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.
Had you asserted back in 2014 that the republication of two forgotten crime novels would lay the foundation for one of the most celebrated series of GAD reissues in modern times, well, people would have laughed. And yet the British Library Crime Classics collection, under the stewardship of Martin Edwards and Rob Davies, is now over 50 books deep and gathering momentum for another exciting year. And it’s a sure sign of the hale condition of the series that, far from simply reissuing books, they’re now branching out into original translations with this collection of overseas tales. In the words of Ira Gershwin, who’s got the last laugh now?
January, month of rebirth and self-recrimination. For every resolution to improve there must be some frank assessment of what debilitated you in the first place, and so the month can take on a curiously Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect for some. So my Tuesday posts for this month will be a mixture of what is good and bad in my reading, and where better to start than a celebration of the previous 12 months?
Apologies, I’m a bit late in bringing to your attention — term only finished yesterday, and I’m still in shock — that the third episode of the occasional podcast Dan of The Reader is Warned and I record is now up and ready to fly straight to your ears at the click of a mouse.
For reasons that are not entirely clear — he is not mentioned in the synopsis, nor the single review of this item at the time of writing (which is itself a single word — “Read” — whose tense is undetermined), nor used as a “For fans of…” comparison — this title appears when you search for Paul Halter on the world’s largest website of buying anything. And it happens to be a self-published impossible crime story, so why wouldn’t I buy it? The question is, should you?
My previous attempt at finding a modern locked room mystery for TomCat ended in frank disaster when it turned out TomCat had, of course, already read the book chosen. Well I’m back, baby, and this time I’ve done my homework. Hours of research went into choosing this title, including an algorithmic analysis of TomCat’s reading habits over the past five years. I in no way just happened to see it at my local library, no sir. Why would you even suggest that?
Given that an overwhelming majority of modern crime writing really isn’t my thing, it’s always lovely to see Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine publish some short fiction for me to get excited about, like a new Paul Halter story or, as in the current November/December 2017 issue, something from Japanese master Soji Shimada (I’ll Westernise his name herein, since that’s what I’ve done previously).
In a career that does not exactly lack for belauded titles, The Burning Court might just be the most belauded of John Dickson Carr’s oeuvre. Opinions diverge sharply on what I would consider all-time classics like The Plague Court Murders (1934) or The Hollow Man (1935), but arguably only this and perhaps She Died a Lady (1943) seem to enjoy universal adoration. So for the Carr acolyte like myself, approaching every book fully intent on getting the most possible out of it, there’s now the extra twinge of almost needing to love this so as to be taken seriously when discussing the man and his work. Five years from now, you don’t want “Yeah, but you didn’t enjoy The Burning Court” being thrown in your face like the castigation it is.
No discussion of children’s literature is complete without at least a passing reference to the 14,762 books Enid Blyton wrote in her career. Somehow I’d heard of this one and its implied impossible disappearance, and it seemed perfect for my Tuesday posts in November on precisely this type of book. Generally you know what to expect from Blyton — a poorly-dated whiff of imperialism, comfortable middle-class adventures, ginger beer — but prepare for a bit of a shock: the rigour of the detection in this is something to behold.