Ready? Okay, deep breath, here we go…
9: The Man with Three Legs
I was sold on this before the end of the first page. It’s a wonderfully-realised story that, had Olde written more like this, would have us dismissing the later Father Brown tales as an attempt to recreate the spirit of Rowland Hern. My one niggle is that the mystery of three disappearing left boots hardly seems worthy of the supposed genius of Hern, but everything else – from the hinted wider setting to the chrarmingly philosophical nature of the solution, and putting aside a single incongruity – works very well indeed. Oh, and the penis joke you want to make was made here in 1928 (by the bishop of Wimbledon, no less), so you may wish to consider working on some new material…
10: The Monstrous Laugh
A very atmospheric tale of a terrible laugh haunting a small coastal town, and the source of the cover image from the first edition shown here, nevertheless this is the kind of setup that can’t have a satisfactory conclusion. Even when – as here – it makes perfect sense, that in itself doesn’t make any sense. Once you know what the answer is, think through the chain of events that lead to it and you’ll see what I mean. However, the atmosphere is superbly palpable, the idea shows admirable flourish and ambition, and the solution does work in spite of its workings. Hmmm, I’m not a big one for half-stars so I need to decide how much to forgive. Ah, what the hell, it’s hardly the League of Nations, is it.
11: The Mysterious Wig-Box
For once there is enough going on structurally here for it not to be immediately clear what the outcome will be, and while that makes a pleasant change I find this story unconvincing. The method is fine but the motive really does not work. And, unfortunately, the context in which this is placed is far more interesting than the story itself. More time setting up the eventual outcome would have improved this, but there’s still enough here to make it an interesting read.
12: The Invisible Weapon
Aha, an impossible crime! A man killed and no sign of the weapon. You know this trick, but this is easily one of the best-writen and -constructed stories in this collection (even taking my obvious bias for this type of thing into consideration). It would be a sign of a life poorly lived if you haven’t already encountered this idea, but I can believe that Olde might well have been its oringinator. Arthur Porges did a similar disappearing weapon story with the ‘The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon’, now collected in The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey, which is equally worth checking out and remains genuinely unique.
13: The Attempted Disembowelment of John Kensington
Great title, very enjoyable story. Yes, you can quibble the hell out of it – coincidence doesn’t begin to cover it, more like serencidvenience with an extra side of uncredibelievable – but by this stage I’m more interested in enjoying myself. It’s almost like an early Agatha Christie plot condensed to the point where all the connecting bits that cause it to make sense are removed, but, bah, let’s not be too serious.
14: Double or Quits
Again an example of a trick you’ll probably twig to quite quickly, but again I can blieve that Olde might well have been among the first to use it and so we can’t judge him too harshly. I’m not even going to outline the basics of this one, but it is well-written and he deserves some leeway for its conception.
15: The Sin of the Saint
Previously I said that ‘The Two Telescopes’ was the most Chestertonian story here. Well, I was wrong. This is Chestertonian in the manner of everything I cannot abide about G.K. Chesterton. It’s clear form the outset that this will be some epic final undertaking, but the disappearance of a revered church figure is so clumsily handled that it’s really rather difficult to care come the explanation. Kudos for trying, but something of a damp squib in the execution. Saved purely by whatever malady it is that affects our narrator and can only be remedied by his growing a beard.
And there you have it; one impossible crime, a variation in quality not unlike the later Holmes collections, a tonal range that incorporates everything from the inventiveness of Ellery Queen to the wide-angled humanity of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, the deductive reasoning of both Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Bradley…there’s a lot here to like, and taken in a spirit of good fun a lot to enjoy. If only there had been more, Olde (or, indeed, Champneys) could have been quite a big deal. Defintiely recommended overall for those of you who like this kind of thing; ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rowland Hern!
[Note: no, we still don’t know what he looks like; but we do know that he likes to ski. Did Holmes ski? Ah, see, you don’t know, do you? Point to Hern, methinks…]