Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year Of The Short Story

It’s that time of the year when one reflects back on what has been achieved over the past one year and also to contemplate and plan for the coming year. Incidentally, it also happens to be the blog’s Anniversary! Last year, I decided that the year of 2012 for me was gone be the year of the Short Story. And so it has been. I sifted through some 300 collections of short stories putting a halt to the reading of novels though I’d to take a midyear break to tend to the latter when some very obscure titles were available for pick up.
In the last one year, the blog has featured 140 stories by 94 different authors from 80 different short story collections; 30 of those stories were from the Queen’s Quorum titles, 25 from Crippen & Landru titles and 51 stories from the post 70’s era.
In short, this is how the results look for the goals I’d set:
1. 20 Queen Quorum Titles – target achieved(22 completed)
2. 20 Crippen & Landru Collections – just made it (20 completed)
3. 60 stories from the new brand of authors – missed it by a long margin (51 short
    stories from a total of just 38 authors)
4. To read through some of the 150 odd short story collections that I’d with me - a total flop as I not only didn’t get through even 10 % of it but I managed to double the count of short story collections that I had.

Queen's Quorum Titles Read:
1. After Dinner Story by William Irish
Contains 6 high quality stories - 3 superlative ones: Rear Window, After Dinner Story & Murder Story.
2. The Department of Dead Ends by Roy Vickers
Inverted Crime Stories where some infinitesimally object in the Scotland Yard museum connects the murderer to the crime at hand in a very surprising way! 

3. Tutt & Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train
Involves some funny stories and some with legal legerdemain. Worthy enough to arouse interest to pursue other titles in the series. 

4. Out Of His Head by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Not a short story collection per say but a series of interconnected chapters. 

5. Stories from the Diary of a Doctor by L.T. Meade & Clifford Halifax
Supposed to be medical mysteries but this was the toughest book to get through. 

6. In The Fog by Richard Harding Davis
Three interconnected stories with a final twist to upset the applecart! 

7. Condensed Novels by Bret Harte
Contains nine burlesques but this title qualifies for the Queen’s Quorum list based solely on just one story – “The Stolen Cigar Case”, considered to be one of the best Holmes parodies and one of the anthologists’ favorite. 

8. The Achievements of Luther Trant by William Macharg & Edwin Balmer
One of the better collections and most certainly the first volume of short stories to make scientific use of psychology as a method of crime detection.

9. Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Refreshingly original and a worthy successor to the great Sherlock Holmes. 

10. Call Mr. Fortune by H.C. Bailey
Probably this first collection of stories featuring Reggie Fortune has been picked to be a Quorum title more from the history point of view rather than the ingenuity of the stories. The later collections definitely have much more superior stories! 

11. A Jury Of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
Highly praised by the critics and included in The Best Short Stories of 1917, this is not a collection but a standalone story which can be found in many anthologies. Somehow, it didn’t impress me and seemed to be overrated.

12. Guys & Dolls by Damon Runyon
No detection involved but the author has fashioned a new way of telling the crime story from the point of view of the Times Square gangsters. 

13. Knight's Gambit by William Faulkner
An highly under appreciated collection of 6 detective stories.

14. Diagnosis: Homicide by Lawrence G Blochman
Eight stories where the murderer is apprehended based solely on the identification of the murder method which is solved by pure scientific/forensic methods.

15. The Short Cases of Inspector Maigret by Georges Simenon
Consists of 5 novelettes: 2 of them translated by Anthony Boucher and the remaining 3 by Lawrence G. Blochman.

16. The Lady, Or The Tiger by Frank R. Stockton
A stand alone story with an uncertain ending where the author poses a literary riddle and asks the reader to solve the puzzle.

17. The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow by Patrick Quentin
It is said that the author has handled the taboo theme of child murderers extremely well but I didn’t enjoy this book. The culprit (and sometimes the story itself) becomes too obvious.

18. The Nine Mile Walk by Harry Kemelman
Contains some of the best armchair detective stories ever written after the Golden Age of Detective fiction.

19. Game Without Rules by Michael Gilbert
Considered by critics as the second best volume of spy stories ever written (next only to Somerset Maugham's Ashenden), this collection contains 11 stories featuring the secret agents Samuel Behrens and Daniel Joseph Calder.

20. Dr. Sam Johnson, Detector by Lillian de la Torre
One of the earliest series of historical detective stories, the stories are more or less based on the actual crimes of the 18th century (solved or unsolved), with a new solution proposed by the author as befits the crime and the period in which it occurred.

21. Limehouse Nights by Thomas Burke
None of the 14 tales of Oriental passion and subtle murder are anywhere near to his masterpiece “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole”.

22. The Unique Hamlet – Vincent Starrett
A Holmes Pastiche, considered to be the best of its kind by many critics, can be found in many Sherlockian anthologies. 

Crippen and Landru Titles Read: 

1. Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles by Stuart Palmer
2. The Sedgemoor Strangler & Other Stories of Crime by Peter Lovesey
3. The Couple Next Door: Collected Short Mysteries by Margaret Millar
4. Nine Sons by Wendy Hornsby
5. Suitable For Hanging by Margaret Maron
6. Do Not Exceed the Stated Dose by Peter Lovesey
7. The Sleuth of Baghdad: The Inspector Chafik Stories by Charles B Child
8. The Pleasant Assassin and Other Cases of Dr. Basil Willing by Helen Mccloy
9. Mom, The Detective - The Complete Mom Stories by James Yaffe
10. The Duel Of Shadows: The Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth by Vincent Cornier
11. The Minerva Club, The Department of Patterns, and Others by Victor Canning
12. The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries from Roger Sheringham's Casebook byAnthony Berkeley
13. The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill's Casebook by Christianna Brand
14. Strangers in Town: Three Newly Discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald
15. Appleby Talks About Crime by Michael Innes
16. The Ripper of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Stories by Edward D Hoch
17. The Detections of Francis Quarles by Julian Symons
18. Who Killed Father christmas and Other Unreasonable Demises by Patricia Moyes
19. The Battles of Jericho by Hugh Pentecost
20. Murder Ancient & Modern by Edward Marston

And The Honors Go To:

Best Queen’s Quorum title from the modern era: The Nine Mile Walk
Best Queen’s Quorum title from the earlier times: The Achievements of Luther Trant
Queen’s Quorum Honorable Mention: Guys and Dolls
Best Crippen & Landru title read: The Detections of Francis Quarles
Find of the Year: Short Stories of Fredric Brown & Cornell Woolrich/William Irish
Authors with the maximum number of stories featured: Fredric Brown & Edward D. Hoch (5 stories each)
Best Anthology: Four and Twenty Bloodhounds (the 3rd MWA anthology edited by Anthony Boucher)
Best Single Author Collection: Homicide Sanitarium by Fredric Brown
Most Hard to Find Queen’s Quorum titles (still searching for them):
· Anthony Wynne’s Sinners Go Secretly
· G.D.H & Margaret Cole’s Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday
· Henry Wade’s Policeman’s Lot
· Stuart Palmer’s The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers

Plan for the Year 2013:

Pretty much the same as last year’s – 20 Queen Quorum titles, 20 Crippen & Landru titles and 60 stories from the modern or contemporary authors.
Wish You All A Very Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Detections of Francis Quarles - Julian Symons

This is the third collection of stories featuring the private detective Francis Quarles after ‘Murder! Murder!’ (21 stories) & ‘Francis Quarles Investigates’ (15 stories) and features 42 short-short stories which were all originally written for London’s Evening Standard newspaper. Nothing much is known or written about the detective himself and whatever is known is given by the author as a preface in the first collection. Quarles’s investigations usually involve murder in its various forms. To Quote him, “In every unsolved crime there is always a human error, a clue which, if we could understand its meaning, would point straight to the murderer.” And every single story in this volume adheres to this great maxim and the reader always has the clues right in front of him to solve it by himself. In fact, the whole book can be considered as a collection of ‘five-minute solve it yourself’ mysteries. And it is certainly one of the best short story collections that I’ve read this year!
1.   Red Rum Means Murder
The title of the story itself serves as the clue. Quarles investigates the murder of a blackmailer who also happens to be a bookseller. Means of collecting the money: send a few first editions and collect exorbitant prices on them! The book titles in some way points to the name of the victim. In this case, Quarles has a list of 5 first editions and he needs to figure out who among the 4 eligible buyers it was intended for to arrive at the murderer.
2.   Murder – But How Was It Done?
A locked room mystery in only 4 pages! Magerson has just returned from South America with new varieties of snakes & scorpions and is staying in a hotel. He is to address an international conference on his findings but with just 2 hours to go for the conference, he is found dead inside a locked bathroom. Cause of death: puncture mark on the chest from a poison dart which is found under the body. No windows, no other means of opening and the dart wasn’t fired through the keyhole. How was the dart fired inside the locked bathroom?
3.   Airborne With A Borgia
Murder during a flight to Rome. Mr. Cogan, who is the director of that airline, is always given his favorite seat whenever he flies. And he has made a last minute decision to take this flight and on board the flight are several of his enemies who would love to see him dead. Quarles’s has been keeping a close eye on him in the mirror but he is soon found dead after having his dinner(death due to poison) without anybody having approached him except for the staff and the staff know that the food wasn’t poisoned. Quarles unmasks a new device which could be used to kill a person effectively.
4.   The Pepoli Case
Death on board a ship and the disappearance of both the victim and the murderer. Robert Peopli is married to Clarissa and they have invited Aunt Agatha and Quarles for their party. The aunt doesn’t like Robert but there is even worse a character amidst them in the form of Edward Pepoli (Robert’s cousin), who has already served two prison sentences. Three weeks later, Robert & Clarissa are off on a three weeks cruise and Clarissa has invited the aunt to join her! The aunt suspects that Edward is also on the ship and suspects foul play. Sure enough, she is a witness to a fight in the night – the two men who look exactly like Robert & Edward. She sees Edward getting the better of Robert and pushing him overboard but when she brings in help, Edward is nowhere to be seen on the ship and there’s no sign of the dead body of Robert!
5.   The Impossible Theft
An impossible crime in front of numerous witnesses. Gregory is a private detective who has been hired to guard the very valuable rope of pearls which Raven is presenting to his daughter on the occasion of her engagement. On the eve of the function, Gregory receives a threat saying that the pearls will disappear at 10.15. He invites Quarles to lend him extra support. During the function, Gregory is standing guard in front of the jewel case, he opens the case and hands it over to the Jewel evaluator who confirms that it’s real, it’s passed from hand to hand (a dozen individuals) who are standing in a circle around the host and is given back to Gregory who again locks it in the case. Then there is a distraction and a few minutes later when the case is opened again, the pearl set is found to be made of paste. All the ones who handled the pearl set including the host and the detective is searched but they find no sign of the original!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Lonely Profession - Patricia Moyes

Story: A Lonely Profession
Author: Patricia Moyes
Source: Who Killed Father Christmas and Other Unreasonable Demises
This Crippen & Landru collection features 20 short stories and 1 mini novel – the earlier stories written for the Evening News and the later ones written for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Only 2 stories has any detection involved in them – most of the others fall into the category where the characters are plotting the murder of their near and dear ones; sometimes successfully and at other times with unimaginable consequences – but all stories culminate with a twist; sometimes guessable and at other times genuinely surprising! The best story in the collection with one of those unusual and surprising twists happens to be ‘A Lonely Profession’.
Having won numerous prizes for marksmanship in the army, the protagonist who narrates the story in the first person is in the profession of being available as a paid assassin. The assassin has set up an office under the alias of H. De Quincy and the clients are accepted only if they have a reference from one of the previous customers. The story goes on to show the various measures and the methods that the assassin uses to be on top of the profession without getting involved with the law enforcement agencies. Being a lonely profession, a young lady by the name of Lottie, who is not that intelligent to figure out Quincy’s real name or profession is brought into the household. Such a set up welcomes some of the high paying clients and one such client wants Quincy to take up a political assassination of the President of the Arab country Bashara.
The plan is set in motion by the Arab general(the client) and all Quincy has to do is to pull the trigger. The plan also includes another man taking a shot at the President standing next to Quincy – that man who is an awful shot would draw the attention of the security and police authorities and take responsibility for the murder allowing Quincy to escape. This would also give an impression to the general public that the assassination was not a politically inclined one. The general also requests Quincy to bring Lottie along, though he doesn’t say why she is required. Everything goes according to the plan except two things: the other man is not captured but is shot down and all the exits from the main square are blocked by the police.
Even then, Quincy and Lottie have no problem in escaping to their homeland and the reader is left wondering about two things: Lottie didn’t previously know Quincy’s profession and yet there is no objection from her and if all the exits were blocked, how did they escape without being questioned? Therein lies the twist of the tale!
 Other notable stories in this collection include:
1.  Who Killed Father Christmas?
One of the two stories which involves genuine detection. The toy department at the store of Barnum & Thrums has received a consignment of Teddy Bears from Hong Kong. The employees of the store, including the temporaries are allowed to buy gifts at discounted prices. All the 4 employees and 2 temps have their eyes set on the Teddy bears. The store also has the tradition of having Santa distributing gifts to children. And Santa also goes in for the teddy with a blue ribbon (the only one of that kind) as soon as he comes in to gather the gifts for distributing to the children.

They soon realize that the man in Santa’s costume is not the usual man that they hire, somebody has requested by phone to present a teddy to a child when she approaches Santa and pretty soon Father Christmas is found stabbed to death. It turns out that the person who came in as Santa was a policeman - the police having received a tip that one of the teddies contained drugs, who now have a murder on their hands with the staff of the store serving as the suspects.

2.  Hit and Run
Dr. Roger Ashburn’s wife has run away leaving a message that she can’t tolerate him, his place and his poor earnings. Police investigation fails to shed any clue on her whereabouts. The doctor must have done her in runs the rumor mill. Not able to withstand the pressure, Dr. Ashburn moves to a different location as a Pathologist. A few months down the line, a woman’s body from a hit & run accident turns up in his morgue. And the doctor is shocked to see that the body on the slab is none other than her wife – with their wedding ring intact! So was it just a case of the women not wanting to accept her failure and return back to her husband? Or was there a much sinister plot?

3.  The Faithful Cat
Herbert has only two options open to him: kill his wife or confess and ask her to pay off his debts. A third option opens up when his wife is operated and her uterus is removed. Being childless, her love is channeled to the faithful cat, Pakdee. Being emotionally week, Herbert decides to drive her insane by threatening to kill the cat and the story unfolds with some bitter complications and an ending which Herbert certainly wouldn’t have bargained for!

4.  Family Christmas
    Mr. Runfold and his wife have invited their 2 daughters and their husbands to stay with them for Christmas. Mr. Runfold strongly suspects that one of the menfolk would try to poison him (he already has a weak heart) during Christmas dinner and instructs his wife to not let anyone into the kitchen. He has even changed his will so that the money doesn’t pass on to his wife who would easily give in and part with the money. The money would go to their daughters on the death of both the parents or when the youngest daughter reaches 40(the youngest is only 20). Both the daughters have their own sob story and request for money from their Father which is duly rejected with contempt. After the Christmas meal, Mr. Runfold is found dead. The doctor brings in a verdict of natural death but Mrs. Runfold strongly believes that one of the four killed her husband.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Riddle of The Golden Monkeys - Loren D. Estleman

Story: The Riddle of The Golden Monkeys
Author: Loren D. Estleman
Source: The Perils of Sherlock Holmes
Loren D. Estleman is the author of nearly seventy novels, including the long-running Amos Walker, private detective series, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula & Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Holmes. The Perils of Sherlock Holmes (Authorized and licensed by Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) consists of 7 Holmes pastiches, 3 essays and “The Serpent’s Egg”, intended as the first chapter of a collaborative ‘round robin’ novel that never came off. The author points out in the first essay that this collection of short stories is the first single-author collection of Holmes short stories published since Doyle’s own The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (although The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes may be the exception; presented as a collaboration between Adrian Conan Doyle & John Dickson Carr, it may in fact have been written entirely by Carr).
This is a breezy read and one can see Holmes solving cases in both England & America, meeting his contemporaries like Sax Rohmer, Wyatt Earp, late of Tombstone & Dr. Holliday. There is even a story where the great Holmes fails to find a suitable solution to an interesting problem. All in all, it’s a thrill ride for the readers to dive into these thrilling investigations of literature’s most famous sleuth!
In the Riddle of The Golden Monkeys, it’s the great Sax Rohmer himself, the creator of Dr. Fu-Manchu, who consults Holmes to solve a perplexing riddle. Sax Rohmer reveals that the character of Dr. Fu-Manchu was based upon a Chinese master criminal known only as Mr.King, who was the principal supplier of opium to the whole of London. To the author’s dismay (Rohmer’s), he meets Mr. King on the streets of London, which invariably leads to him being kidnapped by him. Mr. King and several of his clients have read Rohmer’s first collection The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu and they all have no problem in recognizing the character of Dr. Fu as none other than Mr. King. And this is creating business problems for Mr. King. Hence the ransom for Rohmer’s release - The Character of Fu-Manchu should never be featured in another book! Rohmer declines saying that the second book featuring his exploits has already been submitted to the publisher and is due to hit the market pretty soon. Mr. King releases Rohmer from captivity on one condition – that he should solve the riddle of the Golden Monkeys – the message being depicted by the 13 monkeys in various shapes and forms carved on the golden bowl which has been given as a gift to Rohmer (by Mr. King) in a span of 3 days. And Rohmer has no other option but to consult the greatest living detective to solve this conundrum and save his life!
In addition to the wonderful solution by Holmes, the story has one other highlight – the interaction between Rohmer and Watson - on the characters they have written about in their respective journals!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Vanished Steamboat - Edward D. Hoch

Story: The Vanished Steamboat
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: The Ripper Of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Tales
Ben Snow is whiling away the time in New Orleans when his friend Eddie, a riverboat gambler coaxes him to come down to Vicksburg. When there is a death of a gambler and there is a vacant spot on the steamboat, Eddie decides to take the trip on the ‘River Ridge’ and try his luck with the cards. Ben Snow declines his friend’s invitation to join him on this journey from Vicksburg to St. Louis. He bids his friend goodbye from the dock and watches the steamboat till it vanishes down the Mississippi river.
The next day, the owner of the Steamboat ‘River Ridge’ hires Ben Snow to find the boat as the boat seems to be missing. The owner strongly suspects that it’s her brother who has hijacked the boat. In 24 hours, the boat should have crossed Greenville but the message from Greenville is that they didn’t see any boat. Another boat ‘Carrollton Belle’ which left St. Louis the day before and which should have crossed ‘River Ridge’ midway didn’t meet the boat at all. The Belle is now berthed in Vicksburg and the captain of the ‘Belle’ is pretty certain that the ‘River Ridge’ is not on the river. Where did the boat with 55 crew members disappear? If it’s lost on the water, somebody would have seen it by now, if it had sunk down, the coastguard officials who were dredging would have found it. They even try to use  Conan Doyle’s solution of the ‘Lost Special’ where he makes a train disappear between two stations but the application of the same on the river between two ports doesn’t fetch them the same prize!
The solution is pretty simple and I did work out the problem as to where to find the boat but you have to give it to the author for planting the vital clue to the solution right there in the open – highlighted in italics - and yet I missed it altogether!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Ripper Of Storyville - Edward D. Hoch

Story: The Ripper Of Storyville
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: The Ripper Of Storyville and Other Ben Snow Tales
The Ripper of Storyville is the first book collection of one of Hoch’s most imaginative creations, Ben Snow, the nineteenth century gunman who wanders through the West with two of his companions – his horse and his derringer pistol. Hoch combines ingenious plotting with a strong sense of time & place – thereby making it both Western and Historical mysteries. Snow is a fast draw and a crack shot and is often mistaken for Billy the Kid, and is hired for his shooting services. The first seven Ben Snow stories were written 30 years ago for The Saint Mystery Magazine. The series was resumed in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine after a break of 19 years; this collection features all the 7 written for SMM and 7 from the ones published in EQMM.
In the title story, Ben Snow travels from Texas to New Orleans to find Kinsman’s daughter Bess in the red light district of Storyville. Kinsman is on his deathbed and wants his daughter to come back and take over the millions that she is due for. The reason for hiring a gunman? Jack the Ripper is suspected to be operating in the area and already 2 prostitutes have met a gory end. And by the time Ben finds Bess, the body count has gone up to 3 and Bess is not in a mood to go back to her Father.  Ben not only has to persuade Bess to come back with him but he needs to keep her alive till the killer is caught. The 4th victim happens to be Bess’s own roommate. Snow has no other option but to investigate and find the link amongst the 4 women. … Which when he does with some clever deductions eventually leads to the fact that the Ripper’s final victim is none other than Bess!