Part of the fun of this blogging collective with its focus primarily on classic style mysteries is seeing the individual enthusiasms of bloggers and commenters alike assert themselves. To pick just three, I’ve turned into quite the most unexpected fan of Freeman Wills Crofts, Puzzle Doctor is soon to convert us all to the joys of Brian Flynn, and TomCat has derived great pleasure from the works of John Russell Fearn. And it’s nice to share in a joy with someone, so through an uncertain combination of runic alchemy and liturgical dance, I ended up at the conclusion that Death in Silhouette (1950) would be the next Fearn for me to try, and here we are.
At some point in the 1980s, Britain started pumping out crime fiction by authors who literary darlings could feel smug about admitting they slum it with: Colin Dexter, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, and today’s experiment, Reginald Hill, among others — authors I’ve sampled here and there and who generally leave me cold. My precise objection to them is difficult to pin down, but they seem to me to be forcing upon the genre a staid acceptability it neither needed nor flourishes under, and that’s something I can’t get further into without reading more of it…and, well, I’m reluctant to do that. A Killing Kindness (1980) perfectly exemplifies why.
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.
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.
When might a self-published novel not be a self-published novel? That’s the quandary I face with J.R. Ellis’ third book, Murder at Redmire Hall (2018). See, it’s technically published by Thomas & Mercer, but they’re simply an imprint of Amazon Publishing and the line between what’s different about this and simply uploading it to Amazon oneself gets blurrier the more you look at it.