I read almost all of Keating’s Inspector Ghote mysteries as a teenager and so became aware of this intriguingly titled book and finally bought it on the strength of the title alone, knowing nothing else about it.
Foster P. Schlemberger, president of the American Institution for the Investigation of Incendiarism Incorporated, and some of his members have arrived in England for a joint convention with the Fire Prevention Society.
For reasons that are still unclear to me, George Hamyadis has arranged an old-fashioned coach tour for Schlemberger from Southampton to London, and has hired a number of people to make this happen: Major Mortenson and Joe Dagg, coaching experts (practical), Mr Smithers, coaching expert (theoretical), and actors Richard Wemyss, Kristen Kett, and Daisy Miller. John Fremitt, president of the FPS, and Dagg’s young son Peter make up the party.
When plans for a staged highway robbery, complete with antique pistols, are revealed, the reader is not surprised that death ensues.
Up to the murder, the book is a good as there are a number of possibilities of what could happen, but unfortunately the most obvious is chosen and from then on there is a lot of staying up late to catch people doing stuff but letting them get away and finding documents but not reading them etc and just being uncooperative with the police for no real reason.
The solution relies on a wonderfully subtle clue, but one that deserves a better book than this – perhaps even this if it had been condensed into a novella or even a short story.
So based on a single data point I can conclude that you shouldn’t judge a book on its title!
One final word – I love the cover design, and whilst you can’t beat the simplicity of the original green Penguins, it is a whole lot better than the photographic images they eventually moved onto as seen below with “A Puzzle for Fools”.
What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently
Cat of Many Tails (1949) by Ellery Queen
A serial killer nicknamed The Cat has strangled five New Yorkers in the space of eleven weeks. At this point the case is handed over to Inspector Richard Queen and so, reluctantly, Ellery returns from his self-imposed retirement to track down a killer who hides in the shadows.
The midpoint reveal is excellent and gives a very good reason for one of the patterns that Ellery has already identified. From that point the hunter becomes the hunted and the nerves of all involved, including the reader, are stretched to breaking point: can The Cat be caught and neutered or will they successfully pounce again?
This makes reference to another serial killer novel, Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders” so make sure you read that first. It also follows on directly from the events of “Ten Days’ Wonder”, so unlike The Nationality Object Mystery novels which don’t need to be read in order, it does pay to read from “Calamity Town” onwards chronologically, excluding “There Was an Old Woman”.
Brad at Ahsweetmystery has a lot of love for this one so do check out his take here.
A Puzzle for Fools (1936) by Patrick Quentin
Since returning to GAD fiction, I have been meaning to get hold of some PQ, but this was recently accelerated by the announcement that Curt Evans would be speaking on them at this summer’s Bodies from the Library conference and so I ordered the six “Puzzle” titles of which this is the first.
Peter Duluth has checked himself into the Lenz Sanatorium in order to stop drinking. One night he hears a voice warning that there will be murder. Doctor Lenz, the director of the facility, takes his report seriously as he is aware of a general unrest around the place and asks Peter, as someone whose mind, unlike his fellow patients, is basically healthy to investigate.
The mental hospital setting is well done, with its lack of privacy and lack of trust, both of Peter’s fellow patients and the staff. I found this an enjoyable read and if I had read it more carefully and not got an incorrect mental picture of the murderer I may have had more chance of solving it. I look forward to reading the next in the series.