The Secret Dancer – Norman Berrow (1936)

I’ve been intrigued by the title of this book for a while, and I can’t quite explain why.  There’s something to it – a haunting quality, maybe similar to The Last of Philip Banter or The Shade of Time – where it strikes this chord of curiosity and I have to find out what it means.  Granted, you can’t judge a book by its… err, title, but like some nice cover art, a well chosen name can add some extra allure to a read.

Of course, it helps that I’ve loved the books by Norman Berrow that I’ve read so far.  He has a way with words and can turn out a memorable line to rival the best of them – see also Theodore Roscoe, Anthony Berkeley, Anthony Boucher, Christianna Brand, and – in his first few decades – John Dickson Carr.  I’m astounded that it’s been over a year since I last picked up anything by Berrow, as what I’ve read so far places him towards the top authors of the Golden Age.

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The Lady’s in Danger – Norman Berrow (1955)

I’d never heard of this book until I bought it.  I’m at that stage where I’ve come to the conclusion that I will read everything Norman Berrow wrote, but I haven’t quite memorized the full catalogue to be purchased.  I’m familiar enough with the names and covers of most of the books that I haven’t bought yet, but I don’t ever recall seeing The Lady’s in Danger.

Berrow isn’t one of those authors that you can find for cheap.  Although you might get lucky on a 1970’s edition of Ghost House, the rest of his catalogue is only accessible via the Ramble House reprints, and you can either pay $20 for those brand spank’n new, or you could for some reason pay $40 for them used on eBay (I’ll never understand how that’s a workable model).  Anyway, I was building up a holiday gift list for myself (and you should do the same – a friend would much prefer buying you a novel you want than gambling on that novel wine opener), and I stumbled upon The Lady’s in Danger for $6 new on Amazon.  Fast forward through me falling out of my chair and breaking my mouse while pounding the Buy button.  This must have been some chance bargain, because when I checked minutes after my purchase, the only price I could find for the book was back to $20.

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The Three Tiers of Fantasy – Norman Berrow (1949)

I’ve been wanting to get back to Norman Berrow ever since I read The Footprints of Satan last year; an astounding impossible crime with one of the most satisfying solutions that I had read in a long time.  It’s unfathomable that I’ve let a year go by, but the Berrow books always ended up getting passed up for my most recent acquisition of the moment.  Of course, it didn’t help that I only have a few of them in my library, but rest assured, that number will be doubling come Christmas.

The Three Tiers of Fantasy is escapism at its finest.  Berrow delivers what are essentially three impossible crime novelettes stitched together, although that’s a disservice to the fact that this is very much a story as a whole.  This feels like a longish book (always hard to tell with these modern reprints, with the different form factor and all), and yet with three very unique set ups and investigations, there’s never even a hint of the story dragging.

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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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