#752: Fear Stalks the Village (1932) by Ethel Lina White

Fear Stalks the Village

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The subgenres by which we carve up any broad classification of fiction admit a degree of specialisation but raise problems in terms of enjoyment. For instance, Fear Stalks the Village (1932) as a Village Mystery must supply satisfaction on two fronts: it must have both a great village and a great mystery — and, while it has the former in spades, it lacks sorely to my tastes on the latter half of that expectation. And while The Voice of the Corpse (1948) by Max Murray shows that such a mixture can fall favourably upon my experience, White’s tale of poison pen letters seems to love its village a little too much to allow the mystery to ever really gain traction.

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#749: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers

Red Right Hand

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I first read The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers about a decade ago — maybe more, maybe less, it’s fitting given the nature of the narrative herein that I’m a little hazy on the precise details. I’m unsure how it came to my attention, but I do know that I had expected a traditional suspects-murder-investigation-solution structure and that, when the book absolutely did not deliver this, it proved to be a frustrating read. This reissue by the American Mystery Classics range, then, was to be celebrated for a chance to re-evaluate the novel — my previous copy having gone who knows where — knowing what I was getting. And, well, it is still a frustrating read.

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#748: Mining Mount TBR – The Curse of Khatra (1947) by T.C.H. Jacobs

Picture the scene: it is 1946 and T.C.H. Jacobs is discussing his next novel with his agent, lamenting “So many types of detective story have successful during this Golden Age, in what style should I write? Some scientific detection? A police procedural? A pulpy shocker? Should I have an amateur detective? A gentleman detective? A criminal gang?” and his agent leans forwards slowly, steeples his fingers, and says simply, “Yes”.

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#747: “A murder which at first seems absolutely purposeless always reveals an interesting trait in human nature…” – The Case of Miss Elliott [ss] (1905) by Baroness Orczy

There’s so much depth in Golden Age detective fiction — it was a golden age, after all, irrespective of how narrow you make the window of admissible dates — that one could never read everything. Instead, we must find 60 or so authors who interest us, and hope to get a good coverage elsewhere. Well, if you’ve yet to read Baroness Emmuska Orcy’s Old Man in the Corner stories, I urge you to start as soon as possible.

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#746: The Inugami Curse, a.k.a. The Inugami Clan (1951) by Seishi Yokomizo [trans. Yumiko Yamazaki 2003]

Inugami Curse, The

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When a wealthy businessman bestows his fortune upon a lowly member of his household to the chagrin of his rapacious offspring, you can bet your bottom dollar that some heads are going to (sometimes literally) roll. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019) might be the only time this setup hasn’t resulted in a bloodbath, but The Inugami Curse (1951) by Seishi Yokomizo is from further up the scale. Old sins and their long shadows will get a good airing as stabbings, poisonings, decapitations, stranglings, and even some homicidal wordplay get a murderous field trip to remember. It is, to say the very least, memorable.

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#743: As a Thief in the Night (1928) by R. Austin Freeman

As a Thief in the Night

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2020 will linger in the memory for many reasons, but I’m going to try to remember it as the year in which I discovered the joy of R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. John Thondyke.  I had previously read, and entirely forgotten about, the impossible crime short story ‘The Aluminium Dagger’ (1909), but it is the novel Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) — the plot of which is proposed by Thorndyke herein, anticipating Agatha Christie’s use of the same foreshadowing in The A.B.C. Murders (1936) of Cards on the Table (1936) — that I shall consider my first bread with Freeman. And As a Thief in the Night (1928) caps an invigorating year of author-discovery.

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#740: The Darker the Night (1949) by Herbert Brean

Darker the Night

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Man, there is a lot to unpack here. Firstly my love of Herbert Brean — an author brought to my attention by TomCat, and about whose books Ben at The Green Capsule and I frequently try to outdo each other in our enthusiasm. Secondly the need for a mystery to sell you on its central premise — here, hypnotism, about which a neat little treatise halfway through. And thirdly the purpose of a mystery novel — does a compelling plot obviate the need for a good mystery, and does a disappointing mystery necessarily detract from a great plot? All this and more we shall confront today with Brean’s second novel The Darker the Night (1949).

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#737: Murder in the Maze (1927) by J.J. Connington

Murder in the Maze

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If ever a classic-era mystery delivered promise after promise in the opening chapter it was Murder in the Maze (1927), the third criminous novel by Alfred Walter Stewart under his J.J. Connington nom de plume. You get near-identical twins, one of who is the lynchpin barrister in an on-going high-profile trial, their wastrel and haphazard younger brother, their mentally-inflicted nephew, their plans to each sit in a different part of their country house’s hedge maze for some peace and quiet, a bunch of house-guests coming and going to odd places, and a suspicious valet. If all this didn’t presage a murder, you’d want your money back.

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