A Mysterious Theme

I have to face it, I won't be able to return to the impossible roundup until some time after Easter - I just have too much to read first, before I can finish those final posts off.

So let's do something else, something I'm not sure I've seen in other blogs. There probably are several posts like this, I've just can't remember seeing one.

I thought we'd take a look at some of the music themes to a selection of TV mystery shows. No movies (so no Murder She Said, Pink Panther or 007 tunes), but I'll be rather inclusive in what I call a mystery show. Adventure series and thriller series will feature here. And these are just the ones that I remember best - I'm sure I've missed a few that should have been here. And if I've missed a favourite of yours, just let me know in the comments!

We'll do this in a roughly chronological order as well, so we'll begin with those nifty 50s-60s themes that everyone has heard and move on to some of the more recent things we've been able to see on the box. The links below all lead to YouTube. If you're reading this some time in the future, then hello future human being and sorry if these links do not lead to anything playable any more.

The Perry Mason theme

Yeah, let's begin with this one, because I guess it's the most ubiquitous one. Composed by Fred Steiner, I'm sure everyone recognises this and considers it one of the standards of the genre. I like it as well, though I have bigger favourites coming up later. I used to watch the 80s reboot of Perry Mason, but have never seen the original series.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Peter Gunn theme

If there's one theme that can compete with the Perry Mason one, this piece, composed by Henry Mancini, is it. Unlike Perry Mason, this is one show I never watched - I'm not that old! Another good swinging tune.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Richard Diamond theme

The lesser known cousin of Perry Mason and Peter Gunn, and that goes for both the TV show and the theme. This piece of music, by Pete Rugolo, is quite distinctive, but doesn't really have the immediateness and instant recognisability of the two earlier themes.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Avengers theme

Moving on to British TV, this is one of the iconic shows from the 60s. The music by Laurie Johnson is however not a real favourite of mine. It's certainly quite distinctive, but there are so many better ones out there. But yeah, it's better than the souped-up, modernized version that they foisted on the somewhat recent movie with Val Kilmer.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Saint theme

Edwin Astley composed this, another really famous melody. It's iconic and immediately conjures up pictures of those 60s thriller/mystery shows. Really good stuff.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Prisoner theme

We remain in Britain for yet another iconic show, and again I find the theme, by Ron Grainer, fairly dull. It's one of the least distinctive tunes from this time, and doesn't live up to the reputation of the TV show. Quite a disappointment.

Rating: πŸ‘

The Mission Impossible theme

So I guess it's time we move on to another truly recognisable TV theme. Lalo Schifrin has created a true winner here, and not even the "other two" from U2 could destroy it completely when they tried updating it in the 90s. An excellent theme.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Persuaders theme

More Moore! And some Curtis. Although John Barry will always remain most remembered for his contributions to the Bond soundtracks, he was always a prolific soundtrack composer and had several tunes for TV shows. This is the very best theme of them all, a true classic from a TV show that is unjustly forgotten - it's a crime it only got one season. (Never fear, I didn't watch it when it was new - it's been rerun several times over here in Sweden.)

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Adventurer theme

So let's continue with some more John Barry. This theme tune is similar but perhaps not quite as distinctive as the one from "The Persuaders", but it's still a great tune that says "70s thriller" like nothing else.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Orson Welles' Great Mysteries theme

Let's continue this trifecta of Barry tunes with this one, another great one from the master. Like the theme from "The Adventurer" you can hear similarities with "The Persuaders", but it's still distinct enough to stand on its own legs. Barry was at the top of his game in the early 70s.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Rockford Files theme

We're back in America for what might be the most recognisable 70s theme tune. Written by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, everyone will recognise this melody. This is the first show that I actually saw "live", as it were, though I don't have any memories of it from that time. After all, I was only seven when it ended.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Bergerac theme

This might be the absolute best melody and arrangement of all the tunes here. It evokes some of that French-British-seaside setting that you get from a show set on Jersey. But I don't think that it really says "mystery". No matter, this is still the part I'll always associate John Nettles with.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The Hill Street Blues theme

Mike Post strikes again. We're now firmly in 80s territory. I still have fond memories of this Stephen Bochco show, though I know that I did NOT like this tune back then. I like it better now, but again, I don't know that it actually evokes "mystery".

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Magnum, P. I. theme

This show was never my favourite at the time, but I do think that Mike Post's theme here is a bit better than the one to "Hill Street Blues". But it's less of a mystery theme tune, it sounds more like an adventure theme.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Knight Rider theme

By Glen A. Larson and Stu Phillips, this is another very typical 80s theme tune. As stupid as the show was, the theme tune still evokes a lot of action adventure.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

The A-Team theme

Another one by Mike Post, this is possibly his least successful theme (of the ones I've managed to remember). It has a memorable hook, but the rest of the theme is very bland and uninteresting.

Rating: πŸ‘

The Inspector Dalgliesh theme

Let's move away from these American adventure/action shows, which really are hardly mysteries at all, and to some British true mysteries. This is a great theme from the filmatisation of P. D. James novels. Richard Harvey has composed a real classic, and it just says mystery like nothing else.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Partners in Crime theme

This Tommy & Tuppence adaptation was a really good show, and the theme tune by Joseph Horovitz evokes the setting of the 1920s very well. However, it certainly doesn't scream mystery. A nice enough tune, but not a particularly successful theme tune, if you catch my drift.

Rating: πŸ‘

Miss Marple theme

This melody from the 80s adaptation, written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, is... well, I just can't review it objectively. I think it's super wonderful, but like the previous track it doesn't actually scream mystery. It is however more than just a period piece, and works much better as a theme tune.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Sherlock Holmes theme

A lovely melody which is wonderfully evocative and a great listen. At the same time, this theme by Patrick Gowers has something in common with the Marple one and the Partners in Crime one - it doesn't really say "this is a mystery show". So with that in mind I'll have to dock a point from my rating.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Airwolf theme

So, back in America for another adventure thriller theme tune. I think this one by Sylvester Levay is appropriately 80s-y and has that synth beat down. Perhaps it's just a tad too typical?

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘

Miami Vice theme

This theme from Jan Hammer is certainly distinctive. However, I also think it's one of the worst themes I've ever heard. There's another theme from the show, "Crockett's Theme", by the same composer, which is miles better.

Rating: πŸ‘

Poirot theme

Okay. I hear the first notes and I just lose all objectivity. This is, together with the Persuaders theme, the single best TV theme ever. Christopher Gunning has written a theme that manages to evoke the early decades of the 1900s. But while quite a few of the previous 80s British mystery shows had themes that weren't as typically "mystery", this also manages to sound more mysterious. So much awesome.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Twin Peaks theme

By Angelo Badalamenti, the theme tune is miles better than the show. It's not only a great melody, it's a great mystery melody.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Inspector Frost theme

To me, this sounds much more like a mystery theme than the earlier British ones. Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman have composed another standout. I think it is a bit overlong here, but of course the whole thing was never played on the show itself. Another good 'un.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Jonathan Creek theme

Though this theme ("Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-SaΓ«ns) is great and all, it's rather unoriginal to just use an already existing melody instead of writing a new one.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘

The X-files theme

This theme, by Mark Snow, should have been used for a real mystery series instead of the conspiracy thriller that we got. Because this is truly awesome. If any of these themes says mystery, it's this one.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Midsomer Murders theme

Say what you will about the show itself, this is a great theme tune. The theremin immediately creates a spooky vibration and unlike some of the earlier theme tunes, this just screams mystery. Really great.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Agatha Christie's Marple theme

This one (by Dominik Scherrer) pales in comparison with the one from the 80s, just like the TV show does. It's not bad, it's just not particularly distinctive to me.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘

Sherlock theme

This isn't a favourite of mine. David Arnold has previously done some fairly John Barry-esque things (which isn't that strange since he got the task to score a number of Bond movies after Barry retired), but this theme, written in tandem with Michael Price, isn't all that good. I guess its serviceable, but I'd definitely have liked to see something more mysterious.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘

Father Brown theme

This theme really is a distillation of all British mystery themes since the 80s. It sounds like all of them, yet different. So it's not wholly original, but composer Debbie Wiseman still has managed to produce a very good mystery theme.

Rating: πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Death in Paradise theme

Again, I don't like that they're just using an already written song. Yeah, they manage to evoke the Caribbean setting, but otherwise there's nothing about this that says "mystery theme". An all right tune, a poor theme.

Rating: πŸ‘

Aaaaand... that's it. That's some great music up there. So, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessments? Did I miss any important, iconic themes?


The Curse of the Modern Crime Writer

We're still treading water, waiting for me to finish the last batch of Hoch stories so I can do my final round-up of impossible crime stories. But in the recent TBR posts I mentioned something about a rant about modern crime writing, didn't I? Don't say I never keep my promises!

As I said in that post, I have a problem with modern mysteries being too long and too unfocused. But first, perhaps I should mention what modern writers I've been reading so you know where I'm coming from with this.

And do please remember my definition of "mysteries", as opposed to "stories about crime", which I laid out in the first post of this blog. Short version: "mysteries" are fair play, puzzle plots, everything else is just "criminous stories".

The modern (and by modern I mean people whose main output has been in this, the 21st century) authors I'm following, or where I've at least read a couple of novels:
  • Rhys Bowen - Her Royal Spyness series (8 of them)
  • Carola Dunn - the Daisy Dalrymple series (all 22)
  • M. C. Beaton - the Agatha Raisin series (2 or 3 of them)
  • Alan Bradley - the Flavia de Luce series (3 of them)
  • R. T. Raichev - the Antonia Darcy series (3 of them)
  • G. M. Malliet - the St. Just series (all 3) and the Max Tudor series (2 of them)
  • Frances Brody - the Kate Shackleton series (5 of them)
  • Christopher Fowler - the Bryant & May series (5 or 6 of them)

As I mentioned in the TBR post, Bowen's stories are light, breezy reads and aren't really mysteries at all. Their main advantage is that the heroine is good fun. I guess they could be called cozies, but they really do not fit that definition completely. Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series is in quite a similar vein. There might be just a tad more focus on the mysteries in her stories, but they cannot be said to be fair play mysteries. As with Bowen's novels, there's a lot of focus on the protagonist and her life instead.

But if you're looking for cozies, look no further than M. C. Beaton's tales. They are extremely light and fluffy, and there's even less focus on making the mysteries mysterious here. Things just happen and then suddenly they fall into place and we're presented with a solution.

The other authors above are better in this respect, at least they are trying to write real mysteries. But here's their main problem: they're soooooooooooooooo slooooooooooooooooow.

Case in point: I recently read the fifth novel in Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton series, "Murder on a Summer's Day". Around 400 pages, of which 57 are dedicated to the mystery, 294 are dedicated to irrelevant and mainly unnecessary descriptions and analyses of 1920s life, and the rest are probably mainly white noise. (My eyes glaze over sometimes so... and take those page numbers with a pinch of salt, they're made up.)


To illustrate the point even more: This novel had a wholly unnecessary near rape scene. It didn't have any point at all, no bearing on the main mystery. The person who committed the rape attempt had already been established as a thoroughly bad apple, and that means that all we got from that bit is several pages with Kate Shackleton agonizing and trying to mentally get through the ordeal.

Yes, I get it. This is what life could be like (and still is in many parts of the world), and yes, it brings in some kind of realism. I absolutely do not condone this type (or any type) of assault on women. But on the other hand, this is not what I read mysteries for either. A mystery is just that - a mystery. There's no mystery here because it's all described in real time - the culprit is known all the time. There's just no payback on the mystery level, it's all just emotional manipulation.


As for the "real mystery", the one Kate Shackleton is trying to solve in this novel, there's no detection, there's no real investigation. At times, Kate sits around thinking a bit about what might have happened, and then she might talk to someone who was involved. But there's no real clueing and things just get revealed at certain points in the story.

I know I mentioned in a comment on some other blog on one of the previous books in the series - I think it was "A Medal for Murder" - that there was a problem with the pacing. There is a passage in the book, set in South Africa, which describes part of the motive for the murder.

Problem is: it's much too long. It also grinds the story to a complete halt, because up till then the book had been skipping along quite nicely, and then suddenly we switch gears and end up somewhere completely different. I made the comparison that if Agatha Christie had written the same story, this passage would have been a paragraph or two and had conveyed exactly the information needed. (Another thing that didn't help is that that part of the story was dead obvious, which of course increased my annoyance.)

Now it seems that I'm skewering Frances Brody, which isn't really my intent. Because she's not alone with these problems. It's just that I read her recently so it's fresh in my mind. The other authors above that I didn't go into more thoroughly have the same problems. Their books are much too long for what they contain.

And to be fair, it has to be said that Brody's stories are still generally readable. There are definitely several enjoyable things about them - otherwise I'd obviously never have read five of them.

Elsewhere, I know I've said that it seems to me that many modern crime writers take to this genre not because they genuinely want to write mysteries, but because the genre is a good way of getting readers. I get this feeling from G. M. Malliet's writings, to take another example.

She began with the St. Just series, which was a pretty good bunch of novels, with a good focus on the mysteries and some fair play. Then she seems to have stopped after three novels, just to start a new series with Max Tudor as the main protagonist. And that's a much worse crime series, from the aspect of fair play and all round "mystery-ness". It fits into the theory that she might have started with a more classic type of mystery to draw in readers, but now that she is established she starts writing the stories she's more interested in.

The biggest exception, I guess, is Fowler's Bryant & May. They're the ones most focused on the mystery side. However, and this is mainly MY problem, not the author's, I just don't understand parts of them. I'm not able to follow everything that happens in them. I don't know if there's too much subtext or if it's something cultural/language based. I don't think it's because I'm too stupid (I do understand complex puzzles from other authors), but sometimes things are referred to in these novels and I just don't know if that was actually something that happened before and I missed it, or if it was just implied, or if it happened in the background. I find them terribly bewildering, which is rather a pity since they come highly recommended...

Bradley's Flavia series has a touch of this syndrome as well, though not at all to the same extent. (My main problem with them is that I don't like Flavia the character at all.)

Note that I've not even discussed the grim noir-ish type of crime writing which is so prevalent today. As you've noticed someone like me could never be to blame for the pox of Scandi-noir, so please don't take me to task for that...

So, to conclude: I get that I'm a kind of anachronism in certain respects. It could certainly be that I'm the odd one out and that most everyone else enjoys reading this type of crime writing, with lots of complex characters and little of mystery. But since there are exceptions to this in other cultures - as we can see from LRI's publications, there are certainly other types of mystery stories in France and Asia, to name but two examples - I guess there must be some people who don't want that, or at least don't want that all the time.

Maybe it's just the English speaking world and Scandinavia where we have to settle for non-mysteries. Too bad for me that those are the only markets I can seek out on my own due to my (lack of) language proficiency.


The Big Re-Read (TBR 2)

I've let it slip here and there that I'm in the middle of a marathon re-read of almost all my mystery novels. I've skipped a couple of authors, either because I'd seen the TV show fairly recently (Agatha Christie), because I'd actually read them recently (Anthony Abbot, Anthony Berkeley and Anthony Boucher - hey that's a lot of Tonys) or because I just couldn't work up the interest to read them again (Dorothy Sayers, Michael Innes, Craig Rice, Rex Stout, R. Austin Freeman, Freeman Wills Crofts, Josephine Tey). Okay, "almost all" was an overstatement...

But that still includes a huge bunch of authors, because my collection is fairly large. To begin with I wasn't going to include Ellery Queen, but after some time decided to do so anyway. Otherwise, the main contributors to this re-read are John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh, Helen McCloy, Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge, Edmund Crispin, Rufus King, Margery Allingham, Nicholas Blake and some stray authors where I only have one or two books.

This undertaking has been under way now for three or four years, and I'm finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The above picture shows the coming 27 books.

Ellery Queen - Double Double
Rufus King - Valcour Meets Murder
Carter Dickson - A Graveyard to Let
Ngaio Marsh - When in Rome
Philip MacDonald - The Rasp
Ellery Queen - The Origin of Evil
E. C. Bentley & H. Warner Allen - Trent's Own Case
John Dickson Carr - The Problem of the Wire Cage
J. C. Masterman - The Case of the Four Friends
Patrick Quentin - The Follower
Sara Woods - Bloody Instructions
Helen McCloy - The Further Side of Fear
John Dickson Carr - The Man Who Could Not Shudder
Edmund Crispin - The Moving Toyshop
Ellery Queen - The Scarlet Letters
Ngaio Marsh - Tied up in Tinsel
Edgar Lustgarten - A Case to Answer
John Dickson Carr - The Case of the Constant Suicides
Margery Allingham - The Fashion in Shrouds
Patrick Quentin - Black Widow
Ellery Queen - Inspector Queen's Own Case
Alan Green - What a Body!
Nicholas Blake - The Sad Variety
John Dickson Carr - Death Turns the Tables
Nagio Marsh - Black as He's Painted
Edmund Crispin - Swan Song
Ellery Queen - The Finishing Stroke

Another bunch of 27 books.

Rufus King - The Case of the Constant God
Carter Dickson - Night at the Mocking Widow
Patrick Quentin - My Son, the Murderer
Margery Allingham - Black Plumes
Miles Burton - Where Is Barbara Prentice?
Ellery Queen - The Player on the Other Side
John Dickson Carr - Till Death Do Us Part
Edmund Crispin - Love Lies Bleeding
Marco Page - Fast Company
Patrick Quentin - The Man With Two Wives
Dilwyn Rees - The Cambridge Murders
John Dickson Carr - Below Suspicion
Ellery Queen - And on the Eighth Day
Ngaio Marsh - Last Ditch
Philip MacDonald - The Nursemaid Who Disappeared
Edmund Crispin - Buried for Pleasure
John Dickson Carr - The Dead Man's Knock
Helen McCloy - Mr. Splitfoot
Ellery Queen - The Fourth Side of the Triangle
Patrick Quentin - The Man in the Net
Ngaio Marsh - Grave Mistake
Carter Dickson - Behind the Crimson Blind
Edmund Crispin - Frequent Hearses
Rufus King - Crime of Violence
Ellery Queen - A Study in Terror
Patrick Quentin - Suspicious Circumstances
John Dickson Carr - In Spite of Thunder

The final 24!

Stuart Palmer - Nipped in the Bud
Margery Allingham - More Work for the Undertaker
Ngaio Marsh - Photo-Finish
Ellery Queen - Face to Face
Nicholas Blake - The Morning After Death
John Dickson Carr - The House at Satan's Elbow
Edmund Crispin - The Long Divorce
Patrick Quentin - Shadow of Guilt
Ellery Queen - The House of Brass
Ronald A. Knox - The Footsteps at the Lock
Carter Dickson - The Cavalier's Cup
Patrick Quentin - The Green Eyed Monster
Philip MacDonald - The List of Adrian Messenger
Ellery Queen - The Last Woman of His Life
Rufus King - Murder Masks Miami
John Dickson Carr - Panic in Box C
Ngaio Marsh - Light Thickens
Margery Allingham - Coroner's Pidgin
Ellery Queen - A Fine and Private Place
Helen McCloy - A Question of Time
John Dickson Carr - Dark of the Moon
Patrick Quentin - Family Skeletons
Edmund Crispin - The Glimpses of the Moon
Ellery Queen - The Tragedy of Errors

As you see, I'm just in the middle of the best stuff from Carr, Queen and Crispin, while the Marsh, Dickson, Quentin and McCloy re-reads are getting into more iffy territory. When I reach the books in picture three I foresee a slower tempo due to a decline in quality almost everywhere. But that's the problem when reading authors chronologically - most of them will not write their best stuff towards the end of their career.

There are a couple of authors you didn't see in these pictures because I've already finished all their novels. You might have guessed that this was the case with Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge, since I mentioned them above. Other authors I've managed to finish off are Cyril Hare, Clayton Rawson and Christianna Brand.

You may also have noticed that two books are there in the form of paper copies - these are books that were never translated into Swedish in book form, but for some reason were published in magazines or newspapers instead. I have a couple of others elsewhere (another Palmer, two Van Dines, two Queens, five or six Carrs, one Abbot and one Rhode).

Anyhow, that's the re-read pile. Please don't call me crazy in the comments, I do that to myself often enough.


These Books Remain (TBR)

All blogs have at least one post dedicated to this feature - the TBR pile. And because I'm in the middle of composing a couple of posts on the remaining stray impossible stories and those posts need to wait until I've finished reading around 30 Edward D. Hoch stories from EQMM, I thought it might be a good time to discuss my TBR pile.

Or piles, because as any sane person would, I've divided by books into different piles. I mean, who doesn't want to organise everything down to the minutest detail?

Of course, each individual pile is also carefully organised. Again, as any sane person would do, they are sorted in the order I want to read them. First I read the least interesting books, and save the best for last. This is in no way counterproductive and doesn't at all lead to the unfortunate situation where the best books go unread for a long long time and I just read less interesting books that end up at the top of the pile when I buy new books. No siree!

Another general organisational rule is that books are read in order of publication. Except with Paul Halter, for some reason, where I want to read them in the order that I find interesting. The exception that proves the rule.

So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to present to you my TBR piles.

1. Mysteries written by modern authors

I think most of you will know already that I'm not generally particularly interested in reading modern crime fiction. But there are authors who take the mystery genre seriously and try to write books that hearken back to the golden age.

Several of the titles above are written by such authors, and I've come across them - or rather recommendations of them - on other mystery blogs. For which, thanks!

Rhys Bowen - Crowned and Dangerous

The one exception here, this is mainly a cozy series which I started reading around ten years ago. They're really not all that awesome (there's absolutely no fair play), but quite breezy reads and the heroine is quite engaging.

Lee Sheldon - Impossible Bliss

Recommended by J.J., it sounded interesting enough that I managed to get it for Christmas.

L. C. Tyler - The Herring in the Library

The Puzzle Doctor got me to read this series. I was in two minds after the first book, because it gave me the vibe of a Gilbert Adair thing, but the second novel turned things around, so now I feel quite certain I'll continue following this.

Dolores Gordon-Smith - Mad about the Boy?

Another PD (Puzzle Doctor) recommendation, the first book was engaging enough that I will try another.

Robert Thorogood - A Meditation on Murder

Well, "Death in Paradise" is great, and Thorogood's novels come heavily recommended from PD. I managed to get hold of all three books that have been published so far.

Nev Fountain - Cursed Among Sequels

PD again. The first two books were very amusing and good reads. I'd rather like Fountain to continue this than faff about with modern stuff.

J. A. Lang - Chef Maurice and the Wrath of Grapes

Guess whose recommendation? The first novel was great fun. Again a note to the author: Please continue this series instead of larking about with other things.

Eric Keith - Nine Man's Murder

I think PD was the first to recommend this, and then other bloggers took it to task. I'm still intrigued enough to want to read it, but it has moved down (or rather up) from its position.

Robert Thorogood - The Killing of Polly Carter

See above.

Anthony Horowitz - Magpie Murders

A novel that comes recommended from almost everywhere, this looks very intersting.

J. A. Lang - Chef Maurice and the Bunny Boiler Bake-Off

See above.

Robert Thorogood - Death Knocks Twice

See above.

And in the background of the picture you'll see a pair of binoculars and a glass tin which used to contain bolognese sauce and now contains foreign currency. :)

2. Dick Francis racing thrillers 

The Dick Francis racing thrillers have long been favourites of mine, and even though he's now passed and his son Felix Francis is now writing them, I still like them enough to want them as they come out. I have three of them waiting to be read: "Damage", "Front Runner" and "Triple Crown".

3. Impossible mysteries

This pile contains mainly Paul Halter novels, but there are a couple of Clyde B. Clason novels, one by Alice Arisugawa and one by C. Daly King. I buy the Halter ones as they come out, but because I have so many TBR piles they tend to stack up. 😊

The King novel is the one I've had the longest without reading it - a true victim of my not at all anal need to save the most interesting reads for later.

Halter - The Phantom Passage
Clason - Poison Jasmine
Halter - The Vampire Tree
King - Obelists Fly High
Halter - The Madman's Room
Halter - The Tiger's Head
Clason - Green Shiver
Halter - Death Invites You
Arisugawa - The Moai Island Puzzle
Halter - The Seventh Hypothesis

At the top of the picture above you see the bottom halves of a number of SF novels (mainly Asimov in this picture), and at the bottom you see a number of fantasy novels I'm in the process of culling from my library. (Which explains why they're turned sideways.)

4. Adventure thrillers

The Dick Francis pile above probably indicates my interest in adventure thrillers. Since I already have all by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley (and have read them several times over) I wanted to try out a couple of their main competitors, Hammond Innes and Gavin Lyall.

I've read two Innes novels (and am in the middle of reading a third, none of which are present on the picture above), while Lyall is still a blank slate to me. As you might see, if your eyes are good, these are all Swedish translations.

This is the only pile I haven't organised in reading order, I'll just grab any one from this shelf when I want to read them.

From top to bottom, and then left to right.

The Angry Mountain
The Strode Venturer
The Strange Land
Wreckers Must Breathe
The Lonely Skier
The Blue Ice
Attack Alarm
North Star
The White South
Campbell's Kingdom
The Land God Gave to Cain
Maddon's Rock
Levkas Man
Atlantic Fury

The Wrong Side of the Sky
The Most Dangerous Game
Midnight Plus One
Venus With Pistol
Shooting Script

At the top and to the left you see parts of my fantasy collection, to the right are a couple of Anthony Buckeridge's Jennings books, and at the bottom you see the top halves of those SF books that you saw the bottom halves of in the previous picture. Try to figure out which novels are there! πŸ˜€

5. Reprinted mysteries from the Golden Age

Theodore Roscoe - Murder on the Way!
Christopher St. John Sprigg - Death of an Airman
Erle Stanley Gardner - The Case of the Velvet Claws
Alan Melville - Quick Curtain
Robin Forsythe - The Polo Ground Mystery
Georgette Heyer - Why Shoot a Butler?
Georgette Heyer - Penhallow

This is not a very large pile, and contains one book in Swedish. These also mainly come from recommendations by fellow bloggers, though Georgette Heyer I actually discovered on my own before reading any blog recommendations. Yay me!

With Heyer, I've read four other novels, so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. I've read one other novel by both Melville and Forsythe, and liked them enough to continue investigating. The two other novels in English are there because of good reviews in the blogosphere.

Finally, the book in Swedish is a Perry Mason novel published by a good friend of mine. You'll find a link to his publishing firm's site ("Deckarhyllan") above, though it's not very helpful if you cannot read Swedish. Their mission is to publish heretofore untranslated GA mysteries - so far they've published this novel, Ellery Queen's "The King is Dead", the first novel by Earl Derr Biggers, and coming up are Carter Dickson's "The White Priory Murders" and Gardner's "The Case of the Lucky Legs", both of which I intend to pick up. The Dickson novel I even helped translate, and I also had some input on what short story to include as a bonus in it!

6. Young adult mysteries

Robin Stevens - Murder Most Unladylike
Siobhan Dowd - The London Eye Mystery
Robin Stevens - Arsenic for Tea
Robin Stevens - The Guggenheim Mystery
Robin Stevens - First Class Murder

As you see, this isn't the biggest pile either. But I have to admit that I'm rather partial to young adult mysteries, because I think there is too much padding nowadays in adult mysteries. A rant will follow in a separate post, because it became too long (and too much of a tangent) to keep in this one.

So, to get back to why young adult mysteries appeal more to me. I like lightheartedness (and a focus on plotting), and that's what I expect to get from the above titles. I think they've been mentioned favourably by J.J. on his blog, and probably elsewhere as well.

At the bottom of the picture, you see the very top of my SF/fantasy TBR pile, which I won't bore you with.

But I still have my final TBR pile left - as some of you may remember, I'm in the middle of a re-read of several of the big mystery names. That pile is just about as big as all the above six piles together, and that's why you won't get any description of it in this post. You'll just have to wait till the next one...


The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (ed. Otto Penzler) - part two

The first part of this volume was discussed here. And we'll just immediately dive into the rest of the stories, shall we?

Lynne Wood Block & Lawrence Block - The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke

Previously discussed in this post.

Augustus Muir - The Kestar Diamond Case

The strange Dr. Raphael investigates a case where a man has been killed in a jeweller's office. The door was guarded by a policeman, and yet no one was seen to enter.

This is all stupid and silly. The final twist is crap, the solution to the impossibility is crapola, and I feel like Captain Craptastic after reading it.

Kate Ellis - The Odour of Sanctity

Previously discussed in this post.

Edward D. Hoch - The Problem of the Old Oak Tree

Previously discussed in this post.

Nicholas Olde - The Invisible Weapon

Previously discussed in this post.

Ray Cummings - The Confession of Rosa Vitelli

A story set in the early 19th century slums of New York, where a young woman - the titular Rosa - has confessed to the murder of a woman who has died from gas poisoning. She was found in a locked room with the windows closed.

Another story which is all too easy to see through. And the impossibility isn't even an impossibility. Really bad stuff.

Stephen Barr - The Locked Room to End Locked Rooms

Previously discussed in this post (under the alternative title "The Locked House").

Clayton Rawson - Nothing Is Impossible

Previously discussed in this post.

Bill Pronzini - Where Have You Gone, Sam Spade?

The Nameless detective is hired to guard a warehouse during the night because the owner has some very valuable goods coming in. The second night, he finds a dead body even though the warehouse is locked and he is the only one inside.

A fine setup and a very good solution, if a bit technical and therefore hard to spot for the reader.

G. D. H. Cole & Margaret Cole - In a Telephone Cabinet

Superintendent Wilson and his friend Dr. Prendergast are out on a walk when they see someone enter a house through the window. As they approach the house, a man bursts out from the house, shouting about "murder". Inside they find a man dead inside a telephone cabinet - from all looks shot by a blunderbuss.

This is another one of those ubiquitous locked-room stories, and again its a bit surprising that it didn't turn up in any of the other anthologies we've taken a look at here before. It's a bit silly that it takes so long for most of the characters to realise the salient point here (but at least the Coles assure us that Wilson noticed immediately, so I guess that's all right). I'm not sure it lives up to its status as a classic, but it's still an all right read.

Stuart Towne - Death out of Thin Air

Previously discussed in this post.

Agatha Christie - The Dream

Previously discussed in this post.

Margery Allingham - The Border-Line Case

Albert Campion is told about a case where a career criminal has been killed. The police are convinced that they know who the culprit is. The suspect was inside a cafΓ© at the time of the murder, which is corroborated by the girlfriend of the killed man, but the murdered man is found around the corner from the cafΓ© - there's simply no line of sight for the suspect.

A very simple solution to an elegant little problem. My Swedish copy has a map, which improves the reading of the story infinitely.

Melville Davisson Post - The Bradmoor Murder

The old Duke of Bradmoor, a famous explorer, has been found inside a tower room which was locked and whose windows are several yards up from the ground, shot to death.

This story is much too long for as simple a problem as this. The solution is never particularly hard to guess at.

Leslie Charteris - The Man Who Liked Toys

The Saint and Chief Inspector Teal see a trio of men who have been enjoying dinner in a hotel. Two of them leave, and the third go to his room in the hotel. Just a few minutes later, he is found dead. It looks like suicide since he was found in his bedroom, and only his valet is on the premises.

Another one with a fairly easily seen through solution. There's really nothing that makes this stand out.

Hulbert Footner - The Ashcomb Poor Case

Mr. Ashcomb Poor has been killed in his library. Only the secretary and the cook were in the house, as mrs Poor was in a country club. As the secretary was a young lady, it is assumed that Mr. Poor made unwelcome advances to her and that she killed him. But psychologist Madame Storey isn't quite convinced of this theory.

This is another story that is hampered a bit by being called impossible, as it's only impossible because of the choice of murderer. And again it's a story much too long for what it contains - it's almost immediately clear who is the murderer, so it's a bit of a slog getting to the end.

Georges Simenon - The Little House at Croix-Rousse

Previously discussed in this post.

Erle Stanley Gardner - The Bird in the Hand

Shady Lester Leith gets wind of a diamond theft and murder in a hotel room. He decides to involve himself and takes the rooms himself and manages to steal the diamonds from the thief. But when the police come to search his rooms the jewels are nowhere to be found.

Again much too long for what it contains. I also got the impression that Gardner made things much too complicated during the course of the story. It's not bad, I just wish it had been condensed a bit.

David Durham - The Gulverbury Diamonds

Thief Fidelity Dove learns that the son of a man she admires - Lord Gulverbury - has given the family diamonds to his mistress before killing himself. She decides to get them back to him, and by sleight of hand takes them from the mistress. The police arrive just then, but the jewels cannot be found anywhere on her or in the room.

I liked the explanation for the disappearance of the jewels, but otherwise this tale felt a bit slight. An all right read, nothing more.

Frederick Irving Anderson - The Fifth Tube

The Infallible Godahl decides to steal gold from the assay office. The gold is held suspended inside a solution of acid, but somehow Godahl manages to make the precious metal evaporate.

I had a very tough time reading this story - the prose and writing style was very tough going. It didn't help that this is another one of those stories where we follow all the events in real time, as it were. There's no detection - things are just revealed as the story moves along. So this was  a real low point for me.

MacKinlay Kantor - The Strange Case of Steinkelwintz

Private detective Maxwell Grame is asked to investigate how his friends' grand piano could have been stolen from their flat - the door to the apartment was locked, no one used the elevators and the windows are much too small.

I liked this, especially after a number of less involving stories. And I think the solution to the impossible theft is quite good, actually. The story's a bit on the silly side, but a bit of levity was sorely needed by now.

Maurice Leblanc - Arsène Lupin in Prison

Gentleman thief Arsène Lupin is in prison, and yet somehow manages to steal a painting from a baron who's known for being a recluse and doesn't allow anyone inside his manor.

Again, I thought this was easily seen through, and the solution relies on one of my least liked features of impossible mysteries. Though I guess for Leblanc the impossibility itself isn't the main point, it's Lupin's cleverness that is the focus.

L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace - The Mystery of the Strong Room

A diamond has been switched for an imitation even though it was kept in a strong room which was impossible to penetrate.

Meade & Eustace wrote several different impossible tales, as we've seen over the course of these anthologies. It's a pity they're all fairly dull. In this case the solution is a bit of a cheat as it's completely impossible for the reader to figure out any part of it.

Dennis Lynds - No Way Out

Previously discussed in this post.

C. Daly King - The Episode of the Codex' Curse

Previously discussed in this post.

Dorothy L. Sayers - The Poisoned Dow '08

Montague Egg, travelling wine salesman, has come to visit one of his customers when he finds policemen at the premises and learns that the customer has died from a poisoned port he sold the night before. But the bottle had not been opened before...

Montague Egg is a fun acquaintance, though he does have some whimsy in him. This is rather a clever murder method, and I liked this whole thing quite a bit.

Margaret Frazer - A Traveller's Tale

Previously discussed in this post.

P. G. Wodehouse - Death at the Excelsior

One of the inhabitants of a boarding house has been found killed by snake venom in a room with a locked door. The windows were admittedly open, but the room was situated on the second floor.

A straight up mystery story from the king of comedic writing. This is actually not all that bad, though quite silly. The murder method would never work in reality, but I like Wodehouse's chutzpah in using it.

Martin Edwards - Waiting for Godstow

Previously discussed in this post.


If you're at all interested in locked rooms and impossible mysteries, obviously you need this anthology. In fact, I'd go so far as saying that this is the first one you should get. It has all the classics, it has several stories by the later masters (Carr, Hoch, Rawson, Pronzini et al), it has several more unknown stories, and so on. The only drawback is for a reader who hasn't committed himself to impossibilities - there are so many stories here!

 As you've noticed, I wasn't particularly taken with all the stories here - there's quite a few low points among all the great stuff. But that doesn't matter, there's still a lot to enjoy here. I simply couldn't do without this collection of stories.

So, what stories to include then? Well, it's a bunch, of course. Some because of their classic status ("The Problem of Cell 13", "The Two Bottles of Relish", "The Tea Leaf" and "In a Telephone Cabinet"), and some because I like them enough that I think they should be included: "Department of Impossible Crimes", "The Doctor's Case", "A Knife Between Brothers", "The Glass Gravestone", "The Crooked Picture", "The Man from Nowhere", "The Twelfth Statue", "The Theft of the Bermuda Penny", "Room Number 23", "Where Have You Gone, Sam Spade?", "The Border-Line Case", "The Strange Case of Steinkelwintz" and "The Poisoned Dow '08".

On Beneath the Stains of Time, TomCat was even more thorough than I was when reviewing this volume, dedicating a whopping seven posts to it. The following link leads to the final instalment, which includes links to all the six preceding ones: http://moonlight-detective.blogspot.se/2015/03/uncage-black-lizard-part-vii-closing.html


The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (ed. Otto Penzler) - part one

So, we've come to the big tome. 68 stories, where all the ubiquitous stories are present and accounted for. But with that number of stories, there is room for a number of lesser known ones as well.

Otto Penzler is perhaps best known as the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop, perhaps the only still existing brick & mortar bookstore with a focus on mystery and crime literature - at least it's one of very few such shops. He is also the founder of Mysterious Press and editor of several volumes of mystery, horror and other speculative fiction anthologies and collections.

Since there are so many stories here, even though many of them have actually been previously discussed on this blog, I've decided to split this post in two parts.

Edgar Allan Poe - The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Previously discussed in this post.

Jacques Futrelle - The Problem of Cell 13

The Thinking Machine bets that he will be able to break out of a prison cell in less than a week. He is imprisoned in Chisholm Prison, with only such items that a real prisoner would have.

It's interesting that this otherwise ubiquitous story hasn't been selected for any of the other anthologies we've looked at here, because this is a true classic of the genre. It's a bit of a cheat, because the prison cell is made exactly so it fits the Thinking Machine's plans to get out, but still an awesome story.

Wilkie Collins - A Terribly Strange Bed

Previously discussed in this post.

Lord Dunsany - The Two Bottles of Relish

Every lead points to the fact that a man called Otherthorpe has killed a young lady, because she was seen to enter his house, and then she never came out again. And yet no one can find her...

Another one of those true classics in the genre. There are certain features that perhaps explain why it's less anthologised, but it truly belongs in any comprehensive study of the impossible mystery genre.

G. K. Chesterton - The Invisible Man

Previously discussed in this post.

Melville Davisson Post - The Doomdorf Mystery

Previously discussed in this post.

Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Previously discussed in this post.

John Dickson Carr - The Wrong Problem

Previously discussed in this post.

William Hope Hodgson - The Thing Invisible

Previously discussed in this post.

James Yaffe - Department of Impossible Crimes

A stockbroker has been killed in an elevator upon leaving his nephew and his wife. He was seen entering it, but when it reached the first floor, he was lying on the floor with a knife in his back.

A very good setup from Yaffe. It's noticeable that this was his first story, because the solution is fairly obvious, but it's still a fine tale.

R. Austin Freeman - The Aluminium Dagger

Previously discussed in this post.

Gerald Kersh - The Crewel Needle

A former policeman tells the story of the case that forced him to retire - an old lady and her eight year old niece were living together in their flat. One night the niece calls out that her aunt has been killed, and she is found inside their locked bedroom with a needle thrust into her brain.

Well, the seasoned reader will see through this immediately, because it's only the reader's preconceptions that could keep them from solving the impossibility.

Stephen King - The Doctor's Case

Dr Watson solves the case of the killing of Lord Hull, who was found in his locked study with a dagger in his back.

I thought this Sherlock Holmes pastiche was really good fun. I'm not sure the explanation completely holds water, but it's still a pretty imaginative solution.
Manly Wade Wellman - A Knife Between Brothers

In an Indian reservation, an old man has been killed with a knife in his back inside his kitchen. The only person who could have committed the crime is his brother, with whom he shared the cabin.

This was another good story. It's not really a locked room and the killer is fairly obvious, but it's still a clever and interesting tale.

Joseph Commings - The Glass Gravestone

Senator Banner is investigating a case where a United Nations delegate has had his throat cut while travelling alone on an elevator, in full view of several witnesses.

Commings comes up with the goods as usual. Sure, the impossible situation is clearly better than the solution, but it's still an imaginative and fun explanation that Senator Banner gives us.

Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace - The Tea Leaf

Arthur Kelstern has been stabbed to death in a steam room. The only suspect is Hugh Willoughton, a man with whom he had a quarrel, because they were the only ones present. Willoughton leaves, and some time later Kelstern is found dead, but no weapon can be found anywhere Willoughton has been.

This is another one of those classic impossibilities - probably the one with the most famous solution - so again it's interesting that we've not seen it in any of those previous anthologies. It's a good tale and the solution is really good, no wonder it's still referenced everywhere.

Peter Godfrey - The Flung-Back Lid

Previously discussed in this post.

John Lutz - The Crooked Picture

A compromising photo has been used to blackmail a couple. They got it into their possession, but during the same night the photo disappears again. The blackmailer burgled their place and managed to get the photo, but even though he was shot and killed while running away, the photo cannot be found.

In the course of this fairly short story, we get an extra impossibility with a corpse found in a completely locked room. That impossibility is actually the better one. Otherwise, a fairly fun story to read and as I said, the second impossible situation is not bad at all.

Carter Dickson - Blind Man's Hood

Previously discussed in this post.

Edward D. Hoch - The Man from Nowhere

Simon Ark learns of Douglas Zadig, a man who appeared from nowhere and became a well-known author and prophet. Ark and his friend visit Zadig's house, and that day, he goes for a walk, and while returning he collapses and dies, stabbed, even though he is in full view of several witnesses and no one sees anyone near him.

Another great Hoch tale. It's not all that hard to spot the killer, but Hoch still manages to weave an interesting tale - relying on the old Kaspar Hauser legend - and the solution, though a bit on the obvious side, definitely works.

Fredric Brown - The Laughing Butcher

Previously discussed in this post.

Michael Innes - The Sands of Thyme

Previously discussed in this post.

Samuel Hopkins Adams - The Flying Death

Previously discussed in this post.

A. E. Martin - The Flying Corpse

A married couple are out driving when they come across a man lying naked and dead in a field, some ways off from the main road. He was shot in the head from a very short distance, but there's no tracks anywhere near the man.

It's an imaginative solution, though I think it should have been obvious to all investigators from the beginning knowing the players involved in the drama. Otherwise, it's an all right story, nothing more.

Vincent Cornier - The Flying Hat

A young suitor is found with what looks like a bullet wound, lying in the snow, but no one has seen any shooter in the vicinity. And then suddenly the man's hat comes flying through the air...

I find Cornier's writing tough going, to be honest. And this story is much too involved for its own good. The solution to how the wound came to be is really good, I just wish that the story surrounding it was better.

Hugh Pentecost - The Day the Children Vanished

Previously discussed in this post.

Stanley Ellin - The Twelfth Statue

A shady film mogul disappears completely from the site in Italy where they are shooting one of his movies. Though the police search the site thoroughly no trace of him is found.

I liked this. The setup is great, and the explanation for why he was never found is really good, if perhaps a tad too easy to spot.

William Irish - All at Once, No Alice

A married couple reach a town where the hotels are more or less fully occupied, but the husband manages to wrangle a small room for his wife, while he himself find more seedy lodgings for the night. But when he returns the following day, the wife is gone and no one will admit that they saw her the night before.

So, a setup most of us will recognise. The focus of this story is on the husband's woes and attempts to get the police to listen to him, and that might explain why the solution is so obvious and hackneyed. An exciting and thrilling finale still makes it a good read.

Edmund Crispin - Beware of the Trains

Previously discussed in this post.

H. R. F. Keating - The Locked Bathroom

A frequently put upon husband suddenly vanishes while taking a shower in the bathroom. Even though his wife was present, she never noticed where he went.

A silly little story with a cute impossibility.

Dashiell Hammett - Mike, Alec and Rufus

The Continental Op investigates a case where a family has been robbed by a masked robber. The robber left the flat, ran up the stairs and then vanished. A search reveals no traces of the robber.

When hard-boiled mystery writers resort to these hoary old tricks for their mysteries, then you know that their high horse is more like a pony. The impossibility and its solution are fine, but the big reveal at the end - tsk, tsk.

C. Daly King - The Episode of the Torment IV

Previously discussed in this post.

Julian Hawthorne - Greaves' Disappearance

The titular man vanishes in the middle of the street while walking along with a friend. They stop to watch a commotion in the street, and when the friend turns around Greaves is no longer next to him.

This really isn't much cop. A crap impossibility with an equally crap solution, and the narrator must be the dimmest bulb in the lamp shop.

Ellery Queen - The House of Haunts

Previously discussed in this post (under its original title "The Lamp of God").

J. E. Gordon - The Monkey Trick

A policeman and a young man see an airplane descend and land in the middle of nowhere, but when they approach, there is no one inside the plane and there's no traces of anyone having left. When the police goes off to report the crash, the plane takes off with the young man inside. And then, just a short time later, the plane crashes in the other end of the country with the young man's belongings inside.

This was a bit bewildering. I'm still not sure who flew the plane... Not really my cup of tea.

E. C. Bentley - The Ordinary Hairpins

Trent gets wind of a case where a noble lady disappeared from a cruise ship after her husband and son had been killed in an accident.

There's never really any doubt about what happened - it really beggars belief that Trent is the only one who can see it.

Jacques Futrelle - The Phantom Motor

A car enters a stretch of road which is guarded by a police constable at each end and walled off on both sides, but never comes out again. The next night, the same thing happens again.

It's an imaginative solution, but I have a hard time seeing that anyone would actually commit the mistake necessary for it to ever occur. It should have been obvious to the observers.

Edward D. Hoch - The Theft of the Bermuda Penny

Nick Velvet is hired to steal a one cent coin from Bermuda. He makes the acquaintance of the person who has it in his possession, a certain Alfred Cazar. They agree to travel together by car. Nick drives, and Cazar sits in the back. When they reach their destination, Cazar is nowhere to be found.

As usual with Hoch, this is a wonderful set-up, and I think Hoch fulfils every expectation of the reader with his solution to this impossibility. Perhaps Nick could have been a bit more attentive, but that's a minor quibble.

Judson Philips - Room Number 23

Three people, a sister and brother and a detective they've hired because she has some jewels that need to be guarded, are staying in three adjacent rooms at a hotel. The sister is seen entering her room, and soon after she is heard screaming out. The brother and the detective exit their rooms and start knocking on her door. But when they enter, she is nowhere to be found.

This is rather clever from Philips - perhaps better known as Hugh Pentecost. I do think the bits after the impossible crime should have been seen through by the local law, but on the whole this is a successful story.

And this is where we end part one. See you again in part two, in a day or two.


The Realm of the Impossible (ed. John Pugmire & Brian Skupin)

John Pugmire might be best known as the man behind Locked Room International (LRI) a publishing house that started as a way of translating and publishing impossible mysteries by Paul Halter, but has lately branched out to other authors, first only from France, but lately from other countries as well. And Brian Skupin is one of the publishers behind Mystery Scene Magazine, one of the most award winning mystery magazines around.

Together, they've gathered a bunch of generally never before collected impossible mystery stories in this volume (there's just a handful that I have seen elsewhere). A couple of the stories are specially written for this collection, and there are many stories from the non English-speaking world.

But not only that, they also add a number of descriptions real world instances of impossible crimes, some solved, some unsolved. I guess they could be seen as a bit of a gimmick, but a couple of them are quite interesting.

Pet peeve rant time: I always get annoyed by the way we (by "we" I mean the "Western world", for lack of a better term) handle the naming customs of the Far East. I know that the custom there is to present the family name first and the "Christian name" last. But why we have to follow that custom, I don't really know. Especially since we don't do that with Hungarian names, even though they have the same custom.

But what's even more annoying is when it's handled in different ways in different stories of the same anthology. And that's unfortunately the case with this anthology, where the Taiwanese story (by Szu-Yen Lin) and the second and final Japanese story (by Soji Shimada) is handled the way I like it - "Christian name" first, family name last - but the first Japanese story (by Rintarō Norizuki) does it the other way round - family name first, "Christian name" last. Yet, note that the name of the author in question is presented the Western way. Big sigh.

Paul Halter - Jacob's Ladder

Dr. Twist is told about a case where one of three brothers is killed by a fall from a great height. However, there's no mountains or anything similar for several miles around, so how did he die?

A clever story with a elegant and simple solution. As usual, I find that Halter works best in the shorter format.

Christianna Brand - Cyanide in the Sun

A serial killer is at work in a British seaside resort. And one day, one of the guests at a guesthouse is killed by eating a sandwich that was prepared by all the other guests who all were in sight of each other the entire time.

Another really good tale with a great impossibility and solution to start off this anthology. This is a lesser known story by Brand so it's extra great that Pugmire&Skupin have rescued it from obscurity.

Ulf Durling - Windfall

An old baron is found dead, lying under an apple tree, supposedly from natural causes.

I found this harder to enjoy. Durling's writing style takes some getting used to - everything is obscured and nothing is told straightforwardly - and I thought this made it hard to actually realise what the impossibility was. In fact, I didn't understand it until I was told the solution. So not the best story I've ever read.

Joseph Ε kvoreckΓ½ - The Case of the Horizontal Trajectory

An old woman is killed in her locked room with a dagger-like object through the eye. The door is locked, though the window was open.

I wasn't completely enamoured with this tale either. The police detective of the story was a bit hard to take, and as with the Durling story I thought the writing style was a bit difficult. The solution to the impossibility was pretty good though. A fun ending.

Freeman Wills Crofts - The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express

A man and a woman are found killed in their compartment. It's soon shown that their only fellow passenger in the compartment, a young woman, couldn't have committed the murder.

This is one of Crofts's most well-known stories, even though it doesn't feature Inspector French. The impossibility is fine, as is the solution.

Mary Fortune - Dead Man in the Scrub

Set in the Australian bush, a man is found dead inside a tent. He's been lying there a long time, but there is no obvious entrance that the killer could have used.

Nothing much is made of the impossibility, since the author chose to put the focus elsewhere, and to be honest it's not fantastic either. Any investigator worth his salt should have noticed how it worked.

Melville Davisson Post - The Hidden Law

Uncle Abner investigates the case where an old prospector is hearing strange noises inside his locked cabin during the night. Somehow some of his gold has disappeared...

Okay, this is just stupid. When I was young, I read a Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge story with the same solution, and even then I realised how stupid it was.

Alexandre Dumas - House Call

A young woman has been abducted from her boarding school, even though her room was locked from the inside.

The impossibility here wasn't the greatest, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed Dumas's writing. Is it possible that what it takes for me to enjoy a story from the 1700s or the 1800s is that it should actually be written by a person from that century?

Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy Casares - The Twelve Figures of the World

A man recounts the story of when he was invited to a secret society and asked to perform an initiation rite. During that rite, one of the members is killed and then the house is burned down.

The impossibility is good and the solution is fine as well, but for some reason I didn't really enjoy this story. I think it's possibly the way Borges & Casares write the story, and there's some casual xenophobia towards the end that stuck out to me as well.

Herodotus - Rhampsinitos and the Thief

A thief manages to enter the king's chamber and steals some of his riches without leaving any traces of how he entered.

This is an old legend from Egypt, and can be said to be one of the first stories with an underlying impossible mystery. But since this is not a mystery, there is no particular focus on that bit. An interesting read, nevertheless.

Poul Anderson - Martian Crown Jewels

Previously discussed in this post.

Dudley Hoys - Leaving No Evidence

An American tourist in Lebanon is told by his guide how people vanish on a certain stretch of road. And when they too venture out on the road their companions disappear, one after another...

This isn't really a mystery either, but rather something similar to horror. I don't know if the impossibility really would have worked, but it's still a pretty fun explanation.

Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay - The Venom of the Tarantula

Somehow, a man who is immobile and constantly under watch from his family is still receiving drugs from somewhere.

I thought the solution here was fairly easy to see through. Perhaps one of the drawbacks when you make a room too well locked - there's generally just one way to penetrate it then... An okay read, nothing more.

Victor L. Whitechurch - Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture

An entire train waggon - sitting in the middle of the train - containing certain pieces of art disappears while the train is on the way between two stations.Though it is quickly found, the paintings are no longer present.

This is a great impossibility with a perfect solution that I definitely didn't see through. I wish Whitechurch had done a bit more with it, because that bit's really just a short part of the whole story. Still, a very good read.

Szu-Yen Lin - The Miracle on Christmas Eve

A young boy believes in Santa Claus and all the Christmas trappings, and gets some flak from his classmates about it. So his father invite them all into their house before Christmas - he has promised to prove Santa Claus's existence. He says he will leave them presents inside a closed and locked room, while they are sleeping outside the door.

This is not a mystery (well, it's not a crime, at least), but it's the awesomest, bestest story of them all. This may have something to do with the sentimental streak in me, but this was enormously affecting to me. And of course it's no drawback that the impossible situation is wonderful, with an equally wonderful solution.

Aleksis Kivi - Seven Brothers

In the snow, the footprints of a man come to a sudden stop and instead the tracks of a fox are visible.

Being an extract from a much longer tale, this is just a short vignette, and not a mystery story either. Clever, though being what it is there's no chance of fair clueing or anything of that sort.

Afonso Carreiro - Lying Dead and Turning Cold

A group of people are gathered in a country house a snowy winter evening. They hear a shriek or a howl outside, and one of them exits the house. The others soon follow him and when they reach him he is unconscious just beside the corpse of a man, with no other footprints leading to the dead man but those of the unconscious man.

Now, there's some beautiful misdirection by Carreiro in this story. Otherwise, the impossibility isn't all that hard to solve, but Carreiro hides it quite well. In all, a fine story.

Edward D. Hoch - The "Impossible" Impossible Crime

Two men are on an expedition alone in northern Canada. They live in a cabin in the woods with snow surrounding them everywhere. One morning, one of them finds the other sitting by the breakfast table, shot from a distance. But the windows were all opaque because of the snow and frost.

As usual with Hoch, this is a clever setup. There's really not much question of who the culprit is, but Hoch manages with some sleight of hand to hide the solution as well as he possibly can.

Elizabeth Peters - The Locked Tomb Mystery

In Pharaonic Egypt, an old woman has died and has been interred in a mountain chamber. The following year, a priest and her son find that her tomb has been robbed.

The impossibility is very good, but the solution is rather obvious, I'd have to say. Or at least the culprit. The exact workings of the impossibility is quite involved, perhaps a tad too involved.

Samuel W. Taylor - Deadfall

Two men are together in a cabin at winter. One of them has injured his leg, and the other is not savvy enough to find the way back to their car. So they are stuck together, and when one of them finds footprints in the snow, leaving the cabin but never returning, tensions start to fray...

A very clever little story. It's interesting to compare this with Hoch's previous tale, because they have certain things in common. I liked the prosaic solution to the impossibility, and Taylor's way of writing is an important part of the misdirection.

Rintarō Norizuki - The Lure of the Green Door

A man has been found hanging in his study. The main door was locked, and the only other door to the room hasn't been opened for a long time and is therefore completely stuck.

I'll never quite get used to some of the cultural differences between Japan and here - there's always something that'll make my head spin a bit. But this was a good story, and I thought it had a pretty clever solution to the impossibility, all things told.

Pietro de Palma - The Barese Mystery

An old book collector is found dead in his study with books scattered all over the floor. The door is locked and the shutters outside both the windows were closed and impossible to move.

This specially written story from fellow blogger Pietro de Palma is a fine impossible tale with a clever solution.

Jochen FΓΌseler - The Witch Doctor's Revenge

A man phones the police, reporting a strange case where he and his friend were threatened and cursed by a witchdoctor during an expedition in Africa. And now his friend has called him, screaming that he needs help, but when he reached his friend's hotel room, no one answers his knocks.

That's a marvellous set-up, folks, and I have to say that FΓΌseler does well with his explanation. This story was also specially written for this volume, and I think it's noticeable that FΓΌseler is not a professional writer, because there are some bits that ring a bit false, particularly the ending with the secretary, which comes a bit out of left field. But as a mystery, it's really good.

Charles B. Child - All the Birds of the Air

A man has been killed by a blow on the head inside a room with no windows and the door was watched - perhaps a bit fitfully, but still watched. The only thing found inside with the dead man is a dead bird.

I thought the solution was kinda clever, though I'm not sure I think the tale was really an impossible one - the sleeping guard sort of opens other possibilities, I think.

L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace - The Warder of the Door

A family father asks his son never to marry, having a fear that their family is cursed. Their ghosts are tasked with guarding a door to a secret chamber.

This was perhaps the low point of this anthology. Really hokey and silly.

Soji Shimada - The Locked House of Pythagoras

An artist and his mistress are found killed in their geometrically strange house. There's papers covering the entire floor in the locked room they died in, and there's no weapon present.

But at least the final story of the volume is here to pick up the slack. This was another really fine tale with a good impossibility and an equally good solution.


On the whole, this was a great read. There are very few true disappointments here, and even though some of the stories felt a bit so-so, there were a lot of stories with great impossibilities and authors that felt new to me. So I had a very good experience with this collection. Warmly recommended to everyone with a passing interest in impossibilities.

I'll be using a whopping 12 stories for my own impossible collection: "Jacob's Ladder", "Cyanide in the Sun", "The Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express", "Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture", "The Miracle on Christmas Eve", "Lying Dead and Turning Cold", "The 'Impossible' Impossible Murder", "Deadfall", "The Lure of the Green Door", "The Barese Mystery", "The Witch Doctor's Revenge" and "The Locked House of Pythagoras".

Being a recent release, this has been discussed by several fellow bloggers.

TomCat over on Beneath the Stains of Time: http://moonlight-detective.blogspot.se/2017/10/the-greatest-miracles-on-earth.html

The Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel:  https://classicmystery.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/the-realm-of-the-impossible-ed-john-pugmire-brian-skupin/

And The Invisible Event: https://theinvisibleevent.com/2017/10/31/307/. J. J. reviewed it in several instalments. This link leads to the final one, with links to all previous ones.