The time has come again for some nerdy Golden Age Detection podcasting, and James Scott Byrnside is here to oblige with a discussion about some of the tropes we know and love from GAD fictionContinue reading
You’re doubtless aware of the superbly wide-ranging Golden Age-focussed Shedunnit podcast run by Caroline Crampton, and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to an episode about locked room mysteries and impossible crimes. The results are now online for your listening pleasure.
Back in December 2015 I read and reviewed Matt Ingwalson’s first two self-published Owl and Raccoon novellas and, impressed with their quality, undertook what has since become my Adventures in Self-Publishing in which I work through impossible crime fiction following a non-trad route to its audience.
Last week you had the opportunity to pick through my choices for the 15 best impossible crime novels of all time; this week, in the second and final part of our episode on this theme, it’s Dan’s turn.
Let the tucket sound! Dan and I are back with our occasional podcast The Men Who Explain Miracles, and we’re taking on something rather special this month.
Following on from last week’s post about John Sladek’s Thackeray Phin short stories, we turn our attention to the remaining crime stories collected in Maps, all of which were published in 1968. Is that significant? Let’s find out…
Thanks to the beneficence of Dan at The Reader is Warned, I have been loaned a copy of Maps (2002), an anthology of short fiction and other reflections by John Sladek which were previously not anthologised elsewhere. Sladek wrote two impossible crime novels — the excellent Black Aura (1974) and the exemplary Invisible Green (1977) — and Maps contains the two short-form tales to feature the same American dandy sleuth, Thackeray Phin. Both could be discussed at length, but TomCat’s already done that very well indeed and I’m more interested in looking at small moments within them that don’t actually contribute to the plot. I know, right, what am I like?
John Sladek is better known these days as a furiously inventive author of decidedly loopy SF — and I mean that as a compliment — but he did publish two detectives novels in the 1970s that each contained several impossibilities. The first, Black Aura (1974), has two disappearances and a man flying outside a third-storey window (without anything so amateur as wires holding him up, you cynic), and two-thirds of these are explained away superbly — the second disappearance in particular. It is a very good book, if perhaps a little slow in places, and boded well for the next time Sladek opted to dip his toe in our waters. Invisible Green, then, is very much the realisation of this potential, being superior in every single respect, and therefore something of a bittersweet read as we know now that nothing else followed it in the realm of the unachievable provably done.
Declaring that the detective novel was the only form of literature that put the reader to work, [S.S. van Dine] argued that “a deduction game emphasising fair play within a limited setting” would be the story structure with the best potential to result in masterpiece mystery stories […] But when the elements of the game are too severely limited and the building materials are all the same, only the first few builders will get all the glory and there will be an over-abundance of similar novels…
—Soji Shimada, in his introduction to The Moai Island Puzzle