The Detective Fiction of John Russell Fearn

"Yesterday's fashion may not be today's; but it may be none worse for that. On the contrary, it may be a devil of a sight better."
- John Dickson Carr ("The Grandest Game in the World," an essay collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections, 1980)
During the past two years, I have been working my through the long-forgotten, criminally neglected detective novels by John Russell Fearn, a prolific writer of science-fiction, westerns and detective stories, who has a complicated, maze-like publication history – involving a battalion of pennames and publishers. This year alone, I read nine of his detective novels and those nine titles had originally appeared under no less than seven different names. And a handful of publishers and periodicals were involved in those initial publications.

John Russell Fearn
Fortunately, reading Fearn today is no longer a labyrinthine exercise in bibliographical genealogy, because nearly all of his work has been restored to print in brand new paperback editions or ebooks. We have one man's indefatigable efforts to thank for that.

Philip Harbottle is a researcher, editor, writer and literary agent who has been tirelessly beating Fearn's drum for decades and wrote extensively on his life and work, which includes John Russell Fearn – An Evaluation (1963), John Russell Fearn: The Ultimate Analysis (1965) and The Multi-Man: A Biographic and Bibliographic Study of John Russell Fearn, 1908-1960 (1968) – which appeared alongside more general studies like Vultures of the Void: A History of British Science-Fiction, 1945-1956 (1993). So it was only a matter of time before the reviews of John Norris, Yvette and yours truly caught his attention.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Harbottle with a question to help him get into contact with John Norris, but we also bounced some emails back and forth about Fearn. Harbottle was kind enough to answer some of my questions, which gave me a better idea who the man behind all those pseudonyms actually was and granted permission to adapt the letter he had drafted for John into a guest-post for this blog.

The letter in question was littered with interesting background information on Harbottle's decades-long quest to get every single title by Fearn back into print and included an informative rundown of eleven of his more interesting detective novels. It was simply too good to allow it to languish in my inbox and had to be shared with my fellow detective-fiction addicts, because I know how famished all of your wish lists are. Particularly with the holidays ahead of us.

For the record, I only made a couple of minor alterations to the original letter in order to make it fit a blog-post format, added links and used the cover art that was supplied for this purpose by Harbottle.

So, without further ado, I'll give the floor to the man who made reading and collecting John Russell Fearn's many fictional endeavors ridiculously easy.


I thought it was about time I dropped you a line to express my appreciation of your positive reviews of some of John Russell Fearn's crime novels, and by following your links I have been pleasantly surprised to discover a few others following your lead. However, it has been a somewhat bitter-sweet experience. 

Some seem to think they are clever to have "discovered" Fearn's crime fiction, which makes me grind my few remaining teeth. I was publishing myriads of articles and even entire books about Fearn more than 50 years ago, wherein I wrote, inter alia, "...Fearn's real potential as an author was brilliantly realised in his mystery and detective novels... Thy Arm Alone by John Slate, first published by Rich and Cowan in 1947...may well have been the best book Fearn ever wrote."

Way back in 1991, I wrote an essay about the "Black Maria" books that appeared in Maxim Jakubowski's book 100 Great Detectives, concluding: "Long out of print, and known only to collectors, the novels were recently rediscovered and successfully translated for an Italian readership. They still await an enterprising UK publisher." But despite the book appearing in both the US and UK in hardcover and paperback (not to mention winning the Anthony Award for Best Critical Work!) no one seemed to have read my article! Or if they did, they ignored it. To understand why, you need to understand Fearn's history.

When Fearn died of a sudden heart attack in 1960 at only 52, he immediately fell out of print, because he had represented himself. His widow (only married in 1957) was so grief- stricken—as well as seriously ill herself—that she was unable to answer would-be-publishers' letters, with which she was being bombarded when news of his death was announced. When she recovered, she consulted her solicitor about them. Sadly, this prize chump actually instructed her to ignore or refuse all requests to reprint his hundreds of books and stories, with the sole exception of his Star Weekly Golden Amazon novels. These had been published under his own name, and contained the tagline © John Russell Fearn. The prize chump instructed her that any and all other pseudonymous work (which comprised most of his output!) could not be reprinted because she "could not prove that Fearn was their author!" So Hugo Blayn and John Slate and Vargo Statten and myriad pen names were consigned to oblivion.

It wasn't until 1969 (when I quit my local government career and became an editor myself, seeking to reprint Fearn's work) that I learned about this stupidity. I requested a personal interview, which Mrs. Fearn kindly agreed to. I was able to explain to her that her solicitor was an idiot, and that I had spent my life uncovering and proving Fearn's authorship of all his pseudonymous output. Fortunately I had earlier corresponded with Fearn—"John did talk about you" she recalled—and Mrs. Fearn eventually appointed me as her literary agent.

Thereafter she became a close and dear friend of my family. But in that "lost decade" Fearn had become almost completely forgotten, and in that pre-PC and internet era when my only tools were a manual typewriter and primitive photocopying, I had an uphill struggle to restore him to print in the UK. I was obliged to resume my local government career, and so could only work as an agent in my spare time. Much of his fiction—sf, westerns, and detective—was first restored to print in Italy, in translation, and included first posthumous publication of some unpublished manuscripts.

When Mrs. Fearn died in 1982, I learned that she had bequeathed to me all of Fearn's copyrights, in her will. Slowly, gradually, I continued to bring his work back into print. In 1996 I made the bold decision to take early retirement at 55, bought myself a PC, learned to use it and the internet, and became a full-time literary agent.

Since when I have succeeded in returning every single one of Fearn's sf, western, and crime books to print in the UK and USA, along with scores of short stories in new collections, and several posthumous collaborations. (I've also done the same for E.C. Tubb and Sydney J. Bounds, but your readers won’t wish to know that...)

Many of these books have actually been available for years, but it is only thanks to John Norris and Tomcat that they are finally being noticed. But sadly, there still seems widespread ignorance of Fearn's crime novels outside of the Black Maria, Garth/Dr. Carruthers novels, which everybody seems to think comprised the totality of his locked room/impossible crime stories. Not so! The Silvered Cage was NOT the final bow of Dr. Carruthers.

Allow me to offer your readers this further slice of information:


In 1957 wrote a sf detective novel called Robbery Without Violence. The basic plot was very similar to that which Fearn had used in his Garth/Carruthers novel What Happened to Hammond? Although its development was completely different, Fearn considered that Garth and Carruthers could not be the lead characters. So he renamed them as Chief Inspector Hargraves and Sawley Garson (a "specialist in scientific puzzles"—but without Carruthers' egotism and sarcasm).

It was published in Fearn's regular market, the Toronto Star Weekly, who requested Fearn (and others) to submit full length novels, which they then condensed to fit their standard format. Fearn used to send in his novels at 50,000 words; he was happy to do this because he thus had the chance of selling his uncut versions as a book later). Up to 1955, the Star novels ran at 40,000 words; from 1956 on they were reduced to 32,000 words and finally, in 1960, they were cut to only 25,000. (At that point, Fearn wrote them at a length of just 35,000.)

When I sought to have this novel reprinted, I discovered that there was a glaring plot hole because of the Star's cuts, so I had to write in a missing explanation myself! I defy anyone to "spot the join!" (note from TC: I did not spot it!) The cutting of 18,000 words rather vitiated the literary worth of the story, but the original had been destroyed, and we can just be thankful that at least the Star was giving Fearn a regular market.

Robbery Without Violence is currently available from Linford and Wildside, and is a locked room/impossible crime novel.


Fearn's next Hargraves/Garson novel was an absolute humdinger, and entirely original—it positively bristled with locked room/impossible crime murders! But it was so complex that the Star rejected it, deciding they would not be able to successfully cut it. Whereupon Fearn promptly rewrote it, essentially unchanged, but reinserting Garth and Carruthers! Sadly, he was unaccountably unable to find a book publisher. I found both 50,000 word manuscript versions in Fearn's effects. When I had the book reprinted, I took the decision to use the Sawley Garson version.

The Man Who Was Not is currently available from Linford and Wildside, and is a locked room/impossible crime novel, par excellence.


This is a "stand alone" novel, first published as a Paget Books paperback in 1949. Paget were already running westerns as by "John Russell Fearn" so they made the decision to publish this as by "John Russell." Consequently it remained completely unknown for many decades until I discovered it. Even Bob Adey had never seen a copy and was unaware of its locked room credentials until I presented him with one a few years ago! It is perhaps the rarest of all his books. I restored Fearn's full name when I had it reprinted.

Account Settled is a terrific fun mystery, with a science fiction flavour, but the (many!) locked room/impossible crime elements are all "straight." It is currently available from Linford and Wildside. (note from TC: can any of you guess which title by Fearn has shot up, like a rocket, on my wish list?).


Fearn created a fascinating psychiatrist detective in his character "Dr. Castle" for this 1947 Star Weekly novel. It was published as by "Frank Russell" to distinguish it from his regular John Russell Fearn "Golden Amazon" sf novels for the Star. This murder mystery may not be impossible crime, but it is unusual and is strongly recommended. It was reprinted unchanged as a 1953 Brown Watson paperback in 1953. It is incredibly rare. But the good news is that it is currently easily available from Linford and Wildside, under Fearn's own name.


This second "Dr. Castle" novel was written many years later, and unaccountably remained unpublished during Fearn's lifetime. The 50,000 word manuscript was discovered in his effects. I actually believe this may be his best novel—better than Garth and Black Maria. Whilst not exactly impossible crime, it has a wonderful creepy atmosphere and the plot revolves around psychological quirks and flaws in the characters. It has my highest recommendation.

Reflected Glory is currently available from Linford and Wildside.


This was originally published as Murder's A Must by Fearn, by Muir Watson as a 1949 paperback. It is extremely rare, but is worth trying to chase down because of its superb cover by the great Reina Sington. Well worth the probable high price, because this is a very entertaining and efficient murder mystery. Not impossible crime (and also NOT "hardboiled" either) it is none the worse for that.

The Tattoo Murders is currently available from Linford and is shortly to appear from Fearn’s newest publisher, Endeavour Press. The Wildside edition is now out of print but can still be found on the net


This was another "one off" 1947 Star Weekly novel, originally as by Frank Russell. It has some of the same creepy/psychological atmosphere of the "Dr. Castle" novels and some impossible crime sub-texts. The writing is not so polished as in Reflected Glory because it has been cut from 50,000 to 40,000 words. (Once again I had to write in extra "missing" text to cover a plot hole created by the abridging) but the novel is notable enough to have been picked up by Audible.com, and makes very good listening.

The Fourth Door is currently available from Linford and Wildside.


This is a fun-read SF detective thriller with some impossible crime elements. It was first published by Modern fiction in 1953 under their "Griff" house name. Scarce and expensive.

The novel is available from Thorpe, and is shortly to be reprinted by Fearn's newest publisher, Endeavour Press. An earlier Wildside edition is now out of print, but second hand copies will be available for some time on the net. The Wildside edition is worth getting, however, because it is a "double size" book, also containing a collection of Fearn's early short crime stories from diverse hard to find sources—principally Thrilling Mystery Stories, which are very entertaining rationalized supernatural stories.


This is a hardboiled gangster thriller first published by Modern Fiction in 1953 under their "Spike Gordon" house name. Expect to pay through the nose if you can find a copy! A quite entertaining "crime noir," it was considered notable enough to have been picked up by Audible.com.

Don't Touch Me is currently available from Linford and Wildside.

10) ONE WAY OUT (with Philip Harbottle)

This is a "straight" detective novel about how an innocent man becomes a murder suspect and is forced to go on the run, that was unfinished at the time of Fearn's death. His final detective novel. On the very last page was a very brief cryptic scribble by Fearn to himself, setting out his thoughts on how it finished. Unfortunately I could not make head nor tail of it, and so the manuscript remained unpublished for more than 20 years. Then, suddenly, I woke up one day with an interpretation of what the notes could have meant! I immediately set to work and within a few days I had completed the novel! It was sent to Thorpe and Wildside and immediately accepted and published by them, and is still available.


Fearn's original title on this unpublished manuscript was Many A Slip and he had actually bylined it as by "Hugo Blayn" when he submitted it to the successors to his old UK hardcover publisher in 1957. Unaccountably it was not accepted—God knows why, maybe because the lending library markets were dying out then, and UK genre publishers were tightening their belts.

The story is one of Fearn's very best (it might even be better than Reflected Glory) because he was writing directly from his own life-experiences, so that it is completely authentic. 

This is a murder story set inside a cinema. (During the war, Fearn himself worked as a Chief projectionist in a cinema, as part of his war service, having been graded C3 and unfit for active service). It has an entirely original authentic scientific plot behind the murder, which would have certainly qualified it as an "impossible crime." However, Fearn inverted the plot—anticipating Columbo by several decades—by revealing the modus operandi early on. The suspense derives from how the hero painstakingly uncovers the method and unmasks the murderer.

There is no surviving record of it ever having been submitted anywhere else, until I sent the manuscript to Robert Hale in 1982 (incidentally, along with The Man Who Was Not). Editor John Hale wrote back to say that both stories were "quite good" and that he really would have liked to publish them—but had reluctantly decided against it, because "the author's name is not known." Bah! Humbug! (Ironically, nearly 20 years later, I would sell John Hale some 20 of Fearn's western novels!)

Needless to say it was snapped up by, and is currently available from, both Linford and Wildside. On no account should this one be missed! (note from TC: this one is on my TBR-pile and might be one of my next reads... unless Account Settled overtakes it).

So there you have my top-of-the head selection of some of the best (not all) of Fearn's still largely "unknown" crime novels. I hope it might just interest you.

There are numerous new collections containing all of Fearn's remaining short crime stories, but I don't suppose any of your readers would be interested, as most of them are interspersed with sf stories…

Phil Harbottle

- - -

I would like to append Harbottle's list with two titles that did not make the cut or was mentioned, but deserve to be considered for your wish list: Except for One Thing (1947) is an excellent inverted detective novel with battle-of-wits between the police-inspector and the murderer and an under appreciated locked room novel, Death in Silhouette (1950), which has a splendid have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution.

So now we have gotten that out of the way, I would like to express my gratitude for all the time and hard work Harbottle has put into preserving Fearn's literary legacy. Fearn was one of the earliest followers (read: fanboy) of my favorite mystery writer, John Dickson Carr, whose influence can often be found in his impossible crime fiction (e.g. the locked room solution in The Five Matchboxes, 1948). 

More often than not, Fearn attempted to bring a new idea, or approach, to the impossible crime genre (e.g. previously mentioned Thy Arm Alone) and that's what attracted me to his work, but only this week have I come to appreciate the time and work that went into making them accessible to a world-wide audience – as well as giving me a glimpse of the man who wrote them. A man who must have been an absolute treasure to have had as a friend.

All of this has completely expunged my recent disappointment over Robbery Without Violence and moved two of the titles mentioned by Harbottle to the top of my to-be-read pile, but before I'll get around to that I'll have special review planned for one my fellow locked room addicts. But that's for the next post. So see you all on the flipside!


Tragedy in the Rain

"In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked 'what has occurred,' as 'what has occurred that has never occurred before.'"
– C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" originally published in Graham's Magazine, 1841)
Three months ago, John Pugmire of Locked Room International published a landmark anthology, The Realm of the Impossible (2017), that collected 26 impossible crime stories from across the world and one of the eye-catchers was a short story by Szu-Yen Lin, "The Miracle on Christmas Eve," which beautifully captured the spirit of the holidays – as well as whetting the reader's appetite for the then upcoming (English) release of one of his novel-length mysteries. That book was finally released early last month and can tell you that it definitely falls in the category of grand-old locked room mysteries.

Death in the House of Rain (2006) is the second of, so far, eight (locked room) novels by Szu-Yen Lin, who's "one of the rising stars of Taiwanese detective fiction," which began with the tantalizingly titled The Nile Phantom Mystery (2005). I hope his debut will get translated and published by LRI in the future, but his second one was picked on account of it being "the most Carr-like" with strong overtones of Grand Guignol.

The setting for this grandiose tale is "a huge monster," a three-story mansion, which stands atop a mountain in Taiwan and was designed as "a three-dimensional representation" of the Chinese character for "rain" – which is best seen from a bird's-eye view. John Pugmire and Fei Wu note in their afterword that "the peculiar architecture" of the setting places Death in the House of Rain squarely in the Japanese shin honkaku camp.

They also point out that unorthodox architecture is a particular feature of shin honkaku and how "the special structure of the architecture is necessary to the execution of a seemingly impossible murder." Or could serve as a clever red-herring. Some fans, like myself, love the diabolical ingenuity and the vast array of (new) possibilities these architectural marvels have to offer. On the other hands, you have critics who find it unbelievable that anyone would erect such extraordinary dwelling places. However, these eccentric buildings are more credible than they might imagine.

I think credibility largely depends on the character of the person who ordered the construction of such a place and the available resources, which actually has a pretty well-known, real-life precedent – namely Sarah Winchester's Mystery House. I recommend you look into the history of that place, because the House of Rain looks a plain, common-place domicile when compared to the Winchester Mansion!

Jingfu Bai was a renowned entrepreneur and, in life, owned one of the most famous motor companies in Taiwan, which made him a fortune and this allowed him to commission a celebrated architect known for his "unique artistic style." The entrepreneur had intended to spend retirement in his mountain home together with his wife, daughter and sick father, but the latter passed away shortly after they had moved into their newly finished home. The real tragedy occurred when the remaining three residents were brutally murdered.

One year after the murders, Renze Bai, professor of English, takes possession of his late brother's house and moved in there together with his daughter, Lingsha Bai, who studies English literature and two maidservants – Ru and an Indonesian girl, Cindy. Not long after moving into the house, Bai receives an email, head "The Identity of the Real Murderer," which is followed by a coded message and a photograph of his brother's body is attached to the mail.

So he contacts a young assistant professor of philosophy, Ruoping Lin, who is slowly acquiring a reputation as an amateur detective. Lin is not the only guest at the house.

There are classmates of Lingsha, six in total, who were invited to spend the winter holiday at the house, but it quickly becomes apparent that the group of students aren't a close, tightly-knit group of friends. On the contrary. Some of them are positively horrid to each other and then they begin to die, one by one, while they're inside rooms that were either locked or barricaded from the inside. And there are no less than four seemingly impossible murders between the pages of this book!

Xiangya Yue, "a doll-like girl," is the first to go and her death is arguably the most astonishing of all four impossible murders. Yue receives a note from Chengyan Fang, a young man who had asked her out several times, asking her to meet him at the library on the second floor, but there he tried to drug her and she ended up locking herself into an empty storage room – after which she falls completely silent. So they have to take a hatchet to the door and when they finally gained access to the room they make a gruesome discovery: Yue's head had been torn from her shoulders and was nowhere to be found inside the locked room! But it doesn't end there.

A second victim is brutally strangled to death in a changing room and the only unlocked door opened on a tennis court where "the ground of the red clay court was completely intact." Not a single footprint defaced its surface. A third victim, inexplicably, is defenestrated inside a locked room and the last person apparently committed suicide in a bedroom with furniture moved against the inside door.

It has often been remarked that quantity doesn't always mean quality, but the locked rooms here bristle with originality and added a new ideas to the pantheon of impossible crime fiction. My only gripe is that three of the four impossibilities required a stroke of luck to work, which quite an amazing coincidence that it worked three times in a row. However, the author was well aware of this fact and offered a defense for these string of coincidences with the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe acting as a character-witness (see opening-quote). 

I also liked how these three impossibilities stand in relation to the fourth and final locked room murder, which has a genuinely clever explanation and provides the book with a tragic who-and whydunit element – which nicely dovetailed with the previous three deaths and the family murders of the preceding year. So I decided to refrain from nitpicking and accept the defense given by Lin.

Szu-Yen Lin
Death in the House of Rain truly has all the hallmarks of a Japanese shin honkaku mystery novel and stands comparison with its illustrious predecessors such as Soji Shimada's Senseijutsu satsujinjiken (The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, 1981), Yukito Ayatsuji's Jakkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) and Alice Arisugawa's Koto Pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989).

I pointed out in the past how these shin honkaku mystery novels also left an indelible mark on the anime-and manga corner of the mystery genre, which includes such popular and long-running series as Detective Conan, The Kindaichi Case Files and Detective Academy Q, but this time they might also had an influence of a shin honkaku-style author. Not only did this story read like an elaborate Conan or Kindaichi story-arc, but Lin also kept referring to a suicide note as "a death note." I might be sorely mistaken, but I think that's as obvious a reference as referring to the unknown murderer, stalking the twisty corridors and locked rooms of the house, as a hollow man.

So, that's about all I can, or have, to say about the book, because, while Death in the House of Rain, has plot that revolves around four impossible crimes, it's also an incredibly lean story. One that you can blaze through like a short story or novella, which might be the only true weakness of the book. The readers arrives at the final chapter way too fast. Otherwise, this is a dark, moody locked room novel in the grand tradition of John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot and Paul Halter. Definitely recommended to all of my fellow locked room fanatics!


Fool's Gold

"I never deny the possibilities of any new scientific discovery. The X-rays, and the transmutation of elements were incredible enough when they first came to light, though they're commonplaces today."
- Magnum (Max Rittenberg's "The Mystery of the Vanishing Gold," collected in The Invisible Bullet and Other Strange Cases of Magnum, Scientific Consultant, 2016)
Over the past couple of months, I had a pretty good run when it came to disinterring some excellent, long-lost, detective novels, captivating reads and a few rewarding oddities. Even the poorer titles tended to be readable yarns. You've to go back to early October for the last monumental dud that passed through my hands, but nothing truly bad, or crushingly disappointing, had come my way since then – until now. And this disappointment came at the hands of my favorite second-stringer, John Russell Fearn. Oh, the betrayal!

Fearn's Robbery Without Violence (1957) is a novella, originally published in the December 14, 1957, issue of the Toronto Star Weekly and the 2012 reprint edition has a short story, titled "Death at the Observatory," tacked on at the end. The short story was first published in Modern Wonder, in 1938, which was later expanded by Fearn into a full-length science-fiction mystery, The Lonely Astronomer (1954), but more on that later.

Robbery Without Violence begins promising enough with the arrival of "no less than £50,000,000 worth of yellow metal," in one consignment, at Mackingley's Bank. A lump-sum of gold representing practically "the entire wealth of a certain small foreign state" and it "produced headaches in all directions."

The gold is stacked ceiling-high in an empty "strong vault" with an impregnable, time-locked door, set to open once every twenty-four hours, which is when the head cashier, Clive Burton, inspects the gold. After which the door is time-locked for another twenty-four hour period. Only two men knew the combination of the time-lock, Burton and Joseph Mackingley, who is the managing director of the bank. Finally, the impenetrable strong room is located in the basement of the guarded bank building and the entrance is surveillanced by an early 1950s version of closed-circuit TV cameras.

As to be expected from a prolific science-fiction writer, Fearn was well aware of this developing technology in the 1950s and used it accordingly. On a historical side-note, CCTV is one of the technological inheritances of World War II and the first time it was used was in Germany, 1942, to monitor the launch of V-2 rockets.

Anyway, the gold is as safe from thieves as if it been stored on the surface of the moon, but, when the vault door is opened again, Burton is greeted by blank, steel-enforced walls. The strong room had been emptied out! Every single brick of gold had vanished into thin air! Chief Inspector Hargraves of Scotland Yard is completely flummoxed and he decided to call in an expert specialized in these seemingly impossible conundrums. 
Sawley Garson is "an ex-government scientist" and "something of a nut," who also appears in the posthumously published The Man Who Was Not (2005), but he's basically a blander and flatter incarnation of a similar series-character, Dr. Hiram Carruthers – whose recorded cases include Vision Sinister (1954) and The Silvered Cage (1955). Garson immediately notices the importance of the watchman's radio, which could not be listened on the night of the theft on account of an (electrical) interference. However, this is also the point where the wheels are starting to come off the story.

I should have expected what was coming, because the plot had been described as having "a distinctly science fictional flavour," but assumed the locked room theft would turn out to be along the lines of the scientific impossibilities as imagined by Max Rittenberg, Vincent Cornier and Arthur Porges. Fearn himself wrote a number of mysteries that belong in that scientific category, but this was, indeed, purely science fictional. And a complete and utter cheat in this normal, everyday setting.

The science-fiction trick also struck me as lazy hackwork. I'm not an expert when it comes to science-fiction tropes, but I would not be surprised if science-fiction readers look upon this aspect of the plot in the same way as I look at detective stories with secret passages, unknown poisons or surprise twins.

John Russell Fearn
Fearn might as well have said that the universe burped inside that sealed vault and all of the gold had slipped into a black hole or something. It would have been more original than what we got.

What definitively sank the story is the unpardonable crime of being as dull and boring as an essay on gravel extraction. Once the plot begins to edge towards science-fiction territory, there was nothing left to hold my interest. The impossibility was being explained away by the magic of science-fiction science and the brains behind the theft was obvious from the start. Embarrassingly, this character morphs into a bad comic book-style villain ("I can—and will—give you the earth in time") with a super weapon that could very well have placed the world in the palm of his hand.

So I was glad this was only a novella, because I probably would have been able to finish it had it been a full-length novel. And arriving at that final page felt like a merciful shot of Novocaine to my brain. Sweet release at last! So, no, I did not enjoy reading Robbery Without Violence and regret I picked this one over Within That Room (1946), which is one of Fearn's legitimate locked room mystery novellas. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Finally, there's the short story, "Death at the Observatory," which is actually closer to the scientific (locked room) mysteries by the previously mentioned Rittenberg, Cornier and Porges, but the explanation still flirts heavily with the science-fiction genre. However, it is actually an original explanation.

The story takes place at the new Richmond Observatory where the chief of the astronomical staff, Dr. James Crayson, is found "sprawled below the platform of the mighty new 400-inch reflector" with a fatal head wound. Dr. Crayson's assistant, Charles Bradmore, stands over him with a metal bar in his hands and is subsequently arrested, but claims to be absolutely innocent of any wrong doing. Only person who takes his word for it is his best friend, Dick Warland, who consults a well-known scientist, named Scott Marlo, with "an enviable reputation for solving mysteries through scientific deductions." By the way, Marlo is cast from the exactly same mold as Dr. Carruthers and Garson.

Warland is convinced that "nothing but a scientific cause could have killed Crayson" and Marlo has a pretty good idea where to find the source of this scientific cause, but I had already read The Lonely Astronomer. So the explanation hardly came as a surprise. However, it was a nice attempt at combining the formal detective story with a science-fiction plot and its sole weakness is the lack of fair play. I don't think you can really arrive at the same conclusion as Marlo, but regardless, it was a nice little yarn that somewhat (but not much) made up for its predecessor.

All things considered, Robbery Without Violence was an uncharacteristically poor work by Fearn. Even by the standards of a pulpy second-stringer and genuinely wished there were some redeemable qualities about the story. But after the intriguing opening, the story and plot simply falls flat. And don't forget the disappointment.

On the bright side, I received a certain impossible crime novel in the mail recently and that one will be next on the hit-list. So, once again, don't you dare touch that dial!