Okay, here we go — do not read any further unless you are happy to be spoiled on the details of John Dickson Carr’s 1939 novel featuring the impossible “no footprints” problem of a man strangled in the middle of a clay tennis court.
I am immensely chuffed to be able to bring to you today the results of the spoiler-heavy discussion between myself and the erudite and phenomenally knowledgeable Noah Stewart of Noah’s Archives on the topic of Rex Stout’s thirteenth Nero Wolfe novel, And Be a Villain (1948). Hefty spoilers follow, so read on only if you are a) prepared or b) a daredevil badass who takes no truck with your “rules”, man.
Having recently read The Arabian Nights Murder (1936) by John Dickson Carr, the time seems ripe to rank the first ten of Carr’s novels featuring the gargantuan Dr. Gideon Fell. Why the first 10? Well, we’re a decimal-obsessed society, and I’ve not read the eleventh, so this seems a natural jumping-off point. It’s not technically a top ten, right? It’s a little more interesting than that…right?
If you came to me at this precise moment in time and expressed both an ignorance of and an interest in the work of Agatha Christie, these are the ten books I’d recommend picking one to start from (presented chronologically, let’s not play Favourites):
A late-Victorian private detective living in London who exhibits such traits as brilliant deductive skills (highlighted especially in his observations about strangers), a brusque and pompous manner, the application of reason and logic in all his encounters with crime, and a singular lack of personal relationships with anyone beyond his household, the members of the police he encounters, and his chronicler. Sound familiar?
And, of course, he has that glass eye, too. Wait, what?
You’ve just had time to recover from the spoiler-filled look at Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot…well here’s fair warning of the subject of the next spoiler-filled discussion that will be going ahead here on The invisible Event this October: And be a Villain (1948), the 13th book by Rex Stout to feature fiction’s most famous orchid fancier, Nero Wolfe.
Reader, brace yourself for a shock: I — the man who curated an online celebration of Paul Halter’s 60th birthday last year — loved The Madman’s Room. Given the hue and stripe of originality Halter has brought to the impossible crime genre (The Demon of Dartmoor, The Lord of Misrule, and The Invisible Circle, among others, all contain what surely must be original resolutions to the inexplicable), it’s no surprise to find him resolving the mysteries herein as inventively as he does. What I especially enjoyed was the simplicity brought to the answers, particularly the way he occludes that simplicity so smartly so that you look back on come the end and go “Oh, hell, how did I miss that?”.
When a man is found dead, stabbed between the eyes by a unicorn (of indeterminate nationality) — a, yes, fictional animal that can nevertheless apparently turn invisible at will — you don’t expect to find yourself in the GADU. And when a second victim is then killed in the same way but in full view of witnesses, if one can witness an invisible animal, you better hope you’re in the GADU or else things are about to get silly. Well, it’s your lucky day, because you are in a classic impossible crime mystery and things are about to get silly — this book is probably the final time John Dickson Carr had all the ingredients for a classic and didn’t actually write it, instead leaving a few edges untouched so that the overriding impression is slightly more “Er…what?” than “Hell, yeah!”.