More Things Impossible - Edward D. Hoch

This is the second volume of Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories. It features fifteen stories about the good doctor. One impressive thing about these stories is that there is always a sense of chronology to them. If you read them from start to end you'll get an impression of how the town of Northmont develops, how Sam changes from a young, inexperienced doctor in the late 20s to a well-seasoned one in the 40s, and we get to follow a couple of other characters through their lives as well.

But of course it's the impossibilities that keep us coming back for more. As with the first collection, the quality can be a bit up and down, but there is always something about each story that will satisfy.

The first story we get here is "... the Revival Tent" where we have a healer showing up in Northmont. Dr. Sam, scientific mind that he has, is naturally not particularly impressed with the fellow, and after one of his performances decides to have it out with him. Unfortunately, the man is killed with a sword right in front of him and suddenly Dr. Sam is a suspected murderer.

In this story, we know that the murder is impossible, because it's our very own Dr. Sam who says it is. The solution... well, I'm not sure. Hoch does all he can to convince me that it would work, but I'm sceptical. However, I do like how Hoch manages to work in quite an impressive motive for the murderer.

"... the Whispering House" is haunted, it seems. And therefore a pre-Ghostbuster ghostbuster turns up in Northmont to investigate whether it is a true ghost or something else entirely. He recruits Hawthorne as a helper, and while they are inside they see the shape of a man pass through the house and go up the stairs into a secret room on the upper floor. But when they enter this room, the man is sitting there dead - but he died almost one day ago!

Now that's not a bad set-up, you've got to admit. And I wish that the solution lived up to that. The impossibility is however quite reminiscent of a certain story by C. Daly King, so that's a bit unfortunate. Also, it's pretty obvious who did it because there's so few characters around. A bit of a disappointment, really.

In "... the Boston Common" Dr. Sam is going to a medical convention in Boston. He brings his regular nurse April, and she boasts about his abilities in seeing through impossible problems and bringing villains to justice. Of course there's a problem in Boston at this particular time, where people who are walking through the park just outside Dr. Sam's hotel are killed by poison. So Dr. Sam steps in to try to solve this crime.

To me, this is only marginally an impossible crime, but you may disagree with that conclusion. It's one of those "it's only impossible because or really stupid reasons" - sort of like Chesterton's "Invisible Man" or Poe's "Purloined Letter". I do think there's a paucity of clues and as a Dr. Sam story it's a bit underwhelming. I think if it had been written by someone else, for example, I'd enjoy it more. But I've come to expect more from Hoch.

But he redeems himself with "... the General Store". This is a fine problem where a man is found shot inside his closed and locked store. Inside, a woman is lying unconscious. Everyone assumes she was the culprit, but Dr. Hawthorne has other ideas.

As you might have guessed I liked this story. The solution to the impossibility is quite elegant in all its simplicity. Sam gets to be a bit more physical in his approach to finding an explanation.

In "... the Courthouse Gargoyle", a judge is killed during a trial by drinking a glass of water containing poison. And yet everyone saw him pour the water himself into the glass.

Another fine set up. Courtroom scenes are always a good setting, they have an inherent tension that improve most mystery stories. If there is one thing that is a let down, it's how the crime came about. But there has to be room for this type of solution as well. I don't mind it once in a while.

"... the Pilgrims Windmill" is the next crime scene. A man is found with severe burns inside the windmill, even though there was no one present who could have set him on fire. And just a few days later a second man is found dead in the same windmill, also burned to death.

This is pretty damn good, I think. Hoch is on a roll with his stories here. The misdirection is very good, and the author pulls out a least likely suspect which almost compares with the best of Agatha Christie.

I compared a previous story here to one of C. Daly King's, and to be honest, there are some similarities between "... the Gingerbread Houseboat" and another King story, "The Episode of Torment IV". Here we have four people who suddenly vanish while out on a boattrip on the lake.

There is a bit of a cheat here in the solution because when they do their first search, they miss something that they should have seen. Still, apart from that this solution is much better than the one in the King story, which is a huge relief. So, all in all a good story.

I've mentioned that we get to follow Sam through time in Hoch's stories. In the former tale, Dr. Sam had a new girlfriend who returns in this story, and we also get world news because it takes place on the same day as the huge stock crash in 1929. The impossible crime in "... the Pink Post Office" uses this fact as a basis for the impossibility. A man wants to post some money to New York because the stock market seems to be collapsing, but the envelope just disappears though it's been lying out in the open where sheriff Lens could watch it the whole time.

This is a little bit silly, to be honest. At least the hiding place. And the hiding place is what makes it an impossible crime, because without it, there'd have been no doubt who the thief was. But even though it's silly, it's still imaginative - and I did get a little smile on my lips when I read the explanation.

"... the Octagon Room" presents a problem where the titular room is going to be used for a wedding reception. Yet, when it's opened on the morning of the wedding, a man is found with a knife in his chest inside the locked room.

This tale has one of the more elaborate and technical solutions that Hoch has ever attempted. I'm not sure it's to the story's advantage. The reason for creating the impossibility doesn't convince either. What does work well, though, is the slight changes that Hoch has made to his usual Hawthorne storytelling, such that the killer is actually approaching Dr. Sam after having been released from his/her prison sentence. Rather effective, I thought.

We had some gypsies in the previous collection, and in "... the Gypsy Camp" we get a new band of them. In this case, one of the gypsies arrive at the hospital complaining that he's been cursed. And then suddenly he topples over and dies. The autopsy shows that he has a bullet in his heart - and yet there is no bullethole in his body!

Now that's an impossible situation to top all impossible murders! And I think the solution lives up to that. One drawback of such an impossible situation is that it means that only one person can be responsible for it, but when the reader is so bamboozled I guess that's just a minor complaint. And anyway, Hoch tosses in another impossibility - the gypsy band just ups and leaves with no trace even though they are under guard - just because he can, so this is one of his best ever.

As I mentioned earlier, these stories take place in the late 20s-early 30s, and in "... the Bootlegger's Car" we get some gangsters in Northmont because of the Prohibition. But never fear, there's an impossibility as well. Dr. Sam is kidnapped to treat a gangster leader who's received a gunshot wound, but needs to be alert since he's meeting a rival boss. However, after the meeting the rival is seen entering his car and yet he is not inside it when the cardoor is opened again.

The impossibility comes quite late in this story, because there is quite a lot of background first in order to set it up. That also means that it feels a little bit tacked on to the whole thing. Sometimes you get the feeling that the tale doesn't know if it's going to be a gangster story or a fairplay mystery. But the solution to the whole impossible situation is still pretty good. I don't think Hoch quite manages to hide the culprit well enough that a seasoned reader won't immediately pick him out.

"... the Tin Goose" gives us another story that's a bit reminiscent of one in the first Hawthorne collection. This time it's another aeroplane mystery as the flying barnstormers come to Northmont with their show. A woman performer is up performing her tricks on a plane - walking around on its wings or dangling beneath it - but when the plane has set down, the pilot is found dead in his cabin. And yet there were two passengers inside the plane who didn't see anyone enter the cabin during the entire flight.

Another lovely impossibility with a solution that just about works. I'm never entirely satisfied with the type of trick that Hoch employs here for the murderer to leave the locked enclosing. I do have to wonder if no one would have noticed.

We meet Dr. Sam's parents in "... the Hunting Lodge". The entire family is invited to join a hunt in winter. And since it's winter you can bet that someone is killed inside a house with no footprints but his own leading there.

The "no footprints in the snow" is a perennial impossible problem, and always a great one. We do get a fine variation of it here. I like the explanation in its simplicity. The one niggling question I have is, didn't the murderer take quite a big risk of being seen?

Next follows "... the Body in the Haystack", where Dr. Sam is visiting a farm. The sheriff is asked to guard the farm that night because there is talk about a bear being out and about, and also because a prisoner has just been released and threatened the farm owner. But the next morning, the farm owner is found in his own haystack, pierced by a pitchfork.

Dr. Sam allows the sheriff to make the explanation here, which is a nice change of pace. It shows that he's not the dimwitted lawman he's sometimes appeared as in previous stories. Though Hoch could have given sheriff Lens a more difficult case to solve - because most readers should be able to see through the misdirection here and immediately guess who did it.

"... Santa's Lighthouse" rounds things off for us here. Dr. Sam has taken a few days off and is motoring along the coast when he approaches the titular lighthouse. He enters and speaks to the owners, a brother and sister. While he's on his way out together with the sister, the brother suddenly crashes down from the top, with a dagger in his chest.

I'll have to give Hoch credit here, because there are only three characters in the story and yet he manages to completely hide the method of the murderer from the reader. Sure, it's not hard to guess at the murderer, but I defy anyone to find out how it was actually committed.


I found this collection a bit better than the first one. There are more really great stories here, though I think that perhaps the disappointments - the few that there are - are a bit bigger here as well. But as I said, Hoch generally manages to put something in his stories to make them worthwhile anyway.

And because they are worthwhile in some way, I'll keep them all for my impossible crime project as well.

As with the first collection, the Puzzle Doctor has some very nice things to say about this one: https://classicmystery.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/more-things-impossible-the-second-casebook-of-dr-sam-hawthorne-by-edward-d-hoch/

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