As we approach the (current?) end of Rob Innes’ Blake Harte series of impossible crime stories, I have to confess that one of its major successes has been getting me, a man who will take a finely-crafted plot over minutely-observed character, engaged in the lives of his core cast.
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.
A triptych of needs are being met here: firstly a last-minute replacement for the Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat I’d intended to write about, secondly the addressing of a Paul Halter book not yet reviewed on this blog, and thirdly some tangential research for next Saturday’s In GAD We Trust episode.
My previous encounter with A.G. Barnett’s self-published impossible crime fiction was An Invitation to Murder (2019), which saw an interesting-if-cozy impossible battering in a locked room lose points for drawing attention to the one detail it then failed to explain. But, everyone gets two books, and so we’re back, this time with a different series and a stabbing in a locked and watched room.
Lockdown rolls on, and so does my GAD-focussed podcast, which this time around sees me picking the brains of John Norris who blogs at Pretty Sinister Books and is surely one of the most widely-read members of our GAD coterie.
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.
Can a book still be a masterpiece if it’s not brilliant? In the case of Gaston Leroux’s debut The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907) — which plays up to and anticipates so many of the established and forthcoming trappings of detective fiction — I’d say yes. The focus on propelling the plot at a time when even those who were focussed on plot weren’t exactly propulsive is both admirable and impressive, and the creativity Leroux brings to a subgenre that would utilise the secret passage for another 60+ years is staggering. But it would be folly to claim that age has not caught up with it and that this was in the same class as the genre’s genuine masterpieces of the 1930s.