For now, like, the fourth time in my experience — and the second involving a book by Philip MacDonald — the Roland Lacourbe-curated list of 100 excellent impossible crime novels has disgorged a title which is not in any way an impossible crime. I’m still fully capab- (hang on, carry the one…then minus…yup, you’re good) fully capable of enjoying a book which is sans-impossibility, but I find it weird that a list compiled by such eminent heads includes so many books that don’t qualify. The simplicity of MacDonald’s own narratives should be a giveaway anyway, since he’s really not about the complexities or misdirection, sticking more to a simpler, thriller-tinged path.
Thanksgiving evening, Sheriff Rex Brandon receives a call from a contrite drunk claiming to have stolen a car, and heads over to pick him up along with D.A. Doug Selby. Arriving too late to prevent an accident in which the man is killed, a chance observation by Selby leads to an identity different to one the man had claimed This in turn brings Brandon and Selby to Carmen Freelman, who had been called away from dinner with her new husband’s family that evening by her boss…who just happens to be the man killed in the crash. So run the first twenty-four pages of The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944) by Erle Stanley Gardner. Strap in for a wild ride…
It’s cold outside, it’s dark outside — yes, thank-you, The Southern Hemisphere, no-one likes a smartarse — Christmas is over; time to battle through with some beloved authors. First up, and most beloved of them all despite a recent charge by Freeman Wills Crofts, Mr. John Dickson Carr and Dr. Gideon Fell, here engaged in no showy impossibilities but instead the sort of low-key case for which Carr doesn’t get enough credit. Where the relative simplicity of this might lead to this being overlooked, I’d argue that its restrained execution and structure are so brilliantly without flaw that the more easily you dismiss it the more you’re falling into the very trap it lays.
My first encounter with James Ronald was via the puply and hugely entertaining Six Were to Die, a.k.a. The Dark Angel (1932), in which six business associates found their lives threatened by an ex-colleague they had wronged, and were killed one by one in ingenious ways. Six years later, he wrote They Can’t Hang Me (1938), in which four business associates find their lives threatened by an ex-colleague they have wronged, and are killed one by one in ingenious ways. And, hell, when the book is this good, I wouldn’t mind if he’d written this plot another 25 times. In fact, I wish he had. This, my friends, is a little beauty.
When The Murder Room, the ebook-only arm of publishing house Orion, announced a couple of years ago that they’d be releasing a bunch of Henry Wade’s novels I got quite excited and then proceeded to buy none of them. Instead, I eventually acquired four Wade novels in paperback — The Duke of York’s Steps (1929), The Hanging Captain (1933), Mist on the Saltings (1933), and Heir Presumptive (1935) — and proceeded to read none of them, too. So, as I v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y make my way through these, I’m pleased to report that here it certainly seems Wade has learned a lot from that earlier book and grown significantly as an author in four short years.