#255: Abridged Too Far? Comparing Texts of The Unicorn Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson

Unicorn Murders

Among my at-times multiple versions of various John Dickson Carr titles, I  have four Mercury Mystery editions like the one shown on the left above — The Plague Court Murders (1934), The Red Widow Murders (1935), The Unicorn Murders (1935), and The Department of Queer Complaints (1940) — which are of additional interest to me since the novels are all abridgements.  So, having just read the unedited text of The Unicorn Murders, I thought it might be interesting to see what was excised from this abridged version.

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#254: The Unicorn Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson

unicornmurdersWhen a man is found dead, stabbed between the eyes by a unicorn (of indeterminate nationality) — a, yes, fictional animal that can nevertheless apparently turn invisible at will — you don’t expect to find yourself in the GADU.  And when a second victim is then killed in the same way but in full view of witnesses, if one can witness an invisible animal, you better hope you’re in the GADU or else things are about to get silly.  Well, it’s your lucky day, because you are in a classic impossible crime mystery and things are about to get silly — this book is probably the final time John Dickson Carr had all the ingredients for a classic and didn’t actually write it, instead leaving a few edges untouched so that the overriding impression is slightly more “Er…what?” than “Hell, yeah!”.

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#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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#245: Death Has Many Doors (1951) by Fredric Brown

Death Has Many Doors 1stYou know the score: a tough-guy PI in a business slump, sitting in his office typing out a letter using one finger (real men don’t type), when in walks a knockout redhead with “everything that should go with red hair”.  She needs his help, he’s her last chance.  Well of course, sweets, what seems to be the problem?  She’s being hunted, y’see, someone wants to kill her.  Calm down, baby doll what’s his name?  Well, that’s the problem; she’s being hunted by…Martians.  It’s a lovely little moment of confounded expectations early on in Brown’s pulpy tale and sets the tone for the number of conventions he refuses to conform to as things progress.  And, since he’s far from smug about it, it works very well indeed.

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#244: A Little Help for My Friends – Finding a Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat Attempt #1: Murder in the Oval Office (1989) by Elliott Roosevelt

Murder in the Oval Office

When I first realised that impossible crime fiction was a thing — oh, happy day! — I did an internet search and came up with two priceless resources: this variety of lists on Mystery*File with an excellent introduction by John Pugmire (who went to form Locked Room International) and this list of recommended books from locked room conoisseur TomCat.

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#240: Tour de Force (1955) by Christianna Brand

Tour de ForceI was pretty much goaded into this, you should know.  Ben at The Green Capsule is diversifying his blogging to extend beyond the works of John Dickson Carr, and the first book he chose was Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger.  In the comments, conversation turned to other Brand titles and Brad had the temerity to doubt my fortitude: I don’t think JJ should read Tour de Force either. I couldn’t bear to think what he would make of it!  Well, challenge accepted.  Now, true, Brand and I didn’t get off to the best of starts — Green for Danger made her very much the new stepmother trying too hard to replace Agatha Christie in my affections — but we’ve had some great times since then, and so I came to this with an open mind.

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#239: Construction, Clarity, Conformity, and the Contortions of Ellery Queen in The French Powder Mystery (1930)

French Powder Mystery

Contrary to what the books may tell us, the father of Ellery Queen, detective, is not Inspector Richard Queen but instead Philo Vance, the dilettante amateur wise-arse detective created by S.S. van Dine.  I’m not claiming this is an original observation — far from it — but reading the second novel to feature the Queens and the first in which Ellery actually solves the case (he has a very small hand in their debut, The Roman Hat Mystery) it’s interesting to realise just how heavily Dannay and Lee were leaning on van Dine at this point of their careers.

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#209: No Coffin for the Corpse (1942) by Clayton Rawson

no-coffin-for-the-corpseI generally try to do the books I have by an author in chronological order, and so should be writing about The Footprints on the Ceiling (1939) here, but when TomCat described NCftC in the comments of my review of Rawson’s first Great Merlini novel Death from a Top Hat (1938) as “abysmal” saying that it “began very promising and then turned into one of the worst locked room mysteries I’ve ever had the misfortune of stumbling across”…well, I just had to try it out.    I mean, sure, TomCat doesn’t like Rupert Penny’s Sealed Room Murder (1941) and so is immediately suspect, but I think I’ve shown myself willing enough to believe the very best of any books I try to read, and it might be interesting to go in expecting a dud.  So, let’s get into it…

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#193: Sailor, Take Warning! (1944) by Kelley Roos

sailor-take-warningSometimes 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?

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#188: Five to Try – Debunked Séances in Detective Fiction

seance

Flying lute?  Check.  Ghostly disembodied hand?  Check.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let’s call this meeting to order…

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.

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