The devastation wrought by the First World War in the sheer quantity of life lost saw an upsurge in the popularity of spirit mediums, to the extent that no less an authority on the rational than Arthur Conan Doyle fell under their spell. Given that this rise in open chicanery coincided with the birth of the detective novel, it surprises me that The Psychic Killer took such a long time to appear in GAD, perhaps owing to its intersection with the impossible crime and the associated difficulties of explaining away the tricks on the page — The Reader is Warned (1939) by Carter Dickson being easily the best example of a very, very small subset.
A seam of superb Japanese detective novels and short stories have crossed the language barrier in recent years, teaching even the most culturally ignorant of us to tell our honkaku from our shin honkaku. And here to give us a sense of the work involved in making that happen is literary translator Louise Heal Kawai.
As a reader, there’s a tension to be found at the heart of every writer’s work once it’s a closed set, especially when they’ve scaled the heights that John Dickson Carr did: with nothing else to be added, at what point does The Decline set in? From Till Death Do Us Part (1944), arguably the pinnacle of his glittering career, it’s a sawtooth diagram of quality all the way to Papa La-Bas (1968), arguably the nadir, but at what point does a downward trajectory become the prevailing trend rather than the occasional, forgivable oversight? It’s obviously impossible to pick the precise moment — helloooo, subjectivity — which inevitably makes such a moment impossible not to look for.
Today was due to have been the sixth (sixth!) Bodies from the Library conference at the British Library but, for obvious reasons, it’s not. I can’t, alas, give you a whole day of GAD-based discussion, but I can at least fill an hour with someone from that line-up of exceptionally knowledgable people, Tony Medawar.
Today, three previously very hard to find novels by Freeman Wills Crofts are republished by HarperCollins: Death on the Way (1932), The Loss of the ‘Jane Vosper’ (1936), and Man Overboard! (1936). September will add Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), Crime at Guildford (1935), and Sudden Death (1932) to that, bringing the total of Crofts’ works in ready circulation up to twenty. I have no idea why they’re being published out of order, and frankly I don’t really care — it’s mainly just delightful to see him getting some traction — and I wanted to celebrate by continuing my broadly chronological reading of Crofts with this, the first of his which ever came to my attention.
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.
My TBR pile, like Norm Lindsay’s Magic Pudding, is an apparently self-aware, endlessly self-replicating source of nourishment that I will never, ever finish. I daren’t even let it out of my sight sometimes, because who knows what sort of nonsense it gets up to when I’m not looking?
In the comments of my review of The Sweepstake Murders (1931) by J.J. Connington, TomCat pointed out that the author’s sole impossible crime novel was among my recently-acquired bundle, and here we are. In Whose Dim Shadow, a.k.a. The Tau Cross Mystery (1935), however, begins with a shooting in an unlocked room in an unlocked flat that also has a set of footprints leading away from the open French windows and which forms the basis of the majority of the narrative. And a very entertaining narrative it is, too, only falling down when Connington shanghais pace for exposition, and struggling in the final straight due, in all likelihood, to external concerns.
As a wrangler of mysteries, Norman Berrow has many equals and several betters, but as an incorporator of impossibilities he’s in the front rank. Ever since first reading him with The Bishop’s Sword (1948) I’ve been struck by how neatly he folds his apparently undoable criminous schemes into the plots of his later novels — we’ll get to Early and Late Berrow in due course — and The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) is another great example of this. Yes, two of the apparent mysteries herein are pretty solvable at first sight, but the reason for those mysteries and the use of the impossibility to achieve those ends is as brilliant as ever.