The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Enthralled by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian readers around the world developed a fascination with eccentric detectives and bizarre crimes. Featuring an international array of authors and characters, this compilation of 16 short stories showcases the best of the mysteries inspired by the Baker Street sleuth. Holmesians and other lovers of old-time mysteries will thrill to these tales of dark deeds and their discovery.

Who are Holmes’ rivals? One could argue for different answers to this question: other investigators who are not part of the police force, other genius detectives or other detectives who have a faithful biographer who tells their stories. This collection went for: all of the above and also really all sorts of mystery stories written between the Victorian era and the 1910s (yes, the newest story is from 1914, definitely post-Victorian), including stories about people committing crimes and stories about useless policemen who need to have the solution stuffed in their face by someone else. There’s no recognisable order to the presentation of the stories. It’s not chronological or geographical (the foreword promises stories from all over the world which means UK, US and France) and not by any quirk of the sleuth, either.

There’s also only an introduction to the whole collection (that boils down to “ACD wasn’t the only writer of mysteries”) and nothing for the single stories that would put them in some context or give additional information about the author. Why is this Father Brown story in the collection and not a different one? Who is Headon Hill when he doesn’t write uncomfortably racist story about magical Indians? (Btw, a question to which Google only has a rather unsatisfactory answer). What is going on in that Max Carrados story? It would have been nice to have those questions answered in a few sentences but there is nothing. Though some more googling tells me that many of the stories are simply the first in the series with a particular sleuth which really just adds to the feeling that this was all put together rather sloppily. It’s not that those type of stories need to be read in order for full enjoyment.

Of course there’s still the stories themselves and they are the usual mixed bag. There are well-known names and I admit that I even enjoyed some of those that were by authors I’m usually less fond of. (The Ninescore Mystery might truly be the first Baroness Orczy I didn’t dislike). There are also a few authors in there I have never heard of and those mostly fell in the categories “I have no intention of searching for more” and “I wish I could go back to not knowing about them”.

In the end, I’m again wondering Who is this book aimed at? Because if you’ve dug into Victorian (and Edwardian) detective fiction before, you’ll have heard of most of the authors before (and because so many are first in the series, chances are that you even know this exact story). And if you’re new to this kind of fiction, the lack of organisation and additional information can easily be confusing and overwhelming.

ARC provided by NetGalley

The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories

Title: The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories

Forensic dentistry; precise examination of ballistics; an expertise in apiology to identify the exact bee which killed the victim?
The detective’s role may be simple; solve the case and catch the culprit, but when the crime is fiendishly well-executed the application of the scientific method may be the only answer.
The detectives in this collection are masters of scientific deduction, employing principles of chemistry, the latest technological innovations and an irresistible logical brilliance in their pursuit of justice. With stories by early masters in the field such as Arthur Conan Doyle and L. T. Meade alongside fine-tuned mysteries from the likes of Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L. Sayers, The Measure of Malice collects tales of rational thinking to prove the power of the brain over villainous deeds.

First of all: It’s much quicker to name the stories I disliked than the ones I liked. Ernest Dudley’s The Case of the Chemist in the Cupboard isn’t a bad mystery but the sleuth is a massive bully who treats his assistant horribly and Meade and Eustace’s The Man Who Disappeared features a bit too much period-typical racism for my taste and apart from that it is a rather odd mix of a serious crime story with extremely pulpy murder methods. But I enjoyed pretty much all other stories (though the science of some of them was…well not very scientific, like C. E. Bechhofer Roberts’ story The English Filter in which the case gets solved with Optography).

However, I can’t say that I really loved any of the stories. There was one by Dorothy L Sayers (In the Teeth of the Evidence), a in a collection with this theme basically inevitable Thorndyke (The Contents of a Mare’s Nest) and a Sherlock Holmes (Boscombe Valley Mystery) and they were all fun but they were by authors I already knew and liked anyway (though usually I prefer Sayer’s novels to her short stories and BCLC have a talent to put Conan Doyle stories I hate in their collections).

Most of the stories are “just” solid entertainment. Fairly straightforward stories about professional detectives and amateur sleuths solving crime (But With Science), which happens to be exactly what I like and I disliked other collections that included too many stories that did not adhere to that basic formula. (Admittedly, experimenting with, or throwing out that formula completely can lead to amazing results. Sometimes).

So in the end…I got what it said on the tin. I didn’t find any gems but I was entertained.

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Title: Capital Crimes – London Mysteries

With its fascinating mix of people – rich and poor, British and foreign, worthy and suspicious – London is a city where anything can happen. The possibilities for criminals and for the crime writer are endless. London has been home to many of fiction’s finest detectives, and the setting for mystery novels and short stories of the highest quality.

Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known. The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment.

This collection wasn’t very capital if you excuse the very stupid joke. What choice do you have anyway? First of all, I didn’t feel that many of the stories “reflect the personality of the city” as promised. I understand that not every story can be one where London feels like it’s an additional main character, as it does in some Holmes stories (or as Oxford does in the Morse novels) but most feel like…they didn’t even try. For me only one story (Anthony Gilbert’s/Anne Meredith’s You Can’t Hang Twice) had a real London feel (admittedly mostly thanks to the old reliable London Fog but hey…it worked). A few more referenced enough places in London to also evoke some feeling of the place (Freeman’s The Magic Casket, Oxenham’s The Mystery of the Underground) and a couple were (partly) set in Gentlemen’s Clubs which I guess aren’t technically a purely London phenomenon but certainly feel like it if you’ve read enough mysteries (Berkeley’s The Avenging Chance and Allingham’s The Unseen Door). But the majority of the story have a sentence that informs you that this all happens in London but it never comes up again and you can’t help but think that this story could as well have taken place in Liverpool, Midsummer, Paris or Cleveland. I know it’s not the first time I’ve complained about the BCLC collections not quite living up to the title but e.g. Blood on the Tracks only had some stories that were set on a train but could easily have taken place somewhere else while Capital Crimes only has a few stories that could have only taken place in London.

The other reason it’s not very capital is…that most of the stories aren’t that great. I did enjoy You can’t Hang Twice a lot and not only because it was the only story that felt truly London. It was simply a good mystery with a criminal who in the end falls over his own attempts to construct an alibi.
J.S. Fletcher’s The Magician of Cannon Street is a story that’s more pulp than classic mystery (hypnotising villains that make even Moriarty look harmless) and I do enjoy some pulp but it wasn’t as completely bonkers as some other pulp stories and really: if you do pulp got all-out (the same goes for Edgar Wallace’s The Stealer of Marble: a very pulpy murder method but otherwise somewhat tame). Non-pulpy but still enjoyable is Berkeley’s The Avenging Chance, the basis for his later novel Poisoned Chocolate Case and yes, I do think the short story is better than the novel.

A mystery to me is what was done to The Mystery of the Underground no I wasn’t finished with bad jokes. It’s actually a novella that is printed in an abridged version and I don’t understand why it was abridged the way it was. We get a lot of (very dull) newspaper articles and then a paragraph that sums up how the sleuth figures out who did it, how the villain fled on a ship but was followed by the sleuth, how there was a confrontation on the high seas…and then the last page of the story. This didn’t exactly endear me to it even though it’s an early story that features a serial killer which I always find interesting. (Unless it’s The Hands of Mr. Ottermole by Thomas Burke, which is also in this collection and which according to the introduction was described as “The Best Crime Story” by Ellery Queen, a sentiment I can’t share. *sobs* Serial killers don’t work that way).

A few stories were…nice but nothing more. The Magic Casket is another Thorndyke story and even though I usually like him, this story lost itself too much in scientific details and explanations to be really enjoyable. The Holloway Flat Tragedy was at least a pleasant surprise because I’m usually not a fan of Ernest Bramah but this one had none of the things that bothered me about the other stories I know by him (namely extreme racism and Max Carrados making Daredevil’s talents look unimpressive) but this was just a neat (if slightly predictable) mystery (just like The Tea Leaf by Euston and Epson).

Finally, what bothered me that quite a lot of stories in this collection have the bad guy win. And it’s really in the sense of “the villain gets away with it” and not “we’re presented with a person who has completely understandable reasons for murder and doesn’t get caught”. I know that’s much more frequent in short stories than it is in full length crime novels but it’s not something I ever enjoyed.

All in all this made for a rather disappointing collection.

Deep Waters: Murder on the Waves

Title: Deep Waters – Murder on the Waves

From picturesque canals to the swirling currents of the ocean, a world of secrets lies buried beneath the surface of the water. Dubious vessels crawl along riverbeds, while the murky depths conceal more than one gruesome murder.

The stories in this collection will dredge up delight in crime fiction fans, as watery graves claim unintended dwellers and disembodied whispers penetrate the sleeping quarters of a ship’s captain. How might a thief plot their escape from a floating crime scene? And what is to follow when murder victims, lost to the ocean floor, inevitably resurface?

This is the first BCLC-Anthology I read that featured a story by Doyle that’s an actual Holmes story: The Adventure of the ‘Gloria Scott’; a story I didn’t remember at all, even though I have read/listened to all Holmes stories at least once. The reason for my memory-loss is…well that it’s not a very good story. It’s a lot like the non-Holmes story that featured in some of the previous anthologies that had no sleuthing and just a considerate person turning up and explaining everything. Here Holmes makes a couple of deductions early in the story, but the actual mystery is again solved by a convenient letter.

One of Holmes’ rivals (and an old acquaintance for Crime Library readers) also turns up: Dr Thorndyke solves another ‘inverted mystery’ in The Echo of a Mutiny and while it is a nice story, every reader with some prior experience with mystery will easily spot the mistake that will be the killer’s downfall.

Two more familiar names for me were E. W. Hornung who sends Raffles and Bunny after The Gift of the Emperor and William Hope Hodgson has a sailor telling a story of strange events on a ship in Bullion! I only read a couple of stories by both authors and in the case of the Raffles story that’s clearly a disadvantage. There are several references to past events that meant nothing to me and then the story also leaves you hanging at the end. Meanwhile the Hodgson-story was more of a positive surprise. I hadn’t much liked what I read by him so far but Bullion! is very nice and creepy.

Talking about creepy: to my great delight Gwyn Evans’ The Pool of Secrets is again a very pulpy story featuring a deadly swimming pool, lots of dead bodies and an utterly absurd solution. I loved it.

My totally reasonable and valid reason to include this gif is that the collection also features a short story by C. S. Forester who is better known for his Horatio Hornblower books. I was aware that he’d written a crime novel but didn’t know about any short stories. The Turning of the Tide also has some pulp elements. A dark and stormy night and an unusual and gruesome punishment for the bad guy but the story took itself a bit too seriously for me to enjoy it.

A first is that I ended up skipping a story completely: The Swimming Pool by H. C. Bailey. As Martin Edwards informs us in the introduction, Bailey’s “idiosyncratic prose” fell out of fashion. Idiosyncratic apparently means “Why use one short word when five long ones will do?” I tried to read it but kept forgetting how one sentence had started by the time I had come to the end of it.

From the rest of the stories two more were memorable to me because they also didn’t take themselves too serious. In Man Overboard Edmund Crispin lets Gervase Fan meditate on the usefulness of (dead) blackmailers. And in Kem Bennett’s The Queer Fish a lot of things go wrong for several people and in the end the right ones triumph. The remaining handful of stories were mainly…OK. Nothing I hated but also nothing that made me want to check out more by the author.

Serpents in Eden

“The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside… Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.” – Sherlock Holmes

Many of the greatest British crime writers have explored the possibilities of crime in the countryside in lively and ingenious short stories. Serpents in Eden celebrates the rural British mystery by bringing together an eclectic mix of crime stories written over half a century. From a tale of poison-pen letters tearing apart a village community to a macabre mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories collected here reveal the dark truths hidden in an assortment of rural paradises. Among the writers included here are such major figures as G. K. Chesterton and Margery Allingham, along with a host of lesser-known discoveries whose best stories are among the unsung riches of the golden age of British crime fiction between the two world wars.

I have to say that this book felt much more true to its title than some of the other BCL-collections. There are the Christmas crime collections that often feature stories, where the winter-setting is only mentioned in passing and e.g. Blood on the Tracks, contains stories where parts take place on a train but they could have easily been set somewhere else. But in Serpents in Eden the countryside-setting was an important part of the stories and/or the plots wouldn’t have worked at all or at least very differently in a city-setting.

This collection again features many well-known names and also open with one of them: Conan Doyle. Though The Black Doctor is another non-Holmes story follows the same pattern as his others: a curious case baffles everybody and is solved by nobody. Here we get a murdered country doctor and while it does seem an open and shut case at first, the inquest puts everything on his head. At least until a kind person appears who knows exactly what happens and is friendly enough to explain everything. No sleuthing by anyone required. Like Doyle, Chesterton doesn’t send out his most famous detective in this collection. In The Fad of the Fisherman Horne Fisher solves a case. Sort of. One got the impression that the author rather wanted to talk about politics and also took great care never to use one word when he could express the same thing with five or six.

For golden age lovers, the name Anthony Berkley will also be well-known. His story Direct Evidence is what you’d call solid. There’s a murder, a very obvious suspect, several witnesses who swear they saw him shoot the man and a sleuth for whom this is all a bit too obvious. I’m still not overwhelmed by his hero Roger Sheringham but he has some charm and is beginning to grow on me.

The name McDonnel Bodkin is not quite as well known, which is a shame because I’ve liked all his stories I’ve come across so far. Murder by Proxy, in which Paul Beck has to solve the murder of a highly unlikeable man is no exception. On the other hand, I wasn’t quite as happy with R. Austin Freeman’s The Naturalist at Law even though I’m usually a fan of Thorndyke. And it’s not that it’s a badly plotted story or fails at the scientific aspect. It just rather clearly shows Freeman’s prejudices. And if all you can say is “Well at least the bad guy was just a scary foreign communist and not a scary foreign Jewish communist” it’s not the most complimentary thing.

We also get a story by Leonora Wodehouse, stepdaughter of. But she certainly didn’t need his name to get by because her story Inquest about -duh – a murder-inquest with a surprising twist is brilliant and my favourite story in this collection.

The Genuine Tabard about some thieves who come up with an ingenious idea and fall over a completely unexpected detail was my first story by E.C. Bentley and it was neither overwhelming nor horrible. Similarly, Herbert Jenkin’ The Gylston Slander about a poison pen letter writer in a village was nice but nothing that will make me remember the name of the author. The same can be said about H. C. Bailey’s The Long Barrow in which two private detectives are approached independently by a man and his secretary, both worried about strange things that happen in their vicinity. I must also say that I found the writing style a bit too wordy for my taste.

In the introduction to Leo Bruse’s Clue in the Mustard Edwards talks about how the first novel that features Seargent Beef, who also solves this case, have him outdo caricatures of Wimsey, Poirot and Brown and Clue in the Mustard also has a touch of “See my sleuth? He’s not like the other sleuths! He isn’t posh and he mispronounces foreign words! Look at him being different!” And while I’m always there for non-posh sleuths just “being not posh” isn’t actually a character-trait and so this is just another decent but unmemorable mystery

Two of the stories take a more humorous approach: Margery Allingham’s A Proper Mystery, which doesn’t even feature a murder, just some strange happenings during a farming competition and Gladys Mitchell’s Our Pageant about a murdered morris dancer – because we can’t have a book countryside murders and not have at least one story on morris dancing. Both were very much not my thing. I don’t mind some humour but all these stories had quirky characters for the sake of having quirky characters do and say quirky things.

The story that stands out somehow is Ethel Lina White’s The Scarecrow which is neither a whodunit nor a howdunit nor really about any other question. It’s about a woman who has been attacked by a man before and the man was arrested for it but now has escaped. Now she’s alone with her frail mother on a farm, far away from other people and we have a perfect set-up for a thriller. I’m not a big fan of thrillers but have to admit that parts were quite gripping. At the same time, White’s background in scriptwriting showed quite clearly and I think the plot would have worked better on TV or radio with some appropriately eery music and other creepy noises.

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories

Title: The Christmas Card Crime (and other stories)
Editor: Martin Edwards

A Christmas party is punctuated by a gunshot under a policeman’s watchful eye. A jewel heist is planned amidst the glitz and glamour of Oxford Street’s Christmas shopping. Lost in a snowstorm, a man finds a motive for murder. 

This collection of mysteries explores the darker side of the festive season – from unexplained disturbances in the fresh snow to the darkness that lurks beneath the sparkling decorations. 

With neglected stories by John Bude and E.C.R. Lorac, as well as tales by little-known writers of crime fiction, Martin Edwards blends the cosy atmosphere of the fireside story with a chill to match the temperature outside. This is a gripping seasonal collection sure to delight mystery fans.

We open with an old acquaintance for mystery readers: Baroness Orczy. A Christmas Tragedy features her Lady Molly of Scotland Yard and like in some previous Orczy-stories I read, I got the feeling that she didn’t have a high opinion of women (unless they were her precious main characters). They’re stupid, heartless, cruel or any combination of those characteristics (and they’re always out to ruin poor men’s lives). We get a similar moral from John Bingham’s Crime at Lark Cottage, only it manages to be even worse because it also tells us that a man won’t hit his wife unless she gives him a really good reason.

Other stories are more festive: The title-giving Christmas Card Crime by Donald Stewart has many of the typical Christmas-mystery setpieces: a group of strangers are stranded in the middle of nowhere and suddenly one of the group members is found murdered and another has disappeared. Stewart has a somewhat unfortunate love for epithets. The story is full of the Scotland Yard man, the dramatist, the little cockney or the landlord which is really grating but otherwise, the story is fun. The only other that fits in more classical Christmas crime story mould is E. C. R. Lorac’s A Bit of Wire Pulling. It also features a group that is stuck together over Christmas, murder and strange tracks in the snow. It’s also a story that is told by one of the witnesses long after the events have taken place and he does it in a way that I found somewhat hard to follow. Another story in which we are also told the events long afterwards is Ronald Knox’ The Motive and the less said about that one the better.

Apart from Orczy, there are also some other well-known names in this collection. There’s the master of the locked room mystery John Dickson Carr’s Blind Man’s Hood (written under his pseudonym, Carter Dickson) and while I understand that locked room mysteries are not the most realistic pieces of crime-fiction and often require an extremely special set of circumstances to work this was a bit too out there for me. Frances Durbridge also lets Paul Temple have his White Christmas in Switzerland but it reads more like a single chapter from a full-length novel than a proper short story. If you’re a fan of the British Crime Library Classic series you’ll probably also have heard of John Bude. I wasn’t too fond of his Pattern of Revenge because I’ve never been a fan of mysteries where nobody does any detecting and the bad guy just kindly confesses everything.

We also get some stories that were written from the POV of the bad guy. Cyril Hare’s Sister Bessie or your Old Leech is somewhat weak and has a twist you can see coming from a mile off but the other two almost make the otherwise underwhelming collection worth it. Selwyn Jepson’s By The Sword has a delightful twist and a killer so unlikeable that it is incredibly satisfying to see him getting arrested. In ‘Twixt The Cup And The Lip Julian Symons describes a jewellery robbery that is well planned but still goes incredibly wrong and it’s great fun to read just how wrong it goes.

Crimson Snow

Crimson Snow brings together a dozen vintage crime stories set in winter. Welcome to a world of Father Christmases behaving oddly, a famous fictional detective in a Yuletide drama, mysterious tracks in the snow—-, and some very unpleasant carol singers. The mysterious events chronicled by a distinguished array of contributors in this volume frequently take place at Christmas. There’s no denying that the supposed season of goodwill is a time of year that lends itself to detective fiction. On a cold night, it’s tempting to curl up by the fireside with a good mystery. And more than that, claustrophobic house parties, when people may be cooped up with long-estranged relatives, can provide plenty of motives for murder. Including forgotten stories by great writers such as Margery Allingham, as well as classic tales by less familiar crime novelists, each story in this selection is introduced by the great expert on classic crime, Martin Edwards. The resulting volume is an entertaining and atmospheric compendium of wintry delights.

The opening story – Fergus Hume’s The Ghost’s Touch – features some well-known mystery setpieces: a Christmas party, two cousins – one of them inherited the family estate and the other the family fortune – and a haunted bedroom but doesn’t quite go where you expect. Sadly it’s a bit too short to make much of that fact. It’s over before you have time to be surprised. There was a similar problem with Julian Symons’ The Santa Claus Club. The setting is a Christmas charity dinner and one of the participants has been receiving threatening letters. The dinner happens. A murder happens. The murderer is caught. Symons only takes slightly longer than me to narrate these events.

Crimson Snow also gives us two stories some golden age connoisseurs will look down on because they’re -gasp– pulp. One of them, The Chopham Affair, is by one of the masters of pulp, Edgar Wallace. And no, he isn’t exactly known for writing deep psychological masterpieces that give insight into the human soul – or particularly clever ‘fair’ mysteries and this story about an unpleasant man who makes his money by seducing women and blackmailing them is neither. But it is great fun. The same is true for Victor Gunn’s Death in December. It again gives us the well-loved setting of a snowed-in Christmas party at a manor with a house ghost. It also features a villain whose plan is ridiculously complicated, even for the mystery world where people sometimes built elaborate contraptions to simulate the sound of a gunshot so that they have an alibi. The detective, meanwhile, solves this case because he has an exceptionally good sense of smell. Realism even in the broadest mystery sense? No. Fun? Hell yes.

Margery Allingham’s The Man With The Sack takes us back to the beloved setting of a Christmas party. The host’s daughter has a boyfriend her parents (especially her mother) disapprove of because he’s the son of a criminal. When some jewels go missing she has little doubt about who is responsible – unlike Campion. It’s not an extraordinary story – and the whodunit is not particularly surprising (the how is at least somewhat interesting) but it’s solid entertainment and that’s more than can be said about some of the other stories in this collection. There’s S. C. Roberts’ Holmes Pastiche Christmas Eve that features a criminal whose plan doesn’t make sense no matter which way I look at it and a Holmes that has been replaced by a very stupid doppelganger. Meanwhile, Christopher Bush’s Murder at Christmas tells us a lot about golf and possibly somewhere between all that also a bit about murder but I was too bored by all the golf talk to pay much attention.

Michael Gilbert’s Deep and Crisp and Even isn’t quite as bad. The main character showed some promise but the story didn’t. It’s hard to say much about it without spoiling the end so let’s just say this story is on the humorous side and involves a misunderstanding. And the author pokes some fun at the character misunderstanding things. Only, I could easily see why he would misunderstand things the way he did. Suggestings his actions were stupid – or at least very over-eager – felt weird.

While in most of the stories the setting over Christmas was at least in some way relevant to the story, in some the setting seems very coincidentally. Especially Off The Tiles by Ianthe Jerrold could have been set on any wet day. That doesn’t make it a bad story but it’s not one of the more overwhelming ones. In Macdonald Hastings’ Mr Cork’s Secret the feeling that it lacks the proper seasonal feeling can probably be attributed to the fact that the climax is set on a yacht somewhere on the French Riviera but it’s still an entertaining story with fun twists and turns.

Josephine Bell’s The Carol Singers which closes this collection is rather unusual for a golden age mystery in two ways. For one it’s quite dark and doesn’t act as if murder is just an intellectual challenge instead of a human tragedy. It also lacks the typical set-up with a victim and suspects which were all close to the victim. The death in this story is caused by a burglary gone wrong and as such the question, not just ‘whodunit’ but also ‘how do we find them in the first place?’ The whole story reminded me a bit of a police procedural episode: a cold opening that shows us the last moments of the victim and then some more or less realistic police investigation with questions that lead from one suspect to the next (and even some action and chase at the end). To come back to the hypothetical mystery connoisseurs who already really hated the stories by Wallace and Gunn: He will probably also dislike this one. For me, it was quite unexpected, and admittedly felt somewhat out of place in this collection where murder is otherwise treated less darkly but it was still a good story.