Reconstructive Nostalgia: Q.E.D. vol. 17-18 by Motohiro Katou

"Disaster of a Disastrous Man" is the first of two stories from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 17 and marks the return of the CEO of Alansoft, Alan Blade, who previously appeared in vol. 13 to force the teenage detective, Sou Touma, to partake in an April Fools' Day Challenge – a potentially life changing challenge with high stakes. If he had lost the challenge, Touma had to renounce his Japanese citizenship and come to America as Blade's employee. Touma won the battle-of-wits handily, but the software giant has been scheming and plotting ever since. And he seems to have hit on a failure-proof plan to ensnare Touma in his corporate empire. 

Alan Blade's birthday is coming up and hatches a plan with his personal secretary, Ellie Francis, to invite "the people who refused an offer in the company" to his summerhouse on a private island. There he will offer each guest a million dollars cash to come and work for Alansoft, which they will likely refuse. So the plan is to make his guests indebted to his company by having Ellie steal the money from their beach huts.

Sou Touma receives an invitation as well as his friend and MIT student, Syd "Loki" Green. Touma and Loki brought along Kana Mizuhara and Eva Scott. The third to receive an invitation used to "a world-famous hacker," Elliott Webb, who was caught by the FBI and put on probation, but the person who helped the FBI catch Webb was a software magnate, Liu Han – a man who was "once called the pioneer of the computer world." Liu Han was one of the founders of "the famous Grape Computer Enterprise," but Alansoft drove the company out of business and reduced the pioneer to managing a small software company as he refused to work for Blade. Han got the fourth and last invitation. So the plan is set in motion as the four suitcases with a million dollars a piece, one by one, begin to disappear from the beach huts, but it appears someone took the suitcases before Ellie could get to them. They searched everywhere, but the money appears to have vanished without a trace from a tiny island with only eight people on it.

This story and its central puzzle would probably provoke a discussion on whether it's a closed-circle situation or a locked room mystery/impossible crime. Katou kind of presented the story as an impossible crime, but it really is only a closed-circle as the suitcases could be hidden in several places that were never considered. They could have been hidden on the roofs of the hut, buried on the beach or sealed in weighted, waterproof bags and submerged into the bay of the crescent-shaped island. So more of how-was-it-done with an interesting, but risky, solution which could have easily misfired by either a rush of irrationality or a spot of honesty. However, the ending will make every plot purist and stickler for fair play crack a smile. All in all, not a bad story.

The second story from this volume, "Black Nightshade," has Inspector Mizuhara acting as a security guard/paparazzi regulator on a film set as personal request from "the giant of Japanese cinema," Director Oosawa Kazumasa. Kana Mizuhara and Sou Touma have backstage access and witness the filming of the scene in which the lead actress, Kurokawa Misa, stabs the male lead, Nangou Haruhiko, but the prop knife with a retractable blade turned out to be very real – killing him practically instantly as she plunged the knife into his body. So who could have swapped the prop knife for a real one and why? Nangou Haruhiko was known as "an extreme womanizer" whose name is attached to many incidents, but Kana (doing the legwork) learns that the mysterious actor was also known as a really nice guy and even his conquests didn't have a bad word to say about him. And then the case takes an unexpected, dramatic turn when the apparent murderer commits suicide. But the keyword there is apparently as it's really a murder presenting both Sou and the reader with a highly original locked room puzzle.

There's a small, high-walled makeshift prop-room with an open ceiling on the studio lot put together with some worn out plywood from the set, which has one door that can be blocked-shut from the inside with a table. The supposed murderer has locked himself inside that windowless prop-room and the thin walls, while very high, can't support the weight of an adult trying to climb over it. Sou Touma is the shortest and lightest person present and has go over the plywood wall to unblock the door. What they find inside is a body with his throat cut and a suicide note. The locked room-trick has a simplistic brilliance to it, but the answer to the rice cooker clue is probably beyond the comprehension of most readers. Still a very clever piece of plotting with a locked room-trick on par with the best impossible crime stories by Edward D. Hoch. Let's not forget about the first murder, which is not too difficult to solve, but the strange motivation and distraction used to swap the knives makes it stand out. An unusual, but effective, detective story and ends the volume on a high note.

The first of two stories from Q.E.D. vol. 18, "Arrival of the Famous Detective(s)," is a case in point of the bizarre, sometimes downright experimental or quirky, but often original, detective stories you can find nowhere else – except in this series. This time, Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara are reduced to mere background characters for most of the story. Only appearing at the beginning and end to setup and close the case. A case that followed around the three members of the Sakisaka Private High School Detective Club, Enari "Queen" Himeko, Nagaie "Holmes" Koroku and Morita "Mulder" Orisato, who try to be real-life detectives without much success. Even when a case happens in their own club room. Who ate the cheese cake that Queen had left behind in the club room for them to eat after classes were done for the day? They try to come up with explanations, but they are completely inapt as "Holmes" is incredibly bad at drawing deductions and "Mulder" simply wants to blame ghosts. And their investigation only uncovers more mysteries. Such as a ghostly image in one of the mirrors of the school bathroom and even a minor locked room mystery when the statuette of a cat dressed as Sherlock Holmes is knocked over in the locked club room. All of these smaller problems only get resolved when "Queen" notices she always sees Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara around when the incidents happened and decides to question them about it.

A pure, tongue-in-cheek parody with a simple, lightweight plot, but therefore not any less amusing and loved Nagaie's preposterous false-solution to the locked room problem. Suggesting the culprit had hammered out a hole next to the locked door of the club room, locking the door after he was finished and repaired the wall like it was new ("it is but a simple trick"). Another fun bit of trivia is that the opening revealed Sou is as a tone deaf as Conan Edogawa from Case Closed.

The second and last story to close out the volume, "Three Birds," is another perfect example of the series straying not only from the conventions of the shin honkaku-style, anime-and manga detectives, but the traditional detective story in general. I should hated "Three Birds" as it's the complete opposite of what I want to find in my detective fiction, but loved this nostalgia-driven, psychological crime drama.


Detective Sasazuka is a colleague of Kana Mizuhara's father, Inspector Mizuhara, who hears on the news the skeleton remains of a man and woman were discovered in the mountains of Y City, T Prefecture, which is his hometown – skeletons were found close to place where he used to play. Sasazuka had a secret tree-hut where he hang out with two childhood friends, but the discovery of the remains coincide with a reunion of the three friends and Sasazuka makes a discovery of his own. There are worrying gaps in his childhood memories like not being able to remember he had an expensive toy pistol, but has it anything to do with the remains of the two people who apparently committed suicide thirteen years ago? The story is interspersed with an illustrated children's story about three bird friends and gold coin who lived at the peak of a tree. This is such weird, but effective story with the ending laying bare some genuine crimes. Or, to be more precise, criminal and moral misdeeds, but not the ones you might expect. Once more, the series produces an atypical, but original, crime/detective story with the problem of Sasazuka's memory having something new to offer (ROT13: gur phycevg gelvat gb genafsre uvf gebhoyrq zrzbevrf ba gb uvz). So never let it be said again I only care about plot and tricks!

On a whole, Q.E.D. vol. 17 and 18 were both splendid with either strong or simply entertaining stories which represented the reader with the best the series has to offer. Surprisingly, "Three Birds" ended up stealing the show, which is not going to do my reputation as the resident locked room fanboy any good, but let the record show I fanboyed over the impossible crime from "Black Nightshade." Anyway, Q.E.D. deserves more appreciation and attention.


The Case of the Faithful Heart (1939) by Brian Flynn

The Case of the Faithful Heart (1939) is Brian Flynn's twenty-fourth Anthony Bathurst mystery and picked this particular title as the next stop in the series to see how different it's from the previous novel, Black Edged (1939), which braided an inverted mystery and chase thriller into a single narrative – forming a fun, pulp-style romp with detective interruptions. So, as to be expected, the always versatile Flynn shifted style for his next novel by doing a complete 180 as there's nothing pulpy or thriller-ish about The Case of the Faithful Heart. 

The Case of the Faithful Heart is best described as a scintillating, character-driven whodunit reminiscent of some of the alternative Crime Queens, like Moray Dalton, who were also brought back into print by Dean Street Press. But with a sturdier puzzle-plot at the heart of the story.

The story takes place in the village of Lanrebel, in Glebeshire, where two incidents happened on the 8th of June, but the incidents is an evening dinner party at one of the two houses of any real size within the village, "Hillearys." Paul and Jacqueline Hillier are the hosts of the party and the table is filled by their son and daughter, Neill and Ann Hillier. The hosts brother, Maurice Hillier, and his wife, Belle. The dinner party is rounded out by the Vicar of Lanrebel, the Rev. Septimus Aylmer, who's accompanied by his wife, Mildred. So a normal dinner party with family and friends without any dark, palpable undercurrents except that the hostess is not her usual self, but that was explained away by "a wretched head" – retreating from the rest of the party until she feels a bit better. Flynn ends the chapter by pointing out to reader that the state of the household at half past eight is an important fact.

Later that evening, Neill notices a car standing at the front gates of "Hillearys" and goes out to investigate, but is shocked to find his dying mother sitting behind the wheel. Jacqueline's face was bruised and bloody, her wrists were "scratched and torn" and her clothes ripped, muddy and looked as though it was grass-stained. She used her last breath to utter a cryptic sentence, "the Mile Cliff. Two...," before dying in the arms of her son. An autopsy revealed Jacqueline had died from an overdose of chloral hydrate.

Fortunately, the well-known "human magnet" of crime, Anthony Bathurst, is on holiday in the village. Wherever he goes, even in a tranquil place like Lanrebel, murder has a habit of running him down to earth and pinning him down – guaranteeing he always gets "a sort of 'busman's holiday.''' Bathurst calls it punishment for having dipped his fingers "so often into the crime pie." This makes The Case of the Faithful Heart the earliest example to date of the detective being referred to as a "murder magnet," which predates Anthony Webb's Murder in Reverse (1945) and Francis Duncan's Mordecai Tremaine series from the late 1940s and '50s. But that's just an aside for the curious.

This time, Bathurst is accompanied on his unofficial investigation by a holidaying novelist from Blackstock, Keith Annesley. So the detection is very much in the detective-on-hobbyhorse tradition, but the strange death of Jacqueline Hillier doesn't provide them with a routine village mystery with more suspects, motives and dodgy alibis than you can shake a truncheon at. There's an almost unsettling lack of serious suspects ("we all liked each other") and no discernible motives ("...there are no shadows in her life"), but who strewn her grave with violets? And why? What's the link between Jacqueline's dying words and the pieces of burned cardboard found at place known locally as One Mile Cliff? However, the case takes an unexpected, dramatic turn when another member of the family dies under suspicious circumstances followed by another "floral tribute" on the freshly filled grave. Just like the last time, there's no hint of a motive or serious suspect to be found. 

The Case of the Faithful Heart is not your typical whodunit and nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the weird, uneven kind of clueing and misdirection. One part of the story almost plays too fair with the (suspicious-minded) reader as it makes a certain something, or someone, standout before it was really necessary. Another part of the plot, which concerned the hidden pattern between the death, is played almost perfectly and I didn't begin to see the light until the third murder – clicking perfectly with the part that played it a little too fairly. Even if you piece together the larger parts of the plot, what happened, why and by whom, you still need Bathurst to fill in the finer details. For example, Jacqueline's dying message is unsolvable and one or two points about the solution raises an eyebrow. Such as how the second death happened or why Jacqueline was found all bloody with torn, muddy clothing. Something that conveniently needed to happen to obscure something else.

So the story and plot The Case of the Faithful Heart comes with its fair share of flaws, but a flawed gem is still a gem. This is a small gem as it found a fresh angle with emotional depth to tell the village mystery with the hidden pattern formed by the deaths being a novel, perhaps even original idea in 1939. This all translated into a compelling detective story that had my full attention from beginning to end. While some details remained obscure until the end, Flynn provided the reader with more than enough information and clues to draw the same conclusions as Bathurst. That made it easy to forgive its imperfections. An honest candidate for my top 10 favorite Brian Flynn mysteries.


Inspector De Klerck and the Dark Web (2022) by P. Dieudonné

Last year, I reviewed P. Dieudonné's Rechercheur De Klerck en moord in scène (Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene, 2021) and wrote how the series is the first to succeed in emerging from the shadow of the master of the Dutch politieroman (police novel), Appie Baantjer, whose formula has often been copied – only superficially and rarely as good. Dieudonné retained the familiar style, format and storyteller, but changed the backdrop from the overused Amsterdam to Rotterdam and gave more weight to the plots than his illustrious predecessor. This series is also much more grounded in today's world. 

So while Rechercheur De Klerck en het doodvonnis (Inspector De Klerck and the Death Sentence, 2019) and Rechercheur De Klerck en het duivelse spel (Inspector De Klerck and the Diabolical Game, 2020) would not be out of place among Baantjer's own work, you can't say the same about the subsequent novels. Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongrijpbare dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death, 2020) combined three seemingly impossible disappearances with the daredevil antics of a fugitive motor cyclist and Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene camouflages a finely-plotted whodunit with an American-style rivalry between two rap groups. You can call it a contemporary take on the theatrical mystery that's inextricably linked to the traditional detective story.

It has been tremendously fun and rewarding to have seen this series getting build from the ground up, which continues to improve while trying to do something different with each novel. And the latest title in the series is no exception. 

Rechercheur De Klerck en het duistere web (Inspector De Klerck and the Dark Web, 2022) is the sixth title in the series and is not so much about whodunit as what-is-going-on-here as Dieudonné's two detectives, Lucien de Klerck and Ruben Klaver, tumble down a rabbit hole of internet conspiracies – nearly igniting a small, localized popular revolt on the way down. This all begins when an elderly lady turns to De Klerck to anonymously report a crime of enormous proportions. She believes there's a powerful network of highly placed pedophiles and "a dark web has been stretched to catch children," but De Klerck is surprised when she names a prominent prosecutor, Simon Bödeker, as "the spider in this dark web." Even more curious is the story she presents De Klerck as evidence. She went to Bödeker's home to confront him, but he didn't answer the door and she heard "the helpless whimper of a child" that was locked inside the house. So now she's afraid to get murdered to ensure her silence.

De Klerck is a sober-minded, skeptical policeman and believes a plot does not necessary have to be found in "the shadowy catacombs of the conspiracy theorists." He believes "a dark web is beings spun with the intent to discredit some high-ranking people" and "to besmirch their reputation," but facts begin to turn against the prosecutor when the body of the elderly lady is dragged out of the water near his home. She had been hit over the head with a brick and drowned. Bödeker does precious little to diminish suspicion heaped upon him by his questionable, highly unethical behavior. De Klerck and Klaver begin to feel pressure from both the public and the higher ups.

On the one hand, they have to deal with a citizen journalist and crusader, Patrick Plaggenmarsch, whose website is the main source of the suggestive, subtly presented accusations against the prosecutor – tiptoeing the line between free speech and libel. The website has a dedicated following that can be mobilized and present a volatile element in the case, which is not helped when Plaggenmarsh begins to comment on the investigation. Demanding justice for their fallen heroine, accusing the Rotterdam police of a lack of professionalism and promising his readers new revelations. On the other hand, De Klerck begins to wonder if Plaggenmarsh accidentally hit the mark with his conspiracy theory as some potential key witnesses or suspects died under what could be termed suspicious circumstances. De Klerck also crosses swords with the acting Chief of Police, Commissioner De Froideville, who tries to prevent De Klerck from bothering the beleaguered prosecutor. So is there an actual conspiracy and an attempt to hush it up?

Like I said previously, Inspector De Klerck and the Dark Web is more of a what-is-going-on-here than a proper whodunit and the murderer's identity, as well as the motive, suggested itself early on in the story (ROT13/SPOILER: V nyjnlf rlr Tbbq Fnznevgnaf jvgu tenir fhfcvpvba va qrgrpgvir fgbevrf). A grave suspicion that became a certainty when a second murder is discovered and the victim left behind a dying message "written in blood." Dying messages are even rarer in Dutch detective fiction than locked room murders and impossible crimes with the only examples coming to mind being Ton Vervoort's Moord onder astrologen (Murder Among Astrologists, 1963) and Anne van Doorn's De man die zijn geweten ontlastte (The Man Who Relieves His Conscience, 2019). So it was nice to come across another one here.

So while the ending failed to take me by complete surprise, the intention of Inspector De Klerck and the Dark Web was not necessarily figuring out whodunit, but what had happened and you need to fill a lot of details to get a complete picture of the plot – which logically fits together and beautifully contrasts with its conspiratorial premise. Not quite as good as Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death and Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene, but maintains the high standard of the previous entries in the series. I eagerly look forward to the next title which could very well be Dieudonné trying his hands at a pulpier version of the Dutch politieroman. Rechercheur De Klerck en een dodelijk pact (Inspector De Klerck and a Deadly Pact, 2022), scheduled to be published in November, concerns the owner of a sporting goods store who "went up in smoke" before his body is found sitting at the banks of the water with "a bright blue frog" on his head. Like one of those brightly colored, poisonous frogs or a tattoo? I'm already intrigued!


Murder Most Scientific: "The Shredded Rose" (1978) by Lynwood Sawyer

Lynwood Sawyer was twenty-five when he submitted his first and only short story, "The Shredded Rose," to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and it was published in the July, 1978, issue as the magazine's 500th "First Story" – a "whodunit-howdunit" with an armchair detective and "a scientific type of locked room." Frederic Dannay, one half of "Ellery Queen" and editor-in-chief of EQMM at the time, wrote in his introduction that Sawyer's "The Shredded Rose" is "a detective story that flashed our memories back to the Golden Age." That's all I needed to know! 

"The Shredded Rose" is really a short-short covering a little more than five pages and begins with Sheriff Fedder visiting Dr. Austin Lyle, professor emeritus or organic chemistry at Medlin College, to consult him on strange case. A possible murder without a hint of foul play.

Sheriff Fedder is investigation the death of a botanist and health nut, Professor Tate, who used his bathroom as a greenhouse and had a whirlpool installed in his bathtub. On the evening of his untimely death, Professor Tate told his housekeeper he was going to take his whirlpool bath, but, when she returned the following morning, the bathroom door was still locked and she could hear whirlpool machine still running – except there was no response to her knocking. So the police broke down the door and found the professor's body in the tub "as if he had fallen asleep." There was "a sort of shredded rose on the floor" and "a vase split in half on top of it." Officially, Professor Tate died of natural causes, because the autopsy was unable to find any other cause of death. How exactly did the professor die? And, if it's murder, how did the murderer entered a locked bathroom with the only window closed that's covered on the outside with a thick, strong grille.

Dr. Lyle asks Sheriff Fedder whether the dust on the floor was in little circles, "almost like dust which has been struck by rainwater," which reveals a simplistic, science-based method that came close to producing a perfect crime. Since the method often reveals the criminal, Dr. Lyle is able to tell Sheriff Fedder the murderer's name as "the murder could have borne his signature." As clever as this little short-short is, I don't believe Sawyer intended his story to be a throwback to the Golden Age of R. Austin Freeman's Dr. John Thorndyke series. "The Shredded Rose" struck me as a conscious imitations of Arthur Porges' scientific locked room puzzles like "Dead Drunk" (1959), "Coffee Break" (1964) and "The Scientist and the Exterminator" (1974). Either way, "The Shredded Rose" is clever little short-short that impressively rolled an armchair detective story, locked room mystery and scientific detection into barely a handful of pages. So not bad for a first try and definitely a short-short editors should consider for inclusion in a future locked room/impossible crime anthology. 

A note for the curious: Dannay introduced Lynwood Sawyer who earned his degree in organic chemistry from New College, Sarasota, Florida, but retired early to found a music company and "working the graveyard shift as a package sorter at United Parcel Service" – while spending his free time reading, writing, fishing or wine making. Sounds like "the patchwork multi-activity background of a blossoming author," which made me curious. What else has Lynwood Sawyer written? I found out Lynwood Sawyer is Clyde Lynwood Sawyer, Jr. who co-wrote An Uncertain Currency (1999) with Frances Witlin and has an IMDb page as Lynwood Shiva Sawyer. Interestingly, Sawyer is still credited as the author of EQMM's 500th First Story, but wrongly titled "The Tattered Rose." It's also possible Sawyer submitted the story under the title "The Tattered Rose" and Dannay changed it to "The Shredded Rose."


Black Edged (1939) by Brian Flynn

So far, March has not been the month of the traditional detective story with reviews of 1970s retro-pulp, vampire murders, pastiches and Dutch and French pulp fiction from the 1960s, which wasn't done intentionally, but wanted to return to the regular whodunits and locked room mysteries of yore – decided to randomly pick one of my unread Brian Flynn novels. However, I forgot Flynn wasn't strictly a traditionalist himself. 

Flynn belongs to that rare group of prolific fiction writers who can boost he never wrote the same novel twice. Steve Barge, of In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, who rediscovered Flynn and pens the introductions to the new Dean Street Press editions noted how Flynn "shifts from style to style from each book." You get a 1920s drawing-room mystery or Golden Age courtroom drama in one novel and a Victorian-era throwback or a hunt for a serial killer in the next. On more than one occasion, Flynn dived head-first into the thick, murky waters of the British pulps where John Russell Fearn and Gerald Verner lurk. Only things linking all of his work together are his series-detective, an undying love for Sherlock Holmes and simply wanting to write engaging and entertaining detective stories. And, more often than not, he succeeded in that a goal. Such as the book under review today. 

Black Edged (1939) is the 23rd entry in the Anthony Bathurst series and another example how willing Flynn was to experiment with the genre to produce something entirely different from the previous novel (The Ebony Stag, 1938). This one puts a spin on the inverted detective story and chase thriller.

The story is divided into four-parts, "The First Escape," "The First Chase," "The Second Escape" and "The Second Chase," beginning with Dr. Stuart Traquair's suspicions about his wife involvement with an acquaintance, Rupert Halmar – overhearing them say that "he must be got rid of" when "the time comes." So the doctor steeled himself "to the inevitable ordeal that was close at hand" and confronted Madeleine with a pack of playing cards and a loaded revolver. Dr. Traquair is going to give Madeleine a chance of living by cutting cards and "the winner of the cut may take and use the revolver," which sounds reasonable enough. But it ends in a messy shootout in which Madeleine is shot and killed. Dr. Traquair has precious little time to make his getaway.

So pretty much what you would expect from an inverted mystery that turns into a chase thriller with the detective and murderer playing a game of cat-and-mouse, but early chapters makes it clear more is going on in the background. What did Dr. Traquair mean that Madeleine knew his secret? Why was Madeleine armed? Who's Armitage and why does the doctor need to see him? Who's Halmar and why had he house surrounded on the night of the murder? Which naturally made escaping an even more precarious undertaking, but, throughout the story, Dr. Traquair proves himself to be a resourceful man as slips through closely-drawn nets and dragging red herrings across the trail. And that makes his parts of the story all the more fun.

The chase-parts reunites Anthony Bathurst with Chief Inspector Andrew MacMorran, of Scotland Yard, as they join the local Inspector Rudge at the scene of the crime. While the reader knows what happened there, the police has to try to make sense of "the sight of Madeleine lying dead on the floor with the scattered playing-cards around her" and the story of the frightened maid, Phoebe Hubbard, who had locked and barricaded herself in the bedroom during the night – hearing noises on the stairs and voices in the house until early morning. Opening the door to more than one interpretation of the doctor's disappearance on the investigative side. So there's genuine detective interest in the chase-parts. Such as when Bathurst deduced the meaning of the disturbed dust on the lid of a hatbox and its content, but, even the best detectives, sometimes needs "the finger of Fate" to help guide them in the right direction. Well, either the finger of Fate or a cold, dead hand protruding from beneath a bed ("the dead hand speaketh"). Yes, there are more murders along the way. It helped keep the story engaging and moving along. 

Black Edged gives the reader two novellas, a pursuit and a detective story, which Flynn tightly intertwined and knotted together in the last couple of chapters. Even trying to spring a surprises, or two, on the reader, but you should be able to anticipate in which direction story is heading. However, I was briefly on the wrong track and suspected Madeleine either survived the gunshot wound or had replaced the bullets in her husband's revolver with blanks. Dr. Traquair says in Chapter II Madeleine "had gained access to my private drawer and had read my private papers." Since the story was evidently going to be on the pulpier side of Flynn's work from the start, I thought Madeleine had somehow survived, shot the maid and traded places to play for time and hunt down her husband. While my initial solution was wrong, it still headed in the same direction as the actual solution.

So I have to echo's Steve's opinion on Black Edged, "a tale very much of its time," but the ending shouldn't take away Flynn wrote an entertaining, very well executed chase thriller with detective interruptions and alternating viewpoints. It simply worked. While not one of the top-tier titles in the series, it's another fine example of Flynn's versatility as a mystery writer and his dedication to simply entertain his readers. I'm really curious now to see how different the next one is from either The Ebony Stag and Black Edged. I guess The Case of the Faithful Heart (1939) just got a fast pass to the top of the pile.


The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2020) edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews

The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2018) is a tribute to the American detective story, Ellery Queen, which collected a selection of quality pastiches, parodies and a potpourri of short stories paying tribute or poking fun at all things Elleryana – written by a who's who of the traditional detective genre. A smorgasbord of laudatory tributes from such notable short story writers as Jon L. Breen, William Brittain, Edward D. Hoch and Arthur Porges and mystery novelists like Lawrence Block and Pat McGerr. The anthology was apparently successful enough for Wildside Press to commission the editors, Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, to put together two additional volumes with The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (2020) and The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2020).

I've not gotten around to The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe with the exception of one short story, Thomas Narcejac's "L'orchideé rouge" ("The Red Orchid," 1947), because it has a lot of excerpts from larger works. And that doesn't really appeal to me. The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen, on the other hand, has been near the top of the pile for nearly two years and the reason why I only just got around to it is my obsession with obscure, rarely collected or anthologized short (impossible crime) stories. 

The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen has a similar structure as The Misadventures of Ellery Queen with anthology being divided in five parts, "Prologue," "Pastiches," "Parodies," "Potpourri" and "Postscript," but the stories from both anthologies compliment each other – continuing and even completing a few short-lived series. For example, it contains the second of two Celery Green stories by Porges and a second case for Pachter's young E.Q. Griffen. So put on your pince-nez, pretend you went to Harvard and jump into the Duesenberg. We're going on a road trip through Ellery's Wonderland.

The collection opens with J. Randolph Cox's "The Adventure of the Logical Successor," originally published in the September 1982 publication of the Baker Street Journal, which serves as the collection's prologue. It's not really a detective story, but tells the story of a retired Sherlock Holmes who has "succeeded in replacing the pursuit of the underworld with the keeping of bees." However, the Great Detective keeps getting visitors who aspire to take on his mantle. There were two Americans, Nick Carter and Craig Kennedy. A Montenegrin of "somewhat corpulent proportions" and "a little Belgian fellow with an enormous ego," but only when a young Ellery Queen comes knocking does Holmes sees a potential and logically successor to his legacy. But only "if he can overcome his affectations" and "tendency to impress people with how correct he is in his deductions." And "if he is fortunate enough to find the right Boswell." So a fun little opening yarn playing on one of my guilty pleasures (crossovers).

The second part with pastiches begins with Maxwell E. Siegel's "Once Upon a Crime," written in 1951 when Siegel "was seventeen and besotted with Ellery Queen," but the story was not published until it appeared in Old-Time Detection #16 (2007). Siegel story's casts Ellery as a middle aged writer who's "running out of ideas for his novels" and his turned to children's books, fairy tales and nursery rhymes for inspiration. But, one evening, his study is burglarized, vandalized and the book-lined walls strewn with flowers. This sets in motion is a string of bizarre, seemingly unrelated incidents without apparent rhyme and reason. Ellery is struggling to find a logical link to tie them all together, which he eventually does. Admittedly, the story is nicely done piece of fanfiction, but, even in the world of EQ, it seems like (ROT13) n ebhaqnobhg jnl gb qryvire n zrffntr.

The next story is actually the first half of Chapter 11 from Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche (1954), but skipped it as the book is currently awaiting trial on the big pile.

Edward D. Hoch's "The Circle of Ink," originally published in the September/October, 1999, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, resettles the series in modern times and finds Ellery Queen lecturing applied criminology at a university – reflecting on how casual classroom dress had become and the presence of laptop computers. Wherever Ellery goes in the world, or time, there's usually a murder or two waiting just around the corner. And he soon learns that Professor Androvney was shot and killed in his office at the university. A murder linked to four other shootings on the Upper West Side during the past few weeks, which all have two things in common: the victims were shot with .22-caliber target pistol (likely equipped with a silencer) and "a small red circle on the back of each victim's left hand." That's where the commonalities end. So do they have a Son of Sam-type serial killer on their hands? Ellery cautions that serial killers shouldn't be confused with series killers "who kill a certain number of people with some goal in mind." While they're both insane, the series killer's insanity is "twisted into a pattern the killer can see." Find the pattern and you know whodunit. Since this is an EQ story, there's method to the murderer's madness with a decidedly classical touch to the motive. Leave it to Hoch to deliver one of the better and more entertaining detective stories of the collection!

Mă Tiān's "The Japanese Armor Mystery" (2005) was translated from Chinese by Steve Steinbock and is my favorite story from the collection as its plot is firmly rooted in the Japanese shin honkaku school of detective fiction. The story is set in a small, unassuming town, Montreux, where Joseph Marlow retreated to raise his four adopted children in quiet luxury, but, as the old patriarch got old, he also got sicker. And, as the story opens, he's dying of cancer. During a cold, winter night, the family mansion becomes the scene of a bizarre double murder. A noise rouses the household and they find the body of a local troublemaker outside in the snow, but what's weird is that the body is clad in "a suit of samurai armor made completely of wood." He had been shot at close range without any footsteps in the surrounding snow! A second shot is heard and Marlow is discovered dead in his bed. Fortunately, Inspector Richard Queen, Ellery Queen and Nikki Porter happened to be in the neighborhood to lend the local police a helping hand. What's uncovered in less than 15 pages could have easily supported a novel-length story as it has literary everything. A snowy country house. A murdered patriarch and an impossible crime that form a "two-body problem." Alibis and clues. A somewhat surprising solution that I should have seen coming, but was too busy starring myself blind on a completely wrong pet theory. But loved the story. It reminded me of what you would get if you combined a 1930s Christopher Bush novel with John Dickson Carr-style impossible crime.

The next story is "The Mad Hatter's Riddle" (2009) by Dale C. Andrews, but already read and reviewed the story back in 2020. However, it has to be said that the title of the story ended up outshining most of the plot. You have no idea how brilliant it's until you read the solution. 

"A Change of Scene" by Jane Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, is original to this anthology and has Ellery Queen, Nikki Porter and Inspector Queen going to Chicago during the holiday season to do some sight seeing, Christmas shopping and watching the Christmas parade with floats – celebrating both the season and the city's storied history. During the parade, William Nagel was in the crowd with his wife and relatives. One minute he was right there beside his wife and the next moment he was gone. Did he disappear voluntarily or did his union job get him into trouble with the mob? Either way, Nikki has "a desire to beat Ellery to a case's solution" and begins to investigate on her own. A pleasant, lightweight detective story with a quasi-impossible problem that made good use of its historical setting.

Arthur Porges' "The Indian Diamond Mystery" first appeared in the June, 1965, issue of EQMM and is reprinted here for the first time to open the volume's parody section. So who better to do the honors than Celery Green. This is almost a direct sequel to the previous Celery Green tale, "The English Village Mystery," in which Inspector Dewe East "scored a minor triumph" in titular village with assistance of the well-known American detective, Celery Green. Not before "almost the entire population had been exterminated." Inspector East has an opportunity to redeem himself when a tip puts him on the trail of a well-known, international jewel thief, Fanfaron Mironton, who "stole the hundred-thousand-guinea Indian diamond." Mironton is trapped inside a hotel, tries to shoot himself out of a tight corner and is eventually arrested, but "there was no trace of the Indian Diamond." Luckily, Celery Green is still in England and usually needs no more than a few hours to solve a crime. And he quickly figures out how the diamond could have vanished from a closely guarded hotel. The solution is in principle not impossible, but Porges made it extremely silly.

The second parody is Jon L. Breen's "The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery" (1969), but also reviewed that story back in 2019. So moving on to the next EQ spoof. 

"The Little Sister in Crime" by Theodore B. Hertel, Jr. originally appeared in a chapbook that was put together for the 1997 Bouchercon with Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister (1949) as a kind of unifying theme. All of the stories had to be titled "The Little Sister in Crime" and had to be set a fictional Bouchercon between 1920 and 1941 with a number of obligatory references and scenes that had to be included. So the story gave Ellery a little sister, Hillary Queen, who accompanied her father and brother to Bouchercon where they meet all the famous detectives like Philip Marlowe, Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason – most of whom either employ ghost writers to get their names out or trying to find one. Ellery Queen hires two cousins in New York to put together stories based on his cases and pays them "a pittance to do so." One of the attendees is a depressed Barnaby Ross who hasn't much work since Drury Lane's Last Case (1933) was published. But was it the reason why he committed suicide in his hotel room? And was the message scrawled in blood a dying message or a suicide note? There's a "Challenge to the Reader," but the solution couldn't have been more telegraphed if the story had been stuck in an anthology entitled The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen. Still a fun little story.

Jon L. Breen and Josh Pachter's "The German Cologne Mystery" had a long road to publication and began sometime during the 1970s as solo-effort by Pachter to write an EQ parody, which was originally titled "The Cologne Cologne Mystery." But the story was turned down by EQMM. Years later, Breen got to tighten up the story and was published in the September/October, 2005, issue of EQMM thirty years after it was originally conceived. The celebrated mystery writer and amateur detective, Celery Breen, is playing cards in a room of the Hotel Madrid when someone gets himself killed down the hall. Carlos Nacionale is lying in a pool of blood and clutching a pair of ordinary dice between his right thumb and forefinger, but Celery ensures his father, Inspector Wretched Breen, the victim had been poisoned and the slit throat was simply a shaving accident as all the classic symptoms of poisoning are there – no heartbeat, no pulse, no nothing ("Q.E.D."). Celery believes the dying message will reveal the source of the poison, but Inspector Breen draws a different conclusion. A very fun take on both the fallible detective and the exasperating sleuth who can't get to the point.

Rand B. Lee is the son of one half of the EQ writing team, Manfred B. Lee, whose "The Polish Chicken Mystery' is published here for the first time and has three famous detectives answering that age-old question. Why did the chicken cross the road? I didn't care much for Miss Marple's solution, but liked the one Sherlock Holmes came up with and Ellery Queen had the best answer. Although he had more to work with it. A fun short-short.

One of the highlights of the previous anthology was Josh Pachter's "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" (1968), which he wrote when he was sixteen and concerns the eleven children of a policeman all named after famous detective characters. “E.Q. Griffen's Second Case” is the sequel and first appeared in the May, 1970, issue of EQMM and has E.Q. assisting his father with the murder of a hippie, poet and children's author. Garrett Conway was stabbed while walking down the street, but Conway, "long familiar with the doings of children," scrawled a dying message on the concrete. A simple "1 2 3." The answer to the problem is not bad and a child would likely catch on to the meaning of the dying message faster than an adult, but the Author's Note explained that readers at the time complained about the dying clue. There's a technical flaw in it and a few simple changes would have improved the story, but Pachter decided to leave it as he originally wrote it. I agree and respect that. This story and premise of the whole series is nothing to be ashamed off considering how old he was when he wrote it. I still want that Gideon Fell Griffen locked room story!

Arthur Vidro's "The Mistake on the Cover of EQMM #1" (2018) was first published on the EQMM website and is more of a snacksized puzzle than a story with the story title summing up the puzzle. However, this short-short puzzle is loaded with Easter eggs and there's a lengthy Editor's Note ("Easter in the Autumn") pointing them all out. 

"The Pink Pig Mystery" by Jeffrey Marks is original to this anthology and visits an often overlooked patch of the Elleryverse, the Ellery Queen Jr. series. Between 1942 and 1966, eleven juvenile mystery novels were published with nine starring a young Djuna and his Scottish terrier, Champ. Marks returned took a stiff dose of childhood nostalgia and returned to the series with a story set during the Second World War. There were talks in Manhattan "about bomber strikes like the ones in London" or "the kamikaze attacks on Pearl Harbor." Ellery packed up Djuna and Champ to the country side, but there they become involved (together with two other kids) in the mystery of a pristine pink pig in a muddy pigsty. Very much a children's mystery with a simple, straightforward plot, but perfectly replicated those vintage juvenile mysteries and the EQJR series.

The collection ends with a postscript from the real "Ellery Queen," Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, which is an anecdote illustrating "the authors' recognition (and humility) that their deductive powers do not match those of their fictional detective." The piece is fittingly titles "The Misadventures of Ellery Queen" and made perfect ending to the collection. 

So, on a whole, my opinion of The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen is pretty much the same as The Misadventures of Ellery Queen. Not every story is a winner or will stick in your mind, but not a single truly bad story or even one I just disliked. An impressive accomplishment for any short story collection, but especially impressive when it's an anthology of pastiches, parodies and homages written by a bunch of unapologetic fanboys and fangirls – which makes it even more impressive I liked both anthologies. As some of you regulars know, I'm not very big fan of pastiches in general and stand with Rex Stout that authors should “roll their own,” but never had much of problem with EQ pastiches. Probably because the series (sort of) allows for all these alternative universes to exist. Hopefully, a third anthology is somewhere in the future as their should be more than enough material left. There's Donald A. Yates' "The Wounded Tyrolean" (c. 1955), Rintaro Norizuki's "Midori no tobira wa kiken" ("The Lure of the Green Door," 1991), Dale C. Andrews' "Four Words" (2020) and the uncollected radio scripts. Highly recommended to every EQ fan!

A note for the curious: I don't know if there anymore Misadventure anthologies in the work, but there's American detective character with the name recognition and more than enough material associated with him to cobble together The Misadventures of Philo Vance.


Murder Without a Net (1962) by Martin Meroy

"Martin Meroy" was the penname of Charles Ewald, a French journalist, radio producer and writer, who penned a series of typical, 1960s tough-guy novels starring a hardboiled private eye of the same name, Martin Meroy, which differed in one important respect from other tough-guy fiction of the period – an alluring "fondness for impossible crimes." The series has never received an English translation, but thirteen of the novels were translated into Dutch as part of De Schorpioen's Inter-Pol Collectie. A now obscure, not always easy to obtain line of mostly American flavored English, French and German crime-and detective fiction. I say mostly because the series include one of the scientific mystery novels by E. and M.A. Radford (Death on the Broads, 1957). 

So the Dutch translations of the Martin Meroy novels are not entirely out of my reach and actually (poorly) reviewed Du plomb pour la familie (Lead for the Family, 1959) and Meurtre en chambre noire (Murder in a Darkened Room, 1960) back in 2011. They were fun, fast-paced and short private eye stories with simple, straightforward solutions to the locked room puzzles. More workmanlike than truly inspired takes on the impossible crime tale, but good enough to keep an eye out for the other Dutch translations. And that took a little longer than expected. But finally got my hands on another one!

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne or Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective found themselves transported to Anthony Abbot's About the Murder of the Circus Queen (1932)? Martin Meroy's Meurtre sans filet (Murder Without a Net, 1962) has the answer.

Martin Meroy is a French detective, who lives and operates in New York City, but the opening of Murder Without a Net finds him back in France on the day he's supposed to go back to America to when Commissioner Blaise Chateau calls him at his hotel – requesting his immediate presence at Circus Wallace. Judging by the Commissioner's tone, Meroy suspects "that there's a brand new corpse on display." And not any old regular corpse!

Gloria Suzin belongs to a group of three flying trapeze artists, called the Berena's, who retreated to her caravan following a late night training session, but didn't came out the next morning. So they broke one of the windows on the door to open door and discovered Gloria had been shot to death in her bed under very strange, almost impossible circumstances. The bullet "entered the crown, cut right through the neck and ended up in the stomach." A peculiar entry and trajectory, but just as peculiar is how the murderer entered and left the caravan. The caravan has a double-wing door with the left wing being locked in place, top and bottom, while the right wing door was secured on the inside with a hook-lock. There was precious little room in the crammed, over stuffed caravan to hide or any opening that lined up with the trajectory of the bullet. Since she's a circus artist with a backstory, the circus terrain is teeming with colorful suspects and certain danger.

There are the other two Berena's, Simone Lhardy and Pierre Rouget, who immediately replaced Gloria with Dorothy Hardt. An English trapeze artist who happened to be Paris and was available to take her place. Fred Saint-Brieuc is the aristocratic looking owner of Circus Wallace and entangled with Gloria in more ways than one. Cyril Beaton is an animal tamer who took great risks with both wild animals and his money, which is why he owed Gloria a ton of money. Arthur Raymondini used to be a flying trapeze artist himself, but nearly died in an accident and, when he returned, discovered that his then student Pierre Rouget had stolen his whole act. And now limps around the circus ring as Nanave the Clown. Bernard Dreville is a magician, escape artist and locked room specialist who references Meroy's success in Murder in a Darkened Room. Jacques Graillet aspired to be a world famous musician, but ended up as a circus orchestra master and Raoul Anderson is circus-technician who knows how to put a gadget together. Last, but not least, is the Goliath strongman, David Rezeff, who strongly objects to nosey parkers, like Meroy, sticking his nose in their business.

So the Goliath provides Meroy with a physical challenge to overcome, but Meroy, while an expert in impossible crimes, belongs to the tough-guy school of detectives and spends every morning hardening the sides of his hands karate-chopping "hard objects" – allowing him to end their first encounter with double axe-handle smash to the neck. But resorted to some dirty tactics during their next few encounters with the blow-off threatening to end in a disappointing brawl to the back. Fortunately, that was not the case. Another moment Meroy got to shine as a hardboiled gumshoe is when he found a bomb under the hood of his car, removed it and casually dropped it into his pocket. Meroy is booked strongly here.

Most of you are more interested in the plot than the action and, like mentioned at the beginning, the series differentiated itself from its contemporaries with stronger plot often centered on an impossible crime. The back cover of the Dutch edition even called Meroy "de specialist van moorden in gesloten ruimten" ("the specialist of murders in closed spaces") and he certainly lives up to his reputation in Murder Without a Net. Considerable attention is given to the locked room problem as numerous possibilities are considered (a hidden panel) and eliminated (reconstructing the pane of glass to look for signs of tampering), which resulted in a nicely-done false-solution towards the end. Regrettably, the actual, two-part solution turned out to be a mixed bag of tricks. The locked room-trick itself is a reasonable well-done variation on an old dodge of the impossible crime story (if you know your locked room fiction), but there was something genuine daring and original about the murder itself – which bordered on pure pulp. No, it has nothing to do with the mischievous, popgun wielding monkey. Only reason why it didn't entirely worked is that all the relevant clues and scraps of information were withheld from the reader until the last possible moment. Such as the wet smear of paint.

On the other hand, the murderer had a gem of a motive to stage the murder as a locked room mystery and Meroy got solve two equally baffling, even borderline impossible crimes towards the end in record time. One of these two deaths is staged inside the circus tent filled to capacity, which is very similar to the murder from Abbot's About the Murder of the Circus Queen, but with a completely different solution. A trick that almost feels wasted how it was tacked on at the end of this short, fast-paced novel.

So, all in all, Martin Meroy's Murder Without a Net could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse and, if my memory is to be trusted, the best of three read so far. It's definitely the title I would recommend to translate to a publisher, like Locked Room International, as it scratches that impossible crime itch. Even with the eventual solution being marred by the late clueing and partially relying on a rather routine trick. But still good enough to keep on the lookout for the other translations.


Orange Pulp: "The Jewelry of a Widow" (c. 1960s) by Ton Vervoort

Last year, I delved into the work of a long-forgotten, out-of-print Dutch mystery writer, Peter Verstegen, who wrote five classically-styled and plotted detective novels during the 1960s about a dandy, educated Amsterdam homicide cop, Floris Jansen – published as by "Ton Vervoort." The Ellery Queen-inspired Moord onder astrologen (Murder Among Astrologists, 1963) and Moord onder de mantel der liefde (Murder Under the Mantle of Love, 1964) were among last years highlights, but don't overlook the very game Moord onder toneelspelers (Murder Among Actors, 1963) and Moord onder maagden (Murder Among Virgins, 1965). So that left me with one last novel from the series, Moord op toernee (Murder on Tour, 1965), but wanted to take a little detour first to one of only three known short stories Vervoort wrote during the sixties. A story with a slightly unusual publishing history. 

Between 1962 and 1965, Vervoort wrote and published his five Floris Jansen novels, but bowed out of the genre a few years later with a special, expensive and time consuming project. Vervoort wrote and put together a dossier roman (crime dossier) a la Dennis Wheatley. De zaak Stevens (The Stevens Case, 1967/68) was commissioned to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the European Chemical Corporation in Rotterdam. Vervoort plotted and wrote the story, but it took twenty people, eleven days and 10.000 gulden (roughly 25.000 euros today) to produce two-thousand handmade copies. Surprisingly, copies are not exceedingly rare. Just a little pricey.

Vervoort modeled The Stevens Case on an unpublished short story, "De juwelen van een weduwe" ("The Jewelry of a Widow"), which eventually found its way into the fifth, 1974 edition of a short-lived, now obscure publication Pulp – printed as the original Stevens Case. However, the plots of the short story and dossier roman appear to be very different with former concerning missing jewelry, while the later is a murder case in which the victim is found super-glued to the crime scene. Yes, a short story centering on missing or stolen jewelry reeks of uninspired routine and filler material. Leave it to Vervoort to give this routine premise a fresh coat of paint! 

"The Jewelry of a Widow" begins when Tilda Stevens comes to Floris Jansen to report that pieces of expensive jewelry belonging to her late mother-in-law were either stolen or have gone missing. Mrs. Ruby Stevens (née Perlmutter) was according to Tilda a wealthy, widowed lady, but stingy where money was concerned. She never financially supported her son's art dealership "because she believed her son should fend for himself." When Mrs. Stevens died naturally in her sleep, Tilda Stevens discovered "a pearl necklace, a brooch and a ring with a ruby" were missing, but here's the kicker. Nobody has ever seen the items in question. So how does she know they even exist and may have been stolen? Before she passed away, Mrs. Steven had "a very precise portrait" painted showing all her wrinkles and the expensive-looking pieces of jewelry. She also withdrew two-hundred thousand guldens over a two-year period, which she unlikely spend all on her holiday trips abroad.

Tilda is convinced the necklace, brooch and ring exist and rightfully belongs to her husband, but suspects Mrs. Stevens' leeching nephew, Harry Stevens, is in cahoots with the painter, Schaafsma, who claims it was all a practical joke – concocted between himself and the old widow. Tilda refused to take that answer and "practically tore down the house on the Leidsegracht to find the jewelry" without result. So now it's up to Floris Jansen to probe the problem and quickly discovers the situation and people involved are not quite as Tilda had outlined to him.

I think seasoned mystery readers will immediately spot one part of the solution when a certain clue is described (ROT13: "n obggyr bs erq ivgnzva cvyyf"), but the overall solution to the missing jewelry is well enough handled (especially the why). My only complaint is that Vervoort tried to have his cake and eat it too with a last-second twist erirnyvat gung Zef. Fgriraf jnf zheqrerq. This ended the story with too many fingers in the pie and comes across like the jewelry plot needed reinforcement in the end to make the read worthwhile. It really didn't need that last twist. But other than that, Vervoort's "The Jewelry of a Widow" is a decent, if very minor, short detective story that largely succeeded in doing something different with the problem of missing jewelry.


Night Terrors: "The Empty Coffins" (1984/2009) by John Russell Fearn

2021 saw the publication of two so-called hybrid mysteries, Yamaguchi Masaya's Ikeru shikabane no shi (Death of the Living Dead, 1989) and Masahiro Imamura's Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017), which introduced the living dead into the environment of the traditionally-styled detective story with two vastly different outcomes – ranging from the horrifying to the philosophical. Imamura's Death Among the Undead is a classic locked room mystery cast like a zombie survival horror flick, while Masaya's Death of the Living Dead simply blurred the lines that once separated the dead from the living. And they are both awesome! 

A successful blending of the traditional, fair play detective story and genres like fantasy, horror and science-fiction is very difficult to pull off without compromising one or the other. Masaya and Imamura showed it can be done even with something as fantastical as the walking dead. There happened to be a (very short) pulp novel on my TBR-pile that tried to play a similar game with vampires. But how successful was it? Let's find out! 

John Russell Fearn began "what was to become a fateful association with a new firm of publishers in London," Scion Ltd, in 1948 and first commissions were for romantic novelettes and later novel-length Westerns, but, during the early 1950s, Scion took the leap to science-fiction and played with the idea of a horror-detective line – which was scrapped in favor of their science-fiction line. Several decades later, Philip Harbottle gained access to Fearn's study, untouched since his untimely death in 1960, when his widow, Carrie Fearn, passed away in 1982. The study proved to be "an Aladdin's Cave of manuscripts, books, and cans of films written and produced by Fearn himself." One of the manuscripts was of an unpublished horror-detective, entitled No Grave Need I (c. 1950), which Scion returned and was put away to collect dust. Harbottle published a small chapbook edition of the novel in 1984 followed twenty-five years later by a professional edition under the title "The Empty Coffins" (2009) "along with all of the other unpublished mss" he salvaged. Harbottle is the only one who just walks in and out of the Phantom Library with his arms loaded with lost books and unpublished manuscripts.

Fearn's "The Empty Coffins" takes place in a small village on the south coast, Little Payling, which comprises of two, tightly intertwined plot-threads. One of these threads concern a young widow, Elsie Timperley, who had married a drunk brute, but she put up with George Timperley's abuses to ensure she inherited everything he owned. A small fortune which would open the way to marry her childhood friend and true love, Peter Malden, who's the local motor dealer and garage owner. Little Payling is a small village populated with typical village people "eager to seize on the slightest hint of scandal" and they found it indecent Elsie has been seen the company of Peter so many times George was "barely cold in the grave." Elsie has a good reason to get married as soon as possible, because a well-known mystic and seer, Rawnee Singh, told her she has "no future beyond the next eight months." And that can only mean death.

The second plot-thread is introduced when a local girl is attacked in the cemetery. Madge Paignton used the cemetery as a short cut one night when a barefooted creature in a funeral shroud attacked her and left "two gashes close to the jugular" on her throat. The country GP and student of the occult, Dr. Meadows, believes it was the work of a vampire, which belongs to the realm of "folklore and legend." But the situation has gotten from bad to worse during Elsie and Peter's honeymoon. A farmer and a local builder were brutally murdered within the span of a week and their bodies were "almost drained of blood." This is not the last deadly attacked in the village with everything pointing to Elsie as the next victim.

What about the detective aspect of the story, you ask? Fearn's "The Empty Coffins" actually did a good job in keeping the reader guessing which events have a supernatural origin and which are faked, but eventually it becomes evident "there's a human hand" behind some of the attacks – one of "the worst criminals ever, apparently." Consequently, "The Empty Coffins" turned out to be crammed with impossible crimes and locked room mysteries, but let the reader be warned, the ending plunges the story deep into pulp territory. So don't expect anything too much from their solutions, because, even by pulp-standards, not everything stands up to scrutiny. Such as (ROT13) vzvgngvat n jryy-xabja fcrpvnyvfg va urneg naq oybbq qvfbeqref jura gur arjfcncre urnqyvarf ner fpernzvat nobhg “Gur Yvggyr Cnlyvat Ubeebe” jvgu nyy gur rlrf va gur pbhagel sbphfrq ba gur ivyyntr or gur cercbfgrebhf tenir fvtug zrpunavfz erirnyrq ng gur raq, which was a little too much. The plot was further marred by gur cerfrapr bs n ahzore haxabja nppbzcyvprf, frperg cnffntrf naq ulcabgvfz with the human culprit standing out like a tombstone on a front lawn.

So not one of Fearn's most inspired attempts to create a hybrid, pulp-style mysteries or his most original impossible novel, which he combined in a much better in fashion in novels like Account Settled (1949) and What Happened to Hammond? (1951). There is, however, a brief shimmer of brilliance in how the (incredibly pulpy) motive and some of the (even more pulpier) methods that explained why the corpses had to be sucked bone dry. And the horror-elements of the story were put to good use to create a couple of good scenes. I particularly liked the illegal, moonlit exhumation of George's grave and Peter's nighttime visitor to his bedroom ("...was foul, unclean—something dead yet still alive"). This helped the faked phenomena blend in with the real ones. You'll probably be surprised to learn which were real and which were fake.

The horror aspect of the story is often very well done and, on a whole, "The Empty Coffins" is a readable, pulp-style mystery centering on the activities of a vampire and that's always going to be a different beast from your regular whodunit or locked room mystery. So adjust your expectations going in and remember "The Empty Coffins" is not Fearn at his best or most creative. Just a quick, dark-light and atmospheric read making a spirited attempt to incorporate vampires into a detective story. 

A note for the curious: So, while Fearn was not entirely triumphant, he unwittingly provided a blueprint on how to do it. Dr. Meadows explains "a vampire proper is the ghost of a suicide, or some such excommunicated person, who seeks vengeance on the living by attacking them and sucking away their blood" – which gives him a pretty good idea who the vampire in their cemetery is. This also gave me an idea how a proper, fair play detective story with real vampires could play out. Just imagine one of those small, ancient English villages where over the span of a year half a dozen people have died from various causes. But no murders or suicides. Or so everyone assumes until villagers get attacked and killed by, what appears to be, a real vampire. So the detective has to discover the vampire by delving into the past of the six recently deceased village to see if the country doctor misdiagnosed a suicide as natural causes or accident. A subplot can be added with someone using the activities of the vampire as a cover to commit a murder and stages a locked room/impossible crime to blame the vampire. Anyway, I'll try to pick something a little more conventional next time.