Cat of Two Tales: Case Closed, vol. 82 by Gosho Aoyama

The 82nd volume of Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed series takes off with another battle-of-wits between Jirokichi Sebastian and the young gentleman thief extraordinaire, Kaito KID, who has announced the impending theft of one of the rarest gemstones in Jirokichi's collection – an Alexandrite christened The Green Emperor. Jirokichi installed the latest state-of-the-art security systems, but computer simulations showed KID eluding "every combination of security measures" and get away with the gem. So he has less than a day to either come up with full-proof plan or postpone the exhibition, which is when the boyfriend of his niece comes knocking. 

Makoto Kyogoku is an undefeated karate champion, "the prince of kicks," who wants to prove himself to his niece, Serena, who's always fangirling all over Kaito KID's exploits. So he becomes "the world's most powerful security system" pitting wits against physical superiority. That could have made for an excellent entry in the whole Jirokichi vs. KID saga, but this story is not at all like their previous duels as it uses their rivalry as a vehicle to spotlight the other members of the Sebastian family. And a right of passage, of sort, into the family for Makoto. A task further complicated by two high-stake bets within the Sebastian clan and some second-rate trickery unbecoming of both Aoyama and KID. What really killed the story is Makoto's incredible feats of strength and speed, like plucking pellets from a pellet gun out of the air, which would make him a legitimate superhuman. Needless to say, Conan is practically a non-entity in the story. So it stands as the weakest Kaito KID story to date.

Fortunately, the following two stories, while pretty average by themselves, helped to elevate the overall quality of what would have otherwise been a mediocre volume. A rare occurrence in the series, but, every now and then, you get one.

The second story revolves around the calico cat, Cappy, introduced in vol. 80 as the stray cat who hangs around Richard Moore's office and gets fed by the waitress of Coffee Poirot, Azusa – who named the cat after Captain Hastings. An article appeared in a local magazine about the cafe with a picture of Cappy as "one of the café's regulars." Azusa hopes Cappy's original owner sees the picture and contacts her, which turns out to be bigger success than she thought. Three people turn up to claim Cappy, but who's speaking the truth? Conan has to deduce the truth from their stories about Cappy's medical history. A really minor, but decent enough, story that carries onto the next case.

Conan has identified Cappy's original owner and, a week later, he and the Junior Detective League to come around to that person's apartment without telling them why. When they arrive, they find a neighbor telling the janitor to quickly open the front door with a spare key, because he heard a strange sound. However, the door is not only locked from the inside, but secured with one of those U-shaped latches and liked how Conan had to do a locked room-trick in reverse to unlatch the door. Once inside, they find Cappy's owner unconscious in the bedroom with a bleeding head wound. Apparently, the result of an accidental fall while trying to change a light bulb, but Conan deduces it was an attempted murder disguised as an accident based on the chair, slippers and the broken bulb on the floor. The intercom system has a camera that records anyone who rings the bell and recorded three visitors to the apartment that day, but whom of the three had the motive and means to have staged such a convincing accident?

The murderer is easily enough identified and the locked room-trick is an elaboration on an age-old trick, one that has been used before in this series, which doesn't make it a standout locked room mystery, but fairly clued and liked how it neatly wrapped up the whole Cappy story-arc – even explaining why Cappy jumped on the delivery truck in vol. 80. So not the best stories, or story-arc, in the series, but, after my previous reads, I appreciated these normal, down-to-earth plots. Well, I got what I wanted.

The fourth story is an inverted mystery with an alibi that has to be broken down. Conan foregoes an afternoon of playing football (i.e. soccer) in the park to accompany the Junior Detective League to the store to buy a strategy guide for their newest video game, Titan Hunter, where they meet another fan of the game, Noriya Makabe. A first-grader who's staying a few days with his grad student cousin, Toshinari Shiga. So they go with Noriya to his cousin's place to play Titan Hunter, but Conan immediately smells something funny. Not long after, Toshinari discovers the body, brutally stabbed to death, of his next door neighbor. Conan already spotted the clues pointing towards Toshinari as the murderer, but possesses a cast-iron alibi as had been spending the day of the murder playing video games and watching a movie with Noriya. Conan quickly puts to pieces to together and figures out how "he created his alibi by twisting time and twisting a little boy's feeling." However, the solution gave me a serious case of déjà vu and a little internet detective work revealed it retreated the alibi-trick from an earlier volume.

So that was disappointing to discover, but, until then, it was actually a good story with more of an emotional punch and perhaps shows why I would be a bad detective. Not because only one in three of my armchair theories hit anywhere near close to the mark, but this is one of those cases in which I would have kept my mouth shut. Not just because he has a motive you can sympathize with or at least understand, but simply to have spared that poor kid the knowledge he unwittingly helped his cousin to commit a murder. You see, the trick only ended up working because Noriya cared about Toshinari. And even worse, he helped Conan solve the case without realizing. What the story lacked in originality was made up in storytelling and, perhaps, improving on an old idea.

Last chapter sets up a story that will be continued in the next volume and has Conan, Rachel and Serena accompany Masumi Sera on a case to a remote cabin in the woods. A case she accepted on her brother's behalf as he apparently can only "solve cases and fix problems around his school." The cottage has a bloody history going back 15 years when a woman savagely butchered her cheating husband, ran at the police with a knife and, while covered in blood, disappeared into the forest – never to be heard again. That gave rise to the local legend of the Red Lady. Three years later, Satoko, a high school student, vanished following a sighting of the Red Lady. A week later, her body was dredged from a swamp together with the knife from that old murder case. Ever since, the students who were with Satoko returned to the cottage on the anniversary of her death, but "strange things started to happen" during the last few gatherings involving red apples, rose petals and red paint. And the ends with the discovery of a body in a hot tub filled with tomatoes!

So, on a whole, not one of the strongest or most original collection in the series opening with the weakest Kaito KID heist to date and ending with a teaser of, what could have been, the best story in this volume. I didn't dislike the three stories in the middle and punched up the overall quality, but they had problems and shortcomings of their own. I can forgive a weak or average volume, once in a while, in a series that has been able to retain a certain standard of quality for over twenty years and more than eighty volumes covering hundreds of stories. Hopefully, the next volume will be return to form.

I'm not going to take any risks with my next pick and going to a second look at one of my old favorites.


The Lake of the Dead (1942) by André Bjerke

André Bjerke was a Norwegian poet, translator, television host and writer who debuted as a mystery novelist with Nattmennesket (The Night Person, 1941), published as by "Bernhard Borge," which appeared when he was only 23 and introduced his sleuth of four novels, Kai Bugge – a Freudian psycho-analyst like Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley and Helen McCloy's Dr. Basil Willing. De dødes tjern (The Lake of the Dead, 1942) appeared next and the book became an enduring Norwegian classic over the decades. It won a 2001 poll "to determine the all-time best Norwegian crime novel" and has never ranked lower than third in subsequent polls. So a non-English classic of the genre that has stood the test of time. 

Back in February, Valancourt Books published an English edition of The Lake of the Dead, translated by James D. Jenkins, who also provided a must-read introduction. I really recommend the plot-oriented readers of this blog to go over the introduction before plunging into the story. 

The Lake of the Dead is not only more of a thriller than a detective story, but Bjerke also explored "the possibilities of fusing crime and horror," which earned it a comparison to John Dickson Carr's The Burning Court (1937) and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (1939). The former offers "a controversial twist ending that suggested a supernatural solution," while the latter "reads for all the world like a supernatural horror novel until a rational explanation is finally presented." Bjerke tried to fuse and cement those two different approaches, but did he succeed? Let's find out! 

The Lake of the Dead opens with Bernhard Borge and his wife, Sonja, moving into their new apartment and, to celebrate the occasion, they decide to throw a little house party to their friends – six of whom would figure in a haunting drama. Firstly, there's the psycho-analyst detective, Kai Bugge. Gabriel Mørk, a literary critic, who edits a magazine called The Scourge and "sees it as his mission in life to slander as many writers as possible and smite the sewers of intellectual life like God's cleansing thunderbolt." Harald Gran is a lawyer whose hobby is criminology and he's "been busy writing a long criminological thesis." Bjørn Werner is a former theology student turned atheist and "the conveniently timed death of a rich uncle" provided him with "the luxury of being a slacker." His sister, Lilian, is a typically young modern woman ("a little too nervous and a little too erotic") who's best friends with Sonja and engaged to Harald.

During the party, Borge reveals to his friends that he has "nothing left to write about" and his imagination is "as empty as the fleshpots of our time." Simply put, he has a severe case of writer's block and, to keep his family out of the poorhouse, asks his guests to give him a plot. Harald has a ghost of a story for him to elaborate on. More than a hundred years ago, a man named Tore Gruvik built a cabin in the woods in Østerdalen, "one of the gloomiest and most godforsaken parts of the country," where the only trace of civilization is a small hamlet two hours from the cabin. Gruvik was hopelessly devoted to his sister and would not tolerate any man near her, but, one day, she run away with a farmhand with her enraged brother in pursuit. And he caught up with them at his cabin. There he beheaded them with an ax and threw the bodies in nearby, stagnant body of water called Blue Lake, but "that deed was too great a strain even for a tough guy like Tore Gruvik." So, after several days of wandering around the woods, he drowned himself in the lake. Blue Lake is "said to be bottomless" and the bodies were never retrieved, which gave rise to stories of curses, demonic possessions and mysterious drownings.

According to local legends, "a curse has hung over the cabin ever since Gruvik's death" and whoever stays at the cabin becomes possessed by his malevolent spirit, "like a terrible force sucking at their souls," drawing his victim to him – sucking "them all down with him into the lake." So the little nature retreat acquired the ominous moniker Dead Man's Cabin. Bjørn Werner has bought that very cabin, curse, ghost and enchanted lake included, where he intends to spend some solitary weeks with his books and dog. Three weeks pass when his friends receive the news he has committed suicide at the cabin. District Sheriff Einar Bråten had been summoned to the cabin by Werner, but, when he arrived, noticed a single line of footprints leading to the edge of the lake. Werner's hat, shotgun and the body of his dog were lying nearby "the last footprint clearly shows he must have taken the plunge and thrown himself in." A diary recounts how he spiraled into madness during his short stay at the haunted cabin.

So it must have been suicide, because a murderer could not have carried the body to the lake, dump it into the water and then "leap up in the air and disappear thereafter," but Harald believes it was murder ("a murder, plain and simple"). They decide to take an expedition, or holiday, to the cabin to see what's been going on there. The book partially earned its classic status on its setting with the cabin, "massive and hulking," peeking over the trees of the dense, eerie and shadow haunted forest like an enchanted castle in a dark fairy tale. The mysterious lake with its odds way how its surface reflected reflected the moonlight as though "the blue-white, shimmering reflection originated from a secret light source down in the depths" like "an underwater fire." And it has a mesmerizing effect on those who have gathered at the cabin. If that isn't enough, the sheriff informs them a manhunt is underway for an escaped killer roaming the woods of Østerdalen in the dark of night.

What follows is a string of incidents and discussions involving "an invisible phantom that screams and leaves footprints," sleepwalking and dream analysis, discussions of handwriting and hypnosis, nighttime intrusions and one of them eventually becoming "the second victim of Blue Lake's pull." But was it murder or a supernaturally induced suicide? Only that thing can be said for certain is that there's a troubled soul at the back of it.

John Norris reviewed The Lake of the Dead last March and he evoked various mystery writers, ranging from John Dickson Carr and Hake Talbot ("eerie atmosphere and use of grisly legends") to the Freudian psychology of McCloy's Dr. Willing and Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley – even Sax Rohmer's The Dream Detective (1920) gets a passing mention. While these comparisons are not inaccurate, they feel like they on fit on the surface. You see, The Lake of the Dead is a little too self-aware as its status as a novel. Chapter 7 opens with an apology to the reader, because they're on page 75 and "so far only a single person has met his end." So the author "certainly understand how the audience must feel cheated" as any "thriller costing four kroner must under no circumstances contain fewer than four murders." Carr subtly broke the fourth wall in The Three Coffins (1935) and The Crooked Hinge (1938), but how Bjerke did it is more in line with Leo Bruce and Edmund Crispin. So you get an unusual contrast between what's happening in the story and how it's retrospectively told to the reader. My impression was much more of tongue-in-cheek homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). And that detracted a little from the atmosphere. However, the jovial tone began to dissipate as the story neared its ending.

So we come to question whether, or not, Bjelke succeeded in fusing the detective and horror genres? Kind of. Technically speaking, yes, he did succeed, but not quite in the way I imagined he would do. There are some genuine detective components to the plot and one, or two, were quite clever (ROT13: jul gur qbt ernyyl unq gb tb), but the driving force behind the plot is something different all together. I can only describe it as trying to explain something supernatural as a purely natural phenomenon and initially hated it, but Bugge's explanation and pointing out all the fairly planted, psychological clues pulled me back in. So, yeah, technically it kind of works as a detective story and you have to appreciate the effort made to make it work, but that aberrant element was a little too loose and esoteric for my taste. I simply expected the whole thing would turn out to be a staged murder plot until the killer is dragged down into the lake by his victims at the end, which I would have liked a lot more as it would have meant an intact detective story with the supernatural horrors only coming into play to take care of the murderer.

As you can judge from my ramblings, the second-half and ending left me in two minds. I honestly appreciated the heartfelt attempt to create a true hybrid between the detective and horror genres, which is even more impressive when you consider "Norway is one of the only Western European countries with essentially no tradition of horror fiction." I'm sure that's another reason why the book became a homegrown classic. But the Freudian psychology, supernatural elements and particular the motive (as dark as Scandinavian Noir) didn't entirely work for me. Or were wholly convincing. Because, you know, I'm what you can call somewhat of a genre purist. However, I would probably have a little more positive had my previous three reads not been Robert A. Simon's The Week-End Mystery (1926), Nigel FitzGerald's Affairs of Death (1967) and MORI Hiroshi's Seven Stories (2016). All unconventional detective novels and all have one curious plot-element, or another, in common with The Lake of the Dead. I hoped to find a little more conventional detective story (blame John's comparison to Carr) or kindred spirit of Masahiro Imamura's Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017). This was not it.

So to cut an overlong, lukewarm and mess of a review short, if you're personal taste runs in a similar direction as mine, you might want to approach The Lake of the Dead cautiously. But, if you don't mind an experimental piece of genre fiction every now and then, you might as well pick up this Norwegian classic.

I'll try to pick something more conventional for my next review and, what do you know, my copy of the latest volume from Case Closed has finally arrived. Stay tuned!


Death on Gokumon Island (1947/48) by Seishi Yokomizo

Pushkin Vertigo finally released the eagerly anticipated, English translation of Seishi Yokomizo's celebrated detective novel, Gokumontou (Death on Gokumon Island, 1947/48), which has been on my wishlist to be translated since reading the Stone Bridge edition of Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951) – translated and published all the way back in 2007. Ho-Ling Wong called Death on Gokumon Island the "most respected Japanese mystery novel" with "one of the best hints" as the central clue. Death on Gokumon Island is together with Yatsuhakamura (The Village of Eight Graves, 1949/50) and The Inugami Clan three of Yokomizo's most famous and parodied novels. So it left a sizable footprint on the Japanese detective genre that even non-mystery fans recognize.

Death on Gokumon Island was originally serialized in Hôseki from January 1947 to October 1948 and only published as a book in 1971. So not a historical mystery, as some reviewers believe, but an authentic, post-WWII Japanese mystery set in 1946 when demobilized soldiers were still returning to a completely uprooted country.

One of these demobilized soldiers journeying back to Japan is the well-known private detective, Kosuke Kindaichi, whose division suffered a crushing defeat in 1943, retreated and met up with other divisions – ending up in Newak, New Guinea. There they found themselves cut-off from their main army and ignored by the Americans who "paid no heed to the little battalion that had been left there" as they were "making great strides elsewhere." During his time stranded in New Guinea, Kosuke Kindaichi befriended Chimata Kito and was tending to him when Chimata had caught a severe kind of malaria. A disease that eventually caught up with him when he was traveling with Kindaichi back to Japan on board of a repatriation vessel. A dying Chimata asks Kindaichi to go to, "please go to Gokumon Island in my place... save my sisters... my three sisters will be murdered." Kindaichi goes with a letter of introduction to that strange, out-of-time island in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea.

Gokumon-to, or Gokumon Island, means Hell's Gate Island and has a history as long as its colorful with as many interpretations of its name. From the Nara Period of the eighth century to the seventeenth century of the Edo Period, the Seto Inland Sea was infested with “daredevil pirates” and Gokumon Island was their northern stronghold. There are remnants of an old pirate fortress on the highest point of the island, which had been put to use during the war for aircraft surveillance and anti-aircraft guns. During the Edo Period, the "isolated island of granite, thick with red pine trees," sparsely populated with fishermen who descended from the pirates of the past, became a place of exile. Every criminal in the district who had their death sentence commuted were imprisoned on this island. And they intermarried with the locals.

So the small, insular and close-minded population with "pirate and prisoner blood running in their veins" became an isolated community where the "bonds of feudalism" between the fishing chief and the fishing folk in the village remain strong – even "stronger than between landowners and tenant farmers" in an old-world village. The most powerful fishing boss and patriarch of the Kito family, Kaemon, passed away as his two beloved grandsons, Chimata and Hitoshi, were drafted to fight abroad. So the Kito household was left in the hands of Chimata's cousin, Sanae, but the household can be described as a troubled one. Yosamatsu is Chimata's father and should have succeeded Kaemon as head of the Kito family, but his mind became unhinged and now lives locked up in "a kind of caged cell they made specially for him" in the house. Chimata has three half-sisters, Tsukiyo, Yukie and Hanako, who at best are incredibly immature and at worst slightly unhinged themselves. Kaemon's former mistress, Okatsu, still lives with the family, but there's also a branch Kito family headed the second most powerful fishing boss on the island and his wife, Gihei and Oshiho. They have been extending their hospitality with a handsome-looking ex-soldier, Shozo Ukai, who had been stationed on the island during the war. And not without setting the village aflame with rumors.

Kosuke Kindaichi arrives on the island with a letter of introduction addressed to "the three elders of the island," Ryonen the priest, Mayor Araki and Doctor Koan Murase, who can also be seen as the three administrator. It doesn't take very long before Kindaichi "felt a wave of foreboding wash over him" and realizes how difficult his mission is going to be.

It's not until an official communiqué arrives informing them of Chimata's death that things begin to kick off. A formal funeral ceremony is going to be held the next day and a funeral wake to be held that very night, but, during the wake, Hanako simply disappears. Hanako's body is found after a brief search "hanging head down from the branches of the plum tree" on the temple grounds. A "crazy, utterly insane" murder, but Kindaichi suspects "the island's peculiar ways must have had some profound effect on both the murderer's motive and method." Hanako is not the last person to be murdered under strange and bizarre circumstances, of which the second and third murder present the reader with two impossibilities. However, I can't say anything about the circumstances qualifying them as (minor) impossible crimes, because they have a very different function here than your normal, traditional locked room mystery – namely (SPOILER/ROT13) cebivqvat gur zheqrere jvgu ebpx fbyvq nyvovf. One of those murders is going to be contentious as (MORE ROT13) gurer'f ab pbafrafhf ba jung dhnyvsvrf nf na vzcbffvoyr nyvov, but the phrase (ROT13) “culfvpnyyl vzcbffvoyr” was used. So I think it's save to say Yokomizo agreed with my point of view. 

There is, however, more to the plot of Death on Gokumon Island than the well-hidden impossible angles to two of the murders than can openly be discussed without spoiling the story.

First of all, I've now read four of the best-known Kosuke Kindaichi mysteries and while I've no idea how representative they're of the seventy-two other novels in the series, Yokomizo is beginning to emerge in these translations as a regionalist mystery writer. Just like S.H. Courtier, Todd Downing, Elsepth Huxley and Arthur W. Upfield, Yokomizo's fiction drips with local color, culture and history in addition to creating a murder mystery that feels exclusive to the setting. The murders in Death on Gokumon Island genuinely feel like they're indigenous to the titular island and could not have taken place anywhere else on the planet. That greatly benefited the who-and why, which under different circumstances circumstances would have come across as contrived and slightly unbelievable. But here, it worked like a charm! Secondly, there's that all-time great clue Ho-Ling mentioned. If I'm thinking of the right clue, Louise Heal Kawai delivered an inspired piece of translation deserving of some praise. Ho-Ling has written on his blog before about how important language is in the Japanese detective story and how difficult it can be to translate certain linguistic elements in languages like Dutch or English. But is it one of the all-time greatest clues? It certainly is a good clue, perhaps even a great clue, but undoubtedly worked even better in Japanese. Regardless, it's a good clue and not the only one to be found in this well-clued detective story. Lastly, I loved the fitting ending to the story. After the case is tied-up, the island braces itself to face a new tomorrow ("if Japan is revolutionized, then Gokumon Island will be too") as a departing Kindaichi "placed his hands together in a posture of prayer as he bade farewell to Gokumon Island" ("bless you") as he sailed out of sight of the island. Almost as if the traditionally-dressed Kindaichi had to be present to close a chapter of history. I can see why the series struck a chord of nostalgia during the Yokomizo Boom of the 1970s.

So, all in all, Death on Gokumon Island is a beautiful, intricately-plotted detective novel full with unbalanced characters, bizarre murders, strange clues and local color with my review only touching on a fraction of the plot. An first-class translation of a giant landmark of the Japanese detective story that had been long overdue. Highly recommended! 

A note for the curious: I hastily crammed this review in between scheduled blog-posts and came at the expense of the previous post, "Curiosity is Killing the Cat," in which I dumped my personal wishlist of rare, out-of-print detective novels that sound too good not to reprint. So you might find something on there for your own wishlist.


Curiosity is Killing the Cat: Detective Novels That Need to Be Reprinted

Last year, Nick Fuller, of The Grandest Game in the World, compiled a list of "what detective stories should be reprinted" and posted the result under the title "Detective Stories to Reprint" covering a who's who of obscure, long out-of-print mystery writers and detective novels – a list going from Hugh Austin's Murder of a Matriarch (1936) to R.C. Woodthorpe's The Public School Murder (1932). One or two items on Nick's list were already back in print and James Quince's The Tin Tree (1930) and Casual Slaughters (1935) have since been reissued as ebooks. 

I decided to put together a selection of obscure, shamefully out-of-print detective novels and mystery writers, which aroused my curiosity over the years as an addendum to Nick's list. I tried to keep the overlap between both lists as small as possible and an attempt was made to not let the locked room mystery dominate the list, but hey, you know me. So here's a small selection, in completely random order, put together according to the magpie's method (Ooh, shiny objects).

Nearly a decade ago, Curt Evans favorably discussed Invitation to Kill (1937) by "Gardner Low," a pseudonym of Charles Rodda, who wrote Edgar Wallace-style thrillers under the name "Gavin Holt," but Invitation to Kill is "a rather fascinating" detective novel – possessing "fair play plotting, wit aplenty and a felicitous style." Curt ended the review with "an invitation to republish," but nothing has materialized ten years later. 

The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary, 1942-47 (2001/09) is a treasure trove to pad out lists, like these, but one review that has always stood out to me is Marion K. Sanders and Mortimer S. Edelstein's The Bride Laughed Once (1943). Alternatively published as Death Wears Skis in the 1951 Winter issue of 2 Detective Mystery Novels Magazine. Boucher praised the story about the stabbing of a playboy at a ski resort as "a thoroughly sound detective in the classical mold” strongly recommended "to the formally puzzle-minded and to fans of winter sports." Sounds like a gem of a whodunit waiting to be rediscovered! 

On the very same page of The Anthony Boucher Chronicles, there's a review of Ruth Darby's Murder with Orange Blossoms (1943) about ex-detective Peter Barron and narrator-wife Janet investigate the murder of a bride – who drops dead en route to the altar. Boucher called the book "slick and relentlessly amusing" with a Long Island society setting. Something tells me Murder with Orange Blossoms could be in the same league as The Frightened Stiff (1942) and Sailor, Take Warning! (1944) by Kelley Roos. I would also like to see Darby's Death Boards the Lazy Lady (1939) and Death Conducts a Tour (1940), If This Be Murder (1941) and Beauty Sleep (1942) return to print. What a shame Rue Morgue Press closed down, because Darby sounds like the kind of mystery writer they would have loved to reprint.

Speaking of Rue Morgue Press, when they closed down, they left behind several obscure, but great, mystery writers who were never picked up by other publishers. Clyde B. Clason is a notable example who was only two reprints away to have had all his detective novels brought back in print. I would very much like to add copies of Clason's The Fifth Tumbler (1936) and The Whispering Ear (1938) to my (locked room) library. Same goes for Glyn Carr. I really looked forward to the RMP reprints of A Corpse at Camp Two (1954), Murder of an Owl (1956), The Ice Axe Murders (1958) and Lewker in Tirol (1967) that would never come.

Horatio Winslow and Leslie Quirk's Into Thin Air (1928) and Anthony and Peter Shaffer's Withered Murder (1956) can be counted among the most well-known of the elusive locked room mystery novels, which have been out-of-print for decades and available copies tend to cost a leg and an arm. John Norris, of Pretty Sinister Books, praised Withered Murder as "a diabolically clever and often sardonically funny murder mystery" deserving of being reprinted, while the Death Can Read blog declared Into Thin Air "mandatory for those who love the genre." All we need is a kindly publisher to provide us with freshly printed copies.

The blog of John Norris has three tags, "bizarre murder methods," "neglected detectives" and "obscure writers," representing another treasure trove of long-forgotten mystery writers and detective novels that have been out-of-print for a very long time – sometimes the better part of a century. Some of the mysteries John discussed stood out more than others. One of those standouts is Frederica de Laguna's academic mystery novel, The Arrow Points to Murder (1937), which "makes use of anthropological forensic science and unusual poison experiments in a way like no other detective novel." And the storytelling "replete with anthropological lectures, curious tidbits and tangential scientific trivia all related to museum work." Such an intelligent, absorbing piece of detective fiction needs to be reprinted! Sue MacVeigh's Murder Under Construction (1939) caught my attention for the same reason as Darby's Murder with Orange Blossoms, but also for its setting and authentic background in civil engineering. That makes her second and third novels, Grand Central Murder (1939) and Streamlined Murder (1940), all the more enticing. Reginald Davis and his only three detective novels have become pretty obscure over the decades, but John's reviews of The Crowing Hen (1936) and Nine Days' Panic (1937) argue a good case for reprinting. Same goes for Robert Hare's "three works of ingenious crime fiction" and John Donovan's short-lived Sgt. Johnny Lamb series and his standalone mystery, The Dead Have No Friends (1952). I could go on mentioning writers discussed on Pretty Sinister Books, like Charles Ashton, Christopher Hale and Victor Luhrs, but you get the idea.

Lester Heath's The Case of the Aluminum Crutch (1963) is a juvenile mystery and the only published account from The Casebook of "Sherlock" Jones, which appears on the surface to be standard story of this kind with a Sherlockian touch, but a teaser of the plot suggests otherwise ("the boy's crutch lay at the foot of the tree. The door to the tree house was locked—from the inside. Yet no one was there"). The only review that can be found online compares the book to The Three Investigator series and how "Sherlock" Jones can pass for a cousin Jupiter Jones. And that should be more than enough to get Jim's attention. 

Eunice Mays Boyd was an American writer who wrote only three detective novels, Murder Breaks Trail (1943), Doom in the Midnight Sun (1944) and Murder Wears Mukluks (1945), which are all set in Alaska with "its ghosttowns, its echoes of the rugged goldrush era and its eerie midnight sun" – all three strike me as potential gems of the regional mystery novel. So was Boyd the Elspeth Huxley or Arthur Upfield of Alaska? A fresh print-run could answer that question.

During the early days of this blog, I reviewed a truly weird locked room mystery, Joseph B. Carr's The Man With Bated Breath (1934), which reads like an alternate universe version of John Dickson Carr and has a bizarro world, pot-smoking rendition of Dr. Gideon Fell as the detective. Some thought it might actually be a hitherto unknown Carr novel and it wouldn't have been the first time one turned up (e.g. Devil Kinsmere, 1934), but Douglas Greene argued against the possibility. Unfortunately, his comments posted on the old GADetection Group have since fallen prey to internet decay. I'm still very curious about Joseph B. Carr's first detective novel, Death Whispers (1933). Now that the real Carr is returning to print, The Man With Bated Breath and Death Whispers make for interesting companion pieces. 

Anthony Berkeley and Mignon G. Eberhart have been slipping in-and out-of-print for the past two decades, but Berkeley's Top Storey Murder (1931) and Eberhart's From This Dark Stairway (1931) continue to elude me. I have good hope Top Storey Murder will eventually get published again as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, but From This Dark Stairway is probably going to be a different story.

It's an old, tired running joke around these parts Jim and I agree about once or twice a month, if that. So following up on any of his recommendations is always a risky venture, but I can't deny his reviews of James Ronald, "a writer of no small talent," has failed to intrigue me. Slapping four-star and five-star ratings on Six Were to Die (1932), Murder in the Family (1936), They Can't Hang Me (1938) and This Way Out (1939). James Ronald strikes me as being in the same category as other pulp writers, like Theodore Roscoe, who wrote some first-rate detective fiction and reprints will be welcomes with open arms. He also wrote the tantalizingly-titled The Sealed Room Murder (1934), under the name Michael Crombie, which is another one that needs to be republished. 

Val Gielgud was an actor, director, broadcaster and mystery novelist who was "a pioneer of radio drama for the BBC" and "directed the first ever drama to be produced in the newer medium of television," which provided an authentic backdrop to a number of his detective novels – like Death at Broadcasting House (1934) and The First Television Murder (1940). So you would think that would be enough to keep at least his radio-and television themed mysteries in print, but the last time Death at Broadcasting House appeared in print was a 1994 large print edition. Most of his other novels have (I think) never been reprinted. Another early media mystery that probably merits reprinting is The Studio Murder Mystery (1929) by A.C. and Carmen Edington. An American husband-and-wife team who wrote three more mysteries, Murder to Music (1930), The Monkshood Murders (1931) and Drum Madness (1934), which have not been reprinted since their original publication. For the same reason, I would like to see reprints of Alfred Eichler's Murder in the Radio Department (1943) and Death at the Mike (1946). 

I can't remember how Basil Francis came to my attention, but he was theatrical manager and historian (Fanny Kelly of Drury Lane, 1950) who wrote eight detective novels between 1935 and 1954. Francis appears to be fairly typical example of one those little-known, now completely forgotten Golden Age writers who wrote mysteries with such titles as The Holiday Camp Murder (1939), Death on the Roof (1946) and Death on the Atoll (1948). But his last novel might turn out to be an interesting piece of meta-fiction and genre commentary. Apparently, Death in Act IV (1954) is a published stage play (never performed?) concerning the six members of the London Crime Circle. So a potentially interesting name for the British Library or Dean Street Press to rescue from biblioblivion. 

H.C. Branson is another writer who's completely forgotten today, but he's supposed to be good a writer and plotter with The Pricking Thumb (1942) and The Case of the Giant Killer (1942) apparently being among his better works.

I tried to not to let the locked room mystery and impossible crime genre dominate the list, but it would foolish to pretend Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) and Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) aren't the paper and ink incarnation of my wishlist. So let's go over some choices highlighted and listed in Adey and Skupin. Oh, come on, you knew it was coming! Yes, I'll try to keep it as brief as possible.

Adey listed some truly obscure, rarely reprinted writers and novels in his introduction. The first title is a very early one, Fred M. White's "Who Killed James Trent?" (1901), which was serialized in Pearson's Weekly and has "a rising young novelist," Jasper Carr, acting as detective. Adey called it "an amazing coincidence and an unconscious pointer to an author yet to come." The story should be in the public domain, but is nowhere to be found online while a lot of White's other fiction is easily accessible. Typical! Another intriguing-sounding locked room mystery that's in the public domain and nowhere to be found is W.A. Mackenzie's Flower O' the Peach (1916). One of those exceedingly rare WWI era mysteries! Charles Chadwick's The Cactus (1925) and The Moving House Foscaldo (1926), "both are well worth reading," can be added to the list of (possible) public domain works missing in action. Scobie Mackenzie's Three Dead, One Hurt (1934) is "an almost Buchanesque tale of an oddly assorted group of people marooned on a Scottish island" with a "clever locked room situation" marking it out "as something a little different." Francis Leslie's Study of Death (1943) merited a special mention on account of "a genuinely clever and original locked room gimmick." There are over 2000 entries in Locked Room Murders and not everyone was specially mentioned in the introduction, but some nevertheless stood out to me for one reason or another.

The first item listen in Locked Room Murders can almost be described as a glitch in the matrix, Jacques Aanrooy's Off the Track (1895), in which Donald Fraser solves a stabbing in a locked surgery and was published in South Africa by J.C. Juta & Co – which makes entry 1098 a little spooky. Sir Henry Juta's Off the Track (1925) has a detective, named Ronald Fraser, solving a stabbing in a locked consulting room. No idea whether it's "one of those amazing coincidences" or whether there's a story behind, but I would like to see them back in print. Even more so, if they turn out to be completely different, unconnected detective stories. James Street's Carbon Monoxide (1937) caught my attention and breath, because I thought I had found an unknown, completely overlooked John Rhode novel hiding in plain sight. The impossible situation (carbon monoxide poisoning in a locked garage) struck me as Rhodean, but James Street turned out to be the pseudonym of Michael Majolier who also wrote Death in an Armchair (1937). Charles Ashton is listed with three novels, Death Greets a Guest (1936), Here's Murder Done (1943) and Dance for a Dead Uncle (1948), which all sound great and are criminally out-of-print! Same goes for Hugh Austin's quartet of Peter Quint novels, It Couldn't Be Murder (1935), Murder in Triplicate (1935), Murder of a Matriarch (1936) and The Upside Down Murders (1937). Nigel Burnaby's The Clue of the Green-Eyed Girl (1935) presents another tantalizing impossible crime, murder in a beach hut surrounded by unmarked sand, but this one, too, is shamefully out-of-print. Same goes for Wallace Jackson's The Zadda Street Affair (1934). I could go on, and on, but let's move on to Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement.

Right off the bat, Skupin's introduction throws a mouthwatering, out-of-print locked room mystery at the reader, Terror at Compass Lake (1935) by Tech Davis. A mystery of a dead "that was neither murder, suicide nor natural death" and offers "a new twist on the locked room mystery." Eugene V. Brewster's Surprise Party Murder (1936) reportedly has a "sophisticated solution" to a reversal on the traditional locked room situation: a man denies entering the study of his uncle "despite the accounts of multiple witnesses." William F. Temple's The Dangerous Edge (1951) briefly appeared in print during the early 2000s, but has since gone back to obscurity and it has to be reprinted as its packed with impossible disappearances and miraculous thefts committed by “a master thief who announces his thefts in advance.” Also "worthy of note," Maisie Birmingham's extremely rare The Mountain by Night (1997). Birmingham wrote three novels in the 1970s and self-published her last novel in '90s, which at the time probably meant that copies were circulated privately. So copies are not easy to find, but that was once the case with Derek Smith's Come to Paddington Fair (1997). So, hopefully, John Pugmire can track down a copy and have it properly published.

There are some interesting titles listed in Skupin that might warrant reprinting. Esther Fonseca's The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom (1937) concerns "death by carbon monoxide poisoning of one girl in a dormitory when all other girls were unaffected," but available copies can be described as nonexistent. Very little can be found about it online. Sinclair Gluck's Sea Shroud (1934) has a locked room situation that invites further investigation, "stabbing in a room locked and bolted on the inside" and "a hole from a rifle shot" in the barred window, but apparently copies are ultra rare. Stephen Gould's Murder of the Admiral (1936) is the first of only two novel-length cases about a striking pulp hero, Sheridan Doome, who has to figure out how someone could have been shot in a ship's cabin under observation. The book was also published under the name Steve Fisher. I've no special reason to list Charles Reed Jones' The Van Norton Murders (1931), except that it could very well be one of the earliest parody or pastiche of S.S. van Dine and Philo Vance on record. Herman Landon's Death on the Air (1929) has three people die "apparently by the playing of a song," which is one of a handful of intriguing locked room mysteries he wrote. Such as Mystery Mansion (1928) and Murder Mansion (1928), published respectively UK and US, which are nearly identical except that "the solutions are quite different." Three Brass Elephants (1930) concerns the disappearance of an entirely room. This author appeared on my radar after reading The Back-Seat Murder (1931) in 2019. Jason Manor's Too Dead to Run (1953) has one of those magic bullet puzzles that rarely fail to fascinate me. Ning Xu's Murder at the Drum Tower (1994) was translated and published in English, but, today, copies are nowhere to be found.

Just to rattle off some random titles that caught my eye: Anthony Gilbert's The Tragedy at Freyne (1927), E.C.R. Lorac's Murder in St. John's Wood (1934), George Bagby's Ring Around a Murder (1936), John Bentley's The Dead Do Talk (1944), B.C. Black's The Draughtsman's Pen (c. 1948), Theodore Brace's Death Goes in a Trailer (1950) and Nigel Brent's The Leopard Died Too (1957). And more Anthony Wynne reprints like The Case of the Gold Coins (1933) and Emergency Exit (1941).

So here you have a very tiny, minuscule selection from the near Earth planetoid, known as my personal wishlist, which for one reason or another captured my imagination, but annoyingly remain out of reach. And would welcome reprints with open arms. But then again, that was said about a lot detective novels writers and novels since discussed on this blog. Let's press on with the Renaissance!


Affairs of Death (1967) by Nigel FitzGerald

Nigel FitzGerald was a stage actor and former president of the Irish Actors' Equity Association who penned a dozen crime-and detective novel, published between 1953 and 1967, which mostly take place in remote, isolated pockets of Ireland – teeming with "popular superstition, ancient rituals and not-so-well-kept secrets." Curt Evans discussed FitzGerald's Suffer a Witch (1958) on his blog, back in 2014, describing the book as "a later manifestation of the classic Golden Age detective novel." Something of "a transition between the more anodyne detective fiction associated with the Golden Age" and "the more gloomy (i.e. realistic) stuff of P.D. James" in modern times. That has recently brought FitzGerald back on my radar.

I've been coming across the scattered remnants of a lost generation of traditional-minded mystery writers, namely Kip Chase, Charles Forsyte, Jack Vance and Ton Vervoort, who tried to reconcile the values of the classic detective story with the changes of the 1960s. They were, technically speaking, not wholly unsuccessful as Chase's Murder Most Ingenious (1962), Forsyte's Diving Death (1962), Vervoort's Moord onder astrologen (Murder Among Astrologists, 1963) and Vance's The Fox Valley Murders (1966) showed what could have been had the Golden Age continued into the sixties and beyond. They vanished as quickly as they appeared. Averaging three detective novels each. Vervoort managed to put out six novel, but, considering tales of ratiocination and plotting had gone out of favor with publishers at the time, they always impressed me as "small fish" that slipped through the meshes of the net.

FitzGerald seems to fit in with this group of late and forgotten, Golden Age-style mystery writers, but he entered the game during the twilight years, or decade, of that era and as a result his output is nearly as big as that of Chase, Forsyte, Vance and Vervoort combined – who together produced roughly fourteen detective novels. Regrettably, practically all of them are currently out-of-print and have been so for over six decades. That include two of FitzGerald's most tantalizing detective stories, The Student Body (1958) and Suffer a Witch. Both listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991).

There are, however, two of his later novels currently in print as cheap ebooks. A small, little-known indy publisher, PFD Books, reissued Black Welcome (1961) and Affairs of Death (1967) back in 2013. And they're still in print! So why not take a gamble on one of them? It goes without saying I picked Affair of Death and, going by the book title, cover and synopsis, I expected something classical wrapped in the gloomy, morose packaging of a 1960s crime novel. Affairs of Death is more like a cross between a character-driven drama, a sitcom and a modernized whodunit.

Standish Wyse is a stage actor who has "as much experience of stretching pennies as anyone." So while his car is in Dublin to be repaired, Standish opts for a seven hour bus journey to visit his former lover, Stella Hazard, who married his rich stage friend, Barney Hazard. Getting to Hazard Point House, in Rossderg, becomes somewhat of a comedic endeavor. Firstly, Standish meets his younger cousin, Juliet Carr, who's traveling the same direction as him to spend the summer working on costumes for an autumn pageant at the cottage of Kinky Myles. So he gracefully gives his window-seat to his motion sick cousin, but, when he arrives, Barney is not there to pick him up. A breakdown in communications. Standish rents a bicycle and ends up taking "a gentle purler into the dry ditch," from which he emerges slightly concussed and is brought to the home of Kinky Myles. The scene of a house party where "some twenty or so young people had gathered and were enjoying themselves." However, the party turns exuberantly sinister when they begin to dabble in witchcraft by manufacturing a "wretched doll" out of modeling clay, christening it wine and sticking pins in it – before tossing the doll into a smoking cauldron. A harmless enough joke, but someone caught the name of the doll. And then the news reached them that there's a fire at Hazard Point House.

One of the rented cottages had gone up in flames and inside, "pinned to the living-room floor with a hayfork," they discovered the body of woman. However, the body is quickly identified as a local girl and a manhunt is organized to apprehend her jealous husband. So the story returns to Standish messy love life, mishaps and the unforeseen consequences of his actions or even neglecting something as easy as reading a letter. During the first-half of Affairs of Death, the storytelling and characterization outpaces the plot until a second death brings murder a lot closer to home. A murder involving a second hayfork and giant, smoldering haystack. Affairs of Death becomes more like a proper detective story during the second-half and even FitzGerald's series-detective, Superintendent Duffy, puts in an appearance, but only to have a chat with Standish and tying up all the loose ends in the last chapter. Standish is the one who gets to confront the murderer and, as to be expected, cornering a murderer can be dangerous. I was reminded by the end of book of The House Without a Key (1925) by Earl Derr Biggers. But how well does the solution stack up? That's a bit of a mixed bag.

The overarching idea behind the murders and how the second murder was executed is not bad at all. The kind of update of the traditionally-plotted detective story I've come to associate with Roger Ormerod, but not as fully developed or as fairly clued as it could have been. You can perhaps put that down to the plot not having enough room to breath. By the time the second murder is discovered, the story has already crossed the halfway mark with four chapters left to go. However, the more character-driven first-half is definitely necessary to make the second-half work. So, yeah, I'm in too minds about it. I didn't dislike Affairs of Death at all, but wish more could have been done with the plot. Maybe some parts from the first-half could have been cut or some pages could have been added to the second-half. It's a short novel and one, or two, extra chapters focusing on the detection part might have elevated it to the level of the previously-mentioned 1960s mystery writers.

Nonetheless, Affairs of Death shows FitzGerald was a polished writer with an eye for characterization and could have been an excellent plotter, which has made me curious about his 1950s novels like Midsummer Malice (1953), The Student Body and Suffer a Witch. After all, Affairs of Death was FitzGerald's last mystery novel published four years after Echo Answers Murder (1963). So the weaknesses that held back the plot here could simply be decline or simply the last scrap he had to offer the genre. Whatever the answer, FitzGerald is getting a second hearing on this blog and, if I can't easily track down one of 1950s novels, I'll go with Black Welcome. Apparently, a favorite of John Norris. Must be a pretty sinister book then.


The Week-End Mystery (1926) by Robert A. Simon

I ended the previous review with the promise that the next post would look at a very obscure, very vintage and very British detective novel, which is technically true, but the novel under examination today, The Week-End Mystery (1926), came from the hand of Robert A. Simon – an American writer, translator, music critic and a one-off mystery author. However, the mistake is an understandable one as The Week-End Mystery is very reminiscent of A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery (1922), Anthony Berkeley's The Layton Court Mystery (1925) and The Wintringham Mystery (1926/27), Ronald A. Knox's The Three Taps (1927) and Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime (1929). A completely tongue-in-cheek, semi-self-conscious mystery novel of the murder-can-be-fun school associated during the 1920s with the British detective story. It became somewhat of an American specialty towards the late 1930s and '40s as Frances Crane, Craig Rice, Kelley Roos and the Lockridges arrived on the scene, but Simon was a good decade ahead of them. Albeit with a distinctly English accent. 

The Week-End Mystery sets the tone in its opening chapter as the 28-year-old assistant manager of the Universal Sugar Refining Company, Jimmy Wrome ("a pretty funny specimen"), consulting Dr. Hugh Farrigan ("a frustrated orthopedist") on broken heart disguised (poorly) as a case of indigestion. Dr. Farrigan nonetheless never to objected to handling cases outside of his field of expertise and writes Jimmy the best prescription in the history of medicine: 

Detective Stories.

Read one daily until relieved. Dose may be increased if desired.

Hugh Farrigan, M.D. 

The prescription is to be filled at "the mental drugstore," known as Curtin's, which also rents and sells books, but, to get him started, Dr. Farrigan gives him a copy of a detective novel, The Shower Bath Enigma, that happened to be in his office ("I don't usually keep medicine in stock...") – unwittingly creating a serious detective fiction addict. Jimmy fully immerses himself in the adventures of Bernard Gartlin, "the Man of a Million Masks," burning through the series "a book or two a day." A series with some intriguingly-sounding titles and plots. Such as The Statue of Liberty Tangle concerning the (impossible?) stabbing of a senator in the Statue of Liberty's torch.

A good, stiff dose of murder and intrigue proved to the be perfect antidote to Jimmy's malady, but now he might have "picked up a strange new one in the form of detectivitis" as he goes around demonstrating his new deductive abilities. For example, Jimmy returns to Dr. Farrigan and one of the first things out of his mouth is, "that was a good job you made on that Italian woman's wrist" ("how did you I attended to an Italian woman's wrist?"). Dr. Farrigan invites him to a weekend party at the house of his client, Leed Payne, who's known as "the Mystery Man of Wall Street" and his weekend parties were famous for bringing together a curious assortment of guests. And he promises Jimmy the party would provide him with a wonderful chance to practice his newly acquired skills. But one of the guests brings his old ailment back to the surface.

This guest is the woman who broke Jimmy's heart, Claire Barton, who's accompanied by the man who stole her away from him, Blake Hesbe. Other guests include a New York politician and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Gulvin. And a famous saxophone virtuoso, Eddie Endle. So the party promises to be an interesting one, but a blackout and their host feeling rotten cuts its short. Payne sends his guests to the Shuffle Inn to have a dance with dinner, but, during the party, Dr. Farrigan is called back to the house by the butler. Something has happened to Payne. Something has happened to Payne. And the following morning, Jimmy learns Payne has shot himself around midnight in his bedroom. A suicide note was found on the table. All the doors and windows were securely locked on the inside.

So there's only one conclusion, suicide, but Jimmy has his doubts and astutely observes the cheap, crudely engraved and incomplete initials on the murder weapon – which suggests it might not be Payne's gun. Foolishly, he not only talks to the press, but tells a reporter he knows who murdered the banker and how. This places him on uneasy footing with the local authority represented by Captain Edgar Brinze and the Public Prosecutor, Kenworthy. Jimmy continues to be a nuisance and attract unwanted attention as he plays out his role as an amateur Sherlock Holmes. He begins to receive threatening or mocking notes ("EVERYBODY IS LAUGHING AT YOUR SILLY DETECTIVE STUNTS") and has an elusive shadow constantly shadowing him. Even spending a night in a jail cell, because he refuses to tell the prosecutor what he knows. But he carries on with all the enthusiasm that comes so naturally to the best of the amateur detectives.

Jimmy collects "a pretty mènage" of clues that comprise of threatening letters, a widely circulated copy of The Porterhouse Murder, a false mustache, ghost stories and a heart breaking tune. Among some more subtle hints and foreshadowing. While the motive requires a little bit of educated guesswork, you should be able to identify the murderer long before the end. I instinctively caught on to the murderer before those clues and hints turned up, because I, too, suffer from detectivtis. Simon did such a fine job, I entirely forgot The Week-End Mystery is a detective story parody and not really a proper detective novel. That made the solution to the locked room puzzle and how house guest ended up with a pristine alibi a crushingly disappointing (ROT13/HUGE SPOILER: zheqre ol nhgbfhttrfgvba). Yes, The Week-End Mystery is an out-and-out parody of the early detective stories and therefore the explanation to the locked room and alibis is not out of tune, but, even in a tongue-in-cheek mystery, you always hope it will be something clever. Even if its completely outrageous or downright silly. Something that has been done successfully. Jerry Coleman's "The Super-Key to Fort Superman" (1958) and John Sladek's "The Locked Room" (1972) spring to mind.

So, right up until the end, Simon's The Week-End Mystery stands with the previously mentioned novels by Berkeley, Milne and Knox, but the difference between them and Simon is in the tail of The Week-End Mystery, which continued to wink and laugh at the detective story until the final sentence – whereas his British contemporaries also tried to add something new and different. Most notably, the false-solution, the fallible detective and (ROT13) gur haeryvnoyr aneengbe. Simon did write an extremely readable and fun detective novel, it's ending regrettably downgraded the book to a mere curiosity. A highly amusing and readable curiosity, but a curiosity nonetheless. But if your taste runs towards comedic mysteries and parodies, The Week-End Mystery comes highly recommended.

I didn't want to end this second, lukewarm review in a row on a downer and as someone who suffers from an incurable form of miraculitis, I decided to try and come up with an alternative solution to the locked room problem. A solution that would also explain the alibis. So put on my deerstalker to have a big think as this alternative solution has two, all-important condition: it should explain both the locked bedroom and the croft of alibis as well as fitting the satirical theme of the story. Here's what I've come up with. 

My Solution to the Locked Room Murder: Firstly, the sudden sickness that ended the house party has to be part of a plan between Payne and his future assassin (who's playing a double game and stringing him along). Payne secretly follows the party to the inn where he meets with the murderer and gets shots, while the music of dance band inside drowns out the sound of the gunshot. The murderer plants the gun on the body to suggest Payne tried to defend himself during a robbery and got shot himself or a shady business meeting gone wrong, but the shot didn't kill Payne immediately and he stumbles home – dazed, confused and dying with a gun in hand. Payne sneaks back into the house and up to his bedroom to die, which is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but would have done the trick in 1926. But we can take it one step further. Payne went up to his bedroom to die, but did not lock the bedroom door behind him. What he did was lie down on bed, gun in hand, while his body twitched for the last time, the gun fired. This second bullet is lodged in the narrow crack underneath the bedroom door and effectively becomes a door wedge that makes it appear as if the door was locked from the inside.

Admittedly, this solution requires some cosmetic changes to the story to work, but they would also provide the plot with an even deeper problem and better clues. Why was Payne discovered in his street coat? Why were two bullets fired from the murder weapon and what happened to that second bullet? If he hadn't shot himself, what about the gunshot residue on his hand and sleeve? You can even add a second impossibility when the accidental locked room-trick is discovered. You see, even if they discover a bullet had wedged the door shut, they likely wouldn't right away know it was a dying Payne who had fired that shot. So, if the butler was outside the bedroom at the time the accidental shot was fired, it would appear as if the murderer shot the door tight shut to buy time and did it with a perfect shot like Lucky Luke. And then apparently vanished from a locked and watched room. So the solution to the locked door opens, if even briefly, to a second locked room problem with an impossible gunshot thrown in for good measure. And the best thing is that it started out with the murderer trying to do the smart thing. Trying to make it look like an attempted mugging gone wrong or the result of unsavory business dealings, but then the cussedness of all things general turned it into a full-blown locked room mystery.

This is the best I could do. Hope you enjoyed it.