Q.E.D. X-MAS/NEW YEAR SPECIAL: "Christmas Eve Eve" (vol. 24) and "The Drama Murder Case" (One-Shot Special)

Back in March, I reviewed Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 24 and springtime was either too late or too early to fully enjoy the seasonally-themed first story of the volume, "Christmas Eve Eve" – promising to revisit it in December. I intended to do this Q.E.D. XMAS Special earlier in the month, but plans rarely follow the plan on this blog. There's still a day, or so, left to tidy up some odds and ends before closing the book on 2024.

I definitely enjoyed "Christmas Eve Eve" a lot more the second time around. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara take a part-time job at a karaoke bar to earn extra money to buy Christmas presents, but they end up playing Santa's Little Helpers in gumshoes helping to clear up some little, everyday problems and minor crimes plaguing the people working at the karaoke bar.

Hagio Youko is the owner of the karaoke bar and a friend of Kana Mizuhara, who are both professional wrestling fans, but she currently breaking up with her boyfriend and manager, Tokunaga Tsutomu. Youko's friends had seen Tsutomu on a date with another woman and they overheard discussing marriage. Tsutomu flatly denies the accusation, but who's right? Iguchi Yuzou is another, older part-timer who had been released from his old job after the company downsized and took a part-time job at the karaoke bar to buy his son a video game for Christmas. And then his wallet disappears. Presumably stolen. So has that anything to do with other strange incidents? At the time, there are only eight groups of customers, but nine rooms are occupied and the ones in charge of registrations at the counter are Youko and another part-time college student, Fujimura Misataka – who both deny responsibility for having made a possible mistake. There are muddy shoe prints on the office floor apparently belonging to someone who came in from the outside. So are there trespassers and thieves sneaking through karaoke bar lifting wallets and leaving muddy prints?

So while all relatively minor problems and small incidents, tensions and tempers begin to flare as they begin to pile on. Just when everybody begins to lose their minds and yelling at each other, Sou Touma returns from handing out flyers as Santa Claus (see pic below). And immediately is pushed to play armchair detective to clear up the whole mess. One by one, Touma explains all the incidents ensuring everyone can go home happy to celebrate Christmas with their loved one.



"Christmas Eve Eve" is one of those very light, character-driven slice-of-life mysteries perfectly suitable for a Christmas-themed story. Not the best or most memorable story in the series, but nice enough for what it is.

The second story I decided to discuss in this Q.E.D. special twofer is "The Drama Murder Case," a special one-shot story to commemorate the TV drama, which I had been warned about was going to be a really weird story. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara film "a thorough report on the behind the scenes happenings for a TV drama" on behalf of the Sakisaka High School Broadcasting Club. During the backstage tour, they find the body of the chief producer, Arakawa Noriichirou, under utterly bizarre circumstances. Arakawa Noriichirou is wearing a bald wig, helmet and a traditionally hakama holding a comb and an old-fashioned, matchlock rifle hanging around his neck. And he had been strangled to death with the strap on the rifle. Even stranger is that all the suspects share exactly the same motive as the victim loved to make atrocious, overly elaborate puns. The kind of bad puns that land with all the impact of a crossbow bolt smacking into your eardrums.

Believe it or not, the solution is even more ridiculous and far-fetched, but suppose that was the intention. Just an amusing, quick little one-shot not meant to be taken seriously nor to be considered official canon. And, to be fair, some of the fun and humor was definitely lost in translation. I'm sure "The Drama Murder Case' is funnier in Ja-pun-ese. ;)

So that rounds out 2023. I wish you all a very happy, healthy 2024 and hope to see you all back in January!


At the Sign of the Clove and Hoof (1937) by Zoë Johnson

Zoë Johnson was a British author of only two detective novels, At the Sign of the Clove and Hoof (1937) and Mourning After (1939), but then she stopped writing and disappeared into obscurity as her "books fell out of print and were forgotten" – until a few years ago. John Norris, of Pretty Sinister Books, reviewed the book in 2021, "made me grin in admiration," ending with a wish to see it reprinted. Moonstone Press got the hint and reissued Johnson's long-forgotten mystery novel just two years later.

John Norris warned in his review "Johnson has dared to flout the tacit and written rules of detective fiction" with "a solution that defies all those conventions." In principle, I've no problem with breaking the rules or upturning conventions, but it comes with a big but. I'm with Anthony Boucher that the rules of the detective story can be broken, twisted and subverted, but, to do it successfully, it requires a mystery writer who understands and respects them in the first place. Zoë Johnson seems to have been a knowledgeable mystery fan first and author second as she pokes fun at everything from Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace and the British village mysteries of the 1930s to the fictitious detective in all their guises. So a very amusing and imaginative rule breaker, but a tricky one to discuss. Let's give it a shot.

Larcombe is a small fishing village, "off the beaten track," standing at the head of a lonely promontory and pretty much isolated by a valley, moor, cliffs and devious, ill-kept country lanes. The Clove and Hoof is the local pub where the villages and fishermen come to drink, share stories and gossip. The arrival of a big, red-faced man in Larcombe opens the door to rampant speculation, "there'd never been such a hubbub over one topic since 1918," because the Stranger is rumored to be a detective from London – a detective who seemed to have a special interest in the unlikable vicar. So everyone expected to wake up one morning to the news Rev. Ernest Pratt had been hauled away in chains, but not that he had been found shot at the bottom of a cliff. And the Stranger is nowhere to be found. Inspector Percy Blutton is tasked with finding the vicar's murderer among the strange, colorful and eccentric villagers and fishermen who frequent the The Clove and Hoof.

There were footprints and marks at the crime scene indicating the vicar had struggled with two, possibly three men and one of them must have had a wooden leg. And there's only one man in Larcombe with a wooden leg, Captain John-Thomas Ridd. A true character, "like an illustrated joke in Punch," who has "a wooden leg, a black patch over his left eye and his dress was cut in an out-moded, sea-faring mould." Ridd is very popular with the locals and the odd summer visitor entertaining them at the Clove and Hoof with tall tales of "Sea Serpents, pirates, treasure-trove, sharks, smugglers, octopuses and duels with cutlasses." Ridd is not the only local oddity. Lionel Gedling is an old eccentric curmudgeon and nervous recluse who lives in a big, rundown house with his servant, Costigan. Old Sebastian Hannabus runs a small antique shop and jack-of-all-trades from trapping rabbits and taxidermy to repairing clocks and relieving the British healthcare system ("...he'd pull out a bad tooth for sixpence"). Dick Bowle is the aging, bedridden tobacconist who wears a bowler hat even in bed to cover his bald head. Bert Yeo is the mountainous, immovable owner of the Clove and Hoof, but a sudden change has come over him ever since the Stranger arrived and mysteriously disappeared.

Finally, there's the best and most memorable character, Christian Peascod. An artist, poet, lover and self-appointed amateur detective who has studied "the works of Bailey, Doyle, Van Dine, Roger East, Freeman, Wills and Croft, and the Misses Sayers and Christie" – combined with a training in Speculative Philosophy at Oxford. Just like John noted in his review, Peascod dominates whenever he appears and a shame he's likely a one-and-done deal. A list of potential suspects and witnesses comprising of characters escaped from the pages of Lewis Carroll or J.M. Berry story is not the only complication for Inspector Blutton. A poison pen writer is sending out threatening letters in blue water color like they are birthday party invitations ("the real Penny Dreadful touch, what?"), while simultaneously someone is pulling a string of bizarre pranks with dead fish, air guns and a metronome. When a severed head is dragged from a pool, the Chief Constable calls in Scotland Yard. That brings in the third detective, Detective-Sergeant Plumper. A very promising, up-and-coming officer who's "somewhat unorthodox in manner and method." So quite the opposite of the much more plodding Blutton.

So, conventionally-sounding enough, but, after this point, At the Sign of the Clove and Hoof starts to live a life of its own away from the beaten track. And impossible to discuss the plot any further. But there are one, or two, things that deserve to be highlighted.

Firstly, I enjoy the case-for-three-detectives structure and always find it a pleasure to come across one, especially from this period of time. The best examples are Ronald A. Knox's The Three Taps (1927), Leo Bruce's Case for Three Detectives (1936) and the fairly recently translated La maison interdite (The Forbidden House, 1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugène Wyl. All take a satirical approach, one way or another, to lampoon the detective story, the detective character or both, but it gives room to something criminally underused to this day. Namely rival detectives. A good, well-drawn rival detective can liven up a detective story more than padding out the murderer's bodycount. So having three detectives is a party, but these case-for-three-detectives novels also tend to be excellent detective stories in their own right making them so much more than just parodies. Now the solution is where Johnson differs a little from Bruce and Knox, but more on that in a minute. Secondly, while the second-half of the novel is better read than discussed, it should be noted it's littered with great and memorable scenes. Such as the siege of Old Barton "throughout the ghostly hours of early morning" or the press descending on the village with their screaming headlines ("Hell Let Loose in Quaint Village," "Work of Secret Society?" "Who Next?") and sensational write-ups ("this quaint picture-village has become a ghastly charnel-house"). Just fun from start to finish. What about the ending, you ask?

In the hands of a less talented writer, At the Sign of the Clove and Hoof would have fallen flat on its face at the end. Something that should have been deadly dull as it brazenly thumbs its nose at the rules and conventions of the day, but Johnson got away with it based on nothing more than barefaced cheek, a ton of charm and being relentlessly entertaining throughout. Johnson intended to have some fun and she even got a plot purist, like myself, to go along with it. No mean feat! So I'll keep my fingers crossed Moonstone Press gets an opportunity to reprint Mourning After next.

A note for the curious: I was wondering where Zoë Johnson fits on the family tree of mystery writers. It's tempting to pigeonhole her with the British satirists like Bruce or Edmund Crispin, but, based solely on this novel, Johnson had a radically different approach to the traditional detective story. So maybe Johnson was something of an isolated phenomenon like the incomparable Gladys Mitchell, but then it struck me. At the Sign of the Clove and Hoof reads like one of E.R. Punshon's own unorthodox detective novels, e.g. Diabolic Candelabra (1942) and The Conqueror Inn (1943). Just an afterthought. Anyway, I'll probably pick something light and short to close out the year.


Murder in Retrospect: The Best and Worst of 2023



Since 2020, these years roundups acquired a depressing undertone and I'm afraid this year is no exception as Rupert Heath, of Dean Street Press, died on March 6 of heart failure – aged only 54. Curt Evans announced the news on his blog, "Death of a Publisher," before an official email confirmed DSP was getting shut down. Only the last five scheduled Moray Dalton reprints were published in April, but Heath and DSP left behind an indelible mark on the genre and gave the reprint renaissance the momentum it needed back in 2015.

John Pugmire, of Locked Room International, had to dial it back his publications due to health issues and Black Heath stopped altogether in February. Black Heath was not exactly a quality publisher, but sometimes reissued some interesting novels and authors like Harriette Ashbrook, Nicholas Brady and James Quince. On the upside, Moonstone Press is planning to reprint James Ronald and Pushkin Vertigo is going to add a lot more Japanese titles to their catalog in 2024. Starting with Akimitsu Takagi's Noumen satsujin jiken (The Noh Mask Murder, 1949) and Seishi Yokomizo's Akuma no temari uta (The Little Sparrow Murders, 1957/59) coming in the first-half of next year Tetsuya Ayukawa's Kuroi hakuchou (The Black Swan Mystery, 1960) and Yukito Ayatsuji's Meirokan no satsujin (The Labyrinth House Murders, 1988) coming towards the end of the year. The BBB is currently serializing MORI Hiroshi's Tsumetai misshitsu to hakase tachi (Doctors in the Isolated Room, 1996), which should be available as a complete ebook sometime early next year. This comes in addition to more vintage reprints and anthologies from the British Library and American Mystery Classics on top of brand new novels from Anne van Doorn, P. Dieudonné, Tom Mead and, hopefully, James Scott Byrnside and A. Carver. So not too bad, if you share my taste in detective fictions.

This year, I played genre historian and put together "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century: A Brief Historic Overview of the First Twenty (Some) Years." I also tried my hands several top 10 lists, but always try to go for an unusual theme and unexpected picks. Such as a "Top 10 Fascinating World War II Detective Novels," "Top 10 Favorite Cases from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 1-25" and "Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated."

Before we hand over another year to the history books, it's time for the yearly roundup of best, and worst, detective novels and short stories encountered in 2023 and what a mess this list threatened to become – coming close to scrapping it altogether. I finally managed to tidy everything up, but had to whittle down the list considerably and cutting the likes of Norman Berrow and Philip Kerr. However, I think the list is now presentable and a little different from previous years. The locked room and impossible crime story is, as to be expected, very well represented, but a surprising amount of rereads made the list this year. No wonder I was struggling to find titles for the worst-of section. I revisited a lot of old favorites this year without really noticing. Another trend worth pointing out is the growing number of detective novels, published in the past five years, that make the cut. A second Golden Age really is in the air!

So, with all of that out of the way, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2024. Now let's go down the list in chronological order.



House of Fear (1916) by Wadsworth Camp

A surprisingly good, if somewhat dated, detective from the dawn of the Golden Age and the grandfather of the ever popular theatrical mystery novel. The setting is dark, decaying theater reputedly haunted by the ghost of an actor who died on stage and his phantom cat. First rate stuff for 1916!


The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1916/20) by Agatha Christie (a reread)

Christie's debut is a diamond-in-the-rough, lacking only in subtlety and polish, but bubbled with ideas and promise for the future. One of the better debuts in the genre!


The Wrong Letter (1926) by Walter S. Masterman

Another surprisingly good debut and a better than average 1920s locked room mystery with a solution that was somewhat innovative for the time. There were a couple of other novel from the period playing with similar ideas, which showed the genre was moving away from the Doylean era.


Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931) by Francis Beeding

A vintage mystery-thriller that holds up today, even if the passage of time dulled the twist at the end. In every other way, it's an excellent, early serial killer novel showing the effects such an individual can have on a small community.


La nuit du 12 au 13 (The Night of the 12th-13th, 1931) by S.A. Steeman

Steeman was a mystery novelist with a ton of original ideas that fueled the French detective story during the 1930s. This is easily the best Steeman novel I've read and another sign the detective story had entered its Golden Age.


The Hanging Captain (1932) by Henry Wade

Wade is one of those once famous, but now underappreciated and often overlooked Golden Age mystery writers, but he was a mystery novelist of the first rank. The Hanging Captain has all his skill and talent on display. More importantly, it earned extra points in my book for indulging in the criminally underused trope of the rivaling detectives.


Five to Five (1934) by D. Erskine Muir

A rock solid detective novel applying the skill of the mystery novelist to a sordid, real-life crime and showing what could have happened if a competent inspector had been in charge of the Oscar Slater Case.


Thou Shell of Death (1936) by Nicholas Blake (a reread)

So much better than I remembered and remembering bits and pieces of solution, I could only sit back and admire how Blake rigged up a grand deception. As good as the best from his better remembered contemporaries.


Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce (a reread)

One of my all-time favorite detective novels! Simultaneously being a hilarious parody and perceptive pastiche of the genre crammed with rivaling detectives, false-solutions and faked alibis. A gem from the Golden Age!


The Whistling Hangman (1937) by Baynard Kendrick (a reread)

One of my two favorite titles from this strange series standing on the borderlands between comics, pulps and the traditional detective story. In this novel, the blind Captain Duncan Maclain tackles two impossible murders at a New York residential hotels. Deserves to be reprinted!


Curtain (c. 1940/75) by Agatha Christie (a reread)

The last of the Hercule Poirot novels, written during the Second World War in case the worst happened, but the book so much more than the series nest egg. A serial killer story bringing a sickly, wheelchair-bound Poirot back the scene of The Mysterious Affair at Styles and pitted against subtle sadist who perfected the art of murder. A grand farewell performance from the most celebrated mystery writer and her famous creation!


You'll Die Laughing (1945) by Bruce Elliott

A short, fast-paced and imaginative pulp-style locked room minor and a minor classic of the form, back in print since 2006, but continues to fly under everyone's radar.


Subject—Murder (1945) by Clifford Witting

A classic of the British World War II mystery novel with a long prelude, a comedy drama ending in tragedy, but when it happens, it happens with the harsh, brutal justice of the Dark Ages and all the ingenuity of the Golden Age.


Suddenly at His Residence (1946) by Christianna Brand (a reread)

This is perhaps Brand's most conventional take on the detective story, apparently ticking all the boxes, but underneath the clichés and tropes is a first-rate mystery that can be tested against the best by Carr and Christie. Amazingly, it's not even her second or third best novel nor even the fourth or fifth! Brand simply was one of the best!


The Girl with the Hole in Her Head (1949) by Hampton Stone

A better than average second-stringer, or mid-tier, detective novel. Solidly plotted with a good solution complimented and strengthened by a motive arising from a very specific set of circumstances. Perhaps not the best title on this list, but I enjoyed it.


Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (The Devil's Flute Murders, 1951/53) by Seishi Yokomizo

The latest translation from Yokomizo's famous Kosuke Kindaichi series by Pushkin Vertigo presenting a human tragedy as a detective story, a locked room murder included, in which the truth comes at a hefty prize. I eagerly look forward to the next translation coming next year.


The Caves of Steel (1953/54) by Isaac Asimov (a reread)

A masterpiece of the science-fiction and detective genres, but, purely as a detective novel, I consider it to be one of the most important detective novels from the second-half of the previous century. A detective novel for the future demonstrating that even the presence of highly advanced, futuristic is no excuse for a weak or non-existent plotting.


The Case of the Dead Man Gone (1961) by Christopher Bush

I had to include a Christopher Bush title and while it has a smudge, or two, it's still miles ahead of what was becoming fashionable at the time. Bush tried and mostly succeeded in preserving the essential of the classical detective story in his sleek, trimmed down 1960s mysteries.


The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980) by Michael Gilbert

A classically-styled, updated take on the quintessential British village mystery in the deceiving guise of what appears to be a fairly typical, 1980s police procedural.


Face Value (1983) by Roger Ormerod

This could, arguably, be the best traditionally-styled detective novel produced in the West during the 1980s. A stunningly original and daring mystery novel giving the reader a glimpse of what the Golden Age detective novel could have evolved into had been allowed to develop pass the 1950s.


Suishakan no satsujin (The Mill House Murders, 1988) by Yukito Ayatsuji

The eagerly anticipated sequel to Ayatsuji's epoch-making novel, Jukkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987), which superbly weaves complex patterns out of sheer simplicity. Fortunately, the publication of The Labyrinth House Murders is only a few months away!


Subete ga F ni naru (Everything Turns to F: The Perfect Insider, 1996) by MORI Hiroshi

 A seminal novel for the second wave of shin honkaku couching the neo-orthodox plots of the first wave in highly specialized environments or subject matters. In this case, an isolated computer research institute. Not the best detective novel Japan has produced over the past forty years, but still very good and fascinating to compare it to the works of "NisiOisiN" and Motohiro Katou.


Crucified (2008) by Michael Slade

An excellent, somewhat gory mystery-thriller in which the archaeological discovery of a lost WWII-era Allied bomber leads to the discovery of a long buried, seemingly impossible murder of the rear gunner. The wreck of a sealed submarine offers a second historical locked room mystery.


Gallows Court (2018) by Martin Edwards

A tremendously enjoyable, pulp-style thriller that introduces a retro-Golden Age mystery series, starring Rachel Savernake, from the Nestor of the Golden Age Renaissance, Martin Edwards. You can expect reviews of Mortmain Hall (2020) and Blackstone Fell (2022) next year.


Magan no hako no satsujin (Death Within the Evil Eye, 2019) by Masahiro Imamura

I called the first novel in this series a shock to the system and this second novel the calm after the story, but the problem of inescapable prophesy of the future is nothing to sneeze at. Hopefully, we can expect a translation of the third novel sometime next year. Fingers crossed!


The Paradise Affair (2021) by Bill Pronzini

Possibly, the final title in the series in which John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter finally tied the marital knot, but work goes on and they end up solving a locked room murder with a dying message in Honolulu, Hawaii. If this is their last recorded case, Pronzini gave them a happy sendoff that retrospectively brightened Beyond the Grave (1986).


The English Garden Mystery (2022) by Dan Andriacco

A homage to the mystery writing cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, a.k.a. “Ellery Queen,” covering everything from a subtitle (“A Problem in Deduction”) to the Queenian tropes of the dying message, false-solutions, fallible detective and a challenge to the reader. Andriacco apparently also penned a locked room mystery (Holmes Sweet Holmes, 2012) that I'll get to next year.


Monkey See, Monkey Murder (2023) by James Scott Byrnside

The fourth novel in the Rowan Manory series and the first to probe the hardboiled underbelly of a prohibition-era Chicago, but not without throwing the 1920s gumshoe a locked room murder to chew on. What a locked room murder! One of the more bizarre impossible crimes I've come across in a while!


The Christmas Miracle Crimes (2023) by A. Carver

Have you ever noticed how many Christmas mysteries only feature Christmas incidentally? Carver noticed and decided to write a genuine Christmas mystery crammed like an overflowing sack of presents with seasonal miracles and magic. I'm sure this one will go down in history as an early highlight of the locked room and impossible crime revival. Carver shows what can be done when building on your genre's rich, stories history instead of dismissing it.


Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death, 2023) by P. Dieudonné

This series has the deceiving, outward appearance of a Dutch politieroman, which are hardly known for their plot complexity, but Dieudonné fixed that problem. And the newest addition to the series impressively tiptoes across an particularly slippery tightrope of a plot without tripping.


Het Delfts blauw mysterie (The Delft Blue Mystery, 2023) by Anne van Doorn

The first entry in the New York Cops series, written in Dutch, but an English translation is in the works and hopefully it will be published before too long, because the story is excellent. A cleverly constructed locked room mystery set in a modern-day skyscraper and snugly fits into the tradition of S.S. van Dine, Anthony Abbot, Herbert Resnicow and Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series. Just penned by a Dutchman!


The Murder Wheel (2023) by Tom Mead

A tremendous improvement over Death and the Conjuror (2022) with the third impossibility, a body materializing out of thin air, lives up to his growing reputation as a modern-day champion of the locked room mystery. Although I think Mead has so far shown a far more skilled hand when it comes to crafting and dovetailing intricate, GAD-style whodunits than Carr-like miracle problems. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to see what Mead is going to do with my hobby horse in Cabaret Carnival (2024).


Short Story Collections:

The Name is Malone (1958) by Craig Rice

London's Glory (2015) by Christopher Fowler

The Adventures of the Puzzle Club and Other Stories (2022) by Ellery Queen and Josh Pachter

Short Stories:

"Lars Blom" ("Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun," 1857/63) by August Blanche

"Le mystére de la chambre verte" ("The Mystery of the Green Room," 1936) by Pierre Véry

"“Who Killed Matthew Corbin?" (1939/40) by John Dickson Carr

"The Name on the Window" (1951) by Edmund Crispin

"Tall Story" (1954) by Margery Allingham

"The Glass Room" (1957) by Morton Wolson (reviewed together with "Tall Story")

"The Locked Roomette" (1990) by William Bankier

"The Burglar Who Dropped In On Elvis" (1990) by Lawrence Block

"The King's Writ" (2017) by Paul Doherty



The Toledo Dagger (1927) by Robert Brennan

I'm convinced Ronald Knox had a copy of The Toledo Dagger on his desk when he compiled "The Ten Commendmants for Detective Fiction" in 1929. This is the kind of third-rate, bottom-of-the-barrel cliched tripe that could actually damage to the genre had it not been so obscure. Only read it if you're looking for an excuse to be pissed about something.


Death Against Venus (1946) by Dana Chambers

Chambers was a better writer than Brennan, but only marginally better as a plotter as this promising story ended up being an unimpressive, tangled mess and not long-forgotten classic I was hoping to find. I suppose they can't all be rediscovered gems or alternative classics.


Key Without a Door (1988) by Anthony Lejeune

Another novel that began promising enough with a man in pajamas vanishing from the doorstep of his London home, but turned into a boring, uninspired thriller after only three chapters. Just like with his first novel, Mr. Diabolo (1960), there's a gaping gap between the author's aspirations and delivery.

Short Stories:

"Peacock's Cry" (2016) by Paul Doherty (reviewed together with "The King's Writ")


The Hit List: Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated

This list was originally supposed to be a follow-up to last years "Curiosity is Killing the Cat: Detective Novels That Need to Be Reprinted," a lengthy list of reprint suggestions of frustratingly rare, long out-of-print mystery novels, but "Curiosity is Killing the Cat: Non-English Detective Novels That Need to be Translated" proved to be trickier than anticipated – limited to what I happen to know is tucked away behind numerous language barriers. So, in order to have given the list a semblance of substance, it would have been mostly French and Japanese mysteries with a handful of Dutch novels in a desperate attempt to conjure up the illusion of variety.

It would have ended up being a poorly done, overwritten copy-paste of Ho-Ling Wong's blog and John Pugmire's "A Locked Room Library." That would have been a cop-out. I hate cop-outs when it comes to detective stories. So what's a hack reviewer to do? Well, I took a hacksaw to the idea, completely butchered it and present whatever remained as one of those blistering original top 10 list. Why ring in the New Year with short, tidy list of suggestions for the future.

I think it actually worked as it didn't become a badly disguised, personal wishlist of locked room mysteries with a greater variety and more depth to the selection. A list covering detective novels from four different continents written in six different languages, but there are some notable absentees. I, too, wish and pray a brave publisher would dare to take on the daunting task of translating Nikaido Reito's complete, multi-volume Jinrojo no kyofu (The Terror of Werewolf Castle, 1996/98), but wanted to give ten choices with a somewhat realistic chance of getting translated. Unfortunately, I don't think "the world's longest classic detective novel" is realistically going to appear in English anytime soon. And, exactly for the opposite reason, I ignored many of the French titles on the previously mentioned "A Locked Room Library." John Pugmire's Locked Room International has that part of my wishlist covered. So it's only a matter of time, before LRI publishes an English translation of Pierre Véry's Les quatre vipères (The Four Vipers, 1934) or Jean Alessandrini's La malédiction de Chéops (The Curse of Cheops, 1989).

So, if you wondered why some obvious choices are absent, now you know. However, I would still like to hear your (local) suggestions. This list is limited to what has come to my attention over the years, but obviously missed a ton of stuff that I'm simply not aware of. If there are enough of them, I can do "The Hit List: Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated, Part 2" with all of your suggestions. Let me know. And with that out of the way, let's go down the list.


La notte impossible (The Impossible Night, 1937) by Tito A. Spagnol

In 2019, Locked Room International published a translation of Franco Vailati's Il mistero dell'idrovolante (The Flying Boat Mystery, 1935) and came with a short essay by Igor Longo discussing "The Italian Mystery Novel." Longo briefly goes over the history of the Italian detective story and some of its most successful or important writers. One name standing out is that of screenwriter Tito A. Spagnol, "the fourth ace of the Italian Hand," who was among the Italian mystery writers inspired by S.S. van Dine and Ellery Queen – creating a Van Dinesque detective, Al Gusman. Longo highlighted The Impossible Night as a "novel of murder in a closed mansion with a strong Queenian flavour" and "the only use of this very original trick in novel form." One of the "Italian masterpieces of murder and detection." Despite what the book title suggests, The Impossible Night is not a locked room mystery ("...Gusman solved no impossible cases").


Six crimes sans assassin (Six Crimes Without a Killer, 1939) by Pierre Boileau

This is one of the most famous and celebrated of all French roman policiers. Not to mention a classic of the locked room mystery, which strings together half a dozen seemingly impossible murders and disappearances ("...resolved with impeccable fairness by the time of the sixth and final death"). Annoyingly, the novel has this pesky French habit of refusing to speak any other language and has been resisting getting translated for decades. Rumor has it Six crimes sans assassin had been translated, but The Phantom Strikes Six Times remained unpublished. I presume the translation dates from around the same time as the original French publication and that could mean the outbreak of World War II could have been responsible for it getting axed. More recently, John Pugmire attempted to correct that historical oversight, but the current copyright holder apparently refuses to work with print-on-demand publishers. So... ball's in your court, Pushkin Vertigo!


Un muerto en la tumba (A Dead Man in the Tomb, 1946) by Rafeal Bernal

I first read of Rafeal Bernal's A Dead Man in the Tomb in The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary, 1942-47 (2009) praising this Mexican detective novel as "the best-characterized, meatiest and funniest whodunit yet produced in Latin America" – complete with "fascinating sidelights on archaeology and politics." The story centers on a murder unearthed in an ancient Mayan tomb at Monte Albán, Oaxaca, solved by the priest Teódulo Batanes. A character modeled after G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown. I want a translation of A Dead Man in the Tomb more than any other novel on this list, because I love a good archaeological detective story and a glowing review from Boucher ("a must for connoisseurs") can be taken as a Seal of Quality. Just one more, Pushkin Vertigo!


Um crime branco (White Murder, 1950) by “James A. Marcus”

On the GADWiki, you can find an early, short-lived attempt to catalog the classical detective fiction published in non-English speaking countries. Henrique Valle contributed a short piece, "Portuguese GAD," discussing the most important authors who tried their hands at the classical detective story in Portugal. One title that stood out to me is White Murder. The name on the cover is the shared "pseudonym of two cousins with diabolical legal minds" who constructed an amazingly cunning, maze-like plot with "one of the most compelling and convincing pieces of detective reasoning" that could "pass for an excellent GAD British mystery book."


Koude vrouw in Kralingen (Cold Woman in Kralingen, 1970) by Cor Docter

Cor Docter was a Dutch pulp writer whose prolific output, published under various pseudonyms, were the backbone of the local bookstores and lending libraries throughout the 1950s and '60s – earning the title "Prince of the Lending Libraries." During the early 1970s, Docter wrote three legitimate, classically-styled detective novels respectively tackling the whodunit, impossible crime and dying message. The first novel, Droeve poedel in Delfshaven (Sad Poodle in Delfshaven, 1970) is arguably the best of the three Commissioner Daan Vissering mysteries, but Cold Woman in Kralingen holds a special place in my heart as the first legitimate Dutch-language locked room mystery. More importantly, the locked room situation is completely original in both presentation and solution. Something I've never seen before or since reading Cold Woman in Kralingen. But they really should be translated and published as a complete set.

A note for the curious: Ho-Ling has also reviewed all three Daan Vissering novels (here, here and here).


11 mai no trump (The Eleven Cards, 1976) by Tsumao Awasaka

I can easily fill pages, and pages, with Japanese detective novels I would like to see get translated, but, once again, it would just be a copy-paste of Ho-Ling Wong's blog. There is, however, one particular title that has always intrigued me. Tsumao Awasaka's The Eleven Cards immerses the reader in the world of magicians, stage illusions and the art of misdirection with a story-within-a-short-story-collection structure. Ho-Ling called it "an ingeniously plotted mystery novel" and "a showcase of how to properly clue a mystery." Amazingly, The Eleven Cards was only Awasaka's first detective novel. So a translation can't appear (as if by magic) soon enough!


Muerte en la costa del rio (Death on the River Bank, 1979) by María Angélica Bosco

María Angélica Bosco, an Argentinian mystery writer, proved with La muerte baja en al ascensor (Death Going Down, 1954) that not every debut is a classic, but some mystery writers need time to improve and mature. One of her later, so far untranslated mysteries sounds rather promising. Death on the River Bank takes place in Colonia, Uruguay, where a group of tourists on a boating holiday become suspects in a shocking murder. A murder case full with twisted alibis, forensic shenanigans and a genuine whodunit pull.


Tobie or not Tobie (1980; title is a bilingual pun) by René Réouven

Back in 2011, Patrick, of the now dormant At the Scene of the Crime blog, posted a fascinating review of René Réouven's Tobie or not Tobie. A novel taking "the Biblical Book of Tobit and rewrites it as a mystery" and "even manages to construct the mystery around an impossible crime." While the story takes it time to build everything up, the plot is reportedly solidly constructed with a wonderful solution to the impossible crime and "great wit and originality," stylistically. Patrick called it a veritable masterpiece and from all the untranslated French mysteries, Tobie or not Tobie always impressed as one of the most worthwhile novels to translate.


De laatste kans (The Last Chance, 2011) by M.P.O. Books

The Last Chance is the classically-styled, normally British detective novel presented as a Dutch politieroman (police novel) with a dazzling, kaleidoscopic plot and one of those brilliant, all-revealing, but cleverly hidden, tell-tale clues. A high note for the Dutch detective story. Ho-Ling also reviewed The Last Chance ("a recommended read as a fun detective novel that actually delivers") and interestingly compared its story-structure to the "zapping system" in video games. A translation is more than warranted.


John Dickson Carr no saishuu teiri (John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem, 2020) by Hajime Tsukatou

Well, it was inevitable another Japanese title would appear on this list, but the problem, once again, was picking just one title from the sea of honkaku and shin honkaku mysteries. So decided to go full fanboy and picked Hajime Tsukatou's John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem, which is set during the 2006 centenary of the master of the locked room mystery and Ho-Ling described a truly fascinating premise – centering on cryptic hints Carr left behind about some real-life, unsolved impossible crimes ("the so-called 1938 East End Spontaneous Combustion Case"). Naturally, there's another impossible murder in the present-day storyline. I would unapologetically fanboy all over a translation of John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem.


A special and honorable mentions: I already mentioned the non-English detective fiction page on the GADWiki and one of its four entries is "Japanese Impossible Crime Mysteries" that also includes a list of Taiwanese impossible crime and locked room novels and short stories, which sometimes sound too good to be true. For example, Ji-Cing's Sorcery Delusion (2004), "a story full of black magic," deals with a headless body who's seen walking about and a disappearance from a locked house. Or Ling-Che's short story, "The Haunted Crossroad" (20??), in which a speeding motorcycle and a car "miraculous pass through each other." So much is still out there to keep the translation wave going for many more years to come as we inch closer towards that Second Golden Age.


Not a Ghost to Be Found: "The Name on the Window" (1951) by Edmund Crispin

"Edmund Crispin" was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, a classical musician, composer, conductor, anthologist and mystery writer, who has been called one of the last writers of detective stories the classical, Golden Age traditional and mold – debuting with The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944). A warm homage to Crispin's favorite mystery novelist and principle influence, John Dickson Carr. Crispin's series-detective even claims to be a personal acquaintance of Dr. Gideon Fell ("heaven grant Gideon Fell never becomes privy to my lunacy..."). If you want to get a good idea just how big of a JDC fanboy Crispin really was, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of Swan Song (1947).

Lamentably, Crispin was one of those mystery writers who shined like a brief, sudden burst of bright light that dimmed within a few years to a small flicker. Crispin published eight of his nine detective novels between the mid-1940s and early '50s. The ninth and final Professor Gervase Fen novel, The Glimpses of the Moon (1977), appeared more than a quarter of a century after The Long Divorce (1951). Crispin continued to write short stories over the next ten years and most where gathered in two collections that include the posthumously-published Fen Country (1979). However, the short stories are not to be overlooked as some are classics of the short story form ("deceptively simple, little ingenious gems"). Notably, the riddle-me-this "Who Killed Baker?" (1950), the excellent, surprisingly hardboiled "The Pencil" (1953) and the very late, but amusing, "We Know You're Busy Writing, But We Thought You Wouldn't Mind If We Just Dropped in for a Minute" (1969), but my personal favorite will always be the subject of today's review. A gem of a locked room mystery appropriate for the season!

"The Name on the Window" originally appeared as "A Crime for Christmas" in the December 24, 1951, edition of the London Evening Standard and reprinted in February, 1953, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and collected in Beware of the Trains (1953) under its current title – apparently the story also appeared somewhere as "Writing on the Pane." But have been unable to find where it was published under that title.

The story opens on Boxing Day at the North Oxford home of Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature, who recouping among the ruins of an exhaustive children's party when he finds an old friend on his doorstep. Detective Inspector Humbleby is stranded, "roads are impassable” and “trains as there are are running hours late," but Fen welcomes the Scotland Yard man with open arms. And the inspector has an intriguing story to tell. Humbleby is investigating a very mysterious murder on the sprawling grounds of the Rydalls estate. The residence of the famous architect, Sir Charles Moberley, who hosted a large house party that honored a now long-lost Christmas tradition of telling ghost stories. Rydalls has a ghost of its own.

An 18th century pavilion stands on the grounds, about a quarter of a mile away from the house, where once upon a time someone, or other, had been murdered, but "the haunting part of it is just silly gossip for the benefit of visitors." One of the guests, Sir Lucas Welsh, demanded to investigate the ghost and, on Christmas Eve, arranged a lonely vigil. But never came back out alive. Sir Lucas was found lying near the window with an old stiletto sticking out of his back, but he hadn't died immediately and used his last strength to write his murderer's name in the grime of the window-pane ("Otto"). Otto Mörike is a young German, a Luftwaffe pilot during the war and presently studies architecture, who has a double motive. Sir Lucas opposed an engagement with his daughter, Jane Welsh, but with him out the way, Otto can both marry Jane and enjoy her inheritance. Just one problem. How could Sir Lucas have been stabbed inside, what amounts to, a locked room?

The small, circular pavilion has a longish, narrow hall as an entrance ("if you saw it from the air it'd look like a key-hole"), but all the windows were nailed shut, "chimney too narrow to admit a baby" and only the victim's footprints in the otherwise undisturbed, years-old dust on the hall floor – unquestionably made by Sir Lucas ("Otto's feet are much too large"). Humbleby asks Fen, "so ghosts apart, what is the explanation?" Fen has one answer, "you've got locked rooms on the brain" and recalls how "Gideon Fell once gave a very brilliant lecture on The Locked-Room Problem," but "there was one category he didn't include." Fen's category to explain how the murderer got into and out of the pavilion is worthy to be compared with the best from Carr. Even better, Crispin brilliantly tied the locked room-trick to the dying message, which appeared to be so crystal clear at a first glance. I particularly liked (ROT13) ubj gur oyvaxva' phffrqarff bs guvatf va trareny sbeprq gur zheqrere'f unaqf gb ghea n jebat qlvat zrffntr vagb n yrtvgvzngr pyhr. Only, very tiny flaw in this gem is that the motive feels like it was tacked on at the end, but that's a problem often found in short detective stories.

So, other than that small niggle, "The Name on the Window" is one of the best short impossible crime stories and shows Crispin was not only a maestro of classical music.


London's Glory (2015) by Christopher Fowler

Christopher Fowler was a British author of some fifty novels and short story collections, covering everything from fantasy, horror and science-fiction to none-fiction, but what he'll be remembered for the most is the creating the first "Great Detective" series of the 21st century – recounting "the adventures of the two Golden Age detectives investigating impossible, modern London crimes." The two detective detectives in question are the nonagenarian Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. A specialist police team created after the outbreak of the Second World War to ease the heavily burdened, overstretched Metropolitan Police Force originally intended to investigate sensitive cases that could cause scandal or public unrest. However, the "peculiar" in Peculiar Crimes Unit often brought problems to their desk of a decidedly odder, weirder and sometimes outright impossible nature. Just as odd, weird and impossible are Britain's weird and forgotten who worked for the PCU over the decades with Bryant and May as the unit's never-changing constants.

This series together with writers like Lawrence Block, William L. DeAndrea and Bill Pronzini helped thawing out my fundamentally-minded purist mindset that viewed everything published after the Golden Age as irredeemable trash. I enjoyed the first half dozen novels, but On the Loose (2009) and Off the Rails (2010) lost me. I briefly returned to the series in 2016 with a review of the excellent locked room mystery, The Memory of Blood (2011), but the burgeoning reprint renaissance and translation wave distracted my attention away from the PCU series. So had half-forgotten about the series when the tragic broke earlier this year that Fowler had passed away after battling cancer for three years. After mentioning the PCU series in "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century: A Brief Historic Overview of the First Twenty (Some) Years," I decided a return was in order before the end of the year. Why not reacquaint myself with the series through one of the two short story collections?

London's Glory (2015) collects ten short stories, a bonus story, a lengthy introduction, introductions to the stories and some other extras – like an illustration of the PCU HQ and "Arthur Bryant's Secret Library." So quite the must-have volume for fans. Before the going over the stories, I should note that the short story format is perhaps a little too crammed and narrow for this particular series to thrive. A lot of the stories have great hooks and fantastic setups, but feel like they ended just a few paces after leaving the starting plot. Such as the first short story.

"Bryant & May and the Secret Santa"

Bryant and May are called to the Selfridges department store where a strange, potentially suspicious fatal accident occurred. An 11-year-old boy was brought to the department store by his mother to get a picture with Santa Claus and get an early Christmas present. After the picture was taken and the present received, the boy was seen in the store "holding the torn-open box in his hand and appeared to be in a state of distress." And then ran out into the street "where he was his by a number 53 bus." So the first question is what the kid found inside the box, but the odd part is that the box was found to be completely empty. This leads the two nonagenarian detectives to the St. Crispin's School for Boys and its culture of persistent bullying among the first-year students. But then the story just ends when the solution falls into their lap. This story feels like the initial idea for a novel-length mystery with the accident bringing the PCU to St. Crispin's School to bring clarity to the dark doings among the students and teachers. Just as a short story, it feels undeveloped and rushed.

"Bryant & May in the Field"

John May is given an opportunity to get Arthur Bryant out of the "musty deathtrap" doubling as the offices of the Peculiar Crimes Unit with the promise of a good, old-fashioned impossible crime. The body of Marsha Kastopolis is found on Primrose Hill with her throat cut ("a real vicious sweep") with “just her footprints leading out to the middle of the hillslope and nothing else" ("not a mark in any direction that he could see"). Phantasos Kastopolis is not to cut up about his wife's murder ("she was getting as fat as a pig") and already under scrutiny by the authorities over his real estate shenanigans, tax schemes and health-and-safety violations, but did he kill his wife or someone else? And how was it done? Well, the trick is a tricky one and difficult enough to present convincingly in a modern setting, but the complete lack of any kind of clue or even a ghost of a hint (whfg fubj fbzrbar sylvat n xvgr ba gur uvyyfybcr) made it a disappointing impossible crime story. A fun enough short story in other regards, but nothing more than that.

"Bryant & May on the Beat"

Something of a short-short: Bryant and May investigate the death of William Warren, a part-time musician, who ran a stall in Camden Market where sold homemade woolly hats and music instruments – apparently died of anthrax in his closely-shut apartment. A rather good short-short with something resembling fair play and the first one from this collection I liked. Interestingly, this and the previous story stand closer to the impossible crime fiction from L.T. Meade (A Master of Mysteries, 1898), Max Rittenberg (The Invisible Bullet and Other Strange Cases, 2016) and Keikichi Osaka (The Ginza Ghost, 2017) rather than G.K. Chesterton and John Dickson Carr.

"Bryant & May in the Soup"

This is the first short story in the collection drawing on the long, ramshackle history of the PCU, "Arthur Bryant's memoirs are unreliable in the extreme, especially when it comes to dates," stretching from World War II to the first decades of the 21st century – taking the reader this time to the days of the Great Smog of London. A lethal smog that descended on the city from December 5 to December 9, 1952. There were thousands of fatalities, "the young and the elderly died from respiratory problems," while staining "London's buildings black for fifty years." An already sick coach driver, Harry Whitworth, braves the deadly fog to go to work, but, shortly after arriving, climbed up into the driver's seat of the nearest coach. Placed his hands on the wheel, sighed and died. Bryant and May have to figure whether it was the fog that killed him or whether there was some other, more nefarious cause. The murder method is undeniably clever, but another instance of a potentially excellent detective novel wasted on a short story. Those five days are the perfect backdrop for a dark, moody detective novel with an atmosphere and plot as a thick as the fog that clings to the streets and buildings.

"Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman"

The introduction names Margery Allingham as one of Fowler's favorite Golden Age writers, praising The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) as "a dark, strange read that leaves its mark," which rang some alarm bells. Allingham wrote a couple of solid short stories, but I'm not a fan of her novel-length mysteries. So imagine my surprise when having to conclude "The Nameless Woman" turned out to be the standout of London's Glory. A woman, who refuses to give her name, comes to John May to tell him that she intends to kill a man, Joel Madden, nothing he can say or do will change her mind. So why bother coming and expose her murderous intentions? She figured the police would come for her regardless. Just a week later, May learns that a Joel Madden had been found dead, drowned, in the rooftop swimming pool of an exclusive city club and the mysterious woman was picked up on the building's CCTV. What follows is May interrogating the woman interspersed with flashbacks to murderer with puzzle consisting of anticipating the exact murder method and the name of the nameless woman. An excellent, quasi-inverted mystery ending on a surprisingly lighter, typically PCU note.

A note for the curious: the strange swimming pool drowning recalls similar problems from Ronald Knox's "The Motive" (1937) and Joseph B. Commings' "Murder of a Mermaid" (1982), but Fowler came up with an entirely different method.

"Bryant & May and the Seven Points"

This short story is simply modern-day pulp thriller. Bryant and May are called upon to investigate the disappearance of Michael Portheim, "an MI5 officer and mathematician specializing in codes," who was caught on CCTV entering a park – no footage of him coming back out again. A subsequent investigation turned up nothing and the authorities began to fear Portheim was either murdered or kidnapped. So without any further leads forthcoming, they began to clutch at straws and turned to the PCU. Bryant and May pick up a trail ("...as part of his training he also learned circus skills") that brings them to a sideshow revival of the old freak shows, which has been reinvented as a magic show of body horror ('You'll Be Jolted by Electra the 30,000-Volt Girl," "Nothing Can Prepare You for Lucio the Human Pin-Cushion," and "Prepare to Be Horrified by Marvo the Caterpillar Boy"). Lording over this Arcade of Abnormalities is a villainous Russian dwarf with bright-red horns surgically mounted to his skull. This story almost reaches comic book levels of villainy, but it's a fun story and has a really good, truly horrifying explanation for what happened to Portheim. I wonder if Fowler read Nicholas Brady's The Fair Murder (1933).

"Bryant & May on the Cards"

This is another modern-day, pulp-style thriller, but less darker and more fun than the previous story. Ian McFarland is a down on his luck, complete broke man whose wife unceremoniously and cruelly left him ("his life, over at the ripe old age of twenty-nine"). One day, McFarland finds a fancy looking credit card with a phone number and passcode to activate the card. Evidently a mistake, but he calls the number anyway and learns they offer a very particular service, "we could kill your wife." Mandy McFarland is shot death behind the reception desk of the posh restaurant The Water House by a masked man and her murder puts the PCU on the trail of a sinister figure who setup a so-called Elimination Bureau. A very fun, old-fashioned pulp-thriller resettled in today's London. Fowler was really good at these "new pulp" stories.

Regrettably, the remaining four short stories are all fairly minor and not especially interesting. "Bryant & May Ahoy!" has Bryant and May going on a long overdue, shipboard holiday in Southern Turkey, but Bryant eyes his fellow passengers suspiciously and eventually has to solve an attempted poisoning. "Bryant & May and the Blind Spot" is a Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright story recounting her disastrous, short-lived stint as part of Adrian Dunwoody's security detail. "Bryant & May and the Bells of Westminster" is the second historical taking place in the 1960s as Bryant and May investigate the classically-styled murder of Simon Montfleury, stabbed in the library of Bayham Abbey, but somehow, this story simply didn't do it for me. Finally, "Bryant & May's Mystery Tour" is a fun short-short in which Bryant takes May aboard a double-decker bus to go and meet a murderer, but it's obvious in which direction the solution is headed.

So, all in all, London's Glory is like most short story collections a mixed bag of tricks. Surprisingly, it's the least traditional stories like "The Nameless Woman," "The Seven Points" and "On the Cards" that stole the show. However, they served their purpose in refreshing my memory and will return to the novels next year. I just have to decide whether I'll pick up where I left with The Invisible Code (2012) or first dip into a novel like The Bleeding Heart (2014) or Wild Chamber (2017).