Continental Crimes (ed. Martin Edwards)

And we return with yet another BLCC anthology, this time one featuring stories set on the continent. Which I guess is only a theme that could occur to a Briton... "Fog in channel, continent isolated." To be honest, we Scandinavians often use the same term, even though we have even less of a reason to do so - seeing as we are actually part of the continent. Ah well, that's just a short diversion.

By now we all know what a BLCC anthology is about: the theme is a bit loose, more or less just an excuse to feature a smattering of stories by British authors from roughly the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. In this case, as mentioned, the theme is stories set in European places that are not Britain , which is as loose a theme as you could find, really. And to be honest, it might as well have been called French Fiends or something, because the tally is 9 stories set in France, 2 in Italy, 2 in Belgium and 1 in Germany. (OK, one of the "French" stories is set in Monaco and another is set on a train, which however departs from France, but still.)

That also means that it's hard to know what to expect when picking up the anthology. So, I guess it's advantageous that some of us Internet bloggers do it and give readers a better overview, he said, in as non-egotistical a way as possible. Bleh, I do go on a bit. Let's just get started on the stories instead.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The New Catacomb

Julius Burger and his friendly rival Kennedy are exploring the architectural delights of Rome. Burger claims to have found a new catacomb under Rome's streets, and the two decide to explore it further.

Yeah, this isn't much of a mystery, or even a crime story. Doyle as usual has a deft hand with his writing, so it's an easy read, but the plot is very easily seen through and the whole thing is a bit of a disappointment, to be honest.

Arnold Bennett - A Bracelet at Bruges

The young Kitty Sartorius, in Bruges with her friend Eve Fincastle, loses her bracelet when they run into an acquaintance, Madame Lawrence. And in their coterie are further suspicious characters...

Again, this isn't much of a mystery. There's a bit of an early 1900s adventure story in this, but events turn out mostly as the reader will assume. But I still enjoyed reading this one, Bennett writes with enthusiasm. If you don't have any high expectations of a fair play mystery, I think you'll find this a highlight.

G. K. Chesterton - The Secret Garden

Previously discussed in this post.

E. Phillips Oppenheim - The Secret of the Magnifique

Three men meet at a restaurant at Gare de Lyons in Paris, and during that evening they run across several interesting and suspcious characters, and as a result they decide to travel to the French riviera, where many of these characters are also present.

I had a strange experience reading this tale. During the read I thoroughly enjoyed myself, Oppenheim writes with verve and zest, and even though the plot is yet another early 1900s adventure story with very little mystery, the pages whizzed by (even though this is one of the two longest stories present here). But when I reflected on the story some time after, there are plot holes as large as the icebergs breaking off from the North Pole. There are characters introduced in that early part set at the railway station that then just disappear, and it's hard to see what the point of them were. So, like I said, a bit strange. A fun read, but adjust your expectations accordingly.

Ian Hay - Petit-Jean

During the WWI, part of the British army are ensconced at a Belgian farm, close to the trenches. The inhabitants at the farm intermingle with the soldiers, and the officers soon have to deal with a theft.

Here I started to get a bit impatient that we still don't get any true mysteries. The criminous connection is quite tenuous, it's more of a general wartime story. Interesting if that's what you're looking for, I guess, but it's not what I want to read.

F. Tennyson Jesse - The Lover of St Lys

Solange Fontaine and her father are travelling through the French riviera when they run into a couple and their ward. And then the wife in the family suddenly accuses her husband of having had intentions of poisoning their ward!

Another Solange Fontaine story from Jesse (see Blood on the Tracks), and happily this is much more of a mystery than that tale. However, it's not a true fair play mystery in any sense, brimming as it is with melodrama and surging emotions.

Marie Belloc Lowndes - Popeau Intervenes

Hercules Popeau overhears a candid conversation between Lord Waverton and his mistress while at a hotel in Paris, and decides to meddle when he realises that the mistress may have nefarious plans towards Lord Waverton's wife.

It's not only the name of Lowndes' detective that reminds you of a certain Belgian detective, there's quite a lot of his mannerisms in this story that brings that well-known egghead to mind. However, the story itself sadly doesn't remind you much of Christie's works. It's an all right story, but it's definitely not a fair play mystery, instead being more similar to those romantic suspense things. I was interested in reading it because of those similarities I mentioned, but I can't say that I'll rush out to discover more.

Stacy Aumonier - The Perfect Murder

Two ne'er-do-well brothers are more or less destitute and decide to finagle their way into their rich aunt's good graces, but as she grows wearier of them they soon come up with a plan to murder her.

This is story with a riff on the inverted mystery, and one I'd read before. As should be well-known by now, it's not really my thing, but I think those who enjoy the sub-genre should like this one.

J. Jefferson Farjeon - The Room in the Tower

A writer has decided to take lodgings with the Steinbaums, a father and daughter living in a German castle. It seems the castle is haunted by events that happened one generation ago when the wife of the family died together with the father's brother, and the writer, influenced by the ambiance in the castle, decides to investigate further.

I'd call this a horror story, or at least a Gothic melodrama, rather than a mystery. Sure, there are criminous happenings here, but there is no focus on detection or anything of the kind. Fine for what it is, but it should be clear by now that this is not the type of story I'm looking for in these anthologies.

H. de Vere Stacpoole - The Ten-Franc Counter

An elderly lady lets an apartment at the top floor of a building. One day she is found with her head bashed in and the jewels are gone. M. Henri of the Sûreté is on site in Monte Carlo and joins the investigation.

Stacpoole focuses more on the things surrounding a crime and what happens to the criminal than on the mystery itself, though I suppose that the investigation is serviceable enough. A perfectly all right story, but nothing that rises above the average.

Agatha Christie - Have You Got Everything You Want?

Previously discussed in this post (under the title "Express to Stamboul").

H. C. Bailey - The Long Dinner

Reggie Fortune is told of the case where an artist has vanished. There's some suspicion that the artist has been involved in the theft of some jewels from a French couple. But Fortune suspects that there is something more sinister behind the whole thing...

Not as successful as some of Bailey's other Fortune tales, this still manages to pack a bit of a punch. Bailey's stories are generally fairly long - I suppose they could be called novelettes - and in this case, I think the story would have fared better by being pared down a couple of pages. Still, a good read.

Josephine Bell - The Packet-Boat Murder

David Wintringham is told the story about a man who was recently guillotined for a murder on a ship. As the story is told, Wintringham begins to second-guess the police findings...

This was more or less exact the length the story required, no padding or extraneous material. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it has an ending I'm not entirely enamoured with.

Michael Gilbert - Villa Almirante

Lieutenant Lucifero of the Italian police comes to visit a villa where a party of English guests are residing. He brings them the sad news that one of the party has been found dead on the beach. The lieutenant harbours certain suspicions that the death was not a natural one and begins an investigation that reaches farther and farther.

A rather lovely story that I thought used the least-likely suspect in a clever way. Probably the best story here.


As you've probably seen from my views on the individual stories, this was a bit underwhelming and lackluster. There were just a couple of highlights (the Christie and Gilbert stories, and possibly the Chesterton as well), accompanied by a few stories that were interesting or enjoyable to read but ultimately disappointed in some way. The best I can say about this anthology is that it was fairly varied and that most readers should find something they like here.

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. Crimson Snow - a rough start and ending to this anthology belies the fact that it collects a solid bunch of stories, perhaps only marred by the fact that there is no true highlight here.
6. Continental Crimes - a disappointing read on the whole where the great stories are few and far between. 
7. 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.

It's fair to say that Kate over at crossexaminingcrime enjoyed this a bit more than I did.


Just a heads-up here: The blog will be taking a pause for a few weeks. My backlog of reviews has dwindled into non-existence, and I need to build it up again. Rest assured, I have several collections and anthologies waiting in my TBR pile, so it's just a matter of time before you'll see my opinions here again. Yay! (I guess?)


The Future Is Ours - Edward D. Hoch

In a previous post here on the blog I discussed all the existing collections by Edward D. Hoch, and in it I mentioned that there was one collection that I had not yet read. Well, now I have! (Of course, since that post there has also been another collection released - the fifth and final Sam Hawthorne collection. I will return to that in due time.)

This isn't really a mystery collection, as it contains tales of the speculative fiction variety, focusing mainly on horror and SF/fantasy, though there are definitely a couple of stories that belong to the mystery genre as well. As you can see from the cover below, this collection contains 31 stories, and they have been grouped into four different sections: Strange Futures, Future Crimes, Tales of the Dark, and History Retold. The first of these groups features stories that are mainly SF/fantasy, the second is mystery stories set in the future, the third is horror stories, and the fourth contains stories set in the past with a supernatural slant.

From that you'll understand that our main focus will be on section two, but there are a couple of stories in the other sections that are of interest for the mystery fan, and let's begin with them.

In the first section, we find one story with a mystery plot, "The Wolfram Hunters". It has an underlying religious theme, and is set in a future after an atomic war has reduced the human survivors to tribes of relative savagery. The puzzle plot, concerning an impossible vanishing of one of the tribe's hunters, is very good indeed. I had read it before I came across it in this collection, and to be honest, I should probably have included it in my previous post on Hoch's impossible crimes.

"Bigfish" from the third section is much different. Although featured in the horror section, this does not contain any monsters or similar horrors that Hoch uses in the other stories in this section, instead focusing on the horrors that exist in the human race. This is nowhere near a puzzle plot mystery - I would probably characterise it as a psychological thriller with a twist. If you like that kind of stuff you would probably enjoy this quite a bit. It certainly is memorable.

And in the fourth and final section, there is the story "The Other Phantom". It's set in the Paris opera house, and you'll probably guess that it does feature our friend the Phantom of the Opera. The plot revolves around a journalist who's decided that he wants to reveal who the Phantom is, but during his night vigil he is stabbed to death. Unfortunately, there's not much of detection in this story, instead everything is just explained by one character towards the end. A disappointment, at least when looked on as a mystery.

So, let's get stuck into section two, consisting of eight mystery stories set in the future. Five of them are very short, close to flash fiction, often featuring a bit of a twist ending. There's not much room for plot or clueing, but since they are so short they generally get the job done. Those five stories are: "Co-Incidence", "Versus", "The Future Is Ours", "The Homesick Chicken" and "The Daltonic Fireman". But there are three stories that are a bit longer (though none of the stories in this collection are long - there's nothing here that could be described as even a novelette).

The first of these is "The Forbidden Word", set in a future US where the cultural difference between the East Coast and the West Coast has developed into a chasm. Mr. Gregory has come to a meeting at the Los Angeles branch office of his firm to discuss the declining sales figures when he is arrested for having mentioned the word "earthquake". This is an adventure thriller, and a somewhat amusing one at that, though based on a very chilling presumption. The ending packs a bit of a punch.

Following this is a more regular SF mystery, "Computer Cops", which features the recurring characters from Hoch's only novel series, Carl Crader and Earl Jazine, who work for something called the Computer Investigation Bureau. In this case, they investigate how someone could have accessed a business tycoon's private computer even though it was hidden behind several security measures. I have to say that Hoch's predictive abilities were pretty admirable. His view of the computer world is not all that far from what we have today - which is rather impressive, seeing that this story was written in 1969. The case is something of an impossible crime, though I can't say that that part of the story wowed me much.

The last one of these three somewhat longer stories is "Night of the Millennium". This is a conspiracy thriller story with a young student getting involved in a plot where revolution looms in a not too distant future. I found this the least successful of these three stories, it's a bit too light and I didn't find the plot too engaging. Readable, but not much more.


Considering that this is not touted as a mystery collection, I had adjusted my expectations accordingly and was therefore not particularly disappointed. It features a couple of very good stories - and the mystery based "The Wolfram Hunters" is certainly one of them - but I think a reader has to enjoy at least either science fiction or horror for this to be worthwhile.

But if you are, as I am, then I think you'll agree with me that this is a good collection. As mentioned it manages to collect 31 different stories, and though they all belong to the speculative fiction genre, there's still some variation here, with tales ranging from horror to SF to fantasy to thrillers and so on and so forth.

Though be forewarned that the stories range from very short to fairly short, so this is a collection for readers who are looking for great ideas, not for great characterisation.


Crimson Snow (ed. Martin Edwards)

We return with yet another anthology from the BLCC series. This is the second Christmas mystery anthology in the series - though this one is actually subtitled "Winter mysteries", so the scope is a bit broader than "just" Christmas mysteries.

But winter is an excellent setting for mysteries, what with all those footprints in the snow that are missing or misleading and so on, so opening up that possibility should really be to the advantage of this collection.

Otherwise, by now you should be familiar with the general layout of a BLCC anthology. A varied bunch of stories, roughly chronologically ordered with household names mixed with more unknown ones.

Still, with the previous Christmas anthology Edwards exhausted his supply of good Sherlock Holmes winter mysteries, so how will he fare here? Let's move on to the individual stories and see.

Fergus Hume - The Ghost's Touch

Lascelles, a returned army doctor, runs into Percy Ringan, an old acquaintance who invites him home to his family manor. It seems that the estate is owned by Percy's brother Frank, who is poor, while the more affluent Percy helps support the upkeep of the estate. And that's the recipe for sinister events...

There are absolutely no surprises whatsoever here. Events unfold exactly as you would imagine. Not an auspicious start to this collection of stories.

Edgar Wallace - The Chopham Affair

We are told the story of a young man who is somewhat of a gigolo, living on wealthy women and blackmailing them after moving on from them. But one day the husband of one of those women happens to open one of his blackmail letters, and soon thereafter our gigolo is found dead in the snow. But there is a wrinkle, there's another corpse next to him!

This was rather better. There's some cluing here pointing towards the culprit and I liked the "surprise" ending.

Margery Allingham - The Man with the Sack

Albert Campion is invited to the Turretts over Christmas, as both mother and daughter are having misgivings about the party they are going to have - though for very different reasons. Once there, a diamond necklace belonging to one of the guests disappears, along with other knick-knacks.

A fine Christmas tale from Allingham. I don't think anyone will be very surprised when the culprit is revealed, but there are some interesting twists and turns on the way to the conclusion.

S. C. Roberts - Christmas Eve

Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from a young lady who tells a somewhat implausible story of the theft of a set of pearls.

This is a playscript with a touch of parody to it. It's light on deduction and heavy on Christmas sentimentality. All things said, not too bad, though not a highlight either.

Victor Gunn - Death in December

Chief Inspector "Ironsides" Cromwell is going, along with his well-born Sergeant Johnny Lister, to the latter's family home over the Christmas holidays. But outside the Lister's home they see a creepy figure stealing about in the snow. And inside the family manor is the "Death Room", where one of the guests has been put up for the night...

This is the longest story in this collection, by far - it takes up almost one quarter of the whole book - and it's to Gunn's credit that he makes the story work quite well from such a hoary set-up. Gunn piles up the melodrama and the ghosties and ghoulies. Again, I defy anyone to not spot the villain, but on the whole I liked this quite a bit.

Christopher Bush - Murder at Christmas

An old swindler has been strangled, and Ludovic Travers, who is in town for the holidays, begins investigating in concert with his old friend, Chief Constable Valence.

This is one of those unbreakable alibi type stories that Bush does so well. This is a short tale which quickly gets in and out and is all the better for it.

Ianthe Jerrold - Off the Tiles

An old woman has been killed by falling off the roof of her house. The police are originally willing to write it off as suicide, but her sister insists that they must investigate it as a suspicious death.

Not the most involved tale I've read. Jerrold has written what might be called a meat-and-potatoes mystery. It's a perfectly fine story with a perfectly fine solution, but there's not much to make it stand out.

Macdonald Hastings - Mr. Cork's Secret

A hotel manager and two electricians have to break into a hotel guest's room, and inside the guest is lying dead, horribly battered to death. At the same time, two famous film stars - owners of some fabulous jewels - have still not turned up at the hotel, despite having booked long beforehand, and to top it all up, insurance manager Mr. Cork is coming to stay at the hotel. He receives the dead man's room and begins investigating.

This was a rather good story, I thought. The plot is a bit run of the mill, but I thought the setting and characters made up for it. As long as you don't expect fireworks, this is a satisfying story.

Julian Symons - The Santa Claus Club

Francis Quarles has been asked by Lord Acrise to investigate the threatening letters the latter have been receiving. There's going to be a dinner at the Robert the Devil restaurant, where the threat is supposed to be fulfilled - and unfortunately the old man dies from poisoning during the meal.

The Quarles stories are Symons best work - he'd no doubt disagree with me most vehemently - as they are proper, clued mysteries. This story consists mainly of setup, but it still works nicely. A fine addition to this collection.

Michael Gilbert - Deep and Crisp and Even

Detective Sergeant Peter Petrella is out carolling in his sparetime, but then it turns out that one of the people their group was carolling for was not the owner of that particular house. So Petrella rushes back, only to realise that it must have been a burglar. Petrella begins investigating, but isn't helped by the fact that he is hampered by the flu.

This was on the amusing side, though I was almost as confused as Petrella was before re-reading the final pages a couple of extra times to understand exactly what had happened. But that was just me being obtuse. Another fine story.

Josephine Bell - The Carol Singers

Old Mrs. Fairlands is alone in her house at Christmas when a gang of burglars force entry by pretending to be carol singers. She refuses to tell them where she's put her money and jewels, and they tie her up and gag her and leave her alone in the house when they leave.

This is a horrible story. It's powerful and well-written, but I thoroughly hate this type of story. It doesn't help that I'd read it before either. For aficionados of suspense thrillers, probably a highlight though.


On the whole, I liked this winter collection quite a bit. Really, it's only two stories that really leave me cold. So it's a bit unfortunate that they are the first and last stories here. But the rest of the anthology is perfectly fine. The main drawback may be that there is no extreme highlight - instead the collection relies on stories of a uniform and constant standard. That might sound a bit lukewarm, but I think anyone who likes short stories should feel perfectly satisfied with reading the stories here.

TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time liked this anthology quite a lot, and the Puzzle Doctor even raved a bit at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. And on Mysteries Ahoy, Aidan too liked it a bit more than I did.

And finally, the BLCC anthology ranking!

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. Crimson Snow - a rough start and ending to this anthology belies the fact that it collects a solid bunch of stories, perhaps only marred by the fact that there is no true highlight here.
6. 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.