Malice Aforethought – Frances Iles (1930)

I’ve been meaning to get around to this book for years.  Malice Aforethought is probably the most consistent title to come up whenever inverted mysteries are discussed, and I had a feeling that I should get to it before I read too many books in that vein.  In part, I had gotten the impression that there may be some unique twist to this book that was later copied by others, although having now read this, I don’t think there’s really anything that spoilable.

Anthony Berkeley (here writing as Francis Iles) has been really enjoyable for me so far.  His characters have this delightful smug selfishness, and his wry observations through them tell as much about the thinker as they do about whoever the snarky thoughts are directed at.  It makes the stories a humorous read without ever veering in the direction of comedy.  Yeah, some of his characters are inevitably asses, but that’s the fun part.

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Antidote to Venom – Freeman Wills Crofts (1938)

I realize that “cozy” is a somewhat derogatory label applied to a particular style of mystery, but I’m going to have to hijack it and repurpose it for Freeman Wills Crofts.  Because really, “cozy” is the most apt term for how I can describe my time with his Inspector French.  There’s really nothing astonishing or outright brilliant in what I’ve read so far, but damned if I didn’t enjoy ever minute.  The typical mystery that I seek out has my mind racing for a solution and that ferocious urge to get to the end.  With Freeman Wills Crofts, it’s like settling back into a comfortably worn well-stuffed leather chair by the fire and feeling at home.

And in that sense, I don’t know that there’s anything outwardly interesting to say about Antidote to Venom, other than I enjoyed the hell out of it.  It’s an inverted mystery, with a bit of a clever take I suppose.  You’re well aware of an accomplice to a murder – the various foibles that led them to be involved in the crime – but even said accomplice isn’t aware of how the murder was actually committed.  As the reader, you know the “who” as well as the motive, but there’s an interesting mystery in the unknown “how”.

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The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke (The Singing Bone) – R Austin Freeman (1912)

I’ve been enjoying the enthusiasm displayed for the work of R Austin Freeman by JJ over at The Invisible Event, and when I stumbled upon a cheap set of Freeman paperbacks by Avon and Popular Library, I snatched them up immediately.  I was tempted still to seek out The Singing Bone (which seems to be Freeman’s most heralded story collection), nearly dropping $10 on a mediocre-covered edition.  Thank goodness I passed it up though: out of the five books I’d collected, I somewhat randomly decided to start my Freeman reading with The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke. Flipping open the cover of my Popular Library edition,I was astonished to learn that it was actually the US title for The Singing Bone.

The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke features five short stories, each divided into two halves.  In the first half of each, we get an inverted mystery set up, showing how some soul was led down a dark path to murder, and their subsequent steps to avoid detection.  In the second half, the story completely shifts perspective, and we watch as series detective Dr Thorndyke applies scientific principles to uncover the truth.  In a sense, we’re really treated to ten short stories – five tales of villainy and five tales of detection (ok, so the final story The Old Lag doesn’t quite fit the mold).

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Heir Presumptive – Henry Wade (1935)

HeirPresumptiveWell, I guess I’ll be reading everything Henry Wade ever wrote.  I mean, I’ve heard that some of his work isn’t all that great, but man, Heir Presumptive is the type of novel that’ll leave you forever searching for another taste.  And I’ve had it for years, just wasting away at the bottom of some neglected pile of books that I excitedly bought, but then didn’t excitedly read.  Thankfully a glowing review over at The Invisible Event led to me rescuing the book and placing it in the main To Be Read stack… where it sat for another eight months.

But, it has now been read, and I am a full Henry Wade convert.  This is the book that you just never want to end.  There isn’t much of a hook for me to dangle for you – Heir Presumptive is a fairly straight forward inverted mystery – which is why it’s all the more amazing that I lapped up every page.

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Trial and Error – Anthony Berkeley (1937)

TrialAndErrorMy only experience with Anthony Berkeley so far has been The Poisoned Chocolates Case.  Famous as it is for its multiple solutions, I was just as struck by Berkeley’s acerbic wit.  Each character was so deliciously smug in their observations of others, and yet so completely blind to their own foibles.

Trial and Error may not feature as tight of a mystery as The Poisoned Chocolates Case, but it more than makes up for it with a steady feed of wry observations.  Anthony Berkeley, through his characters, is so delectably smarmy that I can only imagine that he was the blueprint for Christianna Brand’s work that was to come in the following decades.  No other mystery writer seems to come close when it comes to communicating an entire story solely via sardonic observations.

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