As in life, this blog has a few untrimmed threads hanging — one of these days I really must return to The Knox Decalogue and The Criminous Alphabet — but for today it’s back to The Baffle Book (1930). The first seven problems in F. Tennyson Jesse’s edit of Lassiter Wren and Randle McKay’s famous puzzle series failed to excite my reason or my enthusiasm, so how does this second quarter of puzzles stand up?
You may view the above rating of this book as too harsh, and you may be right. Honestly, I’ve struggled with how good The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, a.k.a. Lord of the Sorcerers (1945) may or may not be, and it certainly has its fans — at one point John Dickson Carr apparently considered it among the four of his own books that he enjoyed the most. But the key thing I keep coming back to is how this novel, rooted as it is in Egyptian curses and an apparent vanishing in a ghostly old family pile, written by a man who could stir up sulfur and brimstone with a well-place adjective and could summon the most wonderful patterns from the most perplexing of mysteries, is so very forgettable.
How Emil and the Detectives (1929) by Erich Kästner came to my attention is something I’ve long forgotten. I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning it, yet it seems to have constantly been in print while also being made into a movie and adapted for the stage. And I didn’t even know if it qualified as a detective novel for younger readers. So the only thing to do was to read it myself.
I’ve always thought of 1950 as a watermark year in the career of Erle Stanley Gardner. It’s arguably the point at which prevailing literary trends started to diverge meaningfully from the style of writing Gardner had staked out for himself. Post-1950 his Perry Mason series is a catalogue of steadily-diminishing returns, being somewhat preserved in aspic in its early-1930s incarnation, and the escapades of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool are saved only by Gardner’s many talents in not allowing that series to ever be easily pigeonholed. But for me the most compelling evidence that 1950 was meaningful for ESG is how Doug Selby never saw the light of day again after 1949.
In the early 1900s, Edward Stratemeyer devised the Stratemeyer Syndicate of children’s books, where multiple volumes of the same series could be written by various authors and published under a common nom de plume. Two of its more famous alumni were The Hardy Boys by ‘Franklin W. Dixon’ and the Nancy Drew mysteries by ‘Carolyn Keene’.
When Jack Haldean encounters Durant Craig in the lounge at Claridge’s hotel, the latter apparently carries a grievance from their war days and offers up a volley of abuse before storming out. Haldean refuses to disclose the reason for Craig’s outburst — offering only that “I let him down rather badly once…I deserve it” — and instead seems keen to forget the meeting. When a mysterious car accident during a fancy dress party raises the possibility of murder, it’s not long before Halden and Superintendent Ashley find themselves investigating a menage that involves one Durant Craig…and so it seems that Jack Haldean has a reckoning with the misdeeds of his past.
I’ve mentioned before how I grew up reading a lot of SF — Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, Larry Niven, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith — and how certain authors like Philip K. Dick, Sheri S. Tepper, and Connie Willis still delight me in my dotage.