Following on from the spoiler-filled deconstruction of He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr and Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, I’m going ahead with another spoiler-filled deconstruction in the next couple of months, this time of Hake Talbot’s impossibility-laden masterpiece Rim of the Pit (1944).
I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, I spend many hours online enthusiastically contributing to discussions about a moderately obscure area of popular culture — hell, I even wear glasses. I must, therefore, be a nerd. I mean, sure, I don’t own a single t-shirt emblazoned with some hilarious-but-obscure quote or image, but that’s mainly because the kinds of things I’d put on a t-shirt — “Hairy Aaron!” or, say, a decal of Gideon Fell above the legend Don’t irritate a man who knows 142 ways to kill you without being the same room — no-one else wants on a t-shirt and so they’re not available to buy.
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…
Following a recent post on John Dickson Carr’s The Lost Gallows over at The Green Capsule, I was reminded of just how much I love a séance in fiction. Now, to be clear, I’m with Charlie Brooker on psychics and other such manipulative awfulness, but have a real love of sleight of hand and up-close magic (as perhaps evinced in my enthusiasm for fair play detective fiction and impossible crimes therein) and a debunked séance is often a great way to explore the little ways a set of circumstances can be misrepresented, and often some fascinating insights come out of it.
So, here are five great séances from detective fiction, alpabetically by author.
Gentle readers, you are witnessing peak blog efficiency: not only am I about to contribute another post to this month’s Tuesday Night Bloggers topic of Crime in Costume, I’m also going to contribute to the Crimes of the Century over at Past Offences which is going all 1907 this month, and I’m going to work in yet another plug for Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums (due out later this month, most likely). If I can work out a way to cross another item of my Vintage Bingo Scavenger Hunt, too, I’ll probably have to retire out of sheer awesomeness.
And how am I going to do all this at once? One word: ghosts.
Recent experiences of reading Darkness at Pemberley by T.H. White and What a Body! by Alan Green — oh my days, I’ve only just noticed that they’re both named after colours… — have made me wonder on the above question. See, both are listed here, on a compendium of the best ever locked room mysteries voted on by an international collection of people who know about this stuff, and both are listed here, on a rundown of the favourite locked room mysteries by resident blogosphere expert TomCat…yet personally, in the face of public opinion from such well-informed and respected sources, I’m reluctant to consider either of them as locked room mysteries. Even taking my famously contrary nature out of the equation…what the hell?
Declaring that the detective novel was the only form of literature that put the reader to work, [S.S. van Dine] argued that “a deduction game emphasising fair play within a limited setting” would be the story structure with the best potential to result in masterpiece mystery stories […] But when the elements of the game are too severely limited and the building materials are all the same, only the first few builders will get all the glory and there will be an over-abundance of similar novels…
—Soji Shimada, in his introduction to The Moai Island Puzzle