#951: Murder in the Basement (1932) by Anthony Berkeley

Murder in the Basement

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One of my very favourite detective fiction tropes is the Unidentified Corpse.  It’s at the heart of my favourite E.C.R. Lorac book, one of my favourite Freeman Wills Crofts books, and as a mainstay of the work of R. Austin Freeman is put to wonderful use both traditional and inverted. Murder in the Basement (1932) by Anthony Berkeley also invents the Whowasdunin?, giving us a cast of characters from which the corpse will be produced, and not divulging the identity of the victim until the halfway point. Thankfully, given Berkeley’s tendency to commit to a thought experiment regardless of whether the book that comes out of it is any good, he’s also written an entertaining and very witty novel along the way.

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#946: Law and Order – Ranking the First Fifteen Inspector French Novels (1924-36) by Freeman Wills Crofts

With the sixteenth to twenty-fourth novels by Freeman Wills Crofts to feature his series detective Chief Inspector Joseph French due to be republished between now and January 2023 (well, #18, Antidote to Venom (1938), is already available from the British Library) it occurred to me that people might be looking for advice about the first fifteen — all, incredibly, in print.

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#913: “You people have the most cheerful imaginations…” – It Walks by Night (1930) by John Dickson Carr

With the superb British Library Crime Classics range having recently published its one hundredth title, and with doubtless many more books still in its future, the time seems ripe to revisit one of its most exciting reprints, It Walks by Night (1930) the novel-length debut of John Dickson Carr and his first sleuth, Henri Bencolin.

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#897: Jumping Jenny, a.k.a. Dead Mrs. Stratton (1933) by Anthony Berkeley

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Soren Kierkegaard said that life is to be lived forwards but only understood backwards, and the same is true of my reading Anthony Berkeley Cox. I’m reasonably sure that I’ve read the majority of Cox’s novels, but only in revisiting them — with, admittedly, a firmer grounding in the detective genre’s Golden Age which he explored so rigorously in a staggeringly small number of books — do I appreciate what he was trying to do. Jumping Jenny, a.k.a. Dead Mrs. Stratton (1933), for example, is the inversion of every novel of detection written to that point and a vast majority of those written since, and only in seeing this did I finally understand just how damn good it is.

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#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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