Havana Red (1997) by Leonardo Padura (translated by Peter Bush)

Although described on the back of my copy as the first book of the Havana Quartet (actually the Four Seasons in Spanish, which makes much better sense as this is set in summer and the heat is a recurring factor), this is the third book in the series featuring Mario Conde, a Cuban police officer.

He is currently spending six months on clerical duties after punching a fellow officer, but his boss reassigns him to full duties to investigate the murder of a transvestite, found strangled to death with two coins inserted up his anus. Conde must enter a world he is unused to, and quite uncomfortable with, to understand the victim’s life and thus understand why he was killed and who the murderer is.

The author has a greater fascination with bodily fluids than Sarah Phelps, just one of the reasons why I can’t recommend this book. The only real thing of interest was the inclusion of a short-story as written by Conde who has dabbled with writing in the past, which would have been a good stand alone piece.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I only read this as part of my 100 Greatest Literary Detectives challenge.



Turning Japanese #18: Death Within the Evil Eye (2019) by Masahiro Imamura (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

Yuzuru Hamura, having survived the events of Death Among the Undead, picks up his pen once more to relate the second case of the Shinko University Mystery Society.

His colleague, Hiruko, has discovered that the Madarame Organisation, who had a hand in the previous book, had done some psychic research years before, and so the pair head off into the countryside to investigate a prophetess whose predictions have recently been coming true. En route they meet Marie Toiro, another student, who sketches a boar being run over by their bus, minutes before it actually happens.

They arrive at a village that seems to be completely deserted, and after meeting a number of other visitors, the whole group makes their way over a rickety wooden bridge to the old research facility where the seer Sakimi still lives. They soon learn that her latest prophecy is that two men and two women will die in the locality on the last two days of November. Today is the twenty-eighth and Toiro starts to sketch a burning bridge…

The next day a man dies in what seems to be an accidental landslide and a woman is almost poisoned before a definite murder occurs. Are the fortune tellers ensuring their predictions come true or do they have genuine supernatural abilities? And if so, can anyone prevent the foretold third and fourth deaths?

And why has the murderer killed under these circumstances? As Hiruko says:

“When the police eventually arrive and they learn that a murder has been committed here, what do you think they will do? It will be clear the murderer must be one of us. We’ll be investigated and they will start digging into our backgrounds. It’s extremely likely, therefore, that they will find the culprit. Which means there is no situation less suitable for a murder than a closed circle.”

There is a brilliant piece of Queenian deduction which explains why the murderer spent time ransacking the victim’s room and this is followed up with some inspired guesswork to fully explain the motive behind the murders.

There is a teaser at the end for the third book in the series. Here’s hoping Locked Room International can get the rights to translate and that Ho-Ling Wong has some availability in the next year or so!

Click here for more reviews of Japanese mystery fiction.

Sherlockian Shorts #9 – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Part 3

A series of posts, containing full spoilers, as I make my way once more through the complete canon, picking out points of interest and reflecting on my personal experience of the stories.

The Crooked Man

  • Holmes arrives at Watson’s house, a few months after his marriage, and makes a number of deductions about his current domestic and business life. Although we are sometimes lead to regard Holmes as a loner, here he actively seeks out the company of his friend.
  • Holmes uses one of his “Baker Street boys” to keep watch over a man of interest.
  • Holmes relates that he should have solved the case earlier if he had remembered the story of David and Bathsheba.

The Resident Patient

  • Dr Trevelyan had won the Bruce Pinkerton prize, a name very similar to that used later in the title of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”.
  • Holmes says that catalepsy is an easy complaint to imitate. This may be because he had actually experienced it as it is a characteristic symptom of cocaine withdrawal.

The Greek Interpreter

  • Holmes says that his grandmother was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. This would most likely be Horace Vernet (1789-1863) the son of artist Carle Vernet and grandson of artist Claud Joseph Vernet.
  • In introducing his brother Mycroft, Holmes says “I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate  one’s self is as much a departure from the truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers. When I say, therefore, that Mycroft has better powers of observation than I, you may take it that I am speaking the exact and literal truth.”
  • Obviously you can’t have a recurring character who is a greater detective than your main character and so Mycroft only makes a second appearance in the canon.

Previous posts in this series can be found here.

The Leavenworth Case (1878) by Anna Katharine Green

Knowing that this was a foundational text in the mystery genre, I had wanted to read it regardless of my 100 Greatest Literary Detectives challenge, especially as it was available in the wonderful Detective Club hardback series of reprints.

Subtitled “A Lawyer’s Story” it is narrated by Everett Raymond, the junior partner of Veeley, Carr & Raymond, who is brought into the case on the first day as his seniors are absent. Horatio Leavenworth, a very rich man, has been found shot dead in his study, and one of his nieces, Eleanore, is acting very suspiciously. Raymond, obviously, falls immediately in love with her. 

An inquest is held that very morning, and this is attended by Ebenezer Gryce, a well-known city detective. He is described thus:

“(He) was not the thin, wiry individual with the piercing eye you are doubtless expecting to see. On the contrary, Mr Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage with an eye that never pierced, that did not even rest on you. If it rested anywhere, it was always on some insignificant object in the vicinity, some vase, inkstand, book, or button.”

This is interesting given that Sherlock Holmes who would fit the first part of the description was not invented for another ten years.

One of the first things Gryce said is very significant. When asked who he suspects he says:

“Everyone and nobody. It is not for me to suspect, but to detect.”

It is a phrase that could so easily come from Holmes.

It is very Victorian in style, with plenty of heaving bosoms, overlong and overly detailed recapitulations of past events, but Gryce keeps Raymond (and therefore the reader) guessing until the very end. I had a really great solution in mind, which is what Agatha Christie would have done with the material, but it was quite different and allowed for the moral of the story to play out.

What struck me most was how like the future Captain Hastings the narrator is. Gryce would like him to get some information from the Leavenworth ménage:

“I drew back and pondered the position offered me. A spy in a fair woman’s house! How could I reconcile it with my natural instincts as a gentleman?

‘Cannot you find someone better adapted to learn these secrets for you?’ I asked at length. ‘The part of spy is anything but agreeable to me.’

Mr Gryce’s brows fell.

‘I will assist Mr Harwell in his efforts to arrange Mr Leavenworth’s manuscript for the press,’ I said; ‘I will give Mr Clavering an opportunity to form my acquaintance; and I will listen, if Miss Leavenworth chooses to make me her confidant in any way. But any hearkening at doors, surprises, unworthy feints or ungentlemanly subterfuges, I herewith disclaim as outside of my province.'”

This is not surprising given the parallels that John Curran draws in his introduction (I always read them at the end) between this book and “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and notes that Christie had cited it in her autobiography along with “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” as a detective story that she had enjoyed.

Ebenezer Gryce is not particularly memorable but I am intrigued by the fact that he appears alongside Miss Amelia Butterworth, a prototype Miss Marple, and may one day get my hands on one of those.


1,000 Mystery Novels

With the arrival of Halfway House by Ellery Queen I now have a collection of 1,000 mystery novels so I thought I would share some statistics with you.

By Author

My top ten authors are:

Georges Simenon – 75 – all the Maigret novels in new translations by Penguin

Agatha Christie – 66 – all of her mystery novels written under her own name

John Dickson Carr – 52 – including 17 as by Carter Dickson

Erle Stanley Gardner – 33

Ellery Queen – 32

Michael Innes – 31

Brian Flynn – 26

Freeman Wills Crofts – 25

Andrea Camilleri – 23

Paul Halter – 18 – all of his novels so far translated into English by Locked Room International

Between them that is a total of 381.

232 authors are represented in total of whom I have just a single book from 113 of them.

By date of publication

They range from The Notting Hill Mystery (1862) to The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy and I have at least one book for every year from 1922 to 2022 apart from 1998.

By decade:

1860s – 2

1870s – 1

1880s – 3

1890s – 2

1900s – 7

1910s – 5

1920s – 58

1930s – 280

1940s – 193

1950s – 155

1960s – 94

1970s – 52

1980s – 32

1990s – 36

2000s – 27

2010s – 46

2020s – 2

The most for any single year is 34 from 1938, which includes classics such as The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake, The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie, Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Judas Window by Carter Dickson, Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes, and Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson –  a golden year from a golden decade.

To Be Read Pile

103 of the 1,000 remain to be read, including 20 by Brian Flynn,13 by Erle Stanley Gardner, 9 by Michael Innes, and 7 by Andrea Camilleri . I’m currently reading “Rex v Anne Bickerton by Sydney Fowler. 

The Future

I’m sure some of my collection will be culled in the future. I don’t expect to like some that I’ve picked up for my 100 Greatest Literary Detectives project. And will I ever choose to re-read Photo Finish by Ngaio Marsh?

But in the short-term the number will increase as I ordered two more books this morning!

What do your collections look like?




The New York Trilogy (1985-87) by Paul Auster

On last year’s trip to London for the annual Bodies from the Library conference, having found nothing in one bookshop’s crime fiction section I remembered this book by Paul Auster and based on what I had read in 100 Greatest Literary Detectives I had a look in the general fiction section and found it there, which immediately tells you almost everything you need to know about it. It is made up of three very loosely connected novellas, of which only the first is relevant to this blogging endeavour.

City of Glass

Daniel Quinn used to be a serious writer, but following a traumatic event, has turned to writing mysteries under the name William Wilson. Late one night he receives a call asking for a private detective named Paul Auster. He tells the caller they have got the wrong number but when he receives the same call a few nights later he says that he is Auster and agrees to take on a case.

This involves tailing a man newly released from a mental hospital who may pose a threat to his client.

This novella becomes interestingly meta when Quinn gets in touch with Paul Auster, who explains that he is an author and not a private detective, but following that it just becomes weird.


Blue has been hired by White to watch Black, a man who lives in an apartment opposite one that has been hired especially for his use. Despite having been trained by the experienced Brown, this is Blue’s first solo assignment since his mentor retired, and he continues to make bad and inexplicable decisions, which lead to his downfall.

The Locked Room

Our narrator, an unnamed writer is contacted by Sophie, the widow of Fanshawe, his best friend from childhood. Fanshawe has disappeared without warning but has left his old friend as his literary executor. Despite never having published anything, Fanshawe had left a large corpus of work, which is of an exceptional quality. He embrace his new role at first but then starts to wonder what actually happened to Fanshawe and becomes obsessed with finding out.


On the back of my copy the San Francisco Examiner says “A work of manifest originality, if not genius” and I would agree, although not in the way they mean.

A quote in the first novella shows that Auster understands the genre:

“In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so – which amounts to the same thing.”

But then his writing undermines this because none of the three works has any proper conclusion and therefore nothing is of any significance. Whilst I may not have enjoyed all the selections of the literary detectives so far, at least they were all detectives involved in mysteries of a sort – Daniel Quinn is no detective and City of Glass is not a story to satisfy the mystery lover, and so he should have been left out for someone more deserving e.g. Sir John Appleby, or almost any other sleuth you care to name.


The Waikiki Widow (1953) by Juanita Sheridan

This is the fourth and final mystery featuring Lily Wu, Hawaiian born but of a Chinese family, as narrated by her friend Janice Cameron.

Lily has just returned from Hong Kong with an old family friend, Madame Li, who had only just escaped with her life from China. Whilst Lily and Janice attend a party thrown by Lady Blanche Carleton, the Waikiki Widow of the tile, Madame Li’s servant is lured away to be murdered. His dying words “Tea…dragon…tiger” send Janice off to investigate tea importer Henry Hunter whilst Lily goes off to do something else… I can’t remember, sorry. And then Janice goes on a cruise with some people while Lily is off doing something else… again I’m not sure what.

For a book labelled as a Lily Wu mystery there wasn’t enough Lily Wu or enough mystery. For some reason this just didn’t click with me and I’d really wanted it to because this character was the one written about in 100 Greatest Literary Detectives by Kate from crossexaminingcrime – her much more detailed and favourable review can be found here.

For my money if you want a Hawaiian set mystery with a Chinese sleuth, go with Charlie Chan.


Turning Japanese #17: The Tattoo Murder (1948) by Akimitsu Takagi (translated by Deborah Boehm)

Kenzo Matsushita meets Kinue Nomura at a tattoo festival where she wins first prize for the depiction of the snake Orochimaru which covers her back. They quickly become lovers and she confides in him that she is afraid that someone wants to kill her for her tattoo. Shortly afterwards her head and limbs are found in a locked bathroom but her tattooed torso has vanished. Kenzo’s brother Inspector Daiyu Mashushita can make nothing of this nor the two other murders that follow in its wake and it is only when Kenzo bumps into his old friend Kyosuke Kamizu that things begin to take shape.

The explanation of the locked room trick comes almost one hundred pages before the end and whilst I didn’t really understand the exact detail of how it was done, the principal was clear and I really liked it. Just before the end I did twig to something important although my reason for that was ultimately incorrect (SPOILERS IN ROT 13: V unq orra pbaivaprq gung vg jnfa’g Gnznr’f obql orpnhfr ure gnggbb pbirerq ure nezf naq yrtf ohg gura V gubhtug jung vs vg jnf bayl gur urnq gung jnf uref (juvpu ybbxrq rabhtu yvxr Xvahr’f) naq gur nezf naq yrtf orybatrq gb fbzrbar ryfr ragveryl? Guvf jbhyq unir orra n tevfyvre rkcynangvba guna gur fvzcyre rkcynangvba gung Gnznr arire unq gur gnggbb naq V yvxrq gur cflpubybtvpny ernfbavat gung Ubevlnfh jbhyq arire unir gnggbbrq uvf guveq puvyq jvgu gur guveq bs gur zlgubybtvpny gevb).

I wonder how closely related the names Kyosuke and Koisuke are in Japanese and whether in giving his sleuth this name and the initials K.K. Takagi was giving a nod to Seishi Yokomizo’s Kindaichi who had appeared two years’ earlier in The Honjin Murders.

One of Kamizu’s schoolboy nicknames was the Reasoning Machine and I wondered if Takagi was deliberately referencing Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen who was nicknamed the Thinking Machine. Had he translated that into Japanese and should it therefore have been translated back into English as the Thinking Machine to make the reference explicit? Here is an example of where a translator may have missed something unintentionally by not having a wide enough knowledge of a genre.

And finally, appropriately for a book where you need to see white as black and white as black, I realised that the Pushkin Vertigo logo isn’t actually a V with an odd dot but that the dot is the centre of a hidden P!

Click here for more reviews of Japanese mystery fiction.

Christine Falls (2006) by Benjamin Black

Quirke, first name unrevealed, is chief pathologist at the Holy Family Hospital, Dublin. His personal life is complicated given he married the wrong sister, who died in childbirth, and his friend, whose father favours Quirke over him, married the right sister.

One evening after an afterwork party, he finds his brother-in-law, Malachy Griffin, completing the death certificate of Christine Falls to show that she died of a pulmonary embolism. Quirke is suspicious and retrieves the young woman’s body from the morgue and performs a proper post mortem which reveals something entirely different. His pursuit of what he finds soon leads to murder and his own life is endangered.

The heart of what is going on will be no surprise to those with knowledge of recent Irish history and yet I was neatly fooled by a double twist.

This isn’t a comfortable or uplifting read but it was still very interesting and because my only motivation for reading it was as part of my 100 Greatest Literary Detectives challenge I enjoyed it more than I expected to.