The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant - C. Daly King

This volume was published by Crippen & Landru, a wonderful publishing firm for short story collections by many renowned authors in the mystery field. The best thing they're doing is publishing several collections by Edward D. Hoch (and we'll return to some of those later on).

In this case, what we have is essentially an expanded edition of the original short story collection "The Curious Mr. Tarrant". King wrote a couple of other stories about Tarrant later on which were exhumed for this complete collection.

The collection begins with the eight stories that were in the original collection of Tarrant stories, adds two stories published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, another story that was discovered after the author's death, and finally a story published in a SF magazine under the name of Jeremiah Phelan (the narrator of these stories). One extra point to the collection is the way it's actually written so it tells a full(er) story about the characters. You can follow Tarrant and Phelan as they develop as characters.

King is otherwise most famous for having written some books that are notoriously hard to find - at least at humane prices. I have "Obelists Fly High" in my TBR pile, and that is the only one I've seen re-released. A pity.

The first story of the collection is "The Episode of the Codex' Curse". In it, our narrator Jerry Phelan is convinced to guard a recently found codex in a museum at night. In the middle of the night, the codex disappears, while Mr. Tarrant instead appears in the room where Jerry is sitting guard.

As you see, there is no murder in this first story, it's simply a miraculous vanishing. The explanation is very good, plausible and workable. Jerry does come across as a bit of a nitwit at times - not only when it comes to the investigation, but also the bits of his character he reveals through his narration. One drawback is the very obvious culprit. I defy anyone to miss who it is.

Next in the book we get "The Episode of the Tangible Illusion" where a woman is haunted by mysterious visions and sounds in her tiny house. This is rather worse than the previous story. Again it's utterly obvious who the culprit is, and I find the explanations of the hauntings rather implausible But at least Jerry gains a wife, so I guess that's all right.

"The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem" is probably the most anthologised story in this collection. It is also the first to include an impossible murder, where a woman is found killed in an artist's studio. The artist himself has disappeared from the locked and sealed studio even though it is known that he was there previously.

As you can probably guess from the set-up there isn't much question about who the perpetrator is. The main thing here is to find out how he could disappear from the sealed room. The solution is somewhat technical but certainly workable. However, the author does have to let the story go through some unlikely contortions in order for a second murder to happen. Not the finest hour of New York's finest.

Another story that's seen some appearances in anthologies is "The Episode of Torment IV". In it, several people die after having jumped off a motor boat in the middle of a lake.

I've seen this story given some praise, for instance by Edward D. Hoch in his introduction to the volume. I really don't see why. This is the highest order of hokum and so easily seen through. It may be that my hopes were set too high through Hoch's praise, but I was thoroughly disappointed by such a cliched explanation.

Next is "The Episode of the Headless Horrors". This is a fairly grisly story where several people are found with severed heads after having disappeared on a stretch of a road that was watch at both ends.

This is somewhat better than the previous story, but still not entirely convincing. The motive for murder seems rather out there, and again there is no question about who the criminal is. There are some writing tics that start to get annoying here as well.

So it's good that we now come to "The Episode of the Vanishing Harp". It's the longest story in the collection, at least double the length of any other story here, and it presents a lovely problem. A man relates to Mr Tarrant how his legendary old Irish harp has suddenly vanished from an entirely sealed room that no one except himself has access to. Of course, there is also an old legend and a curse connected with the harp which threatens the happiness of the man and his wife.

The setup is great, as I said, and the explanation lives up to that setup. I'll admit that again, King has trouble writing suspects that seem plausible (again it's really easy to spot the baddie), but the increased length gives King the opportunity to at least weave in a couple of more characters and a bit more background to the case. The solution to where the harp has been is a real humdinger.

The final two stories of the original collection have a science fiction or perhaps supernatural slant which feels a bit outré. First of these two is "The Episode of the Man with Three Eyes", which introduces the character Monsieur Hor who seems to have some clairvoyant characteristics. In this story, Tarrant's Japanese manservant Katoh is suspected of having killed a spy in a nightclub because he was the only one who was closeby and had the opportunity. Tarrant steps in to prove Katoh's innocence.

The story felt a bit slight, particularly following the great "Vanishing Harp". I also felt that the introduction of Monsieur Hor was to the detriment of the stories. However, without that we wouldn't have had the story "The Episode of the Final Bargain".

On the other hand, that story is the pits, so Monsieur Hor can go. In it, Tarrant's beloved (and Jerry's sister) suddenly falls ill from some kind of supernatural disease and Tarrant has to do something equally supernatural to try to save her from certain death. Everything is just silly and stupid and this reader rather lost patience with the whole thing here.

After the stories from the original collection we get a later story where for some reason King had decided to change the Japanese Katoh into the Philippinese Hido. (Yes, we all know the reason, the story was written during WWII.) However, Hido is Katoh in all but name.

"The Episode of the Little Girl Who Wasn't There" is a complete armchair detective story. Tarrant and Jerry are listening to the radio when they hear news about an actress who has disappeared from a thoroughly guarded room. Tarrant reasons his way through a couple of different solutions before settling on the correct one.A lovely little story after the great preceding disappointments. The solution is fairly easy to spot, but it all fits together nicely.

"The Episode of the Sinister Invention" follows. This is a Sherlock Holmes story where the names have simply been changed to Tarrant et al. It actually makes for a rather fun combination, if somewhat distracting as well. The impossibility concerns how a letter could have arrived at a certain point in time, and the solution is pretty well worked out. One of the better stories of the collection.

The penultimate story is "The Episode of the Absent Fish". Jerry is guarding a man over night and the next morning he is found dead in his locked apartment. I found the solution a bit too over reliant on "gadgets", as it were, but still decent.

"The Episode of the Perilous Talisman" finishes the collection. It is quite similar to Chesterton's "The Blast of the Book" where we have a book that when opened seems to cause the reader to vanish. In this case it is a talisman which has the same effect on anyone setting eyes on it.

I wasn't enamoured with this story. It felt a bit slight, and again there is the paucity of characters which makes it a bit too obvious what happened.


A collection with many ups and downs. In the end I decided to use four stories in my collection of impossibilities: "Codex", "Nail and Requiem", "Vanishing Harp" and "Little Girl Who Wasn't There". I can see why Hoch speculates that the reason the only written novel about Tarrant was never published - that King's storytelling was a bit out there.

He swings wildly between different types of stories. King certainly has a vivid imagination, but as you've probably noticed he wasn't very good at hiding his suspects... I'd recommend the collection as a curiosity, but the best stories have been reprinted elsewhere (with the exception of "Little Girl", as far as I know), so if you have the important impossible crime anthologies you will already have those stories.

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