#339: Highs & Lows – Tall Tales and Subterranean Shenanigans

Okay, after three weeks of opinion, and with Tyline Perry’s murder-in-a-coalmine-centred The Owner Lies Dead (1930) up for review this Thursday, let’s have some much-needed objectivity: here is a selection of crimes where altitude plays a part.

Disclaimer: All heights are approximate. And fictional.

30,000 feet

obelists-fly-highObelists Fly High (1935) by C. Daly King — A terrible, terrible book, published the same year as the similarly plane-set Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie, but a book with one very clever idea at its heart: the murder of the intended victim, at a pre-warned time, when he’s in a plane, and the only person near him is the investigator tasked with protecting him.  It falls apart come the end, because without the investigator there this wouldn’t work and the specific threat made is therefore entirely without purpose or value, but for those bright few pages wherein this scheme is executed and explained this comes wonderfully to life.  But it’s still not enough to save the juddering mess of the narrative, alas.

130 feet

51wehaxajul-_sx329_bo1204203200_‘The Impossible Murder of Dr. Satanus’ (1965) by William Krohn — A marvellous short story, in which a conjurer enters an elevator on the eleventh floor of his hotel, proceeds directly to the lobby, and is found dead on arrival.  No nonsense with trapdoors, either, because the emergency exit in the roof is bolted on the inside.  The same concept has been used in novels such at The Death of Laurence Vining (1928) by Alan Thomas and Fatal Descent (1939) by John Rhode and Carter Dickson, but since I’ve read neither all I can say is that I’d be amazed if their solutions were of the standard that Krohn manages here (significantly better than that of ‘Death Rides the Elevator’ (2000) by Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg, which was similarly anthologised by Mike Ashley).  And this absolute beauty of the form is the only impossible crime story Krohn published!  Godammit!

90 feet

Invisible CircleThe Invisible Circle (1996, trans. 2014) by Paul Halter — Sure, for tower-set impossible murders you can go to The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) or He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr, but Halter’s take is bonkers fun, a man in a sealed room at the top of a tower stabbed by a sword that physically could not have gotten into the room.  This is one of those bespoke situations Dan was talking about recently, where you just have to shake your head, chuckle along, and admire the inventiveness on show.  No, not everyone is happy seeing the genre treated so irreverently, but if we can’t enjoy ourselves once in a while then what the hell are we doing with our lives?  Someone once described this as an impossible crime novel for Terry Pratchett fans, and I find it difficult to disagree.  Onwards!

–10 feet

Murder on the WayMurder on the Way! (1935) by Theodore Roscoe — Funerals are never exactly a fun or relaxing affair, but we take that to something of an extreme here: when a trip to Haiti to bury an old family associate turns into a nightmarish tontine with our heroic couple caught amidst a coterie of grotesques and swept up in impossible vanishings, impossible shootings, accusations flying back and forth, and the small matter of a zombie uprising, it’s difficult not to feel that the guy in the coffin is possibly the one who is faring best in the circumstances.  After all, this was originally serialised — in slightly different form, true — under the title A Grave Must Be Deep, so that grave must provide some sort of purpose, right?  Yeah, yeah, I go on about this a lot, even utilising the podcast Dan and I record to publicise it, but hairy Aaron it’s a marvellous ride.

–30 feet

TPI Ep 5

The Perfect Insider, episodes 5 and 6 (2014) — A child genius kills her family at age 14 and spends the next 15 years working in self-imposed isolation in the basement of an island-based laboratory, the sole entrance to which is monitored 24/7.  Then one day all the computers break down and her limbless corpse is discovered wearing a wedding dress…despite no-one else having ever gone into the lab.  I strongly suspect this is nonsense of the highest order, but it’s very entertaining even if there’s one piece of ridiculous misdirection towards the end that absolutely no-one would fall for.  The show overall brings a lot of invention to an already crowded field, and the central duo of Emi Takei and Gou Ayano are superb, but the molasses-slow pacing does drive me crazy (it is never really necessary to watch the first part of these two-part stories, for instance — the scripts could be much, much tighter).

~

There will naturally be many others, so fee free to pitch in with your own additions below.  In the meantime, I’ll tick off another item on my Just the Facts Golden Age Bingo card by applying Obelists Fly High to the category On a mode of transportation.

27 thoughts on “#339: Highs & Lows – Tall Tales and Subterranean Shenanigans

  1. Oh, hey, it occurs to me now that I also meant to mention how that Perfect Insider story is considerably alike to the most recent episode of Sherlock (series 4 ep. 3: ‘The Final Problem’). Possible spoilers for that perhaps, but, dude, there is a lot of common DNA there…

  2. I’ve got the Mike Ashley collection but never read Dr Satanus, will try that asap. There is a great Hoch short where a guy jumps from a plane with a parachute (alive at the top) and is found strangled at the bottom (by hand). Can’t remember the name, I’ll find out. It’s in diagnosis impossible.

  3. There’s one title that fits the description of “subterranean shenanigans” like a glove, namely Man of Two Tribes by Arthur W. Upfield, which has to be read to be believed. As a pure detective story of ratiocination, the plot is threadbare, but the writing is superb and the parts that take place underground are something else altogether.

    Allan R. Bosworth’s Full Crash Dive deserves a mention on this list and a shame there aren’t any more submarine-set mysteries.

    • Also possibly Blind Drifts by Clyde Clason…? Not read that one, but I seem to remember it also takes place in a mine.

      And, yeah, I wracked my brains for submarine-set mysteries, but gave up when all I could think of was Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Ha.

  4. I remember liking Krohn’s story, the others in the collection are a very mixed bag as I recall – been a long time though.
    On submarine mysteries, could Ice Station Zebra be termed as such? It’s basically a thriller, but still…

    • Y’know what? I’ve never read Ice Station Zebra. Or I have no recall of it if I have, as it may have been one of the many of that ilk (Guns of Navarone, Dogs of War, etc) that I tore through in my misspent, wild, raucous youth. Is there a sizeable submarine element? Also, that might be the weirdest question I’ve ever asked…

      • Oh yes, a good chunk of the story takes place on board the sub and there is a prominent mystery/hidden agent aspect to it all. Although I’ve not read it in many years, I remember it being quite good – definitely one of the better MacLean books.

      • I’ve never read Ice Station Zebra.

        One of MacLean’s best. Like so many of his books it does have a mystery element. Lots of excellent submarine stuff.

        I started re-reading MacLean quite recently after a gap of many decades and was amazed to find just how well they still stand up.

        • Good to know, thanks; I’m down to my last Ludlum — The Aquitane Progression — and hoping to find some sort of spy/espionage to fill the void when that’s gone. MacLean and Forbes are where I’ll pitch my hat, and we’ll see what sticks.

          • I didn’t know you read Ludlum! When I was younger and MUCH more teeming with machismo, I binged through them, maybe because my first, The Chancellor Manuscript, was one of the best. I enjoyed them until I grew numbed by them, and I refuse to read any of the “that’s-funny-I-thought-he-was-dead-so-why-do-his-books-keep-coming-out?” titles. Maybe I’m one of the few people left in the world of books or movies who doesn’t need the Bourne saga to go on forever . . .

            • Ludlum’s last published book was The Janson Directive as far as I’m concerned, and even then it’s debatable how much of that he actually wrote. Seeing his brilliance diluted is not something I’m keen on, and the never-ending Bourne Agains is just at James Bond Movie fatigue levels now: what, another one?!

              However, he is and will always remain a master of the form. The first two Bournes, Chancellor Manuscript, Parsifal Mosaic, Matarese Circle (last 20 pages aside), and probably others whose titles elude me are wonderful — I can’t think of anyone to touch the man for sheer bonkers brilliance and crazy switchback schemes played out with continent-wide implications.

              The vertiginous descent into Clive Cussler’s excrement-filled tomes was something of a shock, I can tell you. Whoever told me “you’ll like Cussler if you liked Ludlum” is frankly lucky I’ve forgotten everything about them, because that person is due some violence upon their person*.

              * — please note, all threats of violence are made for comedic purposes only.

  5. Hm, I didn’t realize that The Perfect Insider was half-underground, must have missed that detail. Entertaining work though, even if I’m sure the drama, er, tweaked the plot to fit. (I’m still baffled at The Perfect Outsider’s conclusion but! Spoilers. I gripe in my review. 😛 )

    • I’m getting through TPI slowly — it takes me a long time to get through an episode because I find it very difficult to sit and watch anything for any length of time. And the interminable ad breaks don’t help! Expect feedback on the finale — a mere four episodes away — in about six months or so (and I might not even be kidding…).

  6. Mavis Hay’s Murder Underground is set at Belsize Park tube station which is -108ft at its deepest point though I can’t say I’ve actually read it…

    • Ha. No, I haven’t ead it either, but it did occur to me (it’s quite difficult coming up with under-gound mysteries, it turns out…). I was nearly tempted to put in the episode of Sherlock which has the disappearing tube carriage, but it’s so bad I couldn’t brng myself to do it…

  7. I am relieved to see that I am not the only person finding the classic and supposedly brilliant Obelists Fly High a “terrible, terrible” reading experience.

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