#195: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – My First Five Impossible Crimes…

tnbs-firsts

Much like being stuck with that one relative who wishes to recount every event of note from their life regardless of how interested you appear, my reminiscing about the beginnings of my detective fiction reading continues.  This week, with my oft-mentioned fondness for an impossible crime, I’m going to attempt to recall the first few, faltering steps I made into the subgenre.  So, let’s see now…

Wait, though!  I should probably specify that I mean the first few books I read once I’d realised that locked rooms, absence of footprints, flying murderers, inexplicable poisonings, and others bedevilment were part of a legitimate subgenre and not just the odd book here and there.  I’d read The Hollow Man, and from there read Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room, but didn’t immediately latch on to other books that did the same thing.  There was Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, but that came so many years earlier and in such a different context that I didn’t even see the connection…yes, I used to be an idiot.

Then, somehow, the penny dropped.  I bought a couple of Rue Morgue Press Carrs, and started to realise that more of this stuff existed by other authors too.  So, from memory and my incomplete records, I think my reading then went like this…

rim-of-the-pitRim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot I know, right?  What a place to start.  Séances, flying murderers, impossible footprints, impossible fingerprints, impossible escapes, a vengeful spirit swooping down from the sky, a man possessed by a murderous demon that can’t be kept behind any locked door…wave after wave of brilliant insanity, and me slack-jawed in the utter conviction that at some point Talbot was going to have to go “Oh, and, er, that one was a ghost or something”.  The word to best describe my mindset after putting this down? Giddy. And my head on complete fire with the possibilities.  I don’t think I slept for about three days after, just turning it all over and over and over.

11448085Prague Fatale (2011) by Philip Kerr Kerr’s thrillers formed a huge part of my formative reading in my mid-to-late teens, but I lost track of him after he restarted his Nazi Germany-set Bernie Gunther series again after a sizeable break.  The blending of real and fictional here is effortless, with Reinhard Heydrich present when a man is shot in a locked bedroom and Gunther tasked with finding a killer in a house full of killers.  The investigation comprises a single, 120-page chapter, is intricately fun, and the Christie comparisons are (for once) not a million miles off.  The solution isn’t one for all time, but the clues are there are the characters are very well-realised indeed.

nine-times-nine-times-nineNine Times Nine (1940) by Anthony Boucher One of the classics again, and the introduction of a trope that you see again and again and which I, in my nonage, was on the cusp of seeing through but didn’t trust myself to fully call.  What I especially liked here was the throwaway nature of the clues, rather than huge red arrows pointing out THIS IS A CLUE, and there’s one aspect so damn sneaky that I to this day love how Boucher snuck it past me.  This is also possibly the murder victim I’m most sad about, because they were easily the most interesting of the lot to draw from, but I guess that’s how we roll in these waters.  And Sister Ursula is a wonderful sleuth; Boucher robbed us there by not writing 25 books about her.

51doipsi83l-_sx330_bo1204203200_The Case of the Constant Suicides (1940) by John Dickson Carr My second Carr, and the root many problems to date: about halfway through I convinced myself that this was someone I needed to read, and when it turned out there were 80 books and most of them were OOP…well, that just made it more interesting.  People continually hurl themselves out of a tower when alone and locked in, how can you not be curious?  PLus, it’s hilariously funny, brisk, insanely intelligent, and gives you a solution that is so memorably telegraphed I still remember the key line of dialogue that raises it for consideration.  One of those hug-yourself-with-excitment books, no contest.

Big BowThe Big Bow Mystery (1892) by Israel Zangwill This problem of a man found with his throat slit in a locked room only really requires the first and last chapters, but if you skip out the middle you’re missing not only a genuinely funny dissection of London life at the end of the 19th century but also possibly the first instigation of the false solution.  The solution is a cheat by today’s standards, but it’s a significant step on from Murder in the Rue Morgue, and never before has the notation ‘(Sensation)’ filled me with so much mirth as it does here.  Great variation in styles, too, from outright narrative to reportage and back; a rightly-justified classic.

So that was me off to a great start; there’s been the anticipated mix of great and dreck since, obviously, but as five books at the start of a new phase in my reading life, I think we can agree it could have been far, far worse…

~

I submit the cover of The Case of the Constant Suicides for the Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt 2017 at My Reader’s Block under the category Castle or Ruins.

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41 thoughts on “#195: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – My First Five Impossible Crimes…

  1. Not read the Kerr, so thanks for that, am really intrigued in fact. The rest are all very good examples of course. My first five? I’d really have to think that one through, though MANDARIN ORANGE would be in there (pace the Puzzle Doctor) as well as POIROT’S CHRISTMAS.

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    • I should read more of the recent Kerr/Gunther booksl; he’s a very talented writer, and while it feels like he knocks out the odd book cheaply possibly to fulfil a contract, the Gunthers are typically excellent: morally dense, historically, eye-opening, superbly plotted. Aaah, dammit, I’m talking myself into buying yet more books…

      In terms of remembering these as my first five, I’m ashamed to admit that I have some hilariously detailed records from around this time — like, nerdery on a level that no-one need ever see — so they certainly helped. And they also made me realise the kind of person I don’t want to be any more, so there’s that life lesson tied up in there as well. Bonus Tuesday!

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  2. I’ve read two of your top five mysteries: TCOTCS and in fact TBBM was one I read very early on. I thought the solution rather clever but then it was the first time I had encountered such a solution. Not sure what else were my early locked room/impossible crime mysteries. TYR was probably one of them. I have often wondered whether the murder in Sayer’s Have His Carcase could be classified an impossible or locked room.

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    • Not my top five, just the first; though Pit would be in my top five…

      Can’t help you on the Sayers, it’s the one remaining of hers that I might read at some point having sworn off her after too much non-enjoymenting. It holds that distinction because I understand it to be an impossible crime, but until I read it you’ll have to rely on the testimony of others, I’m afraid.

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      • I love that word and will use it FOREVER! Example: I was not enjoymenting working all weekend instead of getting to read, write and blog with you guys! But I snuck a peek, and it looks like I need to read Rim of the Pit. I hope I will be enjoymenting it.

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        • I’ve just finished a book that uses “leisurely” as an adverb a lot — I know it’s technically fine, but since leisurely is already an adjective then common sense dictates that leisurelyly should be the adverb…slow/slowly, etc.

          Then I realised that no-one else really cares about this kind of thing and I’m free to must make up my own words. So be expectimenting much more of this kind of thing in the months aheadified…

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    • Yeah, I’m imagining that the unavailability of most titles will lead most people to have come to the subgenre via either The Hollow Man or those two Christies. Maybe Leroux’s Yellow Room, too. But the majority will be Carr or Christie. And I’ll venture a guess it’s Christie for most of them.

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  3. Great list! I’m definitely planning on getting The Rim of the Pit and Nine Times Nine, but where do I fit them in? I have two big beautiful stacks of Carr staring me in the face and I tremble with anticipation each time I look at them.

    My first five (not counting tons of short stories) were: Hag’s Nook, The Nine Wrong Answers, The Problem of the Green Capsule, The Judas Window, and The White Priory Murders. A pretty killer run in retrospect.

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    • Well, if a lack of reading time is a problem, you may console yourself with how lucky you are to have “two big beautiful stacks of Carr” with which to fill it! Rim of the Pit is a must-read if you want to look at non-Carr impossibilities; Talbot may only have dabbled in the impossible crime but — much like Derek Smith — we can be so, so grateful that he did. Oh, and check out Derek Smith, too: Whistle Up the Devil and Come to Paddington Fair are freakin’ awesome.

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  4. Great idea for a list, JJ! Sadly, I don’t think I could (exactly) reconstruct my list of first locked rooms, but A.C. Baantjer’s Een strop voor Bobby (A Noose for Bobby) had to be my first, because I read most of his work before stumbling my way into Golden Age territory. So the second (and third, etc) would probably go to Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, Murder for Christmas and And Then There Were None. You can even make a case that the solution for Death on the Nile makes it a well disguised impossible crime novel.

    Well, that was actually a lot easier than I thought. I would not get fully into locked room novels (and its classics) until I discovered the likes of Carr, Crispin and Queen. You only have to look at the locked room tag on my blog to see what they wrought on my reading habits.

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    • I’m going to have to reread Death on the Nile, because the more I read about it the less I actually remember it. Is it the one with a kelptomaniac? Actually, what am I saying — about 20% of all GAD fiction contains some kleptomaniac of inveterate thief or some kind of faintly cracked-in-the-head ailmented person or other. Part of the integration of those kinds of previously shunned conditions into “normal” society, I suppose, since they’re always found out and usually everyone goes “Oh, right then”. Wrird how it’s possible to trace changing attitudes in that way, isn’t it?

      I appear to have wandered very far from my initial point…

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      • TomCat’s observation sets my mind buzzing. Nile is one of those books where certain people COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT! So to prove that they DID do it – does that constitute an impossible crime in retrospect? There’s no locked room here, just the physical impossibility of someone having committed the crime. Is that a sub- of a sub-genre? Or is it . . . (da dum dahhhhh) . . . something else???

        And what the heck any of that has to do with a kleptomaniac, I don’t know. But yes, there is a klepto on board!

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        • Woo, go my memory! Shall look forward to looking at this again, given that’s virtually all I can recall. Hopefully that’s no comment on its quality (the book, not my memory; my memory is bloody awful).

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        • Death On The Nile can’t be regarded as an impossible crime novel. In fact, if we say that it is an impossible crime novel, it would be a spoiler !
          Evil Under The Sun can be regarded as an impossible crime novel, since everyone has an alibi.

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  5. Pingback: Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Murdered Banker (1935) by Augusto De Angelis | crossexaminingcrime

  6. Hard question to answer – I’m not sure what the first impossible crime story would have been for me, possibly some juvenile fiction like The Three Investigators stuff may have contained impossible elements?
    The first time I would have been conscious I was reading an impossible crime story, deliberately doing so, would have been The Three Coffins/Hollow Man, I think.
    And since the subject arose, I always thought Death on the Nile was at heart an impossible crime story too.

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    • I know TomCat has looked at some of the Three Investigators books, and some of them apparently do have impossible elements, which is quite cool. The whole Three Investigaotr, Hardy Boys, etc thing just missed me, I feel, since I’m aware of them but definitely haven’t read any and don’t know anyone in real life who has either — they weren’t part of the reading firmament of my social group, let’s say. Would be fun to track some down, but also probably time-consuming given that they’re all old paperbacks now (a recurring problem with the kind of stuff I like to read…!).

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      • The Hardy Boys were a part of the rite of passage of growing up. They were great fun, but they were not great literature OR great mysteries. If you were ever to read them, I would urge you to track down the original texts rather than the updated ones. At least there would be some sociological interest about the original timeframe.

        I don’t remember much about The Three Investigators books except that 1) I read them, and 2) they were infinitely superior to THB as mysteries. I would seek them out first if you’re so inclined. I have half a mind to read them, but as I only have half a mind these days, (two days till opening), my investigation into the Investigators will be much delayed!

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        • Well, if I find any I’ll be sure to check them out, but since I don’t think I’ve seen a copy of one for the best part of 20 years I won’t be holding my breath…

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      • Well that stuff 3 Investigators Hardy Boys and even Nancy Drew on occasion would have been my first taste of mystery/puzzle writing at an early age and I still have a pile of the books boxed up. The 3 Investigators books are easy enough to locate but I believe some titles are a bit rarer – I have an almost complete collection of hardbacks that I keep meaning to dig out – some of those are worth a fair bit, as far as I know.

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        • Haha, everyone else seems to’ve done so well in collecting books that end up being worth a fortune — here’s hoping that my collection of late 90s unofficial Geofrge Clooney biographys pays off soon, eh?

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        • I thought I had a full set of autographed Clooney’s memoirs . . . until I found that, like you, he spelled his first name Geofrge! Seriously, bro . . .

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    • “…I always thought Death on the Nile was at heart an impossible crime story too.”
      Well, by the same reasoning, ……………..by Ellery Queen would be an impossible crime story, but the Puzzle Doctor would be annoyed ! 🙂

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  7. Great post! Nice to see what started your love of the impossible off! Never read Nine Times Nine and Rim of The Pit but have always wanted to. I have this dream that I will stumble across copies in a second hand bookshop, but I guess the chances of that are pretty slim.

    And the Big Bow Mystery, what an amazing book. Definitely not discussed enough, the impossibility superb for its time superb, the sense of atmosphere brilliant, and I loved the pace of the ending.

    I think my very first (after being taken in by Creek) was Murder In Mesopotamia, although as I mentioned to you elsewhere recently my best friend told me the solution as I was half way through (he still is my best friend). After that It was The Secret Garden by Chesterton, and what better way was there than that story to show me how great the sub-genre could be. Then it would have been Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (which I still love), the Hollow Man and by that point I was fully indoctrinated, so can’t remember from there!

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  8. Hmm…I’m pretty sure that my first locked room was “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, though had no idea what a locked room mystery was at that time (I just remembered the friggen ending, not the locked part anyway). I know I read a little collection of logic puzzles called, “Whodunit? You Decide!” that had a locked room or two within. I know that the second Ace Attorney had two locked rooms, one of which is one of my favorite mysteries (thought not necessarily due to it’s quality). After that, the first three books I got knowing they were locked room stories and wanted them? The Mysteries of Reverend Dean, The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, and Diagnosis: Impossible.

    All of that is a long-winded way of saying you probably had better first contact than I did. 😛

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    • I’ve long been of the opinion that the impossible crime fares better in the long form than the short story, but for a dipping of the toes you could do far worse (even Reverend Dean has some good points, as I said when I looked at it last year). How about novels, can you remember your first locked room novel?

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