Department D3 of Scotland Yard houses the gargantuan form of Colonel March, investigator of the absurd and apparently impossible whose “mind is so obvious that he hits it every time”. It’s a shame March never got a novel of his own, because he has a lovely and direct way of dealing with the problems brought to him, but then he’s not exactly dissimilar to the Gideon Fell chap about whom Carter Dickson wrote so much under his real name of John Dickson Carr. So, yup, it’s impossibilities ahoy as we go through ten cases of the inexplicable thoroughly laid to rest by Carr’s own brand of chicanery and misdirection; it’s true: life is good to us sometimes, and we just gotta enjoy it when it happens…
As the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. In last week’s Tuesday Night Bloggers post I offered a tantalising glimpse into a possible future with the line “Next week, if all goes to plan: France,” and has all gone to plan? Of course not. So repack your bags, everyone, because this week we’re off to…
Continuing the grand old tradition of crime-solving clergy — I refer, of course, to The Father Dowling Mysteries — Hal White’s collection of impossible crime stories featuring the retired octogenarian Reverend Thaddeus Dean gives us six takes on vanishing murderers, no footprints in the snow, impossible alibis, and more classic staples of my most-beloved of sub-genres. And, no small praise, it bears the stamp of approval from Bob Adey…so, are the stories any good? Well, as part of my continued trek to find something in the realms of self-published detective fiction that’s actually worth your time, let’s have a look…
Nearly 3 months after being announced, running to 15 stories and 115,421 words, Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums is finished, and this post is here to announce that it’s ready for you to download for free!
And, yes, you read that correctly — all 15 of the original stories are included, thanks to a frankly amazing intervention by John Grant (he of the massively entertaining Noirish blog) who offered his help in sorting out the two stories I wasn’t going to have the time to get into shape…and then managed to do them in, like, zero seconds flat.
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).
Believe it or believe it not — though in all likelihood you’ve actually forgotten about it — Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums is nearly ready. Version 1.0, containing 13 of the intended original 15 stories, should be available by the end of the month, missing two stories because the process of wrangling them into shape when it’s just me, TomCat, and our spare time is proving rather more long-winded than previously thought. A v1.1 may be available at a later date once I’ve got these two remaining stories edited into readable form, but I figure most of something is better than all of nothing.
As Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums edges ever closer — 11 of the 15 stories are now typed and ready, and TomCat is beavering away editing a twelfth — I thought I’d share my thoughts on certain aspects from the preparation, because it’s been an interesting insight into some things I’ve previously had no experience with. My apologies in advance if this seems self-aggrandising, I just think some of this will be of legitimate interest to you and have no desire to make it all “hey look how much work I’m doing”. No-one is making me do this, after all, and it’s honestly a huge amount of fun. Yes, my notion of fun is not like that of other people.
I haven’t reviewed (or read, come to that) a short story collection for a while, and it’s 1954 this month for Crimes of the Century at Past Offences meaning the time is ripe for a long-overdue (har-har) return to John Dickson Carr. I had read a couple of the stories contained herein before, but the majority were new to me, and as ever it’s a delight to see Carr’s imagination wrangle with the shorter form. Given how frequently stories of this ilk fail to conceal their workings and/or killer, it’s also great to see him do both over and over again with consummate ease, as if saying to his contemporaries “C’mon, guys, it’s simple –just do this“. We’ll take them one at a time as is my usual approach with collections — and, yes, most of these were originally published before 1954 and so might be inadmissible. Let’s just get on with it and an independent official enquiry can determine the eligibility of this at a later point.
So, as established yesterday, there’s much more scope in Watson than there is in Holmes. The obvious question then becomes: So what do you do with this?
Take the simple cosmetic changes out of the equation — the casting of Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in the US series Elementary, for instance, easily one of the least disruptive changes it’s possible to get away with — and what you’re left with is the fact that Watson, being our entry into the Holmesiverse, is allowed to do anything that reflects the experience and perspective of the reader. As discussed yesterday, there are aspects of the character, the constants I referred to, that don’t become him — making him the proprietor of a burgeoning dog-walking business, or a respected scholar of nineteenth century Gothic poetry, or giving him a form of OCD which means he must always cross his legs in the opposite manner to Holmes unless it’s a Tuesday in which case…, etc — but let’s put this aside as given and look at the way certain authors have expanded on Watson without desecrating him beyond all recognition.