#247: The Sister Ursula Stories of Anthony Boucher (1943-45)

exeunt-murderers

Having worked my way through Anthony Boucher’s short stories featuring the alcoholic yet still razor-sharp ex-cop Nick Noble, I’m now onto the second section of his collected short stories, comprising those featuring crime-solving nun Sister Mary Ursula of the Order of Martha of Bethany from Boucher’s locked room novels Nine Times Nine (1940) and Rocket to the Morgue (1942).

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#213: On Audacity and How to Prepare for It, via John Russell Fearn’s Thy Arm Alone (1947)

thy-arm-alone

Sometimes someone is so taken with a book that you can’t help but stop and take notice yourself.  So when TomCat was full of praise for this impossible crime, it hopped up my TBR pile with the effortlessness of a mountain goat on an escalator.  I was promised audacity, and I love a bit of authorly audaciousness where an impossible crime is concerned — indeed, the boldness of such schemes as employed in John Dickson Carr’s The Man Who Could not Shudder (1940) or John Saldek’s Invisible Green (1977) make them firm favourites of mine, and if a book of this ilk has chutzpah enough to make TomCat and John Norris sit up and pay attention, then surely you must be onto a good thing.

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

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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…

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#152: The Nick Noble Stories of Anthony Boucher (1942-54)

William Anthony Parker White, under the nom de plume Anthony Boucher, is widely considered to have been one of the most influential voices of his generation when it came to matters of detective fiction.  As an anthologist and reviewer his opinions counted greatly for their insight and fairness, but as well as talking the talk he also walked the walk in a series of seven novels and over 70 short stories published in the most highly-regarded detective and SF magazines of the day.

And yet for all his output, and in part on account of his genre-changing, it’s difficult to know how Boucher’s fictional writing should be remembered.  His novels cover no fewer than three different “series”, with the longest-running — centred around Irish PI/Gentleman Detective Fergus O’Breen — comprising only three of them, and the most famous — locked room murder Nine Times Nine (1940) — featuring the marvellous wannabe-detective nun Sister Ursula but succeeded by a follow-up (1942’s Rocket to the Morgue) so inane that most people have probably never picked it up based on reputation alone (which is a shame, because Sister Ursula is one of the most wonderful characters to come out of this era).

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#146: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Invoking the Dreads Through Killer Threads

tnbs-costume

It’s doubtless a result of the generation I’m from that when I think about fictional murderers wearing distinctive costumes the first jump my mind makes is to the Ghostface killers of Wes Craven’s Scream films.  If you’re a little older than me, you may go for Freddy Krueger’s striped jumper, and if you’re younger than me I have no idea what you might pick because I have lost track of whatever passes for popular culture these days, but for me it’s Ghostface.

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#59: On Locked Rooms and Impossible Crimes in fiction – something of a ramble

footprints

I was recently reading a book on the promise of it providing a locked room murder, to which I am rather partial.  When said murder arrived, it took on this approximate form: a large indoor hall with a free-standing stone chapel inside it which has one door and no windows or other points of ingress, a crowd witnesses a lady entering said chapel – which is deserted – alone and the doors are shut, only for them to be opened some time later and said lady found beaten, bruised and devoid of life.  It’s moderately classic in its setup and should therefore provide some interest, but once I read the details of the crime I gave up on the book and will not return to it (in fact, it’s already down the charity shop).

This is not due to any squeamishness on my part, or a particular problem I had with the writing or the characters – both were fine, if unexceptional – but rather just because it just wasn’t interesting.  It is hard to put this in words, which is why I imagine this post may run rather longer than usual, but there were simply no features of intrigue to me in that supposedly impossible murder.  And so I got to thinking…forget plot or prose or atmosphere, take away all the context of an impossible crime, particularly forget about the solutions: what makes an interesting fictional impossibility? Continue reading

#44: Who are the Kings of Crime?

King

The Tuesday Night Bloggers – an opt-in blogging group initially started by ‘Passing Tramp’ Curtis Evans to commemorate Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday but since expanded to include a broader program of authors from the Golden Age – has produced a glorious range of diverse posts from a variety of contributors and perspectives.  Mostly I feel incapable of contributing anything half as interesting as what these guys and girls come up with, but Brad Friedman’s recent Ngaio Marsh-themed post on his excellent AhSweetMysteryBlog has got me thinking laterally about something he said, and so I’m going to run in my own direction with an idea that I’m curious about.

Any conversation about Marsh, see, veers into the debate over the Queens of Crime which is rife with obviously-Christie, pro-Sayers (hmmm), anti-Mitchell (yay!), possibly-Allingham (wooo!) debate, but Brad says that his personal “Queens of Crime” included John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen.  And I thought: hang on a minute, male monarchs?  There’s a word for that…

Because, who are the kings of crime fiction?

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#11: Five to Try – Non-Carr impossible murders

Simple criteria: novels only, readily available, not conceived in the fertile ground of John Dickson Carr’s imagination.  I’ve also restricted the impossible crime to being the comission of the murder – people stabbed or shot while alone in a room, effectively – more to help reduce the possible contenders than anything else.  Several stone cold classics are absent through the inclusion of other invisible events but that’s a future list (or five…).

Carr – doyen of the impossible crime, responsible for more brilliant work in this subgenre than any other three authors combined – will eventually get his own list (or five…), I just have to figure out how to separate them out; restricting it to five novels was hard enough for this list, but if you’re looking to get started in locked room murders these would be my suggestions:

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