5/21/24

Death in High Heels (1941) by Christianna Brand

Last month, I revisited Christianna Brand's pièce de résistance, Green for Danger (1944), which is set in a World War II hospital under cover of the Blitz and considered not only to be her crowning achievement, but one of the dozen best Golden Age detective novels – a five-star whodunit genuinely worthy of Agatha Christie. Green for Danger more than stood up to a second reading and wanted to return to Brand sooner rather than later. I considered taking another look at Heads, You Lose (1941), Death of Jezebel (1948) or London Particular (1952), but opted for one of the titles on the to-be-read pile. There were still some interesting titles left to pick, Cat and Mouse (1950) or The Rose in Darkness (1979), but decided to go with Brand's debut novel.

Death in High Heels (1941) takes place in a posh dress shop, Christophe et Cie, where we find the small, tightly-drawn cast of characters comprising of a dozen women and two men.

The two men are Frank Bevan, proprietor and manager, and his dress designer, Mr. Cecil. Miss Gregory and Miss Doon act as Bevan's right and left hand in running the dress shop with "Macaroni" ("so christened for reasons obscure enough in the beginning but now lost in the mists of time") doing secretarial duties for Miss Doon. Mrs. Irene Best, Mrs. Rachel Gay and Mrs. Victoria David were the sales staff at Christophe et Cie, while the two mannequins Miss Carol and Miss Wheeler "just walk around in the models and show the customers what they are going to look like in the dresses" – "perhaps." Lastly, Mrs. 'Arris, the charlady. If you know your Brand, you know there's a cat among the pigeons who's about to strike. Even though the opening chapters show little more than the daily routine with its petty work floor rivalries and romances. Only thing somewhat outside the daily routine is Rachel and Victoria dashing off to the chemist for oxalic acid to clean a straw hat, which ends up all over the shop. Miss Doon dies that night in hospital from the effects of corrosive poisoning, but was it an accident, suicide or perhaps an opportunistic murder?

Suspecting "something fishy" about Miss Doon's death, Inspector Charlesworth and Sergeant Bedd are dispatched to the dress shop to sort it out. Charlesworth is able to rule out an accident or suicide, boiling the list of potential suspects down to the people in the dress shop and "gone a long way towards establishing motives." However, the investigation eventually grinds to a halt and Charlesworth's superior decides to assign his long-time rival, Inspector Smithers, as a co-investigator to help him out ("...unaware of the mutual detestation between these young men"). That's not only complication as there's a second poisoning attempt, a hunt for a potential trunk murderer and Charlesworth falling in love with one of his primary suspects.

Death in High Heels possesses nearly all the ingredients of a classic Brand mystery, except for Inspector Cockrill and some kind of impossible crime, but the book is very much an apprentice work – similar to Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1916/20). They're promising first stabs bubbling with promise and playing with certain ideas that would be worked out and take on more definite shapes in their later works. Same holds true for Death in High Heels and particularly in the way she draws a small, tightly-knit cast of characters, but in every other way it's an a-typical Brand novel showing she had not found her footing in her first novel. Most notably, the ending lacks that emotional gut punch characterizing so many of best detective novels like Green for Danger and London Particular. One of Brand's many strengths as both a writer and plotter is that she knew how to effectively end a story. Something she would not get a hang of until several years later with her superb WWII whodunit, which proved to be the first in a string of Golden Age classics.

While her apprentice detective novel is a sound, competently plotted affair with a well-realized setting, Death in High Heels is obviously not one of Brand's greatest triumphs. It simply doesn't measure up to Brand's later work. That being said, Death in High Heels has a quality all of its own that makes it stand out even as one of Brand's lesser novels.

Death in High Heels reads like a British police procedural published in the 1980s or '90s instead of a Golden Age detective story from the '40s. On the GADWiki, Curt Evans notes "the dumb stereotype of British Golden mystery certainly is belied by Brand's first novel" with its "light badinage about sex" ("the ladies are breezily and pleasantly irreverent on this subject") and the gay Mr. Cecil – whose missing boyfriend is one of the story's subplots. Another interesting scene, for the time, is when Brand's shows one of the woman going through an ugly divorce with a child caught in the middle ("...he was unkind and unfriendly to Mummy so he couldn't be your Daddy any more") or Charlesworth going to the morgue to look over the sewed up corpse of Miss Doon. Not to mention Charlesworth being everything but your typical Golden Age detective. Smart and competent enough, but no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, who's prone to falling in love at the drop of a dime ("Mr. Charlesworth's susceptible heart did three somersaults and landed at Victoria's feet") and a big fan of himself. And that can make him a bit of a dick at times. So more in line with the imperfect characters of the modern police procedural than the Great Detectives who were still around in the '40s.

All done very openly without an attempt to doll it all up and make it presentable to a 1940s audience, which must have raised some eyebrows at the time. A daring approach for the time and Brand returned to her own period in succeeding novels, which adhered more to conventions of the time (e.g. Suddenly at His Residence, 1946). Like she remembered it was 1941, not 1981 or 1991, which is why she wisely relegated Charlesworth to the ranks of secondary/supporting character in favor of Inspector Cockrill. A much better series-character to carry her novels and short stories.

So, while Death on High Heels is far from Brand's best detective novel, it has aged remarkably well to the point where it feels like it was published only thirty, forty years ago – instead of more than eighty years. It speaks volumes how good Brand really was when even her weakest detective novel has something to make it noteworthy simply as Golden Age mystery. She truly was one of the very best!

On a final, somewhat related note: Death in High Heels ends with Charlesworth getting assigned to a new case, "a murder in a racing yacht" ("...sounds rich and glamorous, sir"), which just might possibly be the case told in the unpublished Charlesworth novella The Dead Hold Fast. I'm still waiting for The Dead Hold Fast and Other Stories, C&L!

5/17/24

The Hit List: Top 10 Best Translations & Reprints from Locked Room International

The last time I compiled a list, "The Hit List: Top 5 Intriguing Pieces of Impossible Crime Fiction That Vanished into Thin Air," I concluded the list with the promise to pick a slightly less depressing, more upbeat topic for the next hit list – instead of continuing to dwell on the obscure and lost. A fun, upbeat topic occurred to me right after finishing it, but decided to save it for another month, or so, to pad out the summer months. Not some backdoor excuse to ride my old hobby horse again. But then the news broke that John Pugmire had passed away.

Martin Edwards shared the news on his blog and said of Pugmire, "he was a great fan of the Golden Age and since the death of Bob Adey nobody has done more than John to advance the cause of the locked room mysteries." That's an understatement!

I wrote in "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century" how Pugmire and Locked Room International were instrumental in bringing the current impossible crime revival about. Pugmire's translation of Paul Halter's La nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf, 2000), published in 2006, is what Soji Shimada would call an epoch-making event that helped to finally lift the Western locked room mystery out of its post-John Dickson Carr rut. It lead to the creation of LRI that brought the fabled Paul Halter to an international audience and helped to popularize translations of non-English detective novels and short stories. A still largely untapped reservoir of excellent, Golden Age-style detective fiction often ignored in the past as it was deemed inaccessible and publishers back then were not always keen on taking chances on translations – exemplified by "99 Novels for a Locked Room Library." A then eye-and mouthwatering list of mostly untranslated or scarce, out-of-print and completely out-of-reach impossible crime novels posted on MysteryFile back in 2007. You only have to look at some recent lists of favorite locked room mysteries to see how much has changed since 2007. Pugmire fittingly played a key role in making what looked like an impossibility in 2007 possible only a decade later. A genuine locked room revival!

I decided to do a hit list with a selection of the ten best, arguably most important books Pugmire translated or reprinted between Halter's Le roi du désordre (The Lord of Misrule, 1996) in 2010 and Le cri de la siréne (The Siren's Call, 1998) in 2023. A short, thirteen year period that left an indelible mark on the genre and particularly the locked room mystery. A legacy to be proud of.

 

1. La maison interdite (The Forbidden House, 1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugéne Wyl

Pugmire not only championed and translated Halter's novels, but translated a dozen other classic and modern French locked room mysteries from the likes of Gaston Boca, Marcel Lanteaume and Jean-Paul Török – including a GAD masterpiece from Messieurs Herbert and Wyl. The Forbidden House is a first-rate impossible crime novel recalling some well-known English detective novels, but Herbert and Wyl's little gem predates them by three, four years. Simply one of the best towering over most French mysteries from the 1930s and '40s.

 

2. La bête hurlante (The Howling Beast, 1934) by Noël Vindry

A close second, when it comes to French mysteries translated by Pugmire, is Vindry's The Howling Beast. A strange novel in which M. Allou listens to the story of a man on the run from the police, Pierre Henry, who relates his ungodly adventure at a fourteenth century castle – culminating with a double murder which only he could have committed. M. Allou is a fine armchair detective as he pieces everything together while listening to this unusual tale of howling beasts and impossible murders within the walls of an old castle.

 

3. Jukkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji

The Decagon House Murders is not only one of the best modern, or shin honkaku, mysteries published by LRI, but one of its most important titles. It's original publication in Japan officially signaled the beginning of the shin honkaku movement, which is still going strong nearly forty years later. Someone once said, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." The publication of the English translation of The Decagon House Murders signaled the beginning of the translation wave, which directly influenced new talents like James Scott Byrnside, A. Carver and Jim Noy. On top of being an excellent detective novel and plan to revisit it one of these days.

 

4. Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) by Alice Arisugawa

Another one I need to revisit some time in the future, but remember it as an excellent detective novel and not merely as a locked room mystery. It's a great detective novel in how neatly Arisugawa managed to put everything together in the final chapter, which is what makes this "isolated island" mystery a fan favorite. And these were only the first notable novels from the early years of shin honkaku! Only frustrating part is that no further translations of novels or short stories have materialized since LRI published The Moai Island Puzzle in 2016.

 

5. Locked Room Murders: Second Edition, Revised (1991) by Robert Adey

This bibliography is the most referenced book on this blog and securing a copy used to be like trying to find the Holy Grail, but Pugmire finally reprinted it in 2018 and surprised everyone by winning the inaugural Reprint of the Year Award – snatching the award from E.R.C. Lorac's Bats in the Belfry (1937). The following year, LRI published Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) expending the second edition with over 1150 additional entries that "identify novels, short stories, TV shows, movies and other media with puzzling impossibilities." It goes without saying these are as important to locked room fans as the translations as those once out-of-reach impossible crimes from France, Japan and Italy.

 

6. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) by Paul Halter

Pugmire translated and championed French mystery and locked room artisan, Paul Halter, who used to be something of cryptid like Big Foot or Nessy. You heard or read about him from time to time, but always from secondhand accounts. For example, Pugmire wrote a MysteryFile article in 2005, "Paul Halter, A Master of Locked Rooms," which made many a fan salivate for translations. Since then, nineteen of Halter's novels have been translated into English in addition to two short story collections. Just picking one, or two, titles for this list proved to be a bit of a challenge. I was tempted to go with the funny choice, Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996), but decided to go with one of Halter's best. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) has a fantastic premise of a dark, obscure passageway, Kraken Street, that keeps appearing just as mysteriously as it disappears again. Halter delivered an explanation that neither disappointed nor diminished its wonderful premise and setup.

 

7. The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014) by Derek Smith

This omnibus brings together Derek Smith's classic impossible crime novel Whistle Up the Devil (1954), the ultra rare Come to Paddington Fair (1997) and two previously unpublished works – Model for Murder (1952) and the short story "The Imperfect Crime." So a literal treasure trove for locked room fans when it was first published containing everything from Smith's famous, long out-of-print and rare classics to previously unpublished material. Not bad material either. So, in one stroke, LRI ended Smith's spell in total obscurity and wish the omnibus format was used more often for writers a relatively small output. Value for your money!

 

8. Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017) by Masahiro Imamura

Published thirty years after The Decagon House Murders, Imamura's Death Among the Undead and MORI Hiroshi's Subete ga F ni naru (The Perfect Insider, 1996) give Western readers a glimpse of how the Japanese detective story has evolved since the days of Shimada and Ayatsuji. In this case, Imamura admirably succeeded in fusing the strictly logical with the utterly fantastical by taking the tried-and-true closed circle situation and infusing it with zombies. However, Death Among the Undead is not just a zombie survival story with locked room puzzles, because the zombies with their abilities and limitations play a key role in the plot. It created something very special and unique brimming with new ideas as the Japanese have begun to probe the realm of the hybrid mystery.

 

9. The Realm of the Impossible (2017) edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin

I consider this anthology to be the flagship publication of LRI. A 430 page anthology of twenty-six short stories, collected from twenty different countries, of the impossible crime variety. Some of the highlights of this anthology include Rintaro Norizuki's "Midori no tobira wa kiken" ("The Lure of the Green Door," 1991) and Szu-Yen Lin's "The Miracle on Christas Eve" (2016?) with a dozen short anecdotes of real-life impossibilities peppered throughout the book. A treat for fans and the best, certainly most original, locked room-themed anthologies published to date.

 

10. Le montre en or (The Gold Watch, 2019) by Paul Halter

Paul Halter was the backbone of the LRI catalog, a flagship author, who wrote this time twisting tour-de-force only a five years ago and it didn't originally appear in French – giving the scoop to Pugmire and LRI. What a scoop! Halter wrote a devilishly intricate historical mystery with a plot stretching across the previous century, taking place in 1911 and 1991, which intertwines two different narratives full with impossible crimes and the hunt for a long-lost film. I believe The Gold Watch is going to be viewed in the coming years and decades as one of the first classics produced during the early stages of the locked room revival.

 

I could easily extend this list or swap out half a dozen entries for other titles meriting inclusion from Szu-Yen Lin's Death in the House of Rain (2006) and Tokuya Higashigawa's first novel in the Ikagawa City series to the selection of French Golden Age mysteries and the short story collections. So, to cut a long story short, Pugmire left an indelible mark on the locked room mystery, helped to popularize translations and as a result revitalized and pushed it on an entirely new course. That's quite a legacy to leave behind. R.I.P.

5/13/24

Dr. Morelle Investigates (2009) by Ernest Dudley

Vivian Ernest Coltman-Allen, known better under his adopted stage-and penname of "Ernest Dudley," was an English actor, dramatist and mystery writer who created the popular BBC weekly radio series The Armchair Detective – reviewing "the best of the current releases of detective novels, dramatising a chapter from each." The program reviewed John Russell Fearn's One Remained Seated (1946) and that attracted the attention of Fearn's agent-biographer-champion Philip Harbottle some fifty years later. Harbottle became Dudley's friend and agent, which is why Dudley's otherwise obscure detective fiction is still in print today. Harbottle has worked decades to ensure the writers under his care, like John Russell Fearn, Gerald Verner and Ernest Dudley, remain in print.

Dr. Morelle Investigates (2009) collects two long-ish short story adaptations of a radio and stage play, "Locked Room Murder" (1954) and "Act of Violence" (1959), solved by the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Morelle ("he is also an expert on crime"). Dudley created Dr. Morelle for the BBC radio anthology series Monday Night at Eight and was a hit with the audience leading to a movie, TV series, stage play and a series of short stories and novels. So this two-story collection of a radio-and stage adaptation sounded like a potentially fun and interesting follow up to John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud's 13 to the Gallows (2008).

“Locked Room Murder” is an adaptation of a stage play, Doctor Morelle, Dudley co-wrote with the then Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, Arthur Watkyn.

The story begins one late Saturday evening when Brian Cartwright is visited by four friends, Philip, Nigel, June and Evelyn, who were involved in a drunken, fatal hit-and-run accident – learning from a radio broadcast the victim had died. So they turn to their friend in something of a jam, but Cartwright happen to be in desperate need of money and turns his hand to a spot of good, old-fashioned blackmail. Cartwright promises to keep his mouth shut in exchange for two-thousand pounds ("between the four of you that shouldn't be embarrassing"). A demand that doesn't go unchallenged as one of them sends Cartwright a death threat, but Cartwright turns the table on them by inviting them to dinner with three additional guests. The first is a journalist, Bill Guthrie, who was already interested to write about the history of the house for his "Criminal Corners of London" column ("some female was battered to death a hundred years ago where your pantry is now"). The last two are Dr. Morelle and his secretary, Miss Frayle.

Cartwright shows them the death threat ("We have till nine o'clock. So have you. R.I.P.") and calls their bluff in front of three witnesses. Either they agree to a simple transaction or he's going to police. Cartwright is going to wait until then in his study with the doors locked from the inside and the windows to the balcony securely bolted, but, when the clock strikes nine, they hear a gunshot from the locked study. Who killed Cartwright and how, when he was all alone with every entrance locked and bolted from the inside? Dr. Morelle takes charge of the case and solves the murder in exactly an hour, but is it any good? That's a bit of a mixed bag.

"Locked Room Murder" is not a very challenging, or fairly played, detective story with, what some would consider to be, a second-rate locked room-trick. There is, however, a pleasing cat-and-mouse atmosphere permeating throughout the story. You have a brazen blackmailer trying to get back at his victims when one of them threatens him anonymously, but the story also appeared to toy with its audience. The locked room-trick might not be the stuff of legends, neither was it overtly apparent from the start with the crime scene littered with "clues" all suggesting different possibilities. From the planned, short blackout as the electricity company changes over to a new grid system and Cartwright smoking a cigar in a pitch-black room to the old-fashioned telephone with separate mouthpiece and receiver bolted to his desk all suggested different possibilities. Even the money troubles and the victim's brazen behavior implied the dreaded suicide-disguised-as-murder was not off the table. Dr. Morelle struggled with spotting the locked room-trick as well and has to accept the murderer's challenge to find it before the hour is out or become the next victim of the devilish murder method.

So, while not one of the most ingenious detective stories ever conceived, "Locked Room Murder" nonetheless turned out to be a fun read with a minor, but pleasing, element of the unexpected.

The second short story, "Act of Violence," is an adaptation of a Dr. Morelle episode from Monday Night at Eight. Dr. Morelle and Miss Frayle are invited over to dinner by Professor Owen a day before he's going to marry his secretary, Mary Lloyd, who secretly loves his laboratory assistant, Glyn Evans. Along the way, Dr. Morelle and Miss Frayle pass a gas station run by a Robert Griffiths. Dr. Morelle recognizes him as the young man who was on trial and sentenced to hang for murder, but had been reprieved to begin life anew. There's a manuscript of a dramatic sketch, sent in anonymously to the local dramatic society, which reenacts the murder that almost hanged Griffiths ("...only a short sketch but it certainly packs a punch"). Griffiths is going to play his own part!

This sounds a little disjointed and Dudley takes his time to set everything up, while leaving the reader in the dark about the direction the story is eventually going to take, but the potential for a good detective story was there – depending on how the ending is going to pull everything together. And that's the problem. Dr. Morelle ties everything together, but the solution is not all that impressive and made the long preamble feel like stalling and padding out the story. Dudley should have focused either on the domestic story of the eternal triangle or gone with the theatrical storyline and the anonymous manuscript, because this didn't work.

So, thematically, Dr. Morelle Investigates makes for interesting comparison material to the stage plays by Carr and Gielgud, but should have read these two adaptations before, not after, 13 to the Gallows as Carr is a hard act to follow. At least "Locked Room Murder" was fun and entertaining.

5/9/24

13 to the Gallows (2008) by John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Douglas G. Green's founding of Crippen & Landru, a small publishing firm specialized in short story collections, whose first publication was John Dickson Carr's Speak of the Devil (1994) – a BBC radio serial originally written and broadcast in 1941. C&L was decades ahead of the curb and gave mystery fans a taste of the coming reprint renaissance with their "Lost Classic" series. A series of short story collections comprising of such early gems as Stuart Palmer's Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (2002), Craig Rice's Murder, Mystery and Malone (2002), Helen McCloy's The Pleasant Assassin (2003), Joseph Commings' Banner Deadlines (2004) and Ellery Queen's The Adventure of the Murdered Moths (2005). Not to mention Queen's previously unpublished novel collected in The Tragedy of Errors and Others (1999).

There are fortunately no signs C&L is slowing down or stopping anytime soon as Jeffrey Marks, "the award-winning author of biographies of Craig Rice and Anthony Boucher," took over from Douglas Greene as publisher in 2018.

In March, I reviewed one of their latest publications, Pierre Véry's Les veillées de la Tour Pointue (The Secret of the Pointed Tower, 1937). A collection of imaginative short mystery stories, translated from French by Tom Mead, published in 2023, but was unaware of the C&L's 30th anniversary and neglected to mention it when I wrote the review. It was not until a review of Edward D. Hoch's The Killer Everyone Knew and Other Captain Leopold Stories (2023) appeared on In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel that I was reminded of C&L's 30th anniversary. So a good excuse to finally move those Anthony Berkeley, William Brittain and Hoch collections to the top of the pile, but not before revisiting one of my favorite C&L collections from my all-time favorite mystery writer.

13 to the Gallows (2008) is a collection of four, never before published manuscripts of stage plays John Dickson Carr wrote during the early 1940s and collaborated on two of the plays with his friend and then Director of Drama at the BBC, Val Gielgud – who had a "shared interest in detective stories and fencing." Gielgud wrote detective novels himself and you would think the name of a British broadcast legend on the covers of Death at Broadcasting House (1934), Death as an Extra (1935) and The First Television Murder (1940) is a guarantee to keep them in circulation, but they have all been out-of-print for ages. This collection of stage plays is the first time his name appeared on a piece of detective fiction in over thirty years. What a way to make a comeback!

Just one more thing before delving into these plays. 13 to the Gallows is edited and introduced by Tony Medawar, a researcher and genre archaeologist, who also littered it with Van Dinean footnotes and even included "Notes for the Curious." Medawar's detailed introduction should give you an appreciation of the time and work that went into the making of this volume of "Lost Classics." One of the many fascinating background details is that it was "the late Derek Smith who first conceived of this collection." So with that out of the way, let's raise the curtain on this collection of stage plays from a once forgotten period of Carr's writing career.

The three-act play "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" (1942) is the first of two collaborations between Carr and Gielgud, which is also the first of two plays that take place in a BBC radio studio. In this case, it's the cellar below a country house on the outskirts of a provincial town that was taken over by the BBC as an emergency security set of studios. When the story begins, they're rehearing the first episode of a true crime program called Murderer's Row starring ex-Chief Inspector Silence to talk about the Kovar case. It was his first big case ("I hanged the criminal") in which Thomas Kovar shot his wife's lover. A part of the program is a dramatic reenactment of the shooting, but the producer, Anthony Barran, made the unfortunate call to cast Elliott Vandeleur and Lanyon Kelsey as the murderer and victim – because Kelsey is rumored to be involved with Vandeleur's wife, Jennifer Sloane. So all the ingredients for murder all there, cooped in a small radio studio, while an air-raid goes on over their heads outside.

One of them gets fatally shot during the on-air performance, but who pulled the trigger and perhaps more importantly how was it done? Silence is on hand to handle the case, until the police arrives, collects two .22s from the studio, but one "has never been fired" ("...barrel's unfouled") and "the other was full of blanks." So what happened to the murder gun? Silence turns the studio inside out and has everybody searched without finding as much as a shell casing. Nobody could have drawn or ditched a gun without being seen, but somebody, somehow, managed to pull it off. The impossibility of a shooting in a closed spaced by an apparently invisible killer and the puzzle of the vanishing gun are perfectly played out, which both have simple, elegant and yet satisfying solutions that simply works on stage. These impossibilities are dressed with the personal and backstage drama of the characters mirroring the old murder case and the running joke of Silence being frightened of microphones. Simply the kind of story fans of Carr and impossible crimes in general. However, "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" is not even the best play in this volume.

A note for the curious: Medawar noted in the afterword to the play that the impossible murder recalls one of Carr's short stories, "although the details of the mystery are entirely different," but I think Max Afford's The Dead Are Blind (1937) warrants a mention here. A locked room mystery staged inside a radio studio. You can also find similar impossible shootings with vastly different solutions in Stacey Bishop's Death in the Dark (1930) and Christopher Bush's The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935).

The second, three-act Carr-Gielgud collaboration, "Thirteen to the Gallows" (1944), is set this time in a Midlands school converted into a wartime emergency studio for the BBC. The program being produced is a spin-off episode, of sorts, of In Town Tonight entitled Out of Town – a series of special items split up between three towns in Britain. Barran from "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" returns to produce Barchester part of the program, but, during the rehearsals, slowly sees the whole thing disintegrating in front of his eyes. Even having to entertain the idea of interviewing a man who trains and imitates sea lions. Fortunately, the town has something of a notorious local celebrity, Wallace Hatfield.

Hatfield is a builder who had converted the school into a radio studio and, several years before, was tried for the murder of his wife, Lucy. Not only was he acquitted, but the death dismissed as a tragic accident as the prosecution couldn't even prove it was murder. Lucy had fallen from the belfry, "seventy or eighty feet," scattered round the body were flowers with Hatfield being the only person near the tower. What saved his neck is that the police found only Lucy's footprints in the dust up in the belfry. So nobody could have pushed her. Hatfield still believes she murdered and agrees to be interviewed, which initially was supposed to be conducted by an ex-Scotland Yard inspector. Program director, Sir John Burnside, insists on his old OC, Colonel Sir Henry Bryce, former head of the Indian Police. Sir John gushing over his old OC is another strain for the harassed producer culminating with Barran calling the old OC "son of a cock-eyed half-caste Indian constable" right when Colonel Sir Henry Bryce his entree. Just in time for history to repeat itself as an invisible killer throws another person from the belfry.

Medawar notes in the introduction "Carr clearly contributed to the mystery and Gielgud the authentic details of broadcasting" and "Thirteen to the Gallows" very clearly has Carr's fingerprints all over the plot and storytelling. From the comedy and clueing to the impossible crime reworked from his Suspense radio-play "The Man Without a Body" (1943). Only smudge is that the murderer is an absolute idiot, but other than that, as good and solid a mystery as its predecessor. A vintage Carr. A pity he never considered reworking "The Man Without a Body" and "Thirteen to the Gallows" into a Sir Henry Merrivale mystery. I gladly would have traded one of the final three Merrivale novels for The New Invisible Man.

The last two plays were solo projects, "a version for the stage of his famous BBC series Appointment with Death," beginning with the short play "Intruding Shadow" (1945), which is tightly-plotted little story of domestic murder – staged at the home of a well-known mystery writer. Richard Marlowe is the author of such celebrated detective novels as Death in the Summer-House, Murder at Whispering Lodge and The Nine Black Clues, but the story finds him dabbling in true crime of the fictitious kind. Marlowe wants to scare the pants of Bruce Renfield, a West End blackmailer, to make him back off from one of his victims and hand over the blackmail material. In order to achieve his goal, Marlowe is going to make both of them believe he's about to murder Renfield. After all, this is Golden Age mysteries in which a blackmailer is the type of person "who deserves to die" or "to be scared within an inch of his life." A plan that spectacularly backfires when Marlowe finds a dying Renfield on his doorstep shortly followed by Inspector Sowerby.

Apparently, "Intruding Shadow" was met with some reserved praise from the critics, but on paper, it's easily the best of the four plays Carr wrote during the war years. A short, pure undiluted detective story recalling that small gem "Who Killed Matthew Corbin?" (1939/40). Both stories are essentially Carr successfully pulling an Agatha Christie-style whodunit without any locked rooms or other impossible crimes. There is, however, a typical, Carrian Grand Guignol scene involving the corpse. So a great detective tale all around!

The fourth and last (short) play, "She Slept Lightly" (1945), belongs together with The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey (1936) and the previously mentioned radio-play, Speak of the Devil, to Carr's earliest experiments in mixing the detective story with historical fiction, which he kind of pioneered starting with plays and short stories – e.g. "The Other Hangman" (1935) and "Blind Man's Hood" (1937). After the 1940s, Carr began to write fully fledged historical mystery novels decades before the historical mystery became a subgenre of its own. Regrettably, Carr's historical (locked room) mysteries and thrillers either criminally underrated or outright ignored. A real shame as some of the Carr's best work from the 1950s and '60s can be found among his historical novels. Captain Cut-Throat (1955) is one of the best historical mystery-thrillers ever written and one of Carr's finest novels from the post-war period.

Just like Captain Cut-Throat, "She Slept Lightly" is a mystery-thriller set in Napoleonic France and brings several characters together in the home of Belgian miller while the Battle of Waterloo rages on in the background. Firstly, there's the elderly Lady Stanhope, "her enemies might call her a little mad," whose carriage overturned and needs the miller to guide her through the French lines. The second arrival is a wounded British soldier, Captain Thomas Thorpe, who's looking for the young girl in Lady Stanhope's company. She, however, denies the existence of the girl. Major von Steinau, a Prussian Hussar, is another one who's interested in this apparently non-existent woman and not without reason. He hanged her only a year ago for spying ("I saw the rope choke out your life"). So how could she be alive and walking around?

Like I said, this is more of a historical mystery-thriller than detective story with the apparent impossibility of a woman who was hanged and lived to tell about it as a small side-puzzle, but I can see why this historical melodrama is not going to excite everyone. I enjoyed it. However, I'm also very, very partial to the type of historical mystery as envisioned by Carr, Robert van Gulik and Paul Doherty. So feel free to disagree on this one.

So the quality of the plays, purely as detective and thriller stories, is uniformly excellent, but, more importantly, 13 to the Gallows plugged another fascinating, once completely forgotten gap in Carr's body of work – similar to the obscure radio-plays collected in The Island of Coffins (2021). That's the greatest contribution C&L had made in helping to restore Carr back to print. A highly recommendable, must-have volume for the true JDC aficionado and might pick up The Kindling Spark: Early Tales of Mystery, Horror and Adventure (2022) before tackling the Brittain and Hoch collections.

5/5/24

Teacher's 'Tec: Q.E.D. vol. 37-38 by Motohiro Katou

The first of two stories from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 37, "Murder Lecture," begins with Inspector Mizuhara asking Detective Sasazuka to attend a special lecture, "prepared specially for field officers," to make an extensive report – believing it will benefit their division. Fortunately, Sasazuka does not have to travel down to Izu Peninsula alone as Sou Touma is curious to hear what the FBI profiler has to say and Kana Mizuhara came along for the sea, food, hot springs and "other cool stuff." Just when they arrive, a typhoon is approaching and the weather is not going to be their only problem.

There's a small, select group of attendees comprising of three metropolitan police officers, Arita Seiji, Seto Kokichi and Shigaraki Yotaro, and someone from the prosecutor's office, Imari Yumi. Lastly, the FBI analyst and profiler, Meissen Kutani. So the story begins with these characters listening and discussing the subject material of Meissen Kutani's lecture, which is "all about the theory of probability" and the reason why profiling is only "a supporting tool" and "nothing more." Or using statistics to pinpoint areas prone to crime. Naturally, Touma launches in a couple of mini-lectures touching on the Broken Window Theory, Birthday Paradox and the Law of Large Numbers. So you have all kind of detectives discussing crime solving and prevention techniques, which makes for an interesting read, but the lecture on very real-world crime gets interrupted by a very classically-styled murder when Seto Kokichi fatally stabbed in his room.

Nobody could have left the premise, nobody could have come in from the outside and the rapidly approaching typhoon is keeping the police away for a good twenty-four house – marooning them with a handful of suspects. All of them well versed in murder and how to properly investigate them. "Murder Lecture" proved itself to be an excellent detective story with the murder, not actually an impossible murder, turning on a cleverly contrived alibi. A trick as elegant and ultimately simplistic as the satisfying locked room-trick from "The Detective Novelist Murder Case" (vol. 33). This story also sets the stage, so to speak, for these two volumes in how they creatively utilize floorplans.

The second story, entitled "Anima," is plot-wise a relatively minor entry in the series. One of those character pieces with a small, but this time not unoriginal, puzzle with the solution meant to explain more about the characters involved than merely solving a tricky puzzle.

This time, Kana Mizuhara becomes involved with the woes of a small animation studio. She happened to find a folder containing keyframes, "a very important item in animation," which she returns to the animation studio to the great relief of the production assistant, Ebisawa Kouji. But the keyframes turn out to be copies of the original. And they discover the originals were water damaged. Presumably by a leakage from the kitchen directly above the production room. Why did the popular animation supervisor, Yukimiya Yuko, suddenly leave? Sou Touma gets roped in to sort it all out. So, despite its overall simplicity, the story has several interesting features. Firstly, its use of architecture and a floorplan of the animation studio, "an apartment with its walls knocked down," to find the origin of the water leakage. Yes, a very minor, insignificant puzzle for a detective story, but of integral importance in explaining the actions of Yuko. Secondly, the behind-the-scenes look at an animation studio with a somewhat dark undertone as the people who work their make long days and barely any money, especially a small studio. And that can take its toll on people. So the ending can be a bit of downer, but a really good and solid story.

The first of two stories from vol. 38, "Empty Dream," concerns the son of the wealthy Shimamoto Family, Shigehiko, who continued to finance the disastrous movie projects of his two old school friends, Kuse Yumeji and Tamotsu Enno.

Kuse Yumeji is the hopelessly optimistic, financially irresponsible movie producer who never wavers from his believe he has the next big hit on his hands ("if this fails, I'll commit seppuku") or that their lucky break is just around the corner. Tamotsu Enno is the author who provides him with a never-ending supply of scripts. Their first movie, The Metaphor Murder Case, was also their first, but not last, flop ("...they weren't the runaway hits that we expected, but for, it's like an underground volcano ready to erupt"). Shigehiko kept giving them money, until his family cut him off and threw him out of the house. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara become involved with them when trying to find a copy of the now obscure The Metaphor Murder Case. Shigehiko takes them along to the house party the producer is throwing to get them a copy of the movie, but, as to be expected, Kuse Yumeji is murdered in his private cinema.

What's unexpected, however, is the way in which the murder is presented and committed, which I'm not going to describe here as it would spoil the effect, but wonderfully imaginative and cleverly executed – which again makes great use of the setting to create a superb alibi-trick. Even allowing for a false-solution as Touma begins to eliminate all the suspects, one by one, before explaining who of the people he just eliminated stabbed the producer. And how it was done. Simply a good detective story with a great idea for an alibi-trick executed with skill. I'm more than satisfied with this one!

The last story from this volume, "17," is one of those odd, impossible to pigeonhole that apparently exist only in this series. The story begins with a short prologue set at the beginning of the 18th century, Edo period, as an elderly man and a young girl oversee the construction of a shrine. They remark that "the one who will be able to solve the mystery of this small shrine, will definitely appear someday" and transcend "the flow of time." Back to the present-day, Kana Mizuhara has bullied Sou Touma into taking a part time job at the shrine to help out the hospitalized priest. The neglected neighborhood around the shrine is experiencing a resurgence in tourism due to a popular historical TV drama. So they want to built a museum to stimulate the renowned interest from the public in the region and local economy, but, in order to do so, the small, neglected and centuries old shrine has to be leveled. And with it with go any chance to decode the mystery the young girl, Aisa tried to leave to the world. Sou Touma takes a crack at the puzzle, but it should be noted Aisa was a 14-year-old math genius.

This story throws together history, math puzzles and the history of math and math puzzles to create one of those human-puzzles. The story is not so much about the cracking the code of the old shrine as trying to understand what, exactly, Aisa tried to tell them from across the centuries with the shrine acting as her telephone. It's a strange kind of archaeology, similar to MORI Hiroshi's short story "Sekitō no yane kazan" ("The Rooftop Ornaments of Stone Ratha," 1999), but it worked.

So, all in all, I think it's fair to say there's a nice balance to these two volumes both starting out with a traditionally-styled detective stories sporting two original alibi-tricks, before experimenting a little with their second stories. They all have something to recommend for various different reasons, but gave me practically nothing to nitpick about. Great job, Katou!

Hold on a minute!: I've a burning question for those more knowledgeable on everything Katou. I'm steadily approaching the crossover event between Q.E.D. vol. 41 and C.M.B. vol. 19, but in which order do I need to read them?

5/2/24

The Silent Service (2024) by M.P.O. Books

In 2022, E-Pulp announced two forthcoming series by Dutch crime-and detective writer, M.P.O. Books, who debuted twenty years ago with his first of eight novels in the District Heuvelrug series, Bij verstek veroordeeld (Sentenced in Absentia, 2004) – a typical, European-style police procedural/thriller. Over those two decades, Books turned his hands to everything from police procedurals and police thrillers to modern takes on the classical locked room mystery and short stories of every stripe. The short story form is not especially popular in my country, but Books is a Sherlock Holmes fanboy who refuses to give up on the short story without a fight.

Those two new series demonstrate his versatility as a crime-and detective writer. Het Delfts blauw mysterie (The Delft Blue Mystery, 2023), published as by "Anne van Doorn," introduces Detective Krell of the 16th Precinct in midtown Manhattan confronted with a seemingly impossible murder in a secure, top-floor penthouse of a New York skyscraper. So a fresh take on S.S. van Dine and Ed McBain by presenting it as a Dutch-style politieroman (police novel). However, the Gisella Markus series stands in stark contrast to the New York Cops series.

Gisella Markus first appeared in the final District Heuvelrug novel, Cruise Control (2014), pitting her and her team against a coldblooded, cruising serial killer – who even targeted one of her close friends and colleagues. She now has her very own series of police thrillers, starting with In diepe rust (In Deep Peace, 2022), but not a series likely to excite the people who follow this blog. This new series unmistakably falls into the modern school and Markus a model of the troubled cop of contemporary crime fiction. A character burdened with personal and professional problems that sometimes get intertwined to complicate things even further, but the crimes also tend to be a lot dirtier and grittier with no pretense of trying to plot a whodunit masquerading as a police thriller. That's doubly true for the second novel in the series.

De stille service (The Silent Service, 2024) begins on an unexpectedly cold, slippery night, "the kind of night where anything could happen at any moment," when two patrolling policemen find an old model car that had hit a tree head on. The driver seat is empty and the driver is nowhere to be found. So they assume some kids took it for a joyride and scattered after loosing control on the slippery road and hitting the tree, but then they open the booth of the car to make a gruesome discovery. A horrifically mutilated, raped body of a young Asian girl. Gisella Markus, of the district police in Amersfoort, is tasked with leading the investigation, but that's easier said than done when her rival, Lex Renkema, is part of the team. They fundamentally disagree about the direction the investigation should take.Markus has her eyes on a local art dealer, Roderick van Amstel, who lives nearby the crash site and could have potentially hidden away the driver. Going by the circumstances in which the murder came to light, Markus even suspects there might be an alternative funeral service running along the silent escort service the victim fell prey to. Renkema finds the idea of a "clandestine cemetery" preposterous and thinks they should focus their efforts on finding the driver ("...because we are certain that he's involved"). And then there the problems in her private life, which get hopelessly entangled with her investigation. So more than enough to keep Markus both busy and awake at night.

So, as most of you can probably gather, The Silent Service is not the kind of crime fiction people who read this blog traditionally enjoy, which is heavily slanted towards the traditionally-plotted mysteries rather than character-driven crime novels, but the story is not without interest – plot-technically speaking. The crashed car is a treasure trove of DNA evidence and so the story is not really about finding the murderer, but identifying and dismantling the organization around the silent service. A potentially fascinating idea to give a classical slant to a thriller trying to go for dark, gritty realism. It's not used like that here and it didn't try to, but it could have been played out like that.

Other than that, I don't have much else to say about The Silent Service except that it's a solid, well written police thriller showing why Books is the most underrated, underappreciated genre writers of the Netherlands. Whether he's plotting a locked room mystery or writing a character-driven thriller. I prefer the former to the latter, but they deserve to be better known.

4/28/24

The Case of the Burnt Bohemian (1953) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush's 42nd Ludovic Travers novel, The Case of the Burnt Bohemian (1953), takes place during the period in the series when Travers juggled between his positions as chairman of the Broad Street Detective Agency and, what they call, "an unofficial expert" to Scotland Yard – whenever Chief Superintendent George Wharton has a case requiring more than routine police work. A specialist with an agile mind "to theorise and suggest." Bush neatly used this juggling between positions to present Travers with two separate, apparently unconnected cases that quickly turn out to be closely intertwined.

The Case of the Burnt Bohemian begins on a routine office day for Travers at the Broadstreet Agency when a prospective client calls with a request somewhat outside the daily routine.

Dr. Arthur Chale, a psychiatrist, believes his life is in danger ("we deal with all sorts of queer people, you know") and wants to know whether the agency can "supply some sort of bodyguard." Travers advises Chale to go to the police for protection, "it's their business to do the job for nothing," but he doesn't want publicity nor name the person who's threatening him – agreeing to discuss the matter personal the following day. This strange phone call does not sit well with Travers who immediately begins to dig around for background information on the psychiatrist, which "produced a story of blackmail, hypnotism, collaboration with Germans and a probable shooting against a wall" ("all the ingredients needed, in fact, for a popular thriller"). That's only one-half of his problem. The other half comes when Wharton calls to ask him come to a place called Borden Walk in Chelsea.

A reclusive, completely unknown painter, Vandyke Sindle, is found stabbed to death and badly burned in the north top studio of the Chelsea flat in Borden Walk. Sindle was found lying face down in a little bonfire, but the fire was discovered in time to prevent it from consuming the whole place. And the body. However, Sindle's back was badly burned with his face and hands entirely destroyed ("even the dental plates had gone"). So was the fire started to conceal the cause of death or the victim's identity? Travers then begins to uncover links between the case of the so-called nervous psychiatrist and the burnt bohemian cemented when a second murder comes to light and Chale failed to meet his appointment. A problem as pretty as it's tricky!

I recounted in past reviews how Bush pivoted from the traditional, 1930s British whodunits to the realism of the American hardboiled school, of Raymond Chandler, slowly transforming Travers from an amateur detective into a private investigator – who narrates his own cases. This transition was not without some rough spots or growing pains resulting in a few poorly plotted novels (e.g. The Case of the Fourth Detective, 1951), but Bush rebounded around the mid-1950s. While the plots were trimmed down affairs compared to the elaborately-plotted 1930s titles, the plots began to resettle along classical lines (e.g. The Case of the Three Lost Letters, 1954) and Bush appeared to draw on the detective stories he probably enjoyed reading earlier in the century. The Case of the Flowery Corpse (1956) feels closer to the work of J.J. Connington and R. Austin Freeman than his own work from the '20s and '30s. You can say practically the same about The Case of the Burnt Bohemian with the emphasis on the problem of blurred, destroyed or faked identities rather than picking alibis apart. The term alibi is probably uttered fewer than a half dozen times, but the problem of identification, obscured pasts and possible motives offer the two detectives with plenty of material to check up on or theorize about. Props to Bush for revealing that one “twist” well before the ending, because that possibility should be gnawing away at every reader at that point. So instead of trying to draw out a cheap surprise, Bush used it to send Travers and Wharton back to the drawing board to start again from scratch.

The Case of the Burnt Bohemian is an engrossing, fairly clued and cleverly constructed detective novel, but even more than that, I enjoyed seeing Travers and Wharton back together again – both of whom can be counted among my favorite detective characters. When this series and the genre was its height, Bush nailed the relationship dynamics between the amateur detective and professional policeman perfectly with Travers and Wharton. Travers even gets upstaged a couple of times by the theatrical Wharton to show he's no Lestrade. Travers describes their collaborations as "a peculiar, haphazard, spasmodic kind of association" in which Wharton ("as Grand Inquisitor") takes care of the routine, while Travers "supposed to have the right kind of manners to interview the right kind of people" and permitted under Wharton's scrutiny to theorize. Travers explains: "if I'm wrong, the theory was mine. If it looks promising, it's ours. If it happens to be a winner, I ultimately discover that it was his." Or, when Travers points out the clues/tells they missed, Wharton nonchalantly responds, "funny you should miss a thing like that."

It's one of the elements making the 1930s and early '40s titles a highlight of both this series and the Golden Age detective story. It's therefore sad to see Bush had obviously grown tired of Wharton and had no more need for him as a character. Travers is even becoming tired of his shenanigans. Bush began to fade him out of the series, before quietly retiring him after his brief appearance in The Case of the Russian Cross (1957). Wharton in these 1950s novels does feel a bit like a relic from the series past, but I'll always appreciate the "Old General" and it was good to see him back again with Travers this late in the game. And tackling a worthy case to boot. Highly recommended to fans of the series.

4/24/24

The Hit List: Top 5 Intriguing Pieces of Impossible Crime Fiction That Vanished into Thin Air

Earlier this year, I put together a depressing list of our genre's so-called "lost media" section, "The Hit List: Top 10 Works of Detective Fiction That Have Been Lost to History," which focused exclusively on destroyed or irretrievably lost novels and short stories – eschewing still existent, unpublished manuscripts. Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Toad-in-the-Hole and Christianna Brand's The Chinese Puzzle are merely taking their time to get to the printers.

So the list ranges from Jacques Futrelle and the last batch of "The Thinking Machine" being among the casualties of the Titanic disaster to a collaboration between John Dickson Carr and playwright J.B. Priestley which never materialized. All the entries on the list were in various stages of completion, before the manuscripts got lost in a shuffle or simply destroyed. Never to be seen again in our reality, but I like to believe there's an alternate reality where Joseph Commings' One for the Devil and Hake Talbot's The Affair of the Half-Witness secured a place on "The Updated Mammoth List of My Favorite Tales of Locked Room Murders & Impossible Crimes."

I wanted to do another one of these lists, but had no original idea or worthy topic and "The Hit List: Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated" didn't garner nearly enough reader suggestions to do a follow-up. Only recently it hit me. Something was left on the cutting room floor of the previous hit list that could be marshaled into a small, hopefully interesting addendum to the list of lost detective stories.

From my studies of Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) and Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019), I found several novels and a collection of short stories of a particularly elusive nature going beyond being out-of-print, scarce and expensive – like A. & P. Shaffer's Withered Murder (1955). A short list of titles that were, technically speaking, published, but barely left a trace of their existence. Some would have been all but forgotten today had they not been listed by Adey and Skupin in Locked Room Murders. So here are five published locked room mysteries and impossible crime fiction that appear to have vanished into thin air.

 

1. Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories (????) by Jan Deuell

The first title on this list Jan Deuell's Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories. A collection of short stories listed in Skupin with three stories, "Murder Through Locked Doors," "The Spread-Eagled Man" and "The Case of the Castle Keep," published by Llanelli. Nobody knows when the collection was originally published and no copies can be found online or anywhere else for that matter. Only site mentioning the collection is Allen J. Hubin's "CrimeFiction IV, Part 31," suggesting "Jan Deuell" is probably a pseudonym and lists an additional, presumably non-impossible crime, story for the collection, "The Edinburgh Mail." These often tantalizing-sounding puzzles are solved by Gorden Darch and Doctor Jan, but not much else is known about this truly forgotten series. However, I have a theory to explain it.

I think the Gordon Darch and Doctor Jan stories were published or serialized in the Welsh newspaper The Llanelly Mercury, but never officially collected and published. This very ephemeral Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories could be nothing more than a scrapbook with the clippings of Deuell's newspaper serials or stories, which somehow ended up in Adey's impossible crime collection. A single, undated scrapbook of newspaper cuttings explains why neither Adey nor Skupin could give its original publication date, because the idea of Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories never got that far.

 

2. The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom (1937) by Esther Fonseca

This is the only dodgy title on the list as it's closer to an scarce extremely, out-of-print novel, but the reportedly 2012 reprint apparently disappeared without a trace.

I first learned of Esther Fonseca's The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom in Locked Room Murders: Supplement and noted a UK edition from 2012, but all the internet could turn up was a contemporary review of the original, 1937 US edition – published by Doubleday, Doran. I eventually cottoned on to the fact that the opposite page has a number of entries from Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series from the 2010s. So to the mention of a 2012 reprint of The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom is simply a print error, which doesn't make the original edition any less obscure or rare. It has a few mentions online and that one review, but nothing else. Not even a book cover. Fonseca's Death Below the Dam (1936) fared a little better as used copies are still available. Just not cheaply. A shame. Something about the plot speaks to me ("a breaking dam... raging flood waters... an isolated island... and a murderer at large").

 

3. Pattern of Terror (1987) by Ayresome Johns

"Ayresome Johns" is the pseudonym of the late George Locke, pharmacist, antiquarian bookseller, bibliographer and publisher, who was primarily involved in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Locke was also involved with the detective genre and not only published the first version of Adey's Locked Room Murders in 1979, but also published The Roger Sheringham Stories (1993) and The Anthony Berkeley Cox Files: Notes Towards a Bibliography (1993). A good two decades ahead of the reprint renaissance. More importantly, Locke wrote a fascinating sounding impossible crime novel under his "Ayresome Johns" penname.

Adey lists Pattern of Terror with no less than three impossible situations: death by shooting with "no external wound to correspond with the heart wound," an inexplicable poisoning and "various locked room murder" – "actual and proposed." The detective tackling these problems is "ace investigator of the Antiquarian Booksellers Society of Great Britain," John Anderson. I peeked at Adey's comment at the back of the book, while holding my hand over the solutions, praising it as "a great pudding-mix of a novel" and called the solution to the first impossibility ingenious. Regrettably, Locke was a small, independent publisher who only printed limited copies. So available copies or additional information are non-existent. I really would like to see Pattern of Terror return to print, because it strikes me as the kind of wildly imaginative detective story that would be much appreciated in today's reprint renaissance and locked room revival. Fingers crossed!

 

4. Murder at the Drum Tower (1965?) by Ning Xu

Just like the previous entry is a perfect fit for today's locked room revival, Ning Xu's Murder at the Drum Tower sounds like it missed out on the current translation wave. Skupin notes in Locked Room Murders: Supplement that Murder at the Drum Tower was published by Australian publisher Whitecross in 1994, but good luck finding any trace or scrap of information on the book. You really to vary and juggle your search terms to get an atom of proof the book actually exists. So there's a ready-made translation out there, somewhere in the Australian outbacks, of a Chinese detective novel centering on a stabbing and shooting inside a locked tower room. For some, unsubstantiated reason I assume Murder at the Drum Tower is a historical mystery. So a reprint would make an interesting companion piece to Chin Shunshin's Pekin yūyūkan (Murder in a Peking Studio, 1976), Futaro Yamada's Meiji dantodai (The Meiji Guillotine Murders, 1979) and Taku Ashibe's Koromu no satusjin (Murder in the Red Chamber, 2004)

 

5. The Mountain by Night (1997) by Maisie Birmingham

Maisie Birmingham is the author of the short-lived Kate Weatherly series, published during the 1970s, but added one last title to the series decades later. Skupin's introduction to Locked Room Murders: Supplement highlighted The Mountain by Night as "worthy of note" concerning a strangulation in a locked house, but, once again, copies appeared to be non-existent. I suspected at the time Birmingham had privately published The Mountain by Night, because Amazon gives "M.P. Birmingham" as its publisher. This proved to be a correct assumption.

A 2021 comment from Jamie Sturgeon shed some light on the elusiveness of The Mountain by Night: "the Maisie Birmingham was published by the author herself, I corresponded briefly with her (in the early 2000s I think it was) and she sent me a copy, all I remember is that it was spiral bound and was a locked room mystery, I sold the book to Bob Adey hence it turning up in the Skupin book. As to what happened to Bob Adey's copy I do not know." I later came across this archived link providing some background on the series, a plot description of The Mountain by Night and how "copies of the book can be purchased from the author." So a limited print run of a privately published novel is the culprit once again and fear detective novels like Pattern of Terror and The Mountain by Night are in danger of eventually becoming irretrievably lost. But not all hope is lost. Derek Smith's Come to Paddington Fair started out as an unpublished manuscript written in the 1950s, before Japanese collector Mori Hideo published it in a limited print-run of a hundred copies. John Pugmire's Locked Room International finally made it widely available a decade ago when they published The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014). A year later, LRI reprinted a separate, long overdue edition of Come to Paddington Fair. So there's still some hope, but time in their case is probably ticking.

An honorable mention: Jacques Aanrooy's Off the Track (1895) and Sir Henry Juta's Off the Track (1925). The 1895 novel was published in South Africa by J.C. Juta & Co and has a detective by the name of Donald Fraser cracking the case of a fatal stabbing in a locked surgery, while the 1925 novel has a Ronald Fraser tackling a stabbing in a locked consulting room. A case of parallel thinking? Blatant plagiarism? Well, neither. Jacques Aanrooy was the pseudonym of a South African judge, lawyer and politician, Sir Henry Juta, who probably reworked his old, forgotten novel to be republished under his own name. It's impossible to check to what extend the 1925 title is a rewrite of the 1895 original, because the one thing both versions have in common is how just how scarce they have managed to made themselves. If they differ enormously, I would love to see a twofer reprint edition. Yes, this honorable mention is just an excuse to have a cover included in this poor excuse of a filler-post and "off the track" fits the theme of the list. So there you go.

If I'm going to do another one of these hit lists, I'm going to pick a more upbeat topic without trying to find an excuse to meander on about obscure, long-lost locked room mysteries.