The Moai Murders (2005) by Lyn Hamilton

Lyn Hamilton was a Canadian author who studied cultural and physical anthropology ("as well as English literature") at the University of Toronto and worked in communications for corporations, non-profit organizations and the Canadian government – notably helping to develop an award-winning awareness campaign on domestic violence in the 1980s. When she turned fifty, Hamilton wrote and published her debut novel, The Xibalba Murders (1997), which was the first in a series of eleven archaeological mysteries published over a ten year period. Regrettably, Hamilton was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer while working on her last novel (The Chinese Alchemist, 2007) and passed away in 2009. 

Obviously, the archaeological and historically-themed plots is what first caught my attention, but one title in the series stood out to me for an entirely different reason. This time, it's not the possible presence of a locked room mystery or impossible crime. The novel under review today has a premise that immediately conjured up images of Japanese shin honkaku mysteries like Yukito Ayatsuji's Jakkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987), Alice Arisugawa's Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) and about 99% of the stories from The Kindaichi Case Files series. I was not entirely off the mark with this conjecture. 

The Moai Murders (2005) is the ninth title starring Hamilton's series-detective, Lara McClintoch, who's an antique dealer from Toronto and your typical, everyday murder-magnet – drawing out corpses and murderers wherever she goes. Such as on "a tiny island in the middle of nowhere" where the only crime normally is "excessive drinking."

The story begins with a visit from Lara McClintoch's close friend, Moira Meller, who recently recovered from a serious and painful surgery, which made her reevaluate her past and future. Moira drew up a list with things she still wanted to do and right at the top of her bucket list is hugging a Moai statue. So she invites Lara to accompany her on a long overdue, fun-only holiday to Rapa Nui. A tiny, remote island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean more famously known as Easter Island. Lare and Moira's fun-only excursion unluckily coincided with the First Annual Moai Congress at their hotel. A congress with a well-known, but somewhat controversial, keynote speaker, Jasper Robinson.

Jasper Robinson is an amateur archaeologist, self-styled adventurer and considered by some to be "a modern day Thor Heyerdahl" who discovered "a very ancient fortress in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile" and swam "across the Straits of Magellan." Robinson is going to present a paper at the congress proving that there were "two waves of settlement of the island" with the first one bringing "the great stonemasons" of South America to Rapa Nui, which is contrary to the academic consensus that Polynesians had settled the island. There is, however, nobody there to represent the academic community. Not officially. Dr. Gordon Fairweather is an archaeologist who lives on the island and clashed publicly with Robinson, but the rest of the congress attendees and speakers comprises almost entirely of "the lunatic fringe." Or, to be more precise, the members of an internet discussion group called the Moaimaniacs. Every group member has a nickname related to both Rapa Nui and their particular area of interest.

Dave Maddox, a builder and developer, is MoaiMan and is going to present his theory "as to how the moai got from the quarry to the ahu." Seth Connelly is a history teacher and "knows everything there is to know about rongorongo," a now lost language of the island, which is why he picked RongoReader as his nickname. Brian Murphy, or Birdman, is an archaeology graduate who supports himself as a computer programmer, but is there to find himself a job in his chosen field with a special interest in "the site of the bird man cult." Edwina Rasmussen is Vinapu, "because she supports Jasper's theories of settlement from South America." Albert Morris is a retired PR consultant and amateur archaeologist, volunteering at dig sites all over the world, who goes by the nickname Arikimo. Brenda Butters is the congress organizer and is known on the internet group as Avareipu. Enrique Gonzales, or Tongenrique, came to the island to learn more while Lewis Hood is interested in the archaeological survey of Poike, which is why he picked Poikeman as his online handle. Cassandra de Santiago is the most colorful character of the bunch and believes "Rapa Nui may be all that's left of the lost continent of Lemuria." This in additional to archaeologists, locals and a film crew shooting a documentary of Robinson's discovery.

However, the antagonism among the different schools of thought were not known to Lara and Moira when they decided to sign-up to attend the congress for laughs and giggles, but Lara discovers "the feelings went way beyond the professional" and charged with "a level of animosity" that surprised her – which gave her good reasons to be suspicious when a speaker died. Apparently trampled to death by a horse. Corporal Pablo Fuentes, of the Carabineros de Chile, believes it was an accident and Lara carefully poking around is not enough to prevent a second death. This second death could not be easily dismissed as a mere accident. This is also the point where the review is coming to a screeching halt. 

The Moai Murders began very promising with an intriguing premise and a fascinating background, swimming in local color, historical skulduggery and light banter, but Hamilton waited until the final quarter with unloading a lot of relevant information. Some of which should have been divulged at an earlier point to either make the story more fair or less confusing. For example, there were several references early on in the story to the maniacs and their nicknames, but it's not explained the Moaimaniacs is an internet group until very late in the story. I've no idea why this wasn't mentioned when they were introduced, because it would have added some interest and substance to the characters as a group. Or what about the motive? There's not a hint of the real motive until its given away towards the end, but, since its completely useless to identify the murderer, the 1975 scene could have been easily shown in one of the historical flashbacks in the first half. Something that would have made the plot marginally more fair and better. Since she waited until the last possible moment, Hamilton's attempt to do something really clever with the murder methods fell completely flat. There simply was not enough room left to do anything meaningful with it.

So, on the surface, The Moai Murders has all the allure of a Japanese shin honkaku mystery and a tighter plot would have justified the comparison, but, underneath the surface, there's only an amusingly written, historically-themed and lightly-plotted travelogue tramping around the ancient statues of Rapa Nui. Steer clear, if you want at least a half decently plotted detective story.


Magic Makes Murder (1943) by Harriette R. Campbell

Harriette Russell Campbell was born in New York as the daughter of the state's Attorney-General, Leslie W. Russell, but settled down in London following her marriage to a Scotsman and produced eight detective novels between 1936 and 1949 – all but one featuring her regular sleuth, Simon Brade. Campbell appears to have cut her teeth on detective fiction for children having published at least two short stories, "The Escape of Pandora" (1927) and "The Mystery of the Brass Key" (1928), in St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls

Several years ago, Campbell's detective novels were reissued by a dodgy, short-lived publisher with an overzealous editors who tried to "improve" on the original text, which is why I gave all their editions a pass. Fortunately, Black Heath decided to give Campbell another print-run and began reissuing her novels last year as cheap ebooks. Magic Makes Murder (1943) stood out to me for obvious reasons, but it also helped Anthony Boucher praised how the plot "satisfactorily blended" horror, humanity and logic. Not to get ahead of to the end of the review, but, if Magic Makes Murder is representative of her overall work, Harriette Campbell could very well become another Harriette Ashbrook! 

Magic Makes Murder is the sixth case for Simon Brade, "well known to connoisseurs as a single-minded collector of Chinese porcelain," who used his "special gifts of observation in the detection of crime" to finance his expensive hobby. The story begins with three men, Brade, Blackett and Jerrold, sitting in front of comfortable coal fire to discuss a macabre case that had been forced upon the collector. Their discussion is interspersed with the pages from a manuscript written by one of the central characters in a family drama as bizarre as it's fascination. One that had been brewing for decades.

So the second chapter is the first, more lengthier, excerpts from Sylvia Shirley's manuscript, written at the request of Simon Brade, which begins with an extensive piece of necessary family history covering several decades – beginning towards the end of the First World War. John Shirley moved his family to Howells Farm in 1918 where he prospered as a farmer and devoted his spare time to studying the occult. Shirley had built two tower-like ends on the farmhouse where his son, Victor, witnessed him talking or controlling “impish creatures” and “astral shapes” who came from "a lower world," but John Shirley was not a practitioner of the dark arts. He picked the side of light and "he warned the public in grim terms against dabbling ignorantly in occultism." Over the years, Shirley created a happy household at Howells Farm. A household comprising of Nannie, a devout Catholic and utterly devoted to the family, who has looked over Shirley ever since she became wheelchair-bound as a 10-year-old girl. Denis Ridge came to Howells Farm to be Shirley's live-in secretary, but eventually became part of the family and now basked in the charm and comfort of Howells. The widowed Charlotte Lesurier came to keep house for them, but did so much more. Charlotte lightened up the whole place by making "it easy to be gay, difficult to be gloomy." She brought along her 8-year-old daughter, Frankie, who grew up to become Victor's wife. Its "happiness spread to the village, the neighborhood" and wherever his "influence was felt." Where there's light, darkness follows like the night the day.

There were three seminal moments that slowly descended Howells into darkness. Firstly, the death of John Shirley which freed his son to dabble in dark magic and began to impose his will on the household. Secondly, the birth of Victor and Frankie's son, Timmy, who his father intended to train, "as some Indians boys are trained," to become a master of magic. Thirdly, the outbreak of the First World War, but there was a five-year reprieve as Victor went abroad to further his study of the occult, but intended to take over Timmy's education when he returned. Those were both happy and troublesome year as Frankie fell in love with Dr. Warren Lang. So the stage had been set for the return of the evil magician.

Victor Shirley's ambition was gather a circle of adepts to control demons and 5-year-old Timmy had "to excel Hitler himself as a Witch Doctor of the future," but Victor's treatment of his son was "unnatural and wrong" – filling Timmy's receptive mind with images which terrified him. The entire household tried to undermine and subvert Victor's corrupting influence over the child, but he was in full control of their lives and their futures. Victor's corrupting influence even intruded upon their neighbors and the village itself. However, the household began to make serious plans to counter him and a clairvoyant warned him that he would find himself in danger from its members, which is why he dragged Simon Brade to Howells. But then the Nazis intervened!

Howells Farm was near enough to London "to see and hear the Battle of Britain and hostile planes frequently unloaded bombs" near them. One night, a bomb landed on the lane outside the farmhouse and left an enormous crater, which was immediately secured by the air-raid warden set out ladders and a warning lights to guard the crater. But did someone took advantage of the situation? Did someone remove the safe guards? Victor is an excellent driver with great eye sights, but drove his car straight into the crater and was left critically injured. So, while the doctors begin to operate on Victor, Brade finds himself as "an embodied threat" of Victor's power over the household as he tries to piece together what exactly has happened. The question whether Victor survives or dies will have consequences for everyone. Not just the culprit.

So, once you get past the introduction to the investigation, it becomes evident Campbell partially modeled her work on the so-called British "Humdrums," like J.J. Connington and John Rhode, but her handling of the vital (very original) clues places her closer to John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie. There are some physical clues like two missing postage stamps, footsteps in the snow or instructing the reader to "get the position of the garden gate into your," but all of the important, tell-tale clues can be found in the personalities and actions of the characters. What eventually exposes the truth to Brade is combination of what was being said, heard and done at the time of the accident. A solution that more than lived up to Boucher's promise of a blend of horror, humanity and logic with a clearly stated and logical solution, but made complicated and morally murky by various, very human elements running through the case. There is, however, a very well done and original piece of alibi-breaking that hinged on (ROT13) gur orqgvzr evghnyf bs Gvzzl yvxr uvf orqgvzr fgbevrf naq ubj ur fnvq tbbqavtug. But even that excellent piece of plotting was dictated by the personalities and actions of the characters involved.

That's all I can say about Magic Makes Murder without giving anything away and whatever you think now regarding the direction of the solution, you're wrong. I, too, was reminded of those three detective novels (Puevfgvr'f Zheqre bs Ebtre Npxeblq, Zheqre ba gur Bevrag Rkcerff naq Pebbxrq Ubhfr), but Campbell pieced together a very different kind of solution that was only loose in its moral resolution. But this is one of those instances where you can't help but sympathize with the guilty party. 

Magic Makes Murder is a very unusually-structured detective novel with an opening recalling John Dickson Carr and Paul Halter, but began to take on the shape of the humdrums the moment the crime was committed (complete with diagrams) while the graceful handling of the characters, clues and red herrings is something to be expected from one of the top-tier Queens of Crime. So expect more of Harriette Campbell and Simon Brade on this blog in 2022!


A Scratch in Time: Q.E.D. vol. 15-16 by Motohiro Katou

Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 15 comprises of the usual two novella-length stories with the opening story, entitled "Glass Room," presenting the reader with one of the series more conventional, but deviously plotted, stories which has everything from an impossible crime (of sorts) to a whole host of those pesky alibis – except "this locked room destroys alibis." The story takes place during the last week of December and, if my memory of the series timeline serves me correctly, it's the last week of 2001. 

December is shiwasu in Japan and "shiwasu means a big cleanup day" to start the new year with a clean house and soul, which is why Sou Touma is helping Kana Mizuhara cleaning out her house. Mizuhara comes across a CD she borrowed six months ago from a classmate, Oya Natsumi, but she forgot to give it back. Touma reminds her it's the time of year to return all the stuff you have borrowed, but, when they arrive at the home of their classmate, Inspector Mizuhara is there with the family. Not without reason. Natsumi tells them her grandfather has been murdered!

Oya Etsuro was a man of leisure and an audiophile who dedicated all of his attention and resources to his hobby. Etsuro has his own workshop where he builds his own, old-fashioned amplifiers with vacuum tube bulbs, which produce better sound, but "the number of usable vacuum tube bulbs is decreasing" and "a rare vacuum tube can cost more than 100,000 yen" – ensuring the hobby is an expensive one. Etsuro is found one day in his workshop with a knife plunged into his side and he had three visitors that day, but they all possess unassailable alibis. Etsuro's struggling daughter-in-law, Oya Toyoko, made her weekly visit to bring him a bunto lunchbox. Wakabayashi Yoshikatsu is the president of the Health Foods Marketing Company and came to give Etsuro (who's an investor) a management report. Yamauchi Isao is fellow hobbyist and warned Etsuro that, "sooner or later," he's going to pay for living it up while his family were struggling with a recession. However, they were all seen leaving the premise by the housekeeper, Ogawa Shouko, who was knitting outside the workshop door when Etsuro was still alive. So who murdered this strange and selfish man and how?

The strength of this story is in its denouement as Sou Touma eliminates all of the suspects and every possible way the murderer could have entered, or exited, the workshop. Only to start all over again from scratch in order to demonstrate "there is a third entrance" that completely obliterates the murderer's otherwise unshakable alibi. Touma produces a one-of-a-kind piece of evidence the murderer unwittingly left behind in the flow of time. Punctuating his explanation with cracking the dead man's riddle promising "a present for someone that understands his hobby." A neatly done piece of visual code cracking that only works in a visual medium like comic books or TV.

So, plot-wise, "Glass Room" is a highlight of the series with the third, practically invisible entrance immediately inviting a comparison with Carter Dickson's The Judas Window (1938) and Arthur Porges' "The Unguarded Path" (collected in These Daisies Told, 2018), but putting the locked room mystery to work to craft a perfect alibi makes it closer to the stories in Tetsuya Ayukawa's The Red Locked Room (2020). Either way, it's a fantastic, neo-classical detective story.

The second story, "Dedekind Cut," brings the focus back on the series-characters as it explores another, unresolved episode from Touma's time as a 10-year-old prodigy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America. At the time, Hilbert Dorn, Professor of Mathematics, had an extremely intelligent and arrogant assistant, John Toll. Professor Dorn and Toll never got along very well, but the professor was forced to terminate Toll's position when he caught him altering a paper on his computer, which is where the incident would have ended – only it appears Toll began to mentally torture the professor. Professor Dorn's constantly finds his office ransacked or items smashed to pieces. Even when the locks were changed, the incidents continued with everything locked up and no signs of forced entry. So the professor asks Touma to be his witness and give evidence in court of what John Toll has done to him, but Touma flat out refuses to do this. Saying that the whole problem is like "a Dedekind cut" (a mathematical "concept that rational and irrational numbers can be cut from a real number line").

Several years later, Professor Dorn travels with Syd "Loki" Green to Japan to ask Touma to finally explain why his problem is like the Dedekind cut. Yes, the story include pages that will give some readers traumatic flashbacks of their math homework, but you can be mathematically illiterate and still piece together the solution. A rather sad solution firmly grounded in the personalities of the characters (Dorn, Toll and Touma) with all the clues fairly on display. So a relatively minor entry in the series, but a good example of a compelling, character-driven detective story.

The 16th volume of Q.E.D. opens with "Sakura, Sakura" and takes place against the preparations of the Flower Viewing Festival in Sakisaka Park. Kana Mizuhara is the class manager in charge of the preparations, but a dark cloud drifts over the preparations when a third-year student, Minegishi, enters the classroom to ask Mizuhara is going out with Touma. Mizuhara vigorously denied it and learns Touma is unable to help her with preparing the flower viewing. Something involving his future and Minegishi. So another character-driven story exploring and fleshing out the two protagonists, but the story comes with three (locked room) mini-puzzles that need to be solved.

So, while in the park, Mizuhara meets three people from a nearby company, but they all have lost something that could potentially spell trouble for them. Two employees lost an important document in the copying room ("it just disappeared in front of our eyes"), which has a very easy and solvable answer. The third employee lost a wedding ring and provides the story with a second locked room-puzzle. Matsushima Shinsuke is kind of the office clown of the company and claimed to "have night vision even at night," which he did to trick his colleagues into making a losing bet. Shinsuke told them to write something on a piece of paper, put it inside a sealed envelope and he would read it in the windowless, pitch-black document room – which has the light switch on the outside. And he did it! A really fun little locked room-trick that becomes even better once you know how it was done, because the premise feels cheap in comparison with the solution.

However, these are merely mini-puzzles with the story really revolving around the undefined relationship between the two protagonists, particularly Touma, as it's implied "someone like that shouldn't be in our world forever" and how "he's definitely going to disappear one day" – like cherry blossoms "he'll fall at some point." So, on a whole, a good and evenly balanced story, but shows Q.E.D. is a series you have to read in order. By the way, the balancing act between the emotional and intellectual is a red thread running through all the characters and stories in this series.

Regrettably, the second and last story, entitled "A Corpse's Tear," ends this volume on a disappointing note, but the story began promising enough with Inspector Mizuhara taking his daughter and Touma on a fishing holiday in the mountains. They are staying with an old friend of the inspector, Ooshiro Yoshirou, who asks the policeman to look at a letter he received. A girl he knew from high school, Awata Ryouko, wrote him to say she fears her violent husband is going to kill her. Next thing they learn is that she's apparently ran away from her husband, but the search for a missing person eventually becomes a murder case and a hasty arrest is made. But did this person really do it? Touma has to answer that question by discovering the place where the body had been hidden before it was discovered. Admittedly, the trick was clever, but something the reader has not been prepared to deal with because it took so long for the body to be found. A seasoned mystery reader can probably make an educated guess where the body could have been hidden, but not really fair in already plain and unremarkable story. You have to expect these kind of duds in a series casting such a large, wide net in a variety of (back) waters of the genre. Some of those waters were previously unexplored.

So, all in all, volume 15 evidently is the stronger of the two volumes with a traditionally-styled, tightly plotted locked room problem and a very well handled and compelling piece of character-building, which is a trick the opening story of volume 16 tried to repeat. But the collection of mini-puzzles stole the show there. Unfortunately, the last story is as unimpressive as it was disappointing, but, on balance, they more than justified my long overdue return to Q.E.D. I'm going to try to double-review my way through the series in 2022 and try the first two volumes of C.M.B. To be continued...


The King's Club Murder (1930) by Ian Greig

Ian Borthwick Greig is a now forgotten, obscure mystery writer, born in 1892 and died in 1959, whose name has been wrongly reported online as Ian Baxter Greig, but a little detective work revealed his correct name and the error is probably due to someone having misread the title of one of his novels – namely Baxter's Second Death (1932). You can see how someone could have read it as Second Death by Ian Baxter Greig with the middle name being in the wrong place. But this is not the only misunderstanding surrounding his identity. Some websites mixed him up with another Ian Greig, a Scottish conservative, who wrote The Assault on the West (1968), but he was born in 1924 and died in 1995. 

So, having all of that sorted out, I tried to track down what I could find about this long-forgotten mystery writer and pickings were regrettably slim. I found his name listed in Record of Service of Solicitors and Articled Clerks with His Majesty's Forces, 1914-1919 (1920), which noted Greig had "served as 2nd Lieut., 8th Batt. Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, subsequently promoted Capt." and was "mentioned in dispatches" as well as being "awarded the MC" (Military Cross). Greig then vanished from the records until he briefly reappeared in the early 1930s as the author of five now exceedingly rare, often expensive detective novels. None of the books have been reprinted since the thirties and images of the dust jackets are practically non existent online. However, the dust jacket of Greig's The Tragedy of the Chinese Mine (1930) is mentioned in a 2013 article, "The Library of Unborrowed Books," whose "title is spelled out in letters that are meant to seem assembled from stalks of bamboo."

Greig's work would have been next to impossible to sample had he not bowed out of the genre with the publication of The Inspector Swinton Omnibus (1934), which is the cheapest, most common title in the series and comprises of his first three novels – The King's Club Murder (1930), The Tragedy of the Chinese Mine and Murder in Lintercombe (1931). I recently stumbled across a slightly battered, dirt cheap copy of the omnibus edition and always welcome an opportunity to explore a completely forgotten mystery writers. See my more recent posts on John Hymers and B.J. Kleymens. 

The King's Club Murder, published in the US as The Silver King Mystery, is Greig's first novel and introduced his series-character, Inspector John Swinton, which is apparently his most sought after novel by collectors of golfing/sports-themed mysteries. The first-half can be read as an origin story.

John Swinton was "young to be an inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard" and had not only "the initial advantage of a thoroughly good education" to thank him rapidly climbing the rank, but also "his ability to carry out the most dreary form of police drudgery" – almost with enthusiasm and without complaint. Like the "unenviable job of keeping the suicide register." Swinton still wonders "whether he would ever get his chance in a spectacular case" or "whether he was doomed for the rest of career to drug-smuggling and its allied trade," which is when the news arrives that there's been a murder at King's Club. Since two of the senior detectives are absent, Swinton is dispatched to the golf club to take charge.

King's Club is an exclusive, old-world institution near London and exclusive here means that "no amount of gold will unbar its gates," but one of its members, Miss Amelia Piltar, whose large house practically stood on the grounds of the club. Miss Piltar became a member and is often playing practice shots, where she's not supposed to, but nobody has the courage to tell the short-tempered, vaguely sinister old lady not to. And it was her body that was found in a clump of trees near the eighteenth fairway. Admittedly, the murder is a strange one! 

Miss Piltar had received two very severe blows to the back of the head, insufficient to have caused death, but the bizarre thing is that the doctor believes that the blows were "almost certainly due to a golf ball." After being knocked unconscious, she was strangled with some very rough material and apparently robbed. The case is guaranteed to become a cause celebre when Swinton discovers the victim had been blackmailing people left and right.

This first-half is easily the best part of The King's Club Murder as it shows a young and promising, but mostly inexperienced, police inspector handle his first murder case. And not everything goes perfect. Swinton forgets to check up on certain things or threatens to lose his temper with a suspect, but demonstrated some shrewd diplomatic skill when handling two notorious press hounds. Less professionally is Swinton falling "blindly and madly in love" with a strange woman who turns up again in the second-half and making a small fortune on stock market with an insider tip. But swearing "a vow never again to let money fever grip him again." Swinton also investigates an unusual structure on the club grounds, a polo-practice hut, which has a floor sloping up steeply to the walls on all four side leaving a small level patch in the center – occupied by "an extraordinary-looking hobby-horse." A piece of poorly discarded evidence is discovered in the polo hut, but it should have been used as the scene of the crime. Why not toss the blackmailing victim (hogtied?) over the saddle like a cowboy's bounty to mock her crimes? There's a good and original locked room-trick hiding somewhere in that polo hut.

More importantly, the first-half had focus with clues and a serious suspect to concentrate on, but, as the police case collapsed, so did the structure of the story and plot. The whole story rapidly changed from a not uninteresting, second-string whodunit into a lethargic, third-rate British pursuit thriller typical of the 1920s and '30s chasing around a criminal with a penchant for disguises. A chase involving a capitalist plot involving commies, police raids, a booby trapped car and a damsel in distress (tied to a gate, not a railroad track), but nothing particularly good or worth elaborating on. So the ending could not have been anything but a huge letdown.

Greig's The King's Club Murder started with a lot of promise and energy by presenting a very young and green policeman getting a big break to prove himself, which shaped up to be a fairly decent, second-string mystery novel. But everything (potentially) good had to take a backseat in order to do a badly dated, unoriginal chase thriller. You could almost feel the plunge in quality when the story shifted gears. So, needless to say, The Inspector Swinton Murder Omnibus is going on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

Note for the curious: there are quite a few references in the story to the First World War, but one, very brief, allusion towards the end stood out to me. Swinton comes across a wooden seat in a village street with on the back, scarcely distinguishable now, painted "for the use of wounded soldiers only." Eleven years had barely passed in 1930 since the Armistice was signed and time was already doing its withering work en route to the next Great War.


Blacke's Magic: Revenge of the Esperanza (1986)

Over the past two years, I've come across two novels, a novella and short story that pulled the detective story down to the muted, two-colored world of the seabed littered with shipwrecks, sunken treasure and legends of the deep ocean – revealing a largely untapped basin of possibilities. Charles Forsyte's Diving Death (1962), Micki Browning's Adrift (2017), Desmond Reid's "Caribbean Crisis" (1962) and John Dickson Carr's "Lair of the Devil-Fish" (collected in The Island of Coffins, 2021) all demonstrated an underwater setting opened up new opportunities to play around with unbreakable alibis and impossible crimes. Something that has been explored decade earlier by Joseph Commings in his 1953 short story "Bones for Davy Jones" (collected in The Locked Room Reader, 1968). Ho-Ling Wong followed up my review of Forsyte's Diving Death by discussing the Detective Academy Q episode The Case of the Locked Room Mystery at the Bottom of the Sea, which does exactly as described on the tin. 

So these regrettably too rare deep sea detective stories have become a favorite (soggy) rabbit hole of mine to explore. Not in the least because they often combine an archaeological plot with an impossible crime, which are two of my favorite sub-categories of the detective story. There happened to be an episode of Blacke's Magic dovetailing an archaeological mystery with the miraculous disappearance of a 300-year-old Spanish seabed shipwreck. So it was high time to return to that dapper magician-sleuth and his carny father. 

Blacke's Magic
was a short-lived American TV-series, created by Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter S. Fischer, which aired on NBC from January 5 to May 7, 1986, starring Hal Linden as magician-detective Alexander Blacke and Harry Morgan as his conman dad, Leonard – appearing together in thirteen episodes pitting their wits "against seemingly magical crimes." The series feels like a 1980s prototype of Jonathan Creek. 

Revenge of the Esperanza (1986) is the fifth episode of the series and begins with Alexander Blacke following “a paper trail of credit card charges, hotels, restaurants, airline tickets” to a luxurious yacht club in Florida. There he finds his father living it large, under the name Farnsworth, but he also appears to have his "feet planted firmly in quicksand." Leonard Blacke has gotten himself involved with four young treasure hunters, Maryanne Thompson, Paul Thompson, Eric Wilson and Clay, who have been trying to locate the wreck of the Esperanza for years. A Spanish galleon that sunk over three centuries ago in a storm with "untold riches" as its cargo, but the one of the investors is getting impatient with the stories about treasure ships and wants her whole one-hundred thousand dollars back. So the discovery of the wreck came in the nick of time. But not for very long.

The members agreed to camp out on the top of the wreck until they have brought up "every last ounce of gold she got," but, during the night, their equipment sounds the alarm and watched how it moved away on sonar – a nifty piece of retro-futuristic, 1980s fictitious technology (see picture). When they dived looking for it, it was gone, but "a 300-year-old shipwreck can't just get up and sail off." But that's what happened.

Alexander Blacke has to stick around to save his father's neck, because the investor has pressed charges against Farnsworth and Sheriff Tyler is becoming very suspicious of the old man. Just as the Esperanza vanished, the locals begin to see an old pirate ship, "quiet like a ghost," cutting through the fog and ships bells clanging mournfully. Finally, one of the treasure hunters is murdered with a dagger that came from the wreck.

So, yeah, there's more here than can be used in a 45-minute episode and the first murder served only to introduce an original clue. A piece of now long-lost technology known as a cassette tape with noise recorded on it and feel rather proud of myself for immediately figuring out what's really on the cassette. And how it could be played back. The second murder felt unnecessary and made the murderer standout, but was pleasantly surprised to discover (ROT13) ur unq na nppbzcyvfu uvqqra va cynva fvtug naq ur jnf chg gb tbbq hfr gb chapu hc gur raqvat. So the plot mainly hinges Sheriff Tyler nipping at Leonard Blacke's heel and the disappearance of the Esperanza, but they were both reasonably well handled. Particularly, the impossible disappearance of the wreck had a believable explanation (despite the dodgy monitoring) with that great cassette clue, but they needed more room to do them any justice. I think cutting the ghost ship and turning two murders into a single assault (leaving the victim unconscious in a hospital bed) would have made for better and much tighter episode.

All on all, Revenge of the Esperanza is a decent, fun enough episode with an intriguing premise and some good idea, but a cluttered 45-minutes were not enough to do anything meaningful with it. But, if you love impossible crimes, it's genuine pleasure to watch one unfold on screen.


No Friendly Drop (1931) by Henry Wade

Major Sir Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher was an English baronet who fought in the two World Wars with the Grenadier Guards and held the positions of High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, but Major Sir Henry's greatest service to his country was performed under a pseudonym, "Henry Wade" – plastered on the covers of more than twenty detective novels. Barzun & Taylor considered Wade to be "one of the outstanding authors not only of the thirties," but "also of the immediate post-war period." Particularly his earlier novels are well thought of by classic mystery readers. I had only read Constable, Guard Thyself! (1934) and Heir Presumptive (1935) years ago. So it was about time I returned to Wade and Detective-Inspector John Poole. 

No Friendly Drop (1931) is Wade's fifth novel and the second one to star his series-detective, Detective-Inspector Poole, who made his first appearance in The Duke of York's Step (1929). This one has been on my wishlist and big pile ever since reading glowing reviews from Nick, Patrick and "D for Doom." Having now read the book, I can say No Friendly Drop can be counted among the best of the British country house mystery novels. A story presented as typical, almost idyllic, country house mystery, but the devil is in the details and the nigh perfect plotting has a genuine and moving tragedy hidden underneath.

Tassart Hall, in Brackenshire, has been the ancestral seat of Lord Grayle's family for centuries and he loved both "the old-world furnishings of Tassart" and his dear wife, Lady Grayle. She was "passionately devoted to her husband," but dark clouds slowly gather over the country house.

Lord Grayle is nearly sixty, happily married and very popular in the region, but poor health made him a sad, delicate man that prevented him to make "use of his natural ability and opportunities" and lately developed a neuralgic tic – attacks of acute pain could drive him into a state "far more serious than the disease itself." On top of that, the cost of running a big estate has doubled in post-war England. And on the way of being taxed out of existence. Their son and their ambitious daughter-in-law, Lord and Lady Chessingham, disapprove of Lady Grayle not only refusing to cut back on her royal allowance, but even exceeding it. But nothing out of the ordinary for the time, which makes what happens next so devastating.

One morning, the household finds Lord Grayle unresponsive in his bed and Dr. Norman Calladine suspect he might have died from an overdose of medication, but a tabulation of the time of death and medication left shows something doesn't quite add up. Chief Constable knows "this is going to be an extremely awkward case" involving "one of the best known and most respected families in the country." So he decides to call in Scotland Yard who send Detective-Inspector John Poole down to Tassart Hall. Poole comes to the conclusion that he has deeply perplexing murder case on his hand without an apparent motive. Everyone agreed Lady Grayle's "love for her husband was the strongest and most genuine feature of her character." Lady Chessingham was hardly going to push colorless and pompous husband "into an earldom and the Cabinet over the dead body of her father-in-law."

So while they are all flawed people, overly generous, extravagant, ambitious or pompous, none of them are truly evil people who had a need to bump off of the beloved family patriarch – which would have netted them only a few hundred pounds or a heavily taxed estate. Lord Grayle's death actually forces his widow to make serious financial cutbacks. Not quite the cast of vultures commonly associated with these English country house mysteries. Even more uncharacteristically is the character who becomes the focal point of the police investigation.

A tired, completely untrue cliché of the detective story is "The Butler Did It," because a butler is practically part of the furniture and the least likely person to suspect. I can think of only a handful of detective stories in which the butler turned out to be murderer. I cringed every time. No Friendly Drop did things a little bit differently by dragging out the butler of Tassart Hall, James Moode, whose messy financial and private life attracted Poole's attention. Poole strongly suspects Moode of being in the middle of a lucrative scheme to secretly replace the valuable antique furniture at the hall with copies, but, as he digs deeper, Poole begrudgingly admits to himself that even Moode "could not be altogether a bad lot." Continuing the theme of the flawed family members without a pressing motive that really holds up. But then the problem deepens even more when the autopsy report comes in.

Lord Grayle had been given a "skillful mixing" of two poisons, di-dial and scopolamine, which were only lethal in combination. The doses were administrated hours apart. So why did the poisoner use "two stones to kill one bird" and what was the vehicle of the poisons? Poole knows "it's always a risk to leave a poisoner out," but decides to treat very carefully and not always ask the important questions as he hopes to lure the murderer in a false sense of security. Very much to the chagrin of the county police. And they appear to be justified when a second person is poisoned. A poisoning as mystifying as the first one that at the same time brings a great deal of clarity to the problem. I didn't realize just how fairly Wade had been playing the game until roughly the last quarter of the story.

I had a few ideas and suspicions, but the picture remained in unclear until reaching the last quarter when nearly everything, almost automatically, began to click together to form a practically complete picture and only aspect remained hazy – revealing the only weak link in the plot. Wade should have told the reader (ROT13) nobhg gur oebxra fcbhg bs Ybeq Tenlyr'f grncbg. However, it's the only design flaw in what's otherwise a flawlessly plotted detective story that even Agatha Christie could not have improved upon. But the solution is not merely an answer to a complicated, if ultimately simple, puzzle because the characters are not merely chess pieces who stand and move in service of the plot. So the solution is both logical and emotionally destructive, which delivered the finishing blow to the murderer. A truly tragic ending! 

No Friendly Drop has the outward appearance of a typically British, traditionally-structured country house mystery, but you only have to read the first chapter to understand this one is different and what unfolds in the succeeding chapters is an intelligently written and plotted detective story – particularly how Wade handled the plot-thread concerning the faked furniture. When it became evident what had happened at Tassart Hall, the story smartly began to shape into a human tragedy to deliver an ending befitting a classic. The fire that was lit in the 1920s was beginning to roar. Highly recommended!


Apocryphal Plots: "Omar Khayyam, Detective" (1960) by Theodore Mathieson

A few years ago, I reviewed Theodore Mathieson's "Leonardo da Vinci, Detective" (1959), one of the more well-known, reprinted stories from his standalone "Great Detectives" series, "in which a famous person of the past acts as detective just once at a critical point in his career" like Captain Cook, Alexander the Great and Florence Nightingale – published between 1958 and 1973 in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The first ten stories were collected as The Great Detectives (1960). 

What became clear from my reading of "Leonardo da Vinci, Detective" and comparing it to John Norris' review of The Devil and Benjamin Franklin (1961) is that Mathieson was a better storyteller than plotter. A well intended mystery writer who had a good idea, but his handling of plot and clues were clumsy at best. John even said that the plot of The Devil and Benjamin Franklin would "rankle the hairs of any traditional detective novel fan."

There is, however, an allure to Mathieson's historical detective fiction. Mathieson was not the first to write historical mysteries or even use historical figures as characters, but "most of these had been infrequent or isolated instances" and Robert van Gulik had just began publishing his Judge Dee novels – which made him one of the first to create a series of historical mysteries. While the "Great Detectives" is a series of standalone stories, they are presented as newly discovered and hitherto unchronicled feats of detection revealed by literary archaeologist, Theodore Mathieson. It also helped Mathieson has more than one impossible crime story to his credit. So you can probably guess what brought me back to the series. 

"Omar Khayyam, Detective" was originally published in the February, 1960, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and takes place over 900 years ago in the Seljuk Empire

Omar Khayyam was a Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet who garnered the patronage of the Sultan, Malik Shah, through his childhood friend and current Vizier, Nizam al Mulk. The story opens with Malik Shah summoning the astrologer with a request to talk to his Vizier, who's terribly afraid of something and has locked himself away in a turret room, but only tells Omar why he's fearful of his life. Rahim Zaid is the leader of the Assassins, "a fanatical, murderous group of revolutionaries," who's believed to possess magical powers "to be in two places at once" or "walk through stone walls." He has a cast-iron grip on his minions as he's the only one who can supply them with hashish. Nizam had ordered the execution of Zaid's only son and has reasons to believe he's already within the palace. So the Vizier stays behind the heavy, iron-bound and bolted door of his turret room with guards posted outside.

During a performance in the courtyard, the Sultan and Omar witness Nizam in the turret window, "as if struggling with some unseen assailant," before plunging down to the broad stone passageway below the level of the court – a foot-long dagger stuck out of his back. But when they break down the door, no murderer is waiting for them inside! Only a dying message Nizam had circled with wine in a copy of the Rubáiyát. Omar not only has to figure out who killed his friend and how, but he has a three-day deadline to do so. Malik Shah says to Omar, "bring me proof, star-gazer, that the murder was not committed by magic" or he will be exiled.

On a historical side note, I remembered having read something once about proto-detective stories from the Middle East and a quick search did turn up an interesting result. What I remembered turned out to be correct. The earliest known example is "The Three Apples," from One Thousand and One Nights, in which the Sultan orders his Vizier to solve a murder within three days "or be executed if he fails his assignment." So you can say early Arabic detective stories were more like the hardboiled private eye tales of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, while ancient Chinese mysteries represented a more traditional style. The more things change, I guess. :)

Anyway, Omar's handling is not without interest and experiments with the drugs to understand what the Assassins experience under the influence of hashish, which recalls M.P. Shiel's Prince Zaleski (1895) and Joseph B. Carr's The Man With Bated Breath (1934). But the presence of drugs in combination with the setup of the locked room problem had me worried. There's a prosperously bad type of solution to the problem of a murderer vanishing from a locked room in which the victim is slipped a hallucinogenic substance and (accidentally) gets killed during a fit of madness. Somehow that solution has turned up more than once in my locked room reading and the setup would have allowed for it.

Fortunately, Mathieson had something a little better and more traditional in store, but the overall solution, while good in theory, is not entirely spotless and you can write that down mostly to (ROT13) gur cerfrapr bs gbb znal nppbzcyvprf – even though the story (sort of) accounts for it. But it comes across as cheap, needlessly complicated trickery. There are two other aspects of the solution that raised an eyebrow. Firstly, it was extremely risky (more ROT13) gb unir bar-unys bs gur gevpx eryl ba gur cebzvfr bs na rgreany, qeht-vaqhprq cnenqvfr gb gur nqqvpgrq snxr ivpgvz va beqre gb znxr uvz pbzzvg fhvpvqr. Secondly, why did nobody notice (even more ROT13) gung Avmnz'f obql qvqa'g fubj nal fvtaf be jbhaqf lbh jbhyq rkcrpg gb svaq ba n obql gung jnf guebja bhg bs n gbjre gb n fgbar cngu orybj. Even back then that must have stood out, right?!

So, despite my misgivings about the plot, I actually did enjoy reading the story. Mathieson was a better storyteller than plotter and you should approach this series as historical fiction dressed up as detective stories. But, purely as a plotter, he can be very frustrating to the plot-technical (locked room) mystery reader.


The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (1966) by Josef Skvorecky

Josef Skvorecky was a Czech-Canadian writer and publisher, born in former Czechoslovakia, who became an internationally acclaimed author of works like Bassaxofon (The Bass Saxophone, 1967) and Příběh inženýra lidských duší (The Engineer of Human Souls, 1977), but he was also a pillar of support to Czech dissident writers – printing and smuggling their books into the country in defiance of Communist censorship. When he was not thumbing his nose at the totalitarian regime lording over his home country, Skvorecky was "an avid reader of Ellery Queen, R. Austin Freeman, John Dickson Carr, et al."

Skvorecky love of mysteries found expression in a series of detective stories about a melancholic, sad-eyed Czech policeman, Lieutenant Josef Boruvka, who appeared in three short story collections and a novel. The series has been described as "mischievous parodies" of the traditional detective story with Hříchy pro pátera Knoxe (Sins for Father Knox, 1973), a collection with each story breaking one of Father Knox's "Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction" (1929), standing as the most well-known representative of that reputation. However, the plots all hinge on a unifying gimmick, like Agatha Christie's The Labours of Hercules (1947), which didn't allow him to really showcase his abilities as a plotter. All he had to do was present a solution or situation that violated one of Knox's ten rules.

There is, however, one of the three collections in the series that has been on my wishlist for ages. Smutek poručíka Borůvky (The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka, 1966) introduced Lieutenant Boruvka in twelve short stories that are either tongue-in-cheek or serious renditions of the classic detective stories of yore, but loaded with bizarre clues, strange crimes and a number of locked room mysteries. Robert Adey listed only three of the stories in Locked Room Murders (1991), but there are several more to be found here. So let's get started! 

"The Supernatural Powers of Lieutenant Boruvka" opens the collection and explains why Constable First Class Sintak is "firmly convinced that Lieutenant Boruvka wielded powers that were not entirely in keeping with normal human abilities," like a wizard, which he irrevocably proved to Sintak in the Semerak case – a case officially handled by Boruvka's young sergeant. Sergeant Malek meets with his superior at the scene of the crime, an attic where an elderly woman was hanging by her neck from a rope tied to a ceiling beam, but enthusiastic sergeant knew it was murder and the whole story is basically a conversation between the two. A conversation that quickly begins to poke fun at the fictional detective who love being complicated for the sake of being complicated. Malek's has complicated timetables, collected a piece from a building as evidence and ordered divers, backed by a helicopter, to go over a pond to look for a discarded bike. Meanwhile, Boruvka tries to get in a word edgewise ("certainly, but..." "it's just that...") and it takes him a while before he can point out something really obvious in the attic. Something proving without a doubt that the old woman had been murdered. 

This story has a very thin plot, which hinges on the obvious, but it was a genuinely amusing take on the exasperating, fictional detectives and Malek gave his amateur counterparts a run for their money. But what made the simplistic solution work is that both detectives were correct. Only difference is that Malek took the long way round and Boruvka a short cut. A great introduction to the lieutenant and his sergeant!

Unfortunately, the second story, "That Sax Solo," is the weakest and my least favorite story from the collection. The lead singer of a Jazz band is murdered at a hotel and Boruvka has to use a musical clue to break down a musical alibi, but the clue was used in the worst possible way to end the story. 

"The Scientific Method" is the third story and one of the stories in the collection that was overlooked by Adey in Locked Room Murders. This is also the first theatrical mystery of the collection and brings Lieutenant Boruvka to the Odeon Theatre where a ballet dancer has been killed, a bullet fired "straight into the nape of her neck," while she was taking a shower, but "a body search of all the ladies" was conducted before they left the showers – no weapon was recovered. Malek remarks they have "a miraculous marksman" on their hands. However, the trick has been done before and the idea behind it can be considered as one of the earliest innovations in impossible crime plotting. But the solution is the first one to show Skvorecky's fascination as a plotter with trajectories and movement along horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. You'll find this approach in his more trickier and complicated stories. 

"Death on Needlepoint" is potential anthology material and reminiscent of the mountaineering, open-air locked room mysteries by Glyn Carr. The story begins with three mountaineers, Patera, Bartos and Jirina, climbing the rocky face of Needlepoint linked by only a rope with a sixty-foot precipice yawning beneath them. Patera is the first one to make it over the overhang of the summit, but then the rope slackens and when Bartos completes his harrowing ascent to the top, he makes a terrifying discovery. Patera sat, "strangely contorted," on the bare summit of the rock with his face between his knees and "the carved handle of a bowie-knife protruding from his back." Bartos recognized his own knife which he assumed was back at the camp in his tent. When the police arrives, Boruvka discovers Patera and Bartos were rivals who tried to win Jirina's affection. But how was the murder carried out?

Boruvka has a crime scene "which the murderer couldn't have reached and from which he couldn't have escaped," but the place is not half as inaccessible as it appears on first sight. There are several very well done false-solutions with the one accusing the third climber, Jirina, standing out as particular ingenious, but the actual solution is no slouch either. Only thing lacking was a diagram. It would have made the tricky solution so much clearer. Unquestionably, one of the collection's stronger stories. 

"Whose Deduction?" is a minor, forgettable story which I already have trouble remembering. The story is part of a character-arc that runs through the collection and concerns a young policewoman, Eva, who was introduced in the third story and Boruvka is beginning to fall in love with her. However, he's a married man with a teenage daughter and an unimpeachable reputation as an inspector, which will cause some serious trouble in later stories. So the modern trope of the troubled policeman rears its ugly head here, but there's kind of a payoff in the stories ahead. This story is not one of my favorites, however, it perfectly demonstrates why I prefer plot over character.

The next story is "The Case of the Horizontal Trajectory," but have previously discussed it in my review of John Pugmire and Brian Skupin's monumental anthology, The Realm of the Impossible (2017). It's one of the standout stories of the collection and a solid impossible crime story in the tradition of the scientific detective stories by Arthur Porges. 

"A Tried and Proven Method" breaks with the routine of previous stories as Boruvka promised his 17-year-old daughter, Zuzana, to spend a holiday together in Italy ("the home of her mother's family") under the condition her school report turned out well, which she interpreted as not failing her classes – collecting an abundance of Cs, Ds and two As. Boruvka gave in and took Zuzana on her first trip abroad, but the holiday slowly turned disastrous. They run out of gas in the mountains and have to climb on foot to the hotel, but they come across two very unusual sights in their track to the top. Firstly, Zuzana notices that the pale, gold sand on a plateau sixty feet below is disturbed "as though a struggle had taken place there," but no tracks led to the spot. The sand all around was "absolutely smooth." Secondly, they come across a dead woman near the stony path. Boruvka knows its murder, but, as a Red policeman from a communist country, he's regarded with suspicion and mocked to his face ("in your country everyone suspicious"). Besides, the local police knows it must have been suicide. Not murder. 

The gravely ill victim was not bludgeoned to death, but had fallen from a terrific height and likely threw herself out of a cable cart, which she had repeatedly threaten to do. She was seen boarding the cable cart alone and it arrived at the station empty with an open door. Nobody could have gotten to her. Boruvka is still convinced it was murder and comes up with an interesting solution befitting such an unusual, bizarrely staged impossible murder. A solution treading dangerously close to the territory of second-rate pulp trickery, but Skvorecky handled and presented the trick very convincingly. 

"Falling Light" is a sequel, of sorts, to "A Tried and Proven Method" in which Boruvka and Zuzana spend a few days of their Italian holiday as guests of Signor Greffi. A relative of the victim from the previous story and out of gratitude for capturing her murderer, he invited father and daughter to his Venetian residence. Boruvka finds himself in a "linguistic isolation" among the English and Italian speaking guests, which is a situation that's hardly improved by the murder of their host. This story is a quasi-locked room mystery masquerading as a closed-circle whodunit, but this time the solution is unmistakably pulpy in nature. Something you would expect from John Russell Fearn or Gerald Verner. Nonetheless, I can appreciate a good, pulp-style impossible crime and liked the clue of the ugly doll. 

"Aristotelian Logic" begins with the murder of a model during a fashion show, stabbed to death in her dressing room cubicle, but the murder serves as vehicle for an argument between Boruvka and "the policewoman," Eva. Boruvka is annoyed at his infatuation with Eva and becomes quite unpleasant to her over the course of the investigation, which results in him chiding her that "the homicide squad cannot be guided by feminine logic" and "she had no idea what Aristotelian logic was." However, while Eva's view of the case "could hardly be termed strictly Aristotelian logic," she beats Boruvka to the solution. Not the strongest of the stories collected here, but an interesting, well done variation on that rarely used trope of the rival detectives. 

"The End of an Old Tom-Cat" has better storytelling and imagery than plotting beginning on the night Boruvka is kept awake by a whole quartet of cats, wailing a concert on the roof of his house, while an old tomcat lay dying at the other end of the city – foreshadowing next morning's murder case. Boruvka is summoned to the home of a well-known Public Prosecutor, Paul Hynais, who died in his bed that night with all the tale-tell signs of poisoning. Hynais turns out to have been somewhat of roguish tomcat, in human guise, who accepted favors from women to go light on the men in their lives in the courtroom. This angle brings back a character from an earlier story, but, on a whole, the story surrounding the murder was more interesting than the murder itself. Boruvka actually finds part of the solution in Ellery Queen's The Roman Hat Mystery (1929).

For some reason, "The End of an Old Tom-Cat" strongly reminded me of the Inspector Ghote novels, like Inspector Ghote's Good Crusade (1966), by H.R.F. Keating

"His Easiest Case" is shortest story of the bunch with an incredibly misleading title, because it's kind of brilliant, plot-wise, but how the story is structured and told makes it one of the standouts of The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka. The policewoman who has been occupying Boruvka's thoughts is attacked with meat chopper in a murderous assault and left critically injured, but Sergeant Malek already has a suspect and an indisputable piece of evidence. A thumbprint with "a very clear and distinctive scar." A print that belongs to Boruvka and it was the only print found in the apartment that has been professionally wiped clean. So did he actually took a swing with a meat chopper? Only way out is to find an explanation how the fingerprint could have ended up there and that explanation truly is an inspired piece of plotting. An idea that deserved a novel-length treatment, but the who-and why had equally fascinating solutions. Something you can only, sort of, anticipate if you've paying close attention to one of the previous stories. The same applies to the last story. 

“Crime in a Girls' High School” is best described as an anti-detective story and actually a prologue that was put to better use as an effective closing-act. Boruvka tells Eva how he had to abandon his first profession as a gym teacher, which happened nearly twenty years ago in the wake of a theft. A former private detective was called in, Jaroslav V. Klima, who acts as a hotblooded Hercule Poirot as he follows all the clues to uncover a very different kind of problem. The ending explains to Eva why "deep, infinite sadness" was "ineradicably engraved on the lieutenant's face." There were clues to what's behind his melancholy in previous stories that fitted the clues Klima was tracking down. So, while a little unorthodox, the story is a fitting end to an unusual collection of detective stories solved by a reassuringly human detective.

So, on a whole, The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka follows to the tradition of short story collections by being a little uneven in quality with a few duds and focus shifting from plot to character or storytelling, which resulted in some tightly-plotted locked room mysteries and some more loosely-told character-arcs – although the clueing was a little murky at times. However, the overall result succeeded in venturing off the beaten path while remaining (mostly) true to the fundamentals of the traditional detective story. For example, the last two stories. Skvorecky's The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka is a noteworthy and original contribution to the genre during a period when these type of detective stories were considered old-fashioned or even obsolete. Skvorecky demonstrated early on that you can have a fusion of styles complementing both the classical and modernist schools.