Sweet and Deadly (The Bramble Bush) – David Duncan (1948)

David Duncan has this absolutely amazing novel called The Shade of Time.  I’ll admit, it falls down a bit in the end, but it’s tightly written and there’s this incredibly audacious locked room murder that left me a fan for life.  I had to find more by him, and I followed it up with The Madrone Tree; somewhat of an impossible crime in reverse that cements my perception that Duncan was a talented mystery writer.  This leads me to Sweet and Deadly, a novel originally published under the much more appropriate name The Bramble Bush, as well as the suitable title Worse than Murder.

I don’t know that I’d quite call it a mystery.  This is the type of semi-noir pulp where the main character gets knocked unconscious four times, poisoned, pushed down a cliff – all in a 24 hour period (I shudder to imagine the long term health consequences) – but man, it’s an incredible story, and the last fifty pages are every bit as breathless of a finale as any denouement that I can imagine.

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The Madrone Tree – David Duncan (1949)

“I told you that the solution to a mystery is always prosaic and never as enjoyable as the mystery itself” states author David Duncan through his bizarre amateur detective Bleeker Twist in the final pages of The Madrone Tree.  And while those words may hold some truth in the genre of Golden Age detective fiction, they’re oddly out of place in this book.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Despite the story revolving around the question of who committed a murder – in this case a man bludgeoned to death in a haunted forest – the book never feels like a true mystery.  And that’s a pity, because when the solution comes it’s somewhat of a whopper, but a whopper that would have hit a lot harder if you realized what the puzzle was supposed to be in the first place.

You should (but probably don’t) recognize David Duncan as the author of The Shade of Time; a criminally hard to come by impossible crime novel.  The Shade of Time suffers from the exact opposite problem of The Madrone Tree, offering up what is one of the best mysteries that I’ve read, only to crumble when it comes to the conclusion.  I read the book a mere six months ago, and while I remember nearly every moment of the story, I really have to stop and think in order to recall how it ended.

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The Shade of Time – David Duncan (1946)

The Shade of Time has always been somewhat of a legend to me.  It’s a book that receives few reviews, and yet it somehow obtained a slot in Roland Lacourbe’s list of top locked room mysteries.  It isn’t easy to find either, at least in the price range that I’m willing to pay for a book that I know so little about.  After years of hunting, I’ve never seen it come in for less than $20.

“Don’t spend $20 on it”, I recall JJ from The Invisible Event telling me, crushing my dreams of a long lost impossible crime masterpiece (do you hear me JJ?  You crushed my dreams!).  A few others pitched in a similar opinion, and I had to settle for the reality that this legendary book long sought after just wasn’t going to live up to my expectations.

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