Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Diagnosis: Somewhat Difficult

Hey, more Hoch! I know it seems a little quick to look at the next set of Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories already, but this was the next book I read in my epic quest to read locked room mysteries and I did say we were going roughly in my reading order.
More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, is the second collection of Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories released by Crippen and Landru after which they proceeded to leave us hanging for years before they released the next one. For those who missed the last post and/or have the memory span of a goldfish, Dr. Sam Hawthorne was one of the creations of Edward D. "I've Written Over 950 Short Stories" Hoch. Dr. Sam practices his trade in the New England town of Northmont, which is like Cabot Cove, if Cabot Cove had people dying in impossible manners every week instead of just dying. Yep, just about every Dr. Sam story has a locked room mystery or an impossible crime. And they're all completely solvable! You can also count them as historical mysteries, as the stories start in the 1920s and go on to the 1940s.
Now that I've got the recap out of the way, it's time for some locked rooms!

The Problem of the Revival Tent

A man travelling with his wife and son comes to Northmont with the extraordinary claim that his son can heal people. Too bad his son can't heal him when he's stabbed to death in his revival tent. And too bad that Dr. Sam fought with the man before his death and saw no one else in the tent when the victim died...

A great start to the collection. The usual praises about fair clueing, interesting situation, and good solutions all apply here. The murderer is well-concealed even if the solution is a little obvious. Heck, I figured that part out (partly because I was kind-of-sort-of spoiled on it, but still!)

The Problem of the Whispering House

When ghost hunter Thaddeus Sloan comes to Northmont to look into the Bryer house, it has a reputation for ghostly whispers in the front room. By the time this case is over, it will have a reputation for the man seen walking into a room with one observed exit and vanishing, leaving only his corpse behind...

I'm a little torn on this story. On one hand, the killer is well-concealed. On the other, the solution makes me iffy. It works (and to be honest, makes sense) with the location, but it's not normally a solution I prefer. Still, that's more personal opinion more than anything else. (Incidentally, I came within a hair's breadth of the killer when I first read this story. It more because SPOLIERS I was getting better at recognizing important characters END SPOLIERS than any real skill, but hey, progress!)

The Problem of the Boston Common

Dr. Sam arrives in the big city of Boston just for a medical conference. He wants nothing to do with any crime at all. Obviously, he soon gets wrapped up in the hunt for the serial killer 'Cerberus". A man who poisons his victims with curare in the Boston Common even though no one sees anything...

First off, let me say that I solved this one. I didn't get the method, but I did get the killer. And not because it was a reverse whodunit! Sadly, while the killer is hidden well, I have to question why nether the police nor the doctor helping them tumbled to the method. It's still a good story though.

The Problem of the General Store

Maggie Murphy is talking about women's 1928. Needless to say, she's not getting far. In fact, she looks like she's making things worse when she turns up unconscious inside a completely locked general store with a dead man...

Once again, the killer is well-hidden, but the solution doesn't ring as true as it normally does. This seems to be a recurring thing. Nonetheless, the solution works, it just seems too simple and the cluing felt a liiiiiittle off.

The Problem of the Courthouse Gargoyle

Aaron Flavor stands trial for killing his employer and Dr. Sam is stuck on jury duty. Fortunately(?) the trial is interrupted when the judge kneels over on the stand form poison that could not have gotten into his cup, with the word gargoyle on his lips...

A neat story. The killer is well-hidden and the solution is also good. I do have to gripe about (SPOLIERS the dying message not having much to do with the murder END SPOLIERS) but that's a personal thing (and yes, I know that the outro says that someone dies when they don't. I chalk this up to Hoch not being done with the story.)

The Problem of the Pilgrims Windmill

A black doctor has taken up a job at Northmont's new hospital, which apparently is cause for much waling and gnashing of teeth. Soon, that waling and gnashing of teeth will turn into cries to God as the Devil starts setting people on fire in the old windmill with only the victim's footprints around it...

My favorite story in the collection hands down. Another well-hidden killer is on display here, and the solution is good (if technical) but the main reason I love it is that the concept is that the Devil is going around burning people! How can you write a bad mystery when that's your idea?!

The Problem of the Gingerbread Houseboat

Dr. Sam has found love in the form of Miranda Gray. The course of true love never has run smooth though, but whoever came up with that phrase probably never thought that it would apply to four people vanishing out of a houseboat...

Sadly, this is probably the worst in the collection. Just not enough is done with this idea, and the solution is too simple. Then again, motive was a bigger question throughout the story and there is a nice bit of tension near the end, so it's certainly not all bad.

The Problem of the Pink Post Office

The Great Depression is beginning to hit, but Northmont is blissfully unaffected. That is, unless you count the banker running in with a $10,000 bond and having it vanish under everyone's noses in spite of thorough searches...

Huh, no murder this time. Anyway, this is another good story that manages to strike a balance between the culprit and the clever solution. It is a little easy though. How easy? I solved it! This story's main problem isn't the mystery but the character of Miranda Gray. After this, I find myself wondering, "Why was she here again?" (Yes, it's possible that Hoch just changed his mind about having her as a love interest, but he could have ended it better.)

The Problem of the Octagon Room

Sheriff Lens and Vera are tying the knot and Dr. Sam is looking forward to the wedding, which is supposed to take place in a octagon room. Unfortunately, Dr. Sam is the best man, making it inevitable that his Detective Curse (TM) will kick in and leave the dead body of a tramp in the looked room as a greeting for the happy couple...

This is a pretty even story. the killer is well-hid and the solution, for once, comes without any complaints, even my nitpicky ones! It should be noted that, as Mike Grost points out, (SPOLIERS that this is primarily a physical trick as opposed to the psychological tricks that are more often used END SPOLIERS) Just an interesting fact.

The Problem of the Gypsy Camp
Dem dirty gypsies have returned to Northmont (fine, they're a different group) and they're bringing more trouble with them as demonstrated by the man who runs into the hospital screaming about being cursed...and then kneeling over with a bullet in his heart in spite of his unbroken skin. And that's before a whole camp pulls a vanishing act...

This was the story I looking forward to this whole book. I actually save this one for last! And it... mostly lived up to expectations. It wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, but it was still good (and isn't the mystery author supposed to defy your expectations?) I do have to wonder if the vanishing act was completely clued, but the rest of the story (including it's clever reversal at the end) make up for it.
The Problem of the Bootlegger's Car

Dr. Sam is not having a good day. First, he gets kidnapped by gangsters so he can look at their boss. Then he finds out that said boss his exaggerating his injuries in order to find a mole. Then he gets to witness of an illegal transaction. Then the seller of said illegal goods vanishes from his car...

Probably my second favorite story in the collection. It's all very tightly held together with the usual praises that make up a Hoch work. I honestly have no real complaints.

The Problem of the Tin Goose

The barnstorming pilots have come to Northmont, and with them, murder. Very extravagant murder to as their star isn't just stabbed to death in his cockpit, he's stabbed to death in his cockpit while it's in midair... 

I... don't have much to say here. This is probably the blandest story in the collection. It's good but... there's not much to say. Err...the solution seemed simple but I didn't get it anyway so maybe it isn't that simple?

The Problem of the Hunting Lodge

Dr. Sam's parents are in town and they're looking forward to seeing their  son again and his father is ready to shoot some animals. Unfortunately, Dr. Sam never told them about the Detective Curse (TM) so they're surprised when the leader on a hunt is found dead in his cabin with only the footprints of Dr. Sam's father leading to it...

A pretty good story. The solution is good and the killer well-hidden  (yes, I know I'm repeating myself), but not much was made of the whole "Dr. Sam's father looks like the killer" thing. I also have to wonder at some bizarre line the narration makes earlier in the story about Dr. Sam's mother. It has noting to do with the story and doesn't really add much so I have to wonder why it's in (It's the last line while Dr. Sam's parents are staying over.)

The Problem of the Body in the Haystack
There's a bear running around Northmont and a few concerned citizens, Dr. Sam among them, are ready to kill it to death. The bear however, is the least of their worries, especially when a dead body turns up on top of a tarp-covered haystack, one that was nailed down earlier...
This is a good one. The premise is neat and the solution is simple, yet almost bound to give you the slip. Of course, it has to be simpler than normal, otherwise we might have a hard time believing that Sheriff Lens solved it first! (Again, I kid. I like Sheriff Lens.)
The Problem of Santa's Lighthouse
Dr. Sam is travelling and notices an advertisement for Santa's Lighthouse... and sees that it originally read Satan's Lighthouse. His investigation into this drags him into a murder committed when no one was near the victim and into a direct confrontation with some vicious gangsters...
This...wasn't the best story to end on. It's merely okay with both the murderer and the solution being a little to obvious. (though this might be because of the way other reviews and summaries I read beforehand discussed this story.) It's decent, but not much else.
Well, there's our second round of Dr. Sam. All in all, this could have been better. The stories are still top-notch, but they seem to have more flaws than the ones in the last collection, mainly in regard to solutions.
Despite these flaws, this collection in more than worthy of your time. I give it a 7.5 out of 10. Next time, either a lost Ellery Queen novel, or another locked room anthology. Be sure to comment! But first, a question. Should I continue doing short story collections? I've got about five or six more before we start hitting any novels, and I want to know if you all would mind that. If not, I have a few Monk novels I can insert in. Thanks for reading and thank you Ho-ling for linking me (I'd do the same if I knew how) on your blog! It's official, I'm popular!
(Also, I know I said I would look at Dr. Sam's justice bending here, but that will probably be a separate post.)

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