Monday, September 12, 2016

RESORTING TO MURDER, edited by Martin Edwards

This is another excellent anthology by Edwards, who's turning out to be one of the great powerhouses of traditional British mystery scholarship; he's edited a number of anthologies and written a history of them.

The running theme here is mysteries taking place on vacation, and it's quite a mixture of material. It kicks off with an old warhorse, "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" by Arthur Conan Doyle, which takes place while Sherlock Holmes is on vacation in Cornwall. The next story, "A Schoolmaster Abroad" by E. W. Hornung, is not one of that author's better works, and doesn't linger long in the memory.

Arnold Bennett's "Murder!" is an OK story, kind of a macabre comedy where we witness a murder being committed, then watch a pompous police officer botch the investigation. "The Murder on the Golf Links" by M. McDonnell Bodkin showcases his now-forgotten sleuth Paul Beck, in a murder on a golf course; not great, but a serviceable story of its time. The next tale, "The Stone Finger" by G. K. Chesterton, is subpar; it's not a Father Brown story, and the method used to hide the body is so utterly daft I wanted to hunt down Chesterton's grave to spit on it.

"The Vanishing of Mrs. Fraser" by Basil Thomson is a journalistic recycling of the old "so long at the fair" urban legend. R. Austin Freeman gives us his medical sleuth Dr. Thorndike in "A Mystery of the Sand Hills," which has an unsatisfying plot but at the same time is a good (and well-written) look at Thorndike's deductive reasoning.

Then we get to the really good stuff. H. C. Bailey's Reggie Fortune turns up in "The Hazel Ice", investigating a murder in the Alps. It's a cracking good story, and I'm quickly becoming a fan of Bailey and Fortune. Then we have Anthony Berkeley's rarely-reprinted story "Razor Edge," which has sleuth Roger Sheringham looking into a suspicious drowning by the seaside. Then we have Leo Bruce's Sgt. Beef in the short-short "Holiday Task", looking into a strange death along the cliffs in Normandy (with a very clever twist at the end!).

A now-forgotten author, Helen Simpson had two works filmed by Hitchcock (MURDER! and UNDER CAPRICORN), and died young. She is represented in this collection by her rare story "A Posteriori," a comic tale of a tourist in France who becomes reluctantly embroiled in espionage, and has a hilariously ribald twist at the end that I don't dare spoil. "Where is Mr. Manetot?" by Phyllis Bentley is another rarity, written for an anthology of missing-persons stories. This one's about an academic who goes on an unexpected holiday and wanders into the midst of a heinous plot.

The next author, Gerald Findler, is an enigma; nothing is known of him, and there's only a couple of brief stories and a pamphlet credited to him. But "The House of Screams" packs a whallop, a haunted-house story which conceals an ingenious murder. And the anthology wraps up with Michael Gilbert's "Cousin Once Removed," a tale of murder with an ironic twist.

Despite a sluggish start, and some stuff you've seen before, this is still a superior anthology and a great way to sample some of the golden age's best mystery writers. Check it out!

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