The Case of the Magic Mirror (1943) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush's The Case of the Magic Mirror (1943) is the twenty-sixth entry in the Ludovic Travers series and here the influence of the tough, hardboiled school began to show with its first-person narration by the detective, "the dissolute rich" and "scheming femmes fatales" – changing Travers from a prim intellectual to a genteel private-investigator. However, the plot hearkened back to the more elaborate, Golden Age baroque-style detective stories from the early days of the series (c.f. The Case of the April Fools, 1933). The book even begins with a sporting challenge to the reader.

The Case of the Magic Mirror begins in the Spring, of 1942, with Travers recovering from an operation that removed "a lump of shrapnel from a premature bomb." So he has enough time on his hands to tell the story of one of the most unusual murder cases he had been unofficially connected to, but the solution was "so absurdly simple" that some wonder why they haven't "seen it from the very first."

To cement his claim, Travers tells the reader that in the next paragraph is "the germ of that simple solution" allowing you, the reader, "to solve the whole thing well before the last page" and prove your mettle as an armchair detective – which is an excellent example of fair play. Right off the bat, Bush gives away a clue as a freebie! This is exactly why he has become one of my favorite Golden Age mystery writers.

The story Travers has to tell took place shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, but the case has its roots in an earlier swindle affair and a big, headline grabbing 1937 trial. Five men were charged and convicted for fleecing thousands of pounds from race-horse bookies by tampering with the time-stamps of telegrams, which were used to wire bets to the bookies. These convictions were secured with the testimonies of the "socially dubious" Joe Passman and one of the accused, Rupert Craigne, ensuring most of them got "a couple of years apiece," which infuriated one of them, Patrick Sivley – who worked as Passman's chauffeur. And, as he's dragged out of court, he screams he will get them even "if it's the last thing I do."

Enter Joe Passman's stepdaughter, Charlotte Craigne, who's married to Rupert and, once upon a time, she had been Travers' sole indiscretion in life.

Charlotte is completely devoted to Rupert, but financially depended on Passman and suspects he masterminded the bookie-swindling case. So she turns to her ex-lover, Travers, to use his detective skills to dig up dirt on Passman, which she wants to use as blackmail material. So why would Travers agree to take part in this scheme? Charlotte hands him a snapshot of a small boys and tells him its his son! A son she gave birth to after their relationship ended. If he refuses to help her, Charlotte promises him to send his wife all the prove of his bastard son. So he has no choice but to acquiesce.

However, Travers makes plans "to clip the lady's claws" and engages a private-detective, Edward "Eddie" Franks, to not only help him with the Passman end of the swindling affair, but also help him disprove his paternity by identifying the boy in the photograph, which is one of the things that reminded me of the early books in the series – when John Franklin, an inquiry agent of Durangos Limited, assisted Travers and Superintendent George Wharton (e.g. The Perfect Murder Case, 1929). So far, this appears to be a relatively simple, straightforward case, but then the murders happened. And those murders is another thing that reminded me of the earlier books.

Before his fall from grace, Rupert Craigne was a famously conceited actor and, upon his release, he has been making a public exhibition of himself by loudly proclaiming his innocence in public.

One day, Charlotte gets a letter from Rupert telling her that he's going to a seaside place, called Trimport, to "collect a crowd" and "tell them a few things." Theatrically, Rupert was standing in a small boat addressing the scores of swimmers and the people crowded at the water's edge. A rifle-shot silences the actor as he falls backwards into the sea. Charlotte and Travers witnesses the murder, but the worst is yet to come. When they return to the manor house, the place is crawling with police. Joe Passman has been stabbed to death around the same time Rupert Craigne was shot!

These multiple, closely-timed and tightly intertwined murders were a staple of Bush's detective novels from the 1930s and he got a lot of mileage out of exploring the possibilities this premise has to offer. Some notable examples are Dead Man Twice (1930), Dancing Death (1931), The Case of the Bonfire Body (1936), The Case of the Tudor Queen (1938) and the previously mentioned The Case of the April Fools. This time the murders are complicated when two people go missing: Sivley had been spotted near the house around the time of Passman's murder and this is assumed to have been the reason why he bolted, but the old, dutiful butler of the place, Matthews, appears to have "simply walked out of the house" – vanishing without a trace or reason. Lastly, there the titular mirror, which was taken from the wall and replaced by a framed print.

The Case of the Magic Mirror has all the ingredients of a first-rate detective novel. An intricately-linked double murder plot, a cat-and-mouse game with a dangerous, beautifully characterized dame and personal angle for the protagonist. Travers is not only blackmailed, but circumstances forces him to pull the wool over the eyes of the old war-horse, Superintendent George "The General" Wharton. Always a tricky thing to do. Even more so to someone he respects as a friendly rival and considers to be a friend. Or what about keeping his wife in the dark about his past with Charlotte? Consequently, Travers emerges from this story "a trifle shop-soiled."

In spite of the rich, busy plot with multiple moving parts and a quasi-impossible alibi-trick, the whole scheme was as transparent as a child's lie and this made the intended surprise solution fall flat on its face. However, I have to give props to Bush for the trickery behind the first murder. Some parts of the trick are a little difficult to swallow, which mainly has to do with time and timing, but not entirely impossible to pull off under those circumstances. As an aside, a far more famous mystery writer used a slight variation on this trick in one of his latter, lesser-known detective novels.

So, on a whole, The Case of the Magic Mirror failed to secure a place among the top-rank titles in the series and not recommended to readers who are new to the series, but the close ties Travers has to the case and how he handled it makes it a must-read to fans of Bush.


Unrest at Raubrakken (1935) by A. Roothaert

Anton Roothaert was a Dutch lawyer, writer and a pesky gadfly of the Roman Catholic Church, who agitated against "the suffocating influence" of the Catholic Church in the southern provinces of the Netherlands, best remembered today for his streekromans (regional novels) about a clumsy veterinarian from Brabant, Dr. Vlimmen – who appeared in a trilogy of novels. More importantly, Roothaert produced half-a-dozen mystery novels and a stage-play.

The first four novels, Spionage in het veldleger (Espionage in the Field Army, 1933), Onbekende dader (Unknown Culprit, 1933), Chinese handwassing (Chinese Handwashing, 1934) and Onrust op Raubrakken (Unrest at Raubrakken, 1935), were written during the Golden Decade of the genre's Golden Age. Nearly two decades later, De wenteltrap (The Spiral Staircase, 1949) and Een avondje in Muscadin (An Evening in Muscadin, 1952; co-written with J. Romijn) were published. These two short-lived flings as a mystery novelist was punctuated with Gevaarlijk speelgoed (Dangerous Toys, 1954). A play that reportedly has never been performed on stage.

After all the Danish, French and Japanese mystery reviews, I wanted to return to a Golden Age period detective novel from my own country and began sifting through Roothaert's work.

This turned up two titles, Unknown Culprit and Unrest at Raubrakken, which appeared to adhere to the traditions of their Anglo counterparts and settled on the most traditional-looking of the two, but the story turned out to be more in line with the work of French mystery writers from the early 1930s – such as Gaston Boca, Pierre Véry and Noël Vindry. Going by the French-speaking characters in the book, I assume Roothaert was proficient in French. So it's not entirely impossible that he was not only aware of these early French mystery writers, but might have even been influenced by them.

Unrest at Raubrakken is Roothaert's fourth published mystery novel and has messy, loosely told first half, which was obviously done to cover-up a massive coincidence needed to bring two different sets of characters together.

During the opening chapters, the reader is introduced to small, shady group of people who had to scramble in a hurry to escape from the Belgian gendarme. One of them is a 19-year-old woman, Annebet van Asseldonck, whose older brother, Loe, is part of the gang, but she had no idea what they were up to in that blacked-out room in the house they had rented. One day, Loe told her she had five minutes to pack and not to leave a scrap of evidence, because they were going to the Netherlands, but, in the pell-mell, they got separated and she was left behind with the crusty Dekema and amorously-minded Maurice – which made her think "she was surrendered to the Turks." So she gave them the slip and took along a mysterious briefcase.

A midnight game of hide-and-seek in a dark, damp forest brings a cold, hungry and exhausted Annebet to an old country estate, the Raubrakken, on the border with Belgium.

The place is the property of Jan-Karei van Neeritter Eckberts, lord of the manor, but "never a drop of blue blood" was spilled in his bloodline. Jan-Karei is not your typical country gentleman. He's a young, 25-year-old man who prefers to spend the entire day in bed reading hefty tomes on (criminal) psychology, which made me suspect he was going to be the detective of the story. Jan-Karei made some Sherlock Holmes-like deductions in the beginning and even helped capturing one of the gang members.

Maurice turned up at Raubrakken, out of nowhere, under a false name and attempted to scam 15,000 guldens from Jan-Karei, which is close to 145,000 euros in today's money. Or nearly 165,000 dollars for you Americans. But he astutely spotted the flaw in a falsified document.

However, the detectives turned out to be two policemen, Inspector Piron and Deputy-Inspector Fluyt, of the Centrale Opsporingsdienst (Central Investigations), who can get to work when the book finally begins to resemble a proper detective story – which is somewhere around the halfway mark. Maurice makes a spectacular escape from his prison cell. Jan-Karei receives a warning letter requesting the return of a wallet and a bullet is fired through the window of his library when he was having guests. And the next day, the library becomes the scene of a seemingly impossible murder!

First of all, I swear I had absolutely no idea Unrest at Raubrakken was going to turn into a full-fledged impossible crime story towards the end. I was completely taken by surprise, but oh boy, what an impossible crime!

One of Jan-Karei's house-guests is a Dutch-American retiree, Mr. Weider, who's sitting in an armchair in the library when a shot was fired through the broken window, but the shooter outside had to be trapped, because every exit was either blocked, locked or under observation. Piron and Fluyt were two of the eye-witnesses who swear the shooter could have escaped without either being captured or seen. So how did the murderer manage to "immediately vanish like a ghost" after firing the kill shot?

I unreasonably love this trick! An open-air locked room with an explanation reminiscent of John Rhode, which cleverly reinvented an old idea, but what made me love it is how incredibly Dutch it was. On top of that, the shooting is expertly hitched to a very nifty alibi-trick.

Unfortunately, the elaborate trick and impossible murder are the only really good aspects of the story and plot. The story telling is everything but smooth. The characterization is paper-thin even by my standards. The murderer stood out like a sore thumb and clueing was kept at a minimum, while Piron limited his detective work to uttering cryptic remarks and finding those few clues needed to reconstruct the murderer's trick. A very good trick, but was it enough to save an otherwise mediocre mystery novel? Well... sort of.

All things considered, Unrest at Raubrakken should have been a resounding disappointment, but the unexpected, surprisingly good and typically Dutch locked room-trick was, as we call it over here, a goedmakertje (a small compensation) – which makes it impossible for me to hate this book. What can I say? Sometimes, I'm very easy to please. This is one those times.


The Locked Room Reader X: My Five Favorite Impossible Crime Stories from Case Closed, vol. 1-69

Previously, I reviewed volume 69 of Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, a long-running Japanese detective anime/manga series published in the non-English speaking world as Detective Conan, which is littered with often original, cleverly contrived locked room and impossible crime stories – some of these stories are absolute gems. So, with the release of volume 70 earlier this month, the time had finally come to slap together a best-of list. I managed to keep my list limited to five stories that impressed me for various reasons.

My first pick is known as "The Mist Tengu Case," collected in volume 11, in which Conan Edogawa solves a seemingly impossible murder in a mountain temple haunted by the titular Tengu. A long-nosed goblin who is held responsible for hanging a priest from a beam inside a small, but tall, wooden temple tower with unscalable walls. The locked tower-trick is as ingenious as it's original, but one that only works and is acceptable in comic book format. Still a highly recommendable story with a good plot and setting.

The next story is "The Loan Shark Murder Case," collected in volume 15, which has one of the best and cleverest poisoning-tricks of the entire series.

A loan shark is poisoned with potassium cyanide in his office. However, the whole building had been secured from the inside and everything is tested for traces of cyanide, such as the money the victim had been counting, but without result – until the brilliantly titled chapter, "The Devil's Summons," reveals the trick. A devilishly simplistic, but oh-so effective, trick that makes this story a minor locked room classic.

"The Magic Lovers Case" can be found in volume 20 and brings Conan to a snowbound lodge, where an online group of magic enthusiasts have gathered, but dark magic seems to be at work when a member of the group is murdered under apparently impossible circumstances. His body is found outside the lodge, sprawled in the middle of a field of snow, which is virginal and unbroken without a single footprint going to, or coming from, the body.

In my opinion, the no-footprints scenario is the trickiest and most difficult of all impossible crimes to do successfully, because the physical nature of these tricks eliminates misdirection from the equation in most cases and admired Aoyama's unique approach to the problem – a very technical and elaborate trick. These complex tricks work admirably well in the comic book format, because you're shown had it was done.

The next story, "The Detective Koshien Case," is spread out over two volumes, 54 and 55, which is somewhat of a landmark story in the series.

Conan Edogawa and Harley Hartwell travel to an abandoned house, on a deserted island, to take part in a reality TV special about the "Teen Detectives" of Japan. The participants are the high-school detectives of the North and South, Yunya Tokitsu and Natsuki Koshimizu. Harley Hartwell represents the West and Jimmy Kudo the East, but, since he's there as Conan Edogawa, his place is taken by Saguru Hakuba – who previously appeared in volume 30. This reality show becomes a deadly game when one of the detectives, Tokitsu, is bludgeoned to death in an upstairs room of the abandoned house with the door and windows locked or fastened from the inside.

Granted, the solution reworks an old locked room-trick, but it was a skillfully done job and the whole story felt like a big deal with a strong crossover vibe. And the story has one of the most memorable and likable murderers in the series.

Finally, the list appropriately closes with my favorite impossible crime story, "The Poisonous Coffee Case," which can be found in volume 60. A melancholic, character-driven locked room story with a dark, rainy and noir-ish atmosphere. An immoral TV executive, Raisaku Nakame, is poisoned behind the chain-locked door of his top-floor condo. Evidence at the scene, such as coffee stains, suggests someone else had been in the room after he had died. But how did this person manage to get away?

The original solution to the impossible poisoning is superb and a heart breaker. A genuinely sad story and one of the best stories in the entire series. If you read only one Detective Conan story in your life, it should be this one.

And that brings this filler-post to an end. I want to return to a regular, novel-length detective story for my next read, but might do one more multiple short story review. So... stay tuned to find out.


Yokai Attack: Case Closed, vol. 69 by Gosho Aoyama

In my previous post, I reviewed a short story by Rintaro Norizuki, "Toshi densetsu pazuru" ("An Urban Legend Puzzle," 2001), which cleverly used the popularity of urban legends as a premise for a good, old-fashioned detective story, but Japan is home to much older, often more rural legends of monsters, spirits and demons – commonly known as yokai. The legend of the single most famous yokai in Japan is at the heart of a Detective Conan story.

The 69th volume of Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, published in most countries as Detective Conan, opens with Richard Moore, Rachel and Conan traveling to the Kora Inn, in the village of Kuchibashi in Gunma, to meet with a client.

Moore had received a letter alluding to a murder that had happened there 11 years ago and asked him to use his "remarkable deduction skills" to the clear the name of the writer, which was signed Mika Tatezato. However, the local police told Moore that there was no murder in that village 11 years ago. Mika Tatezato is not a name that figures on their wanted list.

As to be expected, Moore's client no-shows their appointment and it appears he has fallen for a very unfunny prank, but along the way, they learn a child was drowned in the river and the police concluded that the boy got his foot stuck between some rocks along the riverbank – before drowning in a flash flood. But why was the boy playing in the water in January? More interestingly, the region is rife with legends of the Kappa, "water monsters that lure the unwary," of which there was a rash of sightings 12 or 13 years ago. Rachel even spots one near the riverbank on their first day in the village.

On the following morning, the father of the boy and inn keeper is found dead in a dimly lit attic room overlooking the river. His body was drenched in "a putrid fishy-smelling liquid." As if the Kappa had grabbed him and "dragged him into the depths of a swamp."

This is an excellent story that was very reminiscent of Gladys Mitchell's Death and the Maiden (1947), in which two young boys are drowned in a river following sightings of naiads (water nymphs), but Aoyama crafted a much tighter plot. The central puzzle of how the putrid water was brought from the swamp to the attic can be classed as a quasi-impossible situation, but here the trick is used to establish an unusual kind of alibi. My only complaint is that the murderer telegraphed his identity to the reader practically from the start. However, this was more than made up with the tragically misunderstood motive and sad ending. An excellent story with good atmosphere and back-story. Easily the best story in this volume.

The second story brings Doc Agasa, Conan, Anita and the Junior Detective League to a hot spring resort. Doc Agasa has invented a gadget for the owner of the hot springs, but lately, it has been malfunctioning and he has been asked to repair it. So he brought along the kids.

At the resort, they find out that the hot springs is used by a film crew to shoot a remake of the greatest movie in The Bloodsteam Hitman franchise, The Crimson Spring-Head, which is about a hitman who works at a hot spring and in the movie he "creates a perfect locked room murder" – solution to this fictional murder is briefly used as a false solution. Unsurprisingly, the screenwriter is murdered in one of the hot springs, but these are lake-top hot springs and you can only reach the pavilions by crossing a bridge. Nobody crossed between the time the victim entered, early in the morning, and when the body was found. It's a locked room murder on a lake!

This is another good story with a solid plot, but, sort of, figured out the plot. However, I was only able to do this because the locked room situation was very reminiscent of an obscure, little-known impossible crime novel from the 1950s. I doubt Aoyama has read the book, but I thought the similarities were still interesting.

The third story is an inverted mystery in which Hoshie Urai plots to murder her husband, Taruto Urai, who are president and vice-president of Urai Confections. He's specialized sweet candies and she's specialized in sour, which she uses to poison him during party and gave herself an unshakable alibi. Unfortunately, Richard Moore starred in a commercial for their Spy Chocolate White, "an ultra-sour white chocolate," which landed him an invitation to the party, along with Conan and Rachel – who is promptly used by Hoshie to cement her alibi. You'll never be able to figure out the poisoning-trick, because it requires a specialized piece of knowledge. One part of the trick could potentially have killed the murderer. Cyanide is not something you want to have on your skin.

On a whole, a pretty decent, but not especially good, detective story. This series has had better stories and two of them preceded this one.

The last two chapters begin a story that will be concluded in the next volume and has Conan, Anita and the Junior Detective League a dark, empty house filled with fragments of mysterious piano music. And diary entries hinting that a murder has taken place.

All in all, this was a great volume opening with the beautifully-done Kappa story followed by a good locked room mystery and a passable inverted mystery. Ending with the promise of another good story. So I was very satisfied.


Modern Myths: "An Urban Legend Puzzle" (2001) by Rintaro Norizuki

Rintaro Norizuki is a Japanese mystery writer, a founding member of the shin honkaku (neo-orthodox) movement, who began, like so many writers in this movement, as a member of the Kyoto University Mystery Club – before officially debuting with Mippei kyoshitsu (The Locked Classroom, 1988). One of many Japanese detective novels I would like to see translated in the future.

The Exploits of Rintaro Norizuki
Norizuki is the current President of the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan and has won several awards for his short stories and novels, which are heavily inspired and indebted to Ellery Queen.

The protagonist in most of his novels and short stories is his mystery writing namesake, Rintaro Norizuki, who forms a father-and-son detective team with his dad, Chief-Inspector Norizuki. However, this is only a superficial resemblance. Norizuki has garnered a reputation as a purveyor of extremely logical puzzles that can only be solved by logical reasoning. So no wonder our very own Ho-Ling Wong is quite a fan of the series.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, only two of his short stories have been translated into English in the past fifteen years. The most recent translation was the brilliant "Midori no tobira wa kiken" ("The Lure of the Green Door," 1991), published in English in the November, 2014, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and collected in The Realm of the Impossible (2017), which presented the reader with a brand-new solution to the locked room problem – making it the crown jewel of that anthology. Back in 2000s, "Toshi densetsu pazuru" ("An Urban Legend Puzzle," 2001) was translated and published in the January, 2004, issue of EQMM. The story was very well received and was later included in two anthologies, Passport to Crime (2007) and The Mammoth Book of International Crime (2009).

Somehow, "An Urban Legend Puzzle" has always managed to elude me, but finally decided to track down the story in order to relieve my insatiable hunger for more shin honkaku detective stories.

"An Urban Legend Puzzle" has a plot-structure I can't help but associate with G.K. Chesterton's "The Dagger with Wings," collected in The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926), in which the plot is slowly unfolded and dissected during a conversation between two characters. In this instance, Chief-Inspector Norizuki tells his son about a homicide case he has under investigation.

A second-year student in the Sciences Department at M-University, Matsunaga Toshiki, was stabbed to death with an ice pick in a one-room apartment in Matsubara, Setagaya Ward – shortly after a drinking party with other university students broke up. One of the students, Hirotani Aki, forgot her cell phone and returned to the apartment, but she found the door unlocked and the apartment was pitch-black. Aki assumed Toshiki had gone to bed and forgot to lock the door. So she didn't want to wake him up and searched around the apartment in the dark for her phone, before leaving quietly. 
On the following morning, a delivery man found the body of the student lying in "a pool of blood on the floor of the 8-tatami-mat-sized room" and a disturbing message was left in blood on the wall: "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" Rintaro Norizuki recognizes the phrase from "a popular urban legend" and together they go over who of the students benefited, or were disadvantaged, from embellishing the murder with the urban legend motif. This makes for an interesting and original backdrop. They also test the alibis of the students and go over every possible scenario, which results in various false solutions getting smashed to pieces. And this is a very satisfactory approach to fans of detective stories that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

"An Urban Legend Puzzle" is a cleverly contrived, extremely logical story with a solution hinging breaking apart "a solid alibi," but the story is so logical and fair that an observant or long-time mystery reader can easily put the whole thing together – which is the only flaw in this otherwise great story. So not in the same league as the locked room classic "The Lure of the Green Door," but still an excellent specimen of the pure puzzle-plot detective story and the shin honkaku movement. I hope more of Rintaro Norizuki gets translated in the future.

On a final, somewhat related note: I've noticed for a long time that schools, universities and student characters are staples of shin honkaku, but Ho-Ling mentioned in his review of The Locked Classroom (linked above) that they're mainly staples of anime, manga and light novels – because they geared at a younger audience. However, you can still find them in your regular shin honkaku novels. Yukito Ayatsuji's Jakkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) and Alice Arisugawa's Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) has characters that are members of university mystery clubs. Katsuhiko Takahashi's Sharaka satsujin jiken (The Case of the Sharaka Murders, 1983) is a scholary-cum-historical mystery with a university setting. One of Keigo Higashino's series-detectives is an assistant professor of physics.

So I have begun to wonder if this has anything to do with the influence from all those university mystery clubs that have produced so many of shin honkaku writers. Add the Japanese school-culture, with all its problems and ghost stories, and you have all the material you need for a detective story.


The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff, vol. 1 (2014) by D.L. Champion

Back in January, I reviewed D.L. Champion's "The Day Nobody Died," a richly plotted locked room mystery from the pages of Dime Detective Magazine, which resembled one of those clever short stories by Ellery Queen, but as good as the plot were the cast of series-characters – spearheaded by an angry, bitter and unhinged former police detective. Deputy Inspector Allhoff of the New York Police Department was "the NYPD's ace detective" until "bullets from a mobster's machine gun robbed him of his legs."

Allhoff was too good a detective to lose and the department creatively doctored the books to keep him, unofficially, employed and refer to him "such cases as the department couldn't or wouldn't handle." Lamentably, the consequences of that botched arrest and shootout would continue to extract a heavy toll on everyone involved.

Deputy Inspector Allhoff lost not only his legs and a promising career, but had to move into a filthy, cockroach infested flophouse across from headquarters. As a result, his sanity buckled under the traumatic injuries to both his mind and body, turning him into "a bitter misanthrope," who delighted in verbally abusing and mentally torturing the man he personally holds responsible for his situation, Patrolman Battersly – who Allhoff demanded be assigned to him as his personal assistant. Battersly is routinely bullied by Allhoff with "grotesquely embellished" accounts of his "momentary cowardice." This has left the young policeman in a constant state of anxiety.

Stuck between this rock and a hard place is the narrator of the series, Sergeant Simmonds, who had been "dragged down from a good desk job" to take care of the paperwork, but is to ensure Allhoff and Battersly don't kill each other. And he was slowly going nuts as he had to watch Allhoff's "cunning mind devise new methods of torturing the younger man."

A few years ago, Altus Press began reissuing this series, seventeen of the twenty-nine stories, which were collected in The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff, vol. 1 (2014) and The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff, vol. 2 (2018) with an introduction by Ed Hulse. I'm not overly familiar with the pulps, but, going by what little I have read, this series was certainly better than "the typical penny-a-word prose found in the Bloody Pulps." So let's take these stories down from the top.

I'll try to keep the reviews of the individual stories as brief as possible to prevent this blog-post from becoming a bloated mess.

This collection opens with "Footprints on a Brain," originally published in the July, 1938, issue of Dime Detective Magazine (hereafter, DDM) and brings Detective-Sergeant Carrigan, of the Chicago Police, to New York when the person he had been assigned to protect died under suspicious circumstances – which could have either been a suicide or murder. Richard B. Hadley was dying of cancer and had been working on a tell-all memoirs, but, when he had completed the manuscript, he apparently turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger. However, Carrigan believes he had been murdered. Allhoff agrees with his opinion and deduces part of the truth from such clues as a pack of razor blades, a postage stamp and the chattering of Chimney Swallows. The other part, namely ensnaring the murderer, requires the setting of a clever little trap.

So, as the introductory story in this series, Champion had to establish his series-characters and their bizarre, borderline sadomasochistic relationship. This means there's more abuse here than normally. Allhoff really goes to town on poor Battersly and, by the end of the story, he's reduced to a broken, sobbing mess of a human being. Allhoff deserves sympathy for having lost his legs, but makes it impossible to give him any, because he's a first-ballot Hall of Fame piece of shit.

The next story, "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead," originally appeared in the September, 1938, issue of DDM and this time it's not Battersly who takes the brunt of Allhoff's abuse, but one of "the smartest and crookedest lawyer" in town, Philips – who had "bought more juries than Jim Brady had diamonds." Philips made the mistake to call Allhoff a legless, smug little gnome and proceeded to throw coffee in his face. So now he's determined to nail the lawyer for the murder of his business partner, Gregory L. Somers, who was found with a bullet in his head on the floor of his office.

Don't worry, this is an inverted detective story, of sorts, in which Allhoff plays a risky game of cat-and-mouse with a crooked, but highly influential, lawyer. Sergeant Simmonds even remarks that, if he can think his way out of this mess, he'll "go down in history as Machiavelli, the second." Allhoff undeniably has a Machiavellian streak and a complete disregard for the rule of law, which is a fatal combination that planted Philips in the electric chair. So a good how-to-catch'em type of crime story.

The third story, "Lock the Death House Door," was originally published in December, 1938, issue of DDM and is the second impossible crime in this series listed by Adey in Locked Room Murders (1991). But I hope there are more in this, until recently, incredibly obscure and hard-to-get series.

Battersly has had a date with Ruth Manning and she happens to be the daughter of a convicted murderer, Morris Manning, who Allhoff put on death row and is less than twelve hours removed from his execution, which Allhoff sadistically use as cudgel – telling Battersly to remember he put her father on the chair when he's wiping away her tears. However, Battersly has an unpleasant surprise for Allhoff. The D.A. office is “digging out a pardon for Manning” on the strength of evidence Battersly has uncovered. Someone even confessed to have been the murderer. Allhoff is beyond himself with fury and vindictively sets out to destroy the newly surfaced evidence, because Manning must and shall burn in the hot seat – a problem complicated when the man who had confessed is murdered in locked and guarded prison cell. This is another how-to-catch'ems with a simplistic locked room mystery thrown in the works.

So not quite the classic locked room story, like "The Day Nobody Died," but still a good story.

The next story is "Cover the Corpse's Eye," first published in the July, 1939, issue of DDM, which began on a positive note for the downtrodden, browbeaten Battersly. He was instrumental in the arrest of a notorious murderer, Ronnie Regan, who appears to have shot and robbed a well-known banker, Alfred Sontag. Allhoff was livid and relentlessly started to rain on his parade by finding someone else to put in the electric chair. The solution is not entirely original and very pulpy, but it was adeptly handled here by Champion.

"Dead and Dumb" was originally published in the October, 1939, issue of DDM and opens with the absolutely impossible, not a murder in a hermetically sealed room, but peace and tranquility reigning in the slum office of Allhoff, which has miraculously persisted for five days. Sergeant Simmonds even heard him singing fragments of The Missouri Waltz! This changes the moment a cab-driver staggered into the room, supporting a mortally wounded man, who had demanded to be brought to Allhoff instead of the hospital.

Unluckily, the victim is a deaf mute and he dies before he can communicate with them, but Allhoff is clever enough to link this murder to a reported suicide at the Rickerts Institute, on Long Island, which is an asylum for deaf mutes – where a third murder is committed right under Allhoff's nose. A suicidal move when you're faced with an unforgiving, vindictive and merciless opponent, like Allhoff, who only finds pleasure in cornering people. And watch them squirm. Another good story with an interesting background and a clever take on a very EQ-like motive.

The next story, "A Corpse for Christmas," was originally published in the December, 1939, issue of DDM and is, without question, the standout story of the collection.

The story opens two days before Christmas and Allhoff is bah-humbugging the merriment of the season. A merry period in which "a million morons get drunk" and go home "to beat their wives" or the Nazis who'll "undoubtedly blow thousands of British into little pieces," but the demented Ebenezer Scrooge in deerstalker is visited by his very own Ghost of Christmas – who becomes one of his most formidable opponents in this series. A breathtakingly beautiful woman visits the slum apartment on behalf of the Society League's Holiday Aid Organization. She brought a covered basket with "a real old-fashioned Christmas dinner to the worthy poor."

Allhoff is furious at this kindly offer, but exploded when the woman tells him not to let his "foolish pride" stand in the way of a delicious turkey, because why would he deprive himself of "two fat legs." That remark was the proverbial match that lit the powderkeg. However, Allhoff has not seen the last of this unflappable woman. She turns up again in a bizarre murder/suicide case on Long Island, but she possesses a cast-iron alibi. At the time of the double shooting, she was in the apartment getting yelled at by Allhoff. So, if she did it, how could she have been in two places at the same time. An excellent detective story with an alibi-trick worthy of the alibi-breaking stories by Christopher Bush
The next story is "Sergeants Should Never Sleep" was originally published in the March, 1940, issue of DDM, which turned out the be only dud in the collection. The story began promisingly with Sergeant Paul Hamtrack requesting to be temporarily assigned to Allhoff, in order to study his method's first hand, but Sergeant Hamtrack is notorious career yes-man. Adding an additional strain to the torturous, daily routine of Battersly and Simmonds. Unfortunately, the apparent problem of "a killing done by a sneak thief" degenerates into a World War II spy tale with an obvious solution.

The next story, "Turn in Your Badge," was culled from the pages of the June, 1940, issue of DDM and opens with the news that the body of Lieutenant Mike Arnold, of the Racketeering Squad, had been pulled out of the river with his feet in a block of concrete and his tongue cut out – complemented by nine bullet holes. Allhoff is shocked by the news and annoyed that his daily reports from Headquarters are late, but this has a very good reason. Acting Commissioner Blakely has decided to sever their "unofficial connection" and gives him a week to sort out his affairs. Allhoff was fucking furious.

Blakely arrested a well-known gangster for the murder of Sergeant Arnold and Allhoff is convinced the murderer disguised his work as a mob killing, because it was complete overkill. So he wants to find the real murderer and uses the life of an innocent man to mercilessly destroy Blakely and secure his unofficial standing within the department. Battersly and Simmonds were not happy with this outcome, to say the least. And they were so close to freedom they could actually taste it.

"There Was a Crooked Man" is the penultimate story, originally published in the August, 1940, issue of DDM and has Allhoff rudely turning down a huge fee to privately investigate a murder, but accepts an offer to investigate the very same murder when a crippled man asks him to. Champion used a lot of handicapped characters in his stories and, in this volume alone, there are blind characters, deaf mutes and cripples, which also play some part in the solution. So I was able to foresee which direction the plot was taking. Still a very well put together story, but the solution was not difficult to anticipate.

Finally, the collection closes with "Suicide in Blue," first published in the October, 1940, issue of DDM, which is a quasi-impossible crime about a series of threatening extortion letters demanding money and refusal to pay has fatal consequences – accurately predicting the date and time of their date. One of the victim's a policeman, Sergeant Wheeler, who apparently committed suicide with his own Service Revolver. Obviously, this turned the suicide into a murder, but Allhoff disagrees and sets out to prove a suicide and find a murderer. And, of course, he pulls it off. However, Allhoff pulls one of his nastiest trick to date on poor Battersly. Something that could have easily pushed him over the edge. What can I say? Allhoff is a bit of a dick.

So, all in all, The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff is an excellent volume of high-quality pulp detective stories full with grotesque, broken characters, sordid murders and often clever plots, but not every reader today will be able to put up with the vindictive, acid-tongued Allhoff. A truly sadistic, mentally unhinged character and the ultimate anti-hero. In my opinion, the only true weaknesses is that every single story goes over the series origin story, which becomes repetitive after the third or fourth story. You can easily skip these endlessly rewritten passages after the first story. My second complaint is that only one of the stories, "A Corpse for Christmas," came close to the superb "The Day Nobody Died." Most of the stories here were pretty good, but not anywhere near that classic short story.

However, this will not deter me from getting the second volume. Despite the sadistic, broken and weary main-characters, Champion created an original and unforgettable series like no other in the genre. Simply fascinating and highly recommended, if you think you can stomach Allhoff.