The Kindaichi Case Files: Death TV by Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato

I'm consistently about two months, give or take a week or two, ahead on schedule with enough blog-posts and reviews queued to occasionally slip away from the blog without it getting noticed, which every now and then runs into a scheduling problem – occasionally leaving a place open for an upcoming reprint, new release or translation. Something that doesn't always work out. This time, I was left with a week-sized hole in the November schedule and needed something to plug the gap. But what?

I considered doing another Q.E.D. review or perhaps redo and expand on my two old posts about detective stories lost to history, "The Locked Room Reader: A Selection of Lost Detective Stories" and "The Locked Room Reader: A Return to the Phantom Library," but decided to leave them for another time. I moved away this year from The Kindaichi Case Files to focus on Q.E.D. and wanted to briefly return to the former before trying to finish the latter in 2024. I wanted to revisit a volume from the original run of the series that has a story somewhat befitting for these cold, dark and short winter days.

To the Yozaburo Kanari fans among you who feel the icy clutch of despair, you can rest your mind. I'm not going to gift myself an early Christmas present by laying in on Kanari. So you won't hear me saying Kanari has all the creativity and originality of a "Jingle Bells" cover. I'm not going to waste a single word on telling you Kanari handles his plots with the skill and subtlety of an American Civil War surgeon treating a leg wound. Not a hint, nor a murmur, that an old, battered copy of Plotto (1928) would probably have made a better leadwriter for this series (Story by Plotto, Art by Fumiya Sato). This is going to be a fair and balanced review, like The Demon God Ruins Murder Case, but I've a ROT13 question at the end for those who believe Kanari got the short shrift for The Mummy's Curse – copying his homework from Soji Shimada's Senseijutsu satsujinjiken (The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, 1981). More on that in a moment.

Death TV was originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine from March 17 to May 26, 1993, under the title The Snow Yashka Murder Case and TokyoPop released an English translation in 2003. I remembered it as a surprisingly decent entry early on in the frist series, but not too difficult a task coming right alongside The Opera House Murders and The Mummy's Curse. So let's find out how well it stands up to a second glance.

Hajime Kindaichi has taken a part-time job at a local television station to kill time during the winter break, working as an extra and runner for Shock TV, which is "a hidden-camera show that plays pranks on celebrities." The "victims" for the latest episode are the actress Rie Kanou and the pop singer Reika Hayami. Death TV is, in fact, the introduction of two recurring characters, Reika Hayami and Superintendent Kengo Akechi, who's there to lend an air of authenticity to the prank. Shock TV lured the two celebrities to the village of Segoori, in the shadow of Taisetsu Mountain in Hokkaido, where the villa of the well-known, famously reclusive painter Issei Himuro stands – designed "as a museum to display his own work." So the gallery snaked around the house, surrounding the rooms in the center, which makes it the perfect location for a hidden-camera murder mystery patterned after the local legend of the Snow Demon. Rie Kanou and Reika Hayami are made to believe they're in the middle of a real-life Seishi Yokomizo mystery, but Kanou smells a typical Shock TV scam and so the crew have planned "a prank just for her." Only then things go horribly wrong.

The villa is divided in two parts, a main building and annex, which face each other, but a river and deep canyon sits between the two buildings. A bridge connecting the villa's two part washed away the previous summer and the only other bridge is a twenty minute drive away. Rie Kanou gets left behind in the annex together with the cameraman, Michio Akashi, while the cast and crew move to the main building to observe their victim through the hidden-cameras and setting off remote controlled special effects. Someone wearing the custom and mask of the legendary Snow Demon appears on their monitors. Whoever is behind the mask, the figure is carrying an ax. Only thing the cast and crew can do is watch helplessly as the Snow Demon plants the ax into Kanou's skull. The outside cameras picks up one last glimpse of the murderer as the Snow Demon vanished into the snowstorm ("leaving the villa quiet once more"). Michio Akashi is nowhere to be found and everyone else has an alibi as solid as permafrost. All of them being together twenty minutes away from the crime scene. Akashi is quickly found to have been innocent when his body turns inside a snowman clutching a dying message. And they're not the last to fall victim to the Snow Demon. The last murder is committed in a room with the door and windows locked from the inside.

However, the additional murders, dying message and locked room-trick are pretty much irrelevant to the plot. The dying message is not considered until the conclusion and the locked room-trick is an old dodge, which is surprising as this always makes work of its impossible crime. The whole story of Death TV is driven by two thing: the admittedly brilliant alibi-trick to the first murder and setting Superintendent Akechi up as a rival detective to Hajime Kindaichi (playing the Simon Brimmer to Kindaichi's Ellery Queen). Akechi is as trying and hard to like in his first appearance as Philo Vance in The Benson Murder Case (1926). A young, arrogant "career cop" who studied criminal psychology in the United States and due to his education, started as an assistant inspector instead of working his way up. And loves to refer to his time abroad ("of course, I've already seen many similar cases in Los Angeles"). Akechi challenges Kindaichi and Inspector Kenmochi, “to find out whose tactics are more effects,” which provided the plot with an opportunity to have Kindaichi bat away several false-solutions. Akechi becomes more palpable as a character in later appearances and even starred in his own spin-off series, but here served his purpose by playing the fallible detective who ends up getting a much deserved kick in the pance.

Regrettably, everything outside the central alibi-puzzle and rivalry between the two detective is subpar. I already mentioned the wasted dying message and routine locked room-trick, but the murderer stands out from the moment the murder is committed. Even if you don't know, exactly, how it was done, the story makes it very clear only that person could have done it. But then Kanari had to apply one of his famous, oh-so subtle plot-touches to the character of the murderer. So here comes my ROT13 question: fb lbh qrpvqr gb frg lbhe qrgrpgvir fgbel va n fcrpvnyyl qrfvtarq ivyyn, pbzcyrgr jvgu bqq nepuvgrpgheny naq ynaqfpncr srngherf, jurer n snzbhfyl erpyhfvir cnvagre yvirf uvqqra oruvaq fhatynffrf naq n snprznfx. Lbh unir n zheqrere jub'f nyzbfg vafhygvatyl boivbhf naq gur bayl guvat gung nfcrpg bs gur cybg unf tbvat sbe vgfrys vf n ernyyl bevtvany nyvov-gevpx. Jul purncra vg ol gelvat gb or gbathr-va-purrx pyrire ol anzvat gur zheqrere Nlngfhwv? I completely missed that the first time around, but now it stood out and it annoyed more than it probably should have. What really annoyed me was the motive. Not the repetitiveness of this overused motive, particularly in this series, but how the ending revealed the victims, relatively ordinary people, to have been almost comically evil ("scram, you brat"). I'm the last detective fan to complain about shallow characterization, but Jesus Christ, the only thing missing was them laughing maniacally among the burning wreckage.

I remembered Death TV as a surprisingly decent, early entry in the series and, as you can probably guess, it has not entirely stood up to a second reading. The plot rests entirely on breaking down the murderer's crafty alibi and the rivalry between Akechi and Kindaichi livens up what would otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers, shin honkaku-style detective story, but not enough to recommend it. And certainly not worth tracking down one of those ridiculously overpriced, secondhand copies of the TokyoPop translation.


Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death (2023) by P. Dieudonné

Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death, 2023) is the ninth novel by the increasingly prolific Dutch mystery novelist, P. Dieudonné, who debuted only four years ago with Rechercheur De Klerck en het doodvonnis (Inspector De Klerck and the Death Sentence, 2019) – a tribute to A.C. Baantjer. In those four short years, Dieudonné made the format of the Baantjer-style politieroman (police roman) his own and added a feature that had been sorely lacking. Plot complexity! Baantjer always said he simply places "a body somewhere and then I start writing." So even though this series can feel and even read like an authentic "Baantjer," only with different characters in another city, it's the plots that differentiates this series from the master and his many imitators over the decade. They could not have written, or rather plotted, a novel like Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongrijpbare dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death, 2020) or Rechercheur De Klerck en moord in scène (Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene, 2021). The latest addition to the De Klerck series takes the cake where plot complexity is concerned.

Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death begins relatively normally enough as Inspector Lucien de Klerck, of the Rotterdam police, listens to a man who has come to the police to emphatically deny he's a murderer. Richard Spijkers is a reformed criminal who had a run-in with De Klerck fifteen years ago, "a coffee shop robbery" with "the getaway car almost causing a fatal accident," but since then he has "never... almost never.. deviated from the straight and narrow" – except one time. Spijkers works for an importer of strong liquors that also has its own shop for regular customers and Spijkers has been selling expensive bottles under the counter. And pocketed a few hundred euros extra every week. Only his conscience started acting up and stopped two months ago, but then a colleague, Karin Voshart, began blackmailing him. It began with demands for small sums of money, but that evening he was supposed to pay two thousand euros ("I can't possibly cough up that much dough"). There's another reason why Spijkers decided to come clean to the police. Spijkers was called by an anonymous number accusing him of having killed Karin Voshart at the muziekkoepel in the Julianapark in Schiedam ("...cowardly stabbed in the back").

This case places more on their plate than Inspectors Lucien de Klerck and Ruben Klaver initially realize. Nobody has reported a murder or discovery of a body in the Julianapark and her aunts tells them her niece is alive and well. Just nowhere to be found. She's not the only one who's either unreachable or gone missing altogether. Meanwhile, Spijkers looks less reliable, honest and reformed with every twist and turn of the story. A mere day later, Spijkers is back at the police station to report another murder and emphasizes he didn't commit that murder either. This time, the body is found with two more coming their way before the case draws to a close. So what the hell is going on?

A question that's easier posed than solved as Dieudonné tiptoed across an incredibly treacherous and slippery tight-rope with this plot. Something very tricky, and very difficult to pull-off convincingly. Some would even argue it's nigh impossible, because a sizable amount of coincidence is unavoidable and this certainly the case Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death. You can generously call the coincidence here an exercise in cause-and-effect, but I simply admired Dieudonné deciding to play this game on hard mode and made it as difficult as possible for himself to properly execute that tricky idea – while trying to be generous himself with the clues and hints. Not that it was of any help to me. I got completely lost in the compact, 120-page labyrinth of a plot. This half-baked hypothesis is the closest I came to the correct solution (ROT13): Gur svefg gjb ivpgvzf xvyyrq rnpu bgure. N fnintrq O va gur cnex naq O sngnyyl jbhaqrq N jvgu n fgno va gur onpx. Fb n qlvat O yrnirf gur pevzr fprar naq P pbzrf nybat gb uvqr gur obql va beqre gb cebgrpg Q (be K), orpnhfr P gubhtug Q (be K) unq xvyyrq N. Yeah, that messy solution collapsed as soon as it was held up to the facts ("...fgehpx gur urneg zhfpyr"). So was completely surprised when De Klerck's little dramatic trap ensnared the last person I expected. Well played, Dieudonné! Well played.

Not everyone is going to be left convinced by the solution, but the plot is admirably handled and firmly held together, from beginning to end, which definitely helped its plausibility. And that it's a Dutch detective novel only makes it so much better. Detective stories of this quality were only sporadically published in Dutch until E-Pulp came along. So, to cut a rambling review short, Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood is een politieroman voor de liefhebbers van échte detective verhalen.

A note for the curious: a tenth, so far untitled novel is currently in the work and I'm going to do a ranking of the first De Klerck mysteries when it comes out next year. Fingers crossed it has a title along the lines of Rechercheur De Klerck en moord achter slot en grendel (Inspector De Klerck and Murder Under Lock and Key).


Through Three Rooms (1907) by Sven Elvestad (a.k.a. Stein Riverton)

Sven Elvestad, "sybarite extraordinaire," was a Norwegian journalist, essayist and an industrious mystery writer who penned over a hundred detective novels, novellas, short stories and newspaper serials – published in Norway and Sweden under the penname "Stein Riverton." Elvestad can be regarded as Norway's answer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his series-detective, Asbjørn Krag, falling squarely into the "Rivals of Sherlock Holmes" category.

Back in 2018, I reviewed a then newly released translation of Elvestad's most well-known, justly celebrated mystery novel, Jernvogner (The Iron Chariot, 1909), but without further translations lost track of him. Fortunately, this has changed in the past few years. Not only for Elvestad!

Kabaty Press is a self-described micro-press of translated fiction and non-fiction with a small, but growing, catalog of early Scandinavian crime-and detective novels and short stories. Earlier this year, Kabaty Press published an English translation of Elvestad's Gjennem de tre værelser (Through Three Rooms, 1907). Through Three Rooms is novella, originally serialized in a Norwegian newspaper and published as a book under the title Dødens finger (The Finger of Death) in 1915. This edition is translated by Lucy Moffatt and comes with a lengthy, informative introduction from one of Norway's leading crime fiction experts, Nils Nordberg – who also gave his voice to the Norwegian audiobooks of Elvestad's work. Nordberg's introduction is very much worth a read as it paints a fascinating picture of the author and some interesting bits of genre history. Most notably, it unearthed that "an obscure British monthly magazine, Tip Top Stories of Adventure and Mystery, printed a slightly shortened translation of The Iron Chariot in its April 1924 issue." Several years before a rather a well-known detective novel was published. So there's a remote possibility The Iron Chariot stealthily influenced the British Golden Age detective story. However, it's more likely Anthony Berkeley can be credited with introducing the idea to the English-language detective story. And made really famous by someone else. So with all of that out of the way, let's get to the story at hand.

Through Three Rooms begins with Asbjørn Krag, comfortably seated in an armchair, receiving and listening to the plight of an old school friend, Dr. Karl Rasch, who has a practice in Smaalenene County. One of his patients is a rich Swedish-American, John Aakerholm, who arrived in the district five years ago and bought the famous Kvamberg Manor ("...the largest and best-known estates in the country"). While an eccentric old man, Aakerholm lived lavishly, threw house parties and acquired a large circle of friends. Even getting engaged to the Widow Hjelm. A popular figure newcomer in the community who entertained with marvelous stories of his adventurous "on the prairies and in the gold-mining districts." But a change came over old Aakerholm. And the parties came to a stop. Ever since he has been nervous wreck teetering on the edge. Rasch was called upon as a doctor at all hours, day and night, who found his patient on more than occasion completely out of his wits. That's not all.

John Aakerholm sleeps alone at night and has forbidden anyone to come even near his bedroom during the nighttime, which he ensured with elaborate precaution. To reach his bedroom, "one must pass through two rooms and three doors" and "once the clock has struck twelve and the old man has gone to bed, no one may enter any of the rooms" – which he locks with the only key. Rasch knows Aakerholm has to be frightened of someone, or something, as he has heard whisper, "is he a devil or a man?" And saw him hurl a heavy fruit bowl through an antique mirror. So what's eating away at his patient? Asbjørn Krag is delighted to help his old school friend, but, when they arrive at the manor house, a new development has taken place. Somebody tried to shoot Aakerholm and disappeared from a pavilion. This is the point where Krag remarks to Rasch that the case "no longer has any connection to the three rooms" and they have "emerged from one mystery only to find ourselves embroiled in another." Before too long, a body is found on the snowy grounds surrounding Kvamberg Manor.

So how well does this little novella from 1909 stand after more than a century? First of all, Through Three Rooms is not, really, a locked room mystery as you might expect from its premise. The three rooms and double-locked doors do pose a puzzle, but not one of the seemingly impossible variety. Secondly, the disappearance from the pavilion can be regarded as an impossible crime, "there were no tracks in the snow leading away from the pavilion," but hardly worthy of the "locked room mysteries" toe-tag. Through Three Rooms is an old-fashioned, Doylean-style suspense yarn about the mysterious, inexplicable character change of the lord of the manor that were not yet pass their expiration date in 1909. So there are barely any clues or very many suspects, but instead it's about what happened and how to solve it. Asbjørn Krag is not a detective who detects and deduces, but an all-knowing strategist who's always several steps ahead and maneuvers everyone towards the solution. Something more along the lines of a chess game than a detective story. Krag effortlessly checkmates the villains. A typical pulp hero of the period. However, the all-important answer to Aakerholm's personality change and why locked himself away behind two doors is not bad at all. Something simple and straight forward, but with a glimmer of the coming Golden Age. A shame most of Elvestad's detective stories were "breezily composed at restaurant tables and in hotel rooms," because more could have been done with the idea.

Through Three Rooms is not a Golden Age detective story hailing from a country with a different language and genre-history of its own, which would make it unfair to compare it to its Anglo counterparts. So, taking that into consideration, Through Three Rooms is a quick, fun read that would not be out-of-place in The International Rivals of Sherlock Holmes and comes especially recommended to the fans of the Great Detective. If only just to see what the influence of their favorite detective has wrought in other parts of the world.


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

The 1920s began in the United States with an amendment to the constitution banning the sale of beer, wine and spirits, effective January 19, 1920, but outlawing alcohol to battle and reduce domestic violence only made things worse – leading to the rise of organized crime and gangsterism. These were the days of bootlegging, rum running, speakeasies, rough (deadly) liquor and gang murders. Chicago brutally carved out a prominent place in the grim, bloody history of the Prohibition-era, but a fascinating chapter in US history nonetheless. And, today, fertile grounds for a historical, hardboiled crime novel. Or so you would think.

James Scott Byrnside had a different idea and took two incorruptible, 1920s Chicago gumshoes, Rowan Manory and Walter William, simply added some "locked-room murders, ghosts, vanishing killers, and so forth." The first three novels in the series, Goodnight Irene (2018), The Opening Night Murders (2019) and The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire (2020), are highlights of both self-published mysteries and new wave of impossible crime fiction. Monkey See, Monkey Murder (2023) is the fourth title in the series and the first one to probe the criminal underbelly of 1920s Chicago. This time, Manory's preference and ability to attract inexplicable, intricately-plotted murders and seeming impossible crimes can't keep him out of the way of a notoriously ruthless gangster.

Steven Rinehardt, owner of the Rinehardt Smelting Company out of Boston, has come to Chicago to expand his company with a new big metals plant, blast furnace and several factories, but it's a pleasure, not business, that gets him neck deep into trouble – dumping his fiancee to get engaged to a night club singer. Lulu Raspin is contracted to Ivan "The Flesher" Florkowski, "club owner, bookmaker, extortionist, murderer and gang leader," who not exactly thrilled the singer ran off or that her loved told him to pound sand over the telephone. Not a terribly clever strategy as "those who cross Ivan Florkowski end up in pieces, buried in concrete-filled barrels at the bottom of the river." However, something entirely different happened than the expected cement-filled barrels and a watery grave. Rinehardt took his new fiancee on holiday to Malaya, Southeast Asia, where a macaque "pummeled him and tore his face up" ("the poor son of a bitch doesn't even have a nose anymore"). Rinehardt believes the gangster is somehow behind the vicious monkey attack. A suspicion that's not alleviated when a gun-wielding man in a hazmat suit and gas mark is chased out of his house.

So this poses a really tricky, potential deadly problem for Police Sergeant Delbert Grady as he finds himself in an impossible position. The mayor had instructed him to make Rinehardt's happiness his top priority and demands Grady arrests Florkowski for attempted murder, but Grady's name is on Florkowski's payroll. Grady turns to the only incorruptible person in Chicago, Rowan Manory. If the city's finest detective can prove Florkowski has nothing to do with the strange attacks, Rinehardt or the mayor will believe it. And if he has something do with it, Grady has plenty of time to leave town ("some other dumb bastard can sign his own death warrant because I won't be around to have anything to do with it").

Rowan Manory and Walter William have their work cut out as people connected to the case either turn up very murdered or go missing. While the house is closely guarded by the Pinkerton Security Agency, the place is invaded by armed men and another angry macaque. This culminates with Florkowski unexpectly agreeing to a meeting at Rinehardt's home. Manory correctly predicts, "if the meeting goes anything like the other developments in this case, we'll walk away with even more questions."

This ends with the discovery of the one of more bizarrely posed, pulp-style locked room murders I've come across in some time, which I'm not even going to attempt to describe, but it should almost go without saying another macaque is involved – necessitating a "Locked Room Lecture" to bring some clarity. Manory discusses with Williams the finite solutions and principles by which an impossible crime can be accomplished. And rejects Williams suggesting the murderer might stumbled across a new locked room idea: "Hogwash! There are no new principles. Repackaged? Yes. Renamed. Sure. Altered with technology? Fine. Hidden within the details of a plot? Absolutely. But new? No." Just a matter of finding the right locked room principle "well hidden within the fabric of the plot." That being said, Monkey See, Monkey Murder should not be read solely for its locked room-angle or lecture. Byrnside's fifth novel is a better whodunit, superior even, than impossible crime story. One of those incredibly difficult, slippery and treacherous tightrope walking-acts that would have ended in a nasty fall in the hands of a less talented writer and plotter. Just very pleasing and rewarding to see something like this being produced again in the West. By comparison, the locked room murder and its explanation underwhelmed after such an intriguing presentation and lecture on the subject. Manory warned the reader the trick would rely on a well worn, well hidden principle, but even then, the locked room-trick felt very basic and unsatisfying. Particularly, when the change of one or two small details would have allowed for another method to leave a locked crime scene behind. A trick practically custom-made to the circumstances of Rinehardt's house and the locked room at the time of the murder.

So here's my solution to Monkey See, Monkey Murder's bizarre locked room situation: Manory notes in the story the door has a so-called Ryerson bolt-lock, "only lock that could not, under any known circumstances, be manipulated from the outside," because "weight and unique vertical movement made it resistant to magnets, strings, and any other makeshift tools." The key sticking inside the keyhole didn't add an extra layer to the impossibility or posed an obstacle to any trickery. So it could have just as good been found lying in the middle of the room without diminishing the impossibility of the locked room slaying in any way. That would have opened another door hiding in plain sight. During the story, work is still being done on the house and construction material is strewn all over the place such as canvas hoses. A canvas hose can be used to guide the key down the chimney, through "the tiny spaces of the curlicue design" of the iron grate to the fireplace, which "can only be locked into place from inside the room," back into the room now appearing to be locked from the inside – only key lying right there on the floor. After that, the murderer pulls the canvas hose back up. I don't always demand blistering original, grandiosely-staged tricks from a locked room mystery. Just something to match its presentation and this one demanded something that at least looked a little bit more complicated than a basic trick. Even if it actually hinges on a basic trick.

Fortunately, Monkey See, Monkey Murder is so much more than only a locked room mystery. Byrnside packed the same ingenuity, vigor, sportsmanship and understanding of the detective story to craft an excellent, hardboiled whodunit that made him the leading light of the traditional, self-published (locked room) mystery novels. While it would have been nice if the locked room murder would have developed into something better, it's not the end-all. Particularly, if behind that locked door is, what's in every other regard, a first-rate detective story playing the Grandest Game in the World. I very much look forward to the next title in the series or perhaps another crazy-ass piece of pulp like the standalone The 5 False Suicides (2021). Either way, I'll be there!


Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931) by Francis Beeding

"Francis Beeding" was the shared pseudonym of two writers, John Palmer and Hilary St. George Saunders, who collaborated on more than thirty crime, detective and thriller novels – published over twenty-one year period from 1925 to 1946. The successful collaboration ended with Palmer's death in 1944. Saunders made a one-time return to the genre with an authorized and localized reworking of Pierre Boileau's Le repos de Bacchus (The Rest of Bacchus, 1937) published in English as The Sleeping Bacchus (1951). An excellent impossible crime caper in the Arsène Lupin mold, but the novel for which Saunders and the Francis Beeding collaboration is mostly remembered today is something entirely different.

Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931), the tenth novel that appeared under the Francis Beeding penname, enjoyed tremendous popularity and status as a genre classic for decades. Some of its fame had began to fade towards the end of the previous century, but the reprint renaissance restored it to its former prestige when it was reprinted in 2011. And its reputation is not wholly undeserved.

Beeding's Death Walks in Eastrepps is not the first mystery novel to feature a serial killer or a string of apparently random, unconnected murders. Anthony Berkeley's The Silk Stocking Murders (1928), S.S. van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case (1928) and John Rhode's The Murders in Praed Street (1928) all preceded it, but Death Walks in Eastrepps is the first to explore more than just the hidden-link between random victims and what can be done with a serial killer on the loose inside the pages of a detective story – essentially creating one of the first genuine, Golden Age mystery-thrillers. Over the decades, a who's who of writers tried their hands at a serial killer mystery-thriller, most of which tend to lean towards one or the other. Philip MacDonald's Murder Gone Mad (1931) and Brian Flynn's The Edge of Terror (1932) leaned towards the thriller, while Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders (1936) and Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails (1949) headed in the opposite direction. Death Walks in Eastrepps has received credit and praise for other elements of the story, but I'll get to them in a moment.

Robert Eldridge is a successful, financially secure businessman who occupies a small villa in Oakfield Terrace, Eastrepps, traveling to London once or twice a week to keep an eye on things at the office. This outwardly respectable businessman has dark, long buried secret. Robert Eldridge is really the notorious James Selby of Anaconda Ltd.

In 1914, James Selby absconded with a large sum ("the amount was over one hundred and ninety thousand pounds") of the company's funds and bolted to South America. And left behind ruined victims numbering in the hundreds. After sixteen years, Selby's physical appearance had undergone a drastic change, "tactfully obliterated by time and the razor," which helped to cover his tracks "so completely that no one could possibly suspect." So voyaged back home under a new name, settled down in Eastrepps and began a secret affair with a married woman, Margaret Withers, who needs grounds to divorce her husband and not the other way round – or risk losing her daughter. Eldridge does some clever maneuvering to put together a weekly alibi, appearing to be in London, to spend a night with Margaret. Appearing at the local station the next morning as the first London train drew in ("and nobody any the wiser"). While this affair is going on, the murders begin to happen.

The first victim is a spinster, Mary Hewitt, who's body is found in Coatt's Spinney strangely stabbed through the right temporal bone without any signs of a struggle ("it could hardly have been inflicted by surprise, and yet the victim apparently made no resistance"). A murder that poses a problem for the local police, Inspector Protheroe and Sergeant Ruddock, because Eastrepps has "no crime whatever in the real sense of the word." Inspector Protheroe believes "this murder in Coatt's Spinney could only be regarded as a bright exception" and even an opportunity to finally get noticed in order to get transferred to a busier district. And then a second body is found. And a third. And a fourth. Every victim is killed on the same day in exactly the same, peculiar way.

One thing that becomes very apparent after the second and third body is discovered is that the murders are not merely padding for the story, and bodycount, but has very real consequences for the investigating police and the community. A community made up of numerous, distinctly individual characters who are all affected differently by the murders.

Firstly, Eastrepps is a small, seaside town attracting a rowdy crowd of tourists, young men in blazers and young women in white pleated skirts, which Eastrepps did not encourage, but the third murder cleared the town of its visitors – a blow to the local economy ("there isn't a boarding-house in the town that isn't hit as badly..."). The tourists who were already in town quickly packed their bags and rooms booked in advanced were canceled. Only the press has an outside presence in town and dubbed the murderer "the Eastrepps Evil." Secondly, the murders have a very real, noticeable effect on the day-to-day life of the local residents as everything is "curiously calm." There are few people in the shops and still fewer on out in the streets. Even at ten-thirty on a Saturday morning and when the evening falls, the streets are deserted as the citizenry locked themselves into their houses ("a city of the dead"). One person who ventured outside wore a crash helmet for protection. When the murders mercilessly continue, the panic grows resulting in the formation of the Eastrepps Vigilance Association and calls for placing the town under martial law. Thirdly, every new murder increases the pressure on the police to get results and criticism grows every day without results ("...swarming about all over the place and letting folk be murdered in their beds?"). A wrong, bungled arrest and several more murders is not making their jobs any easier. There are even questions being asked in the House, which leads to a huge row and suspension of one of its Honourable Members. A funny little scene that allowed the story to catch its breath.

I think this is the biggest contribution the book made to the Golden Age serial killer thriller. The murders aren't merely padding to give the serial killer a bodycount to match the title nor are the victims just pawns with a name-tag. They were well-known, sometimes highly respected and beloved whose violent deaths are both mourned and have very real consequences for the town, investigators and everyone who gets caught up in their investigation. A second arrest is made and this time the suspect goes to trial with a long courtroom scene preceding the dramatic ending. Beeding even went for a grand surprise, a final twist, which undoubtedly was as surprising to readers in 1931 as Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) was five years earlier, but the passage of time has severely blunted it. This idea, or trick, has been done to death ever since with even Christie giving it the good, old college try. Although it has been touted as a first, it has been done before in the 1800s and early 1900s. However, it's undeniable Beeding really worked on the idea and refined it to the point where most readers today can probably instinctively identity the murderer. And make an educated guess about the somewhat ambiguous, but well-handled motive.

There are, however, one or two things to nitpick about. First of all, the false arrest came as a result of the presence of a mentally unbalanced, young man, "partial to female society," who sneaks out of his locked bedroom to stalk woman in the street and tip his head at them. A little too convenient to have such a character in the vicinity coming on top of the Robert Eldridge plot-thread positioning so many of his former victims as next door neighbors. This simply came across as cheap and second-rate, but mercifully, only a small part of the story. Secondly, the book suffers from happy-ending syndrome trying to sugarcoat its dark, grim ending in an “all's well that ends well” wrap-up. However, the damage the murderer has done by that point has been so extensive that the only way to salvage anything good from the human wreckage is for the murderer to have gotten away with it. I suppose it's not something that would have gone down well in 1931, but it would have been the most fitting, least painful ending to the story as it never addresses (sugarcoated) the consequences of the real murderer getting revealed, arrested, convicted and finally executed. Such as (SPOILER/ROT13) gur unatvat bs na vaabprag zna sbe gur zheqref, gur choyvp uhzvyvngvba bs Znetnerg jub yvxryl ybfg phfgbql bs ure qnhtugre va gur qvibepr naq gur frevbhf qnzntr qbar gb gur erchgngvba naq cerfgvtr bs gur cbyvpr naq pbhegf, juvpu erdhver fbzr urnqf gb ebyy.

Regardless of those little stylistic annoyances, Death Walks in Eastrepps comes highly recommended as an exciting and thrilling read with some genuine clever touches to the plotting and storytelling. A truly vintage mystery-thriller with real stakes that holds up well more than ninety years after its original publication. I enjoyed it so much, I moved Beeding's The Norwich Victims (1931) to the top of the pile.


Scientists and Sorcerers: Q.E.D. vol. 31-32 by Motohiro Katou

I closed out last month with a selection of favorite cases from the detective series of the 21st century, "The Hit List: Top 10 Favorite Cases from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 1-25," which was an attempt to highlight the rich, diverse and often downright original approach the series takes to telling a detective story – until personal tastes intervened. So the list ended up being slightly more slanted towards the more conventional detective stories ("Glass Room," vol. 15) and locked room mysteries ("Secret Blue Room," vol. 6) than the unconventional ("Breakthrough," vol. 3) explorations of characters and concepts ("Three Birds," vol. 18). On a whole, I think the list is a fair sampling of what makes Q.E.D. such a unique, often original series designed as a new kind of detective story for a new century.

In the previous Q.E.D. review (vol. 29 and 30), I outlined the plan to reach vol. 36 or 38 by the end of the year and begin sampling C.M.B. in January in anticipation of the crossover event (C.M.B. vol. 19 and Q.E.D. vol. 41). But cranking out that top 10 might have caused a tiny delay. Either it's going to take a little longer to get close to vol. 40 or you might see an uptick in Q.E.D. posts over the next two months. So probably an extra review and promised to revisit "Christmas Eve Eve" (vol. 24) in December, which can be reviewed together with "The Drama Murder Case." A one-shot extra to commemorate the TV drama and comments suggest the story is a special one. Something for Q.E.D. fans, all three of you, to hopefully look forward to. And for everyone, be patient, I'll return to the Golden Age presently.

The first of two stories from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 31, "The Devil in the Eyes," takes place in the United States and concerns Sou Touma's best friend, Syd "Loki" Green – who really needs some help. And not just him. Another one of Loki's friends, Walter Lucas, has been developing a new jet engine for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics under its director, Professor John Rosenfeld. Several years ago, Lucas made a breakthrough, "successfully increased the conventional engine output up to 25%," which was published in a thesis co-authored with Professor Rosenfeld. The thesis "send the world of science into an uproar" and funds came poring in to further his research, but several tests carried out based on the thesis failed to reproduce the results. So now Lucas has appeared at an administrative hearing demanding to see the original research data, or face the consequences of the hearing concluding the thesis must have been fabricated, but claims the data has been stolen. What's more, Lucas accuses the influential Professor Rosenfeld ("...one of the greatest scientists alive...") stole the data to get him out of the picture.

Funnily enough, a similar plot-thread about professors taking credit, "the professor makes history, while the poor assistant is pushed to the sidelines," can be found in Max Dalman's previously reviewed Poison Unknown (1939). Anyway...

Loki helped Lucas with the calculations on his thesis and has seen the real data, which is why has to give testimony at the next hearing, but it's possible Lucas only showed him "a certain set of numbers which would definitely show good results." If Loki testifies in Lucas favors, "it's the same as calling the professor a liar" ("...my research funds for next year will be put on hold permanently"). So asked Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara to come to the United States to help him out of his precarious situation. At one point, Touma ominously announces, "the greatest weapon we can use to get closer to the truth is mathematics," but this is not math puzzle or even about what really happened to the original research data. It's all secondary to shining a light on the darker side of scientific research with its many pitfalls ("their obsession over getting results hangs like a sword over their necks and they begin to insist that their theory is true, which is when you the devil in their eyes"). Just as importantly is how Touma manages to resolve this tricky problem. A good and above all successful example of the character-driven, humanists detective stories that makes this story standout as something entirely different.

The second story, "Promise," goes back to the traditional whodunit with who-of-the-three style plot that would not have been out of place in Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed.

Three years ago, a pair of climbing buddies got into trouble on a snowy mountain peak when one got injured, cut the rope that tied them together and told him to keep going, but asked his climbing buddy for one last wish – namely murder. The wounded mountaineer asks his buddy to promise him to kill a man by the name of Komada Riichi ("please kill him so I can rest in peace"). This promise is overheard. Someone remembered the story of the strange, eerie promise when Komada Riichi dies there three years later in an apparent accident.

Komada Riichi came to the district to climb a mountain with three friends, Hodaka Noboru, Asou Shizuka and Kita Morio, but bad weather forced them to setup their tents on a ledge. Komada went into the tent to take a rest, but suddenly came out looking dazed and simply stumbled over the cliff, which looks like an unfortunate accident. But rumors of "the murder brought about by the promise" forces the local police to take a closer look. And evidence of murder is quickly found. The autopsy revealed traces of a strong sedative and an impression of bloody, circular shape on his right hand palm. Like a shirt button. Komada Riichi was still holding it after the accident and "then that round object was removed." Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara are on a school hiking trip in the area when the murder-disguised-as-accident happened, but they don't get involved until the local policeman, Sakadaru Shosuke, comes to Tokyo to ask Inspector Mizuhara for advise.

This is a story full of interest. Firstly, the murder is essentially an impossible crime as nobody was close enough to have pushed Komada Riichi to his death. While the trick relies on a chance occurrence and the crime scene, or circumstances, wouldn't immediately suggest it, the solution is firmly in the Chesterton-Carr tradition of impossible crimes (SPOILER/ROT13: erneenatrzragf va fcnpr naq gvzr). And not a bad impossible crime story at that. Secondly, Touma sits on the sideline and primarily acts as an armchair detective who listens and weighs the facts gathered and brought to him by Mizuhara and Shosuke. Even more important than the tricks or whodunit proved to be the question of motive and the burden of responsibility that can come with making a heartfelt promise. Simply a great and excellent story to close out a strong entry in the Q.E.D. series.

The first of two stories from vol. 32, "Magic & Magic," has a good shot of making the future top 10 favorites from vol. 26-50 as it's now one of my favorites.

Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara attend a show of a famous illusionist, Kurohoushi Manto, who dazzles the audience and Mizuhara keeps bugging Touma to tell her how all the tricks works. Touma has brought a book on the subject, Modern Magic: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Conjuring, which he bought from a secondhand store. Manto notices not only Touma explaining his tricks to Mizuhara, but the book as well. So takes the book and tells them to come see him after the show. Manto explains to the two that "a magician is an actor who plays the part of a wizard" and "the most important element in a magic show" is always surprise, but has seen Touma is not a kid who's easily hoodwinked. What the magician does is put down a challenge: if he can surprise Touma with "magic the world has never witnessed before," he gets to keep the book (“...it does nothing to surprise you”). A challenge roping in the owner of a magic shop, Kubikiri Fujio, who once misappropriated some of Manto's tricks and now, shortly after making the bet, intends to settle that old debt – demanding to be taught "the trick nobody has ever seen." This challenge to surprise the teenage detective culminates with the book impossibly disappearing from a locked safe, guarded by Touma and Mizuhara, while Manto performed his illusions for a live audience.

Grand as it may sound, the locked room-trick has a fairly simple, surprisingly straightforward explanation, however, the locked room and magic tricks are not the crux of the plot. It's all about Manto trying to surprise Touma. There's a small, but essential, difference between surprising and fooling someone, which is exactly what makes the ending to "Magic & Magic" so great. Great in a very small, modest way. One of those small things that matter the most ("...that's my special magic performance"). Bravo Katou! Simply as an impossible crime story, minor as it is, “Magic & Magic” is a story fans of Clayton Rawson, Tom Mead and the Jonathan Creek series will likely enjoy and appreciate. Particularly the opening with all the magic tricks and explanations. Such as how Manto disappeared from a chair with flour spread across the stage to show the audience no trapdoors are being used. Just an enjoyable story all around!



Regrettably, the second and last story of vol. 32, "Red File," is one of the most boring, completely forgettable stories in the entire series. I have already forgotten most about the story except that involves a dead accountant, a missing file, a disgraced journalist and another person from Touma's days in the United States, Chris Flyer, but somehow, the story simply failed to grab my attention. So an uncharacteristically poor, uninteresting story and a downer to end on after three great stories. But three out of four ain't bad.

So, all in all, not a bad score at all for these two volumes with only “Red File” severely under performing and the other three representing some of the very best the series has to offer. I just think "The Devil in the Eyes" and "Magic & Magic" should have been put together in a single volume, because I liked how their scientific and magical themes contrasted with how they tackled plotting, storytelling and characterization. But other than that, I look forward to the next two volumes and especially to "The Detective Novelist Murder Case"!


Poison Unknown (1939) by Max Dalman

Not much known today about "Max Dalman," born Max Dalman Binns, except that he was an journalist, publisher and the author of fifteen mystery novels, but "his sudden death at 46, leaving his wife with three children mostly under age 10, seems to have undercut his fame" – rapidly falling out-of-print and into obscurity. A similar fate befell his father, Ottwell Binns, who wrote adventure and mystery novels under the pseudonym "Ben Bolt" until his death in 1935. Interestingly, the (partial) bibliography lists numerous posthumously published novels and perhaps Dalman cut his teeth by completing or simply continuing his father's work. The posthumous novels appear to have dribbled to a stop following the publications of Dalman's first two detective novels, Three Strangers (1937) and The Hidden Light (1937).

Either way, Dalman had been largely forgotten and out-of-print for decades, until John Norris reviewed three of his books back in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, Black Heath reissued fourteen of fifteen novels as ebooks. The Elusive Nephew (1948) is the only title missing as the book is "extremely elusive itself."

Normally, I would be all over Dalman's third novel, Vampire Abroad (1938), but, for once, I'm not going to be an uncouth pulp monger with locked rooms on the brain. I decided to go with the fifth novel, Poison Unknown (1939), which appears to have been his most successful novel and praised at the time in The Observer by Torquemada, "the ways in which the author flouts convention in this thriller are entirely intentional, and rather stimulating than otherwise," but John Norris also thought highly of it – comparing it to some of Agatha Christie's "devilish murder mysteries." I stalled my locked room hobby horse and picked this long overlooked poisoning puzzle as my introduction to Max Dalman. So will he turns out to be another solid, unjustly forgotten mid-list writer or even better than expected? Time to find out!

Juliot Research Institute is the backdrop of Poison Unknown, "founded under a bequest about ten years ago with the intention of bridging the undoubted gap between the time a brilliant young scientist leaves college" and "the time when he can hope to get any kind of university appointment," which provides places for a professor, a demonstrator and four students. Professor Charles Roseland is the head of the research institute with his future son-in-law, Francis Seymour, acting as demonstrator. The four students in question are Paul Danton, Richard Thursden, Dermot Hope and Gaspar Wiedermann. What they do is called pharmacological research, but it comes down that everyone at the institute is "working upon some particularly subtle poison." Everything from aconite and arsenic to South American arrow poison and a new alkaloid ("...improving on Nature"). There is, however, trouble brewing at the institute.

Professor Roseland, "a swine in many ways," is not exactly popular at the institute. Over the years, the aging professor has been heavily leaning on the brains and results of the students. Professor Roseland publishes their results and gets the credit for all the work done, while the students who did the actual work received a mention at the end somewhere as "Mr. So-and-so" who "washed out the beakers and handed things to him." So when the professor is found dead in his laboratory, Inspector McCleod and Sergeant Ambrose not only have plenty of potential suspects on their hands, but a sudden death that's open to multiple interpretations.

It could have simply been a natural death as Professor Roseland had a weak heart and bumped his head on the way down. It could have been an accidental death as there were broken pieces of glass next the body beside the body's left outstretched arm and clutching a large cork in his right hand. There's always the remote possibility of suicide, but there's immediate talk of murder. The odd-jobs-man, Couche, claims to have caught a glimpse of a government letter addressed to the professor mentioning foreign spies and poisonous gas. During the war, Professor Roseland worked for the government on poison gas. Just moments before his body was discovered, someone suspiciously named John Smith visited the institute to ask where to find the professor. John Smith is someone who's very familiar to Inspector McCleod.

So, on first glance, Poison Unknown appears conventional enough. A detective novel, more or less, in line with Freeman Wills Crofts and John Rhode, but then the story and plot creates some pleasingly unexpected plot-patterns – beginning with playing on the case-for-three-detectives approach. Sylvia Roseland bands together with Paul Danton and her uncle, Dr. Boynley, to prove Seymour's alibi and clear her fiancé of suspicion. Normally, in mysteries from the British Realists School, it's the profession and trained policeman trying to breakdown alibis, but here we have three amateur detective trying to prove an alibi. Something that pleasing contrasted and complemented the first mysterious death with its multiple interpretations recalling Ronald A. Knox's The Three Taps (1927) and J.J. Connington's The Case with Nine Solutions (1928). Such as the problem of all the available, easily accessible, poisons comprising of a hitherto unknown, newly developed poison ("they would die instantly, painlessly, in a way no man had died before..."), venomous darts found underneath the body and the possibility the broken glass contained a deadly gas. A truly great premise for a Golden Age detective novel that (worryingly) flirted heavily with the locked room mystery ("it just knocks a bigger hole in the 'sealed room' idea"). For a moment, it looked impossible to escape those infernal locked rooms.

Most impressive of all is how Dalman managed to pull a tricky, purposely muddled plot together as a lesser mystery writer would undoubtedly have relayed on two, or three, independently acting culprits to muddy the waters and muddling the clues. Dalman kept things tight and concise with a good idea on how to spin a great deal of complexity, while keeping it simple. That helped in delivering a fairly convincing and mostly satisfying solution. However, while Poison Unknown is a good, solid mid-tier detective novel, it could have been so much more than that. Dalman unfortunately was very much a second-stringer who lacked the storytelling verve and plotting finesse to do more than touch upon the good, even somewhat original, ideas without fully exploring or exploiting them. A lot faded out before the ending rolls around and only the excellent explanation as to what, exactly, happened to Professor Roseland saved it from becoming a saggy disappointment.

Poison Unknown is not necessarily a bad detective story. On the contrary, it's a pretty solid, second-string mystery novel comparable to some of the better efforts from John Russell Fearn, Gerald Verner and Hampton Stone, but a second-stringer regardless. Poison Unknown has a good foundation as it lightheartedly flaunts the conventions without breaking them, but it has its shortcomings. The kind of shortcomings that noticeably detract from everything it did right, dragging everything down with it. So very difficult to unhesitatingly recommend and if this turns out to be true for all of Dalman's novels, I can see why he has been largely forgotten today. Nevertheless, I'm still going to try his two locked room mysteries, The Hidden Light and Vampire Abroad. And maybe one of his World War II mysteries. Mask for Murder (1940) and Death Before Day (1942) sound somewhat promising. So to be continued...


The Siren's Call (1998) by Paul Halter

Paul Halter's Le cri de la siréne (The Siren's Call, 1998) is the 12th novel to feature his amateur criminologist, but chronologically, the first in the series as it recounts Dr. Alan Twist's maiden voyage as an investigator of "unusual facts and strange phenomena" – introducing him to the world of impossible crimes. The Siren's Call is the latest Halter novel to be translated and published by John Pugmire's Locked Room International.

The Siren's Call takes place in September, 1922, in a wild, remote corner of Cornwall ("rich in legend and unexplained phenomena"). A then young Dr. Alan Twist had upon earning his doctorate abandoned the field of philosophy to dedicate himself to the study of the occult and investigating the paranormal. Like a John Bell or Alexander Hero. Dr. Twist has been invited by James Malleson to come down to his place, Moretonbury Manor, to investigate a haunted attic room.

Just like everyone involved in the Great War, James Malleson had a rough time in trenches, "the nightmare last three years" with "death as the constant companion," which is a torment apt to change a man – physically and mentally. A physical "souvenir" from the war is a disfiguring face scar and Malleson assumed his mind was still disturbed ("memories of the war haunt me...") when the nighttime phenomenon started. One year ago, Malleson began to hear noises and the sound of footsteps in the night. Always emanating from the so-called Rose Room in the attic that has been kept locked for the past twenty years. However, the ghostly occurrences became more tangible when it roused the entire household. Both his wife, Lydia, and her cousin, Edgar, heard the footsteps. Whoever is prowling around, the person appears to be trapped as he, or she, could not have escaped without being seen. So they move upstairs, unlocked and opened the door to make an astonishing discovery. An unused room locked for decades should have been coated in dust and cobwebs, but the room is "perfectly clean and orderly" with a cozy oil lamp burning on the bedside table and a strangely sweet, intoxicating scent pervading the room ("...as if a fairy had passed through it"). Naturally, the nocturnal visitor is nowhere to be found.

An excellent setup for a detective story presented as a ghostly yarn, but the plot immediately begins to twist and turn. Dr. Twist begins to get an idea why the region has "always been fertile grounds for legends, mysterious occurrences and supernatural apparitions" from "hellish hounds and headless horses" to "murmuring rivers, phantom cottages and pigs with wings."

First of all, there are the local legends of the Banshees whose screams spell doom to everyone who does not hear their gravely summons. Its victims from the region include Lydia's grandfather and father. Sir Charles Cranston, Lydia's grandfather, died mere hours after everyone at the pub heard the unearthly cries except him. And he died that very night in "unbelievable circumstances." Several people witnessed Sir Charles getting chased by a winged creature ending with a struggle at the top of an old tower, before shoving Sir Charles to his death. A similar fate was reserved for Lydia's father, Julian. So you would think this is going to be an impossible crime novel in the spirit of Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit (1944), but very quickly becomes so much more reminiscent of John Dickson Carr's The Crooked Hinge (1938). Dr. Twist is presented with a much more grounded mystery, but with a much more horrifying explanation than what lurks behind the screams, winged creatures and the phantom footsteps.

Jason Malleson's identity has come under scrutiny as rumors has reached Scotland Yard that an impostor, or usurper, "took advantage of his comrade's death om the front lines to take his place." The police believes Malleson was replaced by his comrade-in-arms and "a crook well-known to the French Sûreté," Patrick Degan, who had a taste for good cognac, silk ties and had a habit of twirling his mustache – as well as being a formidable chess player. Nothing at all like the Jason Malleson who went to the front, but exactly described the Jason Malleson who returned. So the Yard dispatched Archibald Hurst to the place to carry out a discreet investigation and begins to work together with Dr. Alan Twist, which is the beginning of the collaborations and friendship. However, Malleson has been passing every conceivable test with flying colors for years. From following his wife, her cousin and their physician, Dr. Fred Cummings, to two intensive memory tests. The first is performed by the lexicographer and local eccentric, Jeremy Bell, who's a dead ringer for Dr. Gideon Fell and tutored a young Jason. The second test is carried out by Jason's cousin and childhood crony, William Lucas. They all conclude he must be the real Jason Malleson. You can almost call this plot-thread a psychological impossibility. A very well handled one at that!

This is still only the beginning as the Banshees started screaming again and someone died under practically identical circumstances as Sir Charles twenty years previously. And much more!

The Siren's Call has a brimming plot, spinning and bubbling like a witch's brew, which has an ending to match and came close to classic status, but its effect and impact got somewhat diminished by all the clutter and background noise. It would have been better if the story had mostly focused on the haunted attic room, James Malleson's identity and the two present-day murders should have been non-impossible crimes with the stories of screaming entities and winged creatures being nothing more than local color and gossip. It would eliminated the necessity of having to explain all those impossible deaths, screams and supernatural creatures with disappointing solutions, which now seriously took away from its brilliant core (SPOILER/ROT13: n ernyyl vatravbhf cynl ba gur zhygvcyr snyfr-vqragvgvrf jvgu bar bs gurz orvat (znrfgeb!) n “qbhoyr rkcbfher” pbzcyrgr jvgu n svany gjvfg). Something worthy of being called a genre classic and neo-GAD. But as it stands, The Siren's Call ended up being a tale of two detective stories: the detective story it could have been and the detective story we got. Regrettably, the detective story we got is not the classic it could have been. Regardless, a good, solid and intriguing mid-tier Halter novel telling the origin story of Dr. Twist and why he abandoned the paranormal to dedicate himself to criminal investigations.

A note for the curious: In Chapter 8 ("The Call of the Abyss"), Jeremy Bell asks Dr. Twist what attracts him to mysteries and answers it's the lure of the unknown and a love for puzzles. Jeremy Bell gives him this warning, "beware, Mr. Twist. Enigma is a dangerous mistress. She is diabolically attractive. Her perfume inflames men's spirits. She excites them and renders them eternal slaves to her charms, which she never reveals." Well, that pretty much explains everyone who's addicted to mysteries. From obsessing over detective stories to those who dive head first down the JFK rabbit hole.