My TBR pile, like Norm Lindsay’s Magic Pudding, is an apparently self-aware, endlessly self-replicating source of nourishment that I will never, ever finish. I daren’t even let it out of my sight sometimes, because who knows what sort of nonsense it gets up to when I’m not looking?
In the comments of my review of The Sweepstake Murders (1931) by J.J. Connington, TomCat pointed out that the author’s sole impossible crime novel was among my recently-acquired bundle, and here we are. In Whose Dim Shadow, a.k.a. The Tau Cross Mystery (1935), however, begins with a shooting in an unlocked room in an unlocked flat that also has a set of footprints leading away from the open French windows and which forms the basis of the majority of the narrative. And a very entertaining narrative it is, too, only falling down when Connington shanghais pace for exposition, and struggling in the final straight due, in all likelihood, to external concerns.
As a wrangler of mysteries, Norman Berrow has many equals and several betters, but as an incorporator of impossibilities he’s in the front rank. Ever since first reading him with The Bishop’s Sword (1948) I’ve been struck by how neatly he folds his apparently undoable criminous schemes into the plots of his later novels — we’ll get to Early and Late Berrow in due course — and The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) is another great example of this. Yes, two of the apparent mysteries herein are pretty solvable at first sight, but the reason for those mysteries and the use of the impossibility to achieve those ends is as brilliant as ever.
Five short mysteries from the pen of Robert Arthur in the year before he launched The Three Investigators on the world? What’s not to love? And this first story even comes with a supplementary mystery all of its own.
You are three weeks away from, but I have just recorded, an episode of In GAD We Trust with a focus on short stories, part of the preparation for which got me reflecting on the works by Baroness Emmuska Orczy about the old man found in the corner of the A.B.C Teashop holding forth on unsolved crimes. And the more I thought about them, the more I wanted to write about them. So here we are.
When a man wrongly implicated in criminous deeds finds himself at the mercy of a blackmailer, is pushed to the limit by the blackmailer’s avarice, kills said blackmailer and goes to great lengths to cover up the crime only to find himself pursued by a highly-observant criminologist…you’re not the only one getting Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) vibes. And, Pottermack being one of my most delighted discoveries of the last couple of years, you’d expect The Heel of Achilles (1950) by E. & M.A. Radford to suffer by comparison, but it is in fact simply proof of how much richness the Golden Age was able to find in the same material.
As we approach the (current?) end of Rob Innes’ Blake Harte series of impossible crime stories, I have to confess that one of its major successes has been getting me, a man who will take a finely-crafted plot over minutely-observed character, engaged in the lives of his core cast.