Last week I talked — at great length — about the alibi in crime and detective fiction as utilised by the criminal working alone. This week, I’ll hopefully find as much (or, depending on your feelings about last week’s post, maybe less) to say where more than one criminal is involved, and then if there’s time I’ll diverge into crimes where there is no alibi.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our respects to the detective fiction novel Halfway House (1936) written by Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay under their Ellery Queen nom de plume. As the title suggests, there will be spoilers — lots and lots of spoilers, so only proceed if you’ve done the necessary pre-reading…
For this blog alone — that is, discounting books I manage to fit in which do not feature on here — my reading has in recent weeks seen a degree of decade-hopping it doesn’t normally achieve: 1971, 1948, 2011, 1938, 2018, 1940, 1939, 2018 and now 1932. The upshot of this time travel is a reassurance that I’m still more of a fan of the legitimate 1930s style of murder mystery than I am its more modern second cousin. Even the flaws in this type of story are more enjoyable, partly I suppose because (and it bears repeating) of just how damn difficult a well-clewed puzzle plot is to write. As here, the first swing often makes up in enthusiasm for what it lacks in finesse.
I consider Rupert Penny to be in the front rank of GAD authors I have stumbled over, and yet have somehow gone a full year without reading anything by him. So let’s get things rolling with the very un-Pennyian structuring trick that’s now de rigeur in modern crime fiction — Two Seemingly Independent Threads That Shockingly Turn Out To Be Linked: the vanishing of a possibly-dead lodger from her room and the near-simultaneous disappearance of a young woman following a financial demand from an ex-lover to not reveal compromising letters she sent him. Seriously, where would blackmailers be without the Royal Mail?
So here’s a new thing: I am going to use Tuesday posts (at indeterminate intervals) to talk about some (usually unconnected) ideas within Golden Age Detection (GAD) that can be grouped approximately by initial. I’m calling it The Criminous Alphabet — rejected titles included The A to Z Murders, You Alpha-Bet Your Life, and GAD-Handing — and this month will see five posts based around the letter A, starting with the Amateur Detective. Next time out will be B, the month after that C…you get the idea? You get the idea.