Every so often, a novel is adopted by more mainstream fiction when it is in fact pure genre. Typically the result of this is that those of use who read the good stuff in our own genre have to put up with a ripple of brouhaha while we’re lectured by the broadsheet darlings as they fall over themselves to recommend something as inventive or ingenious when in fact we’ve read three books more inventive or ingenious in the last month alone (or, worse, phone someone in to explain incorrectly to others who don’t know any better). In SF, say, we’ve recently been subjected to Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy which is…well, every single cliché you can name and about as awful as you’d expect, but it especially seems to be happening more and more in crime fiction.
Sometimes someone is so taken with a book that you can’t help but stop and take notice yourself. So when TomCat was full of praise for this impossible crime, it hopped up my TBR pile with the effortlessness of a mountain goat on an escalator. I was promised audacity, and I love a bit of authorly audaciousness where an impossible crime is concerned — indeed, the boldness of such schemes as employed in John Dickson Carr’s The Man Who Could not Shudder (1940) orJohn Saldek’s Invisible Green (1977) make them firm favourites of mine, and if a book of this ilk has chutzpah enough to make TomCat and John Norris sit up and pay attention, then surely you must be onto a good thing.
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.
I don’t read many living authors — not intentionally, it’s just that the current trend of a lot of fiction doesn’t intersect with my tastes very often — and so I’m saved the concern of how they comport themselves on a daily basis and how this impacts my feelings about them. But following a comment by Dan at The Reader is Warned about a comment made by John Dickson Carr in She Died a Lady (1943), I got to thinking about the above question.
Aware of my fondness for the programme itself and an impossible crime in general, people keep asking me what I thought of the recent Jonathan Creek Christmas special ‘Daemons’ Roost’. And I keep having to relive it by telling them. The only sane response is therefore to write it all down here and direct all future enquiries to this post on my blog (which might at least get me some readers…). I apologise in advance. This is not going to be pretty.
Writing a decent novel of detection is difficult enough, as evinced by the fact that the form virtually died out by the 1960s, so taking the classic detective story and turning into a pastiche of itself is even harder again — it has to be both a story of crime and detection and a cunning vehicle for transcending the tropes thereof while simultaneously wallowing in them. Leo Bruce did this near-perfectly in Case for Three Detectives (1936) and a great many luminaries of the form dipped their toe into such conceits with aspects of their books, plots, or characterisation, but for a full-length novel to take this on successfully is something of a challenge that it would be beyond the abilities of most mortals.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. C. Daly King’s third detective novel Obelists Fly High is such a time in my life. Is it good? No. Is it terrible? Yeah, it probably is. Now I have to explain that, and give examples from the text to back up my opinions, and it should all just fall into place. But it’s not simply a case of hurling invective at King and his attempts, because in some regards this is very clever — well, no, there’s one development, at the start of the fourth…section (they’re not really chapters) which borders on the very canny indeed. At the same time, I really did not enjoy reading this; it is hideously overlong, here’s a competent short novella in here at best, but explaining why is going to be like nailing jam to the ceiling. Ah, well, here goes…
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.
Well, following the discovery of Matt Ingwalson’s Owl and Raccoon novellas I pledged to give more self-published works a go because — hey! — some of it is evidently very good indeed. Sure, an overwhelming majority is awful, but it’s worth the relatively slight cost to potentially find something surprising. Which brings us to The Third Gunman by Raymond Knight Read.