In the style of Sesame Street, today’s review is brought to you by In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel‘s Puzzle Doctor, who kindly leant me this book following years of me failing to find an affordable copy. And, boy, what an exciting prospect it is: no mere “one chapter each” in the style of ‘Behind the Screen’ (1930), ‘The Scoop’ (1931), or The Floating Admiral (1932), this is a proper collaboration between two of the Golden Age’s titans: Carter Dickson, a.k.a. John Dickson Carr, and John Rhode, a.k.a. Miles Burton — two gentlemen who individually devised a greater library of brilliant means of criminal dispatch than almost any other pair you’d care to name.
I will admit the chance that I am overrating this book slightly, but, dude, I loved it. The central premise — that Herman Pennik can both read the minds of others and kill people just by thinking about them, using a hitherto-unexplored scientific principle he calls Teleforce — has the absurdity of overwroughtness that distinguishes the Henry Merrivale books under John Dickson Carr’s Carter Dickson nom de plume (see: The Unicorn Murders (1935), The Punch and Judy Murders (1936), etc). But Carr plays it remarkably straight, keeping his phantasmagorical flourishes to a minimum and concentrating on plot and glorious atmosphere.
Every so often someone will email me to let me know of books that may pique my interest: Kate at CrossExaminingCrime has brought several Freeman Wills Croftses to my attention, and Ben of The Green Capsule has also informed me of some bargains, including today’s title that, it’s fair to say, we’re still not sure who was most excited to discover existed.
An orphaned young man who lives with his red-haired best friend’s family, all the while having adventures…yeah, okay, no, the Harry Potter similarities stop (and indeed, don’t even start — he’s not an orphan, his father’s just away a lot) there. But it’s interesting to reflect, as these YAGAD novels are making me do, on the format that adventures for younger readers take and how little the classic tropes have needed to change in the intervening decades.
A recent post by Noah on the topic of book-scouting came hard upon the back of an experience of mine that really brought home the frequent futility of buying second-hand books. And, since the timing was rather too apt to ignore, I thought I’d share my frustrations. But I’m not ranting; be sure to note at the simplicity of the ensuing vocabulary, indicative as it is of me in a reflective (rather than bad) mood.
We are 30 pages into Dead Man Control (1936) when the case is sealed up beyond any doubt: a millionaire shot dead in his study, the door locked and bolted on the inside, his new, much younger wife unconscious on the floor (her fingerprints on the gun, too), no hiding places, and freshly fallen snow on all the window-ledges to preclude the clandestine exit of anyone else who could have been present. Clearly the wife dunnit, and everyone can go home early today. So therefore Inspector Christopher McKee has to be summoned back to New York from his holiday in England because…er, it looks too easy? And as he investigates, secrets there was no reason to suspect begin to spill out…