Sometimes you just have to bite a bullet: following the exceptionally sad loss of the Rue Morgue Press, this is the final Jeff and Haila Troy novel currently available, but, well, let’s enjoy it, eh? Audrey and William Roos did such a great job with so many aspects of the writing in these first four books — the dialogue is genuinely funny, the plots mostly move at a great pace, the mysteries are intriguing, and third book The Frightened Stiff is a genuine genre classic for all time — that we shouldn’t get too weighed down with lamenting their unavailability. Common sense will prevail, they’re too good to let go out of print for any length of time, and this won’t be the last we see of the Troys. Right?
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.
Alongside classic detective fiction and locked room/impossible crime mysteries of every date, stripe, and hue, I read a moderate amount of both classic and modern SF. And as much as I rejoice in the closedness of the ‘rules’ of detective fiction, I take equal delight in the free-form craziness that can open up in front of you in excellent SF.
Given that so much time spent discussing mystery fiction is devoted to edging carefully around the precise plot points on which such enterprises are founded, I thought I’d give you fair warning that Puzzle Doctor and I are going to be abandoning this approach next month in looking at the 1937 impossible crime novel The Ten Teacups/The Peacock Feather Murders by John Dickson Carr, published under his Carter Dickson secret identity.
Benjamin Disraeli had it right when he said “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and publishers’ breathless comparisons to the classics”. I’ve been bitten once by this recently, so was doubly shy of the promise on the reverse of Warren B. Murphy’s sole detective novel to feature Dr. David Vincent Leonardo that it would introduce “a splendid new addition to the ranks of Holmes, Poirot, [and] Dupin”. To be upfront about it, obviously that’s not the case, but despite some flaws in the rendering of our genius amateur — of which more later — this is honestly a lot of fun, and joins the ranks of Hmmmm, What If They’d Written More of These? because, yeah, it lacks in artistry, but if you want a swift, reasonably smart, and engaging unheralded locked room puzzle you could do a damn sight worse.
And so, with John Dickson Carr’s 110th birthday coming to an end on this side of the Atlantic, let’s have a look at what those people who got involved had to say of the man and his work…
In his lifetime, John Dickson Carr published 76 novels and short story collections, plus a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and a ‘true crime’ novel predating Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey. Following the closure of the Rue Morgue Press, who had five Carr novels in their books, and the coming disappearance of Orion’s ebook undertaking The Murder Room, who have around 14 or so Carr novels in their ranks, we’re not too far from a point in time where only two Car novels will be available to buy: Orion’s perpetually in-print version of The Hollow Man and the Mysterious Press publication of The Devil in Velvet. So, to return to the question in the title of this post: John Dickson Carr’s out of print — where’s the fuss?
Given that John Dickson Carr — who would have been 110 at the end of the month, folks — published seventy-eight books over a 41 year career that encompassed such joys as Till Death Do Us Part and such nadirs as Papa La-Bas, there’s probably no-one who couldn’t be compared to him at some point in his career. So when Swedish writer Jan Ekström’s 1975 novel Ättestupan is translated into English and the synopsis opens with the tantalising promise ‘Often called the Swedish John Dickson Carr…’ well, you’re going to get a lot of peoples’ attentions even though it doesn’t at first glance really tell you anything.
“The story of the Widow’s Room…begins in the month of August, and in the city of Paris, and in the year 1792. It begins with the Terror, but it has not ended yet.”