Murder Impossible (1990) by Jack Adrian & Robert Adey, eds.
As with so many short story collections, this is a mixed bag--ranging from brilliant solutions, to big let-downs (especially after the build-up in the introductions given by our editors) to just plain silly parodies. The best (those rated *****) are true impossible crimes with absolutely terrific solutions and, quite often, a nifty little twist at the end. My favorites are "Coffee Break," "Proof of Guilt," "Now You See Her," and "The Blind Spot." Of those that garnered four stars, Carr's "The House in Goblin Wood" is quite good with a rather macabre solution. Overall ★★★ and 1/2 for whole collection.
"The House in Goblin Wood" by John Dickson Carr: When Vicky Adams was small, she disappeared from a locked cottage and then magically reappeared. Now, twenty years later, it's happened again--right under the now of Sir Henry Merrivale. Is it just a trick or has something more sinister happened this time? (one stabbed) ****
"The Other Side" by Hake Talbot: Rogan Kinkaid and his friend Svetozar Vok (a magician) must prove that a charlatan priest has shot a young woman's guardian through a solid wall--leaving no bullet hole. (one shot) ***
"The Courtyard of the Fly" by Vincent Cornier: A mystery concerning a huge fly that manages to steal a rope of pearls weighing a quarter of a pound. Constable Hamilton--first on the spot--spends years trying to get to unravel the puzzle of how the deed was done.****
"Coffee Break" by Arthur Porges: History and Philosophy of Science Professor Emeritus Ulysses Price Middlebie works with Sergeant Black to plumb the mystery of Cyrus Denning's apparent suicide. He seems to have poisoned himself with cyanide inside his locked cabin turned laboratory. Not only was the cabin locked, but the window was nailed shut and the door under observation during the crucial period. If it was murder, how was it done? (one poisoned) *****
"Bullion!" by W. Hope Hodgson: Gold bullion safely stashed in chests within a locked room on ship bound for London from Melbourne manages to disappear. Strange deaths by "just sickening and going off" and mysterious late-night whisperings haunt the ship. The second mate realizes just in time what it all means. (two poisoned) *** 1/2
"Proof of Guilt" by Bill Pronzini: George Dillon has a meeting with a lawyer named Adam Chillingham. The two go into Chillingham's office, there is a shot fired, and Dillon, when the clerk comes to the locked door, opens the door and calmly tells the clerk that Chillingham has been shot--supposedly while leaning out the window. When it's discovered that Chillingham, executor of Dillon's father's estate, had embezzled a large portion of the money, it seems clear that Dillon must have killed him. But how? There's no gun in the room--nor anywhere outside the room. (one shot; one heart attack) *****
"An Absence of Air" by Jacques Futrelle: Miss Violet Danbury is dead in her hotel room--to all appearances she committed suicide by poison. Except there is no poison found at the autopsy. What is found is an absence of any air in her lungs as if something had sucked all the air out of her. But what could do that? The Thinking Machine, Professor Van Dusen will find out. But not until after a longshoreman is found dead in the same manner. (three suffocated) ****
"The Impossible Theft" by John F. Suter: A man bets his old schoolmate, who collects rare letters and memoranda by famous historical figures, that he can remove one of the items from the man's strong room within 15 minutes of being left alone in the room. If he wins the collector must donate $50,000 to a hospital in need. With all the safeguards, it seems impossible.... ***
"It's a Dog's Life" by John Lutz: Private detective Morgan has a four-legged side-kick by the name of Sam. When Carl Creel is killed and the gun goes goes missing, Sam is the one who finds the weapon which had seemingly vanished into thin air. (one shot) ***
"The Death of Cyrus Pettigrew" by Sax Rohmer: Dr. Saxham and our narrator investigate the mysterious poisoning of Cyrus Pettigrew. Pettigrew and his niece were locked in a first-class train compartment--no one else entered and the man was found poisoned with puncture wounds in his arm. The police suspect the niece who stands to inherit a tidy sum. But how did she do it? No instrument was found in the compartment. (two poisoned) ***
"Ghost in the Gallery" by Joseph Commings: Linda Carewe has had enough of her odious husband and dumps some grains of arsenic in his milk. But...she always said he was the Devil and maybe he made a pact with the demon because she and her lover Borden Argyll start seeing what they think is Carewe's ghost. When it appears that the ghost has killed Argyll's model (he's an artist), they ask Senator Banner to investigate. (one hit on head; one hanged) *** 1/2
"The Missing Romney" by Edgar Wallace: Four Square Jane, a somewhat latter-day Robin Hood, manages to steal a famous painting from a closely guarded display room--all in order to get a sizeable donation for a children's hospital. ***
"The House of Screams" by Gerald Findler: A man rents a county place in England in order to get away from it all and to write his book in peace and quiet. But apparently a ghost has other ideas and after spending a sleepless night listening to horrific screams, he discovers skeletal remains in locked room in the attic. (one natural; one poisoned) ***
"The Impossible Murder" by Edward D. Hoch: Captain Leopold must discover how a dead man could drive a car in a traffic jam and whether his murder has anything to do with his father's death 30 years ago. (one strangled; one shot) *** 1/2
"A Nineteenth Century Debacle" by George Locke: A Holmes pastiche about a man who seems to have been killed twice--at the exact same moment. This one fell a little flat for me--pun jolly well intended. (one fell from height) *
"A Razor in Fleet Street" by John Dickson Carr: Bill Leslie, American, and his British wife visit London together for the first time. Bill has romantic expectations of England--from foggy streets to street music to Scotland Yard inspectors with bowler hats. And England seems to have rolled out all the nostalgic bits just for him. But when he winds up mixed up in a murder and meets a real (bowler-hatted) inspector...it's not quite so romantic anymore. (one stabbed) *** 1/2
"Dinner at Garibaldi's" by Leonard Pruyn: How could a man who dined three times a day at a gourmet restaurant die of malnutrition? (one starved to death) **
"The Hanging Rope" by Joel Townsely Rogers: Tuxedo Johnny, a former cop who worked for old Dan McCue and Big Bat O'Brien of homicide are trying to figure out how McCue's killer (who also knocked off Kitty Kane in the same apartment) managed to get out of a locked apartment with Johnny and another ex-cop right there and the janitor for the building camped out at the bottom of the fire escape. (one hit on head; one throat cut; one blood poisoning; one drowned; one fell from height) * [I just don't seem to get on with Rogers. There are lots of folks who think his The Red Right Hand is all that and I....didn't. This short novella reads very weirdly (and I think the effect is on purpose) and the killer seemed to have a neon "It's me!" glow around them every time they were on the page. So...the "awe-inspiring twist" that Jack Adrian describes in his intro to the piece wasn't.]
"Now You See Her" by Jeffrey Wallman: A woman reports a man in the neighboring building as a Peeping Tom. He sits with his binoculars trained on her window all the time--never seems to move Two detectives come and keep him under observations...meanwhile, the woman's closest friend has disappeared and the detectives are convinced her husband did her in. But what did he do with the body? (one strangled) ***** This story had the surprise ending that Rogers's tale didn't.
"The Blind Spot" by Barry Perowne (Philip Atkey): Mr. James Annixter, playwright, devises the perfect locked room murder plot for the play he's writing, but forgets the solution when in a drunken stupor he gets hit by a taxi. He spends his time after recovery looking for the man in the bar...the only other person who knows the solution. When he finds him, the man claims he's never seen James before in his life. (two stabbed) ***** Another with an absolutely terrific ending.
"Chapter the Last: Merriman Explains" by Alex Atkinson: Pure parody of Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) and the style of mysteries in his Merrivale books. *** Fun, but not really a mystery.
First line (1st story): IN Pall Mall, that hot July afternoon three years before the war, an open saloon car was drawn up to the kerb just opposite the Senior Conservatives' Club.
Last line (last story): As I groped my way down the back stairs, I reflected sadly that this would probably go down in history as Merriman's Last Case.