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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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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Whistle Up the Devil – Derek Smith (1953)

DerekSmithOmnibusIt feels like ages since I’ve mentioned the top locked room lists cited by John Pugmire in A Locked Room Library.  It’s an excellent reference, providing a top 15 locked room mystery list initiated by Ed Hoch with the help of other luminaries of detective fiction, along with a list of ninety nine novels for “any respectable” locked room library compiled by another set of genre experts.  I’ve by no means read through this list exhaustively (why would I rob myself of future enjoyment?), and yet I feel compelled to drop the following declaration: Derek Smith’s Whistle Up the Devil is easily one of the top locked room mysteries ever published.

Bear in mind, Whistle Up the Devil didn’t even make the original Ed Hoch list – apparently Helen McCloy’s Through a Glass Darkly and Ellery Queen’s The King is Dead and The Chinese Orange Mystery were felt to be better entries, although I can’t imagine that many would agree.  Whistle Up the Devil did make the list of 99, but for that matter so did John Dickson Car’s The Dead Man’s Knock (crap), Night at the Mocking Widow (bad story but bizarre clever impossibility), and The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (decent enough story but tiptoeing the line on being impossible).

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The Lord of Misrule – Paul Halter (1994)

LordOfMisruleThis turned out to be an accidental Christmas read.  It was the multiple “footprints in the snow” impossibilities that lured me to The Lord of Misrule, a natural attraction given two feet of fresh snow surrounding my home.  That the crimes in the story span the days surrounding Christmas was an unexpected bonus.  So here you go – a holiday Paul Halter!

If The Lord of Misrule feels ubiquitous, it’s probably because JJ, the author of The Invisible Event, adopted a fragment of the book’s cover as an avatar and thus forever associated it with quality comments on mystery fiction blogs.  As a Paul Halter novel though, it flies somewhat under the radar.  Not part of the much lauded titles (The Madman’s Room, The Demon of Dartmoor, etc, etc, etc, etc) nor the criticized (The Vampire Tree, The Seven Wonders of Crime), The Lord of Misrule occupies that no man’s land along with The Picture of the Past: the book’s that don’t really get discussed.

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The Footprints of Satan – Norman Berrow (1950)

FootprintsOfSatanUh, so how come everyone isn’t constantly going on and on about how amazing this book is?  How is the title not thrown down alongside the likes of Rim of the Pit, Nine Times Nine, The Hollow Man, or any of those other regulars when discussing top impossible crimes?  Why was I not forced, at gunpoint or otherwise, years ago to read The Footprints of Satan?

I walked into this one pretty sure that I was going to like it based on the few reviews that I’ve seen.  And yet, Norman Berrow seems to be one of those obscure authors – the likes of Rupert Penny or Virgil Markham – and I have a distinct impression that not everyone likes his stuff.  That would be crazy though, as from the opening pages Berrow provides a warm embrace with the tale of Londoner Gregory Cushing visiting his quirky uncle Jake Popwell in the small town of Winchingham.  It’s evident from the start that this isn’t going to be some stodgy mystery – Berrow can clearly handle characters and humor as well as his better known peers.

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Policeman’s Evidence – Rupert Penny (1938)

PolicemansEvidenceRupert Penny has been on my radar for a while courtesy of JJ at The Invisible Event.  Penny seems to divide readers into camps who think he’s a long lost craftsman of the golden age, and those who feel his writing is the literary equivalent of hard tack.  I tend to trust JJ on these points, and so Penny was at the top of my birthday wish list recently.

Despite JJ clearly laying out a “best of Penny” post, I somehow got mixed up and put Policeman’s Evidence at the top of my list.  My mind inexplicably translated “fifth best” into “the best”, and so here I am.  I guess on the positive side, there are even better books to look forward to.

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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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