Sunday, February 24, 2013

World's 100 Best Short Stories--Mystery: Review

The World's 100 Best Short Stories Vol. III: Mystery by Grant Overton, ed. was published in 1927 and contains stories written from the 1840s to the 1920s.  The selections fall under a rather broad interpretation of "mystery," but the stories are all very entertaining.  The book features work by well-known authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, and Katherine Mansfield as well as those primarily known by mystery fans--Melville Davisson Post  and E. Phillips Oppenheim.  And then there are a few whose names may only be known by those completely immersed in detective fiction lore (and more well-versed than I was before plunging into this little red volume). An entertaining little collection: Three Stars.

"The Doomdorf Mystery" by Melville Davisson Post: Perhaps Post's most well-known story featuring Uncle Abner.  An early and classic locked room murder in which a man is shot while resting in his room--door securely bolted on the inside and windows coated with dust and obviously undisturbed (not to mention the sheer drop below the windows that make it impossible for the killer to have entered). There is always a moral to the Uncle Abner stories and in this one Abner finds the clues to the mystery in quotations from a Protestant preacher.

"The Three Strangers" by Thomas Hardy: A local shepherd near Casterbridge throws a party to celebrate the christening of the latest addition to his family.  In the midst of the dancing and the toasting, a stranger comes in seeking shelter from the storm raging outside. The first man has barely settled with a mug beside the fire when a second stranger arrives seeking shelter on his way to the town. The company has reached a moment in the party where they are calling upon one another to sing a song and the second man obliges with verses that indicates that he is a hangman--on his way to dispatch a sheep thief in the morning. Before he can finish his song, a third stranger comes to the door, steps across the threshold, and quickly turns and flees.  It's obvious that something has scared him. A gunshot follows--indicating that a prisoner has escaped.  The hangman calls on the shepherd's guests to help chase the fleeing man.  But who really was the prisoner? Are they chasing the right man?

"The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe: I've read this story about about William Legrand and his treasure-hunt for Captain Kidd's treasure more times than I can count.  It was a favorite of English teachers at various stages of elementary through high school.  Not strictly a detective story, but there is the mystery of how Legrand figured everything out to be revealed.

"The Guilty Secret" by Paul de Kock:  Nathalie De Hauteville is a young, pretty widow who invites her uncle to come live with her and be her guardian until she can find another suitable husband.  Uncle knows a good thing when he finds it--a pretty niece who houses him and bows to his every wish.  If only the darn girl could play backgammon.  But then Nathalie meets Captain Armand d'Apremont, a handsome and rich young man who seems to be the husband of her dreams....and her uncle's, for the captain plays a mean game of backgammon.  But once the honeymoon is over, the captain's doting mood changes to dark brooding and restlessness.  What guilty secret lurks behinds this change in her husband?

"Out of Exile" by Wilbur Daniel Steele: Mary Matheson, a young beauty, has all the young men falling at her feet.  Chief among her admirers are Andrew and Joshua, two brothers whom she has kept dangling without making a clear choice between them.  Finally, at a party given on a night when there is a storm brewing out at sea, she tells them that she will marry the first one to come to her with a wedding ring.  Andrew takes exception to Mary's making a game of their love and goes out into the night saying he's sailing for unknown parts.  Joshua is sent out after him--but returns without his brother and with a ring for Mary.  She refuses to marry him until his brother returns and can stand up with them at the wedding.  But...when the exile does return, will they be married after all?

 "The Knightsbridge Mystery" by Charles Reade: There is much mystery surrounded Captain Cowen.  He keeps himself to himself at the inn where he is staying and there is much speculation by the regulars, the innkeeper and the stable hands.  Is he really a captain?  Was he perhaps a member of the footpads who have been robbing the defenseless travelers?  But when the Captain comes into money and becomes more social and then saves an older couple from footpads, public sentiment turns in his favor.  Then there is murder and theft in the inn. The Captain is gone and blame is placed on a drunken master of horses.  But a member of the Bow Street Runners is none too sure.

"Silence" by Leonid Andreiev: A stern minister's daughter commits suicide, but no one knows why. 

"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield: The least mystery-like of the bunch.  Three girls living with their aunt are given a doll house.  They're allowed to share their new treasure with everyone at school--everyone except the daughters of the local washerwoman.  There's intense speculation about the washerwoman's husband.  Is he a convict?  Where is he?  But there's also a bit of a mystery involving the girls' aunt.....

"The Strange Bed" by Wilkie Collins: Another of the famous stories--included in many anthologies. A gambler has a night of huge winnings and much celebration.  So much celebration that he's convinced to spend the night in the gaming house rather than take his winnings out into the street in his inebriated.  But the gaming house master doesn't intend that the gambler will leave the house at all.

"The Bamboozling of Mr. Gascoigne" by E. Phillips Oppenheim: An American in Monte Carlo hooks up with an impoverished Marquis and his niece. Their goal? To swindle an American millionaire out his interest in a few oil wells.  

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Adam's TBR Challenge, Book Bingo, Criminal Plots, Embarrassment of Riches, Mount TBR Challenge, Mystery and Crime Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge


Ryan said...

I'm really, really jealous of this book, I wonder what I can do to find a copy.

Bev Hankins said...

Ryan, I lucked into this one. It was one of my happy finds at the local library bookstore--they occasionally have some older gems in among the mass market paperbacks.