There is an argument to be made that genre fiction and sitcoms share a huge amount of DNA: we want them to be the same sort of thing from episode-to-episode or book-to-book, and yet within the repetition of ingredients that define the form we also want something new.Continue reading
The Plague Court Murders (1934), the debut of John Dickson Carr’s sleuth Sir Henry ‘H.M.’ Merrivale and published under his Carter Dickson nom de plume, struck me when I first read it as among the ne plus ultra of locked room mysteries. A decade on, having read much more of Carr’s output, I now see it differently. Carr published five books in 1934, each one now feeling lilke an attempt to work some new wrinkle into his writing. For all the cleverness — and it is very clever — this is really an apprentice work from a man who would go on to do much, much better.
Another week, another brace of stories from Mystery and More Mystery (1966) by Robert Arthur.Continue reading
I had intended to reread The Tiger’s Head (1991) by Paul Halter for my 800th post next Thursday, as it is a permanent toss-up between this and The Madman’s Room (1990) for my favourite of the French maestro’s work thus far translated by John Pugmire. But then everything — everything — I tried to read this week struck me as turgid, tedious, and unbearable, and Ben at The Green Capsule had a wonderful time reading Halter’s The Phantom Passage (2005), and I thought “Why not bring it forward a week and actually enjoy myself for a change?”. So here we are, and I don’t regret it, not even for a moment.
This week, as we dive into two more stories by Robert Arthur from Mystery and More Mystery (1966), I meet the two earliest works of his I’ve yet encountered.Continue reading
The sixth translation of (shin) honkaku by Ho-Ling Wong under the auspices of Locked Room International, Lending the Key to the Locked Room (2002) is a paean to the glory days of the complex puzzle plots of the 1930s while oddly frugal in its own plotting and characterisation. Delightfully self-aware at times in a manner that (to my taste) never succumbs to the danger of outstaying its welcome, the savvy elements of this debut are undercut by issues elsewhere: a reliance on concidence, a tiny cast with very little to misdirect into, and the sheer amount of irrelevant information that carries you through.
After a year — a year, people — of mind-numbing repetition and drudgery against a background of tragedy, Below Suspicion (1949), John Dickson Carr’s forty-sixth book in twenty years and the 18th to feature Dr. Gideon Fell, was exactly what I needed…for the simple reason that it is so very, very different. Ten years from now I could reread this and be appalled that I ever thought it so great, but right now it is manna from heaven: eerie, baffling, infuriating in many ways, and fascinating given the direction we know Carr’s career took from this point in how it blends the classic detection he had excelled in with the historical mysteries he was about to launch himself into.
A few years ago, I got the Night Riviera sleeper train from London Paddington to Penzance. When we reached our destination, after a good night’s sleep, I was disappointed to discover that no-one had been bafflingly murdered while en route and that my skills as an amateur detective were not required.Continue reading