Six Against the Yard by members of The Detection Club
Last July I had fun rediscovering the Detection Club’s lovely group effort “Ask a Policeman” – and I was so enthused I sent for another similar book “Six Against The Yard”. Needless to say, it had languished on Mount TBR till I picked it up recently, and great fun it was too.
“Ask…” plus another composite volume “The Floating Admiral” were murder novels composed by a number of luminaries each writing a chapter, and the names are impressive – Christie, Sayers, Berkeley and Gladys Mitchell to name just a few. “Six…” however is slightly different: it features a series of six short stories in which the perfect murder is apparently committed; these are then analysed by a real life Scotland Yard policeman, Superintendent Cornish, who comments on the stories and shows how the plot could have been unravelled.
Again, the list of authors is impressive: Allingham, Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ronald Knox, Sayers and Thorndike. Christie is also present with an essay on a real-life unsolved crime, which doesn’t have an awful lot to do with the proceedings but no doubt was thought useful to help sales… But the stories themselves are an intriguing bunch: Allingham tells a tale of a couple of theatrical chorus girls and the problem one of the women’s husband causes; Knox’s story is of political assassination; Berkeley’s is a cautionary tale about the perils of marrying for money; Thorndike relates a grim story about the visiting relative from hell; Sayers also tackles the theatre; and Crofts takes on blackmail.
If I’m honest, I read these more as short stories than puzzles to be solved by Cornish, and although his comments were often enlightening, it’s somehow unrealistic to pit a real policeman against a fictional murder. So how do these mysteries stand up on their own? Well, quite impressively actually! Allingham, Sayers and Berkeley of course produce wonderfully well written and convincing pieces and I’d be hard put to convict the murderers. Knox’s story was entertaining though perhaps out of keeping with the others. Crofts’ tale of blackmail was excellent, capturing the helplessness of the victim well. As for the Thorndike – well, that was an *odd* one. The scenario was well set up – a hideous visiting distant relative imposing himself on the narrator and his wife, making their lives a misery, so much so that they had to do away with him. However, the actual murder method itself was quite brutally gruesome and unpleasant, and I wondered whether this was typical of Thorndike’s writing (I haven’t read anything else by him).
Despite this caveat, the book was an entertaining read; it’s always wonderful to come across minor works by the greats and frankly I’d read any Sayers going. Anthony Berkeley is becoming a fast favourite too, so I’m really glad the British Library are bringing out more Sheringham in their lovely Crime Classics series. And the good news is that I came across my copy of “The Floating Admiral” while tidying my Christies recently – so I may well get round to a re-read of that soon!