Welcome to the Wünderkammer: C.M.B. vol. 1-2 by Motohiro Katou

Motohiro Katou's C.M.B. is a companion to his Q.E.D. series starring Sou Touma's younger cousin, Sakaki Shinra, who's an orphan, of sorts, spending his childhood in England as a ward of three secretive curators of the British museum – gifting him three rings bearing the letters "C," "M," and "B." The letters could be the initials of the blessing Christus Mansionem Benedicat or of the names of Three Magi. History is not, exactly, clear on that matter. However, the rings provide Shinra with plenty of financial funds to do research and collect items for his museum. In addition to providing a certain level of authority to those who understand what it means to possess not one, but all three, rings.

A 14-year-old Shinra returned to Japan to start his museum, or wünderkammer, on the second-floor of a building, which is practically inaccessible except by climbing a tree branch leading to the balcony ("...entrance way got blocked off"). Just like his cousin, Shinra has a knack for cracking complicated, seemingly impossible problems and puzzles. So has to play detective, from time to time, but Shinra asks an admission fee to hear his solution. This is usually an item connected to the case or simply visiting his museum. It should be noted that the main difference between the two series is the subject matter. Q.E.D. has characters and plots couched in science, math and engineering, C.M.B. is more concerned with archaeology, anthropology and biology.

C.M.B. was originally serialized from 2005 to 2020 in Monthly Shonen Magazine and collected in 45 volumes, which appear to have started out following the same structure as Q.E.D. with two complete stories in each volume. From what I spotted, there are several volumes early on in the series comprising of one long story and more volumes apparently consisting of multiple, shorter stories – unless they're chapter titles to the same story. I'll find out soon enough.

"Mimicry" is the story opening the first C.M.B. volume and introduces the reader to the second lead character of the series, Nanase Tatsuki. A tomboy-ish student of Meiyuu Private High School, run by her illustrious grandfather, who's destined to play the Kana Mizuhara to Shinra's Sou Touma. It begins with a deadly incident in the biology class room of the school. Someone, presumably the biology teacher Tazaki, spontaneously combusted into flames and left behind a pile of ashes with two partially in tact arms sticking out. However, the arms prove the victim is not the missing biology teacher and now primary suspect. Tazaki happens to be the brother of one of her friends and classmate. What's more, Tatsuki spots a strange boy sitting on a tree branch opposite the biology class room with a pair of binoculars. So immediately begins to pursue him.

Tatsuki's chase ends when she finds the entrance to Shinra's museum to confront him, but Shinra claims he has nothing to do with the incident and invited her to return to his museum soon. Tatsuki continues to help her friend trying to figure out what happened to her brother in the hopes of proving his innocence, which eventually brings her right back to the museum. While he had nothing to the spontaneous combustion case, Shinra tells her Tazaki wanted to show him a rare butterfly from his collection. But never kept his appointment. Shinra offers to solve the case in exchange for the rare butterfly as an entrance fee to his wünderkammer (i.e. solution).

First of all, "Mimicry" is a setup story tasked with introducing the characters and setting up the premise of the series, before attention can be given to the individual plots. So the plot is not terribly complicated, however, I appreciated the solution to the spontaneous human combustion problem. I'm not sure SHC counts as an impossible crime without it being witnessed or happening in a locked room, but the method sure feels like a typical, shin honkaku-style impossible crime-trick – which deserved to be used in a story with more attention for the plot. Other than that, the introduction and portrayal of Shinra stands out. A genius when it comes to history and biology, but where the normal, everyday world is concerned, Shinra appears to be even more oblivious than his cousin on his first appearance. Shinra has no idea how vending machines work or that you can open a can of Coca Cola without a blowtorch. All in all, a good, fun introduction to the characters and series with a very decent plot to boot.

The next story, "Ghost in the Museum," is another fun, light story in which a nighttime security guard at the Museum of Natural Science has an encounter with the resident ghost. Tachibana Yoshiko hears disembodied sounds of banging, moaning and people crying as the lights begin to flicker. And that begins to take a toll on her. But she needs the job in order to take care of her newborn. Fortunately, Yoshiko knows Tatsuki from their aikido classes. Tatsuki knows a so-called "museum expert" who might be able to help. Shinra is only too pleased at the prospect of visiting a museum and curator is impressed with his knowledge, but astonished when Shinra shows him the three rings ("I never saw them directly, so I thought it was just a legend"). The situation takes a serious turn when that day's earning is stolen from the curator's locked drawer and Yoshiko's job security is in jeopardy.

From the ghostly occurrences in the basement room and their natural explanations to the stolen money, "Ghost in the Museum" reads like something straight out of The Three Investigators series (The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, 1965) and other similar juvenile mystery series. The solution to the ghostly sounds is a little crude, or would have been in any other story, but here the setting complemented the trick. So a very slight, but fun enough, story with the ending setting up the next story.

The first story of the second C.M.B. volume, "Blue Building," continues setting everything up and introducing an important series regular, Inspector Takeshi Kujirazaki. Inspector Kujirazaki is naturally playing the Inspector Mizuhara, who has a walk-on cameo, to Shinra's Tou Souma.

Kujirazaki is investigating an assault at a four building apartment complex with their sides painted in the colors red, white and blue, but the case is getting nowhere until an anonymous letter arrives, "the culprit of the Blue Building case is the person who lives in the room on the bottom floor on the right side." Meanwhile, Shinra, who has never been to school, is doing an entrance exam and ends up becoming Tatsuki's classmate. Very much to her surprise. Shinra's exam went so well ("his social subjects scores, except for history, were terrible... apart from that, his scores were perfect") that he got tested again in an interview ("...maths, physics and chemistry knowledge is at the same level as a university student... history, geography and biology are even higher than that"). Other than that, there's not much that can be said about the story except that the solution to what the anonymous witness saw seems a better fit for Q.E.D. than C.M.B.

The last story from the second volume, "The Cursed Mask," is a good, old-fashioned and classically-styled locked room mystery and the best story from these first two volumes. Yamagishi Keiko, an ethnologist, turns to Shinra for help concerning a Noh mask with a deadly curse placed on it. The "mud stone" mask represents a woman who has been betrayed and Keiko has been searching for it, which recently resurfaced and man who bought it died of a blood cloth – infuriating his relatives who contacted the police ("...because they believed selling something like that was equal to murder"). Inspector Takeshi consulted Keiko and she turned to Shinra. And she knows someone else died because of that mask fifteen years ago. So the mask is back up for sale with two interested parties. Firstly, the previous seller and antique merchant, Iida Shigekazu. Secondly, the famous Noh dancer, Emoto Seimei. The negotiation takes place at the studio of the artist who sculpted the mask, Awa Saemon, who considers the mask "a failed piece of work" that needs to be destroyed ("my evil intention are attached to that mask"). Shinra, Tatsuki and Keiko travel to the studio to get a glimpse of the mask and to get information, but then the sculptor is found stabbed in his locked studio. Locked from the inside with the only key to the studio found on the victim and undisturbed snow on the outside window sill.

"The Cursed Mask" is an excellent shin honkaku locked room mystery in miniature reading like a modern take on Akimitsu Takagi's recently discussed Nomen satsujin jiken (The Noh Mask Murder, 1949). The locked room-trick is simple, but elegant, satisfying and brazenly clued. It's daringly alluded to before the murder is committed and discovered, which is the hallmark of every great detective story. Not merely a sound one. Even better is the backstory of the cursed mask and how it's very existence actually ended up destroying a man all those years before. A great story to close out this first excursion into the C.M.B. series and an early contender for that future post "The Hit List: Top 10 Favorite Cases from Motohiro Katou's C.M.B. vol. 1-25" (see my Q.E.D. version).

So the crossover from Q.E.D. vol. 41 and C.M.B. vol. 19 is getting closer and the current plan is to do Q.E.D. vol. 39-40 and C.M.B. vol. 3-4 next, before finally tackling that long anticipated crossover. Stay tuned!


Doctors in the Isolated Room (1996) by MORI Hiroshi

Last year, the BBB finished the e-serialization of MORI Hiroshi's celebrated debut work and first ever Mephisto Prize recipient, Subete ga F ni naru (Everything Turns to F: The Perfect Insider, 1996), translated by the second winner of the Mephisto Prize, Ryusui Seiryoin – published as a complete ebook in February, 2023. The Perfect Insider is credited with starting the second shin honkaku wave that moved away from the traditional, Seishi Yokomizo-like trappings of the first wave by placing the puzzle plots in specialized areas rather than bizarre mansions, isolated islands and remote villages. The Perfect Insider certainly represents a departure from the works of first wave writers like Takemaru Abiko, Alice Arisugawa and Yukito Ayatsuji. A locked room mystery set at an IT research institute run by computers where the hermit-like group of researchers communicate via email, chat or VR meetings. In 1996, The Perfect Insider must have read like a science-fiction mystery hybrid recalling Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun (1956/57).

I was a bit more measured in my praise. The Perfect Insider definitely is a fascinating, mostly
well put together and fresh treatment of the classically-styled detective story, but not the best Japanese mystery translated so far. A mystery novel high on ideas, but not executed with rigor we have come to expect and associate with those first wavers.

However, The Perfect Insider is only a first for both MORI Hiroshi and the second shin honkaku wave. So wanted to read more. Fortunately, the e-serialization of the second novel, Tsumetai misshitsu to hakase tachi (Doctors in the Isolated Room, 1996), was already in progress and the final chapters were released last March – together with the complete ebook edition. Doctors in the Isolated Room is more my kind of detective novel than The Perfect Insider.

Doctors in the Isolated Room is the second title released in the S&M series, but it was actually the first of three completed and unpublished novels with The Perfect Insider being intended as the fourth book in the series. Hiroshi's editor made the call to make it the first in the series, because it worked better as an introduction to the series with a plot that would leave an impression on the reader. And, well, he wasn't wrong. The Perfect Insider turned Hiroshi into a bestselling novelist and kickstarted the scientific period of the second shin honkaku wave, which seems to have inspired personal favorites like Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. series and Zaregoto series: kubikiri saikuru (Zaregoto, Book 1: The Kubikiri Cycle, 2002) by "NisiOisiN." So, for me, that was one of the more interesting aspects of The Perfect Insider, but Doctors in the Isolated Room is exactly the type of detective story I was hoping to find last year in its predecessor.

Before diving into the story, I should note that the BBB edition concludes with a new interview in which Hiroshi calls Doctors in the Isolated Room "an embarrassing piece" and "one of the bitter experiences I don't really want to re-read myself." This can be dismissed as an author balking at his earlier work. It might not be as ambitious, or "transcending," as the celebrated The Perfect Insider, but as an intended "update" of Yukito Ayatsuji & co, it's a success story – which is impressive for a first try. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Doctors in the Isolated Room takes place a year after the events of The Perfect Insider and finds assistant professor Sohei Saikawa and his first-year student, Moe Nishinosono, embroiled in another "mysterious incident."

Two weeks previously, Hokuto Kita of the civil engineering department invited the two over to the Polar Environmental Research Center (PERC) for a tour of the low-temperature laboratory ("it's 20 degrees below zero here"). And to observe one of their experiments. What, exactly, they're doing is a long, technical story that needs not to be recounted here, except that it requires some patience to get from the first mention of the incident to the actual incident. However, if you can appreciate a well developed/specialized setting as much as a sound plot or engaging characters, the tour of the PERC building with its low-temperature laboratory is not going to disappoint you. Nor is the demonstration of the experiment, which is bound to plant certain ideas in your head. Afterwards, the instructors and graduate students of PERC have a little drinking party during which Kenjiro Niwa and Tamako Hattori, two grad students, go missing. A search ensued without results until they decide to unlock the preparation room and find Hattori's body. The body of Niwa is found moments later lying at the bottom of the stairs giving access to the loading room. Both stabbed in the back.

So begins, what the media would come to refer to as, "the PERC locked room murder case." Just like the premise, the locked crime scene is too detailed to describe and not as easy as simply every door and window being locked or watched. There several potential exits, ranging from doors, emergency exits and a defective shutter, which all appear to be blocked and prevented the murderer from escaping (unseen) from the locked portion of the PERC building. This is one of those large scale, architectural locked room murders that Herbert Resnicow specialized in a decade earlier. And no wonder. Hiroshi and Resnicow both had backgrounds in engineering. Doctors in the Isolated Room recalled Resnicow's The Dead Room (1987) where a deadly stabbing occurs in the anechoic chamber at a Hi-Fi company under impossible circumstances. Like the low-temperature laboratory, the anechoic chamber is a controlled environment used for specific experiments and opens the door to do something very different with the locked room puzzle. Resnicow conceived of a truly original, perhaps even unique, solution to the impossible stabbing in The Dead Room. However, while Resnicow concentrated solely on that one problem, Hiroshi turned the locked area of the PERC building into one giant puzzle box.

Firstly, the police search of the building uncovers another startling surprise adding another complication to an already tangled situation. Secondly, the PERC facilities sees several additional, seemingly impossible, incidents when Moe attacked and a fresh body is discovered in the loading room – bringing the noisy mass media to PERC ("Three Locked Rooms and Four Bodies"). Fascinatingly, it's not just the physical environment of PERC hosting a genuine mystery, but it's digital environment as well as Saikawa finds a ghost account hidden deep in PERC's UNIX system with Root privileges. Sure, it clearly dates the story, but it also adds some now historical charm to it. One of these days, we really should compile a list of these 1980s and '90s computer/internet detective stories (early internet access mysteries?). Anyway...

I didn't mention the majority of characters in Doctors in the Isolated Room, numbering well over twenty, because the majority of those characters came across as little more than numbers in a math problem. Saikawa is not an overly emotional person ("besides, I don't care much ... you know, about living things") whose initial surprise at the deaths near him turned into "a puzzlement, like a math problem" he was struggling to solve. So don't expect the usual routine of tackling a murder case or even a locked room mystery of this magnitude, which has both an advantage and a disadvantage. Well, depending on your personal preference and demands from a detective novel.

On the upside, the locked room aspect of the plot is given the space it needed. I feared the locked room-trick(s) would turn out to be either disappointingly simple or ingeniously messy and overly complicated. Neither was the case. The explanation of how the two grad students were killed is tricky, but clearly explained, easy to follow and visualize. Even better is the answer to that age-old question of the classically-styled detective story, "why did the criminal need to make it a locked room?" The other impossibilities are smaller, far less complicated parts in the overall plot, but all neatly dovetailed into the final explanation. So, plot-wise, Doctors in the Isolated Room is a small, technical marvel. However, if you demand engaging characters and some emotional depth to the plot/solution, Doctors in the Isolated Room is going to disappoint as it's consistently the weakest aspect of the plot. The clever locked room-trick also demands a pretty good and convincing reason to use it to kill two people, which tries to go for an emotional gut punch, but came across as very unconvincing in this academic, mostly clinical locked room mystery. So the motive behind the murders landed like a damp squib. I can forgive the lack of characterization, but the human element behind the murder falling flat is admittedly a smudge on an otherwise engrossing take on the impossible crime story.

Doctors in the Isolated Room is not a perfectly-rounded detective novel and perhaps too specialized/technical for some readers, but, purely as a densely-plotted locked room mystery with a research facility, it's an excellent and impressive first stab – better than The Perfect Insider. Hiroshi is a fresh new voice (for us, anyway) in the shin honkaku translation wave and look forward to the third entry in the S&W series. The BBB has already started the e-serialization of Warawanai sugakusha (Mathematical Goodbye, 1996), which should become available as a complete ebook sometime in February or March, 2025. Until then, I have Seishi Yokomizo's Akuma no temari uta (The Little Sparrow Murders, 1957/59), Tetsuya Ayukawa's Kuroi hakuchou (The Black Swan Mystery, 1960) and Ayatsuji's Meirokan no satsujin (The Labyrinth House Murders, 1988), to carry me over.


Sun, Sea and Murder (2024) by J.S. Savage

In March, I reviewed J.S. Savage's fantastic debut, The Mystery of Treefall Manor (2023), patterned after the great detective novelists and locked room mysteries of old – a high spot of the new crop of impossible crime novels and short stories. So looked forward to the second appearance of Inspector Graves and Constable Carver in Sun, Sea and Murder (2024), which was released last April. However, the book does not feature Graves and Carver.

The Mystery of Treefall Manor is a historical locked room mystery, set in 1926, plotted like a 1936 Golden Age detective novel. Sun, Sea and Murder has the appearance of a contemporary cozy, but a cozy with a plot, multiple narrators and a seemingly impossible murder. Well, my expectations were successfully subverted. So off to a good start, I suppose.

The backdrop of Sun, Sea and Murder is Russell Aspell's sunny resort, The Orange Tree Hotel, on the Spanish coast where the four different narrators come together on holiday. Firstly, there's Russell's niece, Sally, who's on a cut-price holiday with her childhood friend, Jasmine. Secondly, Marley and her mother, Agathe, whose painful joints keeps her in a wheelchair most of the time. Thirdly, the boorish Terry and his wife, Marjorie. Lastly, the journalist Sanjay and his boyfriend, Luke, who's a solicitor on a busman's holiday to go over the hotel accounts. Sally, Marley, Terry and Sanjay decide to keep a holiday diary, some written on their phones, which means every chapter is from a different view – what they record are not lazy, uneventful days under the Spanish sun. Jasmine's ex-boyfriend, Dylan, is staying at their hotel with his new girlfriend, Elle, killing her mood ("Jasmine has spat venom about Dylan every time he is in sight"). Terry has some longstanding grudge against Russell ("...dream about strangling Russell bloody Aspell"), Luke uncovers irregularities in the hotel accounts ("... it's an off-the-books transaction") and past incidents come bubbling to the surface. So nothing too seriously, or so it seems, but several days later, Marley and Marjorie find Russell's body in the hotel gym.

Russell had been struck over the head several times, presumably with a metal bar, but the door to gym is opened and closed with registered key-cards. Every time a card is used, it's logged on the hotel computer and the logs show nobody else had entered while Russell was in the gym doing his morning routine ("in the books they call it a locked-room mystery"). So who killed him, why and how was it done?

The task of answering those questions falls on the shoulders of the inspector de policia, Moreno, but Russell's long-time friend, Penny Haylestone, decided to run her own private little investigation – much to the chagrin and annoyance of Moreno. Penny Haylestone is not merely a meddlesome, self-appointed amateur detective trying to find the killer of her friend. She's an ex-Secret Service member, "recruitment and interrogation were my specialities," who recruits Marley as her Watson. Moreno is not the only obstacle in their way, "old grievances, false confessions, and improbable love triangles all helped to obscure." Not to mention a second, rather gruesome murder muddying the water even further.

So everything looked promising and the whole setup from the four narrators to the locked room murder had me genuinely puzzled, but unfortunately, Sun, Sea and Murder is a marked stepped down from The Mystery of Treefall Manor. That has several reasons. First of all, Savage plays only marginally fair with the reader this time as the clues are thinly spread around with the clues to the motives being extremely obscure, which made them feel like it came out of nowhere. Not really a fair play mystery novel that allows the reader to put all or most of the pieces together before the detective. In that regard, it reads much more like a first novel in which the author is afraid of giving away too much, too early, and holds his cards too close to his chest. That was not an issue at all with the previous novel. Secondly, (SPOILER/ROT13) jung, rknpgyl, jnf gur cbvag bs univat sbhe qvssrerag aneengbef? Va n ybpxrq ebbz zlfgrel, ribxvat gur Tbyqra Ntr qrgrpgvir fgbel, lbh jbhyq guvax gur qvssrerag aneengvir ivrj cbvagf vf tbvat gb cynl n ebyr va gur fbyhgvba. Fbzr aneengvir gevpxrel zhfg or nsbbg, fbzrjurer. Vf vg n fgenatref-ba-n-genva fvghngvba jvgu gjb xvyyref gnxvat pner bs rnpu bgure'f ivpgvzf naq gur qvnevrf vf gb xrrc gurve fgbevrf fgenvtug? Vf bar bs gur aneengbef npghnyyl fbzrbar ryfr sbe fbzr ernfba? Abcr. Vg'f whfg gb gvr gurve crefbany ceboyrzf gvtugre gb gur znva cybg. That came at the cost of everything the story did, or tried to do, right.

The link between the first and second murder is brilliant with the motive to the first murder bordering on being original, if they had been presented, and clued, more fairly – which is sadly even more true for the locked room murder. The locked room-trick could have worked had Savage not so jealously guarded certain key details. How can you expect (SPOILER/ROT13) nalbar gb fbyir gur ybpxrq ebbz-chmmyr jura gur qhzooryy vf abg zragvbarq hagvy Unlyrfgbar'f rkcynangvba? Jul rira jvguubyq gung qrgnvy? Gung guveq urnq jbhaq jbhyq unir nebhfrq Unlyrfgbar'f fhfcvpvba ertneqyrff, abe jbhyq vg unir qrfgeblrq gur ybpxrq ebbz vyyhfvba. There's another thing that baffled me a little. The Mystery of Treefall Manor not only is an outstanding historical locked room mystery, but one that feels like the genuine article without having to constantly remind you of the time period. It's honestly one of the most elegantly written and plotted pastiches of a Golden Age detective novel. By comparison, Sun, Sea and Murder seems to be written with a checklist in hand to remind you it's set in today's world. Maybe it's just me, but it just felt odd.

I still enjoyed reading Sun, Sea and Murder and futilely trying to piece together the solution, which is always half the fun of detective stories, but expected so much more from Savage after his excellent debut. So, hopefully, Savage returns to the retro-Golden Age (locked room) mysteries of Graves and Carver in his third novel or applies the same plotting standards for Penny Haylestone's second outing.


Water from a Stone: "The Sweating Statue" (1985) by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch's "The Sweating Statue" is the third short story to feature his modern-day Father Brown character, Father David Noone, who's one of Hoch's lesser-known series-characters – appearing in only half a dozen short stories since the 1960s. Hoch has said he always kept the character of Father Noone around for "just the right type of story."

"The Sweating Statue," originally published in Detectives A-Z: 26 Stories with a Sleuth for Every Letter of the Alphabet (1985) and reprinted in Murder Most Sacred (1989), is exactly such a short story. Father David Noone is a parish priest in large, unnamed city and a so-called miracle has brought nationwide attention to his aging inner city.

Two weeks previously, the first arrivals for morning Mass arrived and noticed that the wooden statue of the Virgin on the side altar "seemed covered with sweat." The statue was wiped clean, but statue started to sweat again a few moments later. Father Noone tries to convince his parishioners that no miracle has taken place. After all, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown once famously remarked, "miracles are not so cheap as all that," but it keeps happening – every day the morning Mass crowd gets bigger. Even the media is starting to pay attention. That brings Monsignor Thomas Xavier, "the Cardinal's troubleshooter," to Holy Trinity Church to investigate this reported miracle. However, "the statue seems to be having a ripple effect on the lives of a great many people." Such as the very religious Celia Orlando and her non-religious boyfriend, Kevin Frisk, who thinks Father Noone is filling her head with "crazy notions of a miracle." This situation culminates with Father Noone discovering the body of the church custodian, Marcos, beneath a flight of stairs with a broken neck. And that brings even more media attention to the place ("man found dead at "miracle" church"). So what the hell is going on?

Curiously enough, Father Noone's role as series-detective is usurped Monsignor Xavier, which I assume was done to give Detectives A-Z anthology an entry for "X." Monsignor Xavier is the one who notices the two tell-tale clues that neatly explain how a statue can sweat bullets and why Marcos ended up dead at the bottom of the stairs. Short, simple and satisfying. So another solid short story effort from Hoch with a very well handled impossible situation.

Just one little side comment. Mike Grost comments on his website that he doesn't share the general enthusiasm for this story, "the mystery of the statue itself, is solidly done," but finds the story too grim and gloomy in its storytelling with all of the characters (believers and non-religious alike) cast in a negative light. I agree to a certain extend. "The Sweating Statue" is simply a good detective story, but the characters and situation used to tell that detective story needed to be fleshed out more. I think the story would have hit very differently, if it had the room to tell why Kevin Frisk is a militant atheist or why an extremely religious woman like Celia Orlando loved him. Or why Father Noone appeared to be so passive throughout the story. I imagine a novel-length treatment of "The Sweating Statue" would read like Andrew M. Greeley-style impossible crime novel (e.g. Happy Are Those Who Mourn, 1995), except the plot wouldn't be a huge letdown.


Who Goes Hang? (1958) by Stanley Hyland

Stanley Hyland was a British TV producer for the BBC who worked on most of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's broadcasts from 1964 to 1970 and had previously been employed as a research librarian at the House of Commons, which gave him a thorough understanding of the workings of Parliament – providing a wealth of information for his first of three detective novels. Martin Edwards praised Hyland's Who Goes Hang? (1958) as "a beautifully constructed story which boasts as many twists as an Agatha Christie" and Erik Routley suggested in The Puritan Pleasure of the Detective Story (1972) it's perhaps the last in the line of cerebral stories of detection. Who Goes Hang? received a Japanese translation over twenty years ago and secured the 8th place on the international list of the 2001 Honkaku Mystery Best 10. Although some contrarians are out there today. So let's see where this lands.

Who Goes Hang? begins on tenth of May, 1956, when a workman is carrying out renovations in the Clock Tower, "just beneath the bell-chamber of Big Ben, the Great Bell of Westminster," that uncovers a hidden cavity. Behind the Victorian brickwork, the workman finds the body of man, "shrunken in mummified stillness," dressed in clothes of "of a fashion at least a century old" and a crushed skull ("...struck with something like a sandbag..."). So a clear case of murder.

Any death within one of Her Majesty's palaces, like the Houses of Parliament, needs to be explained to the satisfactory of the Coroner of the Royal Household, even one that happened a hundred years ago – which means an inquest on the mummy. Normally, the setting for an inquest in one of these British whodunits is a village pub or school building, but in Who Goes Hang? it's the Moses Room ("properly the Peers' Robing Room") in the House of Lords with a distinguished jury comprising of everything from a Lieutenant-General of the last war to the Controller-General of the Jewel House. During the inquest, they go over the items found on the body that include a pocket watch engraved with a motto, a phrase ("Effrenate") and a depiction of two tiny masks ("the formal tragic and comic masks of the classical theatre").

Hubert Bligh, Member for the Brackwell Division of Lambeth, recognizes the engravings and links its to an old house in his constituency. A place called Roshy House which house a grotesque looking statue of a humpback.

So what could be the link between the mummified body walled up beneath Big Ben and Roshy House? Considering the time scale involved, the investigation is going to be an academic one rather than a police investigation. After all, whoever killed and entombed the man also died a long time ago. A special committee is proposed and assembled, Bligh Committee, to investigate the historical murder. Mostly, the committee do an excellent job, if like this kind of thing, in going over the historical archives with a fine tooth comb to slowly, but surely, collecting facts and snippets of information in the hope of finding satisfactory answers to all the questions posed by the body in the Clock Tower.

Not a classical, grand-style British whodunit, but an academic reconstruction of the past and a historical crime. If you're one of those people who hated history in school and spend class jabbing away at your wrist with a math compass to make it end, you'll probably find the first two-thirds of the story dry, lifeless and probably very boring. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it for the most part and especially when the time comes for the inquest to resume with Bligh taking the stand – delivering a detailed, apparently watertight account of what happened nearly a century ago. Only for a small, until then overlooked detail to upturn the whole apple cart leaving Bligh in the witness box in a state of utter confusion. Something that puts an entirely different complexion on the case, but, regrettably, the story completely deteriorates in the last quarter. A unfair, drawn out mess of a conclusion to a story that started out so promising. But even before arriving there, the story had already lost me. I didn't care anymore about the body, who put it there and why.

Even worse, Hyland overlooked a golden opportunity to salvage Who Goes Hang? There's one character who screamed out to me to be the murderer and could have been furnished with a first-class motive (SPOILERS/ROT13): gur obql vf erirnyrq gb unir qvrq n ybg zber erpragyl guna svefg gubhtug naq jnf uvqqra va gur Pybpx Gbjre qhevat gur Frpbaq Jbeyq Jne (ernq gur obbx sbe qrgnvyf). Gur zheqrere “xarj gur obql jbhyq or sbhaq naq ur ubcrq vg jbhyq or qvfzvffrq nf na vafbyhoyr uvfgbevpny zlfgrel,” juvpu vf jul gur obql jnf jrnevat 19gu praghel pybguvat naq pneelvat bgure crevbq vgrzf – yvxr gur cbpxrg jngpu naq pbvaf. Fb gur zheqrere vf sne sebz qrnq. Jul abg znxr gur zheqrere gur jbexzna, Serq Nezlgntr, jub qvfpbirerq gur obql? Nezlgntr pbhyq unir orra jbexvat ba gur Pybpx Gbjre qhevat gur jne, gb pneel bhg gur ercnvef, juvpu tnir uvz gur vqrn gb hfr gur pnivgl sbe gur cresrpg zheqre naq cnff uvf ivpgvz bss nf na hafbyinoyr, uvfgbevpny chmmyr. Fb jul jbhyq Nezlgntr erghea gb qvfpbire gur obql, orfvqr zbeovq phevbfvgl gb frr uvf cyna hasbyq? Fvzcyr, gur uvfgbevpny pbvaf va gur ivpgvz'f cbpxrgf! Ng gur gvzr, Nezlgntr unq ab vqrn gur pbvaf jurer jbegu, be jbhyq or jbegu, n cerggl craal hagvy gur obql jnf nyy frnyrq hc. Erzrzore, gur fgbel gnxrf cynpr qhevat gur cbfg-jne znynvfr bs gur svsgvrf naq univat fhpu na vanpprffvoyr arfg rtt zhfg or znqqravat gb na beqvanel jbexzna. Jura gur bccbeghavgl svanyyl neevirf, Nezlgntr creuncf ibyhagrref gb qb jbex (onfrq ba uvf cerivbhf rkcrevraprf) ba gur gbjref, oernxf njnl gur jnyy naq gnxrf nyy ohg bar bs gur pbvaf. Bayl pbva ur zvffrf vf gur ohz craal gung raqf hc qrfgeblvat gur pbzzvggrr'f snyfr-fbyhgvba.

Yes, it's a rough, unpolished idea, but (ROT13) yvxr gur gubhtug bs gur crefba jub qvfpbiref, jung rirelbar vavgvnyyl nffhzrf vf, n 100-lrne-byq zheqre ivpgvz gheaf bhg gb or gur zheqrere nsgre nyy. Now that's an Agatha Christie-style rug-puller from the least-likely-suspect category that would have given the book a claim to the status of a minor, post-war classic of the British detective novel. Unfortunately, for us, Hyland didn't write that kind of detective novel.

So, all in all, Hyland's Who Goes Hang? has a great premise, hobbles along to a splendid, midway twist upturning everything before going to pieces in the most unsatisfactory way. The historical details and color aren't enough to carry the last part of the plot. No recommendation this time and I'll try to pick something good for the next one.

A note for the curious: if you find the idea of "an academic investigation" into a historical mystery fascinating, you might fare better with Katsuhiko Takahashi's Sharaka satsujin jikes (The Case of the Sharaka Murders, 1983). It's not the best or most well-known Japanese mystery novel to be translated, but the plot is full of historical interest and concerns the search for the identify of an 18th century woodblock print artist, Sharaka – who was only active for ten months. Again, it's not the best or most typical of Japanese detective novels, but better and clearer plotted than Who Goes Hang?


The Clue in the Air (1917) by Isabel Ostrander

Isabel Ostrander was an American socialite from a well-to-do New York family, of Dutch descent, who traveled and lived all over the world at various times, but she disappointed her parents when she decided to study drama and married a Broadway songwriter – before embarking on a writing career. Not without success! Ostrander prolifically wrote short stories and serial novels for the early (pulp) magazines, which widely read and made her something of a household name. You might not have read any of her stories or even heard of her name, but you have likely read Agatha Christie's short story collection Partners in Crime (1929). One of the short stories, "Finessing the King" (1924), parodies Ostrander's McCarty and Riordan series. A parody blunted by Ostrander's plunge into obscurity, but it goes to show how well-known her work was in the 1910s and '20s. More importantly, she was something of a trailblazer.

Ostrander created one of the first blind detectives, Damon Gaunt, preceded only by Clinton H. Stagg's Thornley Colton and Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados. Ashes to Ashes (1919) is credited with being one of the first inverted crime novels predating Anthony Berkeley's "Francis Iles" crime novels by a dozen years. The Clue in the Air (1917), today's subject, has been known to me as a proto-1930s detective novel listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) for ages. Somehow, The Clue in the Air proved to be remarkable difficult to find for a book that should have been in the public domain for the past twenty or thirty years.

So it was a welcome surprise to learn The Clue in the Air finally got a proper, long overdue reprint as part of "Otto Penzler's Locked Room Library" series. A new, hopefully long-running series with a so far unusual, but interesting, selection of titles – mostly covering relatively obscure titles from the 1920s. This first badge comprises of Anna Katharine Green's Miss Hurd: An Enigma (1894), Eden Phillpotts' The Grey Room (1921), Arthur J. Rees' The Moon Rock (1922), Louis Tracy's The Passing of Charles Lanson (1924), W. Adolphe Roberts' The Haunting Hand (1926), Ronald A. Knox's The Three Taps (1927) and Ostrander's The Clue in the Air. They are in the public domain, but that doesn't always mean they're readily available or undeserving of a proper edition. If this is the route this reprint series is taking, I can only hope obscure, hard-to-find public domain locked room mysteries like Fred M. White's serial "Who Killed James Trent" (1901), W.A. Mackenzie's Flower O' the Peach (1916), Charles Chadwick's The Cactus (1925) and Ostrander's Above Suspicion (1923), published as by "Robert Orr Chipperfield," are next in line to be reprinted. In the meantime, I'll pick and choose from this first round of reprints from Penzler's Locked Room Library.

The Clue in the Air introduces Ostrander's series-detective, ex-roundsman Timothy McCarty, who resigned from the police force when "the death of a prosperous, saloon-keeping uncle had made him financially independent" to become a prosperous landed proprietor and gentleman of leisure – which proved empty and monotonous. That all changed one sultry, summer evening when McCarty is out for a stroll in the city and bumps into an old colleague, Cunliffe, out on patrol. They chat a little how nothing ever happens in that quiet district of the city, but McCarty reminds him that, when he was still on the force, "all the brawls in the tough wards put together didn't give us half the trouble of one crime pulled off in a residential section." A remark thick with foreshadowing!

McCarty continued his leisurely stroll when he hears "a sharp, choking cry from somewhere overhead" and "a swift rush of air as something hurtled down and fell with a hideous crashing impact on the pavement at his feet." What crashed on the sidewalk of an apartment building is the quivering, broken body of a dying woman uttering the cryptic words, "the—flying—man," through smashed lips and broken teeth. A dying message!

I already noted Ostrander was something of a trailblazer in the 1910s, creating a blind detective and experimenting with the inverted crime, which can be extended to The Clue in the Air. The story is a prototype, or premonition, of things yet to come. A Van Dine-Queen detective novel written a decade before either S.S. van Dine or Ellery Queen arrived on the scene and has the added distinction of being the first detective novel known to use the "dying message" device. Only example preceding it is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (1891) from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891). That would have been impressive enough for a surprisingly fresh, very readable mystery novel written/published in 1917, but the deadly fall is eventually revealed to be a locked room problem and the ex-roundsman has to contend with a Sherlockian rival sleuth. So someone gets to play the fallible detective and provide the story with a false-solution, of sorts. The Clue in the Air probably deserves more credit for its part in shaping the American detective story of the 1920s and '30s, but more on that in a moment.

Inspector Druet, officially leading the investigations, asks McCarty to come back to the force in some capacity, but tries to resist the urge to get involved without much success ("I'm not able to get the thing out of my mind at all since the poor thing fell at my feet") considering the whole situation is festooned with question marks – starting with the identity of the victim, Marion Rowntree. She's stepdaughter of the noted banker, Stephen Quimby, who's the executor of the estate left her by her mother until she became of age. In two weeks time, Marion would have turned twenty-one and her stepfather would have been compelled to turn everything over to her. And that might have been a problem for obvious reasons. However, Quimby apparently has an alibi. There are other questions: What was Marion doing at the apartment building? Where was she pushed from? What's the meaning of her dying words? Who else in the apartment building could have pushed her? "Was it the blonde lady on the third floor, or the seemingly frank and straightforward young inventor, or the bizarre couple who were his immediate neighbors?" Or was it perhaps someone else ("match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you guess whodunit").

So, as the soon to be Special Officer becomes more involved, McCarty enlists his lifelong friend and (here, anyway) armchair Watson, Dennis Riordan. A city firefighter and enjoyed their little chats at the firehouse, but otherwise, Riordan's role in the story is very limited compared to the previously mentioned rival detective, Wade Terhune, "the renowned crime specialist" who's "record of success is unique in the annals of criminal investigation." Terhune is a parody of Sherlock Holmes with all the “charm” of Philo Vance and all the "scientific facilities" of Dr. John Thorndyke or Craig Kennedy. McCarty is speechless the Great Detective and subjects him to a series of observation, which turn out to be spot on ("mere observation once more, and a little deduction"), but even more interesting are Terhune's scientific gadgets. Mostly notably, Terhune hooks all the suspects to a lie-detector to scientifically measure their responses to a series of pictures ("...you have each irrefutably recorded your emotions by the pulse beats in your wrists, in pressing upon the pneumatic cushion"). Terhune and his gadgets sometimes push the story dangerous close to science-fiction and a hybrid mystery ("I have adjusted a vibratometer, a small apparatus which, as the subject sits facing the hearth, will measure the vibration of his breath"), but McCarty's ordinary, everyday common sense prevails over Terhune's spyglasses, tape measures and "machines with jaw-breaking names." So... about that ending.

Ostrander was certainly ahead of the curve and perhaps knew in which direction the detective story, and novel, was slowly headed. The Clue in the Air is an early example of the direction in which the detective novel was slowly taking, but it simply wasn't there yet. Not even close! Ostrander evidently had an idea how it would look and feel like, but the last quarter of the story and ending throws all of that out of the window. Nick Fuller said it best, "impressive because it is ahead of its time, disappointing because fair play is still in the future." However, the twist preceding this change is actually somewhat clued and something you should be able to anticipate, because it has been done before and beaten like a dead horse since.

After this point, The Clue in the Air goes from the ancestral mother of the American detective story to just another pulp story littering the popular magazines of the day. And it finally reveals why the book secured a spot in Adey's Locked Room Murders. But don't expect anything grandiose, unless you have a taste for dated, pulp-style impossible crimes. I can enjoy a bizarre, pulpy take on the locked room mystery, but this needed to be more than just pulp. This is like watching a runner collapse with the finish line in sight.

That being said, the high rise building and period setting helped to punch up the locked room angle and scenes. If only Marion's dying message had been (ROT13) "gur—fcvqre—zna," which is more accurate and funny today, but unfair to expect the book to be a complete conduit into the future. Ostrander was farsighted, not clairvoyant. The Clue in the Air is admirably enough as a premonition of the American detective novel of the coming decades. Likely served as a blueprint for some of those writers that would emerge in the coming decades, even though Ostrander is largely forgotten today. So recommended as a not unimportant genre curiosity.

A note for the curious: Isabel Ostrander died a little over a century ago, aged 40, on April 26, 1924, of "heart failure after an illness of several weeks." She was only 40 when she died in 1924 and would have been in her early fifties when the Golden Age was in full swing in the mid-1930s. I now wonder what Ostrander might have written had she seen what others can do with a detective novel like The Clue in the Air.


The Noh Mask Murder (1949) by Akimitsu Takagi

Now, the perceptive among you may have noticed my love for the Japanese detective novels of the shin honkaku school, simply neo-classical or neo-orthodox in English, but not to be overlooked are their original, often Western influenced honkaku fore bearers – which sadly have been overlooked by the translation wave. For the longest time, the only available honkaku works were some short stories by Edogawa Rampo, Akimitsu Takagi's Shisei satusjin jiken (The Tattoo Murder Case, 1948), Seishi Yokomizo's Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951) and two collections of short stories from Okamoto Kido and Keikichi Osaka. Pushkin Vertigo is slowly correcting that oversight.

In 2019, they published a long-awaited, second Yokomizo translation, Honjin satsujin jiken (The Honjin Murders, 1946), which was the first of currently half a dozen new translations. Pushkin Vertigo's run of Yokomizo translations is for a fan of Golden Age detective fiction akin to opening Tutankhamun's sealed tomb. A veritable treasure room of previously inaccessible Golden Age gems! Well, to me anyway. I loved Gokumontou (Death on Gokumon Island, 1947/48), Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (The Devil's Flute Murders, 1951/53) and Yokomizo's locked room classic, The Honjin Murders.

So it was promising when they expanded their honkaku catalog by reprinting Takagi's The Tattoo Murder Case, shortened to The Tattoo Murder, because it implied a new translation was likely somewhere in the pipeline. Every time Pushkin Vertigo reprints an older translation, they follow up with one, or more, new translations from the same author – like they did with Soji Shimada and Yukito Ayatsuji. My little observational deduction proved to be correct and an English translation of Takagi's second novel was announced as forthcoming last year.

Nomen satsujin jiken (The Noh Mask Murder, 1949), translated by Jesse Kirkwood, is Akimitsu Takagi's second novel, but not a sequel to The Tattoo Murder Case that introduced his series-detective, Kyosuke Kamizu. The Noh Mask Murders is a standalone novel starring Akimitsu Takagi himself, his friend Koichi Yanagi and a public prosecutor, Hiroyuki Ishikari. Just like real-life counterpart, the fictional Takagi abondoned metallurgy to devote himself to writing "reading detective novels from around the world" who "fancied himself an amateur investigator" and pined for an opportunity "to put his deductive skills to practical use." And use it to write a firsthand account-style detective novel. His friends hands him exactly such an opportunity. After the war, Koichi Yanagi returned to Japan without a job or place to stay, but found a place when the Chizui family kindly opened their home to the returning soldier. However, the Chizui family is not what they appear on the outside.

Akimitsu (both the author and character) obviously admired S.S. van Dine and The Greene Murder Case (1928) is referenced several times. Not wholly without reason. The family depicted in The Noh Mask Murder make the dysfunctional Greenes appear relatively normal.

Taijiro Chizui became the head of the family after his brother, Professor Soichiro Chizui, died from a heart attack after getting injured in an experiment ("...a glass flask exploded"), which left him bedridden before his heart gave out. So the family of his brother moved into the mansion, but Yanagi confides in Ishikari that there's "something deeply wrong" with Taijiro's branch of the Chizui clan. Taijiro is consumed by greed who would do anything to satisfy his lust for wealth, perhaps even murder. His oldest son, Rintaro is "a terrifying nihilist" to whom "justice and morality are no more than intellectual games." Yojiro is not as overtly crazy as his father or brother, but "a snake only ever begets a snake." Sawako is their sister who appears to be the most normal of the lot, but who knows what years among her crazy, half-invalided relatives have done to her. Such as Taijiro's mother, Sonoe, whose right side of her body paralyzed with palsy, which did nothing to blunt her fierce temper. And then there are the remnants of Professor Chizui's branch of the family. After he passed away, his wife lost her mind and has been a resident patient of the Oka Asylum, in Tokyo, for the past ten years and she not alone as their daughter, Hisako, "unravelled completely" – reason behind her insanity is really unsettling. Finally, there's the professor's 14-year-old son, Kenkichi, who's dying from an incurable heart disease ("...surely his days were now numbered").

So a cozy, happy little household, to say the least, which also houses a Noh mask, "said to harbour a two-hundred-year-old curse," sealed away in glass case. Someone is wandering around the mansion wearing the mask. Yanagi and Hiroyuki Ishikari even spot the mask starring at them from an upstairs window of the mansion on one of its walkabouts. Yanagi decided this is exactly to type of case his old school friend, Akimitsu, wanted to test his detective skills ("...fancies himself Japan's answer to Philo Vance"). Shortly after his arrival, Taijiro dies in his room without a mark on his body with the door and windows securely locked from the inside. The demonic Noh mask is lying on the floor and there's the fragrance of jasmine lingering around the body. Even more curious and ominous, someone called an undertaker to have three coffins delivered to the mansion.

The investigation is told as a retrospective account as imagined by Akimitsu in the opening chapters ("...a new type of detective novel, unprecedented anywhere in the world"), but journal is written by Yanagi. Not Akimitsu! Just one of the many twists and turns the plot takes as the body count begins to rise.

If you know anything about my taste, you know The Noh Mask Murder is right up my alley. And not always for the obvious reason. First things, first. Ho-Ling reviewed The Noh Mask Murder all the way back in 2011 acknowledging its historical importance and original locked room-trick, but thought it spoiled and borrowed too much. I agree it bluntly spoiled a few very famous detective novels, however, it didn't lazily borrow from them. Just modeled and tried to improve on certain ideas with various degrees of success. The Noh Mask Murder, as a whole, essentially improves on Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case ("the holocaust that consumed the Greene family"), which is not a spoiler as the opening states "before long, the entire illustrious family had reached its demise" in addition to several references to the novel. Reason why it worked better here is that Akimitsu didn't structure it like a last-man-standing-did-it process of elimination, but as a genuine, fairly clued detective story – marred only by using a well-worn idea as the main thrust of the plot. Something the seasoned mystery reader is certain to pick upon, but even then the ending has a final twist of the knife in store. And then there's the solution to the locked room murder.

While the explanation really needed a diagram, it's easier to follow than the locked room-trick from The Tattoo Murder Case and one part of the trick is very pleasing to visualize. A dab of artistry to an otherwise technical locked room-trick, but really good for such a type of locked room mystery. More importantly, the historical significance of The Noh Mask Murder and other translations of original honkaku mysteries is greater than Ho-Ling gave it credit for, even more so today than in 2011.

Firstly, the translations of Takagi and Yokomizo novels beautifully complement the shin honkaku translations, because they give Western readers a sample of what that movement used as a foundation to build upon and expand. Secondly, the importance and influence of the translation wave on the budding Golden Age/locked room revival, which is a fantastic example of something coming full circle. A hundred years ago, Rampo introduced Japan to the Western-style detective story that inspired writers, like Takagi and Yokomizo, to create a local variation on the great American and British Golden Age detectives. After the Second World War, the traditional detective story fell into decline in both sides, until Shimada revived it in the early 1980s and inspired an entire movement that revitalized the traditional-style, fair play detective story – showing you can teach an old dog new tricks. The movement is still going strong today, working hard on their third Golden Age, while spreading its influence across Asia and even the West. Ever since the English debut of Ayatsuji's Jukkakukan no satusjin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) started the translation wave in earnest, the shin honkaku-style has left its traces on Western (locked room) mystery writers. For example, James Scott Byrnside (The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire, 2020), A. Carver (The Author is Dead, 2022), Jim Noy (The Red Death Murders, 2022) and especially H.M. Faust (Gospel of V, 2023). So to see all of this coming full circle with beloved, classically-styled locked room mystery is both incredibly pleasing and the historical cherry on top of an otherwise already excellent detective novel. If this exchange of ideas between Western and Japanese mystery writers is not unique, it is at least something special for us and should be treasured.

So, simply as a (locked room) mystery novel, The Noh Mask Murder has practically nothing to really complain about. The inclusion of a diagram, floor plan and perhaps a family tree (I'm bad with Japanese names) would have improved the story even further, but if the only, very minor, complaint is a stylistic one, there's really not much to seriously complain about. The Noh Mask Murder comes highly recommended as a genuine, previously inaccessible, Golden Age locked room mystery. A good one at that. More please!

A note for curious publishers: if anyone from Pushkin Vertigo or another publisher stumbles across this post, I compiled a "Top 10 Non-English Detective Novels That Need to Be Translated" that warrants a look. Just a suggestion. ;)


Cops & Robbers: "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper" (1987), "The Murder in Room 1010" (1987) and "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" (1991) by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch, the man of a thousand stories, was not only a prolific writer of short stories, who appeared in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 1973 until his death in 2008, but a varied one as well – whose works covers detective stories of all stripes and varietals. Mike Grost correctly noted that "many of Hoch's series detectives tend to personify mystery subgenres" and "can shift to any of these genres simply by altering his series protagonist." For example, Dr. Sam Hawthorne exclusively deals with impossible crimes, Jeffery Rand is a code cracking spy, Captain Leopold series are modern police procedurals and Ben Snow is a gun-slinging sleuth from the Wild West. So the series all take a different approach to telling a detective story, whether it be the characters or setting, but the plots unmistakably identifies them as works from Hoch's hands.

Some cynics will simply call it a formula, but it gives a harmonizing quality to Hoch's many, vastly different series. More importantly, it allowed Hoch to bring different series-characters together for a crossover story! Hoch wrote three such crossovers during the early '90s.

The first of these crossover stories, "The Problem of the Haunted Tepee" (1990), has an aged Ben Snow visiting Dr. Sam Hawthorne in the 1930s to consult him on a case from the 1800s he was never able to solve. "The Spy and the Gypsy" (1991) is a crossover between Rand and the gypsy detective, Michael Vlado, which I'll get to eventually. Sandwiched in between is a short story bringing Nick Velvet and Sandra Paris to Captain Jules Leopold's city. That short story gave me the idea for this three-for-one review discussing two short stories, one from the Nick Velvet series and the other a Captain Leopold story, which I picked based on Grost's praise – calling them "some of Hoch's purest and most delightful impossible crime tales." And concluding with the crossover between the two series.

"The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper," originally published as "The Theft of the Lost Slipper" in the April, 1987, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, is the 54th short story to feature Nick Velvet. A thief-for-hire who only steals valueless things for a hefty fee (see The Thefts of Nick Velvet, 1978). This time, Velvet is approached by Gloria's brother, Arnie, who runs a Greenwich Village restaurant and normally wants nothing to do with Velvet or criminals in general. Velvet is surprised when Arnie asks him to steal a left shoe, "a woman's pump with a pink three-inch heel and pink straps," locked away in the safe of a fancy lawyer, Frederick Junis. The shoe in question belongs to a model the lawyer knew, Sophie Moment, but she ran away and left her shoe ("...sounds like Cinderella"). A complete pair is worth less than twenty-five dollars and so he accepts the assignment, but why is Arnie willing to pay him twenty-five thousand dollars to steal the shoe?

Velvet boldly goes to the office of Junis, located on the thirty-first floor of the Regal
Building on Wall Street, where he presents himself as a private investigator looking into the disappearance of Sophie Moment. What he eventually learns is surprising to say the least. Sophie Moment has disappeared under seemingly impossible circumstances just outside the office. Junis had caught Moment going through his files and fled through a private door, opening onto a short corridor with just two other doors, where she simply vanished into thin air – because the people behind those two doors swear nobody came out. During her disappearance-act from the corridor, Moment lost a shoe which Junis keeps in his office safe as evidence. So, once again, the thief has to turn detective to figure out what happened. Not only to the disappearance from the lawyer's office, but who killed the body Velvet stumbles across after wiggling out of a tight corner.

The strength of "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper" is not in a single trick or a clever, somewhat original idea. The solution to the impossible disappearance is a redressing of an old trick and something the story itself acknowledges (ROT13: “Yvxr Purfgregba'f cbfgzna fur'q orpbzr vaivfvoyr”). Instead the strength is in the neat dovetailing of the plot, folding everything beautifully together, complemented by the setting with its "postcard view of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor" and "the twin-towered World Trade Center." So another good, solid short story from Hoch, but not nearly as good as the next story.

"The Murder in Room 1010" first appeared in the November, 1987, issue of EQMM and recently reprinted in the Crippen & Landru collection The Killer Everyone Knew and Other Captain Leopold Stories (2023) – introduced by Roland Lacourbe. Arguably, this is one of Hoch's better and more interesting locked room mysteries.

Captain Leopold and Lieutenant Fletcher are called to the staid old St. George Hotel, in the center of the city facing Veterans Park, where a dead man has been found in one of the rooms. The front desk received a report of a woman screaming in Room 1010, but a security guard who tried to go in with a pass key found it was also chain-locked. After cutting the chain, they find the body of a man with multiple stab wounds and "the screaming woman, barely conscious, next to the body of a murdered man" ("...maybe a little high on something"). The victim is a disgraced school teacher, Ken Armstrong, who turned to crime and the woman is identified as Anita Buckman. She claims to be innocent of the murder. Leopold finds an important clue, "a small, voice-activated tape recorder," in her handbag. An ex-colleague and private investigator, Max Hafner, had asked him about exactly such a recording device only days before. Hafner tells Leopold that Armstrong had been blackmailing Rudolph Buckman, "he'd had a fling with a prostitute and somebody took pictures," before trying to get more money from his wife Anita. Hafner advised her to record the transaction and use the recording as leverage to make him back off or the recording is handed over to the police. When she went to his hotel room to hand over the money, Anita blackouts and, somehow, a murderer entered and left the locked room. But how?

Just like "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper," the strength of "The Murder in Room 1010" is in the masterly dovetailing of the various plot-strands to create a first-rate, classically-styled locked room mystery – presented as a police procedural. The locked room-trick itself is not terribly complicated, on the contrary, it's a great example of simplistic brilliance. More importantly, the way Hoch used the circumstances to create the locked room situation. If you're interested in Hoch or impossible crime fiction, I recommend reading Grost's short review (beware of spoilers) going over why Hoch's approach to the impossible crime in "The Murder in Room 1010" is "unusual in mystery fiction" and "harder to do" than your average locked room puzzle. And why it's a somewhat atypical story for Hoch. Something he didn't mention, demonstrating Hoch's experienced hand as a plotter, is how he quietly eliminated the possibility of shenanigans with the crack allowed by the chain-lock by dispatching Armstrong multiple stab wounds. That would have been a different story had he been found with a knife-handle sticking out of his back. So a small gem of an impossible crime story and even better Hoch short story. A shoe-in for the next update of my list of favorite impossible crime stories.

"The Theft of Leopold's Badge" was first published in the March, 1991, issue of EQMM and almost reads like a three-act play. Hoch created Sandra Paris, the White Queen, to be rival to Velvet and introduced her in the short story "The Theft of the White Queen's Menu" (1983). Paris modeled her crimes and persona on the White Queen from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (1871). So she only steals valuables before breakfast in seemingly impossible circumstances.

The opening of the story finds Sandra Paris backstage at "Breakfast with the Muses," a fancy fundraising event for the Parker Museum, where she has taken the place of one of the nine muses – whom she tied, gagged and stuffed into a closet. When the performance begins, Paris takes out a roadside flare, tossed it at a priceless Van Gogh painting and "watched it erupt in a flash of vivid flame." Naturally, the Van Gogh painting is not destroyed, but cleverly lifted by Paris. She nearly got away with it. Paris made a tiny, easily missed mistake, but she's in Captain Leopold's city. Leopold and Fletcher caught up with Paris and the stolen Van Gogh at the airport. Even worse, while Paris was stealing the Van Gogh, someone stole two more paintings and left a getaway car with a body in the parking lot. Paris asks for her one phone call and asks Nick Velvet to return an old favor ("...I got you out of jail once").

So the second-act, of sorts, is Velvet meeting Leopold and trying to get Paris released, which has that "worlds collide" feeling a crossover should have. Leopold immediately checked Velvet's background, "do people really hire you to steal items of little or no value?" ("there have been stories to that effect"), showing these characters come from very different series. Velvet is a charming criminal with a moral compass who's easily cheered on in his own series, but, in the eyes of Leopold, he's simply another criminal. So it's rather an odd choice Velvet gets to dictate the story from here on out. Leopold is not convinced Paris worked or could have done the job on her own and the murder is simply the result of thieves falling out. Velvet wants to prove Paris worked alone and had her hands full with stealing the Van Gogh by replicating its disappearance using Leopold's badge. Not to mention revealing who stole the other paintings and shot the man in the parking lot.

This messy description of the plot barely does justice how nicely Hoch layered it. From Paris' caper and the second theft/murder ("...someone took advantage of your presence to do a little work of their own") to the trick to make the painting/police badge vanish in front of several witnesses, which should please anyone who loves a bit of stage magic mixed with their mysteries. Not to forget characters from two entirely different series crossing paths and making it work. Hoch's approach to crossovers is an interesting one as one series-character always seems to have the upper hand over the other. In "The Problem of the Haunted Tepee," Snow needs Dr. Hawthorne to solve an impossible crime from the past. "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" begins with Leopold checkmating the White Queen, but then Velvet takes the lead and solves the case in the third and final act. I assume the same holds true for "The Spy and the Gypsy." So would liked to have seem more opposition from Leopold, but other than that, it's a rare and excellent crossover mystery. I loved Velvet's last line to Paris ("I think we'd both better stay out of his city in the future").

All in all, three really good short stories from Hoch! "The Murder in Room 1010" is obviously the best of the lot and "The Theft of Leopold's Badge" is a genuinely rare treat, if you love (good) crossovers. Only "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper"
appears a bit average next to those two, but not one that'll disappoint fans of the series. So not bad and wish Hoch had continued pooling his series-characters. Just imagine the implications of Simon Ark casually turning up in a Dr. Hawthorne or Alexander Swift story!