Returning to the Vintage Crime Shorts!


Yes, I really haven’t forgotten that I’m still making my way through the wonderful collection of vintage crime stories, “The Dead Witness” – and after the debacle with “The Infatuations” it seemed like a safe place to go…. I took on another trio of tales, and jolly enjoyable they were, too!

dead witness

The Absent-Minded Coterie by Robert Barr

This turned out to be a story I know well as I read it in a collection of Barr’s tale of Eugene Valmont (which I reviewed here) and I’d already read it in a previous collection. Suffice to say, Barr and Valmont make excellent reading, and this tale of a clever con artist is worthy anybody’s time; really, detective stories this enjoyable don’t deserve to be forgotten. Highly recommended!


The Hammer of God by G.K. Chesterton

Ah, Father Brown! I recall reading a lot of Father Brown stories in my early days of classic crime reading, and recall thinking that the eponymous cleric was, well – odd! Certainly Chesterton is a great and very inventive writer (I’ve read some of his other works and they’re strange but compelling). This tale of the detecting priest involves a dissolute old rake being struck down by a hammer from God, which really couldn’t have been wielded by a human being. The only possible suspects are the man’s wife and her (possible) lover – but the wife is not strong enough, and the lover was miles away with a perfect alibi. Fortunately, Father Brown sees all and knows all and is able to bring about justice. I rather think I might like to go back and revisit these tales in the not too distant future.

The Crime at Big Tree Portage by Hesketh Prichard

The last tale in this batch was an unusual and pleasant diversion. Set in the wilds of Canada, the story features the tracker November Joe; adept at reading signs in the woods (and everywhere else), he detects in a kind of Sherlockian way but in a completely opposite landscape to that of Holmes’ city based adventures.

A man named Henry Lyon has been murdered in a woodland camp, and a reward is offered. Joe, and his Watson-like sidekick Quaritch, set off through the forest to track down (literally) the murder. There’s danger, detecting and the dispensation of woodland justice, which is quite forward-thinking and very satisfactory. Again, this is an author and detective who warrant wider recognition, and I shall be keeping my eyes out for more of Prichard’s work too.

So, three more enjoyable tales, and I think I only have another three left until the book is finished… which means I’ll have to look out for another vintage crime fix! 🙂

Vintage Crime Shorts Redux


It’s been a little while since I last picked up my lovely collection of vintage crime short stories, “Dead Witness”, but I had a little lull between books recently and figured it was a good time to revisit! Time is progressing in the anthology, and the stories I’m reading now are from the turn of the 20th century.


The Haverstock Hill Murder by George R. Sims

The informative intro to this tale gives a fascinating insight into author Sims’ life, and his detective creation, Dorcas Dene, is certainly an engaging one. Here, Dorcas is retained to investigate the case of a gentleman convicted of murdering his wife and confined to an asylum. His mother is convinced of his innocence and asks Dorcas to clear his name. An expert in disguise, she turns up unexpectedly all over the place, unrecognised by the narrator (who knows her well) and then finally explains all. Alas, experienced reader of criminal stories that I am, I got the solution almost immediately – which is no disrespect to the story, which I still found enjoyable and nicely written. Dorcas is a lovely detective and I’d like to read more of the stories, as those with a female central character were still a rarity at the time. I’ll just have to try a little less hard to work out the plot….

The Stolen Cigar-Case by Bret Harte

As soon as I started this tale, I realised that I’d read it before. It’s a very funny and very wonderful parody of Sherlock Holmes and I suspect I’ve come across it in the brilliant “Faber Book of Parodies” – I’d go and check, but the chances of finding my copy are probably very slim…

The great detective Hemlock Jones features as the investigator in this story, and the narrating doctor is so convinced of his genius that he gets down and kisses his feet at one point. But Jones’s cigar case has gone missing and the tortuous processes of his mind bring him to a very alarming conclusion!

The pastiche is brilliantly done, catching all of Holmes’s mannerisms and eccentricities to a T! Highly recommended if you love Sherlock and want a laugh!


The Absent-Minded Coterie by Robert Barr

The next story features the detective Eugene Valmont – I read “The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont” nearly a year ago and enjoyed it very much, reviewing it here. However, oddly enough I recognised this particular tale as one I’d read previously, and so it’s obviously often anthologised. As I said at the time, “The character of Valmont himself is an engaging one – Barr manages to create a very convincing-sounding Frenchman, with the verbosity, gallantry and intolerance of British law and police that you would expect from one of our Gallic cousins of that era! He is susceptible to fine wine and beautiful women, and very occasionally you think that Barr might be hamming up the stereotype a little, but this is never so much that it distracts from the puzzle. And these puzzles are very good – from minor mysteries of stolen money to larger concerns of bombs and anarchy. Valmont’s cases stretch as far as America, and he is much more fallible that Holmes – he fails in some of his cases, and at times acts outside the law in a way that the resident of 221b would never do!”

So an enjoyable trio of tales – here’s to the next few in the book! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: