Carpenter and Quincannon - Bill Pronzini

There is a nice little foreword by the author about how this series about two private detectives in the late 1800s, one man and one woman, came about. Since the publication of the short story collection Pronzini has continued the series with several novels written together with his wife Marcia Muller.

C&Q is a series with a little bit of everything. There's regular mysteries, thrillers, hardboiled stuff, adventure stories, and the thing that interests us most here: impossible crimes. This makes for varied reading, which is generally a good thing. Again, it's Crippen & Landru we have to thank for this book.

After Pronzini's foreword, we dive directly into "No Room at the Inn", wherein John Quincannon is in hot pursuit after a criminal on horseback in the middle of winter. He arrives at a secluded inn, but after having stabled his horse he cannot find anyone there.

This is the shortest story of the collection and can be seen as an appetizer. There's not many deductions being made here, it's mainly an adventure story with Quincannon following and trying to apprehend his prey. And there's no appearance by Sabina Carpenter here.

"Burgade's Crossing" is quite similar, to be honest. This time, Quincannon arrives in the titular city to apprehend a known criminal. The difference is that someone tries to murder the man he is after, which means that suddenly Quincannon needs to find another criminal as well.

There's more mystery here and Quincannon gets to show off both as a man of action as well as man of deduction. Sadly, again Carpenter hardly gets a mention which is sort of annoying given that she is a titular character.

"The Cloud Cracker" remedies the somewhat similar tone of the stories so far by giving us an impossible crime! Again, Quincannon arrives in a town to investigate a shady character - in this case it is one of those wonderful Western swindlers. This guy has promised a whole town that he will be able to make rain. Some of the town's citizens get wary when nothing happens, and one day, when they are doing their preparations for the "cloud cracking" the man is apparently killed by one of the farmers inside a locked building.

The impossibility isn't very hard to see through, but it's still a fine story with colourful characters. Again, hardly any Carpenter here...

But in "Lady One-Eye" she's finally present! What we get here is a story where a saloon owner has hired C&Q to investigate whether the gambler Lady One-Eye is cheating in his establishment, and also because she and her husband have received a threatening letter.

This is another story that is heavily reliant on Western atmosphere. Saloons, gambling, guns, you name it. But the mystery is nothing to sniff at either. There are some twists and turns along the way and it all comes together quite nicely in the end. And seeing that Carpenter gets to join in here, it's also nice to see her contribute towards the solution.

In "Coney Game" an old enemy of Quincannon, Long Nick Darrow, has recently been released from prison and is now printing false money in San Francisco. So now Quincannon needs to find Darrow before someone puts a bullet in him.

After some more regular mysteries we're now back in the thriller/adventure setting. Or maybe we could simply call it a hardboiled mystery. Quincannon gets to skulk around in dark alleys following fairly obvious leads and getting shot at. Not really my thing.

"The Desert Limited" is the name of a train which Quincannon and Carpenter are travelling on. On it, they encounter a well-known criminal, and they convince the train master to call the sheriffs to ensure that the criminal gets arrested at the next stop. But then he disappears completely...

This is more like it. As you've probably surmised we're back in impossible territory. The solution to the impossibility is not all that, unfortunately. Carpenter manages to solve it through a bit of coincidence. Still, it's nice to see her do some of the heavy lifting again.

We continue the impossibilities in "The Horseshoe Nail". This is another Quincannon solo story where he is tracking a guy who's stolen some jewels and is now holed up in a lumberjack camp. Quincannon manages to get a job with the work crew, but one morning the thief is found dead in his cabin. It looks like suicide, but Quincannon has other ideas.

This is a good impossibility. The solution is quite simple, but also quite elegant. Quincannon shows off his talent for detective work.

"Medium Rare" follows, and we get our third impossible crime in a row. Here, C&Q have been hired by a banker to try to prove that a medium that has impressed his wife is just a charlatan. So they join a seance, but during the seance the medium is killed though everyone else were holding hands.

I was a little bit disappointed by the revelation of the killer here, because I thought it a bit obvious. However, the rest of the story makes up for it. The explanations of the miracles during the seance are fine, and the whole setup works nicely.

The final story, "The Highbinders", is also the longest one. Here, we're firmly in adventure thriller territory. Quincannon is trying to find a young attorney with an opium habit. But when he is carrying him home, someone puts a bullet in his quarry.

This is not really a mystery. It's set in Chinatown, so there are lots of sinister Chinamen, disappearances of corpses, tongs and triads, and whatnot. It's all a bit hokey. If you like films like "Big Trouble in Little China", I guess you'll enjoy it quite a bit. I know I did...


Like the Peter Godfrey volume, this collection has a bit of everything for the mystery reader. You probably won't like everything here, but at the same time chances are there'll definitely be something you like.

Quincannon is a compelling character (even though his constant pining for Carpenter gets a bit wearisome), while Carpenter is more of a mystery - mainly due to the fact that she is only present in about half the stories. (I haven't followed the later novels so I don't know how they fare in this respect.)

As for the impossibilities, they're all good and varied enough that I'll include them all. That means that "Cloud Cracker", "Desert Limited", "Horseshoe Nail" and "Medium Rare" will join the stories I've mentioned previously here on the blog.

TomCat has some nice words to say about this collection here: http://moonlight-detective.blogspot.se/2011/11/back-off-everyone-theyre-professionals.html


  1. Thanks for linking to my review and wanted to let you know I added your blog to my blog-roll, or, as I call it, my list of insightful informants.

    Anyway, I really liked this collection and Crippen & Landru also published a second volume of Wild West detective stories, The Ripper of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Tales by Edward D. Hoch, which I can highly recommend.

    1. And thank you for adding me to the blog-roll, I feel honoured! :)

      I have the Ben Snow collection as well, and I agree with you that it's well worth reading.

      It won't feature here to start with, since there is only one impossible crime story in it. But maybe some time in the future...