Source: Review Copy (British Library Crime Classics)
When I first heard about this title I was very excited to read this book, as I love reading mystery fiction in translation, but have found it hard to find such fiction in the GAD style at times. So this collection of short stories seemed ideal (and before you all panic, it not only seemed ideal but also was ideal!). This collection contains stories from Hungary, Japan, Demark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, Netherlands, Russia and France and some of them have been translated into English for the first time. Martin Edwards, as expected, writes a great overall introduction, as well as, introductions to the individual authors. It was interesting to see how collaborative a project this collection was, with help coming in from many sources including John Pugmire, who heads Locked Rooms International. It was also pleasing to see CADs magazine get a mention as well.
‘The Swedish Match’ (1883) by Anton Chekhov
This is a story I reviewed earlier this year so you can read my thoughts here. Although Chekhov actually wrote quite a few mystery tales, I don’t think I have read any of his others, so it was good to find out in the introduction that there is a collection of them called, A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime and Suspense (2008).
‘A Sensible Course of Action’ (1909) by Palle Rosenkrantz
This is another story that I had already read, as it is included in Hugh Greene’s More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, but I only realised this after I finished it, as I had completely forgotten the plot. Rosenkrantz’s tale is set in Stockholm and was televised in 1973, starring John Thaw. Lieutenant Holst is faced with a difficult situation. A young widowed Russian Countess says she is in fear for her life, claiming that her brother in law is following her in order to murder her, as an act of revenge for her betraying his brother to the police, an act which meant he died in prison. She in turn accuses her brother in law of being the cause of her child’s death. Yet without evidence there is little Holst can do or is there? A cynically open ended tale, leaving the reader and sleuthing lead unsure of whether the right thing has happened or not, as the principle characters of this story are not cut and dry heroes, heroines or villains.
‘Strange Tracks’ by Balduin Groller
Groller was the penname a Hungarian author named Adalbert Goldscheider (1848-1916). He once worked as a magician and his crime stories featured Detective Dagobert. This story was included in The Great Detective Stories (1927) anthology and in his introduction to the story Martin Edwards says that ‘the storyline foreshadows that of ‘Footprint in the Sky’ by John Dickson Carr. Dagobert is asked by Andreas Grumbach to investigate the murder of Mathias Diwald, an employee of Grumbach, who was killed on his return from collecting the weekly wages. Dagobert immediately becomes a character you are drawn to and interested in and from a character point of view I could happily read other cases featuring Dagobert. However in terms of the mystery itself it is more a case of being told rather than shown, though given the limited cast of suspects the culprit is not too hard to spot. Still an entertaining read though.
‘The Kennel’ (1920) by Maurice Level
Level was the penname for Jeanne Mareteux-Levelle (1875-1926), a doctor, who was a writer of ‘macabre tales’ and some of these were performed at Le Theatre du Grand Guignol and one was even made into a film: The Roadhouse Murder (1932). This short yet powerful story takes place on a stormy night in an isolated chateau, with the household dogs ferociously baying outside in the kennels. M. de Hartevel and his wife are not happily married and all I will say is that tonight their discord comes to a dark and deadly head. The sting in this tale is wonderful and I loved every page of it.
‘Footprints in the Snow’ (1923) by Maurice Leblanc
This is an Arsene Lupin story collected in The Eight Strokes of the Clock. At the start of the
collection Leblanc says that these tales were apparently told to him by Lupin about his friend Prince Renine, but that we are supposed to infer that Lupin and Renine are one and the same. The mystery in this tale centres on another unhappy household and a romantic rival, which leads to mysterious circumstances during a snowy evening, which in turn endanger two young people’s lives. Like a number of the stories in this collection footprints in the snow become a cornerstone clue, which can be interpreted in more than one way.
‘The Return of Lord Kingwood’ (1926) by Ivans
Ivans was penname for Jakob van Schevichaven (1866-1935) who produced at least 44 mystery novels between 1917 and 1935. This story features a “Great Detective” called Mr Monk who works at Scotland Yard. He is far from tidy and organised, yet remains a fundamental cog in the police machine nevertheless. Inspector Higgins tells him about a new case: Lord Kingwood has returned home after many years, with his daughter, but his caretaker, Mr Perkins, has rung Scotland Yard for assistance. But when Mr Monk arrives at the manor house, murder has already happened. Mr Perkins is missing and his wife has been killed. This is a nicely written story but the solution is fairly easy to deduce.
‘The Stage Box Murder’ (1929) by Paul Rosenhayn
Rosenhayn was a German mystery writer, who was a big traveller, spending a lot of time in India. This story contains another detective in the Great Detective mould, the American Joe Jenkins and several stories featuring him were filmed. The story is made out of documents e.g. letters and newspapers and begins with Kurt, an out of work actor, writing to his fiancée, Clara, saying he will release her from her promise to marry him if he can’t find work by a certain date. Yet good news he is able to start up a local newspaper backed by a wealthy benefactor and he soon gets an early scoop concerning the murder of the director of the Rembrandt Theatre in his stage box. This tale has a clever and neat concept, which produces a dramatic finale with the epistle based format, but I think most readers will deduce the solution.
‘The Spider’ (1930) by Koga Saburo
Saburo was the penname for Japanese author, Haruta Yoshitame (1893- 1945). He was a contemporary of Edogawa Rampo and coined the word ‘honkaku’ – ‘meaning ‘Orthodox,’ to describe Japanese Golden Age stories in 1930’. This story is a macabre tale beginning with Professor Tsujikawa giving up his work and university position to build a laboratory on the outskirts of Tokyo to study spiders. Time passes and Professor Shiomi falls to his death when visiting and later Tsujikawa dies due to a poisonous spider bite. The story is narrated by a zoology assistant at the university who is asked by Tsujikawa’s relatives to go to the laboratory to deal with the spiders. Yet both he and the reader are in for a surprisingly spine chilling experience, which has a Francis Iles flavour to it.
‘The Venom of the Tarantula’ (1933) by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay
Bandyopadhyay was ‘described as Bengal’s answer to Arthur Conan Doyle’ and his Holmes like detective, Byomksh Bakshi, first appeared in print in 1932. The stories are mostly narrated by Ajit, the Watson figure and this particular tale is delightfully unusual and cunning impossible crime involving poison, which centres on how an immobile man guarded from obtaining addictive spider juice, is still able to get a hold of and use the illicit substance. Although a seemingly simple mystery it is full of red herrings and though I thought I had sussed it out, I was completely fooled. Bakshi is also a very entertaining and likable sleuth.
‘Murder A La Carte’ (1931) by Jean-Toussaint Samat
The story is set at a dinner party, hosted by Georges Rainfort, who begins to speak on a recent poisoning case. Suffice to say, this story has a wonderfully unsettling ending, and this is certainly one dinner party you’re glad you’ve not been invited to.
‘The Cold Night’s Clearing’ (1936) by Keikichi Osaka
Another Japanese tale and ‘an example of the ‘tracks in the snow’ type of impossible crime puzzle.’ The story is narrated by a language teacher at an all girl’s school, who is confronted with an unspeakable crime at a nearby teacher’s home. This is more of a howdunit than a whodunit, yet nevertheless this is a tale which only gets darker and darker as the truth is uncovered.
‘The Mystery of the Green Room’ (1936) by Pierre Very
This tale is a homage to Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907) and throughout the story one of the investigators makes numerous references to this work. Both a private investigator and a police detective are sent to deal with a robbery which takes place at the home of Madame de Rouvres. I really enjoyed this story, which I won’t say any more about, but I loved its hilarious and unexpected ending.
‘Kippers’ by John Flanders
This story wins the prize for the collection’s weirdest title. Flanders was one of the pennames for the very prolific writer, Jean-Raymond-Marie De Kremer (1884-1967), who wrote 1500 short stories and 5000 articles. He led a colourful lifestyle and was once imprisoned for smuggling. This short tale focuses on a shipwrecked crew and its two survivors who find themselves on a desert island. The one word I would use to sum this story up is sinister, particularly its chilling ending.
‘The Lipstick and the Teacup’ (1957) by Havank
Havank was a Dutch crime writer and translator and interestingly in the introduction it says that ‘the Dutch national forensic biometric system […] is known as HAVANK.’ This story is told by Chief Inspector Silvere, who recalls to his friends the time when he solved ‘the notorious murder in the Rue St Didier.’ The title encapsulates two key clues to the case and the suspect list is quite short. Yet again this was a case I thought I had figured out but got wrong, though to be slightly fairer to myself this story tells more than shows.
‘The Puzzle of the Broken Watch’ (1960) by Maria Elvira Bermudez
The collection ends with a Mexican detective story, featuring Bermudez’s serial character Armando Zozaya, who is said to be like Ellery Queen, (though I think Zozaya is a much more likeable character). In this tale he is asked by his lawyer friend, Miguel Prado, to help prove the innocence of his client of a murder charge. Both a child and a watch point Zozaya in the right direction and a bit like Queen he unfurls a series of potential suspects before the revealing the right one.
This brings our round the world mystery tour to an end and I think that the stories are included are all of a high standard. There is not one which stands out as hugely inferior from the rest. The wide variety of plots made this an overall entertaining read as you were never sure what you were going to get next. Although there are a mixture of writing styles, all of the authors write well and I enjoyed how some of the tales had more unusual formats. If I had to pick an absolute favourite I would go for ‘The Kennel’ by Maurice Level, which packs a huge punch. But I also loved the stories by Palle Rosenkrantz, Pierre Very, Saburo and Bandyopadhyay. Unsurprisingly this is definitely a book I recommend all mystery lovers add to their Christmas present wish lists.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Body of Water