#912: Phantom Lady (1942) by Cornell Woolrich [a.p.a. by William Irish]

Phanton Lady

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I hadn’t intended Phantom Lady (1942) to be my next Cornell Woolrich read — that was going to be a revisit of the short story collection Nightwebs (1971) which so underwhelmed me and put me off Woolrich for two decades, only for me to fall in love with the man’s work recently — but, after his own glowing review of this title, I don’t think Ben at The Green Capsule would have forgiven me if I’d gone anywhere else. And, honestly, I’m having such a blast with Woolrich’s nightmarescapes that I was probably going to enjoy whatever I read…but, woo, can I ever see why he wanted me to read this one. So, attempting to avoid nudges, winks, and spoilers that might mar your enjoyment, here goes…

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#909: The Mask of the Vampire (2014) by Paul Halter [trans. John Pugmire 2022]

Mask of the Vampire

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For someone who wishes there was more ambition displayed in the modern impossible crime novel, I prove hard to please when Gallic maestro of the impossible Paul Halter stretches his wings into his more enterprising undertakings. I can’t shake the feeling that I rated The Man Who Loved Clouds (1999, tr. 2018) a little too harshly, and maybe in a couple of years I’ll feel that The Mask of the Vampire (2014, tr. 2022) deserves more than the three stars I’m giving it. Because, see, there is a lot of ambition here, and I want to celebrate the complexity of Halter’s intentions and achievements…but, I dunno, something just holds me back.

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#907: “Whimsical and bizarre conceits of this kind are common enough in the annals of crime…” – The Sign of Four, a.k.a. The Sign of the Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My memory of The Sign of Four (1890), the second story to feature Sherlock Holmes from the pen of Arthur Conan Doyle, was that it offered little of interest or consequence, and stood rather as a footnote in the canon than a core text. And, rereading it for this post, I’ve come to realise that this impression is both quite right and very wrong indeed.

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#906: Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing

Vultures in the Sky

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Of the multitudinous ways that Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing is boring, perhaps the most irritating is the incessant padding between plot points that drags out discoveries or turn the Lantern of Suspicion upon someone so palpably innocent of any blame that you have to wonder if the author thought anyone would be paying attention. Eight people on the last train through Mexico before a workers’ strike hits should be a real cauldron of a setting, full of slow-building tension and — if clever misdirection among the tiny cast cannot be achieved — at least some doubt as to who the killer might be. It’s almost impressive how Downing fails on both counts.

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#904: “If you knew the man, you would realize that he is mad enough for anything.” – Cross Marks the Spot (1933) by James Ronald

Actress Cicely Foster, calling at the home of movie mogul Jacob Singerman to discuss a role in a ‘talkie’, is innocent enough to be shocked by his advances and fights him off, striking him on the head in the struggle before fleeing. When reporter Julian Mendoza, “the bloodhound of Fleet Street”, tracks her down and tells her that Singerman was found dead shortly after her departure, it looks bleak…but for the small matter of the corpse having been found with a bullet between his eyes.

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#903: The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Loss of the Jane Vosper

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Hector Macdonald’s excellent thriller The Storm Prophet (2007) was the first book to ever make me consider the terror of being trapped aboard a sinking boat in the open sea.  15 years later, the opening chapters of The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts, in which the eponymous freighter is shaken by mysterious explosions and must be abandoned, brought those anxieties back, despite the calm competence of her crew and some surprisingly elegiac imagery (“[the lifeboats] turned with one consent and began rowing with her, determined to see the end…Not a man but was heartily thankful to be out of her, and yet she was their home.”).

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#901: “Killing? Who said anything about killing?” – Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Time and Space [ss] (2021) ed. Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley, surely the world’s hardest-working editor of short story collections, has combined two of my loves with Future Crimes (2021): detective fiction and SF. As a fan of crossover mysteries, this seems tailor-made for me, and I have Countdown John to thank for bringing it to my attention. So, how does it stack up?

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#900: The Twyford Code (2022) by Janice Hallett

Twyford Code

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Depending on who you ask, the wartime children’s books of Edith Twyford are either “an unchallenging read on every level [with n]o subtext [and n]o depth” or they’re “nasty, sadistic, moral little tales full of pompous superiority at best and blatant racism at worst.” Her series based around The Super Six in which “[t]hree girls and three boys…solve mysteries that have been puzzling the local community” has been gradually updated with each successive generation and translation, so that their outdated attitudes can be put aside once and for all. But might something else have been lost along the way? Something people would kill for?

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