Stray impossibilities - part one

It's been an Easter holiday with a full schedule - Thursday to Saturday I was at Sweden's biggest gaming con, and Sunday was family dinner - but now I guess it's time to return to more mysterious subjects.

The point of this and the following posts is to round off with a number of impossible stories that I've found in collections or anthologies that have not received their own post here on the blog.

These are mainly stories that I think are good enough to include in my project and therefore want to highlight, though I will also discuss a few stories that I've decided to exclude. Because there's quite a lot of stories I want to go through, I'll be dividing this post into three parts, with the final one entirely dedicated to Ed Hoch stories.

Anthony Boucher - The Anomaly of the Empty Man (1953)

Martin Lamb is called in to investigate a case where a man has been found murdered - though his body is never found! All that remains is an "empty man", all his clothes immaculately arranged as though they were sitting on a body.

This is rather wonderful. Boucher follows in the footsteps of John Dickson Carr's novel "The Burning Court" by providing both a rational and a supernatural solution. Simply lovely.

Anthony Boucher - The Smoke-Filled Locked Room (1968)

Politician Stephen Darrow has arranged a caucus in Sacramento, inviting several politicians, lobbyists and journalists. After a rousing speech, he is found dead in his hotel room, but no weapon is found. His door was watched by a maid and only two people were seen to enter.

Another fine story by Boucher. If you want to be picky it might not be a 100% impossible crime, but I don't want to be. Definitely recommended.

Anthony Boucher - Gandolphus (1960)

Fergus O'Breen tells the story of a writer who felt threatened. So to ease his mind, O'Breen and his policeman friend sit guard outside his study while the writer is writing out a statement on his situation. But when O'Breen and the cop enter the study, the writer is dead - seemingly from natural causes.

This is a pure fantasy story, but that doesn't mean it's bad. Similarly to "The Anomaly of the Empty Man", this tale offers both a rational and a supernatural solution, though the rational one is never treated with much respect. A good and interesting read.

Ernest Bramah - The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage (1914)

Blind investigator Max Carrados receives a visitor, a Lieutenant Hollyer, who tells him a story of his sister and her husband. He is certain that the husband intends to kill Hollyer's sister, though he isn't certain how he intends to do it.

This is only halfway an impossible mystery, but it is one of my favourites from the early days of this subgenre. Carrados is more engaging than most other detectives of the era, and the impossible situation that emerges during his investigations is quite clever.

G. K. Chesterton - The Actor and the Alibi (1927)

Theatre director Mundon Mandeville is killed in his office. Father Brown and a friend are outside and hear a loud crash. An old retainer has been sitting outside the entire time and saw no one exit the room, yet no one apart from the dead body is found inside when Father Brown enters.

This is one of those stories where I wish someone else had written it, because it's actually a fine impossible situation (if perhaps not particularly original). But the way Chesterton writes it, the whole thing becomes very bewildering - and not in a good way.

G. K. Chesterton - The Arrow of Heaven (1926)

Father Brown arrives in America and is immediately whisked away to business man Brander Merton's place. A certain Daniel Doom is said to have killed two people who owned an infamous chalice, and now that Merton has acquired the same chalice, he has received a threatening letter signed by this sinister individual. But when Father Brown enters Merton's study, he is dead with an arrow through the neck. There is an open window, but nowhere to fire the arrow from.

There are some similarities in the setting to the anthologised "The Miracle of Moon Crescent". This tale is fairly easy to see through. There is really only one person who can be responsible. The impossibility is also easily solved, and the explanation has been used by Chesterton at other times. An all right read, nothing more.

G. K. Chesterton - The Blast of the Book (1935)

Professor Openshaw is told the story of a book that when opened immediately causes the reader to vanish from the face of the earth. He leaves the room, and when he returns the man telling him this story has disappeared and the book lies open on his desk.

A rather amusing read. The impossibility is very easy to see through, especially since Chesterton liked to use similar types of situations with the same kind of explanation.

G. K. Chesterton - The Curse of the Golden Cross (1926)

After a sea voyage across the ocean from the USA, where Father Brown was told a story of the opening of an old tomb that is rumoured to be from the time of Christ, the fellow travellers all accidentally(?) meet up by that tomb. One of them is nearly killed when the tomb suddenly closes, and some time later the local vicar is found dead.

I don't really see why Robert Adey considers this an impossible mystery, because it isn't. Nor is it a particularly good story.

G. K. Chesterton - The Hammer of God (1911)

A colonel is found dead by the church door with a terrible wound in his head. The wound is so bad that it couldn't have been made simply by a man's hand. But surely it wasn't the titular hammer?

That really explains it all, as long as you just stop to think about it. The solution is not all that bad, but very easily seen through.

G. K. Chesterton - The Man in the Passage (1914)

An actress is killed in her room, and two rivals for her affection claim that they saw someone in the passage outside, but they cannot agree on that persons looks.

Okay, this is admittedly quite amusing. But it definitely cannot be taken seriously because a solution such as this one doesn't hold water at all.

G. K. Chesterton - The Oracle of the Dog (1926)

Colonel Druce is found killed in his gazebo in the garden, and yet there are no traces of footsteps anywhere outside the gazebo. One strange thing is that at the apparent time of the killing, the  colonel's dog became very agitated and after returning to the house he barks aggressively at one of the suspects.

This is probably Chesterton's most "normal" impossible mystery story, and I think that is to its advantage. The solution to the impossibility is not bad at all (though as always it would be nice with some kind of map). And the prosaic explanation of the dog's behaviour is rather better than the more famous one from Doyle...

G. K. Chesterton - The Red Moon of Meru (1927)

The titular moon is a jewel which is part of a collection shown on a village fete. While a group of people, including Father Brown, are looking at the collection, the jewel is stolen. But even though the thief is immediately apprehended, the jewel is not found on him.

Another one that is very easily seen through. I think it's fair to say by now that Chesterton's Father Brown stories are mysteries for people who don't read mysteries - anyone who does will find his plots very basic.

G. K. Chesterton - The Secret Garden (1911)

A decapitated body is found in chief of police Valentin's garden. Then some time later another severed head is found some distance away. But the only person who left the garden is the person whose head was found...

This is actually rather clever. The misdirection is one of Chesterton's better and I like the solution, though it's really far-fetched.

G. K. Chesterton - The Song of the Flying Fish (1927)

The titular fish are made of gold, and they are stolen from a room that was guarded by two men. One of them sees someone on the street and hurries to bolt the front door so they cannot get in, while his fellow guard watches the man from the balcony. And yet when the guards check on the golden fish immediately after, they have disappeared.

Another example of that solution that Chesterton favoured. And if you've read one, you've read them all.

G. K. Chesterton - The Vanishing of Vaudrey (1927)

Sir Arthur Vaudrey leaves his house and is seen entering the village by two members of his household. But no one else in the village sees him and he never returns. Instead, he is found the following day with his throat cut.

Unfortunately, Chesterton doesn't tell the reader enough to solve the mystery. Otherwise, this is not bad at all - the solution is quite clever and even though the motive is a bit far-fetched, it still carries a punch.

Joseph Commings - Serenade to a Killer (1957)

Senator Banner is celebrating Christmas by giving the children at an orphanage a magic show. He is approached by a local reporter who tells him a story of a man who was killed in his gazebo, and yet there are no footprints leading there.

Another one of those "no footprints in the snow" thingamajigs. The solution is not perfect (I'm not sure the killer would actually have been able to do what he needed to), but still rather effective. An enjoyable read, nonetheless.

Edmund Crispin - Too Clever for Scotland Yard (1960)

A man has died while in prison. At first people believe it's from natural causes, but an anonymous letter with accusations of murder leads to an exhumation of the body which shows that the cause of death was in fact poison.

A good yarn. The explanation for the murder is really good. This story deserves to be more well known.

Edmund Crispin - A Country to Sell (1955)

Christopher Bradbury consults Gervase Fen with a problem. He is a secret agent who had communicated sensitive information over the telephone, and somehow this information had got out and led to a murder.

A pretty nifty little story by Crispin. Fen is as acerbic as ever, and although I defy any reader to be able to find the explanation before Fen tells it to us, it's still quite satisfying.

I'll end part one here and move on to part two in a few days' time.

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