In what might actually be the first time I’ve contributed to a full month of TNB posts — woo! Mr. Commitment! — I thought I’d finish off with my first Five to Try in a little while on the subject of Crime in Costume. But, this being a blog about detective fiction, I thought I’d leave it up to you to deduce the theme inside of this framing which links all these books together.
The first person to correctly work it out gets…a prize of some sort. Tell you what, they’ll win a pre-publication copy of Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums, personally emailed to them by me. So as, y’know, to save them waiting an extra three or four days and having to click on a link to download it themselves. I know, I know, I’m too kind. Tell you what — to make it nice and unique, I’ll even add a bit to the introduction about how this was won in a competition on the blog. That makes it a bit more special, eh?
So, alphabetically by author surname we have…
Case Closed (1994 – present) by Gosho Aoyama
I’ve only just read Volume 1 of this ongoing Manga — revolving around a late-teen-aged genius detective who is shrunk down to the size and appearance of a six year-old — having been convinced to try it on the back of TomCat’s repeatedly glowing reviews of the later volumes. And, y’know something? I can really see it — it’s beautifully classical in its crimes (including those of the impossible variety) and well-clewed solutions even at this early stage, and Gosho Aoyama is clearly a massive fanboy of the type of GA fiction which has seen a resurgence in Japan over the last few decades in the form of shin honkaku. It takes the written form and updates it beautifully with accessible art and clear plotlines, so, yeah, I feel perfectly justified in buying 13 of the first 15 volumes. That’s not an impulse purchase I’m planning to regret anytime soon.
Case with Ropes and Rings (1940) by Leo Bruce
There’s always much to enjoy in the Sergeant Beef books of Leo Bruce, such is the rich seam of comedy mined from the interplay between Beef and…well, pretty much anyone, if we’re being honest. Case for Three Detectives (1936) and Case for Sergeant Beef (1947) are probably the best two of those I’ve read, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to go out swinging on behalf of this, the fifth in the series, which sees Beef investigating a murder at a school and is equally as much fun but lacks the championing of those others probably purely on account of simply being so much harder to find. As ever, there’s Lionel Townsend on hand, ready to usurp the conventions of detective fiction and still managing to undercut Beef’s every move in spite of the man’s obvious intelligence…somehow these two just never get old.
Murder is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie
This is probably the recipient of the unwieldy title of My Favourite Non-Series Christie Which Isn’t Set on an Island (Yes, I Know There’s a Series Character in It, But It’s Not Like He Really Does Anything of Note). The setup of a man politely listening to some stranger he meets on a train who keeps rambling on about murders and how she needs to report the murderer…only for him to find out a few days later that she herself was then murdered is about as sharp a hook as Christie ever fashioned, and the revelation of the killer is only marred by a slight structural issue towards the very, very end (which is such a shame, because the construction to that point is perfect). It’s a beautiful piece of work, and I’m sure it’s already been bastardised filmed as a Marple/P******* i* C****/Ariadne Oliver crossover episode where the killer turns out to be the sous chef of the local hot air balloon-themed restaurant, because frankly the Christie estate seems to have no idea how good what they’re sitting on is.
‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (1891) by Arthur Conan Doyle
I mean, I’ve got an ongoing Manga up there, so why not a short story, too? Also, I need a couple of well-known ones to give you a shot at spotting the theme. Now, as much as I’m not a fan of everyone shoe-horning Irene Adler into every single Holmes adaptation like she was in any more than one story (and like she actually outwitted him here, rather than Holmes being hasty) this is a surprisingly fun read, and I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it when I reread it recently. It’s also nice to read an early story before all the continuity issues started creeping in, and highlights just how fine a writer Conan Doyle was when his heart and mind were in it both, with Holmes and Watson both eager and excited to be there, rather than maundering around before finding out the solution is a jellyfish.
The Picture from the Past (1995) by Paul Halter
It’s nearly a year since I read this, and after a lot of reflection I’ve decided that it’s something of a masterpiece. I know that one of the impossibilities is a touch mundane, but as a piece of colubrine plotting it’s really quite something to behold. Just when you think you’ve got it, Halter hoicks you away sharply to run down another avenue of his wonderful multi-stranded tale of acid bath murderers, suspicious husbands, concerned wives, and dual narratives twisting and twining ever-closer and more inextricably and inexplicably linked, seemingly parallel and unrelated both, and topped off with the sort of final reveal that compels Halter to me above anyone else trying to write this kind of thing in this era. Not everyone will enjoy it (a trait it shares with every other book ever published), but, oh, it makes me so happy. One for repeated rereadings, methinks.
So…you have the stories, but can you find the link between them? First correct answer in the comments wins, happy deducing!