Several years ago, discovering that the impossible crime novel was a thing, I read Anthony Boucher’s Nine Times Nine (1940), originally published as by H.H. Holmes, and loved it. I then discovered TomCat’s list of favourite impossible crime novels and was intrigued by the fact that, eschewing the accepted classic that Nine Times Nine is, Boucher’s later, less discussed The Case of the Solid Key (1941) was included there instead (TC, it must be said, is something of an iconoclast…). More Boucher followed, some of it disappointing, and last year I finally ran to ground a copy of TCotSK in a secondhand bookshop in Philadelphia and — at long, long last — here we go.
Sometimes quality and taste do not overlap. For instance, I have every reason to believe that The White Cockatoo (1934) by Mignon G. Eberhart is a very good book, but given that it veers far more heavily into the suspense/HIBK/EIRF schools of writing rather than anything qualifing as detection it’s not especially to my taste. It’s well- (if perhaps a little over-) written, has some good atmosphere, and introduces in the eponymous bird Pucci an unusual twist that enlivens the eventual resolution…but amidst all the mysterious happenings — sinister hotelier, sinister guests, sinister wind, sinister banging shutters, sinister everything — it’s just a bit too bland for my palate.
The English language is a funny thing. Take for instance Chris McGeorge’s debut novel Guess Who (2018) which, revolving as it did around a group of people solving a mystery while locked in a room, was marketed as a ‘locked room mystery’ when that is a phrase which has already had another meaning for well over a century.
The recent, very exciting publication of the brand new Paul Halter novel The Gold Watch (2019, tr. 2019) served to remind me that I still hadn’t read Locked Room International’s previous publication, a translation of Les Invités de Minuit (1935) by Gaston Boca. This is by my reckoning the sixteenth title from the Roland Lacourbe-curated list of 99 excellent impossible crime stories that John Pugmire has brought into English, and his tireless promotion of these books across the language barrier is a continued source of joy for those of us who lament the dearth of great impossible crime fiction being written these days. Pugmire always has something up his sleeve.
Back when E.C.R. Lorac was a semi-forgotten also-ran, I snapped up this Dover Press reissue before I figured the book would vanish into oblivion, hoping I’d smartly acquired an obscure gem. Skip forward a mere couple of years and the British Library Crime Classics series continues its exemplary work in reviving a wide range of authors and texts, and Murder by Matchlight (1945) has been dragged from its dusty and semi-overlooked corner into the full glare of publicity. Goddamn it, there goes half my retirement plan; oh, well, fingers crossed that the bottom doesn’t fall out of the fidget spinner market any time soon…