Blood on the Tracks (ed. Martin Edwards)

A railway anthology! Yay! There's no setting I enjoy more than a train setting, and there's nothing I enjoy more than a mystery. So railway mysteries are my very favourites of all time.

There's something organic about how a train becomes a closed off setting for mysteries, because as long as it's not a local train, there will be lots of time between stations and that naturally allows the detective some time to solve the crime. Snowed-in castles and boats can fulfil the same natural set-up, but there's just something about the rails...

Anyway, except for this anthology focussing on train settings, this is a standard British Library Crime Classics anthology set-up. Older authors in the beginning, newer ones towards the end, and a mix of a bit of everything.

But since this revolves around trains, surely it'll automatically place itself somewhere in the top of the rankings? Well, you'll just have to read on to find out.

Arthur Conan Doyle - The Man with the Watches

As a train is about to depart from Euston Station bound for Manchester, a pair of travellers - a middle-aged man and a young woman - arrive just in time to catch it. But a couple of stops later, attention is drawn to their compartment where the door is hanging open. When this compartment and the neighbouring one are searched, it turns out that the two, as well as a younger man from that neighbouring compartment, have gone missing. But instead, in their compartment there is the dead body of a man with six watches in his pockets.

This is one of the two apocrypha of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon - there is a "famous detective" referred to, though he is never named. To be honest, both Doyle's apocryphal stories are generally better mysteries than the Sherlock Holmes ones. They come as close to being fair play as Doyle ever got, and they show that Doyle could plot with the best of them. A fine start to this anthology.

L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace - The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel

John Bell is an investigator of unexplainable phenomena, and in this story he is approached by Bainbridge, a man from a railroad company in Wales who wants him to investigate the death of a signalman just next to Felwyn Tunnel, where the dead man was surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs (and the tunnel), and there were signs that he had tried to escape something by climbing one of the cliffs. And then when Bell and Bainbridge return to Wales, they receive news of a second death at the same spot.

Meade & Eustace wrote several impossible crimes, but this isn't one of them. I think it's a fairly clever tale, better than most of their impossible ones, to be honest. The solution to the mystery is well-grounded in science, and I'm sure it would work in real life as well.

Matthias McDonnell Bodkin - How He Cut His Stick

A man is tasked with carrying a bag of bank gold on the train from London to one of the bank's branch offices, and is attacked and robbed of the gold without seeing his assailant. Suspicion falls heavily on the carrier, but the bank manager enlists female investigator Dora Myrl to investigate the case.

Now we're getting closer to fair play mystery clueing, though I can't say I was all that impressed with the story as a whole. There's never any doubt about who the villain is. A bit disappointing.

Baroness Orczy - The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway

The Old Man in the Corner and Polly Burton discuss a case where a woman has been found dead on an underground railway carriage (first class - those were the days!), with suspicions first going towards suicide, though the Old Man has different thoughts.

This is on the whole a pleasant and good story. I can't say that the culprit comes as much of a surprise, and it has to be said that the police must have been dimmer than most not to be able to identify how the woman was killed. Still, as I said, a pleasant and nice read.

Victor L. Whitechurch - The Affair of the Corridor Express

A young boy disappears on board a train, and there's no sign of him when the train is searched from front to end. Thorpe Hazell, the railway detective, is put on the case to try to work out what could have happened to him.

An impossible crime on a train, no less! As awesome as it sounds, the whole thing didn't wholly satisfy me. I just think that the solution was a bit too far-fetched, even though it's very prosaic. It's still a very good tale, it just didn't fully live up to my expectations when I'd read the problem. I'll need to search out more stories from Whitechurch, I think.

R. Austin Freeman - The Case of Oscar Brodski

Jewel thief Silas Hickler meets an old acquaintance, Oscar Brodski. When it turns out that Brodski is in possession of several diamonds, Hickler decides to kill him and steal the jewels. He arranges things to look as if Brodski met his fate on the railway tracks, but then Dr. Thorndyke enters the scene and starts investigating the whole thing.

As you see, this is an inverted mystery story - possibly the first one ever - which is the main thing against it. Because otherwise, this is a very fine short story indeed. Well, "short" might be a misnomer, it's almost a novella in length. I've often said that I don't like inverted mysteries, but this makes the investigation quite interesting, and since the culprit is such a blackguard it's good to see how his comeuppance comes closer with every second.

Roy Vickers - The Eighth Lamp

Signalman George Raoul is haunted by an underground train that only he can hear nearing the station where he works. Each day the train is heard coming just a little bit nearer...

Yeah, so from that description you'll probably be able to guess that this is not a mystery, it's a ghost/horror story. There's some criminous elements on the fringes, but this story really shouldn't be in a mystery anthology. But is it any good? I don't know, I guess it's kind of effective. But since I'm no aficionado I find it hard to review it.

Ernest Bramah - The Knight's Cross Signal Problem

Max Carrados investigates a baffling event where a passenger train ran past a signal and crashed into another, resulting in several people killed. Could the experienced train driver really have missed the signal, or is something more sinister going on?

I've mentioned before that Bramah's stories are an early precursor into the Golden Age, and he often writes fair play stories. This is one of them, and features a very interesting motive on the part of the culprit. There's no mistaking the story being from the early 1900s, but it's still a good read.

Dorothy L. Sayers - The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face

A man has been found washed up on the beach with his face disfigured, and Lord Peter Wimsey gets interested in the case.

This isn't the best Sayers story I've read, that's for sure. It's a bit too steeped in melodrama, I feel, and compared with some of her better works this comes up a cropper. The railway connection is pretty tenuous, also.

F. Tennyson Jesse - The Railway Carriage

Solange Fontaine is travelling on a train which is derailed.

I said that the Vickers story didn't really belong in this collection, but this is even worse. I mean, I couldn't even come up with anything even remotely criminous to use in my short description of the story. This is not a mystery story, it's simply a story. A story with some supernatural elements, but it definitely is completely and thoroughly out of place here.

Sapper - Mystery of the Slip-Coach

An elderly bookmaker has been murdered in a train compartment. There was no way to get to the train car where the murder happened from the rest of the train, and there are only four other passengers present in that particular car. Now all Ronald Standish has to do is to find out which of them committed the murder...

This is, in a sense, an impossible crime, though I think the author could have made those aspects much more integrated into the case. But it's a good story, though it has to be said that there is a bit too much coincidence involved in how the crime was committed.

Freeman Wills Crofts - The Level Crossing

Dunstan Thwaite has made his mind up to kill his blackmailer, John Dunn. He plans everything meticulously, and then finally the fateful night has come...

So, an inverted tale, and no Inspector French either. This is not really the type of story I enjoy, as you will probably know by now. If you do, then you will probably like this story, for it is well-written.

Ronald Knox - The Adventure of the First-Class Carriage

Sherlock Holmes is approached by a caretaker, coming to report on her master, who has been coming with suicidal hints in the presence of his wife. Holmes and Watson sets out to follow him on the train, where they are surprised to find that he is throwing bits of paper through the window. They managed to get their hands on one, which again seem to be suicide notes.

Knox manages to craft a fairly Doyle-an tale, though that is rather to its detriment, because he emulates those bits in Doyle's writings that are the main problem with Holmes - it's simply not fair play at all. Otherwise, a pleasant enough read.

Michael Innes - Murder on the 7.16

Inspector John Appleby is in charge of investigating a case where movie director Lemuel Whale has been killed on the set of the film he was directing.

This is just a cute little story, there's no real investigating of any kind. The culprit confesses everything and that's when we find out everything that happened. Still, it was amusing and being as short as it was, I didn't mind it being here.

Michael Gilbert - The Coulman Handicap

The police have it on good authority that mrs Coulman is fencing stolen goods, and they set up an elaborate scheme to follow her to her contacts. Unfortunately, Sergeant Petrella manages to lose her when she goes into a pub and never appears again.

So, it's a bit of an impossible problem then. Unfortunately, the train connection is very tenuous, and there's not much of a mystery involved. There's never any focus on the impossible situation, it's just revealed as an aside as Petrella manages to get hold of the culprit. A bit disappointing.


I know that immediately after reading this collection, I felt fairly disappointed with it all. But going through it again now for this write-up, I find that I actually enjoyed it a bit more than I remembered. The main problems with the collection are that there are no true standouts among the stories, that it features two absolute non-mysteries, and that, unlike several others of the BLCC anthologies, it tapers off towards the end.

But there are many interesting stories here that are worth reading nonetheless. I liked the tales by Doyle, Bramah, Meade & Eustace, Sapper and Whitechurch, for example, and if you're more tolerant of inverted mysteries than I am, then there are a couple more to look forward to.

Kate agrees with me in praising this anthology at crossexaminingcrime, though we differ in which stories we highlight... And Aidan echoes us in enjoying the collection at Mysteries Ahoy.

Where does it go in my rankings of BLCC anthologies, you (probably don't) ask?

1. Miraculous Mysteries - no surprise there, this is an impossible crime anthology, so it has lots of things going for it that elevate it above all the other collections.
2. Silent Nights - the quality of the collections here in the middle of the list is fairly uniform, but I think this one just manages to go to the top. A good variety of stories and a few really good ones.
3. Blood on the Tracks - a collection with few standouts and some truly bewildering inclusions, but on the whole it was still a worthwhile read.
4. The Long Arm of the Law - starts off spottily, but gets better and better, and even though it finishes with one of the worst stories I've ever read it's still distinctly above average.
5. Murder at the Manor - I was thoroughly disappointed that this didn't feature any true country house mysteries. I think there was one fair play mystery among the whole bunch of stories.


Small Crime: Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens

This is the latest novel in Robin Stevens' "A Murder Most Unladylike" series, but we can expect the next instalment later this year, according to the author herself.

As the title intimates, this story takes place in the theatre world, more specifically the Rue Theatre in London, where Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have got small parts to play in a production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It seems that their adventures in Hong Kong in the previous novel has led to them needing some rest before going back to school and thus Daisy's uncle Felix has sent them on to the Rue Theatre, where the owner is an old acquaintance of his wife's.

And since this is a mystery, you'll no doubt not be very surprised to hear that feelings run high among the cast and the staff. In the centre of this turmoil is the leading actress, Rose Tree. She has an antagonistic relationship with most of the others, and soon she is receiving threats and being pranked in more and more horrible ways.

And then finally, she is found dead in a well in the cellar of the theatre building. Since the lid has been replaced over the body, it is apparent that this must be murder. And as Daisy puts it: "Murder is always awful [...] which is why we must detect it."

Everyone has a motive and the young ladies need to apply their best detective skills to find the culprit. And not only that, they need to overcome all the difficulties that the adults put in their way.

So, this is the theatre mystery. I've spoken before on how Stevens seems determined to examine all the different GA tropes, and yes, we've not had a theatre mystery before. As such, it is quite a success. I think this might be the book in the series where I was most surprised by the denouement. Admittedly, when I think it over, I should have seen it coming, but I was just cruising along reading it, and then someone - Stevens - pulled the carpet out from under me.

In general, this novel resembles the others in the series. The girls make up their list of suspects and set out eliminating them one by one. Though there is a bit of a wrinkle, because Daisy is absolutely adamant that one of the suspects must absolutely not be suspected.

We also get to meet competing detectives George and Alexander again. They drop by towards the second half of the novel and help Hazel with some of her investigations, while Daisy is at home with the flu. I always like when George turns up - it's interesting to contrast him with Daisy. They are both brilliant, yet George is a less abrasive personality and probably more socially astute.

However, there is a bugaboo that I'll address here: the (over)representation of minorities in this novel. I know I'm the opposite of every minority out there: I'm white, male, middleaged, heterosexual and fairly affluent. So by all means, keep that in mind.

Among the characters in this book, we get two black actors among the cast, the director and the original leading man, and no less than five or six homosexuals. I just find it hard to see this as a novel taking place in the 1930s - to me it reads as a very modern story for modern readers transposed into a different age. Yeah, this is set in the theatre community, which would perhaps account for a higher percentage of minorities - though that may just be another prejudice of mine...

Sure, Stevens tries to ground all this in the 30s by referring to the illegality of homosexual acts, and also uses this for the plot - which is good! - but no matter, I just find it hard to see that a majority of the main characters in a story set in the 1930s would be gay.

Please don't misunderstand me. I didn't mind reading about this cast of characters at all - the thing I mind is that these charactes are placed in a story set in the 1930s. It just doesn't ring true. To Stevens' credit, she doesn't make a big production out of featuring minority characters. They just happen to be, and apart from using the illegality of homosexuality, nothing in the plot is affected by these characters' status. They're just there, and that's great.

So with that minor quibble out of the way, I must say that I would rate this novel very highly. I think Stevens is very assured of herself as a mystery writer by now. She creates a strong plot with misdirections that could compete with the best of them. She has a great team of characters that she manages to bring to life in a wonderful way. And the plot is really excellent, I cannot stress that enough.

I'd rate this on par with the previous "best in series", First Class Murder. That book had a better setting and a more interesting problem, but this one has the better plot. So, go and read it!

Now I'm just waiting for the next novel in the series...


The Long Arm of the Law (ed. Martin Edwards)

And here we have another anthology in the British Library Crime Classics series. As the title indicates, this is a collection of stories featuring the police in different roles.

Otherwise, this - as we should be used to by now - has the same structure as other BLCC anthologies: a mixture of stories from different genres and times. For once, the opening story is not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though.

With this particular theme, you'd expect quite a lot of police procedurals in this collection, but to be honest, there was quite a lot of variation here as well. As my opinion of police procedurals isn't the highest, I approached this with some apprehension. Find out below what my experience was with the individual stories.

Alice and Claude Askew - The Mystery of Chenholt

Reggie Vane has been given charge of a local police station, and one day he is approached by a butler who reports that he is suspicious of his master, a Mr Darrell, whom he suspects of harbouring plans to poison his wife. As it is difficult to find hard evidence of the butler's suspicions, Vane tasks his fiancée Violet with joining the household to see what she can find out.

This was a bit ho-hum. It's hard to imagine how a police could get away with sending in a female non-police into a household where murder is suspected. It's all a bit improbable. The "surprise" ending didn't come as much of a surprise, either.

Edgar Wallace - The Silence of PC Hirley

PC Lee tells the story of his taciturn colleague Hirley and the case where they both were involved in the investigation of a murdered man. It's a crime where Lee had seen a young man enter a house, and because his suspicions were aroused Lee followed him a minute later, then hearing an awful yell from the second floor. After ascending, he finds the body of a man with a gunshot to the forehead.

This isn't quite an impossible crime - more an improbable one (how on earth could the murderer get away so quickly?) - but being so short, this tale gets the explanation in quickly, showing Hirley's superior reasoning skills over Lee's. An all right vignette, fairly entertaining.

George R. Sims - The Mystery of a Midsummer Night 

Inspector Chance investigates a kidnapping case where a four year old boy has been taken from his bedroom at night without anyone hearing anything. His body is later found in an outhouse on the premises.

This is a run of the mill police procedural story, though of the type that was common during the earliest few decades of the 1900s. There are not many surprises here, and even less so since the foreword tells us which famous real life case the story is based on. I don't mind having read this story, but I guess that's damning it with faint praise...

Laurence W. Meynell - The Cleverest Clue

In this story, a journalist is interviewing Inspector Morton and asks him about the cleverest clues he's come across during his career as a police officer. He recounts the tale of the kidnapping of a professor who's working on an invention that is set to revolutionise aerial warfare thoroughly.

This is rather amusingly told, but there's never any doubt about what's happening (or what's going to happen). Nevertheless, the titular clue is actually quite clever, though rather farfetched as well. I'm guessing most people would never get it - I take some comfort in being a foreigner, who will have a tougher time than most. Another story that was an okay read, not much more.

Gerald Verner - The Undoing of Mr. Dawes

The titular Mr. Dawes is a fence, who induces one of his thieving acquaintances to break into a jeweller's and steal some of their wares. But Superintendent Budd is on his trail...

Another fairly amusing but never mysterious story - there's no detection here either. I liked this a bit less because it's a story of entrapment, and thus would never be allowed in court today.

Roy Vickers - The Man Who Married Too Often

Molly Webster manages to marry a Marquis who's rather too stupid and naive, and then of course it turns out that the Marquis had been married before. And when the previous wife turns up in their neighbourhood, what's a Marchioness to do to protect her young son?

Another story about a crime, and an inverted one at that. And just like the previous story, this is a tale of entrapment and it also features a bit of a nasty sting towards the end. I didn't like this at all.

Leonard R. Gribble - The Case of Jacob Heylyn

An old man has been found dead from a gunshot wound, and everything points to it being suicide. But Inspector Slade has seen some things that don't quite add up.

Well, finally a story with detection and some fair play clues! This wasn't bad at all - it made me want to check out Gribble's "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery". The interplay between the policemen Slade and Jerrold gives this something a little bit extra, at least for this reader.

Freeman Wills Crofts - Fingerprints

Jim Crouch has decided to murder his uncle, being his only heir and needing the money because of a needy girlfriend, and sets things up as neatly as possible to escape suspicion.

That's sort of plot 101 of inverted mysteries, and there's absolutely no surprises here. Even the mistake that the culprit makes is probably among the top 5 mistakes that you've seen in mysteries like this one. So it's fortunate that it's so short, it certainly doesn't overstay it's welcome.

E. C. R. Lorac - Remember to Ring Twice

A police constable overhears a rather suspicious conversation at the pub one night, and commits this to memory. Some time later, he comes across one of the conversationalists in conjunction with a death that looks like an accident.

So, this was actually an impossible crime! Yay! I'd have liked it more if we weren't told from the outset who the culprit was, leaving only the murder method unexplained until the end, but this was still an enjoyable read. Admirably short as well, and manages to get everything done anyway.

Henry Wade - Cotton Wool and Cutlets

Constable Bragg and his new superior, Detective-Inspector Hurst, are investigating a case where a man was found dead with his head in the oven. At first, most things point towards suicide, but Bragg has his suspicions.

This was another story I liked quite a bit. There's never really any surprise in who's guilty, but Wade manages to still inject the story with some liveliness and interesting points, keeping my interest up throughout the whole thing.

Christianna Brand - After the Event

Inspector Cockrill and several other guests at a dinner are regaled with a tale from a Grand Old Man about a murder in a theatre. Of course, Cockrill sees through everything and manages to figure out who the culprit is only through the clues he hears about.

I had read this before, but it's still a great tale. I like the whole setting with Cockrill acting the armchair detective, and Brand manages to get quite a lot of humour from this. Lovely stuff.

Nicholas Blake - Sometimes the Blind...

A blind man is always helped by his cousin, led around everywhere, but one day, there is a terrible car accident where the blind man narrowly escapes but his cousin dies. But was it really an accident?

Blake does well in under five pages here. He manages to get in one important clue. The plot isn't all that difficult to see through, but at least it's still a fair play one.

John Creasey - The Chief Witness

Chief Inspector Roger West investigates what seems like a crime of domestic violence where the husband has killed his wife, leaving his young son to discover the corpse the next day.

A fairly good one, this one as well. This might be the most police procedural-ly of all the stories here. It's not particularly fair play, and I don't think it's all that hard to see where things are going, but still a good read.

Michael Gilbert - Old Mr Martin

An old sweet-seller has died, and when his charwoman is tidying up after him she finds the body of a dead woman in the cellar. Inspector Petrella starts investigating, and soon he finds signs that point toward a previous tenant, who lost his wife during a bombing in WWII.

The streak continues with another eminently readable story. Again, I managed to see through the "twist", but this time I'm actually proud of it, because I think it's better hidden than in the previous stories.

Gil North - The Moorlanders

A policeman has been found unconscious, knocked out next to his motorcycle. Now Sergeant Cluff and his colleagues must find out if it was an accident or something more sinister.

This is a poorly written story, where it's almost impossible to follow what happens. So much goes unsaid that I had to go back a couple of paragraphs every ten seconds, or at least so it felt. Hopelessly bad.


In all, I liked this quite a bit, though it had a bit of a rocky start. I think it's safe to say, from the reviews I've had of the BLCC anthologies so far, that I think they improve towards the end (though this particular one had a very bad ending story). I guess that's not too surprising, given my liking for GA mysteries and less-than-fondness for the writings of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the fact that these anthologies are ordered more or less chronologically.

By now, I think it's time for a ranking of the BLCC anthologies I've reviewed so far.

1. Miraculous Mysteries - no surprise there, this is an impossible crime anthology, so it has lots of things going for it that elevate it above all the other collections.
2. Silent Nights - very close in quality to TLAotL, but I think this one just pips it. A good variety of stories and a few really good ones.
3. The Long Arm of the Law - starts off spottily, but gets better and better, and even though it finishes with one of the worst stories I've ever read it's still distinctly above average.
4. Murder at the Manor - I was thoroughly disappointed that this didn't feature any true country house mysteries. I think there was one fair play mystery among the whole bunch of stories.

Kate was very impressed with this collection over at crossexaminingcrime. And Aidan had several good words for it over on Mysteries Ahoy.


The Ginza Ghost - Keikichi Osaka

This collection of short stories, nearly all of the impossible crime variety, was published by Locked Room International in 2017, in translation by Ho-Ling Wong (of The Case Files of Ho-Ling fame). Osaka wrote these tales over a period of 15 years, during the 1930s and 1940s. Some feature a couple of different series detectives, while others are stand-alone stories.

I had mixed feelings about this collection. We'll come to my opinion on the specific stories below, but my main problem was with the writing. I don't know whether it is Osaka's writing style or the translation - though I've read other translations by the same translator where I didn't have the same problems, which points to the author in this case - but it was a tough slog to read. I had to put it down every few pages, which meant that I couldn't generally finish even one story in a sitting. However, it should be said that comparatively, LRI's publications have more words per page than most other books, so that's at least part of the explanation.

Still, there were definite qualities in the plotting and the explanations of the various impossibilities, so let's get down to specifics.

We begin with "The Hangman of the Department Store", the first story Osaka ever wrote. A man is found strangled to death and with several mysterious wounds on his body. It seems he was thrown to the ground from a department store roof. According to witnesses, there was no opportunity for anyone to enter the store, but at the same time it seems none of the people inside the building could have been responsible either.

It's a pretty fine problem Osaka has created here, and seeing that it's his first story I'm okay with the solution. There's some innovative enthusiasm here, though like some other stories here there's some coincidence required for the solution to work. But definitely a good start to this collection.

In "The Phantasm of the Stone Wall", a woman is murdered on a walkway in front of her home, and witnesses see two men flee from the scene along the road. However, a man walking in the opposite direction claims that he saw no one pass.

This is yet another great set-up, and I think Osaka found a good solution to the impossibility here.  Finding the culprit isn't all that hard, if you've read a couple of impossible crimes before, but the explanation to the disappearance is clever and innovative.

The third story is "The Mourning Locomotive", wherein we're told about a specific locomotive that regularly manages to run over pigs on its travels, always with the same drivers.

Here's where the wheels start to come off. This story is bonkers. Yeah, you might call it innovative, but to me it just doesn't work. People just don't behave this way - unless the differences between Japan and Sweden are bigger than I imagine. The preface says that this is Osaka's masterpiece, but I definitely disagree.

Osaka seems to have liked lighthouses, because "The Monster of the Lighthouse" is just the first story to feature such a structure. In this particular story, the top of the lighthouse is destroyed by a large rock and an octopus-like monster is seen diving into the sea. And at the same time, the lighthouse keeper disappears without a trace.

So, some obvious horror and/or supernatural elements in this story. I definitely felt this worked better than the previous story. It has to be said, though, that the specifics of the solution are a bit convoluted and require a bit of coincidence.

There's more supernaturalisms in "The Phantom Wife" where a servant tells the story of how his mistress took poison after having separated from her husband. The husband is haunted by this event, avoiding everything associated with the wife and looking more ill with each passing day. And then one day the servant finds him dead and the killer seems to have superhuman powers, as he wrenched the iron bars of the window out of their sockets.

We're back to stupid again here. This is not an impossible tale, and therefore there's not even the mitigating factor of a thoughtprovoking impossibility. The attempts at trying to apply supernatural explanations for the murder make me roll my eyes, and the final solution is so, so dumb.

"The Mesmerising Light" is by comparison a much more mundane tale, where a car disappears from a stretch of road between two toll stations. And then it turns out that a guest has been murdered in the home of the car's owner.

The solution to the impossibility of the vanishing car is good, perhaps even great. Osaka's explanation probably would have worked in the real world. But the rest... No, I'm not impressed. The motive is pretty hokey and the bit about the age of the culprit is both non-fair play (because of cultural differences) and super stupid.

In "The Cold Night's Clearing", a teacher is called to a colleague's house, because a young student has found a horrible crime scene there. The colleague's wife and her cousin are both found dead, murdered after a violent struggle. But not only that, the six-year-old son of the house is nowhere to be found, and outside the house is a single track from skis which just suddenly end in the middle of a field...

This is a lovely set-up, which is why it feels like a cheat when the explanation comes. It turns out that the whole thing is not an impossible situation at all, our narrator simply didn't tell us everything. It's a fairly powerful story nevertheless, with a sad and tragic ending. So much potential squandered here...

"The Three Madmen" are all inmates at an asylum, and one morning the staff wakes up and finds that they are all missing, as is the chief doctor. He is found some time later, horribly mutilated and with his brain missing.

Yeah, so that's a fairly grisly business. Still, that leads the reader's thoughts towards a certain conclusion... The main thing this story has going for itself is the way it's narrated, which creates an almost surreal atmosphere. If not for that, I think almost everyone would see through the misdirection here.

We return to the world of lighthouses with "The Guardian of the Lighthouse". In this story, there are two families sharing the task of lightkeeper on a remote island: a husband and wife, and a father and son. The husband has been taken to hospital, and his wife accompanies him. When he's recuperated, the father takes the boat to fetch them back to the lighthouse, but they are delayed over night because of a storm, and when they return the son has vanished. And yet the lighthouse has been functioning the whole time...

This wasn't too bad - a bit prosaic, but Osaka manages to squeeze out some thrills by the way he's describing events. The explanation to the disappearance is quite plausible, and also quite poignant.

"The Demon in the Mine" gives us a problem where a man is left behind during a fire in the mine, when the rest of the workers get to safety behind a fireproof door. When everyone returns, one after one are murdered, and it seems as though the man left behind is picking off those who were responsible for shutting him in the mine.

This was quite possible the cleverest story in the collection. There's some extra sense of danger in the story because of the terrible conditions down in the mine. And Osaka conjures up some fine misdirection before revealing who the killer is. I'm not going to say that it couldn't be deduced beforehand, but the whole thing's still quite impressive.

In "The Hungry Letter-Box", a man posts a letter in a letterbox, but then remembers he forgot to put on a stamp. The letterbox is locked, and cannot be opened until the next morning when the mailman comes - and yet the letter has disappeared when the box is opened!

This is a tale with a lighter touch, and it's all the better for it. The explanation to what's going on is quite workable. The motive for it all is more or less impossible to work out, on the other hand.

The final story here is the story that gave its name to the whole collection, "The Ginza Ghost". In it, two women are killed, with witnesses saying that one of them killed the other and then killed herself - however it turns out that the woman who the witnesses say died first survived the other by more than 30 minutes. But surely it couldn't be a ghost who killed?

Another pretty clever explanation here, and the misdirection Osaka employs works very well. A good finish to this collection.


There's some very bright spots here, but also quite a lot of messy stuff. There's some overreliance on superstition here, and I don't know, maybe it's a cultural thing, but I just don't see how so many people, particularly professional police officers, should be so gullible and believing in that stuff. In many of the cases here, the only reason that the truth isn't found is because everyone focuses so hard on the supernatural things.

One example is from the final story, "The Ginza Ghost" - I'm not sure that the whole thing would stand up to scrutiny. There's just one thing that makes the witnesses identify the killing woman, and seeing that it's all a big contradiction, surely the police should be able to reason out what actually happened? But perhaps I'm just a bit too annoyed with some of the trappings here.

My preference is for the stories that don't focus too hard on that stuff and rely more on "normal" mystery tropes with an investigation and deductions from the available facts. For a reader who enjoys stories with ambiance, this collection will surely be even more impressive.

But it should also be said that most of the stories here have parts that are very good, it's just that I find that Osaka seldom manages to get everything to work.

Seeing that this is a collection of impossible mysteries, I will use a couple of the better ones for my project: "The Phantasm of the Stone Wall", "The Demon of the Mine" and "The Ginza Ghost".

Out in the blogosphere, most of the words on this collection have been very kind:
TomCat praises it effusively on Beneath the Stains of Time, while J. J. is very complimentary in his review over on The Invisible Event.

Meanwhile, Aidan over on Mysteries Ahoy joins me in taking a more reserved stance, though we're not entirely in agreement on which stories deserve praise and which do not. It seems everyone except me likes "The Mourning Locomotive"...