The Case of the Burnt Bohemian (1953) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush's 42nd Ludovic Travers novel, The Case of the Burnt Bohemian (1953), takes place during the period in the series when Travers juggled between his positions as chairman of the Broad Street Detective Agency and, what they call, "an unofficial expert" to Scotland Yard – whenever Chief Superintendent George Wharton has a case requiring more than routine police work. A specialist with an agile mind "to theorise and suggest." Bush neatly used this juggling between positions to present Travers with two separate, apparently unconnected cases that quickly turn out to be closely intertwined.

The Case of the Burnt Bohemian begins on a routine office day for Travers at the Broadstreet Agency when a prospective client calls with a request somewhat outside the daily routine.

Dr. Arthur Chale, a psychiatrist, believes his life is in danger ("we deal with all sorts of queer people, you know") and wants to know whether the agency can "supply some sort of bodyguard." Travers advises Chale to go to the police for protection, "it's their business to do the job for nothing," but he doesn't want publicity nor name the person who's threatening him – agreeing to discuss the matter personal the following day. This strange phone call does not sit well with Travers who immediately begins to dig around for background information on the psychiatrist, which "produced a story of blackmail, hypnotism, collaboration with Germans and a probable shooting against a wall" ("all the ingredients needed, in fact, for a popular thriller"). That's only one-half of his problem. The other half comes when Wharton calls to ask him come to a place called Borden Walk in Chelsea.

A reclusive, completely unknown painter, Vandyke Sindle, is found stabbed to death and badly burned in the north top studio of the Chelsea flat in Borden Walk. Sindle was found lying face down in a little bonfire, but the fire was discovered in time to prevent it from consuming the whole place. And the body. However, Sindle's back was badly burned with his face and hands entirely destroyed ("even the dental plates had gone"). So was the fire started to conceal the cause of death or the victim's identity? Travers then begins to uncover links between the case of the so-called nervous psychiatrist and the burnt bohemian cemented when a second murder comes to light and Chale failed to meet his appointment. A problem as pretty as it's tricky!

I recounted in past reviews how Bush pivoted from the traditional, 1930s British whodunits to the realism of the American hardboiled school, of Raymond Chandler, slowly transforming Travers from an amateur detective into a private investigator – who narrates his own cases. This transition was not without some rough spots or growing pains resulting in a few poorly plotted novels (e.g. The Case of the Fourth Detective, 1951), but Bush rebounded around the mid-1950s. While the plots were trimmed down affairs compared to the elaborately-plotted 1930s titles, the plots began to resettle along classical lines (e.g. The Case of the Three Lost Letters, 1954) and Bush appeared to draw on the detective stories he probably enjoyed reading earlier in the century. The Case of the Flowery Corpse (1956) feels closer to the work of J.J. Connington and R. Austin Freeman than his own work from the '20s and '30s. You can say practically the same about The Case of the Burnt Bohemian with the emphasis on the problem of blurred, destroyed or faked identities rather than picking alibis apart. The term alibi is probably uttered fewer than a half dozen times, but the problem of identification, obscured pasts and possible motives offer the two detectives with plenty of material to check up on or theorize about. Props to Bush for revealing that one “twist” well before the ending, because that possibility should be gnawing away at every reader at that point. So instead of trying to draw out a cheap surprise, Bush used it to send Travers and Wharton back to the drawing board to start again from scratch.

The Case of the Burnt Bohemian is an engrossing, fairly clued and cleverly constructed detective novel, but even more than that, I enjoyed seeing Travers and Wharton back together again – both of whom can be counted among my favorite detective characters. When this series and the genre was its height, Bush nailed the relationship dynamics between the amateur detective and professional policeman perfectly with Travers and Wharton. Travers even gets upstaged a couple of times by the theatrical Wharton to show he's no Lestrade. Travers describes their collaborations as "a peculiar, haphazard, spasmodic kind of association" in which Wharton ("as Grand Inquisitor") takes care of the routine, while Travers "supposed to have the right kind of manners to interview the right kind of people" and permitted under Wharton's scrutiny to theorize. Travers explains: "if I'm wrong, the theory was mine. If it looks promising, it's ours. If it happens to be a winner, I ultimately discover that it was his." Or, when Travers points out the clues/tells they missed, Wharton nonchalantly responds, "funny you should miss a thing like that."

It's one of the elements making the 1930s and early '40s titles a highlight of both this series and the Golden Age detective story. It's therefore sad to see Bush had obviously grown tired of Wharton and had no more need for him as a character. Travers is even becoming tired of his shenanigans. Bush began to fade him out of the series, before quietly retiring him after his brief appearance in The Case of the Russian Cross (1957). Wharton in these 1950s novels does feel a bit like a relic from the series past, but I'll always appreciate the "Old General" and it was good to see him back again with Travers this late in the game. And tackling a worthy case to boot. Highly recommended to fans of the series.


The Hit List: Top 5 Intriguing Pieces of Impossible Crime Fiction That Vanished into Thin Air

Earlier this year, I put together a depressing list of our genre's so-called "lost media" section, "The Hit List: Top 10 Works of Detective Fiction That Have Been Lost to History," which focused exclusively on destroyed or irretrievably lost novels and short stories – eschewing still existent, unpublished manuscripts. Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Toad-in-the-Hole and Christianna Brand's The Chinese Puzzle are merely taking their time to get to the printers.

So the list ranges from Jacques Futrelle and the last batch of "The Thinking Machine" being among the casualties of the Titanic disaster to a collaboration between John Dickson Carr and playwright J.B. Priestley which never materialized. All the entries on the list were in various stages of completion, before the manuscripts got lost in a shuffle or simply destroyed. Never to be seen again in our reality, but I like to believe there's an alternate reality where Joseph Commings' One for the Devil and Hake Talbot's The Affair of the Half-Witness secured a place on "The Updated Mammoth List of My Favorite Tales of Locked Room Murders & Impossible Crimes."

I wanted to do another one of these lists, but had no original idea or worthy topic and "The Hit List: Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated" didn't garner nearly enough reader suggestions to do a follow-up. Only recently it hit me. Something was left on the cutting room floor of the previous hit list that could be marshaled into a small, hopefully interesting addendum to the list of lost detective stories.

From my studies of Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) and Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019), I found several novels and a collection of short stories of a particularly elusive nature going beyond being out-of-print, scarce and expensive – like A. & P. Shaffer's Withered Murder (1955). A short list of titles that were, technically speaking, published, but barely left a trace of their existence. Some would have been all but forgotten today had they not been listed by Adey and Skupin in Locked Room Murders. So here are five published locked room mysteries and impossible crime fiction that appear to have vanished into thin air.


1. Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories (????) by Jan Deuell

The first title on this list Jan Deuell's Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories. A collection of short stories listed in Skupin with three stories, "Murder Through Locked Doors," "The Spread-Eagled Man" and "The Case of the Castle Keep," published by Llanelli. Nobody knows when the collection was originally published and no copies can be found online or anywhere else for that matter. Only site mentioning the collection is Allen J. Hubin's "CrimeFiction IV, Part 31," suggesting "Jan Deuell" is probably a pseudonym and lists an additional, presumably non-impossible crime, story for the collection, "The Edinburgh Mail." These often tantalizing-sounding puzzles are solved by Gorden Darch and Doctor Jan, but not much else is known about this truly forgotten series. However, I have a theory to explain it.

I think the Gordon Darch and Doctor Jan stories were published or serialized in the Welsh newspaper The Llanelly Mercury, but never officially collected and published. This very ephemeral Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories could be nothing more than a scrapbook with the clippings of Deuell's newspaper serials or stories, which somehow ended up in Adey's impossible crime collection. A single, undated scrapbook of newspaper cuttings explains why neither Adey nor Skupin could give its original publication date, because the idea of Murder Through Locked Doors and Other Stories never got that far.


2. The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom (1937) by Esther Fonseca

This is the only dodgy title on the list as it's closer to an scarce extremely, out-of-print novel, but the reportedly 2012 reprint apparently disappeared without a trace.

I first learned of Esther Fonseca's The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom in Locked Room Murders: Supplement and noted a UK edition from 2012, but all the internet could turn up was a contemporary review of the original, 1937 US edition – published by Doubleday, Doran. I eventually cottoned on to the fact that the opposite page has a number of entries from Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series from the 2010s. So to the mention of a 2012 reprint of The Thirteenth Bed in the Ballroom is simply a print error, which doesn't make the original edition any less obscure or rare. It has a few mentions online and that one review, but nothing else. Not even a book cover. Fonseca's Death Below the Dam (1936) fared a little better as used copies are still available. Just not cheaply. A shame. Something about the plot speaks to me ("a breaking dam... raging flood waters... an isolated island... and a murderer at large").


3. Pattern of Terror (1987) by Ayresome Johns

"Ayresome Johns" is the pseudonym of the late George Locke, pharmacist, antiquarian bookseller, bibliographer and publisher, who was primarily involved in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Locke was also involved with the detective genre and not only published the first version of Adey's Locked Room Murders in 1979, but also published The Roger Sheringham Stories (1993) and The Anthony Berkeley Cox Files: Notes Towards a Bibliography (1993). A good two decades ahead of the reprint renaissance. More importantly, Locke wrote a fascinating sounding impossible crime novel under his "Ayresome Johns" penname.

Adey lists Pattern of Terror with no less than three impossible situations: death by shooting with "no external wound to correspond with the heart wound," an inexplicable poisoning and "various locked room murder" – "actual and proposed." The detective tackling these problems is "ace investigator of the Antiquarian Booksellers Society of Great Britain," John Anderson. I peeked at Adey's comment at the back of the book, while holding my hand over the solutions, praising it as "a great pudding-mix of a novel" and called the solution to the first impossibility ingenious. Regrettably, Locke was a small, independent publisher who only printed limited copies. So available copies or additional information are non-existent. I really would like to see Pattern of Terror return to print, because it strikes me as the kind of wildly imaginative detective story that would be much appreciated in today's reprint renaissance and locked room revival. Fingers crossed!


4. Murder at the Drum Tower (1965?) by Ning Xu

Just like the previous entry is a perfect fit for today's locked room revival, Ning Xu's Murder at the Drum Tower sounds like it missed out on the current translation wave. Skupin notes in Locked Room Murders: Supplement that Murder at the Drum Tower was published by Australian publisher Whitecross in 1994, but good luck finding any trace or scrap of information on the book. You really to vary and juggle your search terms to get an atom of proof the book actually exists. So there's a ready-made translation out there, somewhere in the Australian outbacks, of a Chinese detective novel centering on a stabbing and shooting inside a locked tower room. For some, unsubstantiated reason I assume Murder at the Drum Tower is a historical mystery. So a reprint would make an interesting companion piece to Chin Shunshin's Pekin yūyūkan (Murder in a Peking Studio, 1976), Futaro Yamada's Meiji dantodai (The Meiji Guillotine Murders, 1979) and Taku Ashibe's Koromu no satusjin (Murder in the Red Chamber, 2004)


5. The Mountain by Night (1997) by Maisie Birmingham

Maisie Birmingham is the author of the short-lived Kate Weatherly series, published during the 1970s, but added one last title to the series decades later. Skupin's introduction to Locked Room Murders: Supplement highlighted The Mountain by Night as "worthy of note" concerning a strangulation in a locked house, but, once again, copies appeared to be non-existent. I suspected at the time Birmingham had privately published The Mountain by Night, because Amazon gives "M.P. Birmingham" as its publisher. This proved to be a correct assumption.

A 2021 comment from Jamie Sturgeon shed some light on the elusiveness of The Mountain by Night: "the Maisie Birmingham was published by the author herself, I corresponded briefly with her (in the early 2000s I think it was) and she sent me a copy, all I remember is that it was spiral bound and was a locked room mystery, I sold the book to Bob Adey hence it turning up in the Skupin book. As to what happened to Bob Adey's copy I do not know." I later came across this archived link providing some background on the series, a plot description of The Mountain by Night and how "copies of the book can be purchased from the author." So a limited print run of a privately published novel is the culprit once again and fear detective novels like Pattern of Terror and The Mountain by Night are in danger of eventually becoming irretrievably lost. But not all hope is lost. Derek Smith's Come to Paddington Fair started out as an unpublished manuscript written in the 1950s, before Japanese collector Mori Hideo published it in a limited print-run of a hundred copies. John Pugmire's Locked Room International finally made it widely available a decade ago when they published The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014). A year later, LRI reprinted a separate, long overdue edition of Come to Paddington Fair. So there's still some hope, but time in their case is probably ticking.

An honorable mention: Jacques Aanrooy's Off the Track (1895) and Sir Henry Juta's Off the Track (1925). The 1895 novel was published in South Africa by J.C. Juta & Co and has a detective by the name of Donald Fraser cracking the case of a fatal stabbing in a locked surgery, while the 1925 novel has a Ronald Fraser tackling a stabbing in a locked consulting room. A case of parallel thinking? Blatant plagiarism? Well, neither. Jacques Aanrooy was the pseudonym of a South African judge, lawyer and politician, Sir Henry Juta, who probably reworked his old, forgotten novel to be republished under his own name. It's impossible to check to what extend the 1925 title is a rewrite of the 1895 original, because the one thing both versions have in common is how just how scarce they have managed to made themselves. If they differ enormously, I would love to see a twofer reprint edition. Yes, this honorable mention is just an excuse to have a cover included in this poor excuse of a filler-post and "off the track" fits the theme of the list. So there you go.

If I'm going to do another one of these hit lists, I'm going to pick a more upbeat topic without trying to find an excuse to meander on about obscure, long-lost locked room mysteries.


The Conjure-Man Dies (1932) by Rudolph Fisher

Rudolph Fisher was an African-American physician, radiologist and a notable author from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, but, during the early 1930s, Fisher turned to the popular detective stories of the day and penned The Conjure-Man Dies (1932) – which was successful enough to be adapted into a stage play in 1936. In his introduction to the 1971 edition, Stanley Ellin writers Fisher "devoted himself to some serious study of what made the books of both Hammett and S.S. van Dine tick, since both their approaches are clearly evident in The Conjure-Man Dies." An intricately-plotted mystery in the classical mold with characters and dialogue "wholly of Hammett's realistic school" ("Fisher's own sympathies and interests lie with Hammett, much as he deferred to traditional techniques").

Over the past few years,
The Conjure-Man Dies has been reprinted several times starting with the 2017 edition from Collins Crime Club. These new editions all come with the posthumously published short story "John Archer's Nose" (1935) and Ellin's old introduction, which is kind of a problem. They should have asked someone like Curt Evans to write a fresh introduction to place the book in the proper light and historical context, genre-wise, because Ellin showed some prejudices of his own where the classical detective story is concerned. Ellin called the structures of the classical Golden Age mystery "as rigid as those of a Japanese no play, their characters one-dimensional, their styles generally florid, representative of the snob's idea of Good Writing." A dismissal of the entire genre apparently based on nothing more than a rereading of S.S. van Dine and points anyone to his work "questioning what might seem excessively harsh judgments in the foregoing" ("luckily, in 1930, there crept into this WASP paradise of genteel murder a serpent named Dashiell Hammett"). Van Dine and particularly his creation Philo Vance have received their fair share criticism over the past century, not always without reason, but discarding a whole segment of genre based on the work of one man is hilariously shortsighted. In this case, it's hilariously shortsighted for several reasons.

First of all, it undersells just how closely Fisher aligned himself in The Conjure-Man Dies with the Van Dine School, but also overlooks that the Van Dinean detective story is pro-Civil Rights, which Mike Grost wrote about on his website – filed under "Van Dine School: Pro Civil Rights" ("...this starts with S.S. van Dine in The "Canary" Murder Case, 1927)." A point conveniently ignored to trash the classical whodunit and almost condescendingly excusing Fisher's indulgence on account of him injecting some realism and a cast of black characters into those tired old plot devices and techniques. So the introduction ends up being very one-sided and not particular fair to what Fisher attempted to do as a whole, because those Van Dinean elements dominate and dictate the majority of the story. Not to mention the introduction strikes a jarring note for a reprint edition published right in the middle of a reprint renaissance and something of a revival of the Golden Age detective story. A more up-to-date introduction with a better, deeper and fairer understanding of the historical context around both the book and its author would have complemented this new run of reprint editions.

So, with that gripe out of the way, it's time to get to the really important stuff. How good is The Conjure-Man Dies as a detective novel? Time to find out!

The Conjure-Man Dies takes place for the most part in a dark, gloomy three-story house on Thirteen West 130th, Harlem, where the conjure-man N'Gana Frimbo receives clients who wish to have their fortunes read. Frimbo has room for his conjuring tricks "hung from ceiling to floor with black velvet drapes" and from the center of the black-clad ceiling a chain suspended a chain single, strange source of light over a chair behind a large desk – leaving everything else unlighted. So "the person who used the chair beneath the odd spotlight could remain in relative darkness while the occupant of the other chair was brightly illuminated." A bizarre room that becomes a macabre murder scene when the conjure-man dies in the middle of a session. One moment he was speaking, the next moment he was dead as a door nail. This brings the first of Fisher's two intended series-characters to the scene.

Dr. John Archer is called upon to attend to Frimbo, but quickly determines he had been
stunned by a blow to the head before the unseen, unheard murderer expertly choked him to death with a handkerchief. That makes it a case for the police. Enter Perry Dart. Detective Dart was one of the first black members of Harlem's police force "
to be promoted from the rank of patrolman to that of detective," but greatly admires Dr. Archer. Welcomes his opinions on this puzzling case ("...he's a better detective than I am—missed his calling, I think"). After all, how could a man have been stunned and choked in a room with someone else present and the door under observation? And getting away without being seen or heard?

While the Harlem backdrop is a little different from the usual Manhattan setting, you can already spot many of the Van Dine School features. There's the friendship between the amateur and professional detective who closely work in tandem or the action largely being confined to the crime scene, which also explores the movements of the half dozen suspects around the building before and after the murder. A murder and crime scene that appears to be strange, surreal or downright impossible and the Van Dinean elements continue to pile on. Such as a wall adorned with horrifying masks, broad-bladed sword, arrows, spears and murderous-looking clubs – not all are decorative. Private collections or even entire, in-house private museums are often found in the works of Van Dine School writers. Just to give an idea how deeply the book is rooted in the Van Dinean tradition and not something that should have been dismissed out of hand so easily. But, yes, there are a few notable differences and divergences from your standard Van Dine-Queen style detective novel.

Firstly, Dr. Archer's medical background and interest in forensic science allows the already tricky plot to toy around with fingerprinting, blood typing and dental works. Something more in line with R. Austin Freeman than Van Dine. Secondly, the undisguised racial issues set against Depression-era Harlem with its gambling, racketeering and other seedy gang activities going on in the background sharply sets it apart from the works of Anthony Abbot, Clyde B. Clason and Kelley Roos. In that regard, Ellin was right Fisher's having one foot in Hammett's camp gave The Conjure-Man Dies some of "the qualities of a social document recording a time and a place without seeming to." A unique contribution to the Van Dine-Queen School. There is, however, one more thing where the book really diverges from its Van Dinean counterparts and the followers of Hammett's new realism.

I already mentioned the murder of the conjure-man has a surreal feel about it, "the utter impossibility of any man's talking, dead or alive, when his throat was plugged," which is dialed up almost to the max during the second-half – starting with the disappearance and reappearance of Frimbo's corpse. Stylistically, it's a stroke of genius to have that plot development echo, or rather mirror, the discovery of the murder in the most fantastic way imaginable. And some of the scene following the reemergence of the corpse sometimes felt like reading a pulp-style mystery by Theodore Roscoe. That being said, Fisher retreats deeper into pulp territory as the final chapters roll around and results in a heavy-handed ending with a labored solution. I agree with Jim it requires "an almost Bond Villain level of organisation which sort of comes out of nowhere" betraying the hand of an inexperienced, debuting mystery writer and plotter.

Nevertheless, The Conjure-Man Dies is brimming with promise, wildly imaginative ideas and two engaging lead characters with a pair of potentially great recurring characters in Bubber Brown and Jinx Jenkings. Fisher intended to continue the series and revealed in interviews "he had at least two sequels planned, one of which, provisionally entitled Thus Spake the Prophet," but died in 1934 at the age of 37 from abdominal cancer probably caused by his x-ray experimentations. It would have been interesting to see how Fisher would have developed as a mystery writer and whether, or not, his plotting abilities improved. Either way, John Archer and Perry Dart series would certainly have its loyal fans even today. More importantly, a full-fledged Archer and Dart series might have inspired as like Fisher to try their hands as the Greatest Game in the World. Just like Van Dine inspired an entire following who would go on to improve on the ideas he introduced in the less than perfect Philo Vance series.


Death of an Author (1935) by E.C.R. Lorac

Edith Caroline Rivett was a British mystery novelist who, over a thirty year period, penned over seventy detective novels and a smattering of short stories – published under her two pennames, "E.C.R. Lorac" and "Carol Carnac." Lorac's work was highly regarded during her lifetime, but, as so often is the case, they went out-of-print and mostly out of circulation upon her death in 1958. If your reputation hinges on easily available, secondhand copies of a book like Murder by Matchlight (1945), you can almost under why she had been dismissed for decades as "pedestrian and forgettable." Fortunately, Martin Edwards and the British Library Crime Classics series have gone a long way in restoring Lorac's reputation with reprints of some her better work such as These Names Make Clues (1937), Bats in the Belfry (1937) and Checkmate to Murder (1944). The subject of today's review is arguably the finest Lorac reprint to date.

Last year, British Library reissued Lorac's Death of an Author (1935) and marked this forgotten, out-of-print gem's return to print for the first time in close to a century. A very fitting title to reprint today considering the premise and characters populating the story aged like a vintage bottle of wine.

Death of an Author begins with a successful publisher, Andrew Marriott of Langston's, giving some attention to one of their prize authors, Michael Ashe, whose novels are "regarded as the best things of their type since Conrad" ("...and they sold"). Ashe terrifies Marriott by threatening to turn to crime fiction to fight the early onset of fossilization ("I'm getting stylised"), which is countered by the shocked publisher that "crime stories are a legitimate branch of fiction, but they're mere ephemerals" selling like hot cakes today – gone tomorrow. This was not an uncommon opinion among Golden Age mystery writers. Agatha Christie believed her detective stories had a sell-by date, but history, especially the past two decades, proved them wrong. If only John Dickson Carr knew one of the monstrosities of the modern age (the internet) would end up giving his beloved impossible crime story the room (of course, locked from the inside) it needed to thrive like never before. Anyway, Ashe points to another one of Marriott's prized authors, Vivian Lestrange, whose bestseller, The Charterhouse Case, is "a crime story that is in the rank of first rate novels." Ashe asks his publisher to arrange a dinner party and introduce him to his fellow writer, but Marriott tries to explain Lestrange is a notorious recluse.

That and there's another problem. Ashe believes Lestrange is a man and an ex-convict, but Marriott has actually met Lestrange in person and was astonished to discover his top-selling "thriller merchant" proved to be a tall, slim and capable young woman. Surprisingly, Miss Lestrange accepts the invitation under the condition that Ashe respects her privacy and not leak her secret to the public. The meeting between Miss Lestrange and the bewildered Ashe is very amusing, which Lorac evidently had fun writing down. And not without reason.

Martin Edwards writes in the introduction that "she adopted the ambiguous writing name of E.C.R. Lorac because of a suspicion of prejudice against female authors." Lorac was so good at hiding her identity that she was often referred to by reviewers ("Mr. Lorac can write") and fellow authors ("his Inspector Macdonald is one of the most sympathetic professional detectives that I have had the luck to encounter," Nicholas Blake) as a man. I think the assumption a man was behind the Lorac pseudonym had more to do with the technical side and murder methods featuring in her plots that recall the work of the so-called "humdrum" mystery writers, which is commonly associated with male writers. If you read a mystery in the "Had-I-But-Known" vein with an ambiguous name on the cover, the first assumption most readers would make is that it was probably written by a woman. But there have been male writers who dabbled in the feminine HIBK school (e.g. Baynard Kendrick's Blood on Lake Louisa, 1934). Back to the story.

Three months later, the same woman goes to the police who announces herself Vivian Lestrange's secretary, Eleanor Clarke. She's worried sick about her eccentric and reclusive employer, because he appears to have simply disappeared.

I should note here that this case is not in the hands of Lorac's celebrated policeman, Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald of Scotland Yard, but handled by the local policeman Inspector Bond and Chief Inspector Warner of the C.I.D. – who enters the picture after the former has "done a steady week's work investigating the disappearance." Bond and Warner are an engaging pair of characters and investigators, but, sadly, Death of an Author is their only recorded case. The introduction suggests the characters were probably abandoned, prematurely, when Lorac jumped ship from Sampson Low "to the more prestigious Collins Crime Club imprint." Death of an Author was incidentally her last published by Sampson Low. Whatever the reason might have been, Lorac presented Bond, Warner and the reader with a pretty problem to pick apart.

Eleanor Clarke explains Vivian Lestrange is an eccentric recluse, practically cripped with rheumatism, who dislikes visitors and publicity. And lived pretty much in complete anonymity. So, when people began to pester him, Eleanor Clarke took on the role of Vivian Lestrange. Just one tiny problem: Lestrange always wore gloves and nobody outside the small household has ever laid eyes on the celebrated mystery novelist. Only person who could have corroborated her story is Lestrange's housekeeper, Mrs. Fife, but she has also disappeared without a trace. What, exactly, is going on?

Bond and Warner have opposing views of the case, or rather about Clarke's absurd story in addition to a noticeable lack of background, which arouses the suspicion of the former. Bond sees her as "one of those queer secretive women" who appeared to have been very much at home with her equally secretive employer. Could they have been one and the same person after all. Warner gives her cool, collected account of the strange situation a bit more credit, but wonders whether they're "handling a case for a psycho-analyst, a case of perjury or a murder case." Everything they uncover along the way proves to be "susceptible to various interpretations" to an almost maddening degree. Even the eventual discovery of a body only ends up deepening the problem instead of giving some much needed clarity to the two detectives.

Death of an Author is an exemplary detective novel in how it takes an ultimately simple situation and turned into a maze-like structure merely by playing a game of Guess Who? with the cast of characters. A very intense, hard fought game of Guess Who? that chipped away at Warner's sanity and remarked towards the end, "if I petitioned Parliament do you think I could get an enactment that no man writes under any name but his own” and “his finger-prints be registered on the title page?" ("it oughtn't to be allowed... hardened offenders... recidivists..."). It goes without saying Death of an Author emerged as splendid detective novel comparable to the best from Christopher Bush, Freeman Wills Crofts and especially Brian Flynn. My favorite Lorac reprint to date. Highly recommended!


The X-Files: Case Closed, vol. 89 by Gosho Aoyama

The 89th volume of Gosho Aoyama's long-running Case Closed series begins, as so often, with winding up the story that started in the previous volume. Rachel, Serena and Masumi wanted to try their hands at an all-girl band and go to a sound studio to practice, where they bump into another amateur girl band, but quickly turns into a full-blown murder investigation – when the drummer of the other girl band is murdered. Strangled with a weapon that cannot be found on the closely searched and guarded premise. And, to make things even more difficult, the security camera had been partially covered with a phone on a selfie-stick at the time of the murder. Inspector Meguire humorously observed in the previous volume how every amateur sleuth in town is on hand to solve this case. Everyone from "the kid detective" (Conan) to "the barista detective" (Toru Amuro) and they make short, efficient work of this tricky murder case.

I ended my previous review with the remark the story could go one of two ways, pretty average or surprisingly good. Fortunately, the story ended up being mostly good with a plot hinging primarily on how the murderer simultaneously created an alibi and managed to spirit away the murder weapon. Only the tinkering with the motive somewhat cheapened the overall story a little bit (ROT13): gur niratre zbgvir vf n jryy-jbea, phygheny gebcr bs Wncnarfr qrgrpgvir svpgvba, juvpu V pna npprcg, ohg qvfyvxr guvf nggrzcg gb fcvpr vg hc ol univat gur zheqrere orvat jebat nobhg gur ernfba gurl qrpvqrq gb gnxr fbzrbar'f yvsr. Va guvf pnfr, gur zbgvir fhqqrayl orpnzr n pbagbegvba npg jurer abar jnf ernyyl arprffnel. That minor complaint aside, this is on a whole a pretty good story.

The background decoration on the cover already gave it away, but the second story is indeed a now out-of-season Christmas mystery story and a good one at that!

Doc Agasa takes Conan, Anita and the Junior Detective League to the department store, "all Christmassed up," to cash-in his coupon for a lunch at the gourmet restaurant at the top of the department store – before the kids scatter across the place to hunt for presents ("...texting me about presents they've found for themselves"). But while they're amusing themselves, the gourmet chef is stabbed and wounded outside the restaurant where they just ate. And the assailant ran down the staircase. Conan alerts the Junior Detective League to "get to the nearest staircase and keep an eye on anyone who emerges." The police detained three customers who were caught hurrying away, "all covered in sweat," but all have ready-made excuses. So the testimony of the Junior Detective League should settle the matter, however, when they regroup they all give a different description of the fleeing attacker ("all our eyewitnesses disagree").

Conan begins to reconstruct their movement, talk with other potential witnesses in order to prove that not only the three different descriptions were correct from the start, but "that all three testimonies point to the same person." Very well played and an excellent treatment of the one-of-three suspects-type stories that features regularly in this series, which this time felt completely fresh and invigorated. This is also how the Junior Detective League should be used.

The third story is something really special. Last year, I reviewed The Case of the Little Green Men (1951) by Mack Reynolds in which I remarked that the potential puzzles posed by flying saucers, space invaders and futuristic technology would make a nice change from haunted houses, dodgy seances and lingering curses – which normally haunt the impossible crime genre. A locked room mystery, impossible crime or simply a straightforward detective story presented as something straight out an episode of The X-Files is not entirely unheard of, listed half a dozen examples in the review ranging from Fredric Brown and Clayton Rawson to Q.E.D. and Jonathan Creek series, but the plotting potential of UFO sightings and alien interlopers remains largely untapped even today. I'm really glad I can add the third story from this volume to that very specialized list of (impossible crime) stories.

Hina Wada is a 17-year-old student and rival of Rachel in the school karate students, but now she come to ask her father, Richard Moore, to take on a most unusual case. She was out jogging in Haido Park with her karate club when she suddenly spotted a decidedly alien-looking craft in the sky ("the classic cigar-shaped model"), which she tried to pursue, but it was gone by the time she reached the top of the stairs. This is incidentally the exact same public park and stairs where the attack from vol. 84 and vol. 85 occurred. Richard Moore advertises his detective agency with the promise he'll "pursue any case to the end of the universe." So off to the park they go to investigate a potential alien presence in Japan ("Yoko Okina is playing a paranormal investigator in a new TV show... so dad's into aliens now"), but find an unexpected twist instead.

In the park, they come across Detective Chiba investigating a truly bizarre, dead end case. Kyogo Nakatsu was the editor of a UFO magazine whose body was found lying face down in recently pored concrete. There was, however, no concrete in his lungs. Nakatsu was suffocated before he fell into the concrete, but it gets even stranger. Next to the magazine editor was his freelance photographer, Yusuke Kuchiki, lying face up in the then hardened concrete. After the police cuts him out, Kuchiki swears "an alien came out of UFO, killed Nakatsu in mid-air, then got back in the UFO and flew away." Strangely enough, the hardened footprints in the concrete and absence of a murder weapon do not contradict his outrageous claim. No drag marks to suggests shenanigans with the body. The two sets of footprints are equally deep and both sets face the same direction ("...no sign that either person walked out"). Conan is not easily fooled, "this crime was committed by a human being," but how exactly was it was done? The solution is good and technically sound, but, where the story really stands out, is how effectively it put everything at work. From the UFO sighting and the suspect's claims of an alien killer to the tricks being employed, which resulted in an inverted detective story with a new take on the no-footprints impossibility that gave the murderer a rock-solid alibi. An alibi while only being an arm-length away. Brilliant stuff!

The last, full-length story from this volume is a continuation, of sorts, of the story from vol. 85 in which Shukichi Haneda, a shogi player, was on the verge of collecting all seven crown titles – seven national shogi championships of Japan. Shukichi Haneda handed his girlfriend, traffic cop Yumi Miyamoto, a sealed envelope with the request to not open it until he has collected all seven titles. Inside is a signed marriage registration to which she only has to sign her name. So, having won all seven titles, she can sign the paper, but she lost the envelope. Fortunately, Conan is on hand to help her finding it, which leads to mean, old caretaker of the building who a shogi fan. The old man finds her unworthy to marry a master of game, but gives her an opportunity to get it back by cracking a code he created. A fun enough story, but nothing particular good or outstanding. Obviously intended as a springboard to the next story.

The story ends with a reference to Shukichi Haneda's late brother-in-law, Koji Haneda, who was a master shogi and chess player before dying under mysterious circumstances during a chess tournament in the United States. Anita recognizes the name as she seen it on the same list with Conan's real name on it. Oh, the plot thickens! So the final chapter begins with Conan and Anita researching the case, which happened seventeen years ago, but they quickly become distracted by a much more recent murder case. That morning, the body of the president of a real estate company was found in the outside guesthouse of his estate holding a pair of novelty scissors Doc Agasa invented. But, as they begin to investigate, they begin to notice a resemblance to the murder of Haneda seventeen years ago. This promising story is going to be concluded in the next volume.

I think it's a fair conclusion to state vol. 89 is not only a huge improvement over the previous one, but can be counted as one of the strongest volume without a longer case, major event or crossover appearances in a long time. It almost read like a throwback to an earlier period in the series. Greatly enjoyed it! And very much look forward to beginning the countdown to vol. 100!


Murder Most Cold (2023) by Victoria Dowd

Victoria Dowd is a former British barrister-turned-novelist, head of the London Crime Writers' Association and author of the darkly humorous, award-winning "Smart Woman's Mystery" series – "a modern take on the Golden Age of crime fiction." The series debuted with The Smart Woman's Guide to Murder (2020) and comprises, as of this writing, of five novels. I heard about Dowd and this series in passing, but only really came to my attention last December.

Steve Barge, the Puzzle Doctor of In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, picked Dowd's Murder Most Cold (2023) as the best book of the year (The "Grand Puzzly" Award). Giving it props for "the sheer originality of a locked lake mystery" and "finding a sensible way to make it work." A locked lake mystery, you say? A traditionally-styled mystery with an original-sounding take on the impossible crime story always does the trick for me. So immediately tossed Murder Most Cold on the list of the locked room novels and short stories, published between 2015-25, as material for the lengthy addendum to "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century." First let's see what this so-called locked lake mystery is all about.

Murder Most Cold is the fifth, and latest, entry in the "Smart Woman's Mystery" series and Dowd included an introduction for new readers, "The Mökki Murder Papers," answering the question "just exactly who are these Smart Women?" Ursula Smart, "your guide through this particular circle of hell," is the main character of the series and its slightly unreliable narrator. Pandora Smart is her mother and the operating brain behind their family blog/podcast, Death Smarts, where she relates their close brushes with death and numerous killers ("often exposes intimate facts about her family..."). Charlotte Smart is Ursula's somewhat eccentric aunt who recently moved in with her sister and niece. Breffni Spear ("it's an old Irish name") is only referred to as Spear for obvious reasons and is Ursula's love interest. They met on a previous case that made him a widower. Lastly, there's the self-proclaimed associate of the group, Bridget Gutteridge, who has a pet monkey fittingly named Dupin.

I should note here that Murder Most Cold contains references to previous novels without giving away key details, which I very much appreciated as series today tend to be less episodic than their Golden Age predecessors – often integrating ongoing character-arcs with the plots or use them as subplots. So stepping in the middle of a series nowadays can be a different experience than, say, cherry picking your way through the bibliographies of classic writers like Christopher Bush, Brian Flynn or E.C.R. Lorac (see my review of Dan Andriacco's The English Garden Mystery, 2022). Fortunately, that proved to be less of an obstacle with this series, however, Murder Most Cold probably would have hit differently had I been more familiar with the characters.

Murder Most Cold begins with Spear proposing to Ursula and she said yes, which turned her mother in a terrifying creature known as the wedding planner. Ursula wants to get away from the spotlight of her mother's blog/podcasting empire and they opt for a Winter Wilderness wedding holiday in Northern Lapland ("husky rides, sledges, skiing"). So the whole group bundles up and travels to the Finnish wilderness for the private wedding ceremony where they'll be staying at a group of mökkis (cabins). A small holiday retreat run by a Londoner, Tapio, who's their less than gracious host who cheats on his Finnish wife, Aino. Helmi is their unhappy, twenty year old daughter who tried elope with the general handyman and reindeer wrangler, Matthias ("carries deep-seated belief in the old spirits and myths of Finland"). Now she just mopes, calls out her father's philandering and smoking weed. And the owner apparently knows Spear from somewhere.

In this atmosphere, Ursula begins to get the wedding jitters and second thoughts, but then the situation takes an unexpected, dramatic turn. Tapio is found fatally poisoned at the same time Spear disappeared into the night. Just before, Ursula had overheard Tapio trying to blackmail Spear over past secrets. On top of that, someone "cut all the phones and smashed the Wi-Fi box" while the bodycount begins to steadily climb. Midway through the story an impossible discovery is made when someone, who had been present only hours ago, is found underneath a thick layer of ice of a small lake that had been frozen solid for weeks – a veritable ice-locked tomb! So let's tackle this "locked lake mystery at the icy heart" of the plot.

Firstly, the idea of fresh body spotted underneath the thick, icy surface of a solidly frozen lake is unquestionably original, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. If you're going to introduce a locked room murder or impossible crime, particular one that can be safely described as out of the ordinary, you're obliged to do something with it. I can see why Dowd's explanation is absolutely necessary for the overall plot to work, but (SPOILER/ROT13) vg jnf bayl znetvanyyl zber npprcgnoyr guna n gjva, qbhoyr be rira n ybbx-n-yvxr qhzzl and this story really needed a good, satisfying explanation to the locked lake mystery orpnhfr Qbjq jnyxrq onpx ba jub jnf qvfpbirerq vafvqr gur ynxr. Fbzrguvat gung zhfg unir pbzr nf n fghaavat, zvqjnl gjvfg sbe ernqref jub unir orra jvgu gur punenpgref sebz gur ortvaavat. Vs lbh'er tbvat gb tb onpx ba gung, lbh ng yrnfg fubhyq unir n qrprag fbyhgvba sbe ubj gur zheqrere znantrq gb trg gur obql vafvqr na vpr-frnyrq ynxr. Cybg-jvfr, gur sebmra ynxr fubhyq unir fgvyy cbfrq na bofgnpyr sbe gur xvyyre gb olcnff. Being a somewhat practically-minded Dutchman, I simply assumed the body had been fed into the lake through a subsurface pipe or drainage system.

What about the rest of the story? That's a mixed bag of tricks. I credit Dowd for trying to find a happy middle ground between the sugary, cozy-style mysteries and the grimmer, character-driven thrillers with various degrees of success. So you get the collection of quirky, colorful and bantering characters placed in actually dangerous situations with actual stakes. Nobody is guaranteed to live to see the end of the book. This certainly gives an edge to an otherwise traditionally-styled detective novel, which is excellently played out during the first-half as the wedding atmosphere begins to deteriorate into horror with the bodies piling up around them. During the second-half and especially towards the end, it began to feel like the story wanted to have its cake and eat it too. For example (ROT13), Oevqtrg pbzvat gb erfphr va gur raq evqvat ba gur onpx bs n ervaqrre, “ynapr uryq bhg va sebag bs ure nf cebhq nf n zrqvriny xavtug,” juvpu V nffhzr jnf qbar gb yvtugra gur zbbq, ohg vf vzzrqvngryl sbyybjrq ol n zragnyyl-jbea qbja, abj becunarq Uryzv fubbgvat gur zheqrere guebhtu gur urnq. Be grnfvat Cnaqben vf abg tbvat gb fheivir ure thafubg jbhaq (“Lbh pna'g qvr. Lbh pna'g rire qvr. Ohg fur pbhyq”) bayl gb unir ure fheivir nsgre nyy.

The characters and, more importantly, the plot failed to catch me, but there's something to be said about the evocative setting with its deep, dark and frozen wilderness populated with creatures and spirits of Finnish folklore – lit up with the ghostly green of the Northern Lights. One thing that can be leveled against the neo-GAD writers is that they either retreat into the past or go out of their way to take the modern world out of the equation, which is not entirely untrue. It makes writing and plotting a classically-styled whodunit or locked room mystery so much easier, but D.L. Marshall's John Tyler series has shown it can be more than a gimmick to turn back time for a game of Cluedo. Something the traditionalists of today should take into consideration, because I think exploring specialized, often remote settings can stamp a distinguishable personality of its own on these new GAD-style mysteries. Marshall gave a couple of extreme examples with John Tyler solving seemingly impossible murders on a germ infested island or a nuclear bunker in the Arctic Circle, but why not one set during an expedition in Antarctica or exploration to an abandoned village on a Japanese island gone wrong. Basically turning the modern detective story into an urban explorer. It has fascinating, largely untapped possibilities and one thing Murder Most Cold did very well was tying the plot to the setting.

Hopefully, this lukewarm review can be deemed fair, because I wanted to like it on account of it being the "World's Only Locked Lake Mystery," but Murder Most Cold simply didn't do it for me. I'm afraid this series just isn't for me.


My Late Wives: "She Wouldn't Kill Patience" (2002) by Ooyama Seiichiro

Ooyama Seiichiro is a Japanese mystery writer specialized in themes series and short story collections, best known today for the "Alibi Cracking, At Your Service" series, who debuted on the e-NOVELS website with a pastiche of John Dickson Carr's Dr. Gideon Fell – entitled "Kanojo ga Patience wo korosu hazu ga nai" ("She Wouldn't Kill Patience," 2002). The short story obviously is a homage to He Wouldn't Kill Patience (1944; as by "Carter Dickson"), which was Carr's answer to Clayton Rawson's challenge to craft a locked room mystery where the crime scene is sealed on the inside with tape. Rawson provided his own answer in the short story "From Another World" (1948) and recently A. Carver tackled the problem of a murderer inexplicably escaping from multiple, tape-shut rooms with The Author is Dead (2022). Ooyama Seiichiro's "She Wouldn't Kill Patience" is a fascinating addition to this sub-category of the locked room mystery.

"She Wouldn't Kill Patience" opens one evening in the study of Dr. Fell, Number I Adelphi Terrace, where he's entertaining Superintendent Hadley, Sergeant Higgins and the solicitor Frank Morstan. Dr. Fell notices something is on the solicitor's mind.

Frank Morstan has recently gotten engaged to Marjorie Copperfield, but so has her mother and his future mother-in-law, the long-widowed and wealthy Mrs. Marie Copperfield – which came as a surprise, or shock, to everyone. The man in question is a middle-aged, French historian and lecturer, Georges Lefebvre, who's ten years her junior and viewed with suspicion ("perhaps he is after the Mrs. Copperfield's money"). Not without reason. Superintendent Hadley recognizes a French serial killer and fugitive, named Charles Raspail, in Morstan's description of Georges Lefebvre. Hadley calls Raspail "the rebirth of Henri Désiré Landru from his homeland, or George Joseph Smith of England," who had three wives die under mysterious circumstances. Only difference between him and those two is Raspail is "much more clever and cunning" as he varied his methods and techniques. An overdose of sleeping medication or a fall from a third-floor balcony. So it took some time for the authorities to catch on, but, when they finally cottoned on, Raspail fled to England and simply disappeared.

So, knowing what they know now, Mrs. Copperfield is certainly going to be targeted next. Hadley orders Higgins to keep an eye on the current M. Lefebvre, which they go get the file at Scotland Yard to convince Mrs. Copperfield. However, they arrive too late. Mrs. Copperfield is discovered dead in her bedroom with the gas-tap screwed open to a maximum with the door and windows "sealed tightly by long, thin strips of vellum pasted along the gaps." Obviously suicide. However, Mrs. Copperfield is not the only body in the gas-filled room. Near the gas-tap stood the birdcage with Mrs. Copperfield's parrot, Patience, lying at the bottom pining for the fjords. Marjorie is sure the dead parrot proves her mother was murdered as "my mother wouldn't kill Patience" ("...she hoped it would live the rest of it out in peace"). But how? Even Dr. Fell has to admit, "I know many methods to lock a room from the outside, but this is the first time I see it sealed."

The locked room-trick is a real humdinger! Sure, you can call the trick a new wrinkle on an old chestnut, but really enjoyed how this idea was applied to the puzzle of the tape-sealed room. More importantly, "She Wouldn't Kill Patience" is not an impossible crime tale where the murderer is easily spotted and the trick carrying the whole plot. Ooyama Seiichiro refused to go with the obvious throughout the story, which made for an excellent denouement as Dr. Fell exposed both the truth and pointing out the killer. My only complaint is that motive felt a trifle weak when held next to the rather ingenious and involved method, which required a weightier motive to justify it. Other than that, "She Wouldn't Kill Patience" is a first-class locked room mystery and exactly what pastiches should aspire to be. A story written with love and respect for the original.

Note for the curious: you're probably wondering where you can find and read this story. Someone emailed me this unofficial translation to read and review, if I wanted to review the story. I decided to review it simply to try and generate some attention for Ooyama Seiichiro, because I would love to see official translations of "The Red Museum" and "The Locked Room Collector" series.


Green for Danger (1944) by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger (1944) is Christianna Brand's second novel about her series-detective, Inspector Cockrill, which is not only regarded as her crowning achievement as a mystery novelist, but considered to be one of the best, Golden Age whodunits ever written – comparable only to the best from John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie. Last year, I listed Green for Danger in the "Top 10 Fascinating World War II Detective Novels" and revisited Suddenly at His Residence (1946). A somewhat conventional country house mystery, but brilliant and daringly plotted. And infinitely better than I remembered from my first read. But, as pointed out in the comments, Suddenly at His Residence is not even Brand's third, fourth or even fifth best detective novel. To quote James Scott Byrnside, "she was the best." So wanted to take another look at Brand's masterpiece to see if stands up. It did!

The backdrop of Green for Danger is Heron's Park, a former children's sanitarium "hurriedly scrambled into shape as a military hospital," situated three miles out of Heronsford in Kent. Brand introduced the primary characters in the first chapter through Joseph Higgins, a postman, who pushes his old, battered bicycle up hill to deliver seven letters at the hospital. Seven letters addressed to the seven principle players.

Firstly, there are the two surgeons, Gervase Eden of Harley Street fame and the long-time Heronsford physician Major Moon, backed by Sister Marion Bates and the local anesthetist, Dr. Barnes. Rounding out this little, tightly-knit group are three VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments), Frederica Linley, Esther Sanson and Jane Woods. A varied group of people, all with their own backstories, brought together at Heron's Park under wartime conditions and Brand ends the first chapter with the following line, "he could not know that, just a year later, one of the writers would die, self-confessed a murderer" – drawing a tightly "closed circle" before the murder has taken place. Another thing Higgins could not have imagined is that he would be the first victim of this murderer.

A year later, Heronsford suffers a heavy, nighttime air-raid, "A.R.P. centre has been hit, among other places, and there are a lot of casualties," which begins to fill up the hospital beds ("...now it’s time for work!"). Joseph Higgins is brought in with a fractured femur and scheduled for surgery the following morning. Higgins spends a long, restless night muttering in his bed ("where have I heard that voice?") before being brought to the operating theater. They ensure Higgins that the procedure is not dangerous, "hardly an operation at all," but something did go wrong. And the patient dies on the operating table. There's no apparent reason why he died before they even made an incision, "they pip off for no rhyme or reason and you never know exactly why," but the authorities have to be notified. Detective Inspector Cockrill arrives at Heron's Park two days later under the assumption he's handling "just another anæsthetic death” (“you doctors slay 'em off in their thousands"). However, the case doesn't end with that single fatal incident in the operating theater.

If Death of Jezebel (1948) is Brand trying her hands at a Carr-style locked room mystery, Green for Danger is her take on Christie's conversational-style whodunits like Murder on the Orient Express (1934).

Green for Danger takes the "mainly conversation" approach as it tells its story, fleshes out the characters and setting the scenes mostly through dialogue. So no wonder the 1947 movie adaptation, starring Alastair Sim, is commonly regarded as one of the best adaptations of a Golden Age mystery novel as the book itself almost reads like a movie script. Not even the alterations to the original story could diminish the brilliance of the novel with perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that the movie has a slightly more light-hearted, comedic tone. What should not be overlooked about the original novel is why Green for Danger is considered to be the best of the British World War II mysteries. The descriptions of its wartime surroundings act as punctuations in the narrative flow with the incessant "droning of aero-planes overhead," the hospital shaking with "the thundering of the guns in the neighbouring fields" or "now and again with the sickening thud of a bomb" – occasional glimpses of the patients who fill the hospital beds after every air-raid. From bandaged people lying in their beds or wandering around the place to the hospital comedians cracking jokes every time a bomb falls ("they've 'eard about the pudding we 'ad today, nurse, and they're trying to kill the cook").

So, all of that being said, Brand did dabble in a little bit of physical clueing in such an original and brilliant way, it deserves to be highlighted. This inspired piece of physical clueing comes in the form of a murdered nurse, "laid out ceremonially on the operating table, rigged up elaborately in a surgical gown and mask and gloves, with huge white rubber boots on her feet," who had been brutally stabbed to death. A macabre detail is that one of the stab wounds was delivered after the victim was already dead. It's always tricky to do additional murders without making them come across as mere page padding, but Green for Danger demonstrates how to make a second murder count and milk it for all it's worth. A lesson Byrnside, a devout Brandian, took to heart when he started writing his own detective novels (e.g. The Opening Night Murders, 2019).

When cobbling together "The Hit List: Top 10 Fascinating World War II Detective Novels," I feared Green for Danger was perhaps too well-known for the list and considered replacing it. I'm glad I decided to keep it on the list, because Green for Danger lives up to its reputation as the best and most famous of all British WWII mystery novels. And because of how it exploited it's wartime setting, it becomes so much more than just another, very well-done whodunit from one of the Golden Age greats. Green for Danger is simply one of the dozen, or so, best detective novels from Golden Age and can't heap more praise on it.

A Tip for the Curious: Green for Danger is Brand's best-known novel and generally accepted as her masterpiece, but there are some contrarians out there claiming London Particular (1952) is her finest piece of detective fiction. British Library is going to publish a long overdue reprint of London Particular later this month. So you can soon judge for yourself.