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Returning to the Vintage Crime Shorts!

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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!

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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!

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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! 🙂

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The Return of Vintage Crime Shorts!

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Yes, I have got a little behind with my reading of the short pieces collected in “Dead Witness”, but they were the ideal thing recently when I was between books and unsure of what I was actually going to read next. And the four tales I read were really varied – quite fascinating how different the short story can be.

Though in truth, they’re not all short stories, as the first piece is an extract from novel – the one in which we meet arguably the most famous detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes!

The Science of Deduction by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (an extract from A Study in Scarlet)

Reading Sherlock Holmes nowadays is never going to be the same experience as his first readers; so much of his image has permeated our culture that even if you’re not a fan, you know who Holmes is. And if I’m honest, Holmes didn’t really catch fire until the first short stories started appearing. Nevertheless, editor Michael Sims has decided to feature the initial meeting between Holmes and Watson, which sees them setting up in Baker Street and also Holmes establishing his character and early signs of his deductive powers, so from that point of view it’s a good choice.

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It’s quite obvious that we’re in the presence of a great storyteller and great character, even in this early work, and I must admit that reading this had the effect of making me want to pick up my Sherlock Holmes short story collections and get lost in the world of Victorian crime. Truly, Holmes is the definitive detective!

The Whitechapel Mystery by Anonymous

This section is a whole different kettle of fish, as they say. It consists of a selection of rather gruesome newspaper reports of the Ripper cases which were actually so graphic that I ended up skipping over some of the descriptions! It’s quite an eye-opener to see how the gutter press hasn’t changed that much, although this was probably one of my least favourite shorts in the book.

The Assassin’s Natal Autograph by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is of course best for writing about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but this extract comes from his work “Pudd’nhead Wilson”. The featured story concerns a court case and has a very early exposition of the science of fingerprinting which proves a clincher in case of proving guilt. Twain was ahead of his time as this was first published in 1894, well in advance of the first use of fingerprint evidence in 1902. The extract was excellent, but should have come with a spoiler alert if you were thinking of reading the book…

Murder at Troyte’s Hall by C.L. Pirkis

The final story of the batch was a much more substantial and satisfying tale, write by Catherine Pirkis who was the first woman writer to create a woman detective – Loveday Brooke. Employed by an agency who can see the sense in having one of their number who can easily infiltrate big houses and the like, Loveday is sent to Troyte’s Hall to investigate the murder of old Sandy, the Cravens’ family retainer who lives in the lodge. The family itself is an odd one, with a reclusive patriarchal figure who spends all his time working, a daughter who has conveniently gone off to stay with a friend and a suspicious son who could well be the guilty party. Needless to say, Loveday manages to unravel things before the local policemen, although putting herself in danger in the process. But this is great stuff with proper detecting and quite exciting though maybe a little predictable!

I’m now about two-thirds of the way through this book and it’s ideal for dipping into when you want a classic crime fix but haven’t got the time to invest in a novel – great stuff!!

A Diversion into some classic crime!

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As I mentioned in my review of “The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont”, I recently rambled through the Ellery Queen list of recommended crime stories, and while searching online to see what was available, I came across an intriguing looking anthology: “The Dead Witness”, edited by Michael Sims. Needless to say, a very reasonably priced copy was soon winging its way towards me, and it turns out to be such fun!

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The book collects together stories and extracts from the earliest days of crime stories right up to 1915. Fascinatingly enough, the first tale, from 1837, is regarded as the first ‘proper’ detective story, and hasn’t been reprinted until now.

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I have to confess I was a little unsure about committing to 500 pages of vintage crime, as there are so many books I want to read just now. So I shall break my current rule of only reading one book at a time, and I’ll dip into this volume as an aside when I feel in the mood. Watch this space for reviews of classic detection!!

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