The House That Kills – Noel Vindry (1932)

About two years ago I picked up The House That Kills and The Howling Beast by Noel Vindry, and this year I padded out my collection with The Double Alibi and the somewhat recently released Through the Walls.  So maybe I should actually get around to reading one, right?  I ended up picking The House That Kills due to my love of murderous rooms (see The Madman’s Room, Mr Splitfoot, The Red Widow Murders, etc), despite the fact that I seem to recall some people being critical of the book.

To be clear, this is not really a “room that kills” (err… house that kills) book, despite its name.  There’s no haunted house consuming it’s victims under a shroud of horrors from the past; rather it’s a gang of mysterious strangers terrorizing a family.  But man, it’s an absolutely crazy ride, and I’m so happy that I went with it.

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Murder in Mesopotamia – Agatha Christie (1936)

I’ve always been under the impression that Murder in Mesopotamia is one of Christie’s big novels, although I’m not sure how that thought formed.  The title definitely stands out, with the reference to Mesopotamia being a bit more memorable than, say, Easy To Kill or The Secret of Chimneys, and maybe my mind draws a bit of an association with the “exotic travel” titles like Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express.  Plus, the book did feature on the Roland Lacourbe list of top impossible crime novels, although I’ve come to learn that isn’t exactly a guarantee that a novel will in fact feature an impossible crime.

Whether Murder in Mesopotamia is actually a staple of Best of Christie lists or not, it didn’t really work for me.  This is actually the first Christie novel that I struggled to get into.  That’s not to say that it’s a bad book in anyway, it’s just that I didn’t find myself sucked into the characters, location, and story in the way that I’ve come to expect from Christie’s work.  The Christie magic was missing.

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To Live and Die in Dixie – Theodore Roscoe (1961)

If any Golden Age author can tell a story, it’s Theodore Roscoe.  Yes, I take great comfort in the prose of the likes of John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Henry Wade, Anthony Berkeley, Herbert Brean, Rupert Penny, or Norman Berrow.  And Christianna Brand… well, she’s just sublime.  But Theodore Roscoe can paint with words in a way that I haven’t encountered with other authors.  I’d be fine reading a Roscoe book that doesn’t even feature any mystery – but, I mean, come on, give me a mystery…

Which takes me to this read – To Live and Die in Dixie.  Is it a mystery novel?  Roscoe wrote a breadth of pulp, ranging from tales of The Foreign Legion to jungle safaris and adventures of the United States Navy, so there isn’t a guarantee that anything you pick up by him is going to be a story of detection.  But I suppose it’s a silly question to pose in the case of To Live and Die in Dixie.  It’s right there on the cover: “A mystery novel by Theodore Roscoe”.  Why then can’t I find a single review of this book?  I mean, this is the guy who wrote Murder on the Way – a zombie laced impossible crime (published in 1935 no less) – which is easily one of the best entries the genre has to offer.

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The Man From Tibet – Clyde Clason (1938)

I’m a sucker for a story within a story.  Think the likes of the breathless French Revolution flashback midway through John Dickson Carr’s The Red Widow Murders, or the sea captain’s bizarre yarn in Anthony Boucher’s The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars.  When executed well, these miniature tales sweep you right out of the core story and leave you with the drunken feeling of “wait, what book am I reading?”  It’s like you get an extra short story for free along with the novel.

Clyde Clason’s The Man From Tibet starts off with an absolute whopper of a story within a story; a 20 page account of a westerner’s perilous journey into Tibet, which at the time was completely closed off from the outside world.  I found myself so absorbed in the tale that I simply didn’t want it to end.  The fact that I had sought out The Man From Tibet for the locked room murder that it offered was the furthest thing from my mind.  And thus I became enamored with Clyde Clason.

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They Rang Up The Police – Joanna Cannan (1939)

I can’t quite recall why I bought this book.  I want to say that I saw it on some list of worthy Golden Age mysteries, but by the time my copy arrived in the post, I couldn’t remember what had spurred the purchase.  While I was at it, I had apparently snagged another Joanna Cannan novel (The Taste of Murder) on account of it being a cheap Dell map back edition.  So here I was, with two Joanna Cannan books and no real idea of who she was or what I was in for.

Thankfully I was in the mood for a decidedly British mystery, and They Rang Up the Police offers a nice cottage-laced version of that.  An elderly mother and her three spinster daughters form an unusually close-knit family in small town England.  They simply do everything together, and so when the eldest daughter disappears after a night spent sleeping outside, the others are thrown into a panic.  The thought of someone leaving the house in the morning without announcing their departure is simply unfathomable.  Eventually, “they rang up the police”, and after much badgering, the mother pulls enough strings to get a detective sent down from Scotland Yard.

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The Tokyo Zodiac Murders – Soji Shimada (1981)

It’s been a long time since a book left my jaw hanging on the floor.  Too long.  I mean, man, I’ve read some really solid mysteries in the past year, but I can’t say that I’ve had a meme worthy reaction when a revelation came.  Skimming back through my reads, it was nearly a year ago, with Christianna Brand’s Death of Jezebel, that I had my last true “holy shit” moment.  And after completing The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, my heart’s pumping, I’m resisting the urge to sprint through every Japanese honkaku impossible crime novel on my shelves, and my next read is already feeling like a let down.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders isn’t a stranger to top impossible crime lists, and I knew that I was going to get something crazy.  The big shin honkaku novels that I’ve read so far – think the likes of The Eight Mansion Murders, The Decagon House Murders, The Moai Island Puzzle – have all been insane in the best way, and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is viewed as the genre innovator that started it all.

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Murder Challenges Valcour in the Lesser Antilles Case – Rufus King (1934)

I stumbled across this novel after reading a review over at Dead Yesterday.  I’m not sure that I’ve heard of Rufus King, but the book had a definite allure: a mystery involving diving in the West Indies.  I’m always down to shake things up, and some 1930’s undersea chicanery sounded interesting.  Plus hey, there’s a Dell map back edition of the book.  I couldn’t resist.

I should note that the story is actually called “The Lesser Antilles Case”, but my Dell edition trumpets “Murder Challenges Valcour”, and that’s the only title shown on the spine.  So I’m going to call it that.

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The Last of Philip Banter – John Franklin Bardin (1947)

I’ve been approaching John Franklin Bardin’s work in order, but it’s really the title of “The Last of Philip Banter” that piqued my interest in the author.  It’s an intriguing name, especially for a Golden Age era mystery novel, and I found myself needing to know what it referred to.

My first read by Banter was the quirky novel The Deadly Percheron: a New York set mystery following a man suffering from amnesia trying to piece his life back together after being thrown into an insane asylum.  Not quite my cup of tea on the surface (especially with the amnesia angle), but it turned out to be interesting, if not the type of mystery I was looking for.  Well, The Last of Philip Banter is just as quirky of a read, and much to my chagrin we get more amnesia.

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Malice Aforethought – Frances Iles (1930)

I’ve been meaning to get around to this book for years.  Malice Aforethought is probably the most consistent title to come up whenever inverted mysteries are discussed, and I had a feeling that I should get to it before I read too many books in that vein.  In part, I had gotten the impression that there may be some unique twist to this book that was later copied by others, although having now read this, I don’t think there’s really anything that spoilable.

Anthony Berkeley (here writing as Francis Iles) has been really enjoyable for me so far.  His characters have this delightful smug selfishness, and his wry observations through them tell as much about the thinker as they do about whoever the snarky thoughts are directed at.  It makes the stories a humorous read without ever veering in the direction of comedy.  Yeah, some of his characters are inevitably asses, but that’s the fun part.

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Turn of the Table – Jonathan Stagge (1940)

With the exception of Death’s Old Sweet Song, Jonathan Stagge novels are notoriously hard to find.  Tracking down a nice looking paperback is especially difficult, even more so if you try to purchase in my bargain bin price range.  Imagine my jealousy then when Brad from Ah Sweet Mystery mentioned to me that he’d snagged a copy of Turn of the Table for a mere nine dollars.  I hadn’t even recalled seeing Turn of the Table available, much less in a gorgeous Popular Library edition, and I swear I had just been hunting for Stagge a day or two before.  I was compelled to take another look, and imagine my delight when I found another copy of Turn of the Table for the same unbelievable price of nine dollars.  I snatched it up immediately.

What followed was immediate guilt/confusion, as it sank in that I may well have purchased the exact same copy that Brad had told me about.  That guilt was compounded a few days later when my copy arrived in the post, and Brad mentioned that his still hadn’t come.  Yeah… I stole this book for him by some quirk of the online shopping cart…

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