Recently, scouting the periodicals of the British Library for stories lest I undertake a second Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums, I found a small pamphlet entitled ‘Everythynge I Know About Detectyve Fiction’ which appears to have been self-published in a single volume around 1925 in an act of vanity by the author Captain Sir Hugh J. Lee Boryng-Payne Q.C. A.B.V. (certainly, on taking it to the desk, it didn’t appear to be on the library’s catalogue, so you may search for it online in vain…).
The result of a challenge between John Dickson Carr and magician-turned-author Clayton Rawson to write a murder in a room whose inaccessibility is assured by paper taped across the inner door jamb, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944) also has GAD brethren in Freeman Wills Crofts’ zoo-set, poisonous-snake-centric Antidote to Venom (1938). Carr and Rawson take more puzzle-oriented routes, of course, and both happen to feature magicians, but the Reptile House subgenre is off to a good start with these two novels in it. And since you’re going to ask, in the head-to-head of this and Rawson’s ‘From Another World’ (1948), Carr wins. Boy, does Carr ever win.
Sure, laugh it up. Just a few short months ago I stated my intention to read the entirety of the output of Manny Lee and/or Frederic Dannay under the Ellery Queen nom de plume, and here I am — some struggles later — jumping ahead to a more warmly-perceived title. I’m not happy about it myself, I much prefer to do these things chronologically, but equally I want to want to read their books again. I’ve loved some, been unaffected by others, and abominated a handful, and as such Queen remains a problem child for me. So here I am, back on the horse in a different town, mixing metaphors with the best of ’em. And the result…?
I recently acquired one of the only 175 extant editions produced by Crippen and Landru of the short story ‘The Problem of the Emperor’s Mushrooms’ by James Yaffe, itself originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1945. And in the same manner of reflection upon Paul Halter’s ‘The Yellow Book’ (2017) from a few weeks ago, I thought I’d have another look at a short story…though this time to suggest possible alternative explanations for the impossible poisoning contained therein.
“There is no suspense in a bang,” said Alfred Hitchcock, “only in the anticipation of it.” This applies to Stacey Bishop’s sole detective novel because, well, it wasn’t a book a sizeable proportion of GAD readers were aware even existed until Locked Room International conjured this reprint fittingly out of the ether — when John Norris at Pretty Sinister hasn’t read it, you know it’s rare. As such, the gleeful anticipation of its release was undercut somewhat by the fact that we hadn’t even heard of it, and so there’s no weight of expectation: we are free, in this connected age of everything being on demand and everything being remembered, to come into this entirely without preconceptions.
While we can be thankful for real-life developments in forensic science that enable the speedier detection of criminals, there can be little argument that it was the death-knell of good detective fiction. Dull Inspector Arnold and his genius amateur sidekick Desmond Merrion spend so much time combing through the minutiae of the physical and mental aspect of the crime in Death in the Tunnel, and come up with such entertaining possibilities while doing so, that a crime scene tech in one of those all-over white body suits could never be a fifth as much fun. It makes me all the more appreciative of this kind of classic approach, knowing that this sort of book has seen its heyday pass.