Thursday, September 21, 2017

The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7

The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1929) edited by Eugene Thwing is a ten-volume set made up of ten short stories per set. I have already reviewed the first volume and I also own volumes six through ten (need to get my hands on the others). This is the seventh volume. As Thwing says in his introduction, picking the 100 best stories even in the early years of the mystery field was no easy job. It's easier to just select personal favorites--but one really needs to select a wide variety of popular favorites to meet the tastes of more readers. Of course, no matter what an editor does, he will still not pick everyone's favorite and be able to make everyone happy. This volume is fairly strong--nearly all of the stories ring in at three stars or more. My favorites are "Pink Bait," "The House Divided," "The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl," and "The Pathologist to the Rescue" (roughly in that order). ★★ and a half for the volume as a whole.

"Common Stock" by Octavus Roy Cohen: Cohen's private detective, Jim Hanvey is playing chaperone to the courier of an important document. He knows the opposition will be sending someone to prevent the delivery of the document and employs an ingenious bit of sleight of hand to disrupt the villain's plans.

"Pink Bait" by Octavus Roy Cohen:  finds master criminal Thomas Matlock Braden in my home state of Indiana. Braden isn't just your average Moriarty-type of master criminal--directing vast nefarious organizations. He works alone, but handles "only tasks which require extraordinary finesse, infinite patience and an all-embracing knowledge of human nature." When he comes into possession of a purloined necklace of perfectly matched pink pearls, he travels to a resort in Indiana to look for the perfect "mark" upon which to work his magic. Because if anyone can sell an unsaleable stolen necklace, it's Thomas Matlock Braden.

"The Pathologist to the Rescue" by R. Austin Freeman: In this story Dr. Thorndyke does not have the use of DNA to catch a murderer. But he is able to examine a blood sample left at the scene of the crime and he uses knowledge of of a particular disease to help reach the correct conclusion and prove a man innocent. 

"The Blue Sequin" by R. Austin Freeman:  Thorndyke is called in when a beautiful young woman is found dead in a railway carriage. She has an odd combination of head injuries--including scratches to the face and a penetrating wound which was inflicted with great force with a sharp, round object. The police immediately suspect and arrest her former lover who had traveled by the same train and with whom she was seen quarreling. His brother believes fervently in his innocence and seeks Thorndyke's help in finding another solution. The solution is, quite honestly, fairly outrageous, but Freeman manages to make it believable within the story's framework and it answers all the questions quite nicely.

"The House Divided" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Monsieur Cleek--or as he refers to himself, "Cleek of Scotland Yard, Cleek of the Forty Faces, if you want complete details"--rushes off to Devonshire to see what is troubling the lovely Ailsa Lorne. The trouble belongs to the fiancĂ© of Miss Lorne's dearest friend. Lieutenant Bridewell's father, a retired sea captain, has been stricken by a mysterious wasting disease that is slowly eating away at his right arm. A famous doctor has taken up the case, but Captain Bridewell just gets worse and worse. The Lieutenant fears that his father's life is in danger and suspects foul play. It can't be poison because the Lieutenant has a portion of everything served to the older man. The young lieutenant begs Cleek to get to the bottom of the mystery and save his father. It doesn't take the famous detective long to discover the source of the "disease" and to pinpoint the guilty party. 

"The Riddle of the Rainbow Pearl" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Cleek is approached by Maverick Narkom of the Yard to assist in a matter of international importance. The coronation of King Ulric of Mauretania is set to take place in the near future and a scandal of huger proportions threatens the king and his kingdom. He had once gotten himself entangled with a beautiful Russian woman who, when scorned, managed to run off with the kingdom's most prized possession, The Rainbow Pearl, as well as some very incriminating documents. Cleek is asked to retrieve the items, but he is reluctant to do so. He does not admire King Ulric--who deposed the rightful heirs to the throne. His mind is changed when he discovers that Ulric's current wife is the daughter of the previous king--for he has some reverence for her and her family and off he goes to Mauretania to save the kingdom for the sake of the Queen. The entertainment is in figuring out where the items were kept (the lady's possessions and servants had been searched repeatedly) and how Cleek was able to remove them. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story about The Woman. There are several parallels to "A Scandal in Bohemia"--the main difference being that the Russian lady does not get the better of Cleek.  

"The Mystery of the Steel Room" by Thomas W. Hanshew: Cleek, is back--this time he has been asked to discover who is after a famous racehorse and how the villains are getting into a locked stable where the horse is guarded in an impenetrable steel cage. Two men have been attacked while guarding the horse--the first was left paralyzed and the second was murdered outright. Cleek discovers not only who and how--but the deeper objective behind the attacks.

"Vidocq & the Locksmith's Daughter" by George Barton: Barton's story revolves around a spate of robberies which the Paris police cannot solve. So, Monsieur Henry, the Prefect, calls in Vidocq, former thief and master in the art of disguise, to help put an end to the crime wave. M. Henry's colleagues scorn the idea, but Vidocq goes undercover and fools the chief of thieves, Constantine. And proves that the Prefect's confidence in him was not in vain.

"Suspicion" by William B. Maxwell: The title tells you everything you need to know about Maxwell's short story. Old Mrs. Mayhew lives in a house crammed with knick-knacks and personal treasures. Things may be overflowing, but she knows exactly what she has and where things ought to be. When she can't find certain of her treasured items, she decides to have a "big tidying" to return misplaced items to their rightful place. But the tidying session fails to bring them to light. That's when the air of suspicion settles on the house. Did her nephew remove them--thinking Aunt Kate would never notice? Or was it the faithful cook who had been with her for years? Or maybe it was the housemaid who had that one unfortunate incident long before she ever came into Mrs. Mayhew's service? Everyone looks suspicious when there's no evidence...Will Mrs. Mayhew get any of her treasures back?  



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