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).
Identity and location, as I’ve said before, are really the two hooks on which a staggering majority of the detective genre hangs. And if you want to get the most out of the impossible shooting tale Murder in Black and White by Evelyn Elder — pseudonym of Detective Club alumnus Milward Kennedy — you’re going to need patience in figuring out the latter. Because while he has a good sense of character and action, as soon as anyone is required to go anywhere, or it becomes necessary to understand the internal layout of the ancient French citadel-cum-château that features so prominently, it’s as if his narrative powers desert him and he’s writing with a stick of celery.
Here’s a poser for you: a woman’s body found in a castle, but the castle was searched before it was locked up for the night and she wasn’t there, and she could not have gotten in afterwards thanks to a combination of the partially-surrounding sea, a two-ton portcullis, and CCTV coverage. If it’s suicide, how did she get in? And if it’s murder, how did the murderer get in and out? No secret passages, no hidden rooms…howdunnit? After some misgivings about Adrian McKinty, I’m proving myself an actual adult by giving this impossible crime of his, set in 1987’s Northern Ireland amidst the sectarian upheaval most commonly referred to as ‘The Troubles’, a go. So, how did we do?
I haven’t updated you on my progress with Detective Conan for a while, so now seems like a good time to discuss the elements that make this on-going one-man Manga both so very, very brilliant and so very, very meh.
Well, see, that’s because I was working at trying to making it happen. And the result of that work is this: Bold Venture Press will be republishing two impossible crime novels by Theodore Roscoe — Murder on the Way! (1935) and I’ll Grind Their Bones (1936) — over the next couple of months or so, with yours truly having edited and prepared the texts for publication as well as writing introductions for each book.
Summoned by an elderly relative to their secluded family pile, a young man finds himself isolated with a fixed cast of closely-related characters as murder, missing documents, an escaped lunatic, and all other sorts of puzzle plotting chicanery inveigle themself onto the scene. Yes, in many ways The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head is a vade mecum for the Golden Age of detective fiction — vast elements of it will appear achingly familiar — and plays perfectly in time with the tattoo of 1937 that Rich has got many of us investigating this month for Crimes of the Century at Past Offences. But does the rest of the book hold up past these fundamentals?
Philo Vance. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Raspberry Jam by Carolyn Wells. ‘The Fairy Tale of Father Brown’ by G.K. Chesterton. The Clue of the New Pin by Edgar Wallace. A character who is detective novelist of some repute. Characters in a detective story discussing whether they are behaving like people in a detective story. All these references and more can be found in the opening salvo of Max Afford’s debut novel, following the discovery of a man stabbed in the back in his locked study with the only key to the specially-constructed lock in his possession, the murder weapon missing, and some subtly esoteric clews that give rise to plenty of canny evaluation and then re-evaluation. Aaah, I love the Golden Age.
I was quite excited when I discovered that this sole mystery novel from Rudolph Fisher was to be republished under the revived Detective Club imprint. To my understanding it had impossible crime overtones with a vanishing body, and GAD fiction doesn’t exactly offer up a swathe of BAME authors, so this account of 1930s Harlem promised to fulfil all sorts of fascinating niches — not least how a black author would represent the experience of being a black man in America when times were not as enlightened as we hope them to be now. But, first things first, yes we do get an impossibly-vanishing body, provided by a Red Widow Murders-esque “How could he be talking if he was dead?” impossible murder for which there was no time in which it could have been committed; so do we have a classic on our hands?
I know, I know, it looks like I’ve forgotten my brief for this blog, but I haven’t. This is something I’ve been mulling for a little while, and I wanted to raise it here to see whether it’s been worth my time.