Saturday, December 27, 2014

It Ain't Over Till The Fat Man Sings

More Crippen and Landru, more locked rooms. Such fun.

This is not, has not been, and hopefully never will be a political blog, aside from the jabs that I feel is every person's noble responsibility. But that's neither here nor there. What is both here and there is the subject of this review: Banner Deadlines: The Impossible Files of Senator Brooks U. Banner, written by one of the most underappreciated mystery authors out there, Joseph Commings.

The book stars the titular Senator Banner, who seems to be Dr. Gideon Fell after his attempt at a weight-loss program. He seems to do very little politicking, focusing more on getting involved in bizarre impossible crimes (not that I object). But he does not merely look at locked and bolted doors, oh no! Too mundane. Why not a sword wielded by a giant? Or a delivered gun that kills without even damaging the envelope? ...Yes, it's obvious that I like this collection already....

Murder Under Glass

Despite my earlier rant, this story does indeed begins with a murder committed behind a locked a room made of glass. A famous glass manufacturer is stabbed in his greatest creation, and only Banner can uncover the truth...even if said truth is semi-flawed. (SPOLIERS Wouldn't the witnesses have heard two crashes and not one? And looking back, the one who mentions the killer. Why? And could a jack really lift the room up that high? END SPOLERS) The concept is very good, but the execution...yeah.

Fingerprint Ghost

A séance is held to uncover the truth in a past death. To the surprise of no one, it's organizer is stabbed to death. While everyone is straightjacketed. And they're linked by touching feet. Just for fun. the story is far better than the previous, with the best kind of "Well, duh." solution. The kind that makes you feel a little dumb for not catching it immediately. Though I do have wonder both at the killer's motivations, and Banner's actions at the end. It's not like he was short of evidence...

The Specter on the Lake

There's a legend on Mad Moon Lake.  Two lovers drowned themselves because forbidden love, and now the tragedy receives a new spin when two parts of a love triangle are shot to death on the lake...even though no one approached. I'm actually a little reluctant to critique...mainly because I don't know how much of this me or Commings. I think that he reversed (SPOLIERS the victims' positions) which completely changes the story. I don't know for sure, but the story is broken if he did.

The Black Friar Murders

Eric Bayne is on the prowl. No one knows his face, but he seems to have wormed his way into a group stranded in a cloister. Oh, and there's a ghostly friar stabbing people in barred cells before running through the wall. The story is well told, with a fairly hinted at killer, but the solution to the impossible crime isn't hinted at all. Also, Banner's plan is.. odd, to say the least. Why would the killer decide that something a petty as that was somehow going to expose everything?

Ghost in the Gallery

Linda Carewe poisoned her husband with five grams of arsenic. It what will go down as one of history's greatest murder fails, not only does he live, but he also gains the superpower of vanishing from an observed room after stabbing a woman to death. Kinda useless all thing considered, unless you're a serial killer. The actual solution is well done, and the story itself moves at a nice pace.

Death by Black Magic

Fifteen years ago, Simmonds, playing Othello, actually strangled his wife, playing Desdemona, before vanishing from the stge. The theater that it all went down in seems like a great place to test a magic trick, so thinks the magician who will be strangled in his own cabinet in full view of his daughter and Banner. The murderer is fairly hinted at, but the solution is nearly impossible to figure out. The past crime is interesting though.

Murderer's Progress

A bunch of smart people with nothing better to do all decide to come up with some ingenious ways to make Banner look dumb. It'd be a doomed plan from the start, but then one comes up with the idea to arrange a nice impossible vanishing....that ends with both participant dead. A nice, multi-layered story, who's only real flaw is a slight lack of cluing about the solution.

Castanets, Canaries, and Murder

Kean Smith has some problems. He seems to have won the affections of a woman who's kinda crazy to him. Oh, and she has a problem with some dead canaires. Thankfully, Banner's happy to look into it...and he uncovers blackmail, and a murder almost committed almost in front of a running camera. And no, the killer wasn't seen. How silly would that be! The problem is that you will either instantly see the trick, or miss it with no in between. The clueing for the killer is at least semi-fair. The leading lady is a tad on the over-the-top side though.

The X Street Murders

Already done. Twice.  Large And In Charge

Hangman's House

During a storm, Banner finds himself stranded with a bunch of people in a mansion cut off by a flood. They all survive and go home happy. The end.

Hah. The original owner is found hanging by an insanely high chandelier over a floor of almost unbroken dust. It's a well-done and grand solution, that's marred by the fact that there are only two clues to the killer's identity. One is small and without context, the other is slammed in your face. Also, why does the killer need to do all of this? Just dump the body in the raging flood surrounding the house. Also, the motivation is...very weak at best. At worst, you'd think that the victim and killer would be reversed. Fremantle did threaten them...

The Giant's Sword

Estelle Whitelake is not happy. That nice painting that she bought? A forgery. The dealer that she bought it from? Dead, impaled on an overly large sword better suited for a giant. Probably the most creative of the stories, and another with a perfect, "Well, duh." solution. The killer is a little obvious though.

Stairway to Nowhere (co-written by Edward D. Hoch)

Jim Newman is not having the best day. His girlfriend vanished about halfway up a staircase. She might have been running around with a valuable diamond.  Nope. Not a good day. Good thing that Banner is around to offer insight! This is one of two stories that follow a different character, and it's done well here, with Banner being inscrutable. The solution is well-done, and the story itself is also very good.

The Vampire in the Iron Mask

Colonel Hope Seven is trying to give Guy St. Hilaire a medal for his work in Nazi killing, but he's being a stubborn old jerk. Throw in a beautiful woman, and you have nice tension going.  And this is before the iron-masked vampire starts strangling kids and writing names in a locked tomb. Because those are the things you see at creepy French boarding schools. All joking aside, the story is quite good, with a nice solution and motive for the locked room. Though I do have to wonder how the reader is supposed to know that (SPOLIERS the first death was accidental. No really, how? END SPOLIERS) The story also could've done with more suspects.

The Whispering Gallery

An evil magician. An upside-down killer. A man vanishing from his house. Stolen Egyptian papyrus. All of these are interesting plot elements...individually. Unfortunately, it feels like Commings wrote a few lines for each idea, then crammed then together into a story. It's a mess. What was the point of that tarot lady, for example? Even the solution manages to be underwhelming, mainly because there was no reason for the killer to do that!

All in all, a very good collection. The stories, while flawed in places, are well-told. Banner himself is also entertaining to watch in action, which is good because the stories would be a little bland otherwise. I still think that some of the solutions are near-impossible to figure out without specialized knowledge, they're at least interesting. Out of fourteen stories, I only didn't care for two. That's good, right?

I'm giving this a recommendation. If just so we can get more of these stories.

Next time, the French John Dickson Carr. And werewolves.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Dynamic Duo

Let's face it, I need to read more Bill Pronzini.

For the uninitiated, Bill Pronzini is one of the few authors who can combine hard-boiled noir with the best elements of the Golden Age. I admit that I haven't read too much of Pronizini, but that will change soon. Like almost every author I read, I got started on his short stories.

John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter have both gotten a revival recently, but they were mainly confined to two novels and some short stories at the time that Carpenter and Quincannon: Professional Detective Services was released by the obvious suspect, Crippen and Landru. John Quincannon was Secret Service agent, until he accidently killed a woman. Sabrina Carpenter, was the wife of a Pinkerton detective, until he got killed. Together, they fight crime. This is a collection of stories staring the two of them, with a nice mixture of stories, including locked rooms! But can they overcome my nitpickiness about clueing?

No Room at the Inn

Quincannon would really like to be relaxing on Christmas Eve, not hunting a crook thorugh the wilderness. But his paycheck carries him on, and when he sees that the owners of a inn have been dragged in, he needs to call upon his detective skills....

Not really a mystery, but this is still a very competent story. The main mystery part is...semi-clued. It's hinted at, but I'm not sure of how fair it is.

Burgade's Crossing

Noah Rideout has a slight problem: Someone is trying to kill him, and they probably have a very good reason for it, he being the stereotypical jerk who's normally killed in mysteries. If he dies, however, Quincannon isn't getting paid, so he's stuck protecting the man, and maybe even figuring out who wants him dead and is willing to act on it...

A decent story. Well-paced, funny, and fairly clued, this story's main problem is that nothing really stands out. It's very good, it just pales in comparison to most of the others. But most of the others are locked rooms, so I admit a bias.

The Cloud Cracker

Leonide Zachs is a cloud cracker, someone who can supposedly use chemicals to make it rain. Needless to say, he's a scam artist, and Quincannon has been sent in to bring him in. In what will become a recurring theme here, Zachs meets his end before that, and in a locked room to boot...

This is good. The locked room is nice, and the ending is perfect, but I have two major complaints.
(SPOLIERS 1. The timing. I can buy that they could time the shot with the rocket, it wouldn't have to be absolutely perfect...but how could Collard time the fake shot so perfectly? Especially when Quincannon could just yank him away form the door? 2. How are we supposed to know that Collard knows ventriloquism? Yes, the rest is fair, but still...I admit that I might just be picky. END SPOLIERS)

Lady One-Eye

At the Palace, Lady One-Eye is the best of the best...and she might be an ingenious card shark. Quincannon and Carpenter have been hired not only to prove it one way or the other, but also find out who threatened the Lady and her husband. A task made harder when said husband is shot, and no one sees who fired....

Another good story. Not much more to say, other than that the method isn't clued very well. (If it all...)

Coney Game

Quincannon arrested Long Nick Darrow eighteen years ago, and put an end to his coney game. (Which, despite making me think of some carnival scam, actually involves counterfeiting.) Now that he's been released, and got his old work going, he's aiming right at Quincannon..

This is a thriller rather than a mystery, but it's fun. Not much to say other than generic, "The writing was good, it was funny, etc."

The Desert Limited

A chance encounter gives Carpenter and Quincannon a shot at fugitive Evan Gaunt. He's being watched, he's on a train, he'll be arrested when he gets off...He's cornered. Then he walks into the bathroom, and vanishes..

This story had potential. A lot of potential. But the cluing is under par, and there's no way you can figure it out. The last twist is funny, but again, no way of you solving it.

The Horseshoe Nail

Quincannon goes undercover at a logging camp to find the loot of a thief, and bring said thief in. In keeping with his record throughout the collection, something goes wrong. This time, the thief is found dead in his cabin, the door barred on the inside...

Er....Good? Once again, I have no real complaints, other than that the method really isn't clued...but I fully admit that that's just me, and the killer's identity is fairly clued.

Medium Rare

Professor Vargas of the Unified College of the Attuned Impulses has gathered together a small group to show off his spiritual prowess, and make money off it. Unfortunatly for him, the husband of one of his followers has hired our heroes to expose him. Even more unfortunately, after showing off what looks like unambiguous supernatural activity, someone stabs him in the back...And not only was the door locked, but everyone was holding hands...

First, that pun is awful. Second, this is a pretty good story, especially with how it explains all of the tricks during the séance....but it almost seemed as if the story was more focused on those, and the actual murder suffered as a result. The cluing was just barely there, and the solution was very simple. The humor was good though.

The Highbinders

Quincannon makes a late night visit to an opium den. His target: a lawyer who might know something about the missing body of a Chinese gang leader. Problem: The lawyer is shot, and now Quincannon must hit the streets of Chinatown with only the words "Fowler's Alley" and "blue shadow" to go on...

Once again, more not really a full mystery, but entertaining nonetheless. There's a light mystery element, but it's easy. (SPOLIERS It also falls into the trap of "This person was a jerk to the detective THEREFORE THEY ARE EVIL! END SPOLIERS)

I have to say, this was better than I thought it would be. I recalled finding the stories underclued, but, aside from a few, they were done well. The stories are entertaining to read as well, with some nice humor. Although, the "will-they-won't-they" stuff does get a little vexing.

I give this collection a 7 out of 10. Next time, the only politician I would vote for without hesitation.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Night My Friend

Yes, I said I would do Pronzini. I also said that I would be faster with these....

Halloween is considered our creepy holiday. Probably originating as a pagan festival, it ended up getting turned into a fun time for small children, and an excuse to pig out on assorted sugary things.
Thankfully, some great writers are happy to remind us of the horror that lurks around us.

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to take a look at yet another anthology. This time, it's Murder For Halloween. Which, surprise, surprise, has stories that focus on Halloween, or All Hallows Eve if you want to be pretentious about it. I admit that I picked this up not because I wanted to celebrate the holiday, but because Hoch and Queen were in it. Still, can the rest hold up?

Monsters by Ed McBain

If there's one part of Halloween that everyone thinks about, it's trick-or-treating. Generally, it doesn't involve knives and robbery, not a revenge that perfectly fits the Halloween theme...

Not much to say here. A nice start to the collection, but otherwise, nothing stand out.

The Lemures by Steven Saylor

In ancient Rome, a man seemingly jumps off of his balcony upon seeing the ghost of a former friend. Meanwhile,  a retired soldier spends his days in fear of ghosts from his past. Both are seemingly being tormented by creatures know as Lemures....

Well. This is strange. This is really two separate stories. One is dull and cheats horrible with its solution on multiple levels, while the other plays somewhat fair, and is actually good. I'll leave it in the air, but know that I only enjoyed the story because of said part. The other half cheats.

The Adventure of the Dead Cat by Ellery Queen

Ellery hates surprise parties, and when this surprise Halloween party has a murder game, he hates it even more. Thankfully for him and the reader, someone has the decency to make the game real, and they were even kind enough to make an impossible crime out of it! Just how did they go though a cluttered room in complete darkness...?

Ah. Quality. A fine showing from Ellery Queen with fair cluing, some decent humor, and a nice problem. Although (SPOLIERS how did Lucy know all of this in advance? The summation implies that she planned this, but everything seemed to be pretty random. The game, the choice of victim...END SPOILERS) But hey, maybe I misread it.

The Odstock Curse by Peter Lovesey

In fiction, Gypsy curses are a thing. They also tend to be very effective things, especially when skeptics are involved, a one man finds out...

Good. That's really all I can say. No real detection. Just a good Halloween story.

The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin by His Excellence Edward D. Hoch

Nick Velvet is a bizarre thief. Most steal money, artifacts, paintings, and other valuable things. Nick steals only the  worthless, like a jack-o-lantern. He also has a habit of crime solving, like rumors of bet fixing...

For once, I don't have complete mindless praise. This is still a good story, but the clueing is weaker than normal. Other than that, good.

Halowe'en for Mr. Faulkner by August Derleth

Guy Fawkes had a plan to blow up Parliament. Like all good plans, it was foiled by stupidity, and now he is celebrated in England, Alan Moore's head, and 4chan. None of this is important to our Mr. Faulkener, until he's suddenly thrown back in time...

Er...Good? I mean, there's nothing really offensive here. It's...good?

Deceptions by Marcia Muller

A young woman leaves a suicide note and her car behind. The implication is obvious. But did she really throw herself off of the Golden Gate Bridge...?

Another "good, not great" story. The opening is good, but the rest is pretty standard. The solution is also pretty obvious. Also....what does this have to do with Halloween? I mean, there's a Halloween party mentioned, but other than that...

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

A man adopts a black cat, a cat that witnesses its master's slow decent into debauchery. The end result of this is one dead wife and the perfect crime, but cats have a habit of messing with their owners, especially when it comes to the important things in life....

Once again, good, with a nice ending. The build-up is nice, and aside from the older writing style, a very nice read.

OMJAGOD by James Brady

The usual tale of children against the forces of adults. This time, it's not just the jerk up the road, but some gangsters too...

Can I just say that this is the best title in the collection? Say it out loud, OMJAGOD. It sounds awe-inspiring, intimidating. I would think of , like, a struggle through the swamps of Louisiana, or something. Unfortunately, I probably enjoyed this story the least. It's not because of the plot; though said plot is an utter mess, but because of the writing style. It's..awful. It's trying too hard to be different, and it's just hard to read.

The Cloak by Robert Bloch

All Henderson really wants is a scary Halloween costume to shake up the fancy party he's going to. He gets one alright. The authentic article...

Just a Halloween story. Good? Nothing really spectacular... (SPOLIERS By the way, ignore that opening, This isn't a sad or depressing story at all. END SPOLIERS)

What a Woman Wants by Michal Z. Lewin

A tale of a writer, a policeman, and a very specific car thief. And the perils or love, just to make it worse...

This...really isn't that good. There's no real mystery, the seeming main premise goes nowhere, and the story itself is a let down.

Yesterday's Witch by Gahan Wilson

This is a short enough story that I'll skip a summary. All I'll say is that it involves dares and witches, always a pleasant combination. It's good, but to be honest, I felt like it could have played up some childhood fears more. Knocking on the door of what you think is a witch, not sure what will happen...There could have been more, I think. (SPOLIERS Also, this lady is a terrible witch. All she really does is mess with the kids... END SPOLIERS)

Walpurgis Night by Bram Stoker

On Walpurgisnacht, an Englishman travelling through the countryside stumbles upon a path that leads to a village where the dead walked. Ignoring his guide as well as his common sense, he sets out...

Yes. That Bram Stoker. The same Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula. This was apparently meant to be some sort of opening, and it does it's job well. The atmosphere is good, though Dracula's actions at the end seem to make no sense.

Trick or Treat by Judith Gardner

Once again, too short for a summary. Just a story that's meant to creepy you out, and it does a decent job of it. I just wish that the narrator wasn't such a jerk though..

One Night at a Time by Dorothy Cannell

He's vampire in recovery with a talent for deduction. He's a warlock chronicling his patient's adventures. And their first client? A ghost....

This had the best premise in the entire collection. A supernatural Holmes and Watson? A world with said supernatural running around? Yes! I want that!...And then the mystery falls flat due to a lack of clueing. It's a shame, as I liked the solution, you just had no chance to figure it out.

Night of the Goblin by Talmage Powell

Once again, too short to summarize. It involves a kid's diabolical plan...that really doesn't seem justified. I'm sorry, but the victim isn't fleshed out enough for this to feel like some great victory. Though I did learn how to put razor blades in candy so that's something...?

Trick-or-Treat by Anthony Boucher

Ben Flaxner is a man on the run. Still, he's managed to find a safe haven, and he might be able to resolve things. Then a small trick-or-treater shoots him. Could it really be a ghost that shot him...?

Yes, this has almost the exact same title as earlier story. I didn't make edit the thing. Thankfully, this story is far better than the last few, with a good mystery with a nice dose of humor. It's my first Boucher too...

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

He's called Hat. He's a jazzman, a good one, and one who no one knows much about. A college student sets out to change that, and gets a tale of a Halloween night, and a night in the bad psrt of town...

I admit, I have a weakness for these types of stories. Both the story within a story, and the small child seeing things that he shouldn't. Thankfully, the story mostly lives up to its premise, with a good atmosphere and storytelling. Sure it's not a mystery, but for once, I'll let my elitism slide.

Well...This really isn't filling me with a desire to keep reading anthologies. Once again, while it has it's highs, for the most part, it never really gets above average. This may be because I'm here solely for the mystery aspect, while this anthology is more focused on horror for the most part. Can you really say that Yesterday's Witch or Walpurgis Night or The Cloak are mysteries? Or crime stories for that matter. This is primarily a Halloween anthology, and it falls short as a mystery one.

Yet, the Halloween aspect isn't all that good either. I'm no expert on horror, but these stories really aren't scary. A little disturbing in places yes, but Trick or Treat was the only one that I finished with a sense of horror. It just isn't scary.

I give this anthology a 5.5 out of 10.

Next up, Pronzini! For real this time!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Deceased Sleep In A Restless Manner

You know, sometimes I feel like I'm very atypical. I mean, here I am writing a blog meant to mainly on locked-room mysteries (I'll branch out, don't worry), and I haven't done anything about John Dickson Carr!

If you're reading this, then you probably know about Carr, but if you don't, I'll summarize. John Dickson Carr is considered to be the master of the locked-room mystery, and the writer of two of what are considered to be the best in the sub-genre, The Hollow Man and The Judas Window. Needless to say, it was inevitable that I would end up looking at him at some point, but do I start with one of those famous novels or maybe one his most popular? No, I start with radio plays!

The Dead Sleep Lightly is a collection of some of Carr's many radio plays. Really, he wrote a lost of these things, not jus mystery, but propaganda as well. This probably played a role in weakening his later novels, as he seemed to carry over some of the techniques, but that's neither here nor there. We're here to look at the stories presented here, and see if they're worth your time. Let's begin!

The Black Minute

Many, including Dr. Fell , gather for a séance held by a Mr. Riven. He claims that he will contact the wife of one Sir Francis Church. Obviously, this goes wrong, and Riven joins the dead, courtesy of a  knife to the throat. Now there's the problem of figuring out who could have stabbed him in  a locked room, where everyone in there was holding hands...

An excellent start. This is an excellent mystery; fairly clued, and with a simple yet clever solution. No complaints here...

The Devil's Saint

Lord Edward Whiteford, like all of Carr's heroes, has fallen in love at first sight. The object of his affections is Ileana, niece of Count Lorre Kohary. He object to the relationship, but will allow it if Whiteford can survive a night in the Tapestry Room, where people fall asleep and never wake up...

More of a thriller than a mystery story, this is still a great inclusion. Tension is handled well, the ending is good... Really, I only have one question (SPOILERS What will happen to Whiteford now? END SPOLIERS)

The Dragon in the Pool

Swimming pools can be very dangerous places. This is a bizarre enough statement to open a story, and it only get more bizarre form there. Revenge, a mysterious death, a vanishing weapon...All of it will be resolved at an underground swimming pool...

Decent story. Carr's used this trick before, but it's still well done, and the ending is terrifying. Although (SPOILERS I have to wonder why Tony didn't notice the huge spike in the water. Glass or not, I would think that it would be more visible. At least, the tile damage would be. But there I go, nitpicking. END SPOLIERS)

The Dead Sleep Lightly

Kensal Green 1-9-3-3. A number that won't leave George Pendelton's head. It's the number on the gravestone of an old flame of his. Eventually, he accidently calls it and hears her voice...over a disconnected telephone...

As the title story, this has a decent amount of weight to hold up, and it does pretty well. The story is pure Carr, with a focus on the apparent supernatural, a perfectly rational explanation, atmosphere, and a focus on justice than the letter of the law. Unfortunately, the solution is technical, though the intelligent reader (not me) can at least figure out part of the trick. Still a good story.

Death Has Four Faces

An unlucky streak at the gambling tables leaves Ralph Harvey hurting for cash. Lucky for him that this nice man wants him to smuggle a bottle of pills past customs, and he gets paid for it! In the end though, it's the employer who winds up in a mess, stabbed to death in an open square, with no one near him...

Can I just say that I like the scenarios Carr comes up with in his stories? Now that I've got that bit of praise out of the way, I'll say that this is another good story, though the solution doesn't appeal to me. (SPOLIERS How can you drop a knife onto someone's back with enough accuracy for near-instant death? I've read the Colonel March version of this story, and I like it better, because it's easier to buy that the killer could drop the knife onto his neck. END SPOLIERS)

Vampire Tower

"Just how far does any man trust his wife? Or his fiancée for that matter?" It's a question Carr would pose many times, here asking if a man can trust that his fiancée hasn't made a habit of poisoning people despite not getting near the drinks. Of course, one should always remember that Carr loves to twist things....

Once again, more of a suspense story than anything, but it's a good suspense story, even if Barbra's behavior is intensely bizarre. The ending makes up for a lot, though. Except for the fact that there are no vampires (expect the metaphorical kind), towers, and definitely no vampire towers!

The Devil's Manuscript

A young couple has car trouble in the woods and notice a man in a house. The same man who made a bizarre bet with a horror author that has put his life in danger. Is there really a story so terrifying that it can kill?

More suspense than anything, this is an adaption of some horror story that I've never heard of. It's still very good, but I have to wonder (SPOLIERS why Colston was still standing outside that window. It didn't occur to him to run? END SPOLIERS)

White Tiger Passage

Bill Stacey has had enough. For too long he has been Willie Whiskers of the Daily Record, nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Now he's on the something big: the identity of a serial killer. Al he has to do is figure out was his murdered informant meant in his last limerick....

Yes, a comedy with a serial killer. Whether or not you consider it good comedy will depend on your sense of humor, but this is an all-around good mystery.

The Villa of the Damned

Alan Stannard is greatly enjoying his vacation in Italy, taking in all of the sights... including a bizarre ritual that can make a whole suburb disappear in the mists of time..

A great end to the collection. All the usual praise applies, though with one flaw: the situation is audacious yes, but it leaves very little room for any alternate solutions.

All in all, this is an excellent and well-rounded collection. My only real consistent gripe is that some of these are more suspense stories than mystery stories, but they're good anyhow. Besides, they were written for a radio program called Suspense... (and an American counterpart...)

I give this collection a 7.5 out of 10.

Next time, Pronzini! Though it's not Nameless I'm looking at...

Also: I would like to apologize for the atrocious amount of time it took for this. I say that I'll have these done earlier, and then I take forever...

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Proposition

Mystery bloggers everywhere, lend me your ears! I come to you with an idea! It is an extreme idea. It might even be an arrogant idea. But it's an idea I had some time ago, and I figure that I might as well give it a test run. What if we, and by we I mean mystery bloggers, tried to create a third edition of Locked Room Murders?

See why I said that this was arrogant? I really don't want to seem like I'm insulting Robert Adey here, I just want to know why we can't create something like this, or something similar. We'd have many different people working on it. We'd have different areas of expertise. Heck, e-publishing gives us a chance to get it out there. I'm not saying that it'd be easy, but maybe we could discuss it and see how it works? Again, I'm sorry for the arrogance, and I'm sorry if this turns out to be infeasible. I just want to see it discussed...

(And yes, I'm working on the next review. I had an algebra test this week; cut me some slack and show some mercy on this poor soul!)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Queenly Air

Sorry for the lateness...

It might surprise you to know that mystery radio shows were apparently very popular at one point, and there were few more popular than the Ellery Queen radio plays. Written by Manfred B. Lee and Fredric Dannay, and later by Lee and Anthony Boucher, (another author on my to-be-read list) the series ran from 1939 to 1948 and had a listenership of 15 million a week at its height. Unfortunately, it faded away... until the Church of Crippen and Landru, headed by St. Greene, released some of the scripts in The Adventure of the Murdererd Moths and Other Radio Mysteries.

The stories are said to contain the Queen staples of fair-play cluing, along with a Challenge to the Reader Listener, but can they stand proud in the Queen canon?

The Adventure of the Last Man Club

A simple exercise in showing off takes a dark turn when Ellery and his assistant Nikki Porter witness a hit-and-run. Before dying, the victim coughs out information that leads Ellery to the Last Man Club, who are indulging in that second-most fatal of mystery clichés, (the first being blackmail) the Tontine. And that's before the member are all nearly killed off by a poisoned wine bottle...

And excellent start to the collection. The story is good, the clueing is fair, and the reveal is very well done. My only complaint is some bizarre kidnapping thing that shows up without reason, but everything balances out. Though I do have a question now: Why would anyone be part of a Tontine? It seems like a excellent way to get murdered.

The Adventure of Napoleon's Razor

Ellery and Nikki are travelling on a train from California, when murder is done. A man is stabbed to death in one of the booths with, of all things, a razor that belonged to Napoleon. That mystery pales in comparison to the true mystery here, the one that easily overshadows this trivial murder; where did his stolen emeralds go? Everyone and everything is searched, and no trace is found...

Another great mystery with a well-hidden killer and an clever hiding place for stolen jewels. I do wonder what the point of the (SPOILER G-men were supposed to be, besides making me think that we were suddenly in a Half-Life crossover. I know that they were meant to be a red herring, but they have so little to do with anything... END SPOILERS) Also, there's either a major cheat pulled or a clever misdirection (SPOILERS You will not convince me that it was unintentional that they mention a historical error from Queen right next to the intentional historical error. END SPOILERS)

The Adventure of the Bad Boy

Bobby Hayes is a brat and a holy terror to his mother and aunt. But does that mean that he poisoned his aunt's rabbit stew?

Another good story! Despite the dark premise, this story never falls into the trap of being all ANGST!!! and delivers a very good story with a nice surprise twist. There's some specialized knowledge, though to be honest the story gives you enough to work it out anyway. Though I have to wonder...(SPOLIERS what happened to Gordini? I know that he indirectly committed murder, but it was by turning someone else's plan back on them. What would the courts think? END SPOLIERS)

The Adventure of the March of Death

Samuel March is a jerk. Really, he is. He's cruel to his children, even when they don't deserve it (for one of them anyway) and treats his servant like crap, even though he's willing all of his money to the man. Even Ellery can tell that he's gonna die. And die he does, with a knife rammed in his back. At least he was able to leave a dying message...what do you mean that it implicates every suspect...?

Ah, a good dying message story. The dying message is fair and requires no specialized knowledge. There's not much more to say, other than that Ellery's knowledge of how this was going to turn out made me smile.

The Adventure of the Haunted Cave

A paranormal researcher believes that he has found an instance of genuine paranormal phenomenon. In a cave where a man strangled many victims. This being a murder mystery, he decides to spend the night in the cave with a rival, but when day breaks, he's gone in early, and been strangled early. And only his footprints are in the mud surrounding the cave's entrance...

Ah, my favorite kind of locked room mystery; the no footprints story! As usual, the story is fairly clued, and the solution is beautifully simple. (SPOILERS The killer's method of getting out of the cave was pretty weak compared to how they got in though... END SPOLIERS)

The Adventure of the Lost Child

Harvey Morrell, owner of the Hessian Chronicle, is a man with many enemies. But which of those enemies kidnapped his daughter? It will take all of Ellery's skill to reach the truth, and he may not like it...

Probably the best story in the collection. The story is dark, yet never crosses into Warhammer 40,000 levels of dark. It's well executed on almost every level, and almost guaranteed to gut punch you. (SPOLIER Though why the cop out with the whole "the killer is her stepmother, not her mother thing?" It really wasn't needed... END SPOLIERS)

The Adventure of the Black Secret

The C.D. Black Company is the oldest rare book dealer in the city. Unfortunately, they're having a spate of thefts; so many thefts that the insurance company is getting suspicious, and they're sending in their own version of Ellery Queen to figure things out. Now Ellery has to juggle a thief who can steal things in plain sight, Black's mysterious secret, a murder, and his own ego...

I do enjoy this one. The clueing for the thefts is slightly weak, but not by much. The dying message near the end is ingenious too. Really, my only complaint is some weird comedy bit in the story. I get why it's there, but I just couldn't enjoy it...

The Adventure of the Dying Scarecrow

A country trip takes a bizarre turn when Ellery and co. find a man yelling about a bleeding scarecrow. Who turns out to be a propped-up half-dead guy. This leads Ellery to the Mathew Farm, a place of mental instability and tragedy. Just what did that unknown man have to do with them anyway...?

Another good story. The usual rules apply, blah blah good pacing blah blah fair clueing blah blah I like the whole anonymous victim idea... this really is a good, if somber, story.

The Adventure of the Woman in Black

Philip Jurney, a famous author, is having trouble. Namely, a mysterious woman in black, who can apparently shrug off bullets, seems to be following him around... and it's said that when she appears to a member of his family three times, they'll die...

The last of the longer stories, this is yet another solid tale with fair clueing and an interesting situation. My main gripe is that the trick behind the Woman's seeming intangibility is too easy to solve. (SPOILERS This also makes one of the people involved very obvious. Sure I didn't figure it out, but it's still very easy. END SPOILERS) The Oscar Wilde clue is very clever too.

The Adventure of the Forgotten Men

A group of homeless men find out that a new member is stashing items in their camp. They drive him away, but he later turns up again, murdered...

This is the first of the shorter scripts, but it isn't a reduction in quality. Instead, it still manages to be a fairly-clued story that should satisfy any mystery fan. I really don't know what else to say. (I'm running into the Hoch Effect(TM) here...)

The Adventure of the Man Who Could Double The Size of Diamonds

I reviewed this already under Please Lock The Door On Your Way Out. Though I did come up with a new complaint (SPOILERS Why did Kenyon plant the British guy's diamond in Lazarus' hand? Why not his own? Then he'd get it back. That's actually why I thought that the British guy had something to do with it. END SPOLIERS)

The Adventure of the Dark Cloud

When Ellery was invited aboard the Valentine's yacht, he (foolishly) assumed that there would best rest and relaxation. He didn't expect the family patriarch to be shot while recording his will... good? Really, there's not much to say about it other than that. I mean, sure (SPOLIERS you could argue that the opening shouldn't give away the fact that there's a dying message here, but that's not the story's fault, is it? END SPOILERS)

The Adventure of Mr. Short and Mr. Long

Napoleon Short is a professional scammer, and Richard Queen has finally cornered him. He and the police wait outside his home, see him come out... and then turn around and vanish...

A reference to that famous case that Sherlock Holmes failed to solve, the disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, this story presents a very good picture of that famous case. This story seems to be a version of the whole "searching for some object" device that I've heard is common in Queen stories. It's good, but (SPOLIERS how could Mr. Short ensure that no one would walk out to the portico? It's right outside after all...END SPOILERS) It didn't hit me until I started writing this, so I guess that it can't be too big of a complaint... The clueing is also slightly thin.

The Adventure of the Murdered Moths

A stop at a run-down country inn places Ellery and co. in the center of young love. Thankfully, this is soon overshadowed by the far more interesting event of the bride's father being gassed to death, and by the fact the case turns on dead moths...

Well... this is a good story, no doubt, but I wonder why it was the title story. I mean, there's really nothing that sets it apart or anything. It does make a cool title though, so that's probably the reason.

So that's this book taken care of. It's good. Very good. The stories have a very even quality to them, and there isn't a story that I can say is "bad."

I give this book an 8 out of 10.

Now then...I am very sorry for the long wait. I'm trying to balance this with my life, and it's proving difficult. That being said, I think that I found a way to balance it, so I should be faster! If my procrastination doesn't get in the way...

As an apology, I'll mention that The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries will be out on October 28!

Next time, we'll take a look at some more radio mysteries, from one of the greatest mystery authors ever. Especially of a certain genre...

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Tragedy of Shakespearian Pretentiousness

I'm pretty sure that the people on this blog know about Ellery Queen, but if not, let me elaborate.
Ellery Queen is the creation of Manfred B. Lee (the writer) and Fredric Dannay (the plotter). Ellery Queen also served as their pen name, which probably led to people assuming that this was some early form of self-insert fanfiction. The books are known for twisty plotting, serious attempts at making more psychological mystery novels. and for being hilariously overwritten. To me anyways.

The Tragedy of Errors and Others' main feature is an unpublished novel, the outline of which was sent to Lee before he died. Crippen and Landru got their hands on it and published it, along with a few other stories and essays, for the 70th anniversary of the first book, The Roman Hat Mystery. Does this novel live up to Queen's standards, as much as I can judge as I've never read one of their novels so I'm probably completely unqualified and I'll stop now.

The Tragedy of Errors

Morna Richmond could've been a star. She was great in the silent films, but when she actually had to act, things fell apart. Now she spends her days in a castle estate, waiting for her big break, which she will receive. Posthumously, of course. She is found dead on her estate, murdered by someone who did a terrible job of making it look like suicide. The murderer is obvious, but Ellery can't shake the feeling that there's more to it...


+ Fairly clued, as far as I can see. Impressive, considering that this is just an outline.
+ The killer is hidden well.
+ The plot is good and twisty.
+ I enjoy what was done with the will. Unrealistic, but this is pointed out in-story, and I can still appreciate the effort.
+ I just love Dion Procter, because he just goes through the book with this "I don't give a crap" attitude. Considering how insane the plot gets...


- Let's start with the simple one; this thing feels overwritten. This is something I see in almost every novel snippet I see, these two just keep inserting unnecessary pretentiousness. But that's a matter of personal opinion.
- What was the point of (SPOLIERS Dion Procter? A red herring? If so, he worked on me, but I kind of wanted more to be done with him. END SPOILERS)
- This is probably more personal stupidity more than anything, but... what was the killer's motive again? I know they'd end up with enough money to buy at least two copies of Locked Room Murders, but their final conversation implied that there was more to it. Am I being dense? Was Dannay being too lofty?
- While the killer's plan mostly works, I do have one complaint. (SPOLIERS Why didn't Buck rat Rago out? Ellery says that he manipulated Buck, and unless he used subliminal messages, I don't see how Buck could be unaware of it. Why didn't he tell the police that "Oh by the way, Rago gave me this idea." For that matter, how would Rago be sure that he would off himself? END SPOLIERS)

This is a pretty good story. A complete judgment is impossible, due to it being an outline, but I believe that it would have been good if it had been completed. (Also, as a side note, Let me boast to TomCat that I did not fall into the same trap he did. I didn't solve it, but I take my victories where I can get them. Even if I achieved that victory through ignorance.)
Terror Town
Tommy Cooley walked away one October day. The town searched and searched but never could find him...until the spring rains turned up his body. And that was only the beginning of a series of murders that would shake the town to its core...
This story mocks me. It has good atmosphere, the clueing, while sparse, is fair, and I liked the motive for the murders. The main problem is the Dang. Romance. Plot! Look, I'm not like S.S. Van Dine, marching up the isles going "Harumph!" at romance plots. Heck, I don't mind when one is part of a story; it gives more emotional investment. But it's never done well in mysteries, as I learned here. It's annoying and gets in the way of the story. Heck, I could write a better romance! The rest of the story's good though.
Uncle From Australia
Ellery has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a real uncle from Australia. Complete with fortune to be willed away! As well as a knife in his back, and the dying message "Hall". If only all the people with a motive to kill him didn't share the same last name...
A simple story, with a good dying message. Not much more to say.

Note: The next three stories all have the same device of Ellery receiving problems from the Puzzle Club, a group of smart and rich people with nothing better to do.

The Three Students

Take a valuable ring. Now give three students access to it. End result: one missing ring and one strange note...

Unfortunately, this is one of those stories where there's only one clue, and if you don't have the knowledge to decipher that clue, you're outta luck. It's ultimately a guessing game.

The Odd Man

An undercover agent is murdered while looking into drug trafficking. The only clue he leaves behind is the killer is the "odd" one of the three...

Better than the last story. There are three possible solutions, so you have a pretty good chance of being able to figure out at least one. The knowledge required is also less specialized.

The Honest Swindler

Old Pete said that he was looking for uranium, and that he needed money. He got $50,000, because he said that his investor would get their money back. He doesn't find a thing, but he lives up to his promise...

Probably the best of these three stories. The situation is clever, and the solution is obvious once it's pointed out.

The Reindeer Clue (by Edward D. Hoch)

A two-bit blackmailer is shot to death in a reindeer pen. Of course, this being an Ellery Queen story, he's able to leave behind a dying message... that accuses Santa's reindeer...?

This is a fun story. It's short, to the point, and the dying message is clever, with only the bare minimum of specialized knowledge required.

The rest of the book contains reminisces and essays, and those are a little out of my expertise. I will, however, recommend Robert Adey's "The Impossible Mr. Queen" for a look at the locked room mysteries in the novels and short stories.

I really like this collection. The stories are of almost consistently good quality, the essays and the like are interesting, and the unfinished Queen novel is bound to excite the Queen fan boys.

I give it a 7.5 out of 10

Next time, Ellery Queen: Radio Personality. Thanks for reading!