The Footprints on the Ceiling – Clayton Rawson (1939)

FootprintsOnTheCeilingFor those who dabble in the impossible crime genre, Clayton Rawson is known name.  His debut novel, Death From a Top Hat, is commonly positioned as a top ten, if not top five, impossible crime novel (which is deserving in the setup, but lacking in the full execution).  It’s surprising then, that his second novel, The Footprints on the Ceiling, with a title born from the impossible circumstances of… wait for it… footprints on a ceiling, doesn’t actually feature an impossible crime. 

Rest assured, there’s tons of gimmicks and feints to dazzle the reader, but given the book’s reputation, there oddly isn’t an actual impossibility.  Yes, at one point there is the question of why there are marks from soiled shoes walking a line across a crime scene ceiling, but to paraphrase one character, someone could have just stood on a ladder and made the marks.  The circumstances of the crime scene – a woman found poisoned on the top floor of an abandoned (and haunted – we’ll get to that) house – adequately allow for such luxuries.

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The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars – Anthony Boucher (1940)

BakerStreetMan, I’ve missed Anthony Boucher.  First I was in love, and then I fell out of love, and now I’m asking myself why it ever went sour.  Well, the answer to that is easy – The Case of the Seven Sneezes. After an absolutely storming introduction to Boucher by way of Nine Times Nine and The Case of the Solid Key, I had found my next big thing.  This was a mystery author whose work simply sang – deft impossibilities rendered in the fat of some of the best prose that the GAD era had to offer.  Scarcely a page went by without encountering a passage that I yearned to stamp permanently in my mind.

And then came the incongruous mix of the obnoxious and the forgettable – The Case of the Seven Sneezes.  How it was even written by the same author is beyond me.  No, it’s not some legendarily bad book by any means, but it just lacks the wit and panache of its brethren.  My excitement for Boucher was gone.

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The Stingaree Murders – William Shepard Pleasants (1931)

StingareeMurdersThe Stingaree Murders has always been one of those “well, I’ll never actually read it” books.  I think it first flitted into my conscious due to a review on Classic Mystery, although maybe it was Beneath The Stains of Time.  Whatever.  The book is beyond rare – I believe the first edition may be the only edition – and both reviews I’d seen included a warning that a healthy dose of racism is tucked between the pages.  The strange title stuck in my mind though, as both reviews also mentioned multiple impossible crimes and a truly audacious solution.  It was a recent review at The Invisible Event that finally tipped the scales and I took a stab at tracking the book down.

While it’s rare, The Stingaree Murders isn’t that hard to come by for an affordable price.  I nicked mine for around $10 (sans dust jacket), which is a bargain compared to the more elusive corners of impossible crimes such as Anthony Wynne or Caroline Wells.

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Murder is Out – Lee Thayer (1942)

MurderIsOut“Any way you look at it, murder is out!”

I’ve been keeping an eye out for Bart House mysteries ever since reading The Devil Drives.  These vintage war time novels are fine quality physical specimen, as good as the best from Avon, Pocket Books, and Dell.  Of course, a nice cover and quality paper doesn’t make a good story.  My last Bart House gamble was the unredeemable John Smith Hears Death Walking, but I haven’t given up the optimism that I’ll stumble upon an unknown gem.  It’s this hope that led me to Murder is Out by Lee Thayer.

I’ve never noticed the name Lee Thayer kicking around the GAD community, and that seems a bit strange given that the author was responsible for five dozen mysteries.  Thayer was a graphic artist who took to writing in 1919 and carried through until 1966 – an impressive run that calls to mind the likes of Christie, Queen, and Carr, although “forgotten” authors such as Christopher Bush and Brian Flynn had equally vast catalogues.

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A Graveyard to Let – Carter Dickson (1949)

agraveyardtoletMy three remaining Carter Dickson novels all find me towards the end of the Sir Henry Merrivale series.  The very best of Merrivale’s work is unfortunately at the opposite end – the run of macabre impossible crimes spanning The Plague Court Murders (1934) through Nine – And Death Makes Ten (1940).  The mysteries published in the 40’s were lighter fair, with the elements of brooding horror giving way to unnecessary spurts of slapstick comedy.  That’s not to say there aren’t strong entries there – many would list She Died a Lady (1943) amongst Carr’s best work (I wouldn’t go that far) and The Skeleton in the Clock (1948) is quite the return to earlier form.

The stories tend to get weaker over time though, and as we hit the final three books – Night at the Mocking Widow (1950), Behind the Crimson Blind (1952), and The Cavalier’s Cup (1953), you’ll be hard pressed to find many positive comments.  It’s on the precipice of this decent that I find myself with A Graveyard to Let (1949).  The two books that it straddles – The Skeleton in the Clock and Night at the Mocking Widow – are dramatically different in terms of quality.  Which would I get with this one?

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Rupert Penny – The Lucky Policeman (1938)

LuckyPolicemanI read my first Rupert Penny book, Policeman’s Evidence, just a few months back.  The combination of a hidden treasure hunt and a locked room mystery checked some key boxes I’m looking for, and although the result wasn’t by any means a jaw dropper, I’ve been keen to get back to Penny ever since.  Fortunately Christmas morning found my Penny stack a little higher, and so this time I decided to dive into what JJ at The Invisible Event decreed to be Penny’s best work – The Lucky Policeman.

Well, there are no caches of treasure tucked away in ruined mansions, nor murders behind locked doors.  In fact there isn’t really any sort of gimmick or impossibility at all.  It’s a somewhat straight forward affair – well, ok, there’s an escaped lunatic running around a forest stabbing people in the head with a sharpened pipe and stealing their shoes – and yet somehow it’s exquisite.

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Heaven Knowns Who – Christianna Brand (1960)

HeavenKnowsWhoOk, well, I finally did it.  I hit a wall with my Christianna Brand reading.  It was inevitable I suppose, although I liked to think it wouldn’t happen.  You see, with only three of Brand’s widely recognized mysteries left, I’ve been all to happy to dabble with the more obscure titles.  Why deplete my remaining stock with a book like Death in High Heels when I could explore something lesser known such as Court of Foxes or The Brides of Aberdar?  It hasn’t been a fruitless quest – it bore treasures such as The Rose in Darkness and A Ring of Roses – and for that I’m happy I took the less traveled road.

Heaven Knows Who is deservedly a lesser known Brand.  It wasn’t always so obscure, winning an Edgar Award in 1960 for “best fact crime” (or “true crime” as we would know it today).  The book seems to have since faded from the collective memory, and I can’t say that’s for no good reason.

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