Monday, July 29, 2013

Malice in Wonderland – Rufus King

This 1958 Queen’s Quorum title consists of 8 stories, all set in the fictional beach town of Halcyon in Florida. The crime club edition that I’ve categorizes this book as a classic puzzler but there’s really only one story which qualifies for this distinction and the remaining seven fall into the broad category of crime stories. The “wonderland of surprises, Rufus King style” as depicted in the introduction didn’t live up to its expectations for me.
Malice in Wonderland
This story involves the solving of a present day murder by a girl who tries to decode a message from a long-dead playmate.
Miami Papers Please Copy
Miss Violet is a feature writer for the Miami press. To get a good story and to be the heroine of the story, she comes up with a plan of dropping a movie ticket on the road and spring a devious plan on the person who would turn up at the cinema. But to her horror, the person who does turn up has his own devious plan and the hunter becomes the hunted.
The Body in the pool
Mrs. Waverley is a witness to a body being dumped in her pool by a rich & rogue millionaire. The prosecution keeps her under wraps till her testimony is due in court so as to protect her from the evil clutches of the accused. A year later, the daughter of the man who was sent to the chair comes to the house of Mrs. Waverley to seek revenge – to kill Mrs. Waverley in exactly the same manner as the murder which took place the previous year. And what follows is a maliciously clever twist.
To Remember you By
One of the best stories in this collection – Jane’s Father dies of a fatal illness when Jane is only 13. The police suspect that Jane’s step mother Aurelia killed her husband because this is the third husband who has died in a similar fashion leaving huge insurance bequeaths to her. Another common point – all of them were cremated and their ashes deposited in the river thereby leaving the police high and dry as they don’t have a body to exhume or for that matter any ash with which they could find traces of the poison. Well, in this case, Jane might just be able to help the police with the added bonus of a church pastor as an unimpeachable witness!
Let Her Kill Herself
A novella which starts off as good whodunit but the culprit is revealed midway and from then on it turns into a thriller.
Agree - or Die
A story with an uncertain ending – the author informs that this case, so simple on its surface – hid perhaps the most provocative question since Frank R. Stockton posed his famous one concerning the lady or the tiger and hence leaves the verdict to the reader.
The Body in the Rockpit
Another version of the love triangle crime story concerning a husband, the wife and her lover which can only end with murder – either of a single party or much worse.
The Pills of Lethe
The only genuine tale of detection and the best story in this collection. Jepson Carleton is the tyrannical family head, the absolute master of his wife, his spinster sister and the niece who was his ward. Dr. Maury receives a phone call from the wife saying that her husband is dying of an overdose of morphine which the doctor had prescribed. He enquires about the quantity of the medicine missing and orders her to give him loads of black coffee immediately – he consoles her that the black coffee would save him and keep him alive till he reaches their house.
When Dr. Maury reaches his patient’s home, he is surprised to find him dead. His instructions were carried out to perfection – the inmates of the house fed the dying man 6 to 7 cups of coffee and yet it seemed to have had no effect on him. The doctor has to not only figure out about this strange anomaly but he also needs to figure out who among the three killed his patient.


  1. King was superior in the 20s and 30s and a few book in the 40s. I think he lost his sparkle and gift for ingenuity and offbeat plots after 1947. He tired to adapt to the current trends as the hunger for detective stories gave way to crime fiction, but I think he really belongs to the heyday of the Golden Age. I've not read any of his short stories, but I'm not surprised these are mostly disappointing.

  2. After seeing 3 books by Rufus King in Curt's last year's top 10 list, my expectations were a bit high. Todd Downing (from Curt's Clues & Corpses) is a great fan of his novels but looks like the short stories, which are all post 1950 doesn't live up to the same standards. I'm reading his next collection "The Steps to Murder" and I see more or less the same pattern.

  3. Great stuff on short stories here. I have all the King story collections and think they look interesting, but haven't read systematically, need to do so! Arun is right, I am a courtier of the king!