Wobble to Death (1970) by Peter Lovesey

A year ago, I read the lively A Case of Spirits (1975) and the book was my formal introduction to Peter Lovesey's Victorian-era policemen, Sgt. Cribb and Constable Thackeray, who appeared in only eight historical mystery novels published during the 1970s – which began with Wobble to Death (1970) and ended with Waxwork (1978). I was recently reminded that the first book from this series was still precariously balanced, somewhere, at the top of the big pile. So decided to finally take it off.

John Dickson Carr reviewed Wobble to Death in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and praised Lovesey for his unvarnished depiction of Victorian England ("here are true Victorians, not pious frauds of legend") and described the book as "a first-rate story of sustained thrills," but Carr's endorsement was not the only reason why I wanted to make this one my next stop in the series.

Lovesey has set many of his Sgt. Cribb mysteries against the background of Victorian crazes and entertainment, like spiritualism, but Wobble to Death takes place during a six-day Go-As-You-Please contest – an endurance test for "Proven Pedestrians" also known as Wobbles.

Sir John Astley instituted the endurance contests in March, 1878 and the sport, which even had championship belts, became very popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1880s. George Littlewood set the record of 623.4 miles in Madison Square Gardens (New York) in 1888 and a physiologist described Littlewood's endurance feat in Advancement Science as "probably be about the maximum sustained output of which the human frame is capable." Littlewood's record still stands today.

These six-day endurance contests, or Wobbles, have become an obscure relic of history, but to use it as a backdrop for a historical detective novel had me intrigued.

Wobble to Death is set in 1879 and takes place at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, where promoter Solomon Herriott has organized a Six Day Pedestrian Contest. A footrace in which the competitors have to make "the best of his way on foot," by walking or running, and whoever covers "the greatest distance" in the specified time will be crowned Champion Pedestrian of the World – a title that comes with five-hundred pounds in prize money and a championship belt. This is Endurance Championship Walking (ECW! ECW!! ECW!!!).

There were two classes of competitors and two tracks. On the inner, one-eighth of a mile track moved the Main Eventers, Capt. Erskine Chadwick and Charles Darrell, who were in a two-men race within another race.

The outer, one-seventh of a mile track was reserved for fourteen lesser "heavenly bodies," but the (top) competitors in this second-class of walkers were determined to take a shot at the prize money and title. There's Feargus O'Flaherty, "Half-breed" Williams, Peter "The Scythebearer" Chalk and Billy Reid, but the outer track also has a dark horse. A puny physician, F.H. Mostyn-Smith, who had "the style of an expert in egg-and-spoon racing."

So the six day Go-As-You-Please begins and Lovesey takes his time to set up both the plot and backdrop of the story.

A six day endurance race, set in the late 1800s, is a fascinating and original setting for a detective novel, but Lovesey is not given to romanticizing or decrying the era the story is set in. He simply represents Victorian life as it was at the time. This is most notable in the squalor and even unhygienic living conditions of the lower-ranked pedestrians. The grand Agricultural Hall is filled with fog, gas fumes and the smell of cattle-dung and Herriott is grilled over these conditions by the press, but simply dismisses them by saying that he's not a hotelier and how some of the second-class pedestrians may find it “a pleasurable experience to have any sort of roof above them” – even wagering a bet they would die from "want of exercise" before any of his competitors "dies from taking too much."

On the second day, Darrell collapses on the track and passes away shortly after being taken to his hut. Initially, they believe Darrell, who had walked barefoot with blisters, had contracted tetanus, but a post-mortem reveals there was enough strychnine in his body "to put down a dray-horse." The death of Darrell is followed by that of his personal trainer, Sam Monk, who took his own life by gassing himself in their hut out of remorse. Or so it appears on the surface.

Enter Sgt. Cribb and Constable Thackeray. They conduct their investigation as the race continues and this results in a humorous scene when Thackeray is instructed by Cribb to question Chadwick as he strides along the track, which was greeted with "delighted hoots of derision" from the stands – someone in the crowd even knocked Thackeray's bowler of his head with a well-aimed apple. By this time, Herriott has also dissolved the separate tracks and Chadwick, gentleman pedestrian and champion walker of England, had to walk among the "toughened professionals" of the inner track, which resulted in elbows being buried in his ribs and damaged shins. The gentleman pedestrian began to resemble a battered warhorse.

Sgt. Cribb reasons the solution not from physical clues, inconsistencies in statements or the movement of suspects, but by simply eliminating everyone who could not have done the murders or lacked a motive to do them in. Technically, this can be considered fair play, because there's logic to his reasoning, but this approach made the plot feel rather thin in hindsight. But there was than enough to make up for that.

Regardless, I greatly enjoyed my (brief) time with Wobble to Death. Lovesey wrote a breezily paced, well written and characterized detective novel with an original setting and background that had never been explored before, but the reader is not beaten over the head with historical references to help them remind the story takes place in 1879. This makes the book all the more authentic, which is easier said than done, and demonstrates why the Sgt. Cribb series is so highly regarded in the sub-genre of historical detective fiction. What a pity Lovesey only wrote eight of them.


The File of Young Kindaichi: The Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case

The Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case is a four-part episode that opened the first season of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi R) anime series and reviewed a bunch of episodes last year, which included a number of fine examples of the unbreakable alibi (The Prison Prep School Murder Case) and the locked room mystery (The Rosenkrauz Mansion Murders). After reading the surprisingly excellent The Headless Samurai, published in the original manga series, I wanted to return this series.

The Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case consists of four, twenty-minute episodes and the plot combines (mild) thriller elements with the usual Kindaichi plot, which involves kidnapping and three murders by a dark figure known as the "Poison Dragon" – whose back-story is deeply rooted within the Walled City of Kowloon. A densely populated, lawless labyrinth where the Kowloon Palace housed a dragon statue with "diamond worth billions" (*) as eyes. The diamonds are known as the Dragon Eyes and people believed them to be cursed. So nobody even dared to touch them, until Wang Long, "the so-called Emperor of Kowloon," pried them from the statue. They eventually went missing and are rumored to be hidden somewhere in Hong Kong.

An addendum to this back-story is that Wang Long was betrayed and murdered, twenty years before this case, but vowed with his dying breath that "all will die" when "the Poison Dragon awakens." I appreciated how the legacy and history of that "dark complex of maze-like buildings" lurked in the background of the story.

Two decades later, Miyuki gets an unexpected opportunity to do modeling work in Hong Kong when she's spotted walking down the street with Kindaichi by Ryuta Takigawa of Tokyo Girly Mode.

So he goes along with her to the Jewel of Asia and there they bump into a friend, Saki, who's an enthusiastic videophile constantly recording everything that goes around and has often assisted Kindaichi on his cases, but their merry reunion is shortly lived when Miyuki vanishes from a watched, curtained fitting room in a clothes store – an impossibility Kindaichi immediately solved. An antiquated, overly convenient solution that begs the question how the kidnapper knew Miyuki would use that specific fitting room. Or do all of the fitting rooms there go with a sliding panel?

Anyway, they go through the sliding panel and, when they come out in a back alley, they see an unconscious Miyuki in the backseat of a black car, which Kindaichi attempts to follow on a bike, but is unable to keep up the chase. And soon thereafter, he receives a text message from Miyuki saying that they will kill her if he goes to the police.

So he has to find her on his own and a another, very convenient coincidence puts him on a possible trail when they bump into a model, Yan Ran, who looks exactly like their missing friend and was reportedly missing – which is how Miyuki got her modeling gig. Yan Ran is directly tied to the past of the Walled Town and has a dragon tattoo with a hidden message, when deciphered, gives the location of the Dragon Eyes. This provides the story with a side-puzzle, as Kindaichi has to break the code in a race against time, because this supposed treasure could destroy the whole of Hong Kong.

Kindaichi in hot pursuit

So there you have the thriller elements, although mostly of a relatively mild variations, but there are also the previously mentioned murders and two of those killings provide the story with a traditional detective problem.

The Hong Kong promoter of the Tokyo Girly Event, Chan Yongu, is poisoned under nearly impossible circumstances during dinner when eating poisoned soup that had been served to everyone else, including Kindaichi, without any ill-effects. However, the poisoning does not hinge on a trick allowing the murderer to unobserved spike the soup and think most viewers can (largely) work out the method. But the second murder has some real ingenuity and originality.

A man by the name of Shin Li, who gave his place at the dinner table to Chan Yongu, is beaten to death in an apartment room across the street, but all of the potential suspects where under lock down and police guard at the hotel – giving them cast-iron alibis. This alibi-trick had been used before in the series, in regards to a locked room murder, but here it's used to craft a perfect alibi and what makes it somewhat original is the tool the murderer used. I don't think it could have been done as fast as the episode suggested, but the idea is a novel one and added a new ripple to the age-old trick of hiding something in plain sight.

However, the most important murder is the third one, which does not provide a puzzle problem, but has a subtle, tell-tale clue that, if spotted, tells you who the "Poison Dragon" really is.

The identity of the murderer, even if you don't spot the tell-tale clue, probably won't come as too big a surprise to the seasoned mystery reader, but the motive was interesting as it gave a twist to the motivation that drives most murderers in this series. It was that motive, but not in the way you imagined. And that was a nice touch.

So The Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case is an often fast-moving detective story with thriller elements, code cracking side puzzles, a MacGuffin, the Poison Dragon murders and unbreakable alibis, which made it an entertaining four-parter, but the overall plot and story does not measure up to the best from this series. There was too much of everything and this diluted the stronger aspects of the plot. Still, they were not bad episodes to watch. And, hey, when I'm not overly negative about Kindaichi it says something about those volumes or episodes.

(*) I'm sure those billions are in Japanese yen.


Murder Isn't Easy (1936) by Richard Hull

Richard Henry Sampson was a veteran of the First World War, serving in France for three years, before he began an inauspicious career as an accountant and this career was cut short when his first novel, published as "Richard Hull," became a success – a witty inverted detective novel titled The Murder of My Aunt (1934). A further fourteen comical, character-oriented crime novels appeared, published between 1935 and 1953, but they had been largely forgotten by mystery readers.

Hull was only remembered as the author of The Murder of My Aunt and readers usually confused even that one with C.H.B. Kitchin's similarly titled Death of My Aunt (1929). However, this has recently began to change as Hull's work is slowly being rediscovered.

The Poisoned Pen Press, under the banner of "British Library Crime Classics," reissued The Murder of My Aunt and Excellent Intentions (1938), while Ipso Books republished Murder Isn't Easy (1936). And they have announced on their website that more releases from Hull are coming soon! So we can say that Hull is beginning to enjoy the perks of the present Renaissance Era, but is Murder Isn't Easy worthy of all the praise heaped on it by my fellow reviewers (here, here and here)? Yes. It does.

However, I have to caveat the yes by mentioning that the book will probably fail to excite readers who prefer their murder, or murders, to occur early on in a story, because this is one of those mystery novels with a slow build towards the murder – hardly even resembling a detective story during its first half. The first half reads like a lighthearted, office comedy with a dark underbelly and with all the events taking place inside an advertising agency it almost feels like a British TV-series like Yes, Minister.

Murder Isn't Easy is largely narrated by the three principal players of the story, Nicholas Latimer, Paul Spencer and Sandy Barraclough, who made their biggest mistake of their life when they decided to go into business together.

The book has an unusual structure, consisting of four diary entries, which begins with the longest account written by the copy-writer of NeO-aD, Latimer, who presents himself to the reader as the unrecognized, downtrodden genius of their floundering agency. Latimer lays the blame of their failings at the feet of his partners, but has a particular grievance with Spencer and holds him responsible for losing the Flaik-Foam advertisements. And, as it becomes very clear, the personalities of the three partners are completely incompatible.

The tensions slowly begin to come to a head when Latimer has a chance encounter with a prospective client, M. Tonescu, who's a Romanian claiming to have discovered "a process by which glass would not become clouded by steam or heat" and water runs off it quickly – which he wanted to sell to the cleanly British to keep their bathroom mirrors unfogged. Latimer saw a more practical use, namely the windscreens of cars, but Spencer and Barraclough professed skepticism. Once again, Spencer is seen by Latimer as the main obstacle to his great plans.

So he begins an ill-fated series of attempts to get rid of Spencer by trying to vote him off the board and offered to buy his share in the agency, but "every legal method had been attempted" and all had failed. The situation demanded a drastic solution and murder, with all its complications, entered the picture.

After this point, it becomes hard to describe the plot without giving anything away, but how the story and chapters were structured were a pleasure to read. All of the subsequent accounts throw a different light on the previous narrative and reveal that the narrators were not exactly how they presented themselves. Or that their plans were not as water-proof as they envisioned, which kept the story one step ahead of the reader by twisting it around with each narration. You can gauge roughly what's really going on and what's going to happen, but not entirely and that made for a fun, engrossing and surprising detective story.

Interestingly, the way in which two of the partners were murdered, on the same evening, recalled the plotting-technique of a personal favorite, Christopher Bush, who (sort of) specialized in maze-like plots that linked a double murder, committed in close proximity in time and place, together – e.g. Dead Man Twice (1930), Dancing Death (1931) and The Case of the April Fools (1933). You can chalk that one down as a definite plus.

So this was a very short post, but there's not more that I can say without treading into spoiler territory, because every section of the story has developments and twists that you have to read and discover for yourself. It makes the book more fun.

Murder Isn't Easy is a character-driven, darkly comedic (semi) inverted detective story, but the plot is surprisingly satisfying as it twist and turns in lockstep with the narratives of its characters. Definitely recommended! I really hope British Library or Ipso reprints The Ghost It Was (1936) next. A detective novel that has been described as Hull's homage to John Dickson Carr.


The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2018) edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews

Recently, Wildside Press published a long overdue anthology, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2018), edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, who collected sixteen pastiches, parodies and short stories inspired by the Dean of the American Detective Story, Ellery Queen – written by such short story luminaries as William Brittain, Edward D. Hoch and Arthur Porges. The anthology has three (short) introductions by the editors, Richard Dannay and Rand Lee.

In their introduction, Pachter and Andrews touched upon the ill-fated publication of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (1944), edited by Queen, which was withdrawn when Conan Doyle's estate used "a minor permission snafu" for Sherlock Holmes material used in 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941 (1943) as leverage "to halt all further distribution." They also reveal that the idea for this anthology dates as far back as the early 1970s. Fredric Dannay apparently liked the idea, but it would take four decades before the first version of this anthology appeared in print.

Six years ago, the chairman of the Japanese EQ fanclub, Iiki Yusan, edited and published a 400-page, Japanese-language anthology consisting of parodies, pastiches and homes to Queen – appropriately titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2012). So the idea for an English edition was pulled out of cold storage in 2015 and was finally published in early March of this year.

Pachter and Andrews note that the publication of this anthology was their attempt "to close a circle that opened almost 130 years ago" with the publications of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934) and The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. I believe they succeeded.

Richard Dannay is the son of Fredric Dannay and a copyright lawyer, who briefly points out the legal perils that lay between parodies and pastiches, but ends his introduction with the remark that he welcomes both parodies and pastiches of Ellery Queen as long as they "represent affection and respect." Something I wholeheartedly agree with, because the way in which some alleged writers handles the literary legacy of actual writers borders on the criminal.

Rand Lee is the son of the other half of the EQ partnership, Manfred B. Lee, who very briefly wrote that his father liked pastiches and would have been greatly amused by this anthology.

So, now we got the background and introduction to this anthology out of the way, let's take a closer look at the stories.

Thomas Narcejac's "Le mystère des ballons rouge" ("The Mystery of the Red Balloons") was first published in Usurpation d'indentité in 1947 and has the honor of being the first Ellery Queen pastiche ever written and this is its first-ever publication in English – as well as being the only representative in this anthology of the genre's Golden Age. So we have an actual débutante opening this collection, but one with a hardboiled edge to it. The police of New York City are confronted with a series of murders, which appear to be unrelated on the surface, but a red balloon is found at each scene. One day, a policeman on the grounds of Jonathan Mallory's estate and this time they get to the victim before he can be murdered and they station themselves inside the house. Something that displeases the crusty Mallory immensely. The subsequent events nearly costs Sgt. Velie his life, who's critically wounded, before Ellery uncovers the murderer.

The murderer is rather obvious, but, as stated by the "Challenge of the Reader," detection is not "a matter of guessing" or "stumbling upon the answer by chance." You have to analyze all of the data and clarify issues that seemed unimportant. You might have spotted the murderer, but the next question is how and why these murders were committed. So this story is more of a why than a who-dun-it. Not an out-and-out classic, but I liked it. Solid, old-fashioned Ellery Queen.

I previously reviewed "Dying Message" by Leyne Requel in my 2011 review of Norma Schier's The Anagram Detective (1979).

Jon L. Breen's "The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue" was originally published in the double anniversary issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1999 and Breen tells in his introduction that Dannay and Lee always set their stories in the present-day. Ellery stayed "more or less the same age from decade to decade." So we get EQ in the nineties with references to Star Wars, Y2K and rap music. One of the suspects is even a rapper (Daddy Trash).

Ellery is invited by Gil Castberg to take a trip aboard the luxurious Sea Twin and cruise the Californian coastline. The headline entertainer is a former client of Castberg, Ozzie Foyle, who used be part of a comedy duo, but the partnership imploded and Foyle fully dedicates himself to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan – while his former partner, Jim Dugan, faded into obscurity. All of their grudges come bubbling back to the surface when they're reunited aboard the cruise ship and the result is murder.

Obviously, Breen had fun writing new lyrics for "I've Got a Little List" from The Mikado ("that superior freeloading detective novelist: I don't think he'd be missed, I'm sure he'd not be missed."), but this is not merely a comedic detective story. There's a clever, humorous dying message and an interesting alibi-trick, but I feel the short story format constrained the plot. The story ended rather abruptly and perhaps needed an extra clue or two, because the central clue (dying message) requires a more than passing familiarity with the work of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Still, this was a fun little story and only wished the editors had also included Breen's “The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery,” which I have wanted to read for ages.

Francis M. Nevins' "Open Letter to Survivors" was first published in the May, 1972 issue of EQMM and was written under the tutelage of Dannay, who ripped the original version of the story apart with "a surgical precision" that "was more than justified," and then they "began to build the story up again." Dannay always struck me as pillar of support to everyone who dared to pick up a pen, no matter who they were, and even published stories from teenagers in EQMM. And we'll get to two of those later on in this review.

Contain "Open Letter to Survivors"
"Open Letter to Survivors" is written around a line from Ten Days' Wonder (1942), "there was the case of Adelina Monquieux" and "the remarkable solution" that "cannot be revealed until before 1972," which is studded with Queenian motifs, but the detective in this story remains nameless – even though its obviously him. Ellery is in the middle of writing a book, but concludes that his plot is some vital element and decides to consult "the foremost political analyst of the generation," Adelina Monquieux (pronounced Mon-Q). Monquieux is the mother of three adopted sons, Xavier, Yves and Zachery, who are monozygotic triplets and completely identical right down to their fingerprints. A problem when their mother is murdered during Ellery's visit to their home. So who of the identical triplets committed the murder and what prevented the truth from coming out until 1972?

This is interesting story for sure and how the triplets are used is kind of brilliant, as are Ellery's deductions, but I think the ending makes this somewhat of an anti-detective story. However, Nevins did a good job making hay out of a throw-away reference.

I previously reviewed "The Reindeer Clue" by Edward D. Hoch in my 2011 review of Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Errors (1999).

Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu's "The Book Case" was originally published in the May, 2007 issue of EQMM, which I have read before, but my opinion of it remains unaltered. Generally, I'm not too big a fan of pastiches, however, "The Book Case" would make my best-of list of detective pastiches, because it feels like it could be part of the actual canon. This betrays that the story was written by two of the biggest EQ fanboys in the United States and Europe.

The story has a contemporary setting and the series-characters have aged or passed away. Ellery Queen is now a venerable, 100-year-old man, who seemed "to move only through the sheerest will power," but not old or helpless enough to look into the murder of Dr. Jason Tenumbra – an oncologist and an avid collector of mystery novels. Tenumbra appears to have left a dying message by throwing all of his Ellery Queen novels on the floor, but the case becomes a personal one when it becomes clear that the children of Djuna are involved. And one of them dies!

Andrews and Sercu not only succeeded admirably in placing their story snugly within the confines of the original series, but also has a very clever and tricky plot demonstrating (once again) that the wonders of modern forensic science has not made ingenious plots in detective fiction obsolete – which made this the standout story of this anthology. Loved it!

By the way, one of the detectives in "The Book Case" is the elderly Harry Burke, who's closing in on his retirement, and he had appeared previously in Face to Face (1967). And the ending tells us what became of Nikki Porter. Just a couple of the nods to the original series.

J.N. Williamson's "Ten Month's Blunder" is a silly, good-natured parody about a character named Celery Keen, who helps his father solve the murder of a pawnshop owner, which cements his reputation as an amateur sleuth across the world. However, when Keen returns from a world-tour of snooping, his father has some unpleasant news for him.

Arthur Porges' "The English Village Mystery" was originally printed in the December, 1964 issue of EQMM and is the first of only two parodies he wrote about a character named Celery Green.

The story takes place in the tiny village of Tottering-on-the-Brink, which only has fourteen inhabitants, but twelve of those have been shot, stabbed, strangled and blown to pieces. Inspector Dew East has been given 48 hours to close the case and, out of desperation, turns to a gifted and well-known amateur detective, Celery Green – who happened to be visiting England at the time. You would expect the solution to be as ridiculous and silly as its premise, but there's a trace of reason to all of this madness. I think this shows, even with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Porges was one of the masters of the short detective story. Only overshadowed by the King of the Short Story, Edward Hoch.

Dennis M. Dubin was a high-school senior when his short story, "Elroy Quinn's Last Case," appeared in the July, 1967 issue of EQMM and took a similar route as Andrews and Sercu by casting the title-character as an old man. And his last case is precariously balanced on international politics that could set the world ablaze.

The king of Ubinorabia has arrived in the United States "to begin talks about on the huge oil deposits recently discovered in his country," but one of his royal bodyguards has been shot and later an attempt is made on the king himself – who's critically wounded. A bizarre array of clues consist of a Roman helmet, a statuette of two seemingly identical Thai cats, a wooden shoe and a small replica of a mummy case. So Inspector Thomas Valie, Jr. turns to the old maestro for help and the solution takes its cue from a famous EQ short story and one of their lesser-known mystery novels. A story that will delight every reader who loves EQ.

James Holding's "The Norwegian Apple Mystery" is the first of ten stories about King Danforth and Martin Leroy, originally published in the January, 1961 issue of EQMM, who are mystery writers and the creators of the Leroy King series. Apparently, the stories take place during a round-the-world cruise, but they encounter more murderous plots on their extended holiday than when they were writing detective novels back home. I think this first story has a really novel way of telling a detective story.

Danforth and Leroy become intrigued by the "perfectly natural accidental death" of one of their fellow passengers, Angela Cameron, who had choked to death on a piece of apple while reading in bed. They find it an intriguing premise for a detective story and, together with their wives, speculate how this accidental death could have been a cleverly disguised murder. Only to discover in the final sentence that their ideas were spot on. A good and original variation on the how-dun-it.

William Brittain's "The Man Who Read Ellery Queen" appeared together with "The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr" in the December, 1965 issue of EQMM and is a detective with a warm, beating heart.

Arthur Mindy is an old man living at the Goodwell Home and took a complete collection of Ellery Queen novels with him. Mindy has always dreamed of solving a mystery "just the way Ellery does" and finally gets an opportunity when another resident, Gregory Wyczech, had his precious 1907 ten dollar gold piece stolen, but he caught the thief, Eugene Dennison, in act – only problem is that the coin is not found on him. Even after Dennison stripped naked. Mindy deduces where the gold piece is hidden based on a shaving cut and why Dennison preferred to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The way this theft is resolved gives the story a warm, sweet and sugary ending. And to top it all off, the solution showed this was also a (borderline) impossible crime! What more do you want?

Josh Pachter was sixteen when he wrote "E.Q. Griffin Earns His Name" and seventeen when it was published in the December, 1968 issue of EQMM.

Ellery Queen Griffin is the 16-year-old son of Inspector Ross Griffin, of the Tyson County Police Force, who had grown up on "a rich diet of detective fiction" and had named all of his eleven children after a famous detective character. A Griffen child earned his name by solving "a criminal problem in the manner of his namesake," but Ellery had yet to earn his name. There are two problems in this story that could provide that opportunity: who stole the apple pies from Leora Field's windowsill and how was a precious necklace stolen from a locked jewelry shop. This is only nominally a locked room mystery and the solution to the locked shop problem is a bit of a cheat, but the real point is that Ellery (logically) deduces the identity of the thief. And thereby earning his name.

I really liked this story and it should have been the start of a juvenile mystery series with each story concentrating on one of the Griffin children. A missed opportunity, because eleven of those stories would have made for a wonderful collection. If you're reading this, Pachter, I want a Gideon Fell Griffin story. I want it, I want it, I want it!!!

Patricia McGerr was no stranger to turning the conventions of the detective story upside down (e.g. Pick Your Victim, 1946) and "The Last Check," a short story first published in the March, 1972 issue of EQMM, can only be described as a parody-pastiche – as it lands somewhere between the two. A gray area not often frequented by mystery writers. The story is about the murder of Stephen Coleman, a collector of Ellery Queen, who was shot to death in his study, but left a dying message by scribbling his name on a blank check. A clue that appeared either meaningless or implicate every single suspect. Luckily, the policeman on the case, Captain Rogan, is also an avid reader of Ellery Queen.

So who's better fitted for the job of deciphering a dying message, left by a dying EQ reader, than a policeman who also reads EQ? Once again, I liked this story, but the murderer was a little too obvious.

Lawrence Block's "The Death of the Mallory Queen," originally published in Like a Lamb to the Slaughter (1984), is actually more of a Nero Wolfe pastiche than a take on Ellery Queen. Block wrote two novels about a Nero Wolfe wannabe named Leo Haig, Make Out With Murder (1974) and The Topless Tulip Caper (1975), who's assisted by Chip Harrison – a young lad was reinvented as a private detective after appearing in two coming-of-age novels, No Score (1970) and Chip Harrison Scores Again (1971). Reportedly, Rex Stout was not amused with the result.

This short story has Mavis Mallory of Mavis Publications consulting Haig, because she fears being murdered, which happens in the most extraordinary circumstances imaginable. During a panel discussion at Town Hall, held in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Mallory's Mystery Magazine, the lights go out. And when they turn back on, Mallory has been stabbed, shot, bludgeoned and poisoned. The explanation is about as credible as anything you'll see on Monty Python, but that didn't made the story any less fun to read. I really have to look further into this series.

Arthur Vidro's "The Ransom of EQMM #1" was first published online on the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine website and is a story that'll be especially appreciated by collectors of (pulp) magazines.

Homer Slocum is an avid collector of EQMM from Shinn Corners (The Glass Village, 1954) and owns a complete run of the magazine, up to the latest issue, which attracts the attention of the Shinn Corners Courier, but their article attracted locals to his house – who all wanted to see The Collection. But when he finally got around to putting his collection back in order, Slocum noticed that the Fall 1941 issue of EQMM was missing! The first of more than 800 issues. A $500 dollar ransom note soon follows, but Slocum notices something slightly off about the photograph that accompanied the note. A short, simple, but fun, story.

Finally, Joseph Goodrich's "The Ten-Cent Murder," published in the August, 2016 issue of EQMM and follows the tradition of the modern historical detective story by casting two real-life persons in the role of detectives – namely Fredric Dannay and Dashiell Hammett. According to the introduction, everything in this story is true with the exception of "a slight case of murder." Hammett taught a class of mystery writing at the Jefferson Institute in Manhattan and Dannay used to be an occasional guest lecturer. So why not take this situation and throw in a good murder? It makes sense.

The school registrar, Morris Rabinowitz, was stabbed to death and a closely guarded list of students was missing. The political climate of days plays a role in this story, but, in order to solve this case, Dannay has to figure out why the victim was clutching a dime. And all of the suspects have names that can refer or sound like coins. The explanation to the dying clue a bit of a pun, but acceptable and believable enough in the circumstances of the story.

On a whole, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is an excellent anthology without any duds. Practically every short story collection or anthology has one, two or three duds, but this anthology has a well-balanced selection of stories and this becomes a real accomplishment on the part of the editors when you realize all of the entries are parodies or pastiches – which are not always known for their high-standard or quality. There were some stories I liked more than others, but not a single one I really disliked. So, if you like Ellery Queen, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen comes highly recommended.

On a last note, I want to direct your attention to a story that was omitted from this anthology, but would have snugly fit in the potpourri section: Donald A. Yates' "The Wounded Tyrolean" (c. 1955), which was based on a Watsonian reference from The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935).


Dead Man Twice (1930) by Christopher Bush

Dead Man Twice (1930) is the third title in Christopher Bush's Ludovic "Ludo" Travers series and has been recommended to me several times by Nick Fuller and Curt Evans. The book considered to be one of the stronger titles from the early period of the series and not entirely without reason.

Reprinted by Dean Street Press
In this early title, Travers is still working as a financial adviser for that distinguished inquiry, advertising and publicity firm, Durangos Limited, which means that his role is still that of a chameleon in the background and cedes the stage to his friends, Superintendent Wharton and John Franklin – head of the Detective Bureau of Durangos Ltd. So the story has a slightly different feeling than those that have a more prominent role for Travers.

Franklin is visited in his office by Kenneth Hayles, a writer of hackneyed, cliché-ridden thrillers, who wants to use him and his office as a model for his next novel, but Hayles also co-authored Two Years in the Ring. A book he wrote together with Michael France, a gentleman boxer and heavyweight champion of Europe, who's scheduled to fight Toni Ferroni in New York and everyone expects him to bring the world title back to England. So their meeting ends with Franklin getting an opportunity to meet the public hero of the moment.

However, Frankling comes down to Earth again when France wants to consult him on a string of threatening letters, which gave him a few days to leave the country or his "numbers up," signed by "Lucy" and gave Franklin three specimens of handwriting to compare – all three specimens were procured from people who stand close to the boxer. France also asks Franklin to drop by his house, but when he arrived it looks as if nobody is home. The hammering with the door knocker and ringing the bell gets no response whatsoever.

After a while, the valet of France, Mr. Usher, arrives and opens the door, but what they find inside is a scene as bizarre as it's inexplicable.

The body of the butler, named Somers, was lying on the rug of the lounge with tumbler next to his outstretched arm and on the table, next to the decanter and siphon, stood "a small, blue bottle with a red poison label." A suicide note is found, "this is really the end of everything," but Usher recognizes the handwriting as that of his master, Michael France! So this prompts them to further explore the house and they find a second body in an upstairs room. France lay on the bedroom floor with a bullet wound in his forehead and a tiny, toy-like pistol two feet from his outstretched hand. However, the medical evidence reveals that the shot was fired from "a devilish awkward position" and "the bullet might have missed the brain altogether." And the awkward angle of the bullet is a clue as to what happened in that bedroom!

Travers is only a background figure in the investigation, who analyzes the published work of France and Hayles, which leaves all of the legwork to Franklin and Wharton. Once again, the performance Superintendent George "The General" Wharton demonstrated that we lost a great lead-character for a series of detective novels.

Layer by layer, Wharton slowly peels away the mysteries and is "worming his way into some subterranean and buried essential," but the complications are numerous and one of these is that there was a six-inch circle of glass cut out of the window – except this was not a garden-variety burglary. And then there's France's involvement with the wife of the well-heeled, aristocratic racing motorist and his chief financial backer, Peter Claire, who had planted Usher in France's house to keep an eye out. Compounding these confusing jumble of problems and the contradictory facts at the scene of the crime are a couple of durable alibis.

The unbreakable alibi is a trademark of Bush's detective fiction and this begs comparison with another craftsman of cast-iron alibis, Freeman Wills Crofts, but Bush's plotting technique actually makes him closer to John Dickson Carr and John Rhode than to Crofts.

The murder of France could have easily been presented as an impossible situation and Bush's plots are often borderline or quasi-impossibilities (e.g. The Case of the Bonfire Body, 1936), but rarely crosses the border to become a full-fledged locked room mystery. Regardless, this could have been a nifty locked room yarn and the method, which also helped the murderer forging a cast-iron alibi, could have been plucked from the pages of Rhode's mystery novel. As a matter of fact, I have seen variations of this trick in the works of both Carr and Rhode.

Nevertheless, this could have been a nifty locked room and the murder method is something straight out of of a Rhode's novel. As a matter of fact, I have come across variations of this trick in the works of both Carr and Rhode. John Russell Fearn even used a very similar trick to create an actual locked room murder, but I believe Dead Man Twice predates all of them.

So I really liked this plot-strand of the story, which came with diagrams and floorplans, but the poisoning plot wasn't bad either and the nature of the crime, with all its complexities, fitted the personality of the murderer like a glove – which nicely contrasted with the more plot-technical killing of France. But the best part of the plot is how these plot-strands were intertwined and threw one of these plots in disarray.

Only thing you can hold against the plot is that the identity of the culprits were rather obvious. A problem corrected by the intriguing question as to how the murders were committed and the attempt to fit every piece of the puzzle together to form a logical and coherent picture of all the events.

I've not read the first title in this series, The Plumley Inheritance (1926), but feel confident in stating that Dead Man Twice is the first of Bush's baroque-style detective novels that introduced his favorite plot-device of having two murders taking place in close proximity of each other and link them together with a bale of plot-threads. An approach he used to great effect in Dancing Death (1931) and The Case of the April Fools (1933). The result is usually a pleasantly intricate, mind-twisting and challenging detective story and Dead Man Twice is not the exception to this rule.

Dead Man Twice is a grand old-fashioned detective story and more than worthy of the praise it has received, but, personally, I would not go as far as placing it right alongside the superb Cut Throat (1932) and the equally superb The Case of the Missing Minutes (1936). Dead Man Twice stands a step below them along with the previously mentioned The Case of the April Fools, The Case of the 100% Alibis (1934) and the Carrian The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935), which is not a bad company to be in.

So, a long story short, I continue to enjoy my exploration of Bush's detective fiction and will return to him soon, but first have to pick a title. Currently, I have whittled down my options to three titles: The Case of the Dead Shepherd (1934), The Case of the Hanging Rope (1937) and The Case of the Green Felt Hat (1939). Ah, luxury problems!