Spider House – F Van Wyck Mason (1932)

SpiderHouseF Van Wyck Mason has been on my radar ever since Tomcat reviewed The Fort Terror Murders roughly a year ago.  The wacky map included in the book caught my attention, as did the off-the-wall treasure hunt plot.  That kind of pulp appeals to me a bit and brings back memories of the old books I used to stumble upon at my grandparent’s house when I was a kid.  Mix in some sort of golden age murder mystery and I’m game.

There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to Van Wyck Mason.  His library rivals the likes of Carr and Christie, although much of it seems to have focused on spy thrillers and adventure laden retellings of America’s bloody past.  A tip I stumbled upon in the comment section of the review for The Fort Terror Murders was to keep an eye out for books with “murder” in the title from the 30’s – apparently that was the run where Van Wyck Mason was doing his mystery bit.  While I struck out on finding an appealing copy meeting that criteria, I did snag this killer Handi Book Mystery edition of Spider House with a truly vintage cover.

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The Ghosts’ High Noon – John Dickson Carr (1970)

GhostsHighNoonThis may be the longest gap in my Carr reading since I started this whole thing.  I read The Blind Barber nearly three months ago, and I’ve only now gotten back to Carr.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my last read – it was much better than everyone seems to think it is – but rather that The Ghosts’ High Noon is so damn long.  Well, not that long in the scheme of things –  a mere 300 pages – but longer than your typical Golden Age detective fiction (I realize we’re about twenty five years past the period on this one).  Plus, it’s stuffed in this Carroll and Graff edition that packs 300 pages in twice the height of your typical 40-60’s paperback, so it looks damn formidable.

Formidable because of when it was published – 1970.  John Dickson Carr’s better days had passed by the mid-sixties.  His previous novel, Papa La Bas (1968) has no redeeming value and was quite a chore to get through – dragged across three weekends if I recall correctly.  And so 300 pages of a potentially awful read wasn’t exactly an exciting prospect.

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Wilders Walk Away – Herbert Brean (1948)

WildersWalkAwayIt took me a while to track down a copy of this book for the price that I wanted to pay for it – mostly because I’m a stickler for getting an edition with a cover that I want – and finally won out when a friend got me the IPL edition for Christmas.  Leave it to fate that immediately after finishing reading this, I stumbled upon a vintage Pocket Books edition for $5, but that’s my life…  And hey, an IPL is always more than welcome in my home.

Wilders Walk Away has this interesting reputation: an excellent read, a unique take on the impossible crime, and yet not a book to read solely for the impossible elements.  And, as it happens, if you want to save yourself some time, I’m basically going to grouse on and one about those exact points below.

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The Fourth Door – Paul Halter (1987)

FourthDoorFor a first novel, Paul Halter sure swung for the fences.  Two locked room murders, a no-footprints crime scene, unexplained events at a seance, and a prominent magician character – sounds like something out of impossible crime classics like Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat or Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit.  Just like many a band’s debut effort is the culmination of all of those ideas dying to get out, you can get a sense of how the The Fourth Door was that first raw effort for what Halter was yearning to create.

The Darnley house has plagued the imagination of neighborhood children since the supposed suicide of Mrs Darnley years ago.  Although covered with brutal stab wounds all over her body, suicide was the only conceivable explanation for Darnley’s death, as her body was found tucked away in a small attic room with the door bolted from the inside and the only window sealed.  Ever since, neighbors have reported occasionally seeing a mysterious light in the attic room late at night.

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The Gentleman From Paris – John Dickson Carr (1950)

GentlemanFromParis

I wouldn’t normally write about a single short story.  At least, I think I wouldn’t.  As much as I love a short mystery, I’ve mostly avoided the form since I started reading through John Dickson Carr’s library.  I know that a few of his shorts share elements with a novel or two, and I’d rather ruin the abbreviated form if it comes to that.  Of course, that shouldn’t keep me from digging into other author’s short stories, but somehow I’ve formed a bit of a habit.

Well, here I am, talking about a short story… by John Dickson Carr no less.  I’ve been making my way slowly through The Quintessence of Queen #2 (#1 is reviewed here), and figured I might as well read the one Carr story contained within.  Suffice to say, it was good enough that I’m actually writing more than a blurb about it.

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Black Maria M.A. – John Russell Fearn (1944)

BlackMariaFor my second John Russell Fearn read, I decided to go with the first novel in the Black Maria series.  From what I’ve read, this run of books contains some of Fearn’s better work, so it seemed like a good way to get a firmer sense of the author.  Plus, these novels are kind of hard to lay your hands on, so I didn’t exactly have much to choose from.

Black Maria M.A introduces us to Maria Black, the headmistress of Roseway College for Young Ladies.  Black has a reputation with the girls as a strict disciplinarian, although we don’t get to experience this first hand, as Black immediately leaves on a summer vacation trip to New York City.  Well, it isn’t exactly a vacation – Black has been summoned by the lawyer for her deceased brother, Ralph Black.  Ralph established a massive fortune as the first person to can broccoli (you read that right), and then branched out his business into a sprawling enterprise.

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The Moai Island Puzzle – Alice Arisugawa (1989)

MoaiIslandPuzzleThe Moai Island Puzzle is my first foray into honkaku – Japanese puzzle mysteries steeped in the style of the classics of the golden age.  Thanks to Locked Room International, a handful or so are available in English translation, and I’ve had a number kicking around my To Be Read pile for a while.  That I finally read one was on a bit of a whim.  I was looking for an off the wall impossible crime, which naturally meant reaching for a Paul Halter.  I remembered though that JJ at the Invisible Event had ranked The Moai Island Puzzle as his favorite release by Locked Room International, so I decided to go for a new angle.

The book is absolutely loaded with puzzles, with chapter names suggestive of the type of problem within – Locked Room Puzzle, Bicycle Puzzle, Moai Puzzle, Suicide Puzzle, Jigsaw Puzzle…  If you’re a fan of impossible crime fiction because you’re drawn in by the promise of a mystery that’s going to get your mind working, this one’s definitely for you.  Better yet, the novel is fashioned very much in the fashion of a 1930s GAD novel.  We start out with a map and a list of dramatis personae, then end with a challenge to the reader before the denouement.  Very Ellery Queen-esque, at least in the early sense, although I’ll argue much more successful.

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