Drawn from Memory: Q.E.D. vol. 21-22 by Motohiro Katou

Somehow, despite my best intentions, I never seem to get on reading Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. without spluttering starts and stops, which tend to have an average gap of 6-8 months between reviews and the latest stop can be blamed on indecisiveness – torn between continuing with Q.E.D. or make a start on its sister series. Some comments on previous reviews pointed out Q.E.D. and C.M.B. crossover several times and the latter has history as its series theme. I was afraid I would end up really liking C.M.B. and it would take me years, not months, to return to Q.E.D. So I came to the decision to finish Q.E.D. first and intend on getting as close to the ending (vol. 50) as possible, before the end of this year. After that, on to C.M.B.

Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 21 begins with "Joined Threads" and can be counted among the stories that stand out in this imaginative, often unconventional series for being traditionally-structured and plotted detective stories. You only have to read previous stories like "Jacob's Ladder" (vol. 4), "Serial John Doe" (vol. 7) and "Three Birds" (vol. 18) to get an idea just how far this series can stray from the beaten path. 

"Joined Threads" finds Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara aboard a bus, en route to enjoy a skiing holiday with friends, but Mizuhara spots a young, tense looking couple sitting behind them. The man hits the stop button and they get off the bus right in the middle of the snowy mountains. Mizuhara drags Touma off the bus to follow the couple, because she fears they might intend to commit suicide together. Only they loose track of them, get caught in a snowstorm and miraculously end up on the doorstep of a remote and lonely villa before they can freeze to death. The villa turns out to be the property of a well-known trading company, Higashiizumi Group, which comes with its own caretaker, Sawaguchi Junzo – who gives Touma and Mizuhara a frigid reception ("I don't care, now get outta here"). They're nevertheless allowed to stay and discover the couple they followed already present at the villa.

The man is the Executive Director of the Higashiizumi Group, Jouji Higashiizumi, and the woman is his girlfriend, Kashima Satomi. Jouji is currently fighting with his father, Akinobu Higashiizumi, who's the president of the company and "opposing the marriage of those two." Kashima Satomi had been married before and has a son, which makes Akinobu fear the possibility that her son "will be the one to get all of the inheritance" even though "the child doesn't have any blood relation to him." On top of that, the company is in financial bad weather. So with emotions running high and money potentially low, the stage for a good, old-fashioned detective story is set.

Akinobu Higashiizumi has locked himself into his bedroom to work, but, when they bring him his food, he doesn't answer and the door is locked. So they fetch the master key and find the company president hanging from a double-knotted rope tied with a woman's obi (a sash for a woman's kimino) and an obi for a man's yukata. The regular key, which locked the door from the inside, is lying on the desk and "all the windows are locked" with "no sign of it being tampered with." Nobody could have gotten the master key from the caretaker's shed between the time Akinobu was last seen alive and the moment his body, because everyone is alibied. Even stranger, Touma finds a fax in the bedroom informing the president the company has begun to recover. So why would he kill himself? But before Touma can start playing detective in earnest, a second body is found hanging inside the cottage (see map) with a single track of footprints in the snow going to the front door. Apparently, the case resolved itself with the murderer committing suicide after the botched murder of the president. Or so it appears. Touma would not stumble to the solution until three days later when he and Mizuhara have returned home.

I figured out the identity of the murderer fairly early on in the story and made a pretty good guess regarding the motive, but the how of the crimes, particular the impossibilities, is a different story and the no-footprints situation offered something new – a trick I had never seen before. Sure, the very nature of it makes it a highly opportunistic trick and not something you can really plan for far ahead of time. However, the no-footprints is one of the most difficult impossible crimes to pull off and coming up with something new or fresh is even harder. "Joined Threads" accomplished both feats! The locked room murder of the company president is a little more routine, but cleverly elaborated on the finer details surrounding it to give the trick some more substance. A very well written, plotted and pleasantly traditional locked room mystery with some fresh and original touches to the tricks and clues. Needless to say, I loved it!

The second story to close out the volume, "The Beautiful Actress Being Watched, The Fear of the Stalker, The Gunshot Reverberating Off the Cliff Face, What Touma and Kana Saw," is as the title suggest not quite as conventional as the previous one.

Nagisa Yukiyo is an actress whose star power has been slowly fading away and together with her manager, Ogata Hideo, concocts a plan to reignite media attention for her person. So they make up a stalker and the manager knows a police detective who "can make a normal case become famous." Detective Kasayama Sugimichi, "a die-hard fan of two-hour police drama series," who wanders around crime scenes acting like a TV cop and trying to make grandiose molehills out of simple, routine cases. So they ask him to investigate the imaginary stalker and he's only to happy to accept the assignment as he has seen all the TV detective dramas in which she starred ("did he just recount all of the episodes?"). Kana Mizuhara is dragged into the case as a witness and she drags along Sou Touma. Pretty soon, the fabricated stalker begins to come alive as Nagisa Yukiyo is nearly killed on set and Ogata Hideo is hospitalized after being attacked.

However, the stalking case is only the vehicle used to tell the story of Detective Kasayama Sugimichi. A caricature of the TV detective who can be truly annoying at times, but became a bit more sympathetic as the story progressed. He tells Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara he loves police dramas "because of the romance," but only got to handle small cases like brawls and petty thefts. Kasayama Sugimichi simply wants to feel the romance of doing his job and began walking around in a sort mentally augmented reality saying things like "maybe this will be a deleted scene" or "if you're just tuning in after a commercial break, you've got to know a brief summary of the case." But he tended to ignore the dull, routine parts of his job like reading reports. And that has consequences as he gets reprimanded and suspended for neglecting his duties. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara come to his rescue and help to get the detective his moment in the spotlight. Morally dodgy, as he really did neglect his duties, but the story ended better than it started. You can put that entirely on the character of Detective Kasayama Sugimichi.

The first story from Q.E.D. vol. 22, "Spring in the Small River," begins with Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara having a chance encounter with a haunted, deeply troubled painter, Keisetsu Akabane, who suffered a head injury in a traffic accident – which resulted in complete amnesia. Just like his memories, Akabane's ability to paint was wiped away in the accident. However, his wife believes "if he could remember that important place" and "paint that place," he would go back to normal. Nobody knows where, or what, that important place is. Time is ticking. Shinji Kuroshima's art gallery and business depends on him getting back to work. But then some weird things begin to happen. Several people recognize Keisetsu Akabane, but not as an artist. One man recognizes him as an airline pilot, while an angry woman believes he's a doctor who had promised to marry her. She angry flings an apartment key in his face, before stamping away. And when they go to investigate the apartment, they come across a few disturbing pieces of evidence. So what's really going on here?

On the surface, this is merely another amnesia (suspense) story, and not a bad one, but they tend to be an acquired taste and not everyone likes them. I'm not a big fan of amnesia stories myself and would not have thought much of "Spring in the Small River" had not gone off script. A twist that has become a cliched trope in modern times (ROT13: fur jnf qrnq nyy nybat), but honestly didn't see that one coming and kind of worked here. My only complaint is that (ROT13) gur gevpx gb uvqr gur obql jnf jnfgrq urer nf vg'f tbbq rabhtu gb or gur sbpny cbvag bs nal qrgrpgvir fgbel. This story and the previous one demonstrate that besides a plotter with an originality streak, Motohiro Katou is also a gifted storyteller. Neither would have been particularly memorable as simply detective stories, but how he tells a story or what he does with his characters often carry the lighter-plotted cases to the finish line. Such a criminally underrated artisan of the detective story.

The second and last story from this volume, "Venetian Labyrinth," sees the return of Alan Blade, CEO of Alansoft, who previously appeared in vol. 13 and vol. 17. This time, Alan Blade asked Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara to accompany him to Milan, Italy, to help him pick an expensive ring, because he has no idea about any of that stuff – settling on a ring that costs "e-enough to buy a house." But then they get caught in the middle of a bank robbery. Alan Blade is taken hostage and kidnapped by the criminals who turn out to be three brothers, Pietro, Carlo and Mauro Russo. Alan advises the brother to ask ransom money instead of bungling around ("I think this guy's smarter than you, bro").

So, yeah, another story which uses the detective story format as a vehicle to tell a character-driven story of the Russo brothers and their dear mother. I thought their backstory was interesting as the three of them used to run "a small, but quite successful business in making leather goods" and expended the business with a bank loan, which became a problem when the Euro was introduced and the factory ended up being confiscated. So they turned to crime to get back their hard earned money. This is very much their story and how it ended up affecting Alan Blade, but not much else as the mini-puzzle regarding how the ransom money has to be dropped off is a little disappointing. So much more could have been done with the setting. Not even an original-minded mystery writer and plotter, like Motohiro Katou, can whip something truly great out of a kidnap plot, but appreciated the attempt.

So, on a whole, two pretty descent and solid volumes with the two opening stories, 'Joined Threads" and "Spring in the Small River,' standing out respectively as an excellent locked room mystery and an amnesia story with a highly unusual ending. While the other two stories showed the series willingness to cede the spotlight to either recurring or one-time characters simply for the sake of telling the best story possible. It's what makes Q.E.D. one of the most original, innovative detective series published over the past twenty-five years and not by rejecting the past, but by building on the genre's rich, long history – trying something new or different every other volume. You can expect more Q.E.D. reviews in the not so distant future.


Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce

Last month, I half-excitedly alluded in a short story compilation post, "Locked and Loaded, Part 3: A Selection of Short Impossible Crime and Locked Room Mysteries Stories," to a number of planned review of some obscure, out-of-print detective novels – carefully picked from Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991). Scavenger along the muddy banks of obscurity never guarantees you'll find something good or even moderately interesting, but my recent scavenger hunt resulted in the slimmest pickings to date.

Robert Brennan's The Toledo Dagger (1927) represents a breathtaking low in the genre's history and a textbook example why S.S. van Dine and Ronald A. Knox decided to put down some rules. E.G. Cousin's Death by Marriage (1959) attempted to bridge the gap between the traditional and modern schools with an inverted how-did-he-do-it plot, but a lack of clueing regarding the locked room-trick entirely undermined what Cousin tried to do. Anthony Lejeune's Mr. Diabolo (1960) gave it the good old college try, but over promised and massively under delivered. Surprisingly, the best one of the lot came from a mid-tier writer, Hampton Stone, whose The Girl with the Hole in Her Head (1949) ended up being a better whodunit than a locked room mystery. Yes, there was also August Blanche's prescient "Lars Blom" ("Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun," 1857/63) and Masahiro Imamura's genre-bending Magan no hako no satsujin (Death Within the Evil Eye, 2019), but neither are listed in Locked Room Murders. So they don't count. But what to do when you run into a parade of mediocre or downright bad locked room mysteries? You simply return to an old favorite and hope it stands up to a second, usually more critical, examination.

I fortunately had a bit of luck last year when returning to some old favorites from the likes of John Sladek and Hake Talbot. So, following the aforementioned letdowns, decided to finally take a second look at one of my all-time favorite (locked room) mystery novels from the 1930s. But did a second postmortem yield different results? Let's find out! 

Leo Bruce's Case for Three Detectives (1936) introduced the world to the best comedic detective of the period, Sergeant Beef, whose bull-in-a-china-shop methods and "a look of rather beery benevolence" belies a startlingly rational mind with a capacity for common sense – played to great effect in his first of eight novel-length appearances. Something of an accomplishment considering Sgt. Beef is more or less a background character as he cedes most of the pages to the titular detectives and his perpetually embarrassed (future) chronicler, Lionel Townsend.

Lionel Townsend becomes involved in a murder case as a guest of Dr. Alexander and Mary Thurston during one of their weekend parties at their Georgian manor house. The other guests include Alec Norris ("an unsuccessful writer of novels very different from murder mysteries"), David Strickland ("some sort of protege of the Thurstons"), Sam Williams ("the family lawyer") and the Vicar, Mr. Rider, who "really does the most unbalanced things when purity's called into question." At the Thurstons' weekend parties, everyone talked a great deal and every topic under the sun is discussed. So, naturally, the dinner conversation turns to the topic of crime and detective with Norris doing most of the talking ("...he pretended to be contemptuous of the topic"). Norris posited that "literary crime is all baffling mystery and startling clues" whereas "in real life, murder, for instance, nearly always turns out to be some sordid business of a strangled servant girl." So "no premeditated murder could puzzle the police for very long," because "where there's a motive and the victim's identified, there's an arrest." That opinion is going to be tested that very night when a cry of terror is heard coming from Mary Thurston's bedroom.

They find the closed door to her bedroom double bolted, top and bottom, from the inside and, when smashing through the upper panel, they observe Mary Thurston's face ("more crimson than white") on a pillow – a clear cut across her throat. But when the door is broken down, nobody except the Mary Thurston's body is found in the bedroom. There's an unlocked window that can be opened, however, it overlooks a twenty-foot drop and an undisturbed flowerbed below. And ten feet to the window above. So how the murderer entered and left the room is a complete mystery. A locked room mystery! Just like that, the members of the house party find themselves in the middle of one of those blasted drawing room mysteries they had been discussing over dinner. But things get even better the next day. 

Early in the morning, those "indefatigably brilliant private investigators who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed began to arrive." The first to arrive in his Rolls Royce is Lord Simon Plimsoll and his manservant, Butterfield, who brought along a small laboratory worth of photographic equipment. The second detective to arrive on the scene is M. Amer Picon, "a very curious little man," whose frail physique is topped a large egg-shaped head and speaks to Townsend with "more command of French" than he "had previously credited him with." The third and final detective is little round-faced priest, Monsignor Smith, who "a knack of saying the most disturbing things" or "whispering mystically." I think most seasoned mystery readers immediately recognize Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown in Lord Simon, Amer Picon and Monsignor Smith. Bruce created a trio of genuinely striking and splendid caricatures of the three most recognizable fictional detective of the era who contrast wonderfully with the "deplorable crudeness" of Sgt. Beef ("'Ere... 'ave you been blackmailing Mrs. Thurston?").

So the sergeant's future chronicler prefers to tag along with the three celebrated amateur reasoners of some repute as they unearth a treasure trove of clues, motives, faked alibis and hidden connections. They all apply their own characteristics, easily recognizable methods to uncovering those clues and questioning everyone involved. All the while, Sgt. Beef is in the background saying, "I know 'oo done it." Sgt. Beef tells Townsend he has already reported his findings to his superiors, but he was told to wait till they've had their say. I've never been able to forget his next few lines, "Well, I'm waiting. Only I wish they'd 'urry up about it. With their stepsons, and their bells, and their where-did-the-screams-come-from. Why, they try to make it complicated." I've heard echoes of those lines in my head every time a detective is playing up their part.

Now if this had been nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the 1930s detective story and some of it's celebrated characters, Case for Three Detectives would have been the model for how to parody the detective story. Case for Three Detectives is not only a spot-on parody of Lord Peter, Hercule Poirot and Father Brown, but an accurate and very shrewd pastiche of Sayers, Christie and Chesterton.

Lord Simon, Amer Picon and Monsignor Smith all arrive at different conclusions and present their solutions, which are quite good and ingenious on the surface, but, if you're familiar with the originals, you'll notice how perfectly their false-solutions mirror those originals – incorporating favored plotting-technique, tropes and themes. Sayers believed "it was much more interesting to try to figure out how the crime was committed than who done it," which is reflected in Lord Simon's technical and clever explanation to the locked room problem. Amer Picon constructs his solution around, what else, the eternal triangle ("...beware of that little triangle. He is dangerous"). Monsignor Smith's solution is perhaps together with Knox's "Solved by Inspection" (1931) the best Chestertonian detective story not actually written by Chesterton. Nick Fuller rightly called the three false-solutions "very perceptive" and ended up making the story so much than some lighthearted ribbing of the detective story. What impressed me as much this time around is how he it makes sense here that the false-solutions outshine the correct one at the end.

Everyone loves a good false-solution, but, more often than not, the false-solution turns out to be a better, much more satisfying explanation than the correct solution (e.g. John Rhode & Carter Dickson's Fatal Descent, 1939). I've seen people complain that Sgt. Beef's correct solution is boring and lacks the radiant brilliance of the three false-solutions, but that always struck me as missing the point. Sgt. Beef is introduced as one of those uncouth, flatfooted and hopelessly out of his depth village policeman who prefers to be spending time at the pub drinking beer and playing darts. The story and particularly the ending would not have worked had he come up with a dazzling ingenious and original solution to the murder. Sgt. Beef is supposed to come to the right, uncomplicated solution through routine policework while the three detectives are "crawling about on floors, applying lenses to the paint-work, and asking the servants the most unexpected questions." That's the joke!

So, to cut a long, rambling review short, Case for Three Detectives has only gone up in my estimation and more than stood up to a second, critical examination. Bruce artfully intertwined a ribbing parody with a perceptive pastiche that both take aim at three of his already well established contemporaries and their creations. Bruce demonstrated great insight in his debut as he used all the funny characters, comedic bits and genre tropes to craft a clever and thoroughly entertaining detective story. A highlight of the 1930s detective novel full with rivaling detectives, false-solutions, faked alibis and an impossible murder that comes highly recommended. 

A note for the curious: if you loved Bruce's Case for Three Detectives, I highly recommend you also take a look at Knox's The Three Taps (1927) and Michel Herbert & Eugène Wyl's La maison interdite (The Forbidden House, 1932). They can be read as proto-types of Case for Three Detectives with rivaling detectives and multiple solutions. The Forbidden House even has a line echoing Sgt. Beef complaining about so-called detectives making things needlessly complicated.


Mr. Diabolo (1960) by Anthony Lejeune

Edward Anthony Thompson, better known during his lifetime as "Anthony Lejeune," was a British political writer, syndicated columnist, editor, reporter, reviewer and radio broadcaster – whose weekly show, London Letter, ran for thirty years in South Africa. Lejeune also had some interesting connections, real and fictitious, to the world of crime.

Lejeune was a close friend of the bestselling thriller writer Dennis Wheatley and, reportedly, through Ian Fleming got the job as the crime correspondent for The Sunday Times. In 1953, Lejeune began reviewing detective novels in the Catholic newspaper The Tablet and began to dabble in crime-and detective fiction before the end of that decade. Between 1959 and 1988, he wrote nine detective novels of various stripes beginning with a spy-thriller, Crowded and Dangerous (1959). So, going on those scant few pieces of background information, you wouldn't expect Lejeune to turn up on this blog, but he wrote more than just thrillers or spy-fiction. Lejeune actually had a traditional bend with two of his novels, Mr. Diabolo (1960) and Key Without a Door (1988), being included in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991). The former elicited some interesting and contrasting comments and opinions.

Adey briefly mentioned Mr. Diabolo in his introduction ("imaginative") and added the following comment under the solution at the back of the book, "almost a classic and would have been had the detective been a little more interesting and the book rather longer." John, of Pretty Sinister Books, reviewed Mr. Diabolo back in 2012 and concluded it “aspires to true greatness and promises to dazzle the reader,” but “only manages to raise a faint glow of surprise” of what "might have been a real classic in locked room mysteries." Jim, of The Invisible Event, thought it was "written like it's five times as clever as it actually turns out to be" and struggled to find something to say, while admittedly being "amazed that this sort of book was published in the 1960s" – even though the whole thing ultimately left him cold. Adey's problem appears to have been the colorless detective and short length of the story rather than the plot. John thought the ending did not measure up to the premise of the strange legend and the vanishing, ghost-like killer. Jim couldn't possible care less about either. That only inflamed my curiosity even more. So it got tossed on the special locked room wishlist.

Having now read it, I can say Lejeune's Mr. Diabolo, purely as a locked room mystery, can be filed under the "Curiosities & Oddities" of the genre. However, it's also an earnest, well intended homage to John Dickson Carr and has neatly posed, multiple miraculous disappearances and a locked room murder. You can hardly miss which novel in particular inspired him (The Arabian Nights Murder, 1936), which comes with a light sprinkling of Clayton Rawson (Death from a Top Hat, 1938), but largely failed to deliver on its promising and fantastic premise. I think the book is best compared in that regard to Hugh Holman's Up This Crooked Way (1946) and Herbert Brean's Wilders Walk Away (1948), but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Mr. Diabolo takes place during the Annual Conference of the Anglo-American Literary and Political Society, "known to its friends as The Alps," at the College of Western Studies. Alistair Burke, of the Foreign Office, narrates the story and represented his office at this transatlantic gathering, but, when he meet the academic Barbara Tracey at the meeting, he began to devote himself "to the task with a zeal far beyond and above the line of duty" – providing the story with the obligatory romantic subplot. During dinner in the Senior Common Room, the old college legend of the alleyway running behind the college called Devil's Lane.

College of Western Studies was founded in the early 1600s by the disciples of John Dee, "an Elizabethan occultist," which was "to promote all forms of good learning" like "alchemy, astrology and the use of crystals." But by the end the 18th century, the college had gone to seed and catered to the bullheaded sons of the local squirearchy. One particularly “wild creature” was young Lord Farrant who "raised what hell he could." There were secret, midnight parties in his rooms and whispers of him indulging in the black arts. It all ended when Lord Farrant was found dead, behind the locked door of his room, lying in the middle of a pentacle that had been drawn on the floor. This discovery was preceded by a sighting of a figure wearing a tall hat and cloak with a pointed board and no eyes ("just blackness, like the eye-sockets of a skull") on the track running along the edge of the meadows behind the college. A spot currently known as Devil's Lane. That figure is the same whispered to have been present at the midnight parties and listens to the name Mr Diabolo.

So a thoroughly pleasant dinner conversation followed by a brief discussion on traditional ("nowadays it's all psychology and sordidness. Social realism is the curse of our age") and modern ("I like the new-style mysteries. Philo Vance used to bore me stiff") detective fiction. But when the meeting breaks up, the members and assorted guests get hurled into a detective story of their own.

When the party steps out into the Great Quad, they spot a bizarrely dressed, devilish-looking man wearing a tall, stovepipe hat and a cloak thrown back from his shoulders to reveal "a bottle-green cut-away coat, a red waistcoat and tightly fitting trousers of some cream-coloured material" – nothing where his eyes should have been. An illusion quickly dispelled when they notice the empty eye-sockets is caused by a pair of dark glasses. So they're determined to catch whoever is playing Mr. Diabolo and chase him down Devil's Lane. A police constable and a young man, Bill Frazer, saw the rush past him down the lane, but the watchman at the Warden's Garden on the other swears nobody came out of Devil's Lane. Mr. Diabolo had  "simply appeared and disappeared" like a puff of smoke.

Alistair Burke calls on an old friend from the War Office, Arthur Blaise, who's suitably intrigued by the seemingly impossible disappearance in Devil's Lane to start poking around the college grounds. Blaise particularly wants to talk to Frazer and the watchman ("I suspect you may not have asked them the right questions though"), but Frazer is murdered before he gets a chance. Strangled to death in his room with the door locked on the inside and one of two keys in his pocket. The second key is a duplicate used by the porter to unlock the door, but the key is "so rusty they don't think it can have been touched for quite a while." Not before it opened the door. I thought that was an interesting touch. So while the police carry out the official investigation in the background, Blaise and Burke play amateur detective with the womanizing, blackmailing providing enough motives to go around. But the only thing that really matters is the impossible disappearance and locked room murder.

Firstly, I agree with Jim that the book is presented to the reader five times as clever as actually turns out to be. The opening chapters gives the impression you have something akin to Derek Smith's Whistle Up the Devil (1954) in your hands, but everything turned out to be as childishly simplistic as it appeared. I think most seasoned mystery readers will be immediately suspicious about something in the setup to the disappearance in Devil's Lane and should, in turn, reveal the right question they didn't ask the watchman. What somewhat saved it from being completely disappointing and unimpressive is that it turned out to be a two-part trick with the answer to the first part uncovering a second impossibility (SPOILER/ROT13: “fb jung lbh'er fnlvat vf gung gur qvfnccrnenapr bs Ze. Qvnobyb'f pybgurf vf nf vzcbffvoyr—be, ng yrnfg, nf zhpu bs n ceboyrz—nf gur qvfnccrnenapr bs Ze. Qvnobyb?”). While the second part of the trick put some much needed shine on the plot, even the story itself admitted it hardly broke any new ground. John Dickson Carr used the trick as an anecdote in one of his celebrated novels, which is probably where Lejeune first heard of it. Regrettably, the locked room murder manages to be even more obvious with one of the oldest, lackluster and routine locked room-tricks on the book. And, in both cases, the obvious or suspicious aspects of the presented impossibilities pointed straight to the culprit. You have to go out of your way to miss it.

A truly great locked room mystery, aspiring to be a classic, would have used the two-part vanishing-act to greater effect nor have dared to present the locked room-trick as anything other than a false-solution. But what the reader got is the equivalent of "Kiddies First Locked Room Mystery." If only Lejeune had penned Mr. Diabolo as a juvenile mystery, it would have actually been a classic of its sort alongside Enid Blyton's The Mystery of the Invisible Thief (1950), Bruce Campbell's The Clue of the Phantom Car (1953) and Nicholas Wilde's Death Knell (1990). But as a mystery written for grown up kids, like myself, who love detective story this one is all bark and no bite. I can only really recommended it to fanatical locked room fans and completists. 

Addendum: I proofread casually skimmed over the review and noticed I became a little more negative towards the end than originally intended. Even with my expectations dialed back to expect something a whole lot less ambitious than a genre classic, I still ended up disappointed and letdown. But the book was not a struggle to get through nor did it overstay its welcome. And not anywhere near as bad as some of the worst locked room mysteries encountered over the years. Such as the recently reviewed Robert Brennan's The Toledo Dagger (1927) or Joseph Bowen's bungling in The Man Without a Head (1933). Not to the mention the underside of the bottom of the barrel represented by David L. Marsh's Dead Box (2004). So, if you come across a copy, you don't have to avoid like the plague, but neither do you have to lose any sleep over never coming across a copy.


Death Within the Evil Eye (2019) by Masahiro Imamura

Two years ago, Locked Room International published an eagerly anticipated translation of Masahiro Imamura's Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017), an amazing hybrid mystery, which injected an otherwise normal, down-to-earth closed circle murder mystery with zombies – straddling the traditional detective story with the survival horror genre. Unleashing a horde of zombies inside a detective story sounds like a cheap gimmick, but the story, to quote Soji Shimada's introduction, "simultaneously maintains the necessary rigour of the locked room mystery by making the zombies bound by strict rules." So the presence of the undead stumbling around, what would have been, an ordinary shin honkaku mystery changes the entire equation and opened the door to a whole new realm of possibilities. The tricky thing to do, of course, is ensuring that the inclusion of one does not come at the cost of the other and vice versa. Imamura moved across that slippery tight-rope without slipping and falling down. And that makes Death Among the Undead a masterpiece of the genre in my book!

So ended my review hoping that a translation of the sequel, Magan no hako no satsujin (Death Within the Evil Eye, 2019), would materialize before too long. I didn't really expect that translation to appear before 2023, but John Pugmire managed to release it right at the tail-end of 2022.

Just one thing that needs to be mentioned is that this series has to be read in order for numerous reasons. Firstly, Death Among the Undead not only introduces the two main characters, but also the ongoing storyline linking all the individual cases together. Secondly, the first and second are tonally entirely different stories. If the first novel is a shock to the system, the second one is the calm after the storm with a puzzling problem that's more ethereal in nature than living zombies. 

Death Within the Evil Eye, translated by Ho-Ling Wong, opens several months after "the unbelievable bioterrorism attack at Lake Sabea" and Yuzuru Hamura, 1st year economics student and now President of the Mystery Society, has returned to Shinkō – trying to pick up the pieces and coming to turn with the events of the past summer. Hiruko Kenzaki, 2nd year literature student and the only other member of the Mystery Society, has been trying to figure out the cause behind the zombie outbreak and the trail leads to an organization that conducted research on the paranormal. She finally has gotten her hands on a potential clue. A magazine dedicated to the occult, Monthly Atlantis, received a prophetic letter correctly predicting a number of tragedies going back months. One of the prophesies concerned the Lake Sabea incident ("...many of the dead will rise") as well as a very specific fire ("...many people in Osaka will run around as they go up in flames"). A second letter from the same sender to the magazine tells how, decades ago, men "purportedly from the M. Organization" appeared in a remote village in W Prefecture and offered the villagers a lot of money to built a secret research facility deep within their village to carry out experiments on people who claimed to possess supernatural powers.

Hiruko suspects the research laboratory and anonymous letter writer can both be found in the old Magan district near Yoshimi, a remote mountain village, which she wants to check out. Hamura insists on going along to be her Watson. When they arrive, the villagers have temporarily abandoned the place and one of the few people they find is Lady Sakimi. Lady Sakimi was one the test subjects and the only one from the project who stayed behind, despite her powers of prophecy being proven to be legitimate, and had now "lived for over half a century in this haunting region" feared "by the villagers of Yoshimi as a prophet." She "predicted countless disasters and incidents around the world," which is why her latest prophesy emptied out the village. Lady Sakimi announced that "on the final two days of November, two men and two women shall perish in Magan." So there were only a few people around when Hiruko and Hamura arrived.

There are two high school students, Marie Toiro and Shinobu Kukizawa, who traveled on the same bus as Hiruko and Hamura. Toiro appears to be a clairvoyant who carries around a sketchbook in which she draws accurate sketches of "the imminent future." Usually something disastrous involving someone getting hurt or dying. Yasuko Hattori moved from the village to Magan to take care of Lady Sakimi and titular Box of Evil. A two-story, box-like building without windows where once the experiments and tests into the paranormal were performed. Akiko Tokino is a former resident of Yoshimi and returned to the area to visit a grave. Takashi Ōji was touring the countryside on his motor cycle when he ran out of fuel and hoped to find some petrol in the village. Iwao Shishida is Sociology professor with a "perpetually angry face" who had car trouble and is now stuck there with his young son, Jun. Lastly, there's a writer of Monthly Atlantis, Raita Usui, who seems very pleased with the developing story. And then the bridge burns down.

So this group find themselves trapped between a river, a high rock wall with a water fall coming down from it and an inescapable prophecy, until help can arrive and that's likely not going to happen until the first of December – a situation hardly improved by Toiro furiously drawing sketches of the near future. What follows are deadly landslides, attempted as well as accidental poisonings and outright murder!

Ho-Ling Wong said in his 2019 review that the murders "happened under seemingly impossible circumstances," but while there's a quasi-howdunit element to some of the incidents, the only ties to the impossible crime is the minor no-footprints sidetrack in the fourth chapter. If anyone had the wrong impression, the prophesies do not have a natural and rational explanation. Toiro and Lady Sakimi's powers of precognition are not clever, elaborately-staged impossibilities that turned out to have a perfectly rational explanation, but genuine abilities to foresee the future. So those very real abilities, predictions and the nigh impossibility to escape those visions of things to come. When you bound such a prophesy to a location and trap people within that place, you get a practically unique situation that could not have arisen under any other circumstances. Hiruko observes that the murder arising from this unique set of circumstances would appear "incomprehensible to the police coming from the outside," which is why the primary problem is "is not the question of howdunnit, but whydunnit." However, it's not just the presence of two characters with the power to see into the future that makes Death Within the Evil Eye and this series incomparable to anything else out there.

I mentioned in my review of Death Among the Undead that Hiruko is presented as a flesh-and-blood incarnation of the murder-magnet trope, which sounds fun (see John Sladek's Black Aura, 1974), but there are some dark, grim consequences to her "innate ability to attract bizarre incidents" – like getting shunned by her own family. When she has a teary conversation with Toiro about their unfortunate abilities, Hiruko says "if curses do really exist in this world, then I am the one who is cursed. I can't begin to count the number of people who have perished around me." Imamura tried to show what would realistically happen if things such a bio-engineered zombies, prophets who run circles around Nostradamus and murder-magnets who not only naturally attracts "freakish incidents," but possess the ability to resolve them. So the connection between the two protagonists is not your typical Holmes-Watson relation like in other detective stories, which is something Hamura finds out for himself. It makes you wonder if this second wave of shin honkaki writers will end up somehow finding a way to harmonize the traditionalists movements spawned by Seishi Yokomizo with the social school of Seicho Matsumoto in a most fantastic way.

I glossed over the majority of the plot-technical details, but not because the plot plays second fiddle to the characters and outre elements. There's an abundance of plot, “the matter of alibis and motives is important,” which also poses such intriguing question why some scattered flowers in front of Lady Saki bedroom door, why a clock had unnecessarily been smashed to pieces and who was spear-wielding, white clad figure who disappeared down a flight of stairs. And lead the pursuers to another horrible discovery. I also liked how the closed circle situation was scrutinized, "there is no situation less suitable for a murder than a closed circle," which begs the question why the culprit was willing to kill under these dangerous, high-risk circumstances. But they mostly happen after the halfway mark. And don't want to give away too much.

Suffice to say, Imamura created another strange, but stable, mixture of fantasy and realism, "a closed circle situation, plus precognitive powers," which unlocked previously closed doors to new possibilities to tell and play out the traditional, fair play detective story – since this story could not have happened without real precognitive powers. Just like the first novel, it provided the murderer with an original motivation to carry out the murders and the ending definitely had a haunting touch of Final Destination. Even then, there a final chapter playing up the detective part of the story and that one is also made possible due to the predictions being a reality. And it all worked! Death Within the Evil Eye is a very different from Death Among the Undead with the emphasis being on the mental anguish caused by an unwielding future rather than the physical challenge posed by keeping out of biting distance of a zombie horde. So the pacing of the story is notably slower, but what it builds towards is magnificent. The way in which he brought the grounded detective story and the supernatural together almost makes writing and plotting hybrid mysteries look easy. I don't know what more to say except that Imamura is inching closer, and closer, to becoming a personal favorite.

So I'll end this review hoping that a translation of the third novel is in the works, because Kyoujintei no satsujin (The Murder in the House of Maleficence, 2021) sounds completely insane. I called Death Among the Undead a shock to system and Death Within the Evil Eye the calm after the storm, but The Murder in the House of Maleficence strikes me as having come to terms with the new reality and comes out guns blazing.


The Toledo Dagger (1927) by Robert Brennan

Robert Brennan was an Irish writer, journalist and a founder of The Irish Press newspaper who was not only active in the republican movement, but, during the 1916 Easter Rising, acted as a Commandant of the Volunteers – which got him imprisoned and sentenced to death. The death sentence "was reduced to a sentence of penal servitude" and released a year later. Brennan was eventually appointed the Irish Free State's first minister to the United States and "he wrote mystery stories as a hobby."

A 2012 guest-post by Monte Herridge on MysteryFile, "The Series Characters from Detective Fiction Weekly #10: Oscar van Duyven & Pierre Lemasse," discusses a short-lived series Brennan wrote for Flynn's Weekly Detective Fiction. A series starring a New York millionaire, Oscar van Duyven, who's the owner of an electric fan corporation and his boyish companion, Pierre Lemasse. Van Duyven and Lemasse appeared in ten short stories, published in the magazine from July 1926 to January 1927, but Monte Herridge was not overly impressed with the short stories. A "mostly average" series with "very little complexity." Herridge's capsule reviews of the short stories suggests Brennan was hopelessly stuck in a previous era of the genre that was quickly fading away in the 1920s.

So the short stories are of no interest to me at all, but Van Duyven and Lemasse had one last appearance in a novel-length detective story, The Toledo Dagger (1927). A novel Robert Adey jotted down in Locked Room Murders (1991). It was only a matter of time before a copy ended up in my hands.

Honestly, I wish I had saved myself the effort, time and money, because The Toledo Dagger turned out to be a strong contender for worst detective novel from the twenties. S.S. van Dine's "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" (1928) and Ronald A. Knox's "The Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction" (1929) tend to get dismissed these days, but often overlook, or outright ignored, is why they were compelled to establish a set of rules for writing detective fiction – namely an attempt to prevent or mitigate future abortions like The Toledo Dagger. You know, the kind of detective story fans try to hide from outsiders, while praying for it to be wiped out of existence. Yes, I'm going to ROT13 the hell out of that mentally defective, hackneyed ending in a moment. First, the groundwork! 

The Toledo Dagger finds Van Duyven and Lemasse in France where they've rented a villa from a rich diamond merchant, Anatole Rodin, who lives with his daughter at his own villa, the Pavilion de la Reine. Lemasse asks Van Duyven to extend their stay, because he very much like to know what Rodin is afraid of as Lemasse is "convinced that there is a great fear at his heart." An answer to the question arrives in the form of a mysterious and dodgy character, Leon Darracq, who stays the night in the Queen's Room. A room supposedly haunted by the ghost of "the fascinating Queen Jeanne of Naples," but, come the next morning, Darracq has not emerged from the room and neither does he answer the knocking. So the door is broken open and inside they find Darracq's undressed body with a "thin, elongated dagger-wound in the naked breast." Admittedly, this the only point in the entire story with any semblance of intelligence and humor.

Rodin pokes his head inside the room and notes "the large window is closed on the inside" and "a cat could not leave through the Gothic windows," which he takes to mean that the murderer is hiding somewhere in the bedroom – a perfectly logical and sound conclusion given the circumstances. So he orders his servants to get the guns, guard the room and windows until the police arrives. The arriving policemen receive orders from their inspector to fire at "the slightest movement at the window." An order that is taken very literally. When the room is finally entered, the only occupant is a dead man with a dagger-wound and a thorough search eliminated one possibility ("n frperg bhgyrg sebz gur ebbz"). Please keep that point in mind. But it briefly rekindled my hope there might be more to the story than the first two, three chapters suggested. Up to that point, everything pointed straight to Rodin as the culprit who was setting up the locked room and fabricating an alibi. Something that would have made The Toledo Dagger even more transparent than the ghost who supposedly haunts the Queen's Room. However, it would have been an infinitely better solution than the one we got, but, once again, I'll get to that in a minute.

Van Duyven and Lemasse "had some success in solving mysteries which baffled the police," but the story dissolves from there into a cliched, third-rate thriller common of the era. They tussle with some unsavory character, connected to the victim, which involves a coded telegram, a black bag, duplicate daggers, a spot of blackmail and "tattoo marks of the star and crescent." There's also some gun pointing and switcharooing, which became so tiresome and predictable that it ruined what could have been the only quasi-exciting point in the story. Pierre Lemasse apparently gets shot point blank, "lying as still as death," suggesting he actually got killed. What a way to end your series by killing off one of your series-characters and retire the other after catching his murderer. Somehow, miraculously, the shooter missed and Lemasse simply played dead ("...he had five more bullets in the revolver"). But it gets worse. Lemasse tells Van Duyven the shooter couldn't find a bullet wound, muttered "he wouldn't take any chances" and tied him in a grinning bundle for his friend to find. Not shooting him again or clubbing him over the head with the bud of the revolver. Even though mere seconds ago, the shooter swore he was going to put him "out of the way." By the way, the shooter and murderer are two different persons.

So what about that awful solution? I debated with whether to outright spoil it or ROT13 it, but decided on the latter because it should be up to you how you want to discover how truly awful it really is. If you want to know now, brace yourself (ROT13/SPOILERS AHEAD): gur zheqrere vf erirnyrq gb or Nyoreg, gur ohgyre, jub ragrerq naq yrsg gur Dhrra'f Ebbz guebhtu n frperg cnffntr gung pbaarpgrq gb uvf ebbz ol n iregvpny fgnvepnfr. Nyoreg xvyyrq Qneenpd orpnhfr “ur jnf gbb yblny” gb uvf znfgre naq qnhtugre, ohg jnvg, vg trgf jbefr. Gur zna ur xvyyrq jnf abg Qneenpd ng nyy, ohg uvf gjva oebgure! Qneenpd jnf xvyyrq, qhzcrq va n cbaq naq uvf gjva oebgure erghearq gb gur ubhfr nf Qneenpd jurer Nyoreg zvfgbbx uvz sbe gur erny Qneenpd naq fgnoorq uvz gb qrngu. I was actually angry after reading that.

I would not be surprised if The Toledo Dagger was one of the books Knox had in mind when he set down his rules. It's almost everything Knox condemned as bad detective fiction balled up into a pulpy lump of meh and mediocrity. You would think someone who lived a life like Brennan would bring more to the table than a wheelbarrow full of cliches that were already a quarter of a century out-of-date in 1927 or has met enough interesting people to give his characters a vague hint of possessing something approaching a personality. I've seen pulp illustrations and covers with more characters depth and believable emotions than the paper cutouts populating The Toledo Dagger. And that's coming from a plot guy!

So, purely taken as a detective novel, The Toledo Dagger represents the early, Golden Age detective story at its very worst and demonstrates why some guidelines and distinctions between various forms were sorely needed at the time, but neither succeeds it as a third-rate, pulp-style mystery thriller – which is an incredibly low bar to clear. Just being a third-rate, pulp-style mystery thriller is a handicap that can be overcome by simply being marginally entertaining, but The Toledo Dagger commits that unpardonable sin of being bad and dull. I should have used that meh and mediocrity line to end the review, but you get my point by now. 

A note for the curious: it would be a little unfair to end this review without mentioning that this series has a historical claim to fame. Anthony Boucher credited Curtiss T. Gardner's Bones Don't Lie (1946) with introducing the first big-business detective on record. Back in 2021, I found a contender to that claim in Bruce Sanders' Pink Silk Alibi (1946) and commented at the time that it was a funny coincidence that an American and British writer came up with the idea of a corporate detective at practically the same time. I was unable to find out which book got published first, but that hardly matters now because Brennan had them beat by two decades. So don't expect anymore Brennan to appear on this blog, but I can practically guarantee that the next one is going to be a classic. Stay tuned!


Firebird (2011) by Jack McDevitt

In 2021, I began a small expedition into science-fiction territory with the Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath series, written by Jack McDevitt, which takes place a hundred centuries in the future as humanity has spread itself across the Milky Way System – accumulating ten-thousand years of history, space-age artifacts and unresolved mysteries. Alex Benedict, "the world's most celebrated antique dealer," earns a living with Chase Kolpath tracking down rare, long-lost artifacts and dragging answers to age-old historical mysteries out of the mists of time. So the series is a distant cousin of the detective story and McDevitt cited G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories as a source of inspiration, while readers compared the series to a Space Opera Ellery Queen.

The series began with the world-building A Talent for War (1989), in which Alex Benedict tracks down a legendary and long-lost warship, but the mystery element emerged in the next two novels. Polaris (2004) is a locked room mystery, of sorts, concerning a scientific expedition that vanished from a sealed space yacht and Seeker (2004) concerns the historical mystery of a lost space colony from the Third Millennium. Regrettably, Echo (2010) turned out to be the first dud in the series undermining the world-building of the previous novels with an ending that wanted it both ways and an epilogue that made everything even worse. So began to wonder if I had gotten all out of the series that was of interest to me and the time had come to abandon it, but then got news a new title was forthcoming, Village in the Sky (2023). It sounded intriguing enough to see if the next was a return to form and perhaps continue with the series after all. 

Firebird (2011) is the sixth title in the series and begins when Karen Howard contacts Rainbow Enterprises to tell them she inherited the estate of her sister, Elizabeth Robin, who was married to Christopher Robin. Karen Howard has some personal items that belonged to her brother-in-law that she wants to put on the market. Benedict and Kolpath are tasked with getting the best price for the collection.

Christopher Robin was a controversial physicist who "explored the fringes of science" like whether consciousnesses can survive death, the multiverse and "thought maybe we were getting occasional visitors from one" – like sightings of unidentified starships that fade out ("ships from another reality?"). So he was someone who "asked questions nobody else dared to ask" and "looking for breakthroughs in areas that are considered beyond the pale by most of his colleagues." But what gave him fame was his mysterious, never explained disappearance. One day, Robin had "come home from somewhere, had gotten out of a skimmer at his front door, and never made it into his house." Nobody knows whether he accidentally fell into the ocean and the body was carried out to sea, got pushed or simply disappeared voluntarily. Maybe the physicist had "walked across a bridge into an alternate reality."

So more than enough angles to drum up public interest and drive up the demand for the Robin artifacts, but, once Benedict begins to dig into the mysteries the physicist left behind, he simply can't let go. Decades ago, Robin witnessed one of these phantom vehicles that have been reported over the centuries and was able to get pictures of it. Curiously, Robin had been present at previous, never explained sighting of another unidentified ship. When they learn Robin had been buying and losing yachts at an alarming rate, it became impossible to ignore. Was he actually trying sending "the yachts into one of these alternate universes he was always talking about" or something else?

A fascinating premise for a futuristic-historical, quasi-mystery, but the mystery of Robin's disappearance and his equally mysterious and secretive experiments become something of a MacGuffin. Benedict and Kolpath eventually figure out what Robin was up to, but the implications of their discovery shifts the story in a different direction with the physicist becoming a bit of an afterthought by the end (ROT13/SPOILER: arire ernccrnevat be trggvat erfphrq, ohg na rdhngvba naq fuvc ner anzrq nsgre uvz). However, it makes an engrossing science-fiction yarn and has a really good subplot centering on the advanced A.I. that's are all over the place. While hunting for clues, Benedict and Kolpath go to Villanueva, "colonized during the Great Migration" and "gone now almost as long as Adam and Eve,” which became a religious settlement that suffered an end-of-days catastrophe – getting swallowed by "a massive dust cloud." The people who refused to evacuate died and only their A.I. systems came out of it unscathed, which somehow remained operative and tidied everything up. But they're incredibly hostile to humans. So the planet is declared a no-go area. Benedict and Kolpath eventually come under attack after landing, but they manage to escape and rescue an Elementary School A.I. (Charlie) who had pleaded to be rescued ("I thought of what it would be like, trapped in an elementary school for seven thousand years"). This has some serious consequences when Charlie asks them to help rescue the other A.I. trapped on Villanueva. Something that damages and stains Benedict's reputation and public image.

So, in the end, Firebird is a much better science-fiction novel than hybrid mystery and therefore misses the appeal of Polaris and Seeker, because it's the historical mysteries that attracted me to the series in the first place. However, I can also see McDevitt needed to go heavy on the science-fiction in Firebird to setup the next two novels, Coming Home (2014) and Octavia Gone (2019), which appear to resolve a plot-thread that was introduced in the first book. Hopefully, they'll prove to be Polaris and Seeker of the second (or is that third?) phase in this engrossing series. But, speaking as a detective fanboy, it's a little tragic that this series was not conceived as a full-blown science-fiction mystery hybrid. So many of the worlds depicted in this series would lend themselves perfectly for all kind of different detective and thriller stories (see previous reviews for suggestions).

To cut a long, rambling review short, Firebird comes recommended to fans of the series, but, if you're only interested in the mystery element, you should (for now) stick with the first three titles in the series.


Rooting Out Evil: "Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun" (1857/63) by August Blanche

August Blanche was a Swedish journalist, politician, playwright and novelist who not only dabbled in detective fiction, decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson popularized the genre, but made a historically important contribution to my beloved locked room mystery – penning a surprisingly inventive impossible crime tale in the 1800s. A short story predating some of the better known trailblazers like Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery (1892), L.T. Meade & R. Eustace's A Master of Mysteries (1898) and Gaston Leroux's Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room, 1907).

Blanche's "Lars Blom" was possibly first published in an 1857 edition of Illustrerad tidning (Illustrated Magazine) and collected six years later in Hyrkuskens berättelser (The Stories of a Horse-Cab Coachman, 1863), but an English translation would not materialize until a good 140 years later. Bertil Falk translated the story, now titled "Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun," which got published in the September, 2002, issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The translation also appeared in Falk's Locked Rooms and Open Spaces: An Anthology of 150 Years of Swedish Crime & Mystery Fiction of the Impossible Sort (2007). "Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun" is one of the earliest up-in-smoke locked room/impossible crime stories involving a vanishing weapon and presented as a delightful cat-and-mouse game.

Lars Blom was a vigorous, 30-year-old gardener, "reddish-brown from health and sun," who supports two younger siblings and day takes a gardening job with "one of the richest land owners in the province of Skåne," the Colonel – who's known as "a downright scourge to his tenants." Someone who has a special "whipping room" on his estate for "the lecturing of his dependents." Lars Blom had been warned against the Colonel, but accepts the position as gardener regardless and there's an inevitable confrontation ("what do you say, you dog!"). But when the angry colonel reaches to grab a rubber cudgel, Lars pulls a gun out of nowhere and promises that every blow will be repaid in lead. Colonel's cries for help are answered by some farmhands and crofters, who are ordered to search the gardener, but no gun is found. One moment Lars was pointing a gun, and the next it had vanished into thin air! It's not the last time he makes the gun disappear without a trace.

The enraged Colonel succeeds trapping a gun-pointing Lars inside a storage shed, securely padlocked on the outside, which is opened in the company of impeccable witnesses like the vicar and a rural judge in the district. Lars is searched a second time without result and turns the small shed inside out, floor, walls and ceiling, but "it was all in vain." So things were beginning to look bad for the Colonel as Lars Blom continued to back him into a corner and get one over the "number one among all unjust and cruel masters."

Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) highlighted and praised "Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun" in the introduction under "New Discoveries from Before 1991." I agree with Skupin that "the trick is simple and comical, but it is streets ahead of, say, "The Murder in the Rue Morgues," by Edgar Allan Poe, the first locked room detective story" – published all the way back in 1841. However, the trick is not only noteworthy for eschewing any of the poorly dated, 19th century (locked room) tropes like secret passages, hidden cubbyholes, animal culprits, unknown poisons or obscure natural phenomenons. It's also that the problem of the disappearing gun is not presented as a typical impossible vanishing, but used as a tool to help Lars turn the table on a thoroughly unpleasant character. Even today, such an approach to the impossibility of a vanishing weapon would be considered a fresh and inventive. So to do it in 1857, or 1863, when even the standard locked room mystery was still in its conceptual phase, is more than a little impressive. While the trick is simple and comical, I only figured out the easy part and never would have hit upon the second part. I had no idea that was even a remote possibility at the time, but checked up on it and, technically, it could have been done. Possibly. But if anyone could have made it work, it's a crafty character like Lars Blom!

So, no, your eyes are not deceiving you. August Blanche, a goddamned Swede, not only refrained from brutally butchering a detective story, but somehow wrote a classical, historically not important, impossible crime tale. A perceptive short story as amusing as it's ingenious (for its time) that deserves to better known and sorely needs to return to print. Since it's doubtful Falk's Locked Rooms and Open Spaces will be reprinted anytime soon, I propose to include "Lars Blom and His Disappearing Gun" in the potential, eagerly anticipated sequel to the international anthology The Realm of the Impossible (2017).