Before we get onto the book itself, it’s worth mentioning that this is the twenty-ninth publication from Locked Room International. Under the stewardship of John Pugmire, we’ve been brought a wonderful mix of classic and modern impossible crime novels and short stories from all corners of the globe, and — given the standard of their recent output — it certainly seems that the best is far from past. I anticipate a great many excellent, obscure, and previously-untranslated works coming our way in the years ahead thanks to LRI, and I wanted to take a moment to recognise the work that goes into making this happen.
Whatever I thought of this book, I was committed to reading more of Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page’s Roger Scarlett mysteries as I had already bought volume 2 of the Coachwhip reissues — comprising the novels Cat’s Paw (1931) and Murder Among the Angells (1932). Impetuous? I prefer optimistic: the promise on display in their debut augured well for their future, and I believed remuneration would be found somewhere in these pages. So it’s either my own foresight or my stubborn inability to admit a mistake that sees me having a hugely enjoyable time with this one…I shall leave it to the reader to choose.
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.
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.
If there’s one setback to the profligacy of quality GAD blogs now found online, it’s that very little in my reading gets to take me by surprise any more. Something good tends to get shouted about (this is, after all, why we’re here) and then others buy it and shout or grumble as they see fit…but we’ve gone in with a ringing endorsement in our ears beforehand. I’m not complaining, it’s a lovely problem to have — and I contribute to this as much as anyone — but I was moved to reflect on picking this for review that it’s one book on my TBR that I knew nothing about. So now allow me to pre-prejudice the experience for the rest of you…
Much like in one of those hilarious romantic comedies from the early 2000s starring Ben Stiller or Jennifer Lopez, Philip MacDonald and I got off to a rocky start that seemed to be improving, on the way to falling lovingly into each other’s arms by the end credits. It began badly with X v. Rex (1933), showed signs of improvement with Murder Gone Mad (1931), and so by now we’re at the montage stage — I’m the aggressive go-getter, he won’t compromise where his family’s concerned…how can two such different souls ever hope to find common ground? Can’t I see that his brand of innovation is made for me? Won’t he just do the decent thing and write a novel of detection with actual clues? Hairy Aaron, we’re so stubborn…
In the orchestra of John Dickson Carr’s detective fiction, his early years from It Walks by Night (1930) up to arguably The Arabian Nights Murder (1936) are very much the accordion section. Events occur in concentrated bursts, with clues and characters squeezed together to make the notes of the plot emerge, only to then be drawn apart before inexorably squeezing together again for another dense exposit you must pore over in order to follow the necessary developments. From The Punch and Judy Murders (1936) until the 1940s he wrote in the fine, clean, overlapping lines of the harp, and then the violins took over… but enough of this analogy, back to this book and the wheeze of a bellows working overtime.