#268: Spoiler Warning 3 – Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot


Okay, here we go: Spoiler Warning Number 3 in which Dan from The Reader is Warned and I discuss Hake Talbot’s cavalcade of impossibilities, voted the second best impossible crime novel of all time back in 1981.

Except, well, this time we’ve done things a little differently…

See, Dan and I live about 40 minutes from each other, so we thought we’d use this opportunity to actually meet up to discuss the book, and then the idea of recording it as podcast was raised.  And then — given our mutual love of an impossible crime in fiction — the idea of maybe doing a series of podcasts was raised, and so was born…

The Men Who Explain Miracles

So the first episode of The Men Who Explain Miracles is the planned spoiler-heavy look at Rim of the Pit, and from here we’ll branch out into a separate series of recordings on a variety of topics.  We have a SoundCloud page where you can listen to or download the file, and theoretically I’m able to insert it into this post, too, so you can also listen to it here.  It should appear below.

If you’ve come unprepared, the first 6 or 7 minutes are free of spoilers as we discuss the book generally, but everyone who did their homework — gold star for you — feel free to get fully involved, as we get into details of killers, workings, explanations, and more besides (especially the dog…).

Dan has done an amazing job recording this, editing it together, coming up with the design above…it would be entirely fair to ask precisely what my own contribution was, but let’s not dwell on trivialities.  The important thing is that we had a lot of fun doing this, even if some of us did more than others, and we’re hoping the same division of labour is preserved for any such undertakings in the future.

This by no means spells the end of these Spoiler Warning posts — the next one is already planned, news of which to follow — rather the beginning of a new phase of blogging that we hope we’ll be able to contribute to on a semi-regular basis.  Watch this space for news of more TMWEM podcasts to come, but in the meantime we hope you enjoy the above and get involved in the comments below!

33 thoughts on “#268: Spoiler Warning 3 – Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot

  1. Nice idea – me and a few others did a group chat thing an age ago via Skype but it didn’t really catch on. Forgive me for not listening to it, but it’s been an age since reading Rim and I’ve forgotten almost everything about it, so I’d rather re-read it first…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Where did you both get those posh accents? Now I wish I had a thick Texas twang! I am so intensely jealous of you guys, mostly because each of you has a pal 40 minutes away with whom you can do stuff like this. I’ve tried so hard to find a local fellow mystery lover: I’ve stood on street corners in my deerstalker hat and cane, puffing my pipe and hailing down sailors. I’ve placed an ad in the paper: Please contact me if you are interested in people getting knifed, gunned down, chopped up or in any other way left for dead on the library floor, and . . . . nothing.

    Re: the title: Dan is right. I’m looking through and can’t find it. I feel it’s either Vok or the Professor who refers to it, and I can’t help thinking it has something to do with walking around a volcano. I’d keep looking but you just know that Santosh is around the corner with the exact page reference handy, so I’ll let him do the heavy labor!

    Re: the characters: I sort of agree and disagree with you guys. I do like a larger cast than someone like Carr usually provides. (That’s one of my favorite aspects of Christie.) And as a result, I liked this group whom I think Talbot did a nice job differentiating. They really do feel like 40’s American types: the reedy intellectual, the Bela Lugosi-type foreigner, the all-American, the moderately tough guy hero. I think Warner Brothers could have cast this one easily. As for the women . . . well, it was interesting to me how Sherry became less and less interesting as things went on while Barbara became more fun with each wisecrack. Both of them are highly sexualized, which surprised me for a book of this era. But I think your mention of the pulps explains that: these essentially “good girls” are still there to tempt the men, those within the pages and those reading them. (One thought that struck me: you know that Alfred Hitchcock, my favorite film director, lifted without permission the ending of Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop and imported it into the thrilling climax of Strangers on a Train. It may just be a coincidence, but the ending to Pit is the same as the ending to Hitchcock’s <North by Northwest, even more lascivious, in fact. I wonder if the director, an avid mystery reader, had read this one!

    Re: impossibilities. I loved what you guys said. The stuff around the seance is wonderful, and then it all gets sooooo oiky-doiky crazy that I found myself narrowing my eyes and going, “Oh, yeah?” I can see a master magician like Vok having fun setting all this up, but does a man like Ogden have the psychology – let alone the knowledge – to get quite this convoluted? Even nicer, I thought it was just me who had trouble following some of these locked room explanations, so it was nice to hear that you had a little bother with all the footprint shenanigans, JJ!

    I was also right there with you guys regarding the manipulations at the end, where we start to wonder if Rogan really does believe, as Rodgers and Hammerstein so aptly put it, “Impossible things are happening every day.” Even Carr dared to venture into this territory. But it does bring up an inconsistency in Rogan’s character that you covered so well here. The casting in my mind kept changing, from Bogie to Joel McCrea to Tyrone Power to Michael Rennie to . . . I don’t know, the guy kept changing!!

    Okay, back to my own reading, which just so happens to have something to do with spectacles and capsules. I’ll say no more about that! Brilliant job, fellows, but it does kind of put a knife in my heart to hear you having so much fun. If I ever make it to London, I hope you’ll save a space for me to have a three-way with you! Er . . . . . 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can sort of see what you mean about North by Northwest, but the “train ending” there is literally just a cut from the end of the “exciting” ending to the two of them in a train carriage together…I think Talbot would have no grounds to be aggrieved to anything like the extent Crispin would.

      You’re right about the “tempting women” element, though — I mean, witness the part where Kincaid foes to Sherry’s room and she won’t let him turn on the light because she’s naked having just got out of the bath. Hell-ooo, that’s not an everyday occurrence in a GAD novel. I find all his references to the “pink silk pantie phase” just incredibly slimy, though; fine, he’s sexually interested in this woman, great — can you show that without making him a total sleaze?

      As for accents, we both went through an extensive Eliza Doolittle-esque boot camp for three weeks prior to recording, which is why this has come out so close to the end of the month. Dan kept going “Awww, geeez, crikey, guvna!” whenever he thought of anything, and I sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins in my normal life. The adjustment is taking some getting used to…

      Liked by 3 people

      • Oh man the “pink silk pantie phase”, never again! The fact that he chooses to end the book with that as well as a guy gets the girl in underwear finale leaves a sour taste after all it’s brilliance. Awww, geez, crikey guvna!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Love that you think we have posh voices! Ha!

    Title wise, top of page 40 (in the Ramble House edition) – ‘She began playing Rock Of Ages, and the others joined. Sung in darkness, the old tune had an uncanny power. It seemed less an invocation of the shades of the dead than a spell sung as a bulwark against the forces of the pit.’ – That’s one of them. the volcano one comes later but can’t remember where! I think there is another too.

    Yes to your comments about Sherry and Barbara. I thought Barbara was one of the better characters of the book, and she was the only one (perhaps other than Ambler) who brought some deductive ideas to the table. But even she fizzles out as does Sherry. I do think it is a pulp thing, but as I said at least they weren’t just their to be saved! Although they were highly sexualised as you said – which I think in fact is what made me think that Talbot was in many ways a pulp writer in disguise, or a pulp writer in hiding.
    And your comment on North By North West is fascinating, I need to check that out, it would be amazing if he had used stolen that ending as well! He copped enough from other writers!

    With the impossibilities, it’s almost like Talbot gave himself one problem too many. Although they don’t differ in the quality of set up with some striking originality in ideas (like the gun impossibly high up on the wall, and all the mirrors smashed in the bedroom, the impossible leaps over the snow etc) there is definitely a complication/confusion and therefore this lack of elegance in the solutions.

    And I’m glad you agreed with our thoughts on the changing nature of Rogan Kincaid. I would be interested to see (and here JJ’s thoughts) on wether that is the same for Talbot’s first piece ‘The Hangman’s Handy Man’ as well? As JJ said in the podcast this isn’t really a novel of detection as we aren’t exposed to a central detective character or characters, and any kind of ratiocination – which really only comes out in any from as minor quips from Barbara and Ambler. I think Talbot was trying to make Kincaid the cool/quiet hero, but then also a cerebral master at the end, it’s just a contradictory set up. You could pull both off in a character, but he gives us not enough of either (or anything really) to see who Kincaid is, apart from that he is a bit leery.

    Cannot wait for your thoughts on things to do with green capsules and black spectacles.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I seem to reme,ber Kincaid coming across better in The Hangman’s handyman…but then I read that second, and might have been more prepared for his..uh, Rogan Kincaidness.

      The only real confusion, I think, comes from the footprints, as you point out in the recording, Dan. I think the fact that so many other people have by that point gone around the cabin, or walked form one to the other makes it possible to lose sight of exactly at what point those impossible footprints were made. Now, yes, in a way that’s the point, but I alse think we need to retrospectrively see how Vok made it all work and that’s the one part of the problem where it becomes difficult to see precisely what went on.

      And, yeah, I forgot to mention it when we were recording, but that smashed mirrors thing is both very clever and astoundingly convenietn — that Ambler has an explantion for them being broken which plays perfectly into Vok’s scheme is in no way something Vok himself could have foresseen, but I still bloody love it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I didn’t think about the explanation for the mirrors being a little inconvenient, but as you say it doesn’t take away from how good it is. There were so many other brilliant things like this at the end of chapters compelling you to read on, for example the ‘I can’t go on’ note found on the floor then quickly and humorously explained, only to be lifted to the macabre again by it having another scrawled message – which then turns out to be a lovely piece of misdirection and trickery from Vok – I mean it’s just lovely. So many layers even for these small events.


        • Two years earlier, Agatha Christie incorporated an “I can’t go on” note in The Moving Finger. On the one hand, Talbot’s employment of this device is more cleverly done; on the other hand, almost too much is made of Irene’s tendency toward hysteria in her writing; Christie’s example is more subtly done. (I think one could easily put together a treatise on “Examples in Misdirection in Notes Found in Mysteries.”)

          Liked by 1 person

          • 32 years earlier than Christie, G.K. Chesterton employed a similar idea in ‘The Wrong Shape’ — for my money both Christie and Talbot employ the same sort of misdirection much more fluidly and realisitcally. But then Chesterton’s stories are full of superb ideas that don’t quite come out as they should in the imagineering If only he had the talent to convey his concepts — as, say Conan Doyle did, where the less good stories are typically those built on less firm foundations — I’d find him a much pleasanter read and be far more enthuisiastic about the Brown stories. As it is, I find them hard to recommend out side of a few stone cold classics without all manner of caveats.

            Liked by 2 people

            • I’d read that Chesterton story well before TMF and still missed the essential same trick when I got to that Christie. And it’s still the first title I think of when this sort of trick is deployed. Weird, innit?


        • I tend to leave the best of each author to the last. In that I’ll read ‘Rim of the Pit’ after I complete ‘Hangman’s Handyman’ – and I rarely read the same author back-to-back. But there are quite a few books ahead of ‘Hangman’s Handyman’, in part because I want to delay getting my hands on ‘Rim of the Pit’. Regarding Christianna Brand, I suspect finishing up ‘Green for Danger’ and ‘Death of Jezebel’ before ‘Heads You Lose’ slightly scarred me from reading the best titles first…

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I have just finished listening to the recording. Regarding the relevance of the title discussed towards the end, there are 2 references to this in the book. One has already been mentioned in the comments by Dan. The other is in chapter V when the ghost of Grimaud Desanat materialises and speaks.
    “Imbécile!” Désanat’s voice rose to a shriek. “You dabble in mysteries you are not able to comprehend, like a child playing on the rim of a volcano. Imbécile, like the child, to think that which lies dormant cannot engulf you.”

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Just read Rim of the Pit for the first time, so I think I’ll comment here. Spoilers ahead.
    I’m not entirely sure impossible mysteries are my favourite sort actually, at least at the moment – though possibly it was the “infodump” explaination that put me off. Given the atmosphere built up to that point, a friendly(ish) non-antagonistic chat was possibly the least effective way to pay that off.
    I would say that for someone who often finds explainations like this highly implausible – well, this was still implausible, but I do find a master cunjouror wildly improvising over the top of someone else’s, far more prosaic (and practical) murder plot to somehow be much more plausible than someone plotting out the perfect crime.
    As a detective, Kincaid is frustrating – I thought we were getting somewhere when he investigated the window and confronted the professor, but shortly afterwards, our viewpoint detaches from him though we still follow him. Obviously this is in order to facilitate the reveal at the end. It’s very similar to when in other stories, the detective decides to suddenly act very mysteriously for half a chapter and insist that he wait for his dramatic reveal. Except this lasts for several chapters, and instead of a dramatic reveal, there is a lecture in a train carriage.
    The point from the beginning of the seance until just after Kincaid and the Prof have their little chat is when the book was really firing on all cylinders. That atmosphere was great, the drama was ramping up, there seemed to be lots of ways to investigate what was going on, and Kincaid was even testing out theories. I wouldn’t say the book faltered at the end, but it was a little weaker.
    As for whether the disguising of Ogden’s cause of death would work – I highly doubt it. I also wonder how exactly Vok would even have pulled it off if Kincaid hadn’t helped. He would have had to find Madore’s bullet somewhere in the snow, whilst also pulling off the trick with the body. The fingerprints I has less problem with – I had thought they were shown with some kind of dust rather than ink.
    Well, this was a rather long rambling, but if I’m going to put it anywhere, this really seems the best place.
    I enjoyed the podcast – I will have to catch up, providing of course that I’ve read the book that’s being discussed!


    • Kincaid is a weird choice of detective, I agree; I like to think that, had Talbot not previously written The Hangman’s Handyman, Vok would hav eben the one to reveal it all here — he at least wouldn’t have to suddenyl glean understanding from nowhere as Kincaid does.

      And, yeah, I definitely agree that the pre-and-post seance is the strongest part…not least on account of how the reveals are handled. Having to then wait and wait for a final chapter dump (much like you, I’m not such a fan of this…see tomrrow’s review!) gets a little wearing. But reading it for a second time did help me appreciate how damn clever it is; there’s so much going inot the construction that you don’t realy pick up on first time around even if you’re able to recall it all come to explanation.

      As for the podcast — thanks for the kind words, and even I’m not sure when it will happen again, so there’s plenty of time to catch up! We intend to be much less one-book-oriented in future, delving instead into wider and deeper topics and trends in the genre, but it all rather depends on when we’re next both free at the same time to record it…which I have a feeling may be some time away yet.


      • Best of luck working that out! A wider, spoiler-free discussion would possibly welcome more listeners, but I do find discussing a single thing in depth interesting to listen to. Of course, in the end it all comes down to the availability of the books again!


        • Yeah, I agree with you about that — and talking at length about something that isn’t widely available holds no appeal for me. Johnh Norris at Pretty Sinister does a wonderful job teasing us with forgotten classics (and the odd not-so-classic) without going the full-blown review route and I think he walks the line perfectly. Until I can do that sort of thing even half as well, anythng podcasted will more than likely be either in print or readily available secondhand (like Carr, for instance). But, as I say, first Dan and I need to be able to get together again at some point… 🙂


  6. I’d also like to mention that for a while I had got the name “Talbot” mixed up with the word “Turbot”, and believed the author to have some kind of fish obsession :p


  7. Pingback: #377: The Men Who Explain Miracles – Episode 5.1: My 15 Favourite Impossible Crime Novels | The Invisible Event

  8. Do you have a Youtube channel where these are posted? I wanted to listen to Rim of the Pit’s dissection on YT but an unsure what channel it is on. Ty.


    • No YouTube channel, I’m afraid. The audio was on SoundCloud because at the time I couldn’t store and play audio files here on WordPress…I assume it’s still there, though I’ve not thought to check for years, ever since I started paying for WordPress and was able to host podcast files here on the blog.

      I should check it out, and maybe bring the audio file over here so that I have possession of it. I’ll look into that in due course.


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