The Lucky Policeman (1938) by Rupert Penny

Rupert Penny's The Lucky Policeman (1938) is the fourth, of eight, detective novels in the Chief Inspector Beale series and Penny's present-day champion, "JJ" of The Invisible Event, named it his best novel in his blog-post "Policeman's Lot – Ranking the Edward Beale Novels" – praising it as Penny at his "most potent." A recommendation from Jim always need to be approached with some caution and his praise for Sealed Room Murder (1941) is dodgy as hell. But fair's fair, he was kind of right about Policeman in Armour (1937) and Policeman's Evidence (1938). 

So I decided not to cynically go with the bottom-ranked title, She Had to Have Gas (1939), as my next Penny, but blindly trust Jim's judgment on this one. What could possibly go wrong?

First of all, The Lucky Policeman turned out to be a little different from what I expected. I thought it was going to be Penny's take on the Golden Age-style serial killer story, in which the detective has to find the common-link in a series of apparently random murders, but The Lucky Policeman is played like a straight detective story with the serial killings taking place in the background. Well, more or less.

Professor Hilary Peake is an American psychiatrist and "the gold-star alienist" who came to England, in 1931, where he bought a large, old mansion in New Forest and converted it into a private asylum – only has two patients on his hands when the story begins. A religious maniac and a man, Simon Selby, who's quite normal most of the time, but, every five or six weeks, "he breaks out into mental eruptions." Strangely enough, the only thing to lessen the periodic attacks is to let his hair grow unrestricted and denied him the attentions of a barber for the past three years. Nothing else was achieved and Selby became Peake's most puzzling patient. And then he unexpectedly escaped under very peculiar circumstances!

The nurse discovered a dummy in Selby's bed, two of the outside windows bars were ripped away and missing. Selby was gone and nowhere to be found. A week after his escape, people began to disappear from the area of New Forest: a servant girl, a girl hitchhiker and a reporter, which called for a wide and intensive search. But during the search, Sergeant Lee goes missing and his body is later found lying near a tree with a stabbed with something that left a hole "as big as a two-shilling piece" behind his right ear. Even weirder is that the murderer had taken the sergeant's left boot. Over the next few days, more bodies turned up with identical wounds and their left shoe missing.

Chief-Inspector Edward Beale, accompanied by Anthony Purdon, takes on the case and the multi-faceted problem gives them much food for thought. So they're not just preoccupied with chasing an escaped, homicidal maniac.

One of the central puzzles is how Selby managed to wrench two bars from stonework, scaled a brick, twelve feet high wall in his pajamas and evaded capture without supplies – making it a borderline impossible crime. Just a shame he didn't went all out with it as the explanation for the removal of the bars could have been used in two different ways to create a tight locked room scenario. However, the story was already quite packed and another plot-thread that has to be examined is Peake's backstory and why he left America, which happened when he got caught in the meshes of a New York matriarch who led "a home-made army against half the world" in 1929. She has her own reasons to suddenly reappear. There are the finer details of the case, like the shoes, weapon and a burglarized cottage, but Penny overlooked the body the reporter. I don't recall it was mentioned anywhere that his body was found, which made me very suspicious (in combination with something else) and distracted me from the real solution.

Having now read four of his novels, it becomes noticeable how much Penny liked his backstories and background details. Penny wrote and plotted like a historian, which is a double-edged sword as it could easily kill a story. This approach did murder the pace of Sealed Room Murder to the point where even the admittedly original locked room-trick couldn't save the whole mess, but it certainly benefited Policeman's Evidence with its historical subplot and treasure hunt. Penny's fondness for locked rooms, timetables and intricate, maze-like plots probably kept him in check, but shudder to think what the result would have been had he been more interested in characterization than plotting. Thankfully, we got the Rupert Penny puzzle edition.

Penny knows how to occupy his reader's attention with the various plot-threads and then abuse it to distract them, although not always fairly, but the equal amount of attention given to the clues makes it a pardonable offense. 

The Lucky Policeman is, technically speaking, a sound piece of work with the who, why and how neatly coming together in the last chapter, preceded by a false-solution with an excellently handled twist, but I couldn't help feel a little let down – as some things turned out to be less inspired than anticipated. For example, I thought the clue of the stockings was much better than the shoe business.

So, all in all, The Lucky Policeman is a technically-sound, fair play detective novel with enough clues and red herrings to keep you busy for three or four hours, but, somehow, it wasn't quite as convincing or satisfying as it could have been. And while its light years ahead of Sealed Room Murder, I wouldn't place it above either Policeman in Armour or Policeman's Evidence. That being said, The Lucky Policeman still offers a highly unusual take on the GAD-type serial killer and it definitely helped that the murderer's identity was somewhat off the beaten path, which makes it well worth the attention of every fan of puzzle-oriented mysteries. Beale is starting to grow on me as a character ("Damn! I never thought of that"). You can expect more Penny in the future.


The Case of the Unfortunate Village (1932) by Christopher Bush

Three-and-a-half years ago, Dean Street Press began the long overdue process of bringing all of Christopher Bush's sixty-some detective novels back into a print. A mystery writer who was to the unbreakable alibi what John Dickson Carr was to the impossible crime, as demonstrated in Cut Throat (1932) and The Case of the Missing Minutes (1936), which gave me a whole new appreciation for ingeniously thought out, well executed alibi-tricks – quickly making Bush one of my favorite mystery writers. Bush had more to offer than merely a collection of tricky alibis. 

Bush had a knack for building complicated, maze-like plots out of double murders committed in close proximity, of time or place, in which he was practically alone. J.J. Connington is the only one who comes to mind who specialized in the kind of plots that can be found in Bush's Dead Man Twice (1930), The Case of the Bonfire Body (1936) and The Case of the Tudor Queen (1938) (c.f. Connington's The Case with Nine Solutions, 1928). So he got a lot mileage out of that plot device, but what turned these plot-technical marvels into gold are his series-detectives, Ludovic Travers and Superintendent George "The General" Wharton, who played off each other perfectly. And you can never tell who'll reach the solution first. 

So the 1930s period of the series comes highly recommended to everyone who prefers the simon-pure jigsaw-puzzle detective story, but the wartime years brought a chance to the series and Bush's home front trilogy, The Case of the Murdered Major (1941), The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel (1942) and The Case of the Fighting Soldier (1942), signaled a huge shift – gradually adopting the trappings of the American hardboiled school. The plotting became less baroque and Travers, who became the narrator during the home front trilogy, turned into a genteel private investigator. A transformation that was completed when the 1950s rolled around and the post-war malaise in Britain offered a perfect backdrop for the new tone of the series (e.g. The Case of the Fourth Detective, 1951).

Nevertheless, while not every novel from this period is as good as his 1930s novels, there are still some minor gems to be found. Such as The Case of the Counterfeit Colonel (1952) and The Case of the Flowery Corpse (1956), but my preference goes to his elaborate, baroque-style 1930s novels. I've wanted to return to that period in the series for some time now and to one title in particular. 

The Case of the Unfortunate Village (1932) is the eighth novel in the Ludovic Travers series and, no matter the period, one of Bush's most atypical mysteries. There's nothing showy or particular complicated about the plot. In fact, it's a surprisingly character-driven mystery centering on a series of incidents, personality changes and accidents that have befalling the village of Bableigh.

In this early novel, Travers is still a directors of Durangos Limited, a consulting and publicity firm, who takes "the fact that every question has two sides" as "an incentive to hunt for a third" and has found two outlets for his inquisitive nature – writing books and playing detective. Usually, he sticks his nose in official police business, but this time, Travers has to act as an amateur detective in its purest form as many of the characters aren't even aware an investigation is carried out. The peculiar problem requiring a discreet investigation is brought to him by an old school friend and local magistrate, Henry Dryden, who believes "something sinister or ominous" has descended on his village. Bableigh is really "a hamlet perched on top of a ridge" with a church, post office, tiny school, smattering of cottages and a very small arts colony. Everyone got along swimmingly, until recently, when personalities began to change and the atmosphere was poisoned.

Marian Crome is an ultra-impressionist painter whose "work underwent a sudden and curious change," which Dryden denounced as "utterly repulsive and even bestial." Ashley Mound is a sculptor who "developed into a very annoying kind of hermit" following the passing of his invalid wife. There are two middle-aged living companions, avid gardener Agnes Rose and potter Harriet Blunt, but the spinsters started quarreling and separated. Miss Rose has become unbearable to be around. Lyonel Parish is the vicar and used to be "quite a jolly fellow," but "his change was the worst of all." All of his natural cheerfulness was replaced with "a false and loathsome geniality." This sudden change that has come over the village is punctuated by the death of the impoverished squire, Tom Yeoman, who was found shot with his own hunting rifle. It was ruled an accident, but what happened to his dog?

Dryden doubted the accident explanation at the time, but didn't want to make trouble for the widow and her children, because a suicide verdict would have annulled Yeoman's life insurance.

So Ludovic Travers and John Franklin, head of the Detective Bureau of Durangos Limited, discreetly begin to poke around the village and find all kind of small mysteries that thicken the plot. Who planted the mass of forget-me-nots? Who buried and dug up the dead dog and disposed of it again in someone else's garden? Who tore up Miss Rose's garden? What happened to the clay sculpture of the devil that Travers saw through Mould's studio window? Why is everyone behaving out-of-character? And is there a possibility that there's a coven of witches and satanists in the village?

Since "the whole thing is unofficial," Travers and Franklin can do little more than talk to people, theorize and stirring the pot a little, but, while they're discreetly poking around, villagers begin to die right and left – ruled as either accidents (bicycle crash) or natural deaths (heart failure). You shouldn't expect too much of them, as howdunits, except for an attempted murder very late in the story, which has a clever trick. So the who-and how is not all that important and the former becomes fairly obvious before too long. What's important is the motive and how it dovetails with the bizarre, out-of-the-ordinary happenings in the village with the characters/psychology taking the front seat. This makes the story more like a Gladys Mitchell novel than an Agatha Christie mystery. You can best describe The Case of the Unfortunate Village as Christie Murder is Easy (1938) as perceived by Mitchell. Are you still with me, Jim? Don't close that tab! :)

A warning to the reader: one aspect of the murderer's motivation is not going to be popular with some readers, but rest assured, Bush refused to use it as an excuse to have weak, barely existent motivation to let a murderer go ham on everything with a pulse that moves (I'm looking at you, Philip MacDonald). Bush handled the motive as expertly as a cast-iron alibi and showered the reader with clues. The Case of the Unfortunate Village opens with a challenge to the reader telling the reader they have all the material at their disposal from the outset that the detectives will receive in driblets. And the end of Chapter 9 even gives the reader an opportunity to cheat! It's up to you to decide to accept, or decline, that shortcut. I decided to give it a pass, but the bravado to even dare offering it! I've never seen that done before. Not even Carr was that cheeky.

All in all, The Case of the Unfortunate Village is not as tightly or intricately plotted as Bush's alibi-oriented detective novels with linked-corpses, but the quiet, unassuming plot and storytelling made it one of the more compelling and absorbing entries in the series. A first-rate village mystery!


Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935) by Roger East

Roger d'Este Burford was an English diplomat, poet, novelist and a screenwriter who made a small splash in the early 1930s, as "Roger East," with a handful of detective novels promising the arrival of a really first-class detective novelist, but practically stopped writing in the mid-1930s – sporadically returning to the genre in the '50s and '60s. So he's not all that well remembered today. This is a pity as the Roger East novels discussed online are generally positive and praised as intelligently written and characterized stories with often intricately worked out plots. 

A few attempts have been made over the years to rescue East from the purgatory of biblioblivion, but without a lasting result. H.R.F. Keating picked the brilliantly-titled Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935) for his 1980s "Disappearing Detective" series, which was an early attempt to bring obscure, long-forgotten writers and novels back into print. Back in 2017, Mad Sheep published another reissue of Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors, but that edition and publisher vanished as quickly as they appeared. I believe that 2017 edition is even harder to get now than the original or any of the other reprints!

Nevertheless, Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors is East's most well-known detective novel and the easiest one to get your hands on. I eventually lucked across a cheap copy and can understand now why his scarcity is lamented by so many of my fellow detective addicts. 

Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors is the fourth and last outing for East's series-detective, Superintendent Simmy Simmonds, who Keating described as "something of a phenomenon in crime fiction," especially in 1930s Britain, as he's essentially the hero of a series of police procedurals – a sub-genre that would not become popular in Britain until the 1950s. Anthony Abbot, Helen Reilly and I believe Lawrence Treat were already experimenting with the police procedural in America. Superintendent Simmonds retired from Scotland Yard by the time of this fourth novel, but a forceful personality and a large fee gives him one last case as delightfully outlandish as Christopher St. John Sprigg's Death of a Queen (1935) and Peter Dickinson's The Poison Oracle (1974). 

Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors is set in a fictitious island nation, San Rocco, which is "a pocket-sized republic" in the West Indies where President Miguel and his wife, Carlotta, rule the roost. But they're financed by the millionaire owner of the Acropolis Theatre, Cinema and Hotel, Pero Zaragoza.

Zaragoza invested a lot of time and money to transform San Rocco into the most talked of resort in the Atlantic, "the Jewel of the West Indies," but things begin to go south and Zaragoza believes "some unknown saboteur is at work." First they had to kill a rumor that there was an outbreak of yellow fever in the hotel and then the clean linen of every guest is cut to ribbons. Next the world famous, ticket selling headline dancer of the Acropolis Theatre, the Carnation, is kidnapped to prevent her from performing and the house detective has disappeared – probably "bribed or intimidated." So he reached out to the recently retired ex-Superintendent Simmonds, but Simmonds is of the opinion that he has "wrestled with enough problems" for one lifetime. However, simple curiosity and a check got the best of him. There is, however, a small problem.

Back in Britain, Simmonds was backed by the entire, well-oiled machine of Scotland Yard, but in San Rocco he's a one-man show and his client agrees that the task is to complicated to be handled by a single man. So he ensures Simmonds not only gets all the assistants needed to properly investigate, but creating an entirely new department to give him both authority and an official position. Zaragoza goes to the president to ask him to create a new criminal investigation department with Simmonds as its (temporary) head, which is where the splendid book-title comes into play.

President Miguel agrees and gives the new Captain Simmonds, Chief of Detectives, the defunct, largely abandoned Ministry of Sanitation and their old uniforms, which only needed a change of buttons to turn them into police uniforms. The last man on his post at the defunct ministry is the ex-Minister of Sanitation, Aubrey Wilkinson, who's an overly enthusiastic and energetic young Englishman. Aubrey doesn't let any grass grow over the resurrection of his ministry as a criminal investigation department and began enrolling his ex-sanitary inspectors as plain-clothes detective. Yeah, the uniforms didn't go anywhere. Even with an official position, his own department and a "comic opera detective force" at his disposal, things don't get any easier for Simmonds as one of his detectives is murdered in an old-world way and there's attempted murder on his client – which killed one of his pet pumas. He also has to contend with San Rocco's Chief of Police, Colonel Sixola.

Some readers will probably scratch their head halfway through as they wonder if the plot is going anywhere and if it's enough for a rewarding payoff. The storytelling and characterization is amusing enough with its fish-out-of-water situation and the snippets of San Rocco politics has a tinge of Yes, Minister. But the plot began to give cause for concern.

I don't know if it was a good idea to go all out with the misdirection to the point where a lot of readers can't see the forest for the trees, but Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors turned out to be first-class example of under promising and over delivering. First of all, two-thirds of the way through someone is murdered in a watched and guarded office. Sure, the solution is not blistering original, but fitted the circumstances of the crime. Much better was the brilliant, cleverly hidden alibi-trick that had been sneaked pass Simmonds and the reader, but these are merely the mechanics of the overall the plot. The real punch is in the who-and why. A knockout punch that doesn't come until the last chapter when the murderer is confronted and the original motive is revealed, which also revealed how deviously I had been hoodwinked. Well played, East. Well played. So you can expect it to make an appearance on my 2021 best-of list.

Roger East was not only an excellent writer, but evidently knew a thing, or two, about plotting and if Murder Rehearsal (1933), Candidate for Lilies (1934) and The Bell is Answered (1935) are anywhere near as good as Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors, he deserves to be reprinted. Is there a publisher out there who wants to adopt this unjustly neglected GAD writer? Have a heart and give him a home.


Murder at Monk's Barn (1931) by Cecil Waye

John Street was one of the more prolific mystery writers of the genre's heydays, producing nearly a 140 novels in two long-running series under two different pennames, "John Rhode" and "Miles Burton," but Tony Medawar discovered a third, previously unsuspected pseudonym, "Cecil Waye" – adding another four titles to his already impressive bibliography. Not that this revelation made copies any less scarce. 

Even during the current reprint renaissance, only a minuscule amount of Street's work has been reissued and honestly didn't expect the Cecil Waye novels to find their way back into print anytime soon. Dean Street Press decided differently and reprinted Murder at Monk's Barn (1931), The Figure of Eight (1931), The End of the Chase (1932) and The Prime Minister's Pencil (1933) back in February. Medawar provided these brand new editions with an informative introduction about this almost forgotten, short-lived series.

A noteworthy point of the Cecil Waye novels is that the detective duties are performed by a brother-and-sister team, Christopher and Vivienne Perrin, who Medawar described as private investigators in the tradition of the 1920s Young Adventurers – like Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. And, to my knowledge, there practically were no other sibling detectives during this period.

Anyway, three of the four novels are "metropolitan thrillers," but the first novel is a detective story "very much in the style of the John Rhode and Miles Burton books." What's more, the synopsis promised the unraveling of an impossible crime! There you have another title for that third, hypothetical supplement edition of Locked Room Murders. 

Murder at Monk's Barn opens on a cold, dark winter evening in the village of Fordington when Constable Burden returns to his cottage, but duty soon calls again as "a sharp report" brings him back out on the street. A parlor-maid comes running out of Monk's Barn yelling that the master's been shot in his dressing room. Upstairs, the constable finds the body of Gilbert Wynter, an electrical engineer, slumped in front of the dressing-table with a shaving mirror on it and "a bullet wound in the centre of his forehead." Someone had fired a shot from the garden through the window, which requires an "amazing accuracy of aim," but more on that angle in a moment.

The public opinion and local police, represented by Superintendent Swayne, have their sights on Wynter's second gardener, Walter Mintern, who was sacked on the Saturday before the murder. Walter took it very badly and loudly threatened in the public-house "he would get his own back," but Gilbert's younger brother and business partner, Austin, suspects "the whole damn gang" at Fordington of "a damned low-down plot" without exactly knowing why – determining him to find out who killed his brother. So he turns to two private investigators, Christopher and Vivienne Perrin, who have a knotty tangle to unsnarl.

One of the knots is that the murder is something of an impossibility. How did the murderer enter the garden, fired a shot from the shrubbery and escaped unseen with Constable Burden standing in the street within seconds of the shot being heard? How did the murderer knew where to aim? The shot was fired through a closed window with the thick, heavy curtains closely drawn and the bullet had left a small hole in it. So how could the murderer have shot Gilbert? You can't see "a shadow doesn't show through a thick curtain" much less "hit it with a rifle bullet."

You can always rely on Rhode to come up with a nifty trick, or gimmick, good enough to carry the plot and sustain the story, which is a bare necessity with Rhode as his murderers tend to be easily spotted. Murder at Monk's Barn is no exception to the rule. The murderer here is not difficult to find and a second murder removed any doubt, but, once again, you can rely on Rhode to make a second murder as distinctly interesting as the first murder. This time, Rhode used the second murder to show the reader how a plot-technician handles a box of poisoned chocolates and made a good attempt along the way to misdirect readers who had already caught on to the murderer's identity.

So the entire plot rests on how these murders were committed and they were designed to hold it up, but it should be noted that despite the strong how-was-it-done element, it's not a humdrum affair at all – much more lively than your average Rhode or Burton novel. You can ascribe that to having two 1920s-style Bright Young Things as detectives and they added another complication to the case. Austin and Vivienne began to fall in love the moment the police directed their attention at Austin's beautiful motive, ample opportunity and a non-existent alibi, which made her rush towards the solution ahead of her brother. She pieces together the solution from physical clues (e.g. pottery shards) helped by her understanding of human nature. A very well done combination of the intuitionists and realists approach and one of the many details that made this such a rich and rewarding read.

In many ways, Murder at Monk's Barn is a typical Dr. Priestley or Desmond Merrion novel with the how being more important than who-and why, but the detective-characters make all the difference here in both presentation and storytelling. So even with all the familiar touches and usual craftsmanship, Murder at Monk's Barn has something new to offer to readers already familiar with Rhode, but readers who'll be getting their first taste of Rhode can get an idea what to expect (plot-wise) from his other series. If you like what you read, I recommend you track down copies of The Bloody Tower (1938) and Invisible Weapons (1938).


Locked and Loaded, Part 2: A Selection of Short Impossible Crime and Locked Room Mystery Stories

I cobbled together a hypothetical anthology in a 2019 blog-post, "The Locked Room Reader XI: Locked Out," which comprised of short impossible crime and locked room stories that were unjustly overlooked, or ignored, by editors and never appeared in any of the well-known, locked room-themed anthologies – published between 1968 and 2020. I ended the post with a personal wishlist filled with obscure, long out-of-print stories with intriguing and promising-sounding premises. Why wait for an anthologist to get the hint and get to work on a personalized anthology? 

Last year, I reviewed seven, relatively obscure, short stories under the title "Locked and Loaded: A Selection of Short Impossible Crime and Locked Room Mystery Stories," which included an item listed from my original wishlist. Alexander, of The Detection Collection, deserves all the credit for helping me in my, uhm, scholarly pursuit. This time, he helped me cross even more titles from the big list. So let's get started!

Table of Content:

Edgar D. Smith's "Killer in Khaki" (1941)

James Yaffe's "Cul de Sac" (1945)

Bruce D. Pelletier's "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (1961)

Don Knowlton's "The Room at the End of the Hall" (1961)

Edward D. Hoch's "The Weapon Out of the Past" (1980)

John Hudson Tiner's "The Preacher and the Locked Shed" (1990)


Edgar D. Smith's "Killer in Khaki" was originally published in the February, 1941, issue of Detective Fiction Weekly and reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine of August, 1948. EQMM introduced the story as "one of the most ingenious variations" on "the always fascinating theme of the invisible man," but equally fascinating is the backdrop of the story. 

"Killer in Khaki" takes place in an army boot camp, located in the Canadian Rockies, where a man who should never have been a soldier has blended with the rest of his khaki-clad comrades and is now "moving with a quiet stealth" through the camp – knifing and bayoneting soldiers right and left. Someone who can "kill in the presence of a sentry" and "then vanish under everyone's nose." The bodies continue to litter the camp grounds until Private Enly realizes they've "gone about solving this case in the wrong way" and corners the elusive killer. I don't think the solution to the how, or who, is quite as ingenious as the introduction suggests, but the overall story is pretty solid and can only be compared to John Dickson Carr's massively underrated Captain Cut-Throat (1955). 

James Yaffe's "Cul de Sac" appeared in the March, 1945, issue of EQMM and is one of half dozen short stories the then teenage prodigy wrote about Paul Dawn, of the NYPD, who's the head and sole member of "an obscure office of the Homicide Squad." An office known as the Department of Impossible Crimes.

Paul Dawn is "the foremost authority" on "murderers who disappeared as if by magic, corpses in impossible positions" and "all the headaches that surround the locked room." The problem brought to him in "Cul de Sac" concerns a spy who had been trapped by two policemen in a cul-de-sac with an incriminating document on him, but the man had been searched, X-rayed and practically turned inside out without result. Nor were there any places in the cul-de-sac where the document could have been secreted. Regrettably, the solution has a glaring flaw and Robert Adey mentioned in Locked Room Murders (1991) that in a subsequent issue of EQMM, the Yaffe and the editor apologized for not knowing the trick would never work. And that makes it the weakest story of the lot.

Bruce D. Pelletier's "The Hedgehog and the Fox" was published in the April, 1961, issue of EQMM and combines the armchair detective story with the locked room mystery to craft an impossible crime tale in the tradition of Carr, G.K. Chesterton and Paul Halter – which were threatened with extinction in the sixties. The hedgehog and fox of the title are Inspector Ishikawa, of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and a professor of Moral Philosophy, John Balfour. Inspector Ishikawa called upon Professor Balfour to sound him out on "how it is that an old man can be stabbed in full view of people," during a closed door conference, "without even one of then knowing he was dead." Let alone having seen the murderer plunging the knife into the victim.

Admittedly, the mechanics of the impossible murder can be considered as fairly routine and not very difficult to solve, but what makes it standout is the philosophical underpinnings (religious and political) of the crime, which governed the actions of both the murderer and victim. Professor Balfour understands these philosophical underpinnings are as important as the physical clues and dovetails them to reveal a beautifully reasoned, somewhat Chestertonian, solution to the murder. So very well-written short story with an excellently realized backdrop and should be considered for inclusion in a future locked room anthology.

Don Knowlton's "The Room at the End of the Hall" was published in the July, 1961, issue of EQMM and is a fine example how a changing world opened, not closed, new avenues to explore. You just have to know your way around a plot to find them. 

"The Room at the End of the Hall" was published EQMM as a Crime Story and right up until the solution it plays out like a serious crime drama with some psychological touches as the protagonist seems to be going mad – one way or another. One night, Gerald Cartright is stumbling home from a class reunion with more than one drink behind him when he comes across a house. The house is in complete darkness except for "a brilliantly lighted room at the far end of the house" and, peeking through the window, Gerald can look down into a room at the end of a hallway. And what he witnesses, sobers him up immediately.

Gerald sees a beautiful woman standing in the center of the room with a tall, sinister-looking man standing behind her and he plunges a knife, up to the hilt, between her shoulder blades. She sank to the floor and the lights went out! Gerald hastened to the local police station and they smelled alcohol on his breath, but, to be sure, a constable goes to the house to investigate and finds that everything is quiet and peaceful. There's neither a body to be found in the house or a room brilliantly lighted by a big chandelier. So what did he witnessed? The police is willing to dismiss the incident as a drunken mistake, but words get around the "overgrown village" and begins to have serious consequences for Gerald's personal and professional life. Because he's either crazy or a drunk.

I instinctively guessed the solution, but dismissed it very quickly as it didn't appear to fit the tone of the story. Nonetheless, it turned out to be correct and some might find it a touch to light as an answer as to what, exactly, caused the disintegration of Gerald's marriage and career. Still a good, well-written crime story that interestingly used the time-honored locked room trope as a framing device for a psychological crime/suspense story. 

Edward D. Hoch's "The Weapon Out of the Past" was published in the April, 1980, issue of EQMM and stars his reputedly 2000-year-old paranormal investigator, Simon Ark, who believes he's destined to do "battle with Satan himself." Until then, Ark brings light in all kinds of weird, or seemingly impossible, crimes and inexplicable occurrences. "The Weapon Out of the Past" brings one of those weird, long-forgotten incidents to the present when an old, recently discovered, diary gives an account of a raid on a farmhouse in 1755. A raid locally remembered as the Battle of Lonely Tree during which an Indian hunting knife, "hurled by a French colonel," vanished in thin air. There was a "hint of witches and dark doings" about the vanishing knife, which is exactly what attracted Ark's attention.

Two hundred and twenty-five years later, the farmhouse has become the scene of a lively pageant reenactment of the skirmish with one notable difference: someone, dressed as a Colonial officer, is struck down by an old hunting knife in the very spot where it had vanished mid-air all those years ago! A wonderful premise and Hoch nicely tied to the two problems together, but I preferred the treacherous, double-layered solution to the vanishing knife more than how it reappeared two centuries later. On a whole, it's a good and solid Hoch story with a clever historical clue and red herring. I also liked how Ark had to conduct his investigation while people dressed as soldiers and Indians were running around the place and rubber-tipped arrows showered from the sky.

John Hudson Tiner's "The Preacher and the Locked Shed" is a short-short purely focused on the locked room puzzle and has, to my knowledge, appeared only in the December, 1990, issue of EQMM. The titular, nameless preacher is "legally insane" and the ethical adviser of Freedholder Enterprise. During a weekly staff meeting, the preachers hears of their intention to sack the company's ground keeper as the person responsible for the equipment in the shed, which he closed and padlocked on Friday evening – only to discover on Monday that everything of value had been stolen. Even the garden tractor was gone! I think seasoned (locked room) mystery readers will immediately recognize the trick, as they'll probably read one or two stories with variations of the trick, but Tiner was the first one to use it... in the 1990s. Hoch has a superior version of the trick that predates this short-short by a good three decades.

Interestingly, "The Preacher and the Locked Shed" only explains how the equipment was stolen, but not who's behind it. The preacher tells the staff that he never promised "to catch a thief," but "merely show a set of circumstances" showing someone else could have looted the padlocked garden shed. So not too bad for a short-short.


Murder in the Oval Office (1989) by Elliott Roosevelt

Some years ago, "JJ," of The Invisible Event, started a sporadic series of blog-posts entitled "A Little Help for My Friends – Finding a Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat," which turned out to be easier said than done and Jim kindly tied my name to a few abominations – like Andrew Mayne's Angel Killer (2014) and Chris McGeorge's Now You See Me (2019). A series that began promising enough with a review of Elliott Roosevelt's Murder in the Oval Office (1989) concluding that "you could do much worse for writing, plotting, enjoyment and general fun." So a decent locked room mystery novel with a historical hook and gimmick. 

I was recently reminded of JJ's first recommendation by William Harrington's The Grassy Knoll (1993) and decided it was time to take it off the big pile. You see, Murder in the Oval Office and The Grassy Knoll likely have more in common beyond their presidential theme.

Elliott Roosevelt was an American aviator and the son of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died on April 12, 1945, with Carter Dickson's The Punch and Judy Murders (1936) laying unfinished on his bedside table – ominously bookmarked at the chapter "Six Feet of Earth." Reportedly, President Roosevelt was in the habit of taking a detective novel to bed and the family library was likely stocked with all the luminaries of the detective story's Golden Age. So it's not surprising he paid tribute to his parents with a series of twenty detective novels starring his mother, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, as the detective walking those mean streets of Washington, D.C. But did he write them himself or were they ghostwritten under his guidance?

The publisher always billed Elliott Roosevelt as the genuine author of the series and even when he passed away, 1990, the series continued with the explanation that the prolific Elliott had left behind a stack of completed, ready-to-publish manuscripts to pad out the decade. And that's exactly what happened. William Harrington committed suicide in 2000 and revealed in his self-written obituary that he had ghostwritten the presidential mystery novels credited to Elliott Roosevelt and Margaret Truman, which earned him credit on the last book in the Eleanor Roosevelt series (Murder at the President's Door, 2001). However, as noted in my review of The Grassy Knoll, Harrington's claims have not gone entirely undisputed.

So, now that we've got that out of the way, let's take a look at the detective novel that used the most famous room in the United States to stage an old-fashioned locked room mystery. 

Murder in the Oval Office is the sixth title in the series and takes place, in 1934, when Roosevelt was sixteen months into his first term and the White House hosted a dinner in honor of the Secretary-General of the French Foreign Ministry, but Alabama Congressman Winstead Colmer receives a message – excusing himself from the table. This is shortly followed by a gunshot coming from the Oval Office. The double doors between the Oval Office and the secretaries' office had to be broken open and inside they find the body of the congressman with a bullet in his head with the doors "bolted shut from the inside" and all the windows "securely latched." So what else could have been than suicide? There are some nagging details and a surfeit of motives.

Representative Winstead Colmer chaired the Auditing Standards Subcommittee of the House Banking and Currency Committee and "the evidence adduced by him had embarrassed bankers all across America," which allowed his "subcommittee was drafting legislation to tighten auditing standards on banks." But there also rumors swirling around that he impregnated a young girl. And why does his pregnant wife refuse to tell where she was on the night of the murder? Enter Eleanor Roosevelt who has to find a way to juggle her duties as First Lady with playing amateur detective as she assists Gerald Baines, Secret Service, in helping to find the killer. Something that becomes all the more difficult as a headline chasing J. Edgar Hoover tries to horn in on the case.

This is where Murder in the Oval Office becomes a mixed bag of tricks. Firstly, there's the historical content that's littered with cameos of historical characters and future presidents, but it tries to be too cute with its winking at the future. A young Lyndon B. Johnson appears, but Eleanor Roosevelt dismisses him as "an awkward fellow" who "would never amount to much." Louisiana Senator Huey Long also makes an appearance and the President remarks he could spare him, but "wouldn't want to lose him by murder." And that's the nicest thing the book had to say about Long. Honestly, the depiction of Long, while not wholly undeserved or even untrue, comes across as a little petty considering Roosevelt adopted many of his rivals proposals in the wake of Long's assassination and it came across as spiteful – especially with the name of the winner plastered all over the book. On the other hand, I enjoyed the scene in which Eleanor Roosevelt discusses the locked room problem with Major Eisenhower.

Major Eisenhower believes there has to be "some idiosyncrasy" in the locked room and therefore the murderer must be "someone with special, intimate knowledge of the Oval Office." Someone who knows that idiosyncrasy. The locked room puzzle here is not delegated to the background, but is thoroughly investigated and comes with a floorplan of the Oval Office, diagrams of the locks and bolts and the problem how the murderer though a bolted door is thought and talked about. Unfortunately, the locked room-trick is fairly routine. Not unacceptable or anything. Just not very original (particular in 1989) and it's actually the last diagram that gives the trick some weight as it showed the trick was custom-fitted for the Oval Office. You can say the same about the who-and why, which were fine, but nothing outstanding or special except for gathering all the suspects in the Oval Office for the traditional denouement.

So, yeah, my opinion pretty much aligns with JJ. Murder in the Oval Office is a fun, enjoyable mystery novel with decent enough plot and some historical interest, although a bit colored, but it's main attraction is staging an impossible crime in the titular room – a better trick would have made it something more than mere curiosity. Now I can only recommend it to fans of historical mysteries and locked room completists.

By the way, I don't know why, but while reading Murder in the Oval Office, I got a mental image of Joseph Commings' Senator Brooks U. Banner and Erle Stanley Gardner's Doug Selby as President and Vice-President of the U.S. in the GAD universe. What do you say, my American friends, would you have given your vote to a Banner/Selby ticket?


Pell-Mell in a Hotel (2021) by Eugenius Quak

A few years ago, E-Pulp published Gruwelijk is het huwelijk (Marriage is Gruesome, 2017) by the impalpable enfant terrible of oranje pulp (orange pulp), Eugenius Quak, who doubles as author and the slightly narcissistic, ethically-impaired anti-hero and narrator – an ex-convict turned detective. A change of occupation that came about when he discovered Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie in the prison library. 

Eugenius M. Quak opened an outlaw detective agency without any of the legal paperwork, ethics or a moral compass, but Marriage is Gruesome ended with Quak triumphantly solving his first murder. Quak's brilliant piece of detective work also ended his agency and another spell in prison. So a pretty good and intriguing start to a new, offbeat series of tongue-in-cheek, pulp-style mysteries with a second novel announced for 2018, but it got delayed until April 1, 2021. Probably due to him being behind bars or something. 

Hoteldebotel in een hotel (Pell-Mell in a Hotel, 2021) takes place nine years after Marriage is Gruesome and can be summed up as its long-delayed aftermath, but first have to talk about the presentation and packaging of the book. You see, the publisher of these two pulp mysteries, E-Pulp, is not canon/in-universe. Story-wise, Marriage is Gruesome was published by De Gele Kamer (The Yellow Room) and Pell-Mell in a Hotel appeared with The House of Nemesis, which comes with fake blurbs ("a disgusting attempt at literary whitewashing") and a fictitious fore-and afterwords defending and condemning the book – calling it either "a unique record of a unique man" or a "perverse fantasy." There's also a sly hint hidden somewhere in the presentation and packaging.

Eugenius Quak has some very good reasons to treat himself to an early release from prison, but the police disagreed and a nationwide manhunt is underway to apprehend "the dangerous criminal." So he decided to leave the Netherlands behind him. Only problem is that his getaway wasn't raising anchor for another three days and he needed place to hide from Commissioner Van Konijnenburg.

This brought him to his last-living relative, Aunt Phlox Leeflang, who runs a small beach side hotel, De Rode Haring (The Red Herring), where begins to work as her other nephew and "favorite houseslave," Urbanus Leeflang. However, the hotel has underwent some changes while he was away. Aunt Phlox had renevoted the hotel to cater to elderly, invalided guests and even had some permanent residents with a qualified nurse on staff and a fully stocked medicine cabinet. So the average age of guests and residents is 90, which doesn't make for the three-day holiday Quak had envisioned. Some of the guests turn out to be very troublesome and it doesn't take very long for a body to turn up.

I can't tell you anything about the victim or the precise circumstances of the murder, because Quak challenged the reader in the third chapter to see if they could guess who the victim was going to be – which he does throughout the story. Quak is an unreliable, dishonest and delusional narrator, but insists on playing the game fairly. Such as ending the second chapter with telling the reader he has already given them "the first and very important tip" and, "if you activate your frontal lobes and are a genius," you "can spot the culprit before I expose him." The clueing and misdirection here is as unusually good and interesting as it's uneven.



Two clues stand out in this regard. One of them can almost be described as a meta-clue and is, perhaps, a bit too fair as even the most casual mystery reader can pick up on it. If they're paying attention to what's happening in the story, that is. The second clue is a splendid demonstration how modern forensics can be used for piece of good, old-fashioned misdirection. It's one of those clues that moonlights as a red herring. Unfortunately, the motive is not as clearly clued as the who-and how, but not something that seriously detracts from the overall quality of the plot and story.

Just as interesting and fascinating as the clues and red herrings is how Quak has to grapple with a very precarious situation. After the murder, the police is all over the hotel and they're not only looking for a murderer, but, as told in the opening chapter, they know Quak has to be somewhere in the neighborhood – endangering both his freedom and his aunt's reputation. She asks him to solve the murder, but Urbanus can't go around "questioning the guests like the inspector does." Luckily, the hotel has a remnant from World War II. A secret passage/hiding place that he uses to eavesdrop on Inspector Den Hond as he questions the guests and staff of The Red Herring. I can't think of a better way to use a secret passage in an honest to god detective story. What a pleasure to read such a detective story in my own language! 

Pell-Mell in a Hotel ends as ambitiously as its predecessor with a solution as provocative, and potentially controversial, as the detective who solved it, but everything fitted and worked. The clueing, red herrings, false-solutions, atypical detective work and fourth-wall breaking challenges all did their part in making this strange, pulp-style homage to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen a success. I don't know if a third novel is planned, but, if the ending here is anything to go by, it's going to be bonkers.

On a final, semi-related note: I suspect Marriage is Gruesome and Pell-Mell in a Hotel were written long before they were published. Something tells me they were stuck in a drawer or on a hard drive for the past twenty years, or so, before being revived, revised and printed. One of the reasons is the general attitude of the story, but there's also an elderly lady with a wartime trauma, which, in 2021, doesn't entirely add up. She has a personal assistance who's half a century her junior and she told she been active in the resistance during the war. But even if she had been 17 or 18 at the time, she would have been pushing 100 in 2021. I know the story mentioned that the average age of guests was 90, but that's something that could have been changed or added later. Note that guests acted more like sprightly 60 and 70 year old's than people closing in on their 100 birthday. So it wouldn't surprise me in the least of there was an early, unpublished version of the story that was written in the early 2000s. Maybe even as far back as the late '90s.

Sorry for leaving so little room between this review and the previous one. My backlog has grown during the lockdowns and didn't want to wait two months with posting it. And a fitting follow up. 


The Hotel of the Three Roses (1936) by Augusto de Angelis

Back in 2016, Pushkin Vertigo introduced the world to the father of the Italian detective story, Augusto de Angelis, who created a homegrown detective story from scratch in the mid-1930s and faced tough opposition from snobby critics and Benito Mussolini's regime – declaring it was either absurd or dangerous to depict Italy as anything less than "a harmonious idyll." Sadly, the regime failed to see the irony in opposing the detective story and murdering De Angelis in 1944. 

You can't suppress the detective story by saying it's slanderous to a sleepy, peaceful Mediterranean country and then kick a mystery writer to death in the streets. It only proves that amateur reasoner of some celebrity had a point when he stated that crime is common and logic rare. Anyway...

During that nine-year period between 1935 and 1944, De Angelis managed to produce twenty detective novels starring his series-character, Inspector Carlo de Vincenzi. A detective who's "more complex than the British 'thinking machine' typified by Sherlock Holmes" and "more sensitive than the tough-guy American private eye," which would become a fairly typical description of the continental policeman character during the post-WWII era. For example, you can find them all over Dutch politieromans and German krimis.

I read Il banchiere assassinato (The Murdered Banker, 1935) in 2016 and immediately proved that the Italian detective story can't catch a break by (sort of) forgetting all about him. De Angelis only resumed his climb to the top of Mt. To-Be-Read when learning Kazabo Publishing had released a translation of Sei donne e un libro (Death in a Bookstore, 1936) in 2019 and almost coincided with Locked Room International publishing a translation of Franco Vailati's Ill mistero dell'idrovolante (The Flying Boat Mystery, 1935) – one of Italy's most famous and iconic locked room mysteries. So it was about time I returned to Milan to watch De Vincenzi disentangle another knotty problem. 

L'albergo delle tre rose (The Hotel of the Three Roses, 1936) is the seventh title in the series and takes place in December, 1919, at a dodgy, third-rate hotel where the guests "gamble furiously all night" as "if it were forced labour." The group of people staying, or living, at the Hotel of the Three Roses is as diverse and strange as you'd expect.

There's Bardi, the hunchback, who's been living at the hotel for ten years and is a "perpetual busybody." Giorgio Novarreno is a self-styled necromancer who rashly caved to his desire to demonstrate his divinatory powers to the grounded Inspector De Vincenzi. Carlo da Como used to have money, but is now down on his luck and scraps a living together by gambling, which does not prevent him from refusing to sell his last remaining property to his elder sisters out of spite. Vilfredo Engel is another permanent resident of the hotel, a gambler and friend of Da Como. Nicola Al Righetti is an American of Italian origin and claims to come from New York, but how he deals with a police interrogation shows he normally lives in Chicago. Stella Essington is a drug addicted actress who soothed her "the feverish agitation of her nerves" with cello music. Carin Nolan is a Norwegian girl about 19-years-old and presumably "the threatened innocent" of the story. Signora Mary Alton Vendramini is the heavily veiled widow of Major Alton and it was his will that summoned her to the hotel, which is also why his lawyer, George Flemington, is present. A pretty odd assortment of characters!

Inspector De Vincenzi receives an anonymous letter that the Hotel of the Three Roses is "a gathering of addicts and degenerates" where now "a horrible drama is brewing," which will blow up if they don't intervene in time – a warning that comes too late. Shortly after reading the note, De Vincenzi is called to the hotel to investigate the death of a young Englishman, Douglas Layng, whose body is hanging from a ceiling beam on the landing. However, the doctor determines he had been killed hours before the body was found by a stab in the back and that makes it a quasi-impossible crime. Where did the murderer hide the body all the time? Why did the murderer redressed the body? How did the murderer get the body to the landing? Everything the murderer did increased "difficulty and risks a hundredfold" and it wouldn't be the last the time the murderer had more freedom of movement than circumstances should have allowed for.

Inspector De Vincenzi is not only frustrated by suspects and witnesses unwilling to talk, give half-truths or simply stall before getting to the point, but even his own subordinates were very slapdash in carrying out his simple orders. Several times, the murderer was handed an opportunity to strike because the policemen tasked with guarding the place were not at their post. A second victim is murdered behind a locked door with the wide open window overlooking a wet, unguarded garden and the excuse of his second-in-command is that he didn't have "the heart to send a man out to stand in the rain." A third attack happens and the murderer appears to have been able to enter a room, unseen, while an officer sat guard outside in the corridor, but not as diligently as instructed. So the result is that the reader is constantly teased with potential locked room mysteries before they're immediately dispelled and snatched away.

There is, however, so much more to give De Vincenzi a headache than just lying suspects, unwilling witnesses and cavalier subordinates. Why did some of the guests brought a flaxen-haired, porcelain doll to the hotel and can the dolls be connected to the murders or a long-forgotten, Doylean episode that took place in the Transvaal during the Boer War, which involves crocodiles, diamonds and a "ghostly avenger" – whom everyone feared could be behind the murders. So, yeah, a lively detective novel with an oddball collection of gargoyles who frustrate the investigation every step of the way while the attacks continue right under the nose of the police. This makes for a fun, fast-paced detective story, but the finer details of the plot leaves something to be desired.

De Angelis unfortunately gave more attention and care to the red herrings and misdirecting the reader than properly clueing and dressing the bare bones of the plot, which hid a decent, perfectly acceptable scheme. So you can't really arrive at the (full) solution with the clues, or lack thereof, you're given and that always detracts from the overall quality of a detective story. No matter how good the storytelling or characterization is. What you're left with is a fun and amusing, but unmistakably second-string, mystery novel standing in the shadow of its American and British contemporaries.

Nonetheless, while not entirely perfect, the historical and political baggage of the Italian detective story makes even a second-string mystery novel an interesting exploration. You can see how government censorship had a hand in shaping the Italian Golden Age detective story as it eventually became illegal to depict Italians as criminals. So mystery writers had to resort to non-Italian characters, or foreign-born Italians, who were likely tainted. I wonder how many hotel and transportation mysteries there are from this period of the Italian detective story, because it would be most convenient way to write a story around a cast of mostly foreign characters. Since there are two more of De Angelis' novels available in English, I'll try to get to one of them before the end of 2021.


The League of Matthias (1934) by Brian Flynn

Brian Flynn's The League of Matthias (1934) is the fourteenth entry in the once criminally overlooked and now justifiably revived Anthony Bathurst series, courtesy of Dean Street Press and Steve Barge, which is another shimmering example of Flynn's versatility as a writer and plotter – who tried to do something different with each novel. So what you get is the best of two worlds as the series offers the advantages of both the standalone and series novels. Flynn effortlessly moved from Victorian-era melodrama and pulp-style mysteries to courtroom drama, whodunits and impossible crimes while unapologetic fanboying all over Conan Doyle. 

You can easily see where Doyle and Sherlock Holmes might have influenced The League of Matthias. A thriller-like detective novel concerning "one of the biggest criminal organisations ever known" that had "entered the arena of Continental crime" screams Professor Moriarty, but Flynn might have been looking at two of his contemporaries, John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie. The League of Matthias struck me as Christie's The Big Four (1927) as perceived by Carr. However, the book anticipates most of Carr's more well-known chase mysteries like The Blind Barber (1934), The Unicorn Murders (1935) and The Punch and Judy Murders (1937). 

The League of Matthias begins with Lance Maturin touring the continent with two of his friends, Adrian Fawcett and Dennis Hilleary, to help him recover from a broken heart and spirit.

So, after a couple of months of touring, the trio arrive in Antwerp, Belgium, where they visit a dingy cabaret place, the Scarlet Flare, with a beautiful dancer, Philippa, whose frightened eyes seem to be sending "a message from her soul" to Lance – not just him imagining things. Lance is handed a folded note pleading him to come to her dressing room as she's in "deadly peril." Philippa asks Lance to pretend to be her husband as protection against the sinister intentions of Raoul de Verviac and, before he knows it, he accompanies her to a lodging-house in the Rue du Sacré Coeur. Where he wears the pyjama-suit of another man and sleeps next to strange woman, clutching a revolver, to protect her from the villainous De Verviac. It was quite a night. A night that ends with a deadly shootout at the lodging-house and Lance and Philippa fleeing from the Belgian police.

However, it's not De Verviac's body laying at the bottom of the staircase with a bullet in his head, but a Scotland Yard detective, Chief-Inspector Rawlinson, who had "journeyed to Antwerp to deal primarily with three matters."

Chief-Inspector Rawlinson and Anthony Bathurst, working in conjunction with Scotland Yard, were tasked with investigating two seemingly unconnected disappearances and "the sinister activities of the League of Matthias." Firstly, the activities of the league had left a trail of bizarre murders that littered Belgium with the bodies of a convicted abortionist, a discredited actors with a forgery charge hanging over his head and "the most audacious embezzlers of modern times" who "despoiled literally thousands of homes in the Netherlands." So he got what he was due! Stranger even is that all of the deaths took "rather fantastic routes to the Styx."

One victim had his veins opened with pieces of broken glass, while another was burned to a crisp inside a baker's oven. A later victim is "drugged and then tied to the railway lines," but never a gun, knife or poison. Only a tiny, tangible clue filtered through the murky, criminally cautious network and that's the number 13 – "nothing more—nothing less." Anthony Bathurst and Chief-Inspector Rawlinson have another problem on their hands of an entirely different magnitude, but with enough pull to throw the whole affair in complete disarray.

Two people of very different plumage have disappeared. Firstly, there's the daughter of the Bishop of Longbarrow, Miss Philippa Castleton, whose disappearance "excited a tremendous amount of interest throughout the entire country." But, eventually, the excitement died down without her being found. Secondly, there's the disappearance of a distinguished member of the Diplomatic Service, Lance Marutin, whose disappearance is difficult to date. But the authorities have every right to be concerned. Two months previously, a colleague of Maturin had vanished under similar circumstances until his body was fished from the Scheldt.

So, as you probably noticed, the narratives of Lance and Bathurst concern the same characters and locations, but the details either don't seem to fit or out of focus and it takes some work to dovetail everything into a fitting pattern. I can't give anymore details without giving away too much, but I can gush how brilliantly Flynn handled this highly fantastical, sometimes unbelievable, mystery novel.

You see, The League of Matthias can hardly be called credible as a detective, or thriller, which considerably stretches credulity with how all the characters are linked or how the lodging-house "became the centre of a circle with various radii reaching the circumference" – seriously testing readers who want some semblance of plausibility in their detective fiction. And yet... The League of Matthias has this dark, grim edge of realism that makes the whole story much more believable than it has any right to be. And it's not the gruesome nature of the murders, the untimely death of Rawlinson or the demented truth behind the league. It's how the romantic subplot between Lance and Philippa is resolved, which dodged all the usual cliches and beautifully fitted this grim, fairy tale-like detective story. How neatly everything else fell into place was just a bonus.

Just like Carr's The Hollow Man (1935), Flynn's The League of Matthias is the utterly bizarre and fantastic detective story done right while maintaining the integrity of detective story with a clues and clever piece of misdirection. It's also another demonstration why Flynn was to the false-identity what Christopher Bush was to the unbreakable alibi and Carr to the locked room mystery! Flynn comes highly recommended to everyone who loves pure, undiluted vintage detective fiction and has now came dangerous close to replacing Bush as my favorite DSP author.