The classic GAD puzzle plot being the complex and obstreperous beast it is, we should not be surprised that sometimes it took two brains to wrestle in into readable shape (under a single name so as to simplify things) — Ellery Queen, Francis Beeding, Kelley Roos, Patrick Quentin, etc. Now, thanks to the work of Coachwhip and Curtis Evans, we can all add another collaborative nom de plume to our libraries with Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett and their Boston-set country house conundra. And, as with their distinguished kin, they prove to have an equally troublesome first swing at this while also showing a huge amount of promise.
An orphaned young man who lives with his red-haired best friend’s family, all the while having adventures…yeah, okay, no, the Harry Potter similarities stop (and indeed, don’t even start — he’s not an orphan, his father’s just away a lot) there. But it’s interesting to reflect, as these YAGAD novels are making me do, on the format that adventures for younger readers take and how little the classic tropes have needed to change in the intervening decades.
Someone who venerates plot to the extent I do should not have enjoyed this book as much as I did. There’s a Nancy Drew-esque dollop of convenience at every turn, and a series of coincidences and sudden realisations that just happen to tie these actions together far more tightly than seems possible at first glance…and I should abominate such quick answers. But, holy hell, it’s also superbly written, and rich in the pulp sensibilities that resulted in me crowning Jim Thompson one of the four most important male crime writers of all time. Classicaly constructed it isn’t, but gloriously entertaining it certainly is.
I’d promised TomCat that I’d attempt to find a quality modern locked room mystery this week, but the book I was going to look at — Lord Darcyverse continuation novel Ten Little Wizards (1988) by Michael Kurland — has (miraculously…?) vanished. So instead, here’s a revival of another occasional series: a selective pick through some self-published impossible crime stories in search of the gold that doubtless exists there somewhere.
Gather everyone together in a closed, isolated location, then kill ’em off one by one. Yup, at heart Death in the House of Rain (2006) is simply a marvellous instauration of this most spavined of classic detective fiction framings. The ingredients are familiar — take a remote mansion of obscure design, a landslide, a rain storm, and ten near-strangers, then add some baffling murders and stir — and this familiarity is invested with the vim and vigour that continues to breathe new life into the possibilities these recurrent trappings allow. In short, it is superb; chalk up another win for Locked Room International and fans of impossible crimes.
Continuing our examination of the 15 best impossible crime novels of all time as compèred by Edward D. Hoch in 1981, here is the second of three episodes looking at the titles in question from Dan and myself in our occasional podcast The Men Who Explain Miracles.