You know the score: a tough-guy PI in a business slump, sitting in his office typing out a letter using one finger (real men don’t type), when in walks a knockout redhead with “everything that should go with red hair”. She needs his help, he’s her last chance. Well of course, sweets, what seems to be the problem? She’s being hunted, y’see, someone wants to kill her. Calm down, baby doll what’s his name? Well, that’s the problem; she’s being hunted by…Martians. It’s a lovely little moment of confounded expectations early on in Brown’s pulpy tale and sets the tone for the number of conventions he refuses to conform to as things progress. And, since he’s far from smug about it, it works very well indeed.
Umberto Eco is an author who has been on my radar for positively decades now, and I decided to start not with the far more famous The Name of the Rose (1980, trans. 1986) but instead the Middle Ages-set, wandering storyteller tome Baudolino (2000, trans. 2002) because, well, it’s probably not a common starting point (yes, I am contrary; it has been noted). So imagine my frank surprise and delight when about 300 pages in it suddenly — after lots of vignettes and philosophical off-shoots about, crikey, all manner of things — transformed into a legit locked room mystery.
Disclosure: I proof-read this book for Locked Room International in March/April 2017.
After two wonderful shin honkaku novels in The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji and The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa, John Pugmire’s Locked Room International now brings you this honkaku story collection from early pioneer Keikichi Ōsaka. The introduction by Ashibe Taku, author of Murder in the Red Chamber (2004), does a great job of putting Ōsaka in context, since this was a nascent form of mystery writing that allows a fascinating and at times hugely inventive take on a genre we thought we’d seen everything in already — no mean feat when some of the best here are over 80 years old. And some of these solutions have to be read to be believed… (in a good way, that is).
You suggested the titles, you voted, and now here we are: these are the top ten novels demonstrating fair-play in detective fiction as selected by nearly 500 votes on 40 titles. Except there are twelve of them, because we had a few ties. So, alphabetically by author we have…
I was pretty much goaded into this, you should know. Ben at The Green Capsule is diversifying his blogging to extend beyond the works of John Dickson Carr, and the first book he chose was Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger. In the comments, conversation turned to other Brand titles and Brad had the temerity to doubt my fortitude: I don’t think JJ should read Tour de Force either. I couldn’t bear to think what he would make of it! Well, challenge accepted. Now, true, Brand and I didn’t get off to the best of starts — Green for Danger made her very much the new stepmother trying too hard to replace Agatha Christie in my affections — but we’ve had some great times since then, and so I came to this with an open mind.
Contrary to what the books may tell us, the father of Ellery Queen, detective, is not Inspector Richard Queen but instead Philo Vance, the dilettante amateur wise-arse detective created by S.S. van Dine. I’m not claiming this is an original observation — far from it — but reading the second novel to feature the Queens and the first in which Ellery actually solves the case (he has a very small hand in their debut, The Roman Hat Mystery) it’s interesting to realise just how heavily Dannay and Lee were leaning on van Dine at this point of their careers.
An experienced pilot crashes his plane and dies, and at the inquest the jury returns a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’. They’re correct, and there’s nothing else to investigate. Nah, I’m kidding, of course — we’re deep in the Golden Age here, so it has to be more complicated than that, and before you know it there are amateur sleuths, mistaken identities, re-examination of bodies, codes, intrigue, and the threat of more murder zipping around like so many flies at a picnic. As an exemplar of what the Golden Age did so well, Death of an Airman joins Death of Anton as a virtual textbook for the beginner, and as such marks another superb entry in the British Library Crime Classics series.
A little while ago I read The Roman Hat Mystery (1929), the debut novel by Ellery Queen, the nom de plume of cousins Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Lepofsky, in turn better known as Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. I didn’t love it, but I’ve read about ten Ellery Queen books and found a lot to enjoy in some of them, and a great many people whose opinions I value assert that the work done by these two under this name was vital to the development of the genre.