#966: The Mystery of Fifty-Two (1931) by Walter S. Masterman

Mystery of 52

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One stormy evening, the nebbishy, unworldly Alfred Austin of 57 Caldwell Road is phoned up and asked to take a message to his neighbour Mr. Carey at number 52, only to fight his way through the wind and the rain to be told upon arrival that no-one of that name lives there.  When Austin’s wife arrives home later that same evening, she informs him that no-one of any name lives there, as the house has been empty since being built a year previously.  The following morning, Alf sees a man with bloody hands leaving number 52 shortly before a dead body is discovered within…and that’s just the beginning of his problems.

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#924: The Curse of the Reckaviles (1927) by Walter S. Masterman

Curse of the Reckaviles

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How to explain my fascination with the work of Walter S. Masterman? The five books I’ve read so far are all written in a sprawling, loose style evoking detective fiction’s Victorian forebears — as if actually penned in the 1880s and discovered in a trunk before being published during the genre’s Golden Age — and the consequent veering of his plots should vex me immensely. And yet I keep returning to these Ramble House reprints because there’s something fascinating about Masterman’s insistence on writing books in this style despite the genre accelerating away from him. I mean, RH have published twenty-five of his novels…so he was hardly a flash in the pan.

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#882: Don’t Jump, Mr. Boland! (1954) by Norman Berrow

Don't Jump Mr Boland

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I’m in a confusing place with my reading of Norman Berrow.  I was sure that the break he took during WW2 would result in his post-1945 work being far superior — and it largely is — but the likes of Words Have Wings (1946), The Singing Room (1948), and The Eleventh Plague (1953) proved too tedious to finish. And now Don’t Jump, Mr. Boland! (1954) is similarly bland and thin, and I have anywhere between three and seven books of his left to read. We expect authors with long careers to fade away towards the end, but Berrow’s inconsistency is bizarre in how unguessable his quality is. At even his second best he’s lithe and fun, so today let’s examine this failure.

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#758: Don’t Go Out After Dark (1950) by Norman Berrow

Don't Go Out After Dark

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I posited before that Norman Berrow’s career was neatly bisected by the Second World War — those novels he wrote before it being light, sometimes a little tedious, and generally easily dismissed, and those coming after possessed of better plotting, better characterisation, better everything.  Then I encountered two post-war Berrow books in a row — Words Have Wings (1946) and The Singing Room (1948), both featuring the characters Michael and Fleur Revel — which left me disinterested and to date remain unfinished.  Does Don’t Go Out After Dark (1950), the last of the usually excellent Lancelot Carolus Smith novels I have to read, correct this?  Thankfully, yes.

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#679: The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) by Norman Berrow

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As a wrangler of mysteries, Norman Berrow has many equals and several betters, but as an incorporator of impossibilities he’s in the front rank.  Ever since first reading him with The Bishop’s Sword (1948) I’ve been struck by how neatly he folds his apparently undoable criminous schemes into the plots of his later novels — we’ll get to Early and Late Berrow in due course — and The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) is another great example of this.  Yes, two of the apparent mysteries herein are pretty solvable at first sight, but the reason for those mysteries and the use of the impossibility to achieve those ends is as brilliant as ever.

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#673: Cut and Run (1941) by Martin Tanner

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We tend to take it for granted that authors like John Dickson Carr and John Rhode created noms de plume effectively to enable them to produce double the amount of their usual fiction.  Central character names aside, Rhode’s works don’t really differ from ‘Miles Burton’s nor Carr’s from that of ‘Carter Dickson’.  You’d  think they’d want a day off every now and then (and their critics might suggest they could have used one).  One would expect a new identity to be quite freeing — see Agatha Christie occasionally escaping into the social concerns of ‘Mary Westmacott’, or Anthony Berkeley rearranging his palette as ‘Francis Iles’ — a chance to experiment in private, as it were.

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#630: The Freight Should be Proportioned to the Groove – The Sliding Scale of Poetry in Detective Fiction

Snark Was a Boojum

When Xavier brought to my attention that Lee Child is sharing the writing of his best-selling Jack Reacher series to his brother before handing it over in due course, I saw it as the universe nudging me towards a filial co-authoring job residing in my own TBR, The Snark Was a Boojum (1957/2015) by Gerald and Chris Verner.

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#608: Ghost House (1940) by Norman Berrow

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Norman Berrow seems to flourish under the eye of the eldritch.  Impossible hoof-marks in the snow mystery The Footprints of Satan (1950) is widely seen — correctly, in my opinion and experience to date — as his strongest work, and Ghost House (1940) is another atmosphere-drenched invocation of supernatural terror.  Evidently Berrow himself was either extremely taken with the book or extremely disappointed in it, since he rewrote some of the plot, changed the names of the characters, and reissued the book in 1979.  I’ll get to v2.0 last of all, since I’m now reading Berrow chronologically, but for now let’s look at the original.

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