Apologies for my recent blogging absence; a combination of what I understand are referred to as ‘IRL’ circumstances and the fact that everything I picked up and tried to read was absolute dreck put something of a kibosh on things. The sensible thing seemed to be just to write off September and move on. So now I’m back with the oft-cited classic — and so inevitably hard-to-find outside of the USA, where the lovely Mysterious Press have published it — locked room mystery Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand. Why this one? Well, it’s supposed to be awesome and I’m trying to get into Brand, having been thoroughly meh’d by Green for Danger (1944) and slightly more taken with Suddenly at His Residence (a.k.a. The Crooked Wreath) (1946). So, how did I fare?
Before Anthony Berkeley’s recurring sleuth Roger Sheringham appears at just past the halfway point of The Second Shot, we are told by narrator Cyril ‘Pinkie’ Pinkerton that we possess all the necessary information to work out who shot bounder and all-round bad apple Eric Scott-Davis. I have two problems with this: firstly it is not true, as there is sundry information revealed in the epilogue that we had no possible way of knowing, and secondly it renders the entirety of Sheringham’s investigation invalid for you, the reader, as you know there’s nothing new to be uncovered. It’s an odd decision for an author who strove hard to redefine the limits of the ‘mere’ puzzle novel, but then Berkeley has always been rather erratic in his output to my tastes.
In much the same way that Hercule Poirot, Peter Wimsey, Roger Sheringham, and all other unofficial detectives of the Golden Age were unable to step out of their front doors without stumbling into some criminal enterprise, so The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys, The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, and all others of their ilk always found themselves embroiled in shenanigans of one kind or another no matter where they went.
Yes! The Tuesday Night Bloggers have returned! And this month’s topic is Children in Crime; be they victims, perpetrators, bystanders, or sleuths, we’re onto it. And with Blyton’s forays into youthful adventure among the most popular of this kind of thing, I thought I’d take a look at one and see what occurred to me.
I’d like to get a fundamental contention out of the way: T.H. White’s sole detective novel Darkness at Pemberley came to my attention for the locked room murder that opens it, but I don’t feel it qualifies an impossible crime (the room can be unlocked at will, for one…). Had White made a couple of different narrative choices — not even in the scheme itself, purely in the structure of how he presents the problem — then it could be an ‘impossible alibi’ problem. But he doesn’t. You’re told the guilty party before they’ve had a chance to really fall under suspicion or even mention the alibi they’ve given themself, and so you have a well-that-would-have-been-impossible-if-they’d-been-given-a-chance-to-deny-it crime. Which I’m pretty sure is a new sub-sub-genre, though perhaps not one that we’ll get many further books in…
You’re writing a detective novel during the most productive and creative period that the genre has ever gone through, so pay attention — the tropes aren’t tropes yet, they’re still ingredients, and the standard mix requires the following: a murder or two, an amateur detective, a closed circle of suspects, an imminent sense of threat for our hero to fret over and be dismissed by the professional police, a love interest who must fall under suspicion before our hero realises she just might be his soul-mate…any questions? Okay, off you go. Keep the dunnage to a minimum, avoid long-winded and namby-pamby descriptions — this is entertainment, remember — and for pity’s sake keep it light.
Over at the excellent and superbly-titled Exploring the History of Women in Mystery blog, wrangler “Unpredictable Notes” recently put up this brief summary of the EIRF school as outlined in Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor’s A Catalogue of Crime (1971). EIRF is a step on from HIBK (Had I But Known) and stands for Everything is Rather Frightening:
In fact, since the modern psychological novel has devoted itself to exploring the abnormal and oddly alarming, no great originality was needed to raise the emotional pitch of the murder another notch and made HIBK into EIRF – Everything is Rather Frightening.
This is a new one on me but, by the same serendipity that seems to manifest itself throughout my blogging, I was reading The Black Rustle — one of the middle period novels from the Little sisters — when I encountered this lexicon, and it struck me how perfectly all the Littles’ books fall into this categorisation.
Well, following the discovery of Matt Ingwalson’s Owl and Raccoon novellas I pledged to give more self-published works a go because — hey! — some of it is evidently very good indeed. Sure, an overwhelming majority is awful, but it’s worth the relatively slight cost to potentially find something surprising. Which brings us to The Third Gunman by Raymond Knight Read.