The appeal of detective fiction and impossible crime novels for me is their potential for elegance, for taking something that seems utterly baffling and rendering it clear through intelligent deployment of a few key ideas. This achieved peak density during the Golden Age, which is why that era earned that sobriquet, and it feels like it’s been downhill ever since.
The Three Investigators had Jupiter Jones, the Five Find-Outers had Fatty, and the Benton and Carson International Detective Agency had Barclay ‘Brains’ Benton. Welcome to the first of their six cases, from the same Whitman stable that brought us The Power Boys from a fortnight back.
Thanks to the recent reprints by Ramble House, a few years ago I discovered the Chief Inspector Edward Beale books written by Ernest Thornett under the nom de plume Rupert Penny. Puzzle-dense and complex beyond belief, they were a joy to my pattern-obsessed brain and, having now read all eight of them, my mind immediately moves to the concept of placing them in a hierarchy.
Thirteen people — a publisher and his two grown children, a newspaper editor, a retired General and his wife, a career politician and his bodyguard, a scientist, a lawyer, two servants, and our Everyman narrator — on a houseboat in the Louisiana bayou, intent on a few days of fishing, swimming, and relaxation. Though, naturally, the worries of everyday life never really vanish: a threat against the state Governor hangs over his head, as does his professional association with the scientist, which seems a little strained. With just enough time to get complacent, tragedy strikes, and then there were twelve. And then there were eleven…
This collection is composed of seven fun, light-hearted stories of youthful shenanigans perpetrated in the smalltown Americana of Mammoth Falls. Sure, it’s not strictly detection, but the prospect of actual, y’know, science in the Mad Scientists’ Club’s adventures seemed to warrant investigation.
You like puzzles, you like detective fiction, so you’d love a puzzle book about detective fiction. Lo, I give you The Baffle Book — originally running to at least three volumes from what I can ascertain, and here boasting two authors and an editor for reasons that will soon become clear.