The Man Who Read Mysteries - William Brittain

Another collection from specialist publisher Crippen & Landru, this one collecting all the "Man Who Read" stories by William Brittain, and also featuring a selection of stories from the same author's Mr. Strang series.

It's a bit unfortunate that we only get a sample from the latter series, but as editor Josh Pachter tells us in his informative introduction, otherwise we would have had a collection with forty-three tales, which is a bit unwieldy. But I certainly hope that sales of this volume were promising and that we'll see a second collection with the rest of the Mr. Strang stories.

From that you'll probably infer that I liked this collection, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. As always, we'll take a look at the individual stories first and then return to my overall assessment.

The first half of the book is dedicated to Brittain's "The Man Who Read" stories - a bit of a misnomer since it's not just men reading... Anyway, first out is "The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr". This is the story of a young man who wants to get rid of his uncle, and because he idolises all our favourite impossible crime writer, he decides to commit the murder in a completely locked room.

So what we get is an inverted tale with a funny ending. Not generally my thing, as you all know, but at least it's quite amusing and it's also interesting to follow the protagonist as he plans his impossible crime.

Things pick up a lot with the second instalment of the series, "The Man Who Read Ellery Queen". Unlike the first story, which was sort of a parody, this is much more of a regular mystery story, written as an homage to the great cousins. In it, a man who's recently been admitted to a house for the elderly gets a case to investigate when a neighbour has a valuable coin stolen.

This is a fine mystery with good clueing, but to be honest, I don't feel it has a whole lot of Ellery Queen about it. There's no challenge to the reader - though Brittain makes a nod to this staple of EQ's early novels - nor is there any dying message or a collection of items where one thing happens to be different in some way. It's just simply a fine mystery, well worth reading, like most Ellery Queen tales.

Next comes "The Man Who Didn't Read", and what he didn't read was Edgar Allan Poe. Here we have two men, one of whom has killed the other's wife in a car accident. And then the former agrees to help the latter with building a new room in his house...

Yeah, you all know where this is heading. This isn't really a mystery, it's a suspense story building to a climax. And when the climax is obvious, it does take away most of my enjoyment.

"The Woman Who Read Rex Stout" is an interesting inversion of genders - both in title and content - where a circus lady investigates who killed her protegé/surrogate daughter.

This story does in fact have a dying message of sorts, so at least finally we got one here. I think Brittain does a bit better in his evocation of an author here, and this is really a fine mystery. A good surprise ending to boot.

It's interesting that it's only with story no. 5 in this series that we arrive at Agatha Christie - in "The Boy Who Read Agatha Christie". This is another winner of the series, where several high school boys go into different shops in a small town and do more or less crazy things, and a young exchange student from Belgium manages to deduce the reason for this behaviour.

I think this has some Chestertonian traits as well - "where is it best to hide a tree? In a forest" - but Christie did the same thing here and there, and as a story the whole thing works pretty well. I'm not sure it's wholly fairly clued, but a good read nonetheless.

And the other household name of the genre gets his pastiche in "The Man Who Read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle". A man in a small town receives a letter from an old acquaintance which obliquely refers to the great detective, and then suddenly he is approached by people from an intelligence agency who want to find the hidden message in the letter.

To be honest, this isn't much like anything Doyle wrote. It's really just an amusing story with some Holmesian references and some code cracking that seems rather far-fetched. Not a total loss, but it's not a particular highlight either.

I mentioned Chesterton before, and of course Brittain writes his own Chesterton take-off. "The Man Who Read G. K. Chesterton" is a Roman Catholic pastor named Charles Kenney, and when one of his flock is found dead from a presumed suicide, he is not so sure and manages to get his superior to agree to an investigation of the case.

This was another fine story with a simple but easily acceptable solution to how the murder could be jigged into looking like a suicide. Isn't Father Kenney's last remark a bit un-Christian?

"The Man Who Read Dashiell Hammett" should move us into more hard-boiled territory, but instead we get a story with an old librarian who is asked by his superior and a prospective financial backer to use his mystery reading skills to find a valuable first edition volume that the latter has hidden somewhere in the library.

So what we get is actually a pure fair play mystery with our protagonist applying his reasoning to clues supplied by the financial backer. It's another good story, where the clues are perhaps just a tad too far-fetched for the reader to solve them, but nevertheless a good read.

Two delivery men have come with a load of valuable art pieces to a rich man's house in "The Man Who Read Georges Simenon". But as they unload the paintings they become somewhat suspicious of the man who met them claiming to be the security guard.

Now, I haven't read much Simenon, but I didn't really get a "Maigret feeling" from this one. Others who are more well-versed in Simenon's oeuvre may disagree, but to me this was a fairly slight tale with not too much happening in the way of plot. A bit of a disappointment, to be honest.

The previous stories have all referenced pretty big names in the mystery field, but for a reader today the subject matter of "The Girl Who Read John Creasey" feels rather more obscure. In this tale, a police officer tells his family about a case where a man was killed in a hotel room, just managing to breathe out a few words before passing away.

So, this is another dying message story. The culprit felt rather obvious to me, but the clues are pretty good and I thought the story fairly amusing on the whole. I did get annoyed with the mother's constant admonitions of her husband. "Not at the table, dear..." Bah.

The final story in this set is "The Men Who Read Isaac Asimov", a pastiche of the great doctor's Black Widowers stories. At a dinner party, a journalist tells a story of an entrepreneur who's created a grand competition for his customers to try to find out the combination to a safe where he has put a thousand-dollar bill.

This might be the one story in this series that best evokes its subject matter, because this is pretty much a Black Widowers story in everything but some of the window dressing. There are clues based on words and numbers, the characters are pretty much non-entities and everything is just really lovely. It's not a story where I'd manage to find the solution in a million years, but I really liked this one.

Moving on to the Mr. Strang half of the book, which begins with "Mr. Strang Gives a Lecture". Our protagonist is a high school teacher who solves crimes of different varieties. In this case one of Mr. Strang's pupils is accused of having committed a robbery, using Mr. Strang's car. Still, the teacher is not convinced that his adept was the true culprit.

A fairly good introduction to a new series. I'd have to say that the policeman in charge is a bit obtuse in his observation of the car's odometer. But it's a fun little story with some good conclusions drawn by Mr. Strang before we reach the end.

"Mr. Strang Performs an Experiment" is fairly topical with a female pupil accusing one of Mr. Strang's colleagues of improper advances, and so Mr. Strang designs an experiment to find out whether she is telling the truth or not.

A story that fits perfectly in our modern world. There's not much of a mystery in this one, it's simply a story of Mr. Strang's experiment where he attempts to catch the accuser out in a lie. Clever, but not the strongest story here.

"Mr. Strang Takes a Field Trip" was previously discussed in this post. It's a great little impossible crime tale.

Our next story sees Mr. Strang take on the drug trade in "Mr. Strang Versus the Snowman". One of Mr. Strang's pupils is living with his uncle, and the latter is suspected of being one of the key people in the drug trade. So Mr. Strang manages to get himself invited into their home...

A nice, fairly clued story with some fine misdirection by Brittain, though the main clue only arises due to a mistake by the bad guy.

In "Mr. Strang, Armchair Detective", our protagonist is challenged by a big city cop that he won't be able to solve a case that the latter is in the middle of right now, simply by sitting back in his restaurant chair and draw conclusions.

So, another fine story with Mr. Strang reasoning himself to a probable solution by picking up on clues in the cop's story. To be honest, this should have been the "The Man Who Read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" story instead.

Mr. Strang visits an old teacher friend in "Mr. Strang Interprets a Picture", and notices a drawing made by a young boy whose later been hospitalized. And when he manages to connect the drawing with a bank robbery, surely the villains cannot hope to get away?

This is perhaps just a bit too far-fetched to be entirely successful. I guess it could work like that, but the conclusions drawn by Mr. Strang stretch incredulity just a bit. An enjoyable read, nonetheless.

The final story in this series is "Mr. Strang Takes a Tour", where the elderly teacher is on a bus trip from the US to Canada and then back again. When a wooden cross is stolen from a fellow passenger, Mr. Strang gets suspicious.

And manages to build a chain of deductions that leads to the arrest of a fugitive. A fun story, and perhaps especially interesting as a study of American tourists going to a foreign country...


This was a rather wonderful collection. There are a couple of misfires - two of the stories in the "The Man Who Read" series are only so-so - but the average quality of the tales in this volume is very high indeed. This is particularly recommended for folks who like Edward D. Hoch's stories - the Mr. Strang series is very Hoch-ian, both because of Brittain's writing style and because of their content.

It's worth noting that the stories in the "The Man Who Read" series aren't particularly uniform. A couple of them are parodies while others are homages. And the Asimov one could almost have been a pastiche, had Brittain just changed the names a bit.

Being the impossible crime nerd that I am, that's really the only complaint I can come up with - too few impossible crimes! Though the one that is in this collection is really very good. It's just that it's been featured elsewhere and so wasn't new to me.

As I said above, I really hope that C&L can find a way to get the rest of the Mr. Strang stories published, they are very good indeed.


The Christmas Card Crime (ed. Martin Edwards)

With this volume we're now up to the third Christmas related anthology in the British Library Crime Classics series. Is this a story of diminishing returns, or has Edwards found a couple of bonafide winter classics for this new book?

What is obvious from the table of contents is that most of the authors here have not been featured (much) in previous anthologies, so that should mean that we can't draw much of a conclusion just from the author list. But even though these are relative newcomers to this anthology series, there are still some heavy-hitters here. The main draw has to be John Dickson Carr, who finally gets a story selected for these anthologies, but names like Cyril Hare, Baroness Orczy, Ronald Knox and Julian Symons are nothing to sneeze at either.

Baroness Orczy - A Christmas Tragedy

Lady Molly and her companion are visiting with the disagreeable Major Ceely and his daughter Margaret over the winter holidays. One night, the major is found dead in the gardens, having received a gunshot wound in his back. As he had lately quarreled with a suitor of his daughter's, that young man is suspected of the crime.

For a story from the turn of the century (the old one), this wasn't half bad. I mean, there's not much fair play and a whole lot of melodrama and admiration of the "dear lady", and the callousness of a certain character is obvious, but the story zips along quite nicely and doesn't overstay its welcome. And there's actually a bit of a surprise in that the obvious suspect is not the guilty party!

Selwyn Jepson - By the Sword

A young-ish ne'er-do-well is staying with his benefactor cousin and his family over the Christmas. Unfortunately, not only is he skint and trying to finagle some money from his wealthy cousin, but he has also fallen for his cousin's wife. And when he is denied a loan, he takes the fateful decision to get rid of the person standing between him and a fortune (and a woman).

Yeah, we've seen this plot before... Lots and lots of times. This really is the first plot you'll think of when someone mentions the words "inverted mystery". There's not all that much to distinguish it from other stories of its ilk, either. The only thing that differentiates these stories from each other is what in the end leads to the miscreant being apprehended, and I can't say that that bit excited me much either. So a bit of a dud, to be honest.

Donald Stuart - The Christmas Card Crime

Trevor Lowe, a famous dramatist (and our detective) is travelling with some companions on the train towards Cornwall, but when the train gets stuck in the snow the passengers decide to wander along the track to an inn to spend the night there. But along the way a fellow passenger, a young woman, is attacked and nearly hanged from a bridge, and when they reach the inn, she vanishes during the night and another passenger is found killed.

I thought this had a pretty exciting set-up and enjoyed the beginning quite a bit. But unfortunately it soon descends into silliness and melodrama, and unfortunately Stuart leaves a couple of huge plot holes unexplained when he tries to tie everything up at the end. (For example, how on earth could the party of passengers fail to notice that one of them was missing while the female passenger was attacked?) I was sorry to see that the promising beginning was not realised by what followed.

Ronald Knox - The Motive

A famous lawyer relates the tale of a case that somewhat stumped him. A man first made an attempt at another man's life by tricking him into swimming blindfolded in a pool and slowly letting out the water so he couldn't climb out again. And then some time later the same man is accused of having killed a fellow train passenger who vanished completely during the night.

This was much more like it. I like Knox's humour, and though I can't say that this is his best story, it still grabbed my attention. I'm sure I've read it before somewhere, but I didn't remember much about it, which perhaps doesn't sound like ringing endorsement, but as I said, this appealed to me quite a bit.

Carter Dickson - Blind Man's Hood

Already discussed in this post.

Francis Durbridge - Paul Temple's White Christmas

Paul Temple is given an assignment in Switzerland to identify a criminal who's being held there.

This is a short short, so the description will necessarily also have to be short. It's not much of a story, and there's not much detection available either. But it is quite short and gets in and out before the reader has had time to register his disappointment...

Cyril Hare - Sister Bessie or Your Old Leech

A young man is being blackmailed by someone in his adopted family, and he is now quite certain that he's identified who it is.

Bleh, I really don't like this type of stories. Nasty people doing nasty things to each other. Yuck. If I remember correctly, Hare's short stories were often of this type, unlike his novels which are generally much better.

E. C. R. Lorac - A Bit of Wire-Pulling

An old industrialist has been receiving threatening letters, and requests the company of a police officer during the New Year's celebrations when he's visiting with his daugher and son-in-law. During the night's festivities, the son-in-law sees someone through the window, and the industrialist is shot. But the culprit manages to get away, with tracks in the snow being the only traces left behind.

Kind of an impossible story, and it could have been so much better. Unfortunately, it's dead easy to see through the villain's plot. It really doesn't bode well when the reader can foresee the solution to each unexplained phenomenon as soon as they are presented. In the hands of a more experienced impossible mystery writer, I think this could have been an outstanding story, because there's a lot to recommend it otherwise. I definitely liked reading it, it was just a disappointment to see that Lorac didn't once manage to offer any surprising resolutions.

John Bude - Pattern of Revenge

Two men are rivals for a woman's affections, and then one day she is found killed in her cottage. The tracks leading to the crime scene look like those of a man with a wooden leg, and of course one of the rivals has just that.

Well, I thought the explanation for how the tracks were obfuscated - if you didn't realise from the description that they would be, well, then I'm sorry - was pretty good, but that doesn't really rescue this story from mediocrity.

John Bingham - Crime at Lark Cottage

A man arrives at the titular cottage, where a woman and young girl are living. It is soon obvious that the woman is very fearful of something, and rather quickly the visiting man begins to reason out why.

From the outset, there are really only two explanations that are possible, and it doesn't take long before it's obvious which one it will be. The surprises are fairly well telegraphed in advance as well. Not a particularly strong story.

Julian Symons - 'Twixt the Cup and the Lip

The bookseller Mr. Payne is leading a double life where he is also a robber. In this case he is out to rob a department store of some Russian jewels that are on display there. He recruits a gang of helpers to carry out his plan...

This is a typical Symons story of a crime, where we follow along more or less in real time, but fortunately, this is from early in his career, before he turned to psychological crime stories and that kind of drek. So this actually managed to hold my interest for the main part of the story. The final twist is quite amusing, though it may be the most obvious example of the "Chekhov's Gun" trope I've come across in a while.


Well, obviously there are quite a lot of stories with winter settings - though in some of the cases here, that particular setting isn't a huge part of the story - and Edwards has managed to ferret out a couple of worthy ones here. The obvious highlight is the Carr story, but that is available elsewhere in better collections. But Knox and to some extent Orczy and Lorac also bring the goods.

There's also nothing that is horribly bad here. There's just a couple of disappointments or stories where the plot didn't appeal much to me - as usual!

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 from here on 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. Serpents in Eden - the very definition of average with two highlights and no real disappointments.
6. The Christmas Card Crime - even more average than the previous anthology, with just one highlight and a couple of disappointments as well. 
7. 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.
8. Continental Crimes - a disappointing read on the whole where the great stories are few and far between.
9. Resorting to Murder - there's a bunch of easily forgotten stuff here. But also one awesome story that means that it manages to avoid being placed last.
10. 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.

The Puzzle Doctor seems to have enjoyed this collection quite a bit over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and Kate had many good words for it over at CrossexaminingCrime. And of course inverted mystery fan Aidan over at Mysteries Ahoy liked all the stories I had a hard time with...


The Zanzibar Shirt Mystery - James Holding

Here we have another collection of short stories from specialist publisher Crippen & Landru. In this volume, we get the complete output of Leroy King stories by author James Holding. The entire series, consisting of ten tales, is included.

All the stories of this series use the same naming convention - The Nationality Thing Mystery. As the savvy mystery reader will know, this is the very same convention used by Ellery Queen in their early novels. And this series is very much a homage to Queen. The lead characters are a pair of cousins, writing mysteries as a team under the pseudonym Leroy King.

These ten tales all take place on a round-the-world cruise, where the cousins - King Danforth and Martin Leroy - and their wives are seeing the sights around our pale blue dot (though it has to be said that the ship seems to be taking a somewhat circuitous route). The stories were mainly written during the 60s (with one straggling tale from '72), and even though there is an obvious homage to Ellery Queen - though these stories are nowhere near as formal as Queen's early novels, I'd actually say that this is closer to what EQ was writing in the 50s - they stand on their own feet as mysteries.

Most of the stories are a bit dissimilar from regular mysteries insofar as they are not really murder (or crime) investigations per se. Instead, our protagonists run into or are told about some peculiar situation, apply their reasoning skills and often find a criminal perpetrator behind the situation in question.

The first story here is "The Norwegian Apple Mystery", where a female passenger is found dead in her bed one morning with a piece of apple stuck in her throat. There are some anomalies, though, and Leroy King - let's call our cousins that - suspect that foul play may have been involved.

A fine introduction to the series which is representative of the series as a whole. The reasoning is sound and though I'm hesitant to call this fair play (the culprit is pulled out of a hat towards the end), I was greatly entertained.

"The African Fish Mystery" takes place off the cruise ship, in South Africa where the cousins and their wives have decided to take a trip through the wildlife. Their chauffeur tells them the tale of a man who had previously hired him simply to drive along the river so he could go fishing from time to time. The cousins get a hunch that perhaps fishing was not the ultimate goal of that trip...

Again, a story where our detectives simply build up a case from something that seems fairly innocuous at first glance. A fun story, though there's hardly any crime in it.

Next time we meet our travellers, in "The Italian Tile Mystery", we find ourselves in Positano on the Italian Amalfi coast. They are staying at a guest house, and the hostess tells them of an extraordinary tiled table that she was given by a guest before he passed away.

And so our friends Leroy King can start building up an interesting plot with a code cracking exercise that is perhaps just a tad too far-fetched. But codes and ciphers are fun, so I forgive Holding.

In "The Hong Kong Jewel Mystery", we're - more or less - back on the ship. It's moored in Hong Kong harbour, and a gang of painters are touching up the outside of the hull. But during the stop someone breaks in and steals valuables from several cabins - including those belonging to Leroy King!

And so our friends the authors have to help the Hong Kong police with first finding the culprit and later where he hid the valuables. The police are awfully magnanimous in taking help from a pair of mystery authors, I have to say. A nice enough story, though perhaps the least successful so far.

Our heroes spot someone is emptying out some kind of toiletries through a cabin window in "The Tahitian Powder Mystery", and when they later spot one of their fellow passengers acting somewhat suspiciously, could there be something criminal brewing?

With a bit of a twist at the end, this is perhaps the most frivolous of the stories. Fun, but mainly if you read it in the context of the whole series. I don't think it'd work as well as a standalone.

Back in Africa, the intrepid world travellers have once again gotten off their ship and are travelling around in "The Zanzibar Shirt Mystery", where they run across a drunkard in a bar who is wearing a very distinctive shirt - in fact, it's so distinctive that they are certain that the shirt actually belongs to one of their fellow cruise companions.

And from such mundane beginnings, Leroy King build up a case where a potential heir is being discredited by another one. Fun, but a tad inconsequential again.

"The Japanese Card Mystery" features another co-traveller, this time a Japanese business man who happens to have a niece who is a mindreader - at least she is able to tell anyone who phones her which card they have picked from a deck of cards.

This really is rather slight - the whole premise rests on one single thing, and it's not very hard to figure the whole thing out. But Holding still manages to give his stories a certain something that elevate them above the ordinary.

And in "The New Zealand Bird Mystery" we are introduced to yet another cruise passenger, but this time it's a dead one! Someone has killed him in the harbour of Hobart, Tasmania. And when some time later Leroy King find a mysterious message to the victim, they begin unravelling the plot behind the murder.

This is rather more substantial than the last few stories. One of the better stories here.

"The Philippine Key Mystery" takes place off the cruise ship, in the harbour of Zamboanga, where our four protagonists have met some of the locals, and during dinner in a seaside restaurant they notice that one of the local kids is wearing a loincloth that seems to be made out of prison clothes.

And from such humble beginnings we get the story of a prison escapee and how Leroy King reasons out how he escaped and alerts the authorities to his whereabouts. This whole story is more or less a flashback which sets up what we got to read about on the first few pages and is then solved in another few paragraphs towards the end. This might be the least successful tale here - it really feels padded.

Our final adventure with Leroy King is "The Borneo Snapshot Mystery, where one of the cousins cannot sleep and so is wandering about the ship at night. He comes across a dead body, lying battered at the bottom of a flight of stairs. And even though the ships crew thinks it might be a simple accident, the cousins have a different take on things.

This story is more or less two halves - the first one gives us an explanation of the mysterious death, and then there is a follow-up which solves why everything happened as it did. A good ending to a lovely set of stories.


This really is right up my alley. I feel that there is some similarity between the way these stories are set-up and the stories of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. Unlike most mysteries, in several of these stories we are not sure that there is actually a crime committed. Sometimes it turns out that way, but not always. And it's certainly mostly a cerebral experience, there's hardly any real time action. I think the fairest way to describe them is that they are true armchair detective stories (even though there are hardly any armchairs featured). And all that fits the Asimov series as well.So if you like the Black Widowers, you will most probably like this series as well.

However, these are not really stories for anyone who enjoys modern mysteries or craves characterisations and/or psychology. These are straight up puzzles for the reader to exercise their brain with. But that's the stuff I like, as you probably all know by now, and therefore this is wholeheartedly recommended. One of the most entertaining mystery collections I've read. It's amazing that I hadn't heard much about them before being alerted to Crippen & Landru's publication.

TomCat was equally impressed with the collection over on Beneath the Stains of Time, and I see that he made the same Black Widowers comparison as I did. :)


Bodies from the Library (ed. Tony Medawar)

Another recent anthology, this time from Tony Medawar, a major genre aficionado and generally excellent att discovering unknown and forgotten stories by authors in the mystery field. This book collects a number of such discoveries, all from major names in the genre.

Most of the stories are from the 20s and 30s, with a couple of exceptions, and were written in the respective author's heyday. So, even though these stories had been forgotten by history, there should be some hope that their quality is up to snuff.

J. J. Connington - Before Insulin

Sir Clinton Driffield is visiting his old friend Squire Wendover over the weekend. Wendover reveals an ulterior motive to his invitation when he tells Sir Clinton that he is expecting a visit from a nurse who's suspiciously been named as the heir of a young man who'd been nursed at a nursing-home in France but died recently.

This is a fairly run-of-the-mill 20s mystery story, but Sir Clinton is a nice enough character and the story moves along at a fair clip. It's not really fair play, but the explanation towards the end gives the reader a good surprise. In all, not bad at all.

Leo Bruce - The Inverness Cape

Sergeant Beef tells the story of one of the bloodiest murders he came across - a case where an elderly lady was bludgeoned to death in full view of her crippled sister. She is adamant that the killer, clad in the titular cape, was their ne'er-do-well nephew, but it turns out that his cape was being mended at precisely the time when the murder occurred.

A clever tale by Bruce with a kinda, sorta impossible slant. The explanation isn't the most surprising I've ever read, but it's a solid tale by a recent favourite of mine.

Freeman Wills Crofts - Dark Waters

A solicitor decides to murder one of his clients when the latter decides to realise some of the assets that the solicitor was handling for him. The murder takes place on the river, in a rowboat, after the victim had been visiting him, and the solicitor takes great pains to avoid leaving any clues to the murderer's identity.

A very short inverted tale by Crofts, where Inspector French only appears for a handful of paragraphs towards the very end. Another one of those where the murderer overlooks a simple thing. Not really what I want to read, but when the story's so short I don't mind its inclusion.

Georgette Heyer - Linckes' Great Case

A young police officer, Roger Linckes, is sent to investigate how the contents of some important government papers managed to escape into the hands of a foreign power. He is sent to interview several of the respectable officials that had been handling the papers.

More of an adventure thriller than a mystery, and very typical of the twenties. The "surprise" of the solution isn't much of one, and disappointing to boot. Luckily, Heyer has a writing style I enjoy, so it wasn't all a complete disappointment.

Nicholas Blake - 'Calling James Braithwaite'

A shipowner has invited a detective - Nigel Strangeways - to his yacht for a family trip, without really telling him what it is he is supposed to investigate. Once they are on their way, a message comes over the radio that an escaped convict may have stowed away on the ship, and when the shipowner is found dead the next morning, Strangeways needs to find out what actually happened.

This is a play, not a prose story, and there are some impossible elements to the situation as well. This was a story I really enjoyed. I can't say that the solution is particularly surprising, but it's told well.

John Rhode - The Elusive Bullet

Dr. Priestley is alerted to a case where a man has been found dead on a train as it arrived at its final destination. The victim was struck by the ubiquitous blunt instrument. As his nephew was travelling on the same train and also had motive to kill his older relative, the police are wont to suspect him, but Dr. Priestley has other ideas...

Hm. If you noticed the title above, you'll probably guess that the wound from the "blunt instrument" was in fact a gunshot wound. The police investigation can't have been very impressive... Anyhoo, this was a bit of a disappointment. There's just a bit too much coincidence in the whole thing, and yet I never really felt any sort of surprise along the way.

Cyril Hare - The Euthanasia of Hilary's Aunt

Young Hilary Smyth has run through his entire fortune and has taken residence with his elderly aunt. And as she is rather poorly and has no valid will, Hilary has decided to help her along the way to her final resting place.

One of those all too common inverted stories with a sting in its tail at the end. Not my thing at all.

Vincent Cornier - The Girdle of Dreams

An old woman has come to Mr. Lionel Blayne's jeweller's firm to sell a precious girdle, created by famous artist Benvenuto Cellini. She is not willing to divulge any information on how it came in her possession, but convinces him to store it in the store's safe. But as he opens it to put the precious girdle inside, he is overcome by a lightness. And when he comes to his senses again, the safe has been emptied...

A typical Cornier plot with a typical Cornier poisoning and a typical Cornier villain. I'm not his biggest fan, and so this story fell a bit flat for me.

Arthur Upfield - The Fool and the Perfect Murder

Australian Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is investigating a case where an outback rider has vanished from his post, with no traces of him left.

Medawar sees fit to warn us readers about some of the language and descriptions in this story, but I think that warning says more about our times than about those when the story was written, because I felt there was very little to hurt my sensitive nerves here. As for the plot and the story itself, it's a bit so-so. It's an inverted mystery, so that's immediately a minus for me. Otherwise, it's an interesting setting to read about and Bony is a nice enough character to follow.

A. A. Milne - Bread upon the Waters

This is the story of a young ne'er-do-well who wants to get rid of his rich uncle, and concocts a plot in order to succeed (and still inherit).

This is really plot template 2B of the inverted mystery, but it has one excellent thing that makes it stand out a bit, and that is the breezy style in which it's written. The plot hatched by the young miscreant is quite clever, and the final twist is at least a bit amusing. So, probably the inverted mystery I've enjoyed the most for quite some time.

Anthony Berkeley - The Man with the Twisted Thumb

A young lady who's come into a bit of money and has some leisure time travels to Monte Carlo where she runs into a young man who tells her a similar story of his own. And then they bump into a couple of shady characters outside the casino, who are after a handbag that the young lady seems to have come into possession of by mistake.

This is very much not a typical Berkeley story - it's another twenties style romantic adventure (though published in the early 30s, it seems), even more so than the Heyer story above. It really is quite entertaining, but don't go in expecting any of Berkeley's tricksier plotting.

Christianna Brand - The Rum Punch

A police sergeant is supposed to take his family on a seaside holiday during the weekend, but as the week begins he is thrown into work on a case where a man was poisoned in front of a whole party of people as he was going to propose a toast to his step daughter's engagement.

Speaking of tricksy writers... Unlike the Berkeley story, this is much more typical of its author's works. It doesn't feature any of Brand's more well-known detectives, but Sergeant Troot is a pleasant character and he is just as clever at solving these mysteries as those other guys. The highlight of the collection, and an impossible mystery story at that!

Ernest Bramah - Blind Man's Bluff

Max Carrados is accompanying an acquaintance to a hotel room where a bunch of con artists are plotting to steal some important government papers from him.

This is another playscript, and not all that good. Bramah could do some fair play plotting when he wanted to, but this is not at all that type of story. It's more of an adventure thriller, and not the most engaging one I've read.

H. C. Bailey - Victoria Pumphrey

A young lady, whose family fortunes have dwindled to nothing, is engaged by an old servant to investigate whether a young man he is fond of is being swindled out of his future inheritance by an impostor, or if that person is actually the true heir of that fortune.

No Reggie Fortune here, but Miss Pumphrey holds her own in this story which actually came with a pretty good twist towards the end. Before that everything seemed to go in exactly the direction anyone would suppose, but Bailey really fooled me. So I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I can't say that it's particularly fair play in its plotting, but it's still very entertainingly told.

Roy Vickers - The Starting-Handle Murder

A young gentleman is driven to kill his friend because he is behaving more and more erratically, putting the friend's wife - whom he later marries - in more and more embarrassing situations. And to begin with everything seems to go swimmingly, the police cannot find anyone who could be responsible for the murder.

A typical Vickers Department of Dead Ends ending, and thus I thoroughly disliked it. Man, he really could be nasty to his characters.

Agatha Christie - The Wife of the Kenite

A wounded German soldier in South Africa is taken in by a couple, but it doesn't take long before he is feeling increasingly disconcerted by his hosts.

Not one of Christie's mysteries, this is instead similar to her 20s romantic adventures, though this is rather less romantic and more unpleasant. This will obviously never be seen as a classic, but a new Christie story is always worth reading.


Okay, this anthology has no business being as entertaining and good as it is, seeing as it consists of flotsam and jetsam and things that fell by the wayside. I'm not going to say that every story here is a classic, or even near classic, but these stories were almost all entertaining. As usual, I may sound quite negative in my assessment of some of these stories, but there is not a single one that I would rather have wanted to remain buried. And also as usual, if you're more tolerant of inverted mysteries than I am, you might actually find everything here valuable.

There are two stories that stand out for me - the Bruce and Brand ones - but again, not a single one is a story where you read it and then go "okay, yes, I see why this one was left undiscovered for so long". If I were to compare this anthology to the Martin Edwards curated anthologies in the British Library Crime Classics series, I would actually recommend this above all of them except for the one collecting impossible mysteries.

And as there is a second volume coming in July, here's hoping that it retains the quality of this one!