.

Firstly, the translations of Takagi and Yokomizo novels beautifully complement the shin honkaku translations, because they give Western readers a sample of what that movement used as a foundation to build upon and expand. Secondly, the importance and influence of the translation wave on the budding Golden Age/locked room revival, which is a fantastic example of something coming full circle. A hundred years ago, Rampo introduced Japan to the Western-style detective story that inspired writers, like Takagi and Yokomizo, to create a local variation on the great American and British Golden Age detectives. After the Second World War, the traditional detective story fell into decline in both sides, until Shimada revived it in the early 1980s and inspired an entire movement that revitalized the traditional-style, fair play detective story – showing you can teach an old dog new tricks. The movement is still going strong today, working hard on their third Golden Age, while spreading its influence across Asia and even the West. Ever since the English debut of Ayatsuji's Jukkakukan no satusjin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) started the translation wave in earnest, the shin honkaku-style has left its traces on Western (locked room) mystery writers. For example, James Scott Byrnside (The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire, 2020), A. Carver (The Author is Dead, 2022), Jim Noy (The Red Death Murders, 2022) and especially H.M. Faust (Gospel of V, 2023). So to see all of this coming full circle with beloved, classically-styled locked room mystery is both incredibly pleasing and the historical cherry on top of an otherwise already excellent detective novel. If this exchange of ideas between Western and Japanese mystery writers is not unique, it is at least something special for us and should be treasured.

So, simply as a (locked room) mystery novel, The Noh Mask Murder has practically nothing to really complain about. The inclusion of a diagram, floor plan and perhaps a family tree (I'm bad with Japanese names) would have improved the story even further, but if the only, very minor, complaint is a stylistic one, there's really not much to seriously complain about. The Noh Mask Murder comes highly recommended as a genuine, previously inaccessible, Golden Age locked room mystery. A good one at that. More please!

A note for curious publishers: if anyone from Pushkin Vertigo or another publisher stumbles across this post, I compiled a "Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated" that warrants a look. Just a suggestion. ;)

6/4/24

Cops & Robbers: "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper" (1987), "The Murder in Room 1010" (1987) and "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" (1991) by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch, the man of a thousand stories, was not only a prolific writer of short stories, who appeared in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 1973 until his death in 2008, but a varied one as well – whose works covers detective stories of all stripes and varietals. Mike Grost correctly noted that "many of Hoch's series detectives tend to personify mystery subgenres" and "can shift to any of these genres simply by altering his series protagonist." For example, Dr. Sam Hawthorne exclusively deals with impossible crimes, Jeffery Rand is a code cracking spy, Captain Leopold series are modern police procedurals and Ben Snow is a gun-slinging sleuth from the Wild West. So the series all take a different approach to telling a detective story, whether it be the characters or setting, but the plots unmistakably identifies them as works from Hoch's hands.

Some cynics will simply call it a formula, but it gives a harmonizing quality to Hoch's many, vastly different series. More importantly, it allowed Hoch to bring different series-characters together for a crossover story! Hoch wrote three such crossovers during the early '90s.

The first of these crossover stories, "The Problem of the Haunted Tepee" (1990), has an aged Ben Snow visiting Dr. Sam Hawthorne in the 1930s to consult him on a case from the 1800s he was never able to solve. "The Spy and the Gypsy" (1991) is a crossover between Rand and the gypsy detective, Michael Vlado, which I'll get to eventually. Sandwiched in between is a short story bringing Nick Velvet and Sandra Paris to Captain Jules Leopold's city. That short story gave me the idea for this three-for-one review discussing two short stories, one from the Nick Velvet series and the other a Captain Leopold story, which I picked based on Grost's praise – calling them "some of Hoch's purest and most delightful impossible crime tales." And concluding with the crossover between the two series.

"The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper," originally published as "The Theft of the Lost Slipper" in the April, 1987, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, is the 54th short story to feature Nick Velvet. A thief-for-hire who only steals valueless things for a hefty fee (see The Thefts of Nick Velvet, 1978). This time, Velvet is approached by Gloria's brother, Arnie, who runs a Greenwich Village restaurant and normally wants nothing to do with Velvet or criminals in general. Velvet is surprised when Arnie asks him to steal a left shoe, "a woman's pump with a pink three-inch heel and pink straps," locked away in the safe of a fancy lawyer, Frederick Junis. The shoe in question belongs to a model the lawyer knew, Sophie Moment, but she ran away and left her shoe ("...sounds like Cinderella"). A complete pair is worth less than twenty-five dollars and so he accepts the assignment, but why is Arnie willing to pay him twenty-five thousand dollars to steal the shoe?

Velvet boldly goes to the office of Junis, located on the thirty-first floor of the Regal
Building on Wall Street, where he presents himself as a private investigator looking into the disappearance of Sophie Moment. What he eventually learns is surprising to say the least. Sophie Moment has disappeared under seemingly impossible circumstances just outside the office. Junis had caught Moment going through his files and fled through a private door, opening onto a short corridor with just two other doors, where she simply vanished into thin air – because the people behind those two doors swear nobody came out. During her disappearance-act from the corridor, Moment lost a shoe which Junis keeps in his office safe as evidence. So, once again, the thief has to turn detective to figure out what happened. Not only to the disappearance from the lawyer's office, but who killed the body Velvet stumbles across after wiggling out of a tight corner.

The strength of "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper" is not in a single trick or a clever, somewhat original idea. The solution to the impossible disappearance is a redressing of an old trick and something the story itself acknowledges (ROT13: “Yvxr Purfgregba'f cbfgzna fur'q orpbzr vaivfvoyr”). Instead the strength is in the neat dovetailing of the plot, folding everything beautifully together, complemented by the setting with its "postcard view of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor" and "the twin-towered World Trade Center." So another good, solid short story from Hoch, but not nearly as good as the next story.

"The Murder in Room 1010" first appeared in the November, 1987, issue of EQMM and recently reprinted in the Crippen & Landru collection The Killer Everyone Knew and Other Captain Leopold Stories (2023) – introduced by Roland Lacourbe. Arguably, this is one of Hoch's better and more interesting locked room mysteries.

Captain Leopold and Lieutenant Fletcher are called to the staid old St. George Hotel, in the center of the city facing Veterans Park, where a dead man has been found in one of the rooms. The front desk received a report of a woman screaming in Room 1010, but a security guard who tried to go in with a pass key found it was also chain-locked. After cutting the chain, they find the body of a man with multiple stab wounds and "the screaming woman, barely conscious, next to the body of a murdered man" ("...maybe a little high on something"). The victim is a disgraced school teacher, Ken Armstrong, who turned to crime and the woman is identified as Anita Buckman. She claims to be innocent of the murder. Leopold finds an important clue, "a small, voice-activated tape recorder," in her handbag. An ex-colleague and private investigator, Max Hafner, had asked him about exactly such a recording device only days before. Hafner tells Leopold that Armstrong had been blackmailing Rudolph Buckman, "he'd had a fling with a prostitute and somebody took pictures," before trying to get more money from his wife Anita. Hafner advised her to record the transaction and use the recording as leverage to make him back off or the recording is handed over to the police. When she went to his hotel room to hand over the money, Anita blackouts and, somehow, a murderer entered and left the locked room. But how?

Just like "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper," the strength of "The Murder in Room 1010" is in the masterly dovetailing of the various plot-strands to create a first-rate, classically-styled locked room mystery – presented as a police procedural. The locked room-trick itself is not terribly complicated, on the contrary, it's a great example of simplistic brilliance. More importantly, the way Hoch used the circumstances to create the locked room situation. If you're interested in Hoch or impossible crime fiction, I recommend reading Grost's short review (beware of spoilers) going over why Hoch's approach to the impossible crime in "The Murder in Room 1010" is "unusual in mystery fiction" and "harder to do" than your average locked room puzzle. And why it's a somewhat atypical story for Hoch. Something he didn't mention, demonstrating Hoch's experienced hand as a plotter, is how he quietly eliminated the possibility of shenanigans with the crack allowed by the chain-lock by dispatching Armstrong multiple stab wounds. That would have been a different story had he been found with a knife-handle sticking out of his back. So a small gem of an impossible crime story and even better Hoch short story. A shoe-in for the next update of my list of favorite impossible crime stories.

"The Theft of Leopold's Badge" was first published in the March, 1991, issue of EQMM and almost reads like a three-act play. Hoch created Sandra Paris, the White Queen, to be rival to Velvet and introduced her in the short story "The Theft of the White Queen's Menu" (1983). Paris modeled her crimes and persona on the White Queen from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (1871). So she only steals valuables before breakfast in seemingly impossible circumstances.

The opening of the story finds Sandra Paris backstage at "Breakfast with the Muses," a fancy fundraising event for the Parker Museum, where she has taken the place of one of the nine muses – whom she tied, gagged and stuffed into a closet. When the performance begins, Paris takes out a roadside flare, tossed it at a priceless Van Gogh painting and "watched it erupt in a flash of vivid flame." Naturally, the Van Gogh painting is not destroyed, but cleverly lifted by Paris. She nearly got away with it. Paris made a tiny, easily missed mistake, but she's in Captain Leopold's city. Leopold and Fletcher caught up with Paris and the stolen Van Gogh at the airport. Even worse, while Paris was stealing the Van Gogh, someone stole two more paintings and left a getaway car with a body in the parking lot. Paris asks for her one phone call and asks Nick Velvet to return an old favor ("...I got you out of jail once").

So the second-act, of sorts, is Velvet meeting Leopold and trying to get Paris released, which has that "worlds collide" feeling a crossover should have. Leopold immediately checked Velvet's background, "do people really hire you to steal items of little or no value?" ("there have been stories to that effect"), showing these characters come from very different series. Velvet is a charming criminal with a moral compass who's easily cheered on in his own series, but, in the eyes of Leopold, he's simply another criminal. So it's rather an odd choice Velvet gets to dictate the story from here on out. Leopold is not convinced Paris worked or could have done the job on her own and the murder is simply the result of thieves falling out. Velvet wants to prove Paris worked alone and had her hands full with stealing the Van Gogh by replicating its disappearance using Leopold's badge. Not to mention revealing who stole the other paintings and shot the man in the parking lot.

This messy description of the plot barely does justice how nicely Hoch layered it. From Paris' caper and the second theft/murder ("...someone took advantage of your presence to do a little work of their own") to the trick to make the painting/police badge vanish in front of several witnesses, which should please anyone who loves a bit of stage magic mixed with their mysteries. Not to forget characters from two entirely different series crossing paths and making it work. Hoch's approach to crossovers is an interesting one as one series-character always seems to have the upper hand over the other. In "The Problem of the Haunted Tepee," Snow needs Dr. Hawthorne to solve an impossible crime from the past. "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" begins with Leopold checkmating the White Queen, but then Velvet takes the lead and solves the case in the third and final act. I assume the same holds true for "The Spy and the Gypsy." So would liked to have seem more opposition from Leopold, but other than that, it's a rare and excellent crossover mystery. I loved Velvet's last line to Paris ("I think we'd both better stay out of his city in the future").

All in all, three really good short stories from Hoch! "The Murder in Room 1010" is obviously the best of the lot and "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" is a genuinely rare treat, if you love (good) crossovers. Only "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper"
appears a bit average next to those two, but not one that'll disappoint fans of the series. So not bad and wish Hoch had continued pooling his series-characters. Just imagine the implications of Simon Ark casually turning up in a Dr. Hawthorne or Alexander Swift story!

5/31/24

Blackstone Fell (2022) by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards' Blackstone Fell (2022), alternatively published as The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge, is the third title in the Rachel Savernake series that can best be described as historical, pulp-style retro-thrillers with elaborately-webbed, tangled puzzle plots hidden underneath – comparable only to Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series. A technique known as webwork plotting ("...the art of creating a single story out of random multiple narrative threads") and Edwards cleverly exploited to write one series that satisfies two different groups of readers. Those who enjoy a dark, eventful thriller with characters and those who want their crime fiction supported by a good, solid plot.

I belong to the latter and definitely appreciated the first two Savernake retro-pulp novels, Gallows Court (2018) and Mortmain Hall (2022), which combined the best of the detective story and thriller. Edwards ended both with a "Cluefinder" referring back to the pages and lines where the clues and hints to the solution were hidden in plain sight. Something I can always appreciate, but particularly looked forward to getting to Blackstone Fell as it contains not one, but two, impossible disappearances!

Back in 2022, Edwards wrote on his blog that he had been rewatching "the complete run of episodes of David Renwick's Jonathan Creek," as well as “working on John Dickson Carr titles for the British Library," while Blackstone Fell was still in its conceptional phase – deciding "it would be fun to have a genuine locked room mystery in the book." Edwards has written short impossible crime stories before, "Waiting for Godstow" (2000) and "The House of the Red Candle" (2004), but Blackstone Fell is his first novel-length locked room mystery. Just like it's two predecessors, Blackstone Fell has a plot resembling a deep, densely-webbed structure with maze-like properties. And like the previous novel, this third title in the series has a body count Paul Doherty would approve of.

Blackstone Fell is set in October, 1930, beginning with the arrival of the investigative journalist Nell Fagan in the small, remote Yorkshire village of Blackstone Fell "masquerading as a photographer named Grace" – trying to worm information from the locals about the local sanatorium. Vernon Murray contacted Nell to ask her help to bring whoever murdered his mother to justice, Ursula Murray. A widow who remarried a young, virtually unknown playwright, Thomas Baker ("no, none of the theatre critics have heard of him, either"), who packed her off to Blackstone Sanatorium to recover from a "nervous collapse." There she died from supposedly natural causes, but Vernon refuses to accept that verdict. And, out of desperation, turned to the crime reporter.

Nell took the tenancy of the historical, long vacant Blackstone Lodge as Cornelia Grace and tried poking around, but the close-knit community is not very keen on nosy outsiders and simply refuse to open up ("certainly not to an ungainly Londoner who reeked of tobacco and gin..."). However, Nell's prying disturbed someone as she's almost killed coming down the Fell by a boulder. Realizing she needs help, Nell reaches out to Rachel Savernake through Jacob Flint, because Nell is a persona non grata in Gaunt House. So she has to bait the hook with an offer for Jacob and an enticing mystery for Rachel. A historical locked room mystery centering on the gatehouse known as Blackstone Lodge!

Blackstone Lodge is a damp, drafty gatehouse dating back to the 17th century standing on the grounds of the now crumbling, overgrown Blackstone Tower estate of Harold Lejeune – whose family built and lived in the Tower for centuries. The tower gatehouse stood vacant for nearly as long on account of its dark history of inexplicable disappearances. In 1606, Edmund Mellor was the first guest to be welcomed at the recently completed Blackstone Tower and, one day, was seen by the rector entering the gatehouse, locking the door behind and "not a living soul ever clapped eyes on him again." Mellor had not only vanished into thin air from a locked gatehouse, but a locked gatehouse under observation as "the rector was adamant that he never budged from the spot." Three centuries later, it happened again 1914 when Alfred Lejeune, older brother of Harold, disappeared under similar circumstances from the gatehouse. Never to be seen again and declared dead in 1921. So coupled with the possibility that a killer is on the loose in the village, "perhaps more than one," makes for a pretty mystery to offer to Rachel as a peace offering, but she also had to give Jacob something.

Jacob editor is on a crusade against spiritualism, mediums and other supposedly supernatural mumbo-jumbo, which include "London's most renowned medium," but Ottilie Curle is not easily exposed as she conducted her sessions one-on-one – only to the credulous or the converted. Skeptics and the press are kept at a distance. Nell can arrange a place for Jacob at Curle's séance table under false pretenses, which is too good to turn down and the third main plot-thread of Blackstone Fell. This is only the beginning as people begin to die, left and right, before Rachel can begin her investigation in earnest. An investigation that brings even more deaths from the past to light.

Similar to Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall, you can't really discuss the unfolding events past the setup as things tend to become complicated really fast. Just like the first two books, the complicated web of characters, maze-like plot and potential motives are expertly handled. And beautifully tied together.

First of all, I knew Edwards intended the historical locked room puzzle of Blackstone Lodge to "a sub-ploy rather than the mainspring of the story," but couldn't help being a little disappointed my initial idea proved to be correct. I hoped Edwards' first novel-length locked room mystery would give me something to write about, even only as a minor subplot. The other two plot-threads are better handled with the deaths linked to the sanatorium being retro-pulp at its best ("...n fvtacbfg cbvagvat cebfcrpgvir zheqreref gb Oynpxfgbar Sryy"), while Ottilie Curle's storyline diverges from the usual involving spiritual mediums and dodgy séances. Edwards saved the best for last and concludes with a masterstroke (ROT13) erirnyvat gur guerr, vagrepbaarpgrq pnfrf ner n onpxqebc sbe n sbhegu, zbfgyl snve TNQ-fglyr jubqhavg uvqvat va cynva fvtug. Bravo! It's exactly what I hope to find in a modern mystery styled after the classics of yesteryear.

Just one little nitpick. I was completely satisfied with the ending and immediately turned over to the "Cluefinder," which "enjoyed a vogue during 'the Golden Age of murder' between the world wars" and Edwards decided to resurrect it for this series. It worked wonders for the previous two novels, but not in this case as it showed the clues ("a selection of pointers to the solution of the various mysteries") are not as strong as my impression was from the concluding chapters. Aside from that nagging, fanboyish bit of nitpicking, Blackstone Fell is another page-turner with a captivating, complicated plot and an immersive story that never stop moving. It's a worthy and excellent addition to both this series and the Golden Age revival. I just hope we'll get a genuine novel-length, John Dickson Carr-style locked room mystery from Edwards in the future. Until then, I have Sepulchre Street (2023) awaiting on the big pile.

5/28/24

Frame of Mind: "The Scapegoat" (1970) by Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand's "The Scapegoat" originally appeared in the August, 1970, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and the then editor-in-chief, Frederic Dannay, called Brand's late-period short stories and novellas renaissance detective fiction – half a century before renaissance detective fiction became a thing. But not everyone agrees. Jim, of The Invisible Event, discussed "The Scapegoat" in his review of Brand's short story collection A Buffet for Unwelcome Guests (1983) summed up his opinion about this story as follows, "hoover up every single word of this, and then vow never to repeat its abominations upon the world." So my take is going to be a game of gem or sham, on difficulty mode, because it's Brand story with Jim's opinion likely tipping the odds even further in her favor. Let's find out!

"The Scapegoat" is a combination of armchair detection and parlor psychology, which examines a fifteen year old, unsolved murder case haunting the son of a policeman.

Fifteen years previously, the crippled magician Mr. Mysterioso had been invited to place the cornerstone of the new wing of the local hospital and the police is present to safeguard the magicians. Mysterioso had received a flurry of angry, abusive and anonymous letters evidently from the same person ("they were all signed 'Her Husband'"). The magician is helped by his loyal servant, Tom, going up the steps to the platform in front of the cornerstone when the crack of a rifle shot is heard. Mysterioso and a dying Tom fall the ground. And, as Tom died in his arms, the magician defiantly roared at the building opposite, "you fools, you murderers, you've got the wrong man." A great, dramatic opening scene to an unsolved drama that continues to haunt the son of the policeman who was dismissed for negligence on duty.

In one of the top floor windows of the building, the police find a rifle propped up, "its sights aligned on the cornerstone," with one spent bullet and "nobody there." Up on the roof, directly above the window, a press photographer was making pictures of the charity event, but couldn't have come down as the police locked the door behind him for security reasons and down at the main entrance P.C. Robbins stood guard – seen by a dozen witnesses "tearing up the stairs toward the murder room." The large, open and easily searched building is searched from top to bottom without finding the assassin. So the young police constable is dismissed and that not only destroyed him, but is terribly close to destroying his son who believes his father didn't neglect his duty. And was unfairly dismissed. He also believes the press photographer, "Mr. Photoze," is the real killer and "wanted to be avenged on Mr. Photoze who had committed a crime and got off scot-free."

Mysterioso organizes a domestic court "to talk it all over, to try to excise the scar that had formed in the mind of the young man whose father had been dismissed from the force." Robbins is to represent his father, Mr. Photoze is in the dock with him to defend himself and Inspector Block ("who as a young constable had been on the scene of the crime") presents the evidence of the police. Mysterioso presides as judge and several witnesses from fifteen years ago serve as jury. Old Baily at Home.

If you know your classical detective fiction, the situation surrounding the shooting and murder of the magician's servant is open to multiple interpretations and false-solutions. Brand even goes so far as ending the story with a double-twist. So all good and fine, on paper, but Jim has a point that the story "feels like Brand consciously writing A Christianna Brand Story." Brand was going back to the well and the result certainly is not one of her best (locked room) mystery stories, however, calling it an abomination is putting it on a little thick. The problem with "The Scapegoat" is that it's simultaneously too long and not long enough. Brand came up with an ambitious premise and idea for a first-class detective story, but everything from the impossible shooting, the multiple interpretations and the characters themselves to the double-twist ending needed more room to develop in order to be truly convincing and effective – which it simply wasn't. Strangely enough, in spite of its short length, "The Scapegoat" feels like it was too long and dragged out in parts. So not at all a good or efficient use of the short story format, which came at the cost of the plotting-and storytelling clarity characterizing Brand's best work.

Something better could have been done with "The Scapegoat." Maybe it could have been trimmed down or expanded into a novel, but this just isn't it. It's still an ok-ish detective story, but, when measured against the standards of Brand's earlier work, it suddenly looks very mediocre.

Sorry for having to end this trio of Brand reviews on a sour note, but genuinely expected to find a really good impossible crime story in "The Scapegoat." I mean, what are the odds of Jim actually not being that far off the mark? It looked like a safe bet!

5/24/24

Shadowed Sunlight (1945) by Christianna Brand

Last time, I discussed Christianna Brand's Death in High Heels (1941), very much an apprentice work full with undeveloped potential and promise, but for a detective story from the forties, it has aged remarkably well – closer a police procedural from the 1980s or '90s than a Golden Age mystery. So even when she's not pulling a Carr or Christie, Brand's can deliver a detective story not devoid of merit of interest. However, it didn't quite scratch that itch and decided to go right back to Brand. And with good reason.

I rambled on about lost manuscripts and other extraordinarily obscure detective fiction not so long ago, but what I neglected to mention in those laments is that efforts are being made to salvage what has been lost. In the past, I recounted Philip Harbottle's Herculean labors to restore the works of John Russell Fearn and Gerald Verner to print, which include some superb, previously unpublished, novels (e.g. Fearn's Pattern of Murder, 2006). Three years ago, the British Library published E.C.R. Lorac's Two-Way Murder (c. 1958), originally written shortly before she died, but not published until 2021. Then there's Tony Medawar's Bodies from the Library anthology series dedicated to "bring into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown" from the Golden Age of Detection.

An annual series collecting obscure, rarely reprinted short stories, previously unpublished work and even plays from a who's who of classic mystery writers – covering both American and British writers. So you get rare or unpublished stories from the likes of Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Boucher and Clayton Rawson. The Bodies from the Library series has proven to be a small treasure trove of previous unpublished work for fans of Christianna Brand. A big regret of her fans is that "she didn't write enough," but "new" material has been added in recent years to Brand's bibliography.

"Cyanide in the Sun" (1958) and "Bank Holiday Murder" (19??) had not been reprinted since their original appearance in The Daily Sketch ("a British newspaper which folded fifty years ago"), but respectively reprinted in The Realm of the Impossible (2017) and the Sept/Oct, 2017, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The never before published "The Rum Punch" appeared in the first Bodies from the Library (2018) anthology ("the highlight of the collection and an impossible mystery at that") and Bodies from the Library 4 (2021) contains an entire, long overlooked and nearly forgotten (short-ish) novel! There's still that planned Crippen & Landru collection (The Dead Hold Fast and Other Stories) and the unpublished impossible crime novel The Chinese Puzzle. Someone, like James Scott Byrnside, could complete the unfinished Cat Among the Pigeons. Anyway...

The subject of today's review is Shadowed Sunlight, originally serialized in Woman from July to August 1945, but was somehow forgotten about until it returned to print in Bodies from the Libraries 4. I don't remember ever hearing or reading about Shadowed Sunlight, before it was finally reprinted a few years ago. I was aware the unpublished The Chinese Puzzle and "The Dead Hold Fast," but never noticed even the briefest of mentions of this small, typical Brandian gem completely with a tight-drawn cast of characters and a seemingly impossible murder – only Cockrill and Charlesworth are absent. More on that in a moment.

Shadowed Sunlight takes place as the Second World War came to an end and "it was 'Britain is Grateful Week' for returning heroes," which means charity events to collect donations, war bonds and to welcome back the boys. Edgar "Thom-Thom" Thom is a successful ex-businessman who had his retirement cut short by the war to serve his country, as Director of Anthracite Production, but now intends to combine charity work with pleasure. Thom has taken his beloved racing cutter Cariad out of storage to "give those kids up at the naval school a run for their money" and to collect some money for the savings campaign. So brings together a small group of friends and young people to celebrate and enjoy the sailing.

Firstly, there's Gloria and her second husband, Geoffrey Winson, and their 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who's simply called "Tiggy." Jenny Sendall is Gloria's 19-year-old daughter from her first marriage. She brought along her boyfriend, Roy Silver, who's the "Silver Voice of Radio." Tiggy is looked after by the overworked, underpaid nursemaid, Miss Pye. She's not always on the best of term with her employers. Truda Dean and her boyfriend, Julian Messenger, get invited on their way to Trudy's grandmother, Lady Audian, to tell her of their intention to get married. Lastly, there's Thom's personal secretary, Evan Stone, who helped to arrange the boating party. But then things begin to get awkward really fast.

Julian Messenger used to be engaged to Jenny Sendall, but, when returning home from war, Julian asked Jenny to release him from his promise to marry her – because he wanted to marry Trudy. Jenny agreed to his request, "she was awfully sweet and nice about breaking off our engagement," but not her cash-strapped parents. Gloria and Geoffrey learn about this right before a day before the boating party. So they force her to promise to take action against Julian for breach of promise. Things don't end there. A day before the race, the group attends Miss Templeton's dance party ending with the mysterious theft of their host's emerald pendant in platinum setting. An ill-omen, indeed, but nothing compared to what awaits them the next day.

Midday, the next day, they have a picnic aboard, "just a rough, homely picnic," where everyone handles, eats and drinks the same things, but only one of them dies from cyanide poisoning. Somehow, or other, the murderer had poisoned something the victim ate or drink, mere minutes before, which appears to be an utter impossibility. Nobody could have administered the poison. An impossible poisoning aboard a racing yacht with a small, intimate circle of potential suspects.

I mentioned in the review of Death in High Heels that the book ends with Charlesworth getting assigned to a new case, "a murder in a racing yacht," wondering whether it could be the story told in the so far unpublished novella The Dead Hold Fast. Well, Shadowed Sunlight certainly ticks the murder-in-a-racing-yacht box, but Charlesworth is not the one who Scotland Yard sends to clear up the murder. Detective Inspector Dickinson, "a university pup with very little experience," because "a straightforward poisoning in a yacht, where, of necessity, the suspects must be few and the solution merely a matter of motive and opportunity, had seemed, to the simple hearts of his superiors, a cinch" – putting him on his first solo case. However, the murder proves far from straightforward from the apparent impossibility of administrating the poison, a mass drugging on the previous evening and stolen poison to the theft of the emerald and the death of Gloria's first husband. All tied up in a complicated tangle of relationships, emotions and possible motives with Tiggy both helping and hampering Dickinson's investigation. I agree with Jim when he said Tiggy can be added "alongside the Carstairs clan to the pantheon of Perfectly Realised Young People in GAD fiction." The characters, their interactions and complicated relationships really is the story's strong point.

Shadowed Sunlight is very much a character-driven mystery novel in the tradition of the Golden Age Crime Queen with twisty, psychological touches rather than a John Dickson Carr-style impossible crime tale. Brand's skillful hand at measuring out emotions is on full display, which she always beautifully balanced and seldom done in shades of a single color. For example (Minor SPOILERS/ROT13), gur Jvafbaf ner gehyl n cnve bs ercryyrag punenpgref, ohg Gvttl frrvat ure sngure nyy bs n fhqqra qvr sebz cbvfbavat naq pelvat bhg (“qnqql, jnxr hc, jnxr hc—!”) znxrf vg ernyyl harnfl gb purre fbzrbar ba jub, ol gur raq, vf cebira gb or bar bs gubfr qrfreivat ivpgvzf bs qrgrpgvir svpgvba. Be gur jrqtr bs fhfcvpvba guerngravat gb qevir n, huz, jrqtr orgjrra Whyvna naq Gehql.

Brand wasn't half-bad when it came to creating an engaging set of characters and knew how to insert genuine drama or an emotional monkey into a detective story without turning it into a cheap, gaudy melodrama. She often knew how to exploit it to deliver an emotional gut punch ending that made genre classics out of so many of her novels. Shadowed Sunlight certainly has a somewhat mixed ending, where the fates of the characters are concerned and you can't help feeling a little sorry for the murderer, but not the wrenching conclusion of a Green for Danger (1944) or London Particular (1952). However, it would be a unfair to hold this shorter, originally serialized and character-driven, novel up against those towering examples of Golden Age ingenuity and plotting. Brand evidently intended Shadowed Sunlight to be on a lighter note than something like Green for Danger and is to Brand's work what Peril at End House (1932) is to Christie. An excellent detective novel in its own right, but one that will always be overshadowed by its author's even better and more popular works.

So what about the actual meat of the plot? And, more specifically, the impossible poisoning? The plot is lighter and more character-oriented than Brand's other novels, but, on a whole, not bad with the only disappointing plot-thread being the stolen emerald pendant. I figured that part out pretty quickly and not up to Brand usual standards, but everything else was simply solid. Particularly the neat poisoning-trick that explained the impossible murder. I have come to associate this kind of impossible poisoning and solution with Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed series, which often feature similar impossibly poisoned food/drink in public/open places. So coming across one every now and then in a Golden Age detective story only adds interest. If there's anything to complain about is that Shadowed Sunlight was reprinted as part of an anthology instead of published as a separate novel. It would need a lengthy introduction, bibliography and extra short story ("Cyanide in the Sun") to pad out the page-count, but a “new” Brand novel deserves nothing less, especially when it's as good as Shadowed Sunlight.

Cutting this long, rambling and quasi-coherent shitty scribbling short, I really, really enjoyed Shadowed Sunlight. It was exactly what I was hoping to find when I picked up Death in High Heels: a lighter-plotted, but still unmistakably, Brandian detective story. While the story nor characters and plot soared to the same heights as Green for Danger or London Particular, it's restoration to print is cause for celebration. The fulfillment of a seemingly impossible wish of seeing Brand's all-too-small body of work miraculously expand. I suspect James got hold of a Monkey's Paw. Next up is probably going to be a review of one of Brand's short stories to complete the hat trick.