2018-09-27

Being published - some shameless self-aggrandizing

What do you know, folks? I've finally been published!

Well, yeah. It's not as exciting as all that, but my fine friends over at Swedish publishing house Deckarhyllan have finally published "De försvunna fotspåren", a translation of Carter Dickson's "The White Priory Murders", which is a collaborative translation between me and Håkan Andersson, one of the two men behind Deckarhyllan.

The lovely naivistic cover of "The White Priory Murders"
Even more excitingly, the book also contains a translation of "Death in the Dressing-Room", one of Dickson's stories featuring Colonel March, which was translated solely by yours truly. The volume also contains an informative introduction by Swedish mystery aficionado Per Olaisen.

If you've a smattering of Swedish, do head over to Deckarhyllan's web site and have a look and why not order a copy? *wink wink* If you don't, then at least there's a pithy page in English.

2018-07-23

Killer Queens - A Critical Look at the Established Periods of Ellery Queen

In this post I'm going to discuss the established convention of dividing the works of the Ellery Queen author partnership into four distinct periods. Quick version: There are some changes I would make to this convention.

Generally, there's no spoilers here, so have no fear of reading on even if you haven't read everything by Ellery Queen. On the other hand, this will probably be more appreciated by someone who has a certain familiarity with Queen's works.


As far as I know, it was esteemed EQ expert Francis M. Nevins who came up with the idea to separate the works of Ellery Queen in this way. Though I'm not sure where he did so - in "Royal Bloodline", his original critical work on the career of the EQ cousins, he refers to this division as if it is already established. So possibly it came from some earlier publication that I don't have available to me.

No matter. The four periods of Queen are established as follows.

Period One (1929 - 1935)
Includes all novels from The Roman Hat Mystery to The Spanish Cape Mystery, and all short stories from The Adventures of Ellery Queen and two of the stories from The New Adventures of Ellery Queen ("The Adventure of the House of Darkness" and "The Lamp of God").

Period Two (1936 - 1940)
Includes all novels from Halfway House to The Dragon's Teeth and the remaining short stories from The New Adventures of Ellery Queen.

Period Three (1942 - 1958)
Includes all novels from Calamity Town to The Finishing Stroke, and all short stories from Calendar of Crime and Q.B.I., three stories from Queen's Full ("Diamond's in Paradise", "The Wrightsville Heirs" and "The Case Against Carroll") as well as some stray short stories published in QED and Tragedy of Errors ("The Lonely Bride", "Eve of the Wedding", "Object Lesson", "No Parking", "No Place to Live", "Terror Town", "Miracles Do Happen")

Period Four (1963 - )
Includes all novels from The Player on the Other Side to A Fine and Private Place, as well as the outline Tragedy of Errors and all the remaining short stories from Queen's Full, QED, Best of Ellery Queen and Tragedy of Errors. (To be absolutely correct, it actually leaves out three short stories which were published between 1958 and 1963...)

So, what's my opinion on this division? One early observation is that while the division works fine for the novels, it is already flawed since it rather arbitrarily separates short stories - and doesn't even take into account a couple between Periods Three and Four. But let's do this chronologically and start with Period One.

Period One

Some of the main characteristics of this period, according to Nevins, are - obviously - the similarity of the titles, with their recurring adjectives of nationality. Each of the novels is also described as a Problem in Deduction. In Period One, there is an overpowering, but also over time declining influence from S. S. Van Dine's Philo Vance stories. Ellery the character is academic, spouts classical allusions and wears a pince-nez.


If we take a quick look at the short stories, they also have a common title pattern - all are "The Adventure of the..." - and since all the short stories were written fairly late in the period they already feature some of the later First Period Queen traits, with a somewhat more humanised detective.

As Nevins puts it: "for those who don't like First Period Queen, these novels are sterile, lifeless, relentlessly intellectual exercises, technically excellent but unwarmed by any trace of human character nor by any emotion other than the 'passions of the mind'." Meanwhile, those who are more fond of this period see these books as "splendid tours de force of the artificer's art and are nowhere near totally devoid of interest in human character or concern with fundamental issues".

To be honest, I don't have much to say about this period. I agree almost wholeheartedly with Nevins' classification here. I belong to the second group referred to by Nevins above (those who love Period One), but at the same time I can certainly see some of the problems with these works. There's just one thing I'd like to change here, but we'll leave that for...

Period Two

If we move on to the Second Period of Queen, what will we find here? Well, this is the romantic, "Hollywood" era of Queen. The novels are glossy and shiny, Ellery the character is almost shuffled into the background and could be any faceless detective. In each novel there is a romance, and two of the novels (The Door Between, The Dragon's Teeth) has a second detective who generally gets more of the spotlight than Ellery himself, while the other two novels are actually set in Hollywood with a couple of recurring characters. There are also some elements of screwball comedy.

The bulk of the short stories from Period Two are the four that were originally published in Blue Book (Man Bites Dog, Long Shot, Mind over Matter and The Trojan Horse), all featuring Ellery's romantic partner Paula Paris and each one focusing on a specific sport. All four fit perfectly with Period Two.


But here is where I have one major objection, and it concerns the division between periods One and Two. Nevins has placed it between 1935 and 1936, while I would argue that it's better placed between 1936 and 1937.

And why? Well, take first the novel Halfway House, published in 1936, and therefore belonging to Period Two according to Nevins. In my opinion, there are two things, and two things only, that would place this novel in the Second Period. The first is the obvious one - the title. As anyone can see, it doesn't follow the pattern of "The [nationality] [thing] Mystery". However, in the preface to the novel, even Ellery Queen the character himself argues to good old J. J. McC that the story might has well been called "The Swedish Match Mystery". The second thing that sort of qualifies it for Period Two is the fact that there is a three-way romance, quite similar to the ones that appear in particularly The Door Between but also to some extent in The Four of Hearts.

Everything else about Halfway House, however, would qualify it as a Period One novel, though obviously one belonging to the later stages of this era. This applies both to content, since Ellery is still the main character in the centre of the mystery and there's still a focus on logic and deduction, and to the novel's formal appearance. Halfway House is still called a "Problem in Deduction", it features the usual foreword with J. J. McC and it has the Challenge to the Reader.

But this is not the only advantage of moving the dividing line from 35/36 to 36/37. Another thing is that it better takes into account the short stories of this time. Because moving this dividing line means that we'll get another two stories moved from Period Two to Period One: "The Adventure of the Treasure Hunt" and "The Adventure of the Hollow Dragon". Immediately, you'll see that the naming convention still exists for these two stories - the same "The Adventure of..." of the First Period. They are also both quite Period One like content-wise. In the first, there is full focus on the logical reasoning, while the second might have a certain romantic flair, but in no way as pronounced as in the "true" Second Period stories. And, as pointed out before, EQ does change over time already during Period One, so that we can see a certain transition is not particularly strange.

Admittedly, moving the dividing line still results rather arbitrarily in the short story "The Adventure of the Bleeding Portrait" (as you see, still with the Period One naming convention) ending up in Period Two. However, this story has several elements in common with the Second Period, mainly in the reduction of logic (to be honest, this might be EQ's most illogical story ever) and the played up romantical elements, so I think it's still correct to leave it in Period Two.

Period Three

Nevins describes this era as one with complex deductive puzzles, full characterizations and of course the essence of small-town America, also known as Wrightsville. As he puts it, in this period there was nothing Queen would not dare. If we take a closer look at the novels, there is the Wrightsville quartet (Calamity Town, The Murderer is a Fox, Ten Days' Wonder and Double Double), there's the Cloudcuckootown There Was an Old Woman, a psychological serial killer study (Cat of Many Tails), a return to Hollywood in The Origin of Evil, the experimental phantasmagoria The King is Dead, the Nikki Porter novel The Scarlet Letters, two novels without Ellery the character - the non-series The Glass Village and the kinda-in-series Inspector Queen's Own Case - and finally the bookending The Finishing Stroke with its constant referrals to the time of Period One.

There's also a large amount of short stories - there's everything in Calendar of Crime (based on original radio scripts) and QBI (short "fun-and-games" stories). Then there's also a handful of stories collected elsewhere, most of them similar to QBI's very short stories, and four of them with an internal collective theme of urban problems and decay. As with the novels, the short stories of Period Three are bookended with a very special novella, "The Case Against Carroll" - again one can sense that the Queens were considering finishing their career with these two fine works.

But this is also the main problem with the definition of this period - it's kinda all over the place. There's hardly anything in common between these stories that applies to at least most of the others. Instead, I'd argue that Period Three should be divided into two parts, say Period 3A and 3B.

3A would consist of the four main Wrightsville novels - there's a section of The King is Dead (as well as the much later The Last Woman of His Life) set in Wrightsville, but I do not think they belong to the main Wrightsville narrative. (There's also quite a few short stories set in that very same town, and these fit in much better with recurring characters and at least vague referrals to previous stories set in Wrightsville.) To those four novels, I would also add Cat of Many Tails, which while it does not take place in Wrightsville exists very much in the same universe. Events in Ten Days' Wonder affect the content of Cat of Many Tails profoundly.

3B would then be everything else. It does create a chronological problem with There Was an Old Woman, which appeared quite out of context between books one and two of the Wrightsville chronicle. However, it has nothing at all in common with those books and doesn't really seem to exist in the same continuity. These other stories still don't have much in common with each other, except maybe for the fact that they are out of continuity with everything else.


If we for instance take a look at the Nikki Porter stories (There Was an Old Woman, The Scarlet Letters and all twelve tales from Calendar of Crime), it's quite obvious that there is no inner continuity between them. In fact, Nikki's origin story varies between them. As for The Origin of Evil and The Finishing Stroke, both of which take an earlier part of Ellery's life and makes it an important part of their own story (the former being a return to the Hollywood of Period Two and the latter being the story of a case set in the very earliest parts of Ellery's career), they are not consistent with those earlier stories. I think there might be one recurring Hollywood character in The Origin of Evil.

By the way, I mentioned above that the final two stories of the Third Period (The Finishing Stroke and "The Case Against Carroll") could be seen as the end of EQs career. This is also indicated by the fact that it took five years before the next novel was published. I'd also posit that it's quite possible that the Queens (or at least one of them) might have tired of writing about Ellery the character, since there are three stories from just before these two final Period Three stories that do not feature Ellery at all - apart from the two novels mentioned above, there's also the short story "Terror Town" (which has several similarities to the novel The Glass Village).

Period Four

Characterised by Nevins as continuing the radical experimentation of Period Three while retreating from naturalistic plausibility, and using repetition and references to earlier motifs and plots, this is also quite a sprawling era for the Queens. Personally, I'd also add the fact that several of the novels here feature other authors than the Queen cousins. (I won't use the term "ghost writer", because I don't think it fits when one of the cousins was still responsible for the entire plot, and both of them were responsible for the final editing of the whole thing into a published work).

One good thing about splitting Period 3 into two different parts is that the Fourth Period becomes more of an extension of 3B. Because these stories are almost as diverse as that bunch. There's the megalomaniacal character studies (The Player on the Other Side, A Fine and Private Place), the religious phantasmagoria And on the Eighth Day, the film tie-in A Study in Terror, two more straightforward GA style mysteries (The Fourth Side of the Triangle and Face to Face), an attempt at bringing Wrightsville back in The Last Woman in His Life, and an attempt to retcon Inspector Queen's Own Case into the Ellery canon with The House of Brass. Oh, and then there's the hard-boiled, non-Ellery Cop Out.

The short stories of Period Four (and let's add those stray three stories that appeared between 1958 and 1963 to this period, shall we?) are also all over the place. There's a further dozen of the "fun-and-games" type stories we got in QBI, some of which feature the Mystery Club, and also a couple of longer stories set in Wrightsville.


You know what, if it weren't for the five year break for the novels, I don't think it's possible to see any big distinction between the later parts of the Third Period and the whole Fourth Period. Perhaps we should keep four periods, but instead move everything that I classified as Period 3B into Period 4. Because they actually have more in common with each other (by not having anything in common with each other) than 3B has with 3A - the latter of which actually has an internal continuity and a clear progress between each novel.

If we want we can also separate the short stories - the "fun-and-games" short shorts, with their lack of characterisation and complete focus on a single problem that needs to be solved, could go into Period 4, while the longer stories, several of which are set in Wrightsville, could be shuffled into what I called Period 3A. Yes, this would mean that the division isn't based on chronology anymore, which might make it less convenient, but on the other hand I hope I've shown that Nevins old chronological divisions don't really work all that well either.

Opinions?

If you've made it this far, I'd like to hear your opinions. Do you prefer Nevins' original four periods, or am I actually on to something here? Or perhaps you have your own preferred way of separating EQs works in separate parts?

2018-07-10

The Man at the Top - the short fiction of Edward D. Hoch

On the excellent "Mysteries Ahoy" blog, Aidan very recently had a post on one of Edward D. Hoch's recent short story collections. In the comments section, Aidan asked for recommendations on other Hoch collections. I started typing away, but very soon realised that my reply was much too long for the comments section, and instead I'm formatting the whole thing into a post here on this blog - where the cobwebs need to be cleared out anyway after a long draught.

So, Hoch's short story collections. Let's first discuss Hoch's short story writing, because a man who wrote between 500 and 1000 short stories obviously has some things that are worth discussing.

First, Hoch has several series characters. And by several, I mean lots. And they're not just characters who appeared just here and there, many of them are present in several dozens of stories. Why don't we go through them one after one? I will leave out Dr. Sam Hawthorne, since I've already featured the collections with him here on the blog.

Simon Ark

Simon Ark is Hoch's perhaps 2000 year old sleuth who is seeking the devil and therefore gets involed in many bizarre cases. 2000 years old? Well, that obviously refers to the "wandering Jew" myth, though Ark is a Coptic priest. Look it up at Wikipedia if you want to know more...

Simon Ark was Hoch's first regular detective, and many of the stories are from Hoch's early career when he was more clearly influenced by Carr. And when I say that he was influenced by Carr, I mean writing-wise, not plot-wise. There are a few impossible crimes among the Ark stories, but he's not like Dr. Sam Hawthorne who ONLY solves impossible crimes.

There's three collections with Simon Ark.

CITY OF BRASS 1971
City of Brass
The Vicar of Hell
Hoofs of Satan

THE JUDGES OF HADES 1971

Village of the Dead
The Hour of None
The Witch is Dead
Sword for a Sinner
The Judges of Hades

THE QUESTS OF SIMON ARK 1984

Village of the Dead
The Man from Nowhere
The Vicar of Hell
The Judges of Hades
Sword for a Sinner
The Treasure of Jack the Ripper
The Mummy from the Sea
The Unicorn’s Daughter
The Witch of Park Avenue

As you can see, there's some overlap between the last one and the first two, but you'll need them all if you're a completist.

I like these stories. Ark is one of my favourite Hoch protagonists, and I quite like the somewhat Gothic quality to the earlier stories. (It should be said that as Hoch's writing career progressed, his writing style changed and became more prosaic and matter-of-fact.)

Nick Velvet 

Probably most people's favourite, I've never been quite as interested in Hoch's "gentleman" thief. The word "gentleman" is perhaps not the most appropriate, Nick does some things that a gentleman thief would never do. Velvet's shtick is that he steals only valueless objects, though what is valueless in his eyes may just be incredibly valuable to his employer...

Nick Velvet appears in three different volumes of short stories, though one of them is shared with one other Hoch character, Jeffery Rand. The two collections that are entirely dedicated to Velvet are:

THE THEFTS OF NICK VELVET 1978

The Theft of the Clouded Tiger
The Theft from the Onyx Pool
The Theft of the Toy Mouse
The Theft of the Meager Beavers
The Theft of the Silver Lake Serpent
The Theft of the Seven Ravens
The Theft of the Mafia Cat
The Theft from the Empty Room
The Theft of the Crystal Crown
The Theft of the Circus Poster
The Theft of Nick Velvet
The Theft of the General’s Trash
The Theft of the Bermuda Penny

THE VELVET TOUCH 2000

The Theft of the Venetian Window
The Theft of the Sherlockian Slipper
The Theft of Nothing At All
The Theft of the Four of Spades
The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper
The Theft of Gloria’s Greatcoat
The Theft of the White Queen’s Menu
The Theft of the Overdue Library Book
The Theft of the Cardboard Castle
The Theft of the Faded Flag
The Theft of Leopold’s Badge
The Theft of the Bald Man’s Comb
The Theft of the Snake Charmer’s Basket
The Theft of the Birthday Candles

There's no overlap between the two collections. The final six stories of the later collection all feature Sandra Paris, aka the White Queen, who is one of Velvet's competitor and sometime partner-in-crime. Also note "The Theft of Leopold's Badge", which is a crossover with another one of Hoch's main detectives.

As I said, I'm not quite as fond of the Velvet stories as many others seem to be - he's always referred to as people's favourite Hoch character - but I won't dispute that several of the stories are still very good. There is the odd impossible crime among them, but on the whole they're a varied bunch. Well, as varied as a story can be when they're about a thief who's hired to steal something apparently worthless. I do think that the earlier collection is on the whole better than the later one.

Jeffery Rand

We might as well continue with spymaster Jeffery Rand. He works for some part of the British secret service and therefore  mainly handles cases from that part of the world. They are quite varied, sometimes they are about codes that need to be cracked, sometimes about "regular" murders of spies and defectors, and other times Rand just gets involved in unrelated cases.

Like Nick Velvet, Rand has three collections dedicated to him (one of which is that split collection). Let's begin with the two that are entirely Rand's.

THE SPY WHO READ LATIN 1990

The Spy Who Came to the Brink
The Spy Who Read Latin
The Spy Who Traveled With a Coffin
The Spy Who Collected Lapel Pins
The Spy Who Came Back from the Dead

THE OLD SPIES CLUB 2001

The Spy and the Nile Mermaid
The Spy in the Pyramid
The Spy at the End of the Rainbow
The Spy Who Took a Vacation
The Spy and the Cats of Rome
The Spy in the Labyrinth
The Spy Who Was Alone
The Spy Who Wasn’t Needed
The Spy and the Healing Waters
Egyptian Days
Waiting for Mrs. Ryder
The Old Spies Club
One Bag of Coconuts
The Man from Nile K
The War that Never Was

There's no overlap between these two collections either. The first one collects all the stories with Rand and his Soviet counterpart Taz. The second is a collection of later stories, featuring Rand's later wife Leila.

The first one is short-ish, with just five stories, but are quite interesting as they follow a certain arc and we get to see how Rand and Taz match wits with each other. I'm somewhat less enamoured of "The Old Spies Club". It's never boring, but the stories generally feel a bit run of the mill. They do not capture Hoch at his best.

Let's move on to the collection which is split half-way between Rand stories and Velvet tales.

THE SPY AND THE THIEF 1971

The Spy Who Came to the Brink
The Spy Who Had Faith in Double-C
The Spy Who Took the Long Route
The Spy Who Came to the End of the Road
The Spy Who Purchased a Lavender
The Spy and the Calendar Network
The Spy and the Bermuda Cipher
The Theft of the Clouded Tiger
The Theft from the Onyx Pool
The Theft of the Brazen Letters
The Theft of the Wicked Tickets
The Theft of the Laughing Lions
The Theft of the Coco Loot
The Theft of the Blue Horse

If you've got sharp eyes, you've seen that there is a bit of overlap between this one and the other Velvet & Rand collections. On the whole, this features the best of the Rand stories, and the Velvet stories are also quite good, so I'd recommend this above almost all of their own collections.

Before we leave Rand, I should perhaps mention that there is another collection with many Rand stories. This one is called "Tales of Espionage". I don't have it and haven't read it, but as I understand it, it contains a couple of other spy stories by Hoch and also some stories by other authors. There's some overlap between this and the other Rand collections, but a completist should still want to own it. I know I do.

Captain Jules Leopold

Leopold is Hoch's police problem solver (and his first name is a nod to Georges Simenon's Maigret). In the stories about Leopold we get to follow him and his colleagues over the years. In the final few stories, Leopold is even retired and his former sergeant Fletcher has taken over his position. Apart from Fletcher, female criminal investigator Connie Trent is also present quite often in the Leopold tales - there are even a few stories featuring Trent on her own.

There's just one collection with Leopold stories.

LEOPOLD’S WAY 1985

Circus
Death in the Harbor
A Place for Bleeding
Reunion
The House by the Ferris
The Oblong Room
The Vanishing of Velma
The Rainy-day Bandit
The Athanasia League
End of the Day
Christmas is for Cops
The Jersey Devil
The Leopold Locked Room
A Melee of Diamonds
Captain Leopold Plays a Hunch
Captain Leopold and the Ghost-Killer
Captain Leopold Goes Home
No Crime for Captain Leopold
The Most Dangerous Man Alive

Leopold is also one of my favourite Hoch characters, mainly because many of his cases are great. They're a bit more grounded than the others we've discussed and obviously have some more focus on police procedures and investigative work. But they are still mysteries in the GA vein, rest assured. This is one of my favourite Hoch collections, though since there are so many stories there's the odd one that isn't quite as successful as the rest.

Ben Snow

Ben Snow is Hoch's Western character, a gunman who is sometimes mistaken for Billy the Kid. The Western setting doesn't generally do anything for me, but Snow does have his shares of interesting cases and is a likeable character.

There's one collection of Snow stories.

THE RIPPER OF STORYVILLE 1997

Frontier Street
The Valley of Arrows
Ghost Town
The Flying Man
The Man in the Alley
The Ripper of Storyville
Snow in Yucatan
The Vanished Steamboat
Brothers on the Beach
The 500 Hours of Dr. Wisdom
The Trail of the Bells
The Phantom Stallion
The Sacramento Waxworks
The Only Tree in Tasco

It's quite uneven in quality. There's one fine impossible crime that I've mentioned before here, but the rest are of a varied kind, mysteries of all types and fashions. I'd recommend it mainly for Hoch fans.

Michael Vlado

Vlado is a gypsy from Romania who solves cases of various nature. In later stories he becomes the gypsy "king", which gives Hoch more opportunities to send Vlado all over Europe.

Vlado also has one volume dedicated to him.

THE IRON ANGEL 2003

The Luck of a Gypsy
Odds on a Gypsy
Blood of a Gypsy
The Gypsy Treasure
Punishment for a Gypsy
The Gypsy Wizard
Murder of a Gypsy King
Gypsy at Sea
The Gypsy Delegate
The Iron Angel
The Puzzle Garden
The Gypsy's Paw
The Clockwork Rat
The Starkworth Atrocity
A Wall Too High

This is perhaps Hoch's least successful collection. There's one or two stories here that are quite poor (though of course they're mainly readable, or better), and I'm not sure I think the setting and the character(s) work(s). Generally, Hoch is very successful in his milieus and storytelling, but I don't feel that Hoch truly has the grasp of what gypsy life is.

Sherlock Holmes

Yes, that guy. He's featured in one collection:

THE SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES 2013

The Most Dangerous Man
The Return of the Speckled Band
The Manor House Case
The Christmas Client
The Adventure of Vittoria, the Circus Belle
The Adventure of the Dying Ship
The Adventure of the Cipher in the Sand
The Christmas Conspiracy
The Adventure of the Anonymous Author
The Adventure of the Domino Club
The Addleton Tragedy
A Scandal in Montreal

It's Sherlock Holmes and it's Ed Hoch, so it's a very fine combination of the world's most famous detective and a master mystery writer. If you like Holmes and you like mysteries, seek this one out.

Other recurring characters

The above characters are the ones who have at least one collection dedicated to them. I've already mentioned that Leopold's sidekick Connie Trent has a couple of stories of her own. But Hoch has several other characters that unfortunately have never been collected. Let's just go through them quickly, for completeness' sake.

Al Darlan - a private eye who gets to solve those crimes that fit a private eye. Perhaps a bit seedier than some other Hoch stories, but still firmly grounded in the GA mystery genre. In one or two stories, he was called Al Diamond before Hoch changed his name to avoid confusion with TV show protagonist Richard Diamond. I've not read too many of these stories, but I can't say that they are my favourites by Hoch.
Alexander Swift - the stories about Swift are set in the late 1700s when the US of A had just come into being. We get to meet several of the important historical figures of the time, and Swift gets to solve some mysteries as well. This is another series that I don't really find all that exciting. I'm sure they are of much more interest for someone who's interested in that turbulent time period.
Susan Holt - had a couple of adventures in the 60s and 70s and was later resurrected again by Hoch to feature in another few stories. Holt is a PR executive for a large department store chain and therefore gets to travel a bit to different places where these stores are situated. Her best cases are really good, and she might be the Hoch character I'd be most interested in seeing a collection with. (Though preferrably I'd like to see them all collected...)
Stanton & Ives - Walt Stanton and Juliet Ives, that is. They are couriers travelling all over the world with items that people want delivered. There's some similarity with the Nick Velvet stories in that our protagonists need to figure out why these items actually need to be transported by courier. The stories are set in the modern world - they were Hoch's last enduring recurring detectives - and I feel that on the whole, their cases are a bit slighter than those of his other characters. Fairly breezy reads, but if you want fireworks you're better off looking elsewhere in the Hoch canon.
Father David Noone - one might expect this character to be an homage to Chesterton's Father Brown, but if he is, I don't really see it. Father Noone travels through the modern urban milieu with some quite seedy cases to solve. I have only read one or two of his stories, so I won't say too much about this character. But I do want to see more.

Other collections

There are three other Hoch collections. These feature stories that do not have any recurring character.

THE NIGHT MY FRIEND 1992

Twilight Thunder
The Night My Friend
The Suitcase
The Picnic People
Day for a Picnic
Shattered Rainbow
The Patient Waiter
Too Long at the Fair
Winter Run
The Long Way Down
Dreaming is a Lonely Thing
In Some Secret Place
To Slay an Eagle
They Never Come Back
The Only Girl in His Life
It Happens, Sometimes
A Girl Like Cathy
What’s It All About?
First Offense
Hawk in the Valley
The Ring with the Velvet Ropes
Homecoming

THE NIGHT PEOPLE 2001

Inspector Fleming’s Last Case
The Man Who Was Everywhere
The Passionate Phantom
The Night People
Festival in Black
I’d Know You Anywhere
The Way of Justice
The Empty Zoo
Ring the Bell Softly
Stop at Nothing
Another War
The Impossible "Impossible Crime"
The Way Out
The Man at the Top
Burial Monuments Three
The Scorpion Girl
The Price of Wisdom
Second Chance
Three Weeks in a Spanish Town
The Rattlesnake Man

THE FUTURE IS OURS 2016

Zoo
The Last Paradox
The Wolfram Hunters
The Times We Had
God of the Playback
Cassidy's Saucer
Unnatural Act
The Boy Who Brought Love
Co-Incidence
Versus
The Future Is Ours
The Forbidden Word
Computer Cops
Night of the Millennium
The Homesick Chicken
The Daltonic Fireman
The Maze and the Monster
The Faceless Thing
In the Straw
The Thing at the Lake
Exú
The Weekend Magus
Just One More
Bigfish
Remember My Name
The Last Unicorn
Who Rides with Santa Anna?
The Maiden's Sacrifice
The Other Phantom
Dracula 1944

The first two are quite similar, not just in name but also in content. Both collect stories from the 60s/early 70s. Most of the stories in them are of the thriller type and feature very little detection. And each of them has one impossible crime, both of which are fantastic examples of that sub-genre. Unfortunately, the rest of the stories aren't really my cup of tea at all, but if you enjoy 60s and 70s psychological thriller mysteries, you should enjoy these two a lot.

As for the third collection, it's one I haven't yet read, I just recently bought it. It collects stories with an SF slant - some hard SF, some mysteries. I've read two of the stories previously, but they are so different from each other that I can't really say anything about the general quality here. I can only say that I'm looking forward to reading it...

2018-04-25

A translator's trials and tribulations

Things will inevitably slow down here on the blog now, as the main part of my impossible project has now been dissected and discussed from beginning to end, with the last three posts being some kind of abstract presenting you with the most important and the greatest short stories of the genre.

There will be follow-ups where I try to see what would happen if I were to try to create my own anthologies of the material, but so as not to burn myself out (nor any patient reader of this blog) on the impossible mystery genre - as if that could happen! - such follow-ups will have to wait.

So, what instead? Well, to begin with we'll go on a tangent from this project. During the course of my postings here you'll probably have seen that I am also in the process of translating the bulk of these stories. This translation project is entirely for myself - at this moment.

I've been doing this translating thing since at least the late 90s, when I began by translating all Agatha Christie short stories into Swedish. All her novels were already translated, and there were maybe 50 short stories or so that hadn't been translated. I just thought that they really should be, if for nothing else than just so I could read them in my own language.

This means that it is something done entirely for my own pleasure, and I try to make it as pleasurable for myself as well. After all, if it's something I'll probably never see any kind of remuneration from, I don't want it to get boring as well...

Not that I'd mind if someone would give me some...
What I try to do is to vary my translations a bit, skipping from a story by one author to another. I also try to have two different stories going at the same time, so I can switch over when I've grown tired of one author's particular writing tics. This is to the advantage of my peace of mind, but to the detriment of speedy translations. Because if I'd concentrate on one author and translate all their stories and then move on to another, I'd get more and more used to that author's shtick and that would make translating it easier. But more boring, as I said.

My main problem as a translator is that I'm too faithful to the original English text, which means that some turns of phrase sound less idiomatic in Swedish than they would if they were originally spoken or written by a Swedish speaker. It's not a huge problem, because most Swedes speak English rather well and their speech and writing is quite influenced by English anyway. Still it's something I'd like to move away from more.

Swedes are generally better at English than this
How does this translating lark work then? Well, I sit in front of the computer with a word processing programme (I refuse to use the word "app" for things I have on my computer - apps are for smartphones and tablets) with the English story in front of me on the desk. I'm fairly proficient in the English language (I hope you'll agree), so generally I just go along merrily. When I stumble on a word I'll just go over to Google translate and in 99 % of all cases they'll help me out so I can continue. The remaining 1 % - often specialised words that don't feature in a general thesaurus - can almost always be solved by some extra googling and/or visits to Wikipedia.

I'll shamefacedly admit that sometimes I will actually skip translating a word if it hasn't been solved by the above measures. After all, some words have no importance in the big picture of telling the story, they just add colour to the whole thing. This is just a last resort though, and of course it doesn't apply when the word in question actually has an importance to the plot.

The hardest thing to translate are word clues, particularly riddles and clues for some kind of treasure hunt. Sometimes it's possible to make them into Swedish ones, but problems arise when a clue is supposed to be interpreted in more ways than one in order to create false leads. It has happened that I had to give up and just used the English clue as is.

This was fairly hard to translate, for example.
Another fairly interesting and difficult thing which arises from translating mystery stories is the fact that sometimes things are revealed in a story that are later shown to have a very different meaning. Because I am translating the stories on the go, without actually re-reading them immediately before starting - another thing I do to keep the work less boring - sometimes I will notice that something I translated a certain way earlier on will have to be changed now to comply with the intended meaning of the author.

Translating a regular short story (say between 10 and 15 pages) takes me two-three days. Of course that's not eight work hours a day. The way I work with the translations - and the fact that I actually hold a real job as well - means that I'll just put in at the most a couple of hours translation work with a particular story a day. I might do four or five pages in one sitting before moving on to doing some real work or simply to another story or just some regular procrastination. And one such sitting will probably take between half an hour and one hour. And I don't do any translating during the weekends.

As I've been doing this translating thing for quite a long time now, any time I read a story in English I will invariably find myself translating everything in my head as I read it. It makes for a quite annoying reading habit...

What am I translating at the moment then? Well, I just finished James Yaffe's "Department of Impossible Crimes" yesterday. It was a fairly easy translation, where the only potential problem lay in the crossword puzzle clue. But since that was a very straightforward clue I didn't need to do any restructuring and could simply focus on translating it as is. I'm also in the middle of translating Joe Commings's "X Street Murders", which hade a few boring ballistic related terms that I shortened down, and as I've finished the Yaffe story I'll soon start on to Ed Hoch's "The Problem of the Pink Post Office".

Anyway, time to round off a fairly useless placeholder post. I hope you found it moderately interesting to consider what a translator has to go through, even if it's just a hobby.

2018-04-20

The best of the rest

This third and final instalment will collect those stories that a mystery buff will need to have read to get a full understanding of the impossible mystery genre. So only if you've read the stories in my last three posts can you know whether you're actually an impossible mystery fan. :)

Some of the below stories are out and out classics, and some are quite innovative to boot. Others are just great stories that bring solid surprises to the reader. And yet others belong to both categories. Bolded titles are classics, titles in italics indicate truly great stories, a must-read for any mystery fan. If a story got neither bolded nor italicised, it's still a great story that I really think you should read. But you can wait till you've read the rest...

Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace The Tea Leaf 1925
G. D. H. Cole & Margaret Cole In a Telephone Cabinet 1928
Nicholas Olde Invisible Weapon 1928
Ronald Knox Solved by Inspection 1931
Lord Dunsany The Two Bottles of Relish 1932
Vincent Cornier Duel of Shadows 1934
Ellery Queen Lamp of God 1935
Agatha Christie The Dream 1937
Agatha Christie Dead Man's Mirror 1937
Cornell Woolrich The Room with Something Wrong 1938
Ellery Queen The Dauphin's Doll 1948
Fredric Brown The Laughing Butcher 1948
Helen McCloy Through a Glass, Darkly 1948
Peter Godfrey Newtonian Egg 1951
Hugh Pentecost The Day the Children Vanished 1958
John F. Suter The Impossible Theft 1964
Stephen Barr The Locked House 1965
William Krohn The Impossible Murder of Dr Satanus 1965
Christianna Brand The Gemminy Crickets Case 1968
Peter Godfrey Flung-Back Lid 1979
H. Edward Hunsberger Eternally Yours 1985
Peter Lovesey Amorous Corpse 2000
J. A. Konrath On the Rocks 2004
Soji Shimada The Locked House of Pythagoras 2013
Rintarō Norizuki The Lure of the Green Door 2014
Szu-Yen Lin The Miracle on Christmas Eve 2016

The rest of the stories from my original list - those that haven't been featured in these last three posts - are just indications of what I think are enjoyable impossible mystery stories. They won't always be to everyone's taste - I mean, TomCat doesn't like John Basye Price's "Death and the Rope Trick", and he's still pretty well versed in impossible mysteries - but generally they're all worthwhile as mysteries.

2018-04-17

Impossible mystery masterpieces

In keeping with the frightful punning the headline of this post has a double meaning. This post will certainly contain a list of masterpieces within the impossible mystery genre, but also ensure that they are pieces by impossible mystery masters, which I think is an important distinction to make.

So what is then an impossibly mystery master? My definition would be that such a person would have to be one of the following:

1) an author who is not very prolific but wrote (almost) exclusively in the impossible mystery field, e.g. Hake Talbot, John Sladek, Clyde B. Clason, Joseph Commings, Clayton Rawson
2) a more prolific author where if not the majority, then at least a significant portion of his or her contribution to the mystery genre is in the impossible mystery field, e.g. John Dickson Carr, Edward D. Hoch, Bill Pronzini, Arthur Porges, Paul Halter

I think it's worthwhile to use this second meaning, because it means that folks like Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen - who most certainly are mystery masters - do not fall into this category. It also removes several one-off stories that are really great but can be saved for another post. This poor blogger needs to scale down on the number of stories to make the posts more manageable...

But because of the first meaning of the headline, these stories need to be masterpieces, we cannot just dump everything written by the authors mentioned above here. It needs to be their very best works - the tales you can return to later when you're a seasoned impossible mystery expert (hrmph) and still find things to enjoy and be impressed with.

Therefore, I present to you this curated list. I've tried to keep it to at most five stories by each author, though in some cases that was extremely hard to do... I've bolded one story from each author that I think you should try out, if you absolutely must limit yourself to just one.

Arthur Porges Coffee Break 1964
Arthur Porges Murder of a Priest 1967
Arthur Porges No Killer Has Wings 1960
Bill Pronzini Cloud Cracker 1994
Bill Pronzini Proof of Guilt 1973
Bill Pronzini The Arrowmont Prison Riddle 1976
Bill Pronzini Thin Air 1979
C. Daly King The Episode of the Vanishing Harp 1935
Clayton Rawson From Another World 1948
Clayton Rawson Off the Face of the Earth 1949
Stuart Towne Death out of Thin Air 1940
Stuart Towne Ghost of the Undead 1940
Edward D. Hoch Captain Leopold and the Ghost Killer 1974
Edward D. Hoch The 'Impossible' Impossible Murder 1968
Edward D. Hoch The Leopold Locked Room 1971
Edward D. Hoch The Long Way Down 1965
Edward D. Hoch The Vanishing of Velma 1969
Hake Talbot The Other Side 1990
John Dickson Carr Persons and Things Unknown 1938
John Dickson Carr The Silver Curtain 1939
John Dickson Carr The House in Goblin Wood 1947
John Dickson Carr The Third Bullet 1937
John Dickson Carr The Wrong Problem 1936
John Sladek By an Unknown Hand 1972
Joseph Commings The Black Friar Murders 1948
Joseph Commings Death by Black Magic 1948
Joseph Commings Ghost in the Gallery 1949
Joseph Commings The X Street Murders 1962
Joseph Commings & Edward D. Hoch Stairway to Nowhere 1979
Paul Halter Jacob's Ladder 2014
Paul Halter Murder in Cognac 1999
Paul Halter The Abominable Snowman 2002
Paul Halter The Flower Girl 1998
Paul Halter The Tunnel of Death 1993

This might be the best list of impossible crime stories I've ever seen, if I may say so myself... I'd recommend any of these stories to anyone who wanted to see what an impossible mystery short story might be like.

2018-04-15

Pioneers and innovators - the impossible mysteries BC

This category of stories contains the stuff from the 1800s and early 1900s. It's a bit arbitrary where to draw the line. Many will say that E. C. Bentley was the author who brought the mystery genre into the modern era (for whatever meaning of "modern" that you want to use) by writing "Trent's Last Case". Then, a few years later Agatha Christie began her career and nothing was ever the same.

However, since "Trent's Last Case" is a novel, it's not applicable here. And so I find it better to use Agatha Christie's first short stories, published in 1923, as the benchmark for when the modern era began. That means that for this category of stories everything published up to 1922 is eligible, because that is what BC means in this context: Before Christ, i.e.

Those of you who are still here after that last sentence can look forward to a varied bunch of stories in this category. I'm not going to say that these are all great stories, because most of them are not. However, they are all classics of the genre, and anyone with a passing interest in impossible mysteries should definitely have read at least the bolded stories below.

Edgar Allan Poe The Murders on the Rue Morgue 1841
Edgar Allan Poe The Purloined Letter 1844
Arthur Conan Doyle The Speckled Band 1892
Arthur Conan Doyle The Lost Special 1898
Samuel Hopkins Adams The Flying Death 1903
Victor L. Whitechurch Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture 1905
Jacques Futrelle The Problem of Cell 13 1907
Jacques Futrelle The Missing Necklace 1908
Freeman Wills Crofts The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express 1909
R. Austin Freeman The Aluminium Dagger 1909
G. K. Chesterton The Invisible Man 1911
G. K. Chesterton The Secret Garden 1911
Melville Davisson Post The Doomdorf Mystery 1914
Ernest Bramah The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage 1914
Edgar Wallace The Missing Romney 1919
Arthur Conan Doyle Thor Bridge 1922
Jacques Futrelle An Absence of Air 1922

I'm going so far as to say that most of these bolded stories border on the ridiculous in some aspects, but their importance to the genre can still not be overstated. Poe's two stories are the trailblazers of the two sub-genres of impossible mysteries - locked rooms ("Rue Morgue") and into thin air ("Purloined Letter"). Doyle's first two stories take these two subgenres and refine them. To be honest, just when writing this I realise that Doyle's stories are quite similar to the Poe stories in many respects apart from just being locked rooms or into thin air stories. "The Speckled Band" in particular owes a lot to "Rue Morgue".

The bolded stories by Futrelle, Chesterton and Post all have huge problems, but are still highly innovative in their approach to the impossible mystery genre. Freeman's and Wallace's stories are better as stories, and still manage to be fairly innovative in different respects.

As for the other stories here, I think many of them are actually better than the once I've marked as classics. They're generally not as well known, but are potentially better reads. If you've read what I've written before on the topic of these early impossible mystery tales, you'll know that I'm generally quite critical of them - the later, more modern era is much more satisfying to me. But the stories I've chosen above are still very enjoyable despite the drawbacks of this early era.