#595: Reflections on Detection – The Knox Decalogue 2: The Supernatural

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Sometimes I regret saying I’ll do stuff; this week, I regret saying I’ll explore each of the rules of Ronald Knox’s Detective Fiction Decalogue in depth.  Mainly because I’m busy, and so I’m not going to do this as well as I otherwise might.  And that frustrates me doubly, because Rule 2 is the one that got me thinking about this in the first place.

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#581: The Wrong Letter (1926) by Walter S. Masterman

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I very nearly paid a king’s ransom for a secondhand copy of Walter S. Masterman’s debut The Wrong Letter (1926) a couple of years ago, since it was rare as rocking-horse teeth (wait, those are not rare…) and featured on Roland Lacourbe’s “100 Books for a Locked Room Library” list (or, well, the supplemental list of fourteen supposedly excellent impossible crime novels for which there were no French translations, at least).  Then, in 2018, Ramble House made it easily available for much more sensible money, and here we are.  More power to their elbow, frankly, as this is the strongest Masterman I’ve read, and has encouraged me to not write him off just yet.

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#454: The Perjured Alibi (1935) by Walter S. Masterman

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I’m on a bit of a Ramble House kick at the moment: Rupert Penny, Norman Berrow, Walter S. Masterman, with E.C.R. Lorac coming soon.  The Perjured Alibi (1935) is my third Masterman title to date, and I’d intended this to be where I’d make the decision whether or not to persevere with him.  But, well, I have a copy of Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders (1991) now and that’s got me thinking that I should at least give the remaining couple of impossibilities a go — especially as it turns out Ramble House have recently republished his debut The Wrong Letter (1926), which I’ve been after for a while.  So it would be churlish to stop here…

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#234: The Baddington Horror (1934) by Walter S. Masterman

Baddington HorrorI love a country house mystery, especially those with a body on page one.  So when the murder of ex-judge Sir Ernest Ferber in his private garden by man he sentenced harshly and the subsequent suicide of his assailant at the scene is communicated in the opening ten lines of The Baddington Horror, we’re off to a very good start.  To my understanding, Walter S. Masterman wrote as many ‘weird tales’ as he did novels of detection, and so it was always a little uncertain what I was going to get here.  But the first chapter could not be more Golden Age detection if it tried: murdered aristocrat, retired amateur detective who takes an interest, two big coincidences, and away we go…

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#149: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – A Plague of Flaming Phantoms…


Gentle readers, you are witnessing peak blog efficiency: not only am I about to contribute another post to this month’s Tuesday Night Bloggers topic of Crime in Costume, I’m also going to contribute to the Crimes of the Century over at Past Offences which is going all 1907 this month, and I’m going to work in yet another plug for Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums (due out later this month, most likely).  If I can work out a way to cross another item of my Vintage Bingo Scavenger Hunt, too, I’ll probably have to retire out of sheer awesomeness.

And how am I going to do all this at once?  One word: ghosts.

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#75: The Border Line (1937) by Walter S. Masterman

The Border LineI am from a televisual generation and so struggle to comprehend the power radio held in its pomp – people actually believing that Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds was genuinely detailing an alien invasion of Earth, for instance.  So, to me, the idea of presenting the haunting of a Spooky Old House as a radio show seems a bit…pointless.  Nevertheless, Jack Hartley and his BBC radio chums descend upon Cold Stairs, the ancestral home of Sir John Harman (5 bed, 2 bath., stunning aspect in own woodland), to record ghostly goings on and bumps in the night with the intention of making a broadcast of it.  Or that should really be ‘bumping offs in the night’ as some poor soul is murdered by the evil spirit that resides in the vicinity – the same spirit that shocked his housekeeper’s son so badly he fell down the stairs and crippled himself – and then it turns out that Harman’s introverted, reserved niece has been communing with something calling itself the King of the Forest, and that’s really the beginning of everyone’s problems.

Given that John Pelan’s superb introduction makes much of Masterman’s standing in the Science Fiction/Supernatural Horror genre, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be getting here: Ramble House are known for their commitment to the, er, more uncommon corners of genre fiction, after all, and so the deaths, photographs of skeletons, and blindfolded meetings with sinister wood-dwelling monsters all stirs a stew that could turn out to be a dream as easily as it could leave you with no explanation whatsoever.

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