After writing individual reviews in 2019 for each book I’ve read for the Vintage Mystery Challenge, I’m reverting to something a bit briefer.
The Devil’s Caress by June Wright (1952)
Fulfils “Why – author not from your country”
Wright is the subject of a conference talk by Kate from crossexaminingcrime so I got hold of this as it was the one she had rated most highly here.
Dr Marsh Mowbray is spending the weekend at the home of her boss Dr Kate Waring. Out for an early walk on her first morning there she finds an unconscious man on the golf course. He is brought back to the house where she learns that he is a member of the household whom she had yet to meet and she is asked by Kate to take charge of his treatment. This is resented by many of the other guests who are also medical practitioners.
What was intended as a relaxing weekend before Marsh’s departure for England becomes nothing of the sort as she ends up fearing for her life and wondering if her mentor is a ruthless killer or merely misunderstood.
I didn’t get a huge sense of Australia from this book, but then I do read very quickly and often unconsciously skip descriptive passages. However ti-trees cropped up regularly and one character enjoyed the almost too ridiculously stereotypical name of Bruce Shane.
There is no police involvement in this story and no real detecting as such. Marsh follows her nose and then reacts to events as they spiral out of control but it was a good enough read for me to get hold of the other three titles re-released under the Dark Passage imprint from Verse Chorus Press.
The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr (1933)
Fulfils “Who – a journalist/writer”
Superintendent Hadley has arranged a meeting between Dr Gideon Fell and Sir William Bitton in order that the former may assist the latter in the matter of a missing manuscript (which would be of great interest to the GAD community). Whilst they wait they discuss the hat-thefts of a man the press has nicknamed the Mad Hatter. When Sir William arrives he reveals that he has twice been the victim of the Mad Hatter, once that very afternoon.
These seemingly amusing acts swiftly take on a sinister air when Sir William’s nephew, a journalist who had been following the Mad Hatter Mystery, is found dead at the Tower of London wearing one of his uncle’s hats.
No impossible crime this time but Dr Fell puts together a case, that whilst not airtight, brings together the various key elements into a plausible solution.
Murder by Matchlight by E. C. R. Lorac (1945)
Fulfils “Where – capital city”
A man strikes a match during the blackout and a chance witness sees a face over his shoulder for just a second before murder is done. Apart from that no one has seen or heard anything of the murderer.
From such unpromising beginnings regular series sleuth Inspector Macdonald is able to methodically piece together a case that can survive a bombing raid and the doubts of whether with death and destruction all around it is worth while finding the killer of such a ne’er do well victim.
Lorac’s strength here is in characterisation, particularly of the victim’s fellow lodgers, including the wonderful Mr Rameses, a stage magician. The “how” was revealed too early for my liking but the closing scenes would make for great viewing as various parties are brought together at a restaurant with it being unclear who are the watched and who are the watchers.
Through a Glass, Darkly by Helen McCloy (1950)
Fulfils “Where – at a school”
Faustina Crayle is fired without reason from her job at Brereton, a girls’ school, described as “the American Roedean”. Her only friend, Gisela von Hohenems, had already been concerned about the atmosphere around Faustina, and shares her concerns with her friend, psychiatrist Basil Willing.
He speaks with Faustina and with her permission asks the headmistress, Mrs Lightfoot, to explain the reasons for Faustina’s summary dismissal. What is revealed is both surprising and inexplicable. It is soon found that Faustina knew more than she was letting on: but is she victim, villain, or perhaps just different from the rest of society?
Basil believes that she is in danger but when death does occur it is not Faustina who is killed but could she have had a hand in it?
It’s an interesting book but I’m not convinced it deserves its place on the list of Top 15 Impossible Crimes.
When the Wind Blows by Cyril Hare (1949)
Fulfils “When – during a performance of any sort”
Francis Pettigrew’s life has taken an unexpected turn following the events of With a Bare Bodkin and in peacetime he has left his chambers in London for semi-retirement in the countryside. He has been encouraged to become treasurer of the Markshire Orchestral Society and it is in this capacity that he becomes reluctantly involved in another murder case.
At the Society’s latest concert a guest soloist is murdered backstage whilst the regular orchestra is onstage. Pettigrew is able to supply a possible motive for the crime but it is left to the hard-working Inspector Trimble to find the means.
Lively characterisation of the society’s members and enough twists and turns in the investigation make this a good read and this time the legal niceties behind the solution are much more satisfying than those in “With a Bare Bodkin”.
Death-Watch by John Dickson Carr (1935)
Appropriately for a book set in a clockmaker’s house fulfils “When – timing of crime is crucial”
Gideon Fell is paying a late night visit on Johannus Carver, clockmaker, who has suffered the theft of a pair of hands from a large ornamental clock that he had just completed. He finds the door wide open and on entering finds a man holding a revolver standing over a dead body. However, the corpse has been stabbed, not shot, with one of the stolen hands. A bizarre, but for Dr Fell a typical, start to a case.
What follows is a whirlwind of ideas as Fell and the police learn of a murder that has been planned but not committed, a connection to shop-lifting and a separate murder, and historic police corruption, not to mention skylights, roof-top trysts, gilt paint, and a watch shaped like a skull.
Upon completion this felt like a cross between a specific Agatha Christie plot coupled with the devious mind behind Ellery Queen’s The Greek Coffin Mystery.
The only downside – which I’d seen mentioned in a previous review – is a completely unnecessary deception on the part of the author which adds nothing to the story and could easily be removed.