Verdict of 13 (1978)

VerdictOf13I’m a big fan of Christianna Brand, considering her not only one of the best puzzle plotters of the Golden Age, but also a top writer of dialogue.  Up to this point, I’ve focused on her novels with the exception of her excellent short story Twist for Twist (which I really should get around to reviewing at some point).  Her short story collections are incredibly difficult to come by in physical form for a reasonable price, but patience has led to me snatching up Brand X and Buffet for Unwelcome Guests rather cheap.  The latter is notable for containing a bibliography towards the rear which lists out all of her short stories (the contents of which seems to have lately made its way to wikipedia).  While skimming through the list of short stories, it caught my eye that a dozen or so weren’t included in any of the Brand short story collections.  It’s the uncollected story Cloud Nine that led me to Verdict of 13.

This anthology was assembled by Julian Symons, who at the time was the president of the famed Detection Club.  Each story within the anthology was written by a member of the club specifically for the anthology, as opposed to this being a collection of pre-existing works.  That makes this an interesting collection, as you’re getting original stories by names as notable of Symons, Brand, Michael Gilbert, Michael Innes, and Ngaio Marsh.  Most of these stories have been published in other collections since, although three seem to still be exclusively available here.

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Death Has Deep Roots – Michael Gilbert (1951)

deathhasdeeprootsMy first encounter with Michael Gilbert was the excellent WW2 impossible crime novel, The Danger Within.  Seeking out more of his work, I was naturally drawn to Death Has Deep Roots by the gorgeous cover of the Dell edition that I happened to stumble on.  It seemed to be a fortunate find – Death Has Deep Roots is the book that preceded The Danger Within, and is itself preceded by another of Gilbert’s most lauded novels – Smallbone Deceased.  Perhaps I had found myself in a solid run of Gilbert’s mystery catalog.

Let’s be clear – Death Has Deep Roots is not an impossible crime novel.  Nor is it the type of GAD mystery that you’d usually find me covering on this site.  I’d say that a mystery lurks beneath the surface, but isn’t quite true.  Instead, the mystery is the surface, and a very different tale lurks beneath.

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The Danger Within – Michael Gilbert (1952)

DangerWithinThe Danger Within first flickered onto my radar a little over a year ago while I was reviewing Tomcat’s list My Favorite Locked Room Mysteries over at Beneath the Stains of Time.

“This is one of my all-time favorite mystery novels from the post-WWII era and of the best blends of the formal detective story, thriller elements and a semi-autobiographic at the same time. The setting is a POW camp in Italy and has a nifty impossible situation: a man has been found dead in a secret escape tunnel and the entrance was blocked with a furnace, which needed the combined strength of half a dozen men to budge as much as an inch.”

A locked room mystery set in a WWII POW camp?  Sign me up please.

While I spent my childhood consuming a hefty amount of mystery and science fiction, I more than dabbled in tales of the trenches.  The idea of an impossible crime taking place on a battlefield or in a prison camp is intriguing beyond simply stepping outside of the expected setting of a country house or the odd castle.  You expect death in war time, and I’ve heard of more than one GAD novel in which a murderer has attempted to disguise their deed among the ruins of bombed out England.  The actual theatre of war is different though.  There, death simply is.  The notion that a friend could become foe in the face of a clearly defined common adversary is no unique concept – just see Platoon.  Still, mix in an impossible-style murder plot and I’m all game.

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