Several years ago, discovering that the impossible crime novel was a thing, I read Anthony Boucher’s Nine Times Nine (1940), originally published as by H.H. Holmes, and loved it. I then discovered TomCat’s list of favourite impossible crime novels and was intrigued by the fact that, eschewing the accepted classic that Nine Times Nine is, Boucher’s later, less discussed The Case of the Solid Key (1941) was included there instead (TC, it must be said, is something of an iconoclast…). More Boucher followed, some of it disappointing, and last year I finally ran to ground a copy of TCotSK in a secondhand bookshop in Philadelphia and — at long, long last — here we go.
It’s undeniable that I have a slightly unusual relationship with some accepted classic GAD authors and do not necessarily always line up with the accepted wisdom where, say, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, and Dorothy L. Sayers are concerned.
Sure, laugh it up. Just a few short months ago I stated my intention to read the entirety of the output of Manny Lee and/or Frederic Dannay under the Ellery Queen nom de plume, and here I am — some struggles later — jumping ahead to a more warmly-perceived title. I’m not happy about it myself, I much prefer to do these things chronologically, but equally I want to want to read their books again. I’ve loved some, been unaffected by others, and abominated a handful, and as such Queen remains a problem child for me. So here I am, back on the horse in a different town, mixing metaphors with the best of ’em. And the result…?
I was pretty much goaded into this, you should know. Ben at The Green Capsule is diversifying his blogging to extend beyond the works of John Dickson Carr, and the first book he chose was Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger. In the comments, conversation turned to other Brand titles and Brad had the temerity to doubt my fortitude: I don’t think JJ should read Tour de Force either. I couldn’t bear to think what he would make of it! Well, challenge accepted. Now, true, Brand and I didn’t get off to the best of starts — Green for Danger made her very much the new stepmother trying too hard to replace Agatha Christie in my affections — but we’ve had some great times since then, and so I came to this with an open mind.
Contrary to what the books may tell us, the father of Ellery Queen, detective, is not Inspector Richard Queen but instead Philo Vance, the dilettante amateur wise-arse detective created by S.S. van Dine. I’m not claiming this is an original observation — far from it — but reading the second novel to feature the Queens and the first in which Ellery actually solves the case (he has a very small hand in their debut, The Roman Hat Mystery) it’s interesting to realise just how heavily Dannay and Lee were leaning on van Dine at this point of their careers.
Summoned by a distant relative to a secluded family pile, a young(ish) man finds himself isolated with a fixed cast of closely-related characters as money-hungry relatives, murder, and all other sorts of puzzle plotting chicanery inveigle themself onto the scene. Yes, in many ways No Flowers By Request takes the exact same ingredients as The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head — vast swathes of it will appear ominously familiar — and plays perfectly in the 1937 tradition that Rich has got us investigating this month for Crimes of the Century. But does the rest of the book hold up past these fundamentals? And is it any good, after the failure of Jonanthan Latimer’s stirring of these same ingredients?
Summoned by an elderly relative to their secluded family pile, a young man finds himself isolated with a fixed cast of closely-related characters as murder, missing documents, an escaped lunatic, and all other sorts of puzzle plotting chicanery inveigle themself onto the scene. Yes, in many ways The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head is a vade mecum for the Golden Age of detective fiction — vast elements of it will appear achingly familiar — and plays perfectly in time with the tattoo of 1937 that Rich has got many of us investigating this month for Crimes of the Century at Past Offences. But does the rest of the book hold up past these fundamentals?