In the comments of my review of The Sweepstake Murders (1931) by J.J. Connington, TomCat pointed out that the author’s sole impossible crime novel was among my recently-acquired bundle, and here we are. In Whose Dim Shadow, a.k.a. The Tau Cross Mystery (1935), however, begins with a shooting in an unlocked room in an unlocked flat that also has a set of footprints leading away from the open French windows and which forms the basis of the majority of the narrative. And a very entertaining narrative it is, too, only falling down when Connington shanghais pace for exposition, and struggling in the final straight due, in all likelihood, to external concerns.
You may have missed the subtle hint I put up recently about buying some J.J. Connington books, but, with 18 to choose from, where to start? Well, if there’s a GAD touchstone I enjoy almost as much as a “no footprints” murder it’s a tontine, so The Sweepstake Murders (1931), which sees nine associates win £241,920 (or £16 million in today’s money) to be divided among them is a great place to reattempt Mt. Connington. Because £241,920 spilt nine ways is less each than when it’s split eight ways, which would be less than splitting it seven ways, which would be less than splitting it six ways…you can see how someone starts to think, can’t you?
It’s been a fun ride with Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page, but now we reach the end. A mere five books came from these two ladies under their Roger Scarlett nom de plume, and it’s thanks to the tireless work of the folk at Coachwhip publications — and GAD’s own Curtis Evans — that these hugely enjoyable novels have been made available again. Because enjoy them I have, and my feelings about this final volume are amplified by having read all that preceded it; without that context, I (and possibly you — be forewarned) would not have gotten quite as much out of this last hurrah. As it is, and as you can clearly see above, I loved it to bits.
The name Clifford Orr first came to my attention on account of the Roland Lacourbe-curated ‘100 Books for a Locked Room Library’ list featuring Orr’s second and final novel, The Wailing Rock Murders (1932). So when that title cropped up in this twofer of Orr’s complete output, I snapped it up and just had to wait for sufficient snow to clear from the peak of Mount TBR. And, as it happens, I’m posting this review of his debut novel The Dartmouth Murders (1929) a mere two days after what would have been Orr’s 120th birthday — entirely by accident, as anyone who has met me in real life will be able to attest. Such organisation is not one of my strong points.
TomCat has been urging me to read this fourth novel from Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s ‘Roger Scarlett’ nom de plume for a while now, not least on account of our shared enthusiasm for impossible crimes. But I’m a stickler for my Ways and so have worked my way to it chronologically, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the first three novels improve in style, scope, scheme, and substance from book to book. Here again, then, is another murder amidst a tightly-packed coterie of suspects in one of Boston’s mansions, with again enough cross-purposes, desires, and hidden intentions to make any one of them a killer…so whodunnit?
Dear Elderly Patriarchs Who Hold the Purse-Strings and Delight in Making Everyone Jump and Dance on Cue: you’d live a lot longer if you stopped gathering your slavishly pecuniary-minded families around you before announcing a surprise amendment to their financial situations. Weren’t you supposed to be captains of industry at some point? Don’t your creators lay it on a bit thick with your business acumen, your cut-and-thrust tactics, and the rapier-like intelligence that resulted in you rising to the top? Gordon’s beer, man, exercise a little nouse; at least change the will and then tell them…
For this blog alone — that is, discounting books I manage to fit in which do not feature on here — my reading has in recent weeks seen a degree of decade-hopping it doesn’t normally achieve: 1971, 1948, 2011, 1938, 2018, 1940, 1939, 2018 and now 1932. The upshot of this time travel is a reassurance that I’m still more of a fan of the legitimate 1930s style of murder mystery than I am its more modern second cousin. Even the flaws in this type of story are more enjoyable, partly I suppose because (and it bears repeating) of just how damn difficult a well-clewed puzzle plot is to write. As here, the first swing often makes up in enthusiasm for what it lacks in finesse.
Whatever I thought of this book, I was committed to reading more of Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett mysteries as I had already bought volume 2 of the Coachwhip reissues — comprising the novels Cat’s Paw (1931) and Murder Among the Angells (1932). Impetuous? I prefer optimistic: the promise on display in their debut augured well for their future, and I believed remuneration would be found somewhere in these pages. So it’s either my own foresight or my stubborn inability to admit a mistake that sees me having a hugely enjoyable time with this one…I shall leave it to the reader to choose.
The classic GAD puzzle plot being the complex and obstreperous beast it is, we should not be surprised that sometimes it took two brains to wrestle in into readable shape (under a single name so as to simplify things) — Ellery Queen, Francis Beeding, Kelley Roos, Patrick Quentin, etc. Now, thanks to the work of Coachwhip and Curtis Evans, we can all add another collaborative nom de plume to our libraries with Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett and their Boston-set country house conundra. And, as with their distinguished kin, they prove to have an equally troublesome first swing at this while also showing a huge amount of promise.
Fellow GAD blogger Noah Stewart has in the past talked about intertextuality in detective fiction, part of which is how each mystery’s solution feeds into a general awareness of all other mysteries and their solutions. Essentially, reading detective fiction is then a game: has the author been able to mislead you about the solution? And the more you read, the harder this game becomes for these authors, especially as many of them wrote their books close to a century ago and so don’t really get the right of response where later developments in the field are concerned. The best GAD plots stand up to all subsequent attempts to innovate, and remain surprising.