The Kindaichi Case Files: The Murder in the Phantom School Building

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi Returns) series was serialized in Weekly Shônen Magazine from 2012 to 2017 and reviewed a number of stories that were adapted for the animated series, such as The Alchemy Murder Case, The Prison Prep School Murder Case and The Rosenkrauz Mansion Murders, but not all of the cases were used for the anime – some have very alluring premises. I noticed one of these unused stories combined an abandoned island setting with a treasure hunt, urban exploration, bloody murder and a pack of minutely-timed alibis. So I simply had to read it.

Gunkon Island on the Izu Peninsula is the backdrop of The Murder in the Phantom School Building, but is locally known under another name, Kogane (Gold) Island, which once held rich gold deposits and the small island prospered.

The island used to be crowded and resembled a busy town rather than a mining village. After this brief, prosperous period, the gold suddenly ran out and over two-thousand people left – turning the island into a godforsaken ghost town of abandoned ruins. And these ruins have a story to tell. Legend has it that there's "an estimated amount of 200kg in gold bars" secreted on the island.

A treasure rumordly stowed away by the Vice-Principal of Kogane Junior High School, Yuuki Genshou, who had worked on the island for over thirty years and was the only person who remained behind. This fanned the flames of the rumored treasure of gold bars, but the gold was never found and when two men from the mining company returned to the island, to confront him, all they found was "the shriveled, mummy-like body of the Vice-Principal" sitting in a chair – which promptly disappeared when the police arrived. Since a year, every month a group of people are given access to the island to poke around the abandoned ruins for the gold.

Miyuki had a bit of good luck when she, out of nowhere, secured two slots on the next expedition to the island and this means that Hajime Kindaichi is coming with her!

On the island, they meet the rest of the expedition: Akaguma Takeshi (tour guide), Tomoe Soujuurou (treasure hunter) and Kubiki Tomorou (supernatural researcher). The rest of the group consists of students who are members of a college urban exploration club (Ruins Explorer Club): Yamori Yukio, Kijou Ayuma, Hanaizumi Kyouya, Tsuruno Fuyuka, Tooma Moegi and Muronoi Ran. However, there are two other unexpected visitors. Inspector Kenmoichi and Superintendent Akechi arrive on the island under the guise of civil servants inspecting the place, but Kindaichi is soon informed by them that they received evidence that the "Puppeteer of Hell," Yoichi Takato, is going to be at the bottom of what is about to unfold among the ruins of Kogane Island.

For those who missed my previous reviews, Takato is a magician of crime who designs perfect murder plots for those craving revenge or long for private justice. So the stage is properly set for murder!

Kogane Island
The group of treasure hunters uses the Kogane Junior High School building as a base and the place resembles an obstacle course for urban explorers. There are corridors blocked by rubble, stairways that have collapsed and rotting floors with holes in it. A feature that comes an integral part of the alibi-trick when the group hears over the wireless how one of the club members is murdered in the music-room, on the second floor, but the staircase has collapsed and they needed to take the long way round to reach the music-room, which takes a good six minutes – nobody within the group was out of sight for more than three minutes. Not enough time to take the long way round, commit the murder and return without being seen.

I think any astute mystery reader can piece together one part of this alibi-trick, but the second part is a lot trickier and borders on cheating, because it took more prep work than you can reasonable expect even from a fictitious murderer. And this probably why the Puppeteer was inserted into the background. It kind of justified this elaborate part of the trick. Still a good and even a somewhat original alibi-trick.

A letter was found inviting the victim to come to the music-room without telling anyone, signed "The Vice-Principal," which are followed by more letters asking the explorers to come to various locations in the school building – all of the letters came with a tiny piece of gold. But then the radio-transmitter vanishes, their boat is torched and two more names are added to the body-count. The last murder is a diabolical one with almost childish trickery to lure the victim into a deadly trap, but very well done and more believable than the first murder.

The Murder in the Phantom School Building has a solid premise with a great backdrop for a deadly treasure hunt and using urban explorers to pad out the cast of characters was interesting, but, besides the previously mentioned tricks, the plot was standard fare for the series. I easily spotted the murderer and the motive was the same old, same old. So, on a whole, the story is a not standout title in the series, but also a long-way from those at the bottom-rung. It's just very average.

So far this lukewarm review, but probably have something good again for my next post.


Appleby's Other Story (1974) by Michael Innes

J.I.M. Stewart was an Oxford don and a professor of English literature who, under the name of "Michael Innes," wrote close to fifty mystery novels and a passel of short stories from 1936 to 1986, which gave Appleby and the Ospreys (1986) the honor of being the last detective story to be published by a big name from the genre's Golden Age – published two full years after Gladys Mitchell's last book (The Crozier Pharaohs, 1984). So he outlived all of his contemporaries and was among the first to be brought back in print during the early 2000s.

Amazingly, I have only read a handful of mostly his earlier mysteries, such as Death at the President's Lodging (1936), Hamlet, Revenge! (1937) and Lament for a Maker (1938), while having a whole bunch of them on my shelves. So I decided to finally return to this series and randomly picked a title. You can say I hit the bulls-eye with my pick.

Appleby's Other Story (1974) is a late entry in the series, however, the story is excellent with a well put together plot and one hell of an alibi-trick!

This story begins when Sir John Appleby, retired Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, accompanies Colonel Pride, Chief Constable, to the lofty abode of Maurice Typherton. Elvedon Court lies "confidently aloof" behind a spreading lawn with two stories superimposed upon "a heavily rusticated ground floor" and the basement level had been dug deep into the ground – giving the effect of "the Perfect Cube." Two years ago, "a number of not-all-that important pictures" disappeared from the place and Typherton wanted to consult Appleby, who's "the country's acknowledged authority on art robberies," but, when they arrive at Elvedon Court, there are police cars parked outside. Maurice Typherton was shot dead following a house party.

Initially, Appleby had no inclination to get involved, but then he recognizes one of the house guests, Egon Raffaello, who's an art-dealer of ill-repute and the conversation he has with this old acquaintance convinces to get involved. A tête-à-tête interrupted by the Prodigal son, Mark Typherton, who returned home in secrecy. And now practically inherits the entire estate. Appleby begins to wander the hallways of Elvedon Courts and interviews all of the suspects.

So the story largely consists of a series of conversations and this is somewhat reminiscent of Ngiao Marsh, but this didn't result in, what is known as, "Dragging the Marsh." More importantly, Innes actually managed to achieve a very unusual effect through these wanderings and conversations.

Nick Fuller correctly observed in his review that the story has "a sense of time-warp." During the interviews, Appleby uncovers that Elvedon Court is a homely, cozier incarnation of Sodom and Gomorra with a lot bed-hopping. There's a reference to loud pop-music coming from "a domestic juke-box" during the house party and one of the characters acknowledge the story place "in the nineteen-seventies," but this makes for a weird contrast with the classical, country-house setting and ingenious plot – giving you the idea a cast of modern-day characters were transported to a 1930s country house mystery. And the alibi-trick is everything you'd expect from a great thirties detective novel.

The alibi-trick can be qualified as a quasi-impossible crime and could have been dreamed up by John Dickson Carr or Paul Halter. A particular technique, or misdirection, was used here that could have easily been used for a locked room mystery. You could argue it came close enough here to label it as one, but promised in my previous post that this would be a non-impossible crime review. But, as you can see, I can't seem to escape from those

I think this one was close enough that some would probably label it as one, but promised in my previous review that this would be a non-impossible crime review and this was part of the reason why I returned to Innes. But, as you can see, I can't seem to escape from them.

Well, this is all that can really be said about the book. Appleby's Other Story is a relatively short, conversational-style mystery novel, but has a pleasantly unusual, slightly surreal atmosphere with a plot worthy of the best from the past. A necessary reminder that Innes was better than I remember him and will try to return to him sooner rather than later. Probably with Appleby and the Ospreys.


Crime in Kensington (1933) by Christopher St. John Sprigg

Earlier this month, I reviewed The Six Queer Things (1936) by Christopher St. John Sprigg and pointed to the upcoming releases of Crime in Kensington (1933), The Perfect Alibi (1934) and Death of a Queen (1935), published by Moonstone Press, but the release date of September 10, 2018, came and went without them becoming available – leaving me a little bit disappointed. Fortunately, there was an unexpected surprise when another publisher reissued two of the titles I had been most looking forward to reading!

Black Heath has a miscellaneous catalog of Golden Age detective novels and turn-of-the-century thrillers of varying quality. There are some really good or intriguing titles on their list, such as Edward Gellibrand's The Windblow Mystery (1926), John V. Turner's Death Must Have Laughed (1932) and Nicholas Brady's outlandishly fantastic The Fair Murder (1933), but the overall quality has now risen with the single addition of Sprigg.

As of this writing, Black Heath has reissued Crime in Kensington and Death of a Queen. Hopefully, more will follow suit!

I picked the first mystery novel Sprigg ever published, Crime in Kensington, published in the United States under the suitable title Pass the Body, which always struck me as a must read for every self-respecting locked room fanboy, but John Norris, of Pretty Sinister Books, said in the comments on my review of Death of an Airman (1935) that he was not sure it was for me – warning me that I might find "the solution uninspired and underwhelming." Sure, the locked room trick was childishly easy to figure out, but the plot had so much more to offer than just an apparently miraculous disappearance. John was not entirely right this time. Did you read that, John? You were more wrong than right on this one. Suck on that!

Crime in Kensington reminded me of a lighter, but still darkly humorous, English counterpart of Anita Blackmon's Murder á la Richelieu (1937), which shares a very similar setting that becomes the backdrop of a clever, dark and gruesome crime.

Charles Venables is a monocled policeman-turned-journalist who currently works as a gossip-columnist for the Mercury, a powerful newspaper, that brings him to London. A long-time friend and romantic interest, Lady Viola Merritt, who works as a commercial artist from a residential hotel in Kensington invites him to take rooms at The Garden Hotel. She describes it as a comfortable, amazingly cheap hotel, but "there is something weird about the place" that she can't quite make out. And filled with "such odd people."

The moment Venables walked into The Garden Hotel it was like entering "the plot of a thriller of the vulgarest and most exciting description." Venables overhears how the husband of the proprietress, Mrs. Budge, threatened to slit her throat from ear to ear and meets a slightly sinister-looking, one-eyed Egyptian, named Eppoliki, who recognizes Venables – asking him if their "little hostess's game is up." Later that evening, Mrs. Budge has been put to bed with pleurisy. Or, as we so eloquently say in my country, de pleuris staat op het punt van uitbreken in The Garden Hotel. It's our way of saying shit is about to hit the fan. :)

That evening, Nurse Evans sees how Miss Sanctuary put her head round the door of the sick-room to say that Mrs. Budge is sleeping nicely when "a gloved hand emerged round the edge of the door" and "fastened about her throat." A long, drawn-out scream is followed by the slamming and locking of the door. When the door is opened by shooting the lock, Mrs. Budge and Miss Sanctuary have inexplicably vanished!

Venables is on the premise when this happened and is tasked by the Chief of the Mercury to get an angle on the case before the police, which allows him to rise from the position a special, on-the-scene correspondent to the star crime-reporter of the Mercury. Despite his monocle, wit and somewhat pompous appearance, Venables is a very different and more likable character than the detective he was obviously based on, Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey. You can really warm to him as a detective-character and he works together very well with the competent Detective Inspector Bernard Bray of Scotland Yard. Even though the latter makes a mistake or two when suspects where on the verge of spilling the beans about the hotel.

The police can do very little at this point in the story, as they have nothing to go on, but this changes when one of the hotel guests decided to hold a séance.

Miss Mumby is a terribly rich, elderly lady who "spends all her money on séances and cats" and her rooms are covered in either cat hairs or cat images. She has a large black tomcat with a torn earn, named Socrates, who she attempted to use as a bloodhound to find the missing proprietress without much success. Socrates also has a role to play at the séance, who went beserk towards the end, which lead to a gruesome discovery that lead to the police turning the hotel inside out – effectively turning their inquiry into a murder investigation. I particularly liked the scene with the hatbox and crowd of sight-seers outside of the hotel. Delightfully dark and comedic.

I can't reveal much more about the plot without giving away any vital information, but Crime in Kensington is obviously the work of a young, talented and promising, but inexperienced, mystery writer who could have become a household name had he stuck with the genre. Obviously, the problem of the locked bedroom is easily penetrated and the identity of the murderer was equally obvious. However, the why was not as easy to figure out and could have kicked myself for missing a blatant clue, or more of a hint, in this regard and then you have the secret of the hotel room, which was genuinely clever and original. Sprigg used a variation on this plot-thread in The Six Queer Things.

And then there's the excellent writing, story-telling, characters and splashes of dark humor. One scene that comes to mind is when Bray entered the room of Rev. Septimus Blood, who's obsessed with reconstructing the Coptic rites, and finds him with an embroidered cone in front of the mirror. So he groans "Oh Lord... another lunatic." That should give you an idea about the characters populating The Garden Hotel.
In summation, Crime in Kensington is a well written, proficiently plotted, but imperfect, debut from a promising mystery writer who, sadly, only got to write seven detective novels and some short stories during his short life. I really enjoyed me time with this book, even if it failed to (fully) fool me. So definitely recommended to everyone who loves a good, old-fashioned detective story.

This leaves me with one problem: what to read next? I want to immediately dip into Death of a Queen, but have already reviewed quite a few locked room novels and short stories recently. So I might do a non-impossible crime before tackling Death of a Queen. However, it's very tempting to do two Sprigg's back-to-back. But we'll see.


The Case of the Platinum Blonde (1944) by Christopher Bush

The Case of the Platinum Blonde (1944) is the twenty-eighth entry in the Ludovic Travers series and one of Christopher Bush's wartime detective novels, of which The Case of the Murdered Major (1941), The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel (1942) and The Case of the Fighting Soldier (1942) are the high spots, but Bush released his series-character from the army in 1943 – freeing him to look into crimes committed among the civilian population. And in these novels, the war only takes place in the background of the stories with references to blackouts, the Blitz, rationing and War Savings.

The Case of the Platinum Blonde is a traditional and quintessential British village mystery rife with blackmail, deceit and murder, but distinguished itself by the burden of a moral dilemma faced by Travers. A burden he shares with the reader in the final chapter.

Major Travers is out of the army and is going to spend a fortnight in Cleavesham, Sussex, to visit his sister, Helen Thornley, who has taken a small cottage in the village, while her husband is fighting in the Middle East, but before taking his leaves he drops by his old friend, Superintendent George Wharton – who has a chore for him. Wharton has a cast-iron memory for faces and collects them like one collects stamps or coins. Two years ago, Wharton saw an elderly, limping man with a grizzled beard in Cleavesham and knew he had seen him before, but can't remember where or when. And it bugs him to no end. Travers promises Wharton he'll poke around the village to see what he can turn up.

Well, it doesn't take Travers very long to identify the bearded, limping man as one Herbert Maddon. A "quite superior old man" who moved to the village nine years ago and lives at Five Oaks, but when he visited the cottage he saw a man nailing a sign to the backdoor with an ominous warning on it.

The sign warned Maddon that "THE DAY OF VENGEANCE IS AT HAND" and "THIS NIGHT SHALL THY SOUL BE REQUIRED OF THEE." A final warning was printed below it, "ABSOLUTELY FINAL WARNING," with a deadline: "TO-NIGHT, 11.00 P.M., SAME PLACE."

Curious, nosy as ever, Travers decides to make his acquaintance with this peculiar character, Augustus Porle, who impressed him as "either a crank or a lunatic" with a strong believe in the "prophetic qualities inherent in the Great Pyramid," but wisely kept quiet about what he witnessed at Maddon's cottage – something he tends to do throughout the story. On the following morning, Travers discovers Maddon's body in his cottage with a bullet in his head.

This is the point where a (sort of) two-tier investigation begins: one is the official police investigation and the second one conducted by Travers, which is more of a private inquiry and presents him with the previously mentioned moral dilemma. And this why he plays his cards close to his chest. Even waits with giving the (local) police vital information. Such as seeing the village warden, Bernard Temple, entering the cottage after he discovered the murder and taking money from the Maddon's wallet before kicking the dead man in the ribs – preferring to rectify this matter himself. So this alone makes the book an interesting variation on the village mystery, but the story gets really good when Wharton reenters the picture.

I commented in past reviews how much I enjoy it when Travers and Wharton work together, because they play off each other so well.

Wharton calls Travers "the world's prize theorist" and has been profiting from his theories ever since their friendship began, but Travers admits his "average is one theory right in every three." And when Wharton has a theory, it isn't "an airy flashing thing," but usually "the genuine article." So on more than one occasion, such as in the wartime trilogy, Wharton was able to beat Travers to the solution and this adds another layer of enjoyment to these books. Travers and Wharton have genuine respect for one another, but don't always see eye to eye on their respective methods, such as Travers' predilection for secrecy or Wharton's handling of suspects, which are both on display in The Case of the Platinum Blonde.

In my opinion, Bush nailed the relationship between the professional and amateur detective in a way like no other mystery writer from his time did. But let's get back to the story.

Wharton is friends with the Chief Constable, Major Chavelle, who's wife, Thora, emerges as a serious suspect based on such clues as hairs, lip-sticked cigarette-ends and the lingering smell of her perfume in Maddon's cottage. Even more damning, Wharton demolished her clumsily contrives alibi, but did she really pull the trigger? And why? This question makes up a big part of the plot along with the side-plots like where Wharton had seen Maddon before. And who he really is. Why Porle nailed that sign to the door and why he disappeared after the murder and a multi-faceted blackmail plot that appeared to have engulfed the entire village of Cleavesham. So this makes the book one of Bush's more twisted detective stories in the literal sense of the word.

A second murder is committed quite late in the book and this one gives Bush an opportunity to wheel out one of his trademark alibi-tricks, one as clever as it's risky and probably hard to actually pull off, but watching Bush tinker with one of these tricks is as satisfying as a well put together locked room illusion – as well as providing the plot with a partial false solution. Travers tells the full story to the murderer and reader in the last chapter. How much you'll end up enjoying the book, as a whole, depends on your moral compass. I suspect many readers today would probably frown upon how Travers handled this case and his moral dilemma.

Kate of Cross Examining Crime reviewed The Case of the Platinum Blonde in 2017 and my impression is that she wanted to slap the horn-rimmed glasses off his face, while giving him a lecture about morals, ethics and the law. I, on the other hand, always ask myself one question when confronted with this kind of quandary in a detective story: what would Dr. Gideon Fell or Sir Henry Merrivale do in this kind of situation? ;) So, yeah, my response was only slight annoyance that Travers couldn't make up his mind. I would have been fine either way the chips had fallen down, because, while the murderer deserved some sympathy, there was one part of the plan that's hard to excuse. And deserved some kind of repercussions.

On a whole, The Case of the Platinum Blonde is another great detective novel by Bush, full of twists, turns and clues, which gives the reader an opportunity to reach the same conclusion as Travers by the end of the story, but the ending might rub some readers the wrong way. Anyway, I'll probably do another trio of reviews, back-to-back, next month, because I'm sure Dean Street Press will be releasing the fourth batch of reprints before the end of the year.


These Daisies Told: The Casebook of Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie (2018) by Arthur Porges

Back in September, 2017, I reviewed Arthur Porges' No Killer Has Wings: The Casebook of Dr. Joel Hoffman (2017), a slim, 86-page volume comprising half a dozen short detective stories, which were first published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine during the early 1960s and finally brought back into print by Richard Simms – who runs The Arthur Porges Fan Site and Richard Simms Publications. I closed my review with the comment that, hopefully, the next collection would gather the stories from the Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie series.

Simms posted in the comment-section that he was seriously considering doing such a collection and eventually received an email from him telling me that he was working on another volume, entitled These Daisies Told: The Casebook of Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie (2018), which was released in early September.

So that was surprisingly fast considering there was less than a year between my suggestion and publication, but very much appreciated.

The series consists of eleven stories and were mostly published in the previously mentioned Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, from 1962 to 1964, with only two of them appearing in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and This Week – a Sunday magazine supplement to The Los Angeles Times, The Salt Lake Tribune and The Cincinnati Enquirer. A final story was published more than a decade later in the May, 1975, issue of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine. This is the first time they appear in print together.

Prof. Ulysses Price Middlebie is a retired Professor Emeritus of the History and Philosophy of Science. A keen ornithologist and devout naturalist who began to apply his scientific knowledge in the field of criminology when a former pupil, Detective Sergeant Black, asked his advice in a disappearance case and he has kept coming back ever since – usually with a seemingly impossible problem. I should mention that not every story in this collection is, strictly speaking, an impossible crime or locked room story. They're all howdunits with seven, or so, qualifying as (quasi) impossible crime stories. So a nice little feast for fans of the pure, puzzle-driven detective story.

The opening story, "These Daisies Told," introduces the reader to Prof. Middlebie and how "his universal grasp of nature" helped him to acquire "his niche as consultant in crime" when a former pupil turned up on his doorstep with a tantalizing problem.

Detective Sergeant Black knows Dale Corsi murdered his wife, who has been gone for a week, but is unable to locate the body. A problem exacerbated by the fact that they lived on a small ranch quite off the main highway. So there are more than enough place where Corse could have secreted the body, but Middlebie's mind houses a rich depository of knowledge about the natural world and this helped him spot the hidden location of the body without too much trouble – revealing a truly clever way to dispose of a body. Apparently, Porges thought this was "one of his cleverest ideas" and you can hardly disagree with him. My only complaint is that the central clue required specialized knowledge to get an inkling of the solution. Still a good opening to a solid collection.

The second story, "The Unguarded Path," has a unique premise for a locked room mystery: Middlebie is not asked to help his one-time pupil, Detective Sergeant Black, to solve an impossible crime, but to prevent one from happening. An angle that had never been used before.

Franklin Devoe was the lawyer for the Syndicate and knows "where all the bodies are buried," which makes his ex-employers very nervous, because Devoe is ready to talk and they sicked their best contract killer on him. Joe Vasta is described by Black as "a kind of criminal Professor Middlebie" with a habit of sending "a whole series of letters to the man he's after" and is behind a string of mob hits that "left the police flatfooted" – now he has been sending letters to Devoe promising he'll be dead before he can appear before the Grand Jury. The police has Devoe "covered the way they watched Khrushchev when he came to New York" and his estate is a locked up as tight as a drum with guards patrolling the grounds.

So Black asks his former professor to help prevent a murder that could not possibly happen and Middlebie uses his scientific knowledge to show him "an unguarded path for murder" that "most houses have." The idea of this unguarded path is almost on par with the idea of the Judas window from Carter Dickson's homonymously titled The Judas Window (1938). Easily one of my favorite stories from this collection!

The next story is "The Missing Bow" and the plot is odd one that doesn't really work for me. Howard Cole used to manage a sporting goods store, but more importantly, he was "an expert archer." He even did all trick shots for a Robin Hood TV-series. That all ended when Victor Borden rammed his car into Cole's that killed his wife and 8-year-old daughter. Cole lost an arm and was so mangled below the waist he can only hobble around now, however, he somehow managed to fire an arrow into Borden, but was practically caught in the act in a blind alley and here the problem begins – no weapon, like a bow or crossbow, was found on him. And there was no place or time to hide one. Not to mention the physical impossibility of loosening an arrow with one arm.

Middlebie finds the solution to this conundrum in an old, dusty tome from 1903 and the explanation is legitimate, but unconvincing and Porges must have realized this, because a lot of emphasize is placed on the motive. This is a trick requiring a very dedicated and driven murderer. So it might work for some readers, but I was not impressed by it.

The fourth entry is a short-short, "Small, Round Man from Texas," which reminded me of the shorter works and radio-plays by Ellery Queen. Black and Middlebie assist a French policeman, Inspector Paul Hermite Rameau, to capture a master thief, Cauchy Fourier Boussinesq, who's internationally known as the Chameleon. A man of six feet five inches tall, but has a talent for illusions to make himself unnoticeable and this short-short is a demonstration of his talent. And, no, Porges didn't copy-paste the solution from John Dickson Carr's The Crooked Hinge (1938). So, this was really short, but fun, little story.

The next story is another short-short, "Blood Will Tell," in which Black poses an impossible challenge to Middlebie: a multi murderer is about to go off scot-free unless they can get a blood sample, but the suspect simply refuses to give them a sample and has claimed everything from religious objections to the Fifth Amendment. So the courts has warned Black not "to touch his sacred veins" or else. Middlebie has a trick up his sleeve to get a blood sample and this makes for yet another very short, but incredibly fun, short-short story. As an aside, I think "Blood Without Violence" would have been better title for this impossible challenge.

The next story is one of Porges' best locked room stories, entitled "Coffee Break," which ranks alongside "No Killer Has Wings" and reviewed it separately back in April. So I'll skip it to keep this post as brief as possible. However, one thing I'll note here is that this story finds Middlebie with a taped ankle and this injury forces him to act as an armchair detective in the next couple of stories. And there are numerous comparisons to Mycroft Holmes in them.

The seventh story, "A Model Crime," is minor one and deals with the theft of eight ounces of custom-built transistors from the heavily guarded and secured premises of Morton Electronics, which are worth about twenty-one thousand dollars – "quite a haul." Only a handful of dependable engineers had access to the locked room where the transistors are being kept and taking them from the plant is next to impossible, because the place is run like Fort Knox or Area 51. The method is actually not bad and very practical, given the circumstances, but not as impressive in 2018 as it probably was in 1964.

Next up is "To Barbecue a White Elephant" and the problem of the story is somewhat reminiscent of "The Scientist and the Time Bomb" from The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey (2009).

Black brings a baffling case or arson to Middlebie: a man has inherited a house, or white elephant, which is highly taxed and comes with barely any income. The house is tied to the estate and, if he abandons it, he forfeits the annuity and other benefits. So the man goes on a two-month holiday to Mexico City, a thousand miles from the house, while the place is locked up and closely watched by a security company. After six weeks, "a fire of unknown origin levels the building." Middlebie is tasked with finding out whether there's something like an incendiary device with a six week delayed time-fuse. A clever, scientific detective story with nifty gimmick that's not as insane as the fifteen year fuse from "Time Bomb." You really have to read that Grey story to believe it.

The following story is titled "The Puny Giant" and has an unusual impossible problem. A woman was found dead in the middle of large lawn battered to death by "a broken chunk of solid concrete" that weighed over ninety pounds. Only problem is that Black's primary suspect is her scrawny, sixteen-year-old adopted son who could not have lifted the chunk of concrete to deliver the deadly blows. However, I figured out this trick when his hobbies were mentioned. Still a pretty good yarn with a couple of slightly unsettling final lines.

The next story is "The Symmetrical Murder" and concerns the death of Howard Davis Valind, "a cancer-quack" or "mass-murderer," who preyed on the fatally ill, but was justly murdered when staying at a seaside hotel. He was killed when standing on the balcony to feed the birds when he was smacked in the head by "something moderately heavy and fast-moving" or "something massive," but a lot slower moving. However, the balcony was roofed and the hotel room had been locked from the inside. So how was he killed? I actually figured out the method based on the story-title and remembering a locked room novella with almost exactly the same impossible situation and explanation. I'm sure this is merely a coincidence, because you would expect a writer of scientific mysteries to hit upon a trick like this one.

On a side note, why do so many detective stories force the reader root for the murderer? I try to be a good boy, I really do, but even Middlebie here called the victim a swine who preyed on "the most pitifully helpless human beings." And told Black he would not cry if he failed to build a court case against the murderer.

Finally, this volume ends with the 1975 story, "Fire for Peace," in which Black and Middlebie is confronted the bad combination of "fire and fanaticism." A chemical plant full of inflammable material is working on a nerve gas, but the place is targeted by an arsonist who, inexplicable, has started a dozen fires on the premise and has been sending letters taunting them – all signed "Committee of One, for Peace." The solution here, like "The Missing Bow" is taken from history, but this one was a lot easier to swallow. A good story and decent ending to this altogether too short a series.

On a whole, These Daisies Told: The Casebook of Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie proved to be an excellent collection of short stories and showed Porges was a genuine maverick when it came to dreaming up miraculous crimes with often very original explanations. Something that's exemplified by such stories as "The Unguarded Path" and "Coffee Break."

Personally, I can't wait the for the upcoming entries in this ongoing series and the next volume is titled The Price of a Princess: Hardboiled Crime Fiction (2019), which I hope will be of the same quality as Edmund Crispin's surprisingly hardboiled short story, "The Pencil," from Fen Country: Twenty-Six Stories (1979). After that, there's a good chance Simm will compile a volume with the four Julian Morse Trowbridge impossible crime stories with the eleven uncollected, standalone locked room stories. And that would give us an almost complete collection of Porges' locked room fiction. The key word there is almost. I hope that Simms will also consider re-reprinting Eight Problems in Space: The Ensign De Ruyter Stories (2008) and The Adventures of Stately Homes and Sherman Horn (2008).

So we have potentially a lot to look forward to on the Porges front!


Murder Most Ingenious (1962) by Kip Chase

I really, really like impossible crime fiction and currently have more than four-hundred of my nearly nine-hundred blog-posts tagged with the "locked room mystery" label. It made me wonder how many of titles listed in Robert Adey's recently reissued Locked Room Murders (1991) I have read and, if would tally all of the novels, novellas and short stories, I would probably be able to cross out nearly 50% of this comprehensive bibliography of the locked room sub-genre – likely somewhere between 800-900 titles. And that's a conservative estimate.

In my defense, a good chunk of that number comes from prolific locked room practitioners like John Dickson Carr, G.K. Chesterton, John Russell Fearn, Edward D. Hoch, Arthur Porges and Bill Pronzini. I'll probably do a tally in the future.

One title I can now scratch out is the modestly titled Murder Most Ingenious (1962) by "Kip Chase," a pseudonym of Trevett Coburn Chase, who wrote his first mystery novel, Where There's a Will (1961), on "a Remington portable typewriter on the fender of a Ford panel truck parked along the coastline of Trinidad." The book was published by a British publisher, Hammond, Hammond & Co, who ordered two more books, Murder Most Ingenious and Killer Be Killed (1963), which were "dictated to a tape recorder" while Chase commuted to his work – ending when his publisher was absorbed by another company that did not publish detective novels. So he only got to write three of them.

That's a damn shame, because Chase basically was a next generation Golden Age mystery writer who combined a more modern, up-to-date style of story-telling and characterization with a classical, traditionally-structured plot. The impossible crime element is practically unique. So let's dig in!

Hubert Goodall is an estate owner from Palos Verdes Peninsula, California, whose income from the family holding allows him to live in comparative luxury and run his own, second-rate art gallery from a building on the estate. A building that will play a not unimportant part in the story. Anyway, Goodall also "participated vigorously in civic activities" and is particularly concerned with keeping the Peninsula as it is, quiet en peaceful, which is why he turned to an unsavory character, Jock Harrison, who had survived "the wild, free-swinging prohibition days" – now he manipulated real estate deals, managed legitimate night clubs and dabbled in blackmail. Goodall wants Harrison to force a man, named Jack Christie, out of the Sleeping Hills Development. Simply to keep the peninsula as it is.

The subsequent chapters introduces the character who are, in various ways, connected to either Goodall or Harrison and will play their role in the impending murder of the former.

Firstly, there are the three heroic veterans of the Korean War of 1950-53, George Craig, Tony Ortega and John Williams, who came back from Korea with "a bucketful of medals" and the press had dubbed them The Three Musketeers. After the war, Craig became a painter and Goodall made him member of the Board of Directors of the Peninsula Art Association, which is a position he used to get Ortega a job in Goodall's art gallery. His lovely wife, Pat Craig, is a night-club singer with a past link to Harrison, but Williams, a genius when it comes to electronics, is only connected to Goodall and Harrison through Craig and Ortega. These are three very important characters in the overall story, but there are more: Geraldine and Jennifer Goodall, who are the wife and granddaughter of Hubert Goodall, but there's also the owner of the Swinging Times, Willie Delaney, and one of his waitresses, Jeanie. Both of whom are associated with Harrison. And Jeanie had a special role in the scheme to ensnare Christie.

However, before their blackmail scheme can be set in motion, Goodall is brutally gutted in the office of his art gallery and the safe had been drilled open, which happened to contain the only valuable picture they had on loan from San Francisco Coberly Collection – a Gauguin that had been neatly cut from its frame. Only problem is that the office can only be entered, or exited, through a corridor that goes pass a desk with an all-night guard. The guard swears nobody entered or left while he had been on duty and the man is put through the wringer by the police, but never deviated from his story. So Detective-Lieutenant Horowitz is stuck with a seemingly impossible knifing.

Fortunately, he gets help from a retired, wheelchair-bound colleague, Justine Carmichael, who used to be the well-known, highly regarded Chief of the Homicide Division. Despite his handicap and being far pass the retirement age, Carmichael is often called upon by his former colleagues as a special consultant and is paid from a special fund. Carmichael is pretty much a predecessor of the TV-detective Ironside.

Carmichael is not merely an armchair detective who reasons from a wheelchair. He drives around in a specially adjusted car to pay personal visits to suspects, views the body at the morgue and inspects the crime-scene on several occasions – picking up hints and clues to the murderer and method as he goes along. The clueing here is a dead giveaway that Murder Most Ingenious is a detective story written and plotted along classical lines punctuated by the excellent locked room situation of the gallery-office and its original solution.

Mike Grost mentioned on his website, when discussing Helen McCloy's The Further Side of Fear (1967), that "the late 1960s is an atypical era in mystery history for a writer to develop an interest in locked room puzzles." I think the entire 1960s is a period unlikely to be associated impossible crime fiction, but have come across quite a few over the past year or two. Some of them were quite innovative.

You have Robert Arthur's The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy (1965), The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure (1966) and the massively underrated "The Glass Bridge" from Mystery and More Mystery (1966). A.C. Baantjer's Een strop voor Bobby (A Noose for Bobby, 1963), Leo Bruce's Nothing Like Blood (1962), Robert Colby's In a Vanishing Room (1961), Paul Gallico's Too Many Ghosts (1961), Robert van Gulik's The Red Pavilion (1961), Helen McCloy's excellent Mr. Splitfoot (1968), Martin Méroy's Meartre en chambre noir (Murder in a Darkened Room, 1965) and Donald Westlake's Murder Among Children (1967). And then there are the numerous short stories by Hoch and Porges. So it's interesting to see how many good locked room mysteries were actually being published during this dark decade for traditional detective-fiction. Who knows? Maybe John Norris was right that we were too hasty with completely writing off the sixties. He was right about the 1950s. 

All in all, Murder Most Ingenious definitely lived up to its book-title. A cleverly written and plotted detective story that harked back to the glory days of the genre, but the ending also showed the dark grittiness of the modern crime story. And the reader got a glimpse of a darker, more dangerous, side of the gray-haired, wheelchair bound retiree. However, even that was more classical than modern, because the morally questionable action of Carmichael can be found as far back as Sherlock Holmes and (more memorably) used by such writers as H.C. Bailey, Gladys Mitchell and Rex Stout. Chase can now be added to that list.

Murder Most Ingenious well worth the effort of tracking down for fans of the traditional-styled detective story and the locked room mystery. You can definitely expect Chase to make another appearance or two on this blog.