No discussion of children’s literature is complete without at least a passing reference to the 14,762 books Enid Blyton wrote in her career. Somehow I’d heard of this one and its implied impossible disappearance, and it seemed perfect for my Tuesday posts in November on precisely this type of book. Generally you know what to expect from Blyton — a poorly-dated whiff of imperialism, comfortable middle-class adventures, ginger beer — but prepare for a bit of a shock: the rigour of the detection in this is something to behold.
Part of the fun of blogging over the last couple of years is the way it has encouraged me to take on books I may ordinarily not have, a facet of that being my (it must be said, occasional) attempts to find something from the modern era that will satisfy the bloodlust of my fellow impossible crime expert — very much the Holmes to my Lestrade — TomCat. So with one disappointing boat-centric impossibility under my (life)belt this week already, how does this hold up?
Each month I’m picking a topic or a theme for my Tuesday posts, and for November — inspired by my recent discovery of The Three Investigators, Robin Stevens, and the excellent Mystery & Mayhemcollection — it’s going to be detective novels for younger readers. I have what I hope will be four very different books lined up, starting with this impossible disappearance.
Do you find yourself lulled into an erudite hebetude by too many stories blethering on instead of simply getting down to the plot and relevant incidents? Well, Max Afford’s fifth novel runs to 116 pages and probably doesn’t contain a single one that does not in some way contribute to the interpretations or solutions of the central conundrums. A sea-faring mystery in the Death on the Nile (1937) school, a small group of characters are gathered on a liner heading out from Sydney, Australia to some islands because…reasons…when mysterious phone calls, mysterious passengers, mysterious relationships, and mysterious pasts all converge for a cavalcade of enigmas wrapped in queries and shrouded in deepest sinisterlyness.
My inability to walk past a secondhand bookshop without at least having a “quick glance inside” recently resulted in me purchasing a stack of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators titles, books I was aware of but have not previously read. So buying 22 of them in no way counts as a spontaneous over-commitment, oh no. Anyway, The Secret of Terror Castle is the first of the series and here are some thoughts on it.
Four businessmen are playing their weekly early-morning round of golf when one of them hits his ball into a sand-filled bunker. Taking his next shot from down in the bunker, out of sight of everyone else, not only does he hit the ball straight out of the sand and into the hole (which he cannot see), but when the others approach the bunker to congratulate him they find it empty except for a blood-stained golf club, with no way for their colleague to have vanished without either being seen or leaving obvious traces. Intrigued? You should be…
What the hell? This blog — preserve of the expired author, occupying as it does a dusty corner of the interwebs free from contemporary scrutiny — has now featured two living authors on consecutive weekends. Clearly I’m courting popularity. Next thing you know, there’ll be a guest post by Ed Sheeran [please note: I have no reason to believe a guest post by Ed Sheeran to be forthcoming]. And this one isn’t even an impossible crime. Where does this road lead? Rave reviews of Cozy Baking Mysteries? Who even am I any more?
This gets a little convoluted: at the recent Bodies from the Library conference, I was discussing impossible crime novels with Dan of The Reader is Warned when conversation turned to Siobhan Dowd’s very, very good impossible disappearance for younger readers The London Eye Mystery (2007). Dan mentioned that, following Dowd’s death in 2007, the series was to be continued (The Guggenheim Mystery is due out in August) by Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series. Then he mentioned that one of the MMU books was a locked room and, well, I was in.
At some point between 1940 and 1960, puzzle-oriented detective fiction began an inexorable shift into what has now become know as crime fiction, wherein plot machinations took a back seat and character, setting, and ambience became more prevalent. Where detective fiction was mostly interested in the fiendish puzzle, crime fiction was more about the challenge to the status quo, and the effect this has on the people involved. And Wilders Walk Away, Herbert Brean’s debut novel, might just be the perfect peak between the two, because I do not remember having read a puzzle that was so intricately invested in the status quo. What emerges is necessarily a little confused about what it wants to be.