You know the drill: two men in a meeting, a shot rings out, one of them is found with a bullet in him, the other holding the gun that fired it. Stir in a “But he was already dead when I got here!” and simmer until an associate of an-amateur-sleuth-with-a-friend-in-the-police asks them to get involved (usually for personal reasons). That Off the Record (2010) follows this recipe so perfectly is a credit to how perceptively Dolores Gordon-Smith has assimilated the Golden Age detective novel, because never does it feel just like we’re jumping through hoops for the sake of it. The setup is familiar, but never less than engagingly handled.
This week on my Lockdown Podcast In GAD We Trust, the cream of G.K. Chesterton’s stories about his crime-solving Roman Catholic priest as selected by John who blogs at Countdown John’s Christie Journal.
Typical, eh? You wait years for a blog to talk about magic, and then suddenly three posts come along at once: the most recent In GAD We Trust episode with John Norris, and two self-published impossible crime stories — one this week, and one next. Sure, that’s stretching the definition of “at once” to an Orwellian degree, but that’s how I apparently roll.
There’s a quote attributed to Michaelangelo essentially stating that a statue already exists inside a block of stone and it’s merely the sculptor’s job to chip away the stone that isn’t part of the resulting artwork. This came to mind a lot whilst reading The Thirteenth Apostle (2020) by Jamie Probin, because if you remove the excess of nervous repetition and tedious tone setting there’s probably a great book in here somewhere.
Ten more cases for America’s Sherlock Holmes in Sneakers, Leroy ‘Encyclopedia’ Brown — how many do you think he’ll solve? What’s that? Oh, I suppose the title is something of a giveaway, hey? Well, moving on, then…
When Jack Haldean encounters Durant Craig in the lounge at Claridge’s hotel, the latter apparently carries a grievance from their war days and offers up a volley of abuse before storming out. Haldean refuses to disclose the reason for Craig’s outburst — offering only that “I let him down rather badly once…I deserve it” — and instead seems keen to forget the meeting. When a mysterious car accident during a fancy dress party raises the possibility of murder, it’s not long before Halden and Superintendent Ashley find themselves investigating a menage that involves one Durant Craig…and so it seems that Jack Haldean has a reckoning with the misdeeds of his past.
Three books into the seven-strong output of Herbert Brean, I’m going to suggest that he’s one of the most unjustly-neglected writers of the latter-GAD era — that “latter” prefix being key. Brean’s plots are dense enough for the puzzle fiends of the 1930s, and his social milieu more than matches the requirements of the post-GAD 1950s hankering after domestic suspense, but each school will be disappointed by how much of its rival is present. Thus, puzzle fans lazily insisting he’s in the same bracket as John Dickson Carr and realism fans keen to play up his HIBK credentials each sell him as writing sorts of books he never wrote, and everyone ends up disappointed.
A certain amount of debate continues to rage — “rage” might be too strong a word — over whether the impossible alibi qualifies as a true impossible crime. I suggest that, should it eventually be inducted into future Locked Room Murders supplements, we do so on a ‘one out, one in’ policy and retire the “death by unknown means” to make space.
Disorientated, drenched, and on the verge of a fever, George Lassiter wanders the streets of London until attracted to a particular house which he breaks into in order to warm himself by the fire. While he is waiting in the darkness and warmth, three people enter, one of them apparently drops dead on the spot, and Lassiter beats a hasty retreat before being caught by a local bobby. Upon telling his story, the house is investigated and no sign of a body is found, so Lassiter is carted away to the local hospital. And when Lassiter’s friend, part-time sleuth and general man-about-town Jack Haldean, hears of his predicament, it’s the beginning of a complex and dangerous skein.