#730: The Lost Gallows (1931) by John Dickson Carr

Lost Gallows, The

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It’s rather a coup of scheduling that the British Library opted to reissue this November-set second case for Henri Bencolin in November 2020, because there’s something distinctly eerie the fog-shrouded, darkening streets of the London of John Dickson Carr’s second novel The Lost Gallows (1931) that would, one feels, be lost if read in the blistering July sunshine (yes, thank-you, the Southern Hemisphere). Indeed, I enjoyed this one more at this second reading than I thought I would — in part because Carr’s melodrama doesn’t hit me so hard second time around, but I’m also going to cite “tis the season” as a definite factor.

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#724: The 12.30 from Croydon, a.k.a. Wilful and Premeditated (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts

12.30 from Croydon

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The writing of an inverted mystery must surely bring with it a certain amount of release.  Your typical detective novel, after all, keeps the villain, their motives, their opportunity, and oftentimes their method occluded from the reader whilst ideally also dropping all manner of subtle hints about them, where the inverted mystery — in which we know the criminal and their motivation from the off, see the crime committed, and must then watch the detective figure it out — removes every single one of these difficulties, requiring only the investigation which would have happened in a ‘straight’ novel of detection anyway.

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#715: The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951) by Peter Shaffer [a.p.a. by Peter Antony]

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The one thing a book cannot guard against is the expectations that build up around it — and the rarer a book proves to be, the more apocryphal its contents, the higher those expectations tend to rise. The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951) by Peter Shaffer has been staggeringly unobtainable for decades now and, with no less an authority than Robert Adey promising “a brilliant new solution” for its locked room murder, had much to live up to. We can’t blame the book for the solution not being new — not even slightly, Bob — but we can blame it for the flaws that disappointingly crop up in several key regards.

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#655: Mystery in the Channel, a.k.a. Mystery in the English Channel (1931) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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Since the British Library’s reissues of The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933) and Antidote to Venom (1938) are what got me reading Freeman Wills Crofts in the first place, it was with some excitement that I, now a fully signed-up Croftian reading his work chronologically, approached another of his titles selected for the BL’s Crime Classics range.  Possibly on account of a certain perturbation at current world events, I’ve been really struggling of late to persevere with books I’ve not been enjoying, so I suspect that a dive into some comfort reading is what’s needed.  And Crofts fits that bill like a glove…if you’ll forgive my, er, mixing of metaphors.

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#605: Castle Skull (1931) by John Dickson Carr

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I’m being a bit cheeky here, using what I believe will be the cover for the British Library Crime Classics reissue of this due out early next year when it’s not actually my copy — I’ll show that below — but, c’mon, it’s a thing of beauty.  The skull-shaped castle the title promises and narrative delivers has been somewhat done to death in previous editions, and it’s nice to see someone being a little more liberal in their interpretations.  Though, now I’ve said that, the BL will change the cover ahead of its January release to a castle made entirely of skulls, presided over by a man made of skulls, punching Skeletor with a skull-shaped boxing glove.

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#544: Murder by Matchlight (1945) by E.C.R. Lorac

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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…

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