I have been reading this mammoth Mammoth book in between my other reading for a few weeks.
The collection spans almost a century and offers a mix of classic and newly-written impossible crime stories by a mix of well-known and not-so-well-known authors.
Of interest to classic crimers are:
William Brittain’s ‘Mr Strang Accepts a Challenge’ (1976) might suit people who liked The Nine-Mile Walk. And there should be more people who like The Nine-Mile Walk. Stuffy teacher of logic Mr Strang agrees to demonstrate the practical application of his science to a sceptical class.
John Dickson Carr’s ‘The Silver Curtain’ (1939) features Colonel March of the Department of Queer Complaints investigating the murder of a spiv on the French Riviera. The solution is charmingly simple, and marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Michael Collins’ ‘No Way Out’ (1963) is a tale of the theft of a priceless artwork from Polish emigrees. A proper contraption-based locked room story.
Howel Evans’ ‘The Mystery of the Taxi-Cab’ (1922) features an outing for the Murder Club. A famous judge is killed in his taxi with a mysterious weapon.
Melville Davisson Post’s ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ (1914) was the first outing for ‘the right hand of the land’, the ferocious Uncle Abner. Uncle Abner strides around West Virginia dispensing Old Testament justice.
‘It is a statute,’ replied Abner, ‘of an authority somewhat higher. Mark the language of it: “He that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.”‘
Bill Pronzini’s ‘The Pulp Connection’ (1978) concerns the murder of a famous pulp collector, who before dying manages to arrange three of his books into a clue.
Clayton Rawson’s ‘Off the face of the Earth’ (1949), featuring magician-detective The Great Merlini, is quite famous as the response to a challenge by John Dickson Carr to have someone vanish from a phone booth. Honestly I found it almost painfully contrived (compared to the elegant solution to Carr’s story in this collection).
C. N. and A. M. Williamson’s ‘The Adventure of the Jacobean House’ (1907) is from The Scarlet Runner, a book starring daring automobilist/detective Christopher Race.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s ‘Out of his Head’ is an excellent story of obsession and monomania from 1862. The narrator lives opposite an apartment block.
This house, I repeat, has a morose, unhappy look, at present, and is tenanted by an incalculable number of Irish families, while a picturesque junk-shop is in full blast in the basement.
In the block lives danseuse Mary Ware, who is apparently murdered by one of her two gentlemen callers. Our narrator, it soon becomes clear, knows much too much. For me this was the stand-out story in the collection – way ahead of its time.
All this, and stories by Lawrence Block, Edward D. Hoch, H. R. F. Keating, Peter Lovesey, and many more.
It is rounded off with a handy essay by Mike Ashley charting the impossible crime story from its early days (Hoffmann’s ‘Mademoiselle de Scudari’ and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘A Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess’) to ‘The Murders in the rue Morgue’, The Big Bow Mystery, Mystery of the Yellow Room), the 1930s peak (John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Hake Talbot, Clayton Rawson), and a sprinkling of newer stories from the 90s.
Well worth a look (and very good value as an e-book).