The phrase “historical mystery” instantly brings to mind John Dickson Carr. The author shifted his focus from contemporary Golden Age mysteries starting with The Bride of Newgate (1950) and contributed heavily to the sub-genre up until his final novel – The Hungry Goblin. His historical works cover ground between the seventeenth century (The Devil in Velvet) up until the time of his own birth (The Witch of the Low Tide) and I’ve seen several comments claiming that he basically created the historical mystery.
Or does Agatha Christie hold that title? Death Comes as the End, published in 1945, came out five years before The Bride of Newgate. Set in ancient Egypt, the tale of death stalking a high priest’s family certainly checks the boxes for historical and mystery. It’s worth mentioning though that Carr had two prior historical works – the non-fiction The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey (1936) and Devil Kinsmere (1934), although I haven’t read the later and I’m not certain that it qualifies as a mystery.
Continue reading “Death Comes as the End – Agatha Christie (1945)”
The Danger Within first flickered onto my radar a little over a year ago while I was reviewing Tomcat’s list My Favorite Locked Room Mysteries over at Beneath the Stains of Time.
“This is one of my all-time favorite mystery novels from the post-WWII era and of the best blends of the formal detective story, thriller elements and a semi-autobiographic at the same time. The setting is a POW camp in Italy and has a nifty impossible situation: a man has been found dead in a secret escape tunnel and the entrance was blocked with a furnace, which needed the combined strength of half a dozen men to budge as much as an inch.”
A locked room mystery set in a WWII POW camp? Sign me up please.
While I spent my childhood consuming a hefty amount of mystery and science fiction, I more than dabbled in tales of the trenches. The idea of an impossible crime taking place on a battlefield or in a prison camp is intriguing beyond simply stepping outside of the expected setting of a country house or the odd castle. You expect death in war time, and I’ve heard of more than one GAD novel in which a murderer has attempted to disguise their deed among the ruins of bombed out England. The actual theatre of war is different though. There, death simply is. The notion that a friend could become foe in the face of a clearly defined common adversary is no unique concept – just see Platoon. Still, mix in an impossible-style murder plot and I’m all game.
Continue reading “The Danger Within – Michael Gilbert (1952)”
The Cavalier’s Cup doesn’t have the best reputation as far as John Dickson Carr books go. Oft-derided, it tends to be lumped in with the other common undesirables – The Hungry Goblin, Behind the Crimson Blind, Deadly Hall, Papa La-Bas, and a handful of other titles. Is it a fair reputation though?
I’ve become somewhat skeptical of the stigma attached to supposedly lower-tier Carr books. I flat out loved The Problem of the Wire Cage. Seeing is Believing was a killer read up until an ending that I’ll admit was comical at best. Below Suspicion? How could anyone not enjoy it? Dark of the Moon? Yeah, it was a rambling slog, but the end spun me around so bad that I’m half tempted to recommend it.
Across forty-some Carr books that I’ve read up to now, I’ve only really read one book that didn’t work for me at all – Night at the Mocking Widow. As such, I’m fairly open to trying a book with a bad reputation. In fact, I look forward to it. Even if the story doesn’t fire on all cylinders, maybe there’s a gem tucked in there to be appreciated.
Continue reading “The Cavalier’s Cup – Carter Dickson (1953)”
I’ve been collecting Edmund Crispin books for several months now without actually reading them. It all started with Swan Song, frequently cited as his best work, but I’ve for some reason held off on reading it. Then I started collecting more of his books – The Moving Toyshop, Love Lies Bleeding, The Case of the Gilded Fly, Glimpses of the Moon, Buried for Pleasure. It’s probably a questionable pursuit, collecting an author without actually having read them.
With a wide range of titles presented to me, I shook my instinct to go with Swan Song and instead went against my nature by selecting THE BOOK – The Moving Toyshop. I refer to it that way because this is the famous one – Crispin’s version of The Hollow Man or Murder on the Orient Express. The Moving Toyshop seems to be the “of course you’ve read this one” title when it comes to Crispin, and so I figured I might as well use it as my springboard.
Continue reading “The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin (1946)”
Fear not – I haven’t abandoned my focus on GAD mysteries and impossible crime in exchange for 1970’s romance novels (well, not that I’m admitting…). Alas For Her That Met Me! is a late career novel by my personal Queen of Crime, Christianna Brand. Yes, the cover and the title may have you scratching your head, but I assure you there’s a reason behind this madness.
I’ve absolutely loved the Brand books that I’ve read so far. The author has a wit to her writing, a strange ability to forge a bond between the reader and her characters, and one of the most skilled hands at misdirection that I’ve yet to encounter. Unfortunately, she only wrote 10 murder mysteries – or so I’ve been told. I’ve found it difficult to really piece Brand’s career together, with the best reference I’ve been able to find being Wikipedia (never a good sign…). There’s the Inspector Cockrill series, for which she’s known, and then a handful of lesser known mystery novels featuring Inspector Chucky and Inspector Charlesworth – of those, only Death in High Heels really garners any attention. Brand seems to have ended her core mystery writing career in the mid-1950’s, with Tour de Force being her last “classic” title.
Continue reading “Alas For Her That Met Me! – Christianna Brand as Mary Ann Ashe (1976)”
Some books just don’t jump out at you. When I first started collecting John Dickson Carr, The Arabian Nights Murder was one of those titles that made its way into my collection and promptly found itself nestled towards the bottom of my To Be Read pile. Why? Who knows. Some novels just don’t have that hook that grabs you until you start reading them. Across his immense catalogue, Carr has victims encased in locked rooms, corpses surrounded by untouched sand/mud/snow, and murders that defy explanation despite being committed in full view of a captivated audience. What does The Arabian Nights Murder have to offer in comparison?
Going in, all that I really knew was that it featured a murder of the non-impossible kind – a body found stashed in a carriage in a museum. Nothing especially compelling. What was compelling though was that The Arabian Nights Murder was published in 1936. As I recently detailed in a post on Carr’s publishing timeline, the author’s most inspired peak output appears to have taken place between the years of 1935 and 1939. During that time, he was cranking out 2-4 books a year, and all of them were fairly high quality.
Continue reading “The Arabian Nights Murder – John Dickson Carr (1936)”
My last encounter with Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect), really stuck with me. There was something that she captured between those pages that my mind couldn’t leave alone – the tragedy of it all. It’s been several months, and yet my thoughts continually drift back to the characters, the setting, and paint drying on a canvas.
It’s a rare thing for me to really be impacted by a mystery book. Christianna Brand has a certain knack for it – creating a cast of characters so richly painted that it becomes anguishing in the end when one of them is revealed to be a killer. John Dickson Carr was less effective at it, but he had his moment with books like He Who Whispers and She Died a Lady – titles in which some element of the story pulls at the mind long after the book is set down.
Continue reading “The Hollow – Agatha Christie (1946)”