The Mystery Train Disappears by Kyotaro Nishimura, translated by Gavin Frew

Book Details

Originally published in 1982 as ミステリー列車が消えた
English translation first published in 1990.

The Blurb

Japanese National Railways runs a special Mystery Train that leaves Tokyo on a Saturday night, scheduled to return the following Monday morning. It has no announced schedule or destination, just the promise of an entertaining trip for the passengers.

This time, the passengers end up getting more “entertainment” than they bargained for. A phone call to railway officials demanding one billion yen in exchange for the safe return of the train and its passengers is thought to be a hoax – until the train fails to arrive at one of its scheduled stops.

Now railway officials really have a mystery train on their hands. How can a twelve-car train just vanish? Where can more than four hundred hostages be kept without being seen?

Clues are scarce and time is short. Nishimura uses masterful plotting and gripping suspense to create an investigation where the police are seemingly always one step behind the kidnappers – until some unexpected twists at the end.

The Verdict

Some interesting ideas but the focus lies with procedure rather than the puzzles. The train setting adds some appeal however.

We are talking about a twelve-car train, you know? Eight hundred and thirty feet of train doesn’t just disappear like that.

My Thoughts

Earlier this year when I reviewed the short story anthology Old Crimes, New Scenes, I remarked on how I wanted to read more Nishimura in translation. Well, in doing my research for that post I learned that one of his many, many novels (there are over 400 apparently) was translated into English in 1990 and after doing a little scouting around I was able to track down a reasonably-priced copy.

The novel is The Mystery Train Disappears – a title that seemed to be suggestive of an impossible crime plot. As such, I was tempted to read and review it for my impossible crime series but having been burned on impossibilities several times lately I decided to go for a sure thing instead and to read this with no expectations. For the record it offers two impossible crimes. First, let’s outline the general scenario:

Japanese National Railways, keen to find ways to reduce its operational deficit, has decided to run a series of special journeys with the exciting hook that the passengers will be traveling to a mystery destination. The promotion seems to be a hit with the railway receiving a huge number of applications for the four hundred seats. A magazine decides that it is a good enough story to send a reporter to write about the trip and a reporter is dispatched, promising his fiancée that he will call her when they reach their first stop. When he fails to do so she is concerned and approaches the railway to ask for details of the trip.

The railway officials feel sure that everything is okay, particularly when they call the museum that the travelers were meant to visit who confirm that the travelers had shown up as expected but when they call the next station they are told that the train never arrived. While there is some speculation that the train may have broken down they learn that other trains have travelled on each of the tracks between the two cities, suggesting that the eight hundred foot train has just vanished off the tracks. As concern seems to grow the train company receives a phone call demanding a ransom payment for the safe return of the train and its passengers.

The disappearance of the train is our first impossible scenario. While I think some explanations will come to mind, the scale of the crime and the challenge of abducting a train when no one knows its eventual destination adds layers of complexity to the situation. I might suggest however that while this is an impossibility, the way it is explored does not really focus on the question of how it was done as the process of following leads to discover where the train and its passengers are now.

Ho-Ling Wong in his excellent post about this book (linked below) notes that a Japanese mystery fan wiki suggests that the solution to how this was done is actually impossible. Even without that knowledge, I think there is something rather underwhelming in how it is described even though I appreciated a few elements of it. I think I might have appreciated it even more though had the publisher provided a map of the line and a timetable to pour over – not that they would necessarily have helped me but it would have made me feel like there was a greater chance of my working out the relationships between the various clues and snippets of information that we are given.

The second impossibility, while shorter and less flashy, struck me as a more compelling one for impossible crime fans to work through. It concerns the ransom money which manages to vanish from the moving train while traveling between stations. The passengers’ luggage is thoroughly searched while the windows are sealed and the baggage train was completely inaccessible, adding to the mystery.

There are times that I feel rather stupid for failing to solve an impossible crime but this is not really one of those. I certainly think that the solution is pretty clever but I never really had a strong enough sense of the space to have been able to imagine what happened. Perhaps that reflects more on me and my lack of regular train travel than the mystery itself as the moment the explanation was given I could see exactly how that would work.

While the novel offers up two impossibilities, the style of the storytelling is all procedural and not unlike taking a mystery train journey. It soon becomes apparent that the investigation is on a set of tracks, offering a clearly defined path with few surprises or diversions. It is also clear that the reader has little chance of drawing any firm conclusions from what they have learned until close to the end. Even when we near that resolution, solving this has less to do with applications of logic or thinking through a problem as it does simply piecing the bits of information we have together and even that feels rather minimal.

The bigger issue is that the investigators themselves feel quite bland and I certainly had little sense of who they were beyond their function in the story. That perhaps reflects that one of the characters had appeared in a number of previous Nishimura stories but it means that there is no sense of personalities within the department – something that can often liven up those moments in a procedural in which the investigators seem to be getting nowhere (which in this book is quite a frequent feeling).

The characters from the railway company perhaps feel a little more defined though here I have an issue with empathizing with those characters. While they are doing the right thing by paying out the ransom, it is hard to sympathize with a company’s prime concern being avoiding a public relations scandal, even if that is quite a realistic view of how many executives would view the situation.

Perhaps the biggest cause of dissatisfaction for me lies in the ending’s novel. Now, I have no intention of spoiling exactly what that resolution is but I think it is worth stressing that there is a decisive part of the ending that happens in spite of the investigation rather than because of it. While such moments are pretty common early in an investigation, it strikes me as rather unsatisfactory to have a key development happen regardless of your protagonists’ involvement and while probably realistic, it struck me as quite anticlimactic.

Overall then my first novel-length Nishimura struck me as rather disappointing. There are some fun ideas here and it offers some appeal points for those who like gentle thrillers and stories involving trains but I found it rather underwhelming in terms of its puzzle plot. That being said, assuming that this isn’t the pinnacle of his achievement as a novelist, I still hope that some day I will get to read more of his work in translation. He was so prolific it would be nice to get to know him better.

Further Reading

TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time suggests lowering your expectations for this one but considers it an ‘interesting curio’.

Ho-Ling Wong shares his thoughts on this book, regarding it as rather underwhelming (and querying why this was the title out of his vast, vast catalog of work to be translated into English).

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler

Book Details

Originally published in 2013 as 밤의 여행자들
English translation first published in 2020

The Blurb

Jungle is a cutting–edge travel agency specializing in tourism to destinations devastated by disaster and climate change. And until she found herself at the mercy of a predatory colleague, Yona was one of their top representatives. Now on the verge of losing her job, she’s given a proposition: take a paid “vacation” to the desert island of Mui and pose as a tourist to assess the company’s least profitable holiday.

When she uncovers a plan to fabricate an extravagant catastrophe, she must choose: prioritize the callous company to whom she’s dedicated her life, or embrace a fresh start in a powerful new position? An eco–thriller with a fierce feminist sensibility, The Disaster Tourist introduces a fresh new voice to the United States that engages with the global dialogue around climate activism, dark tourism, and the #MeToo movement.

The Verdict

A fascinating exploration of the ethics of tourism and of the relationship between people and the corporations that employ them. It may not be a pure genre work but it is highly recommended nonetheless.

News of the deaths moved fast that week. Word was spreading quickly, but it wouldn’t be long before people lost interest. By the time funeral proceedings began, the public would have already forgotten the deceased.

My Thoughts

Yona has worked for Jungle for more than ten years. Jungle is a travel agency that takes tourists to visit and work in areas affected by natural disasters and climate change and Yona’s job has been to work out how to create their tour packages. Recently however it seems that her career has stalled as she is increasingly being tasked with handling customer complaints and she suspects that she may be on the verge of being forced out. The proof seems to come when her boss makes unwanted sexual advances to her in the elevator one day, apparently confident that if she complains the company will not want to do anything about it.

As she becomes increasingly disillusioned she decides to resign but instead of accepting her resignation, her supervisor suggests that she take a paid leave of absence and visit an unprofitable tourist destination to offer her thoughts on whether it can be salvaged. She is unsure whether he is trying to buy her off but decides to take up the offer, hoping at least to relax for the first time in years and possibly restore her reputation by preparing an excellent report.

Her destination is the island of Mui which lies a short distance off the coast of Vietnam. She soon discovers why it has become a failing destination but when she experiences a travel mishap she finds herself stuck on the island. As she waits for her papers to arrive to enable her to leave the island, she learns however that some on the island have a plan to restore its status as a thriving disaster tourism destination…

I should probably start by acknowledging that The Disaster Tourist is not easily categorized as a genre work, though I would argue that the scale of the crimes we see planned are on a scale far beyond those of any other novel I have written about on this blog to date. I would also add that while it doesn’t always read like a thriller, it certainly incorporates some elements of that style as the book nears its conclusion and that the book struck me as possessing an outlook on the world and the people that inhabit it that feels like it belongs firmly to the noir tradition.

Perhaps the place to begin is with the book’s central conceit that a company like Jungle could spring up. While some might find it hard to imagine that a company solely devoted to disaster tourism might be a thing, there are clearly examples of package tours that do exactly what is described. What I think Yun does brilliantly is to explore the relationship between those tours and the place that is supposedly being rejuvenated by its tourism industry might be and to sincerely question whether this is aiding the areas’ economic recovery or sustaining and perhaps even prolonging its poverty.

Some of the novel’s most powerful material comes in its exploration of the personalities of the different people who are on the tour along with Yona and their different motivations for visiting. Yun not only describes the reasons they believe they are making their visits and the power dynamics between the locals and the visitors but also gives us a powerful illustration of how Yona, who is more aware of the crafting of the tour experience, finds herself behave in a way she finds shameful at a point in the tour.

I have read some reviews that suggest that Yona is not a particularly forceful or dynamic character, and I think that there is a little bit of truth to that. While we get given a little bit of backstory at the start of the novel, we get little sense of her life beyond work. I think though that is rather the point as we come to realize that Jungle has really consumed Yona’s life and defined who she has become. Here she represents a corporate drone – someone who has little purpose beyond the company and who cannot really envisage their life without it.

The scenario that Yona finds herself in is clearly quite fantastic but I felt that the issues raised were powerful and compelling. What do desperate people do when they risk losing everything? This is a recurring idea throughout the novel and I find it fascinating to observe the parallels between these characters, often coming from very different backgrounds and situations, and the choices they decide to make. Here once again Yun does an admirable job of exploring the reasons behind those choices, even if we do not really get to know those characters on a truly individual level.

This arguably is the greatest issue with the book – that the scope of the story it tells within such a limited page count does not allow for much time to be spent on building up the characters as individuals. Instead they tend to be established with their plot function, described in shorthand such as ‘Man 2’. It is dehumanizing and perhaps numbs the reader to the individual cost of some of what happens, though here once again I feel that very clearly fits with the central argument that the book is making.

I don’t want to say much more about the novel for fear of spoiling the experience. The book is, after all, quite short and to discuss the exact nature of the thriller elements later in the novel would likely detract from them. I personally found them to be engaging and I think the story’s resolution feels appropriate to the themes that the novel had established and discussed.

I found The Disaster Tourist to be a thoughtful, provocative and highly engaging novel. It’s not a pure genre read but I nonetheless think it worthy of a strong recommendation.

The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire by James Scott Byrnside

Book Details

Originally published 2020
Rowan Mallory #3
Note: though this is the third novel published in the series, it is set before the other two.

The Blurb

In 1880, a vampire terrorized Barrington Hills, feasting on the locals and leaving their mutilated corpses as evidence. Now, forty years later, it’s happening again.

Detective Rowan Manory and his assistant Walter Williams are hired to investigate. They don’t believe in the undead, but nothing else could explain murders so bloodily impossible. How does the killer walk through walls? Why doesn’t it leave footprints in the snow? Who will it kill next?

Can the detectives solve the case before the vampire strikes again? Can you?

The Verdict

A complex and ingeniously plotted novel featuring multiple cunning impossibilities to solve.

“A vampire, Lon Chaney here at the wheel, and snow tornados – man alive, what have you gotten us into?”

My Thoughts

Some impossible crime novels have a really great central premise or hook that everything is built around. The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire can boast several. These include a no footprints crime, a dying message, a locked room murder, a séance and an apparent supernatural creature of legend apparently responsible for it all. For the fan of impossible crime stories this is a veritable smorgasbord of criminous delights, each treated seriously and given the space and time they deserve.

Several years ago I reviewed Byrnside’s previous novel, The Opening Night Murders, which I enjoyed a lot. This novel is actually set before either of its two predecessors meaning that those new to the series can start here and feel completely able to follow what is going on. Meanwhile those who read and loved the two previous titles will enjoy discovering more about a case that had been heavily teased in that previous volume.

Private detective Rowan Mallory is delighted to receive an invitation to address a gathering of the Detectives Club in London, an organization made up of some of the world’s most elite sleuths. He is to tell the story of his most famous case. When he receives a phone call from one of Chicago’s richest men asking him to debunk a séance for an outrageous payment he finds himself unable to turn down the job and sets out for the home, accompanied by his ‘Watson’ Walter.

When Rowan arrives in the town of Barrington Hills he meets with Browning and the other members of his household and learns something of the local lore. Decades earlier a man reputed to be a vampire was buried alive after there had been a number of deaths, including two particularly gruesome murders. Locals note that no grass will grow on his grave and they remain afraid of the idea that he might return from the dead again.

At the séance things take a spooky turn when after the medium appears to speak in the voice of the vampire, saying that they want the blood of Browning and his friend Hådd Mades, the face of a vampire appears on the ceiling. Further unsettling events occur, including the inexplicable appearance of the vampire in a photograph taken, but things are escalated when a mutilated body is found in the early hours of the morning with just the victim’s footprints in the snow leading to the murder site and a single pair of footprints on the building’s roof.

I think this outline already shows the diversity of ideas at play here and I want to stress that there are further surprises and developments to discover. As different as some of these elements are, each of them can be tied to the titular creature that clearly exercises a strong grip on the community’s imagination decades after their death. While this plays with some elements of horror however the focus is on creating a sense of atmosphere and a backdrop for its cleverly constructed fair play puzzle.

I particularly enjoyed the passages in which Byrnside describes the history of the supposed vampire and I felt he does a fine job of exploring the sense of hysteria building up around the idea that he might return from the dead. I appreciate that he gives us the sense that there are a range of responses with some clearly taking the threat more seriously than others.

As entertaining as the build-up to the séance can be, I feel that the events really kick up a gear once the first body is discovered as the circumstances surrounding the deaths can be bloody with some occasionally surprising touches. After the first death several others quickly follow, each impossible yet quite distinct from each other. Things move quickly and by the point you reach the Challenge to the Reader page there are enough problems to consider to enable the author to pose eight questions.

The final chapter rattles through each of the questions and does a good job of explaining the answers and the evidence that had pointed to them. For the record I only solved a couple of these myself, though I agree with the author that I jolly well ought to have been able to solve them all with the evidence I had been given! While there are a few aspects of the broader solution that would be hard to imagine a reader solving on their own, rest assured that they do not relate to the eight questions you will be judging yourself against!

That overall solution is quite clever and satisfying, doing a good job of tying up a number of aspects of the crime to provide us with a complete and mostly convincing explanation of the crime. With so many different threads to pull together, I was surprised how tidy most of it was. There is even quite a good explanation of the historical vampire incidents so Byrnside really does try to resolve every aspect of his plot and largely succeeds.

I continue to enjoy Rowan and Walter’s sometimes quite testy relationship with one another and feel that both had strong moments throughout this novel that showed their different personalities off well. Their conversation moves as quickly as the novel’s plot and helps create a lighthearted tone that contrasts with the sometimes shocking and horrific content of the case.

That inconsistency of tone may feel quite surprising to the reader and I believe it was meant to. While Byrnside’s novel shows an enormous understanding and appreciation of writers of the Golden Age and is clearly set during that time frame, he does not try to emulate that writing style (beyond a few touches like the aforementioned Challenge to the Reader). His characters are frequently coarse meaning that when a document they read needs to shock them, he has to go even further.

Similarly there is a really trippy sequence in which something happens to Rowan that feels more akin to a piece of horror writing. I found it quite effective but it definitely pulls the novel in an even darker and quite unsettling direction, at least for a chapter, and that shift does feel quite sudden.

I am less concerned however with the cutting off of a victim’s hands. That moment is certainly a violent and disturbing image but it is not described in much more detail than the decapitations were in Brand’s Heads You Lose and I think it is certainly relevant to the plot more generally and properly explained.

Overall then I am happy to report that I enjoyed this second encounter with Rowan and Walter – perhaps even more than the last. This is a really cleverly plotted and very atmospheric piece of mystery writing that does a really good job of playing with some elements of the supernatural. I had a great time reading it and if you like impossible crime stories that play with horror themes or imagery then I think you will have a great time too.

Overboard (Videogame)

Overboard! is a recently released video game for PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch (EDIT: I missed that it is also available for iOS – thanks Stephen) in which you take the role of socialite Veronica Villensey. You were traveling with your husband to start a new life in America when, while taking the air on deck, you decide on the spur of the moment to toss him overboard and get rid of him once and for all. The problem is that with eight hours until the ship arrives in New York there is still lots of evidence of your crime, not to mention several witnesses who, given time, may put two-and-two together.

As soon as the game begins you find yourself making important decisions that will determine whether you get away with the crime or not. Conversations with characters have multiple speech options and your choices will have consequences. You also direct where Veronica is headed and which of the passengers or crew you will encounter next. Each movement takes time away however and edges you a little nearer to port – a fact you are reminded of by a clock that ticks down the time you have left.

There are lots of different strategies you can pursue, some of which will only become apparent on subsequent play throughs. The game encourages and rewards discovery through trial and error by including more things to do than you can possibly fit into that short time before the ship docks. What that also means is that even after I beat the game for the first time I wanted to go back and try again to see if I could get a completely different approach to work or discover a different character’s secrets.

Whatever you choose in a play through be prepared that your choices will have consequences. Some of these are immediately apparent – a decision to admit something in conversation may close off some possibilities or open up new ones – while some will only become clear at the end of your play through. The first time I evaded the detective’s questions I was sure I had got away with everything only to find another loose end had kept me from achieving a perfect run. A big part of the fun here is in figuring out exactly what choices led you astray and revisiting them to see if you can improve your outcomes.

The cartoonish art style is simple and charming, designed to give you a sense of a character’s personality rather than depict each action or their lip movements. It won’t be mistaken for a triple A release (and is not priced as such) but is appropriate for this sort of storytelling-focused game, supporting the text rather than distracting from it. You can get a sense of the animation from the game trailer though be warned that it does provide some pretty heavy hints to a few story points.

Given that you will replay the events of the same day over and over again, players have the ability to speed through familiar conversations which reduces frustration when you get caught in a loop. If you make a mistake, and act fast enough, you can even rewind a scene once to give yourself a chance to select a better option if a choice didn’t give the outcome you expected. It’s a simple but effective game mechanic that lets you replay a decision rather than having to start over and recreate all of your choices up to that point.

Another charming aspect of the game is that each play through is relatively short. Assuming your character remains conscious and alive throughout the journey, you can expect it to take between thirty and forty-five minutes to complete a run (and you can speed this up further by skipping dialogue as mentioned above). This makes it an ideal game to quickly dip into for short gaming sessions.

Aside from a few snippets of speech at the beginning, the dialogue appears as text rather than spoken. The dialogue plays with some mystery tropes and conventions but can be decidedly modern in places, depending on your playing strategy and the characters you interact with. In other words, I enjoyed this as a pastiche of the Golden Age-style whodunnit rather than as an attempt to perfectly recreate it.

Overall then I am happy to say that I found Overboard! to be a pretty enjoyable experience. It has already given me three or four hours of entertainment and I feel I still have other things left to do and see and I will look forward to dipping into it from time to time to see if I can experience every possible outcome. If you enjoy choose your own adventure-style gameplay and lightly comic pastiches, you may well enjoy this too.

The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong

Book Details

Originally published in 1945

The Blurb

When Rosaleen Wright was found hanging, a note beside her body, the police are sure it is suicide. But her best friend Jane cannot believe it. Rosaleen was full of vitality and wit – and the note had no signature. Instead, Jane suspects Rosaleen’s boss, New York theatre impresario Luther Grandison. 

Grandison is rich, powerful and charismatic, but Rosaleen’s letters to Jane show a completely different man. One who is duplicitous, greedy – and dangerous. A man who would kill to protect his secrets. 

Jane is determined to find out the truth – and takes the ultimate risk when she gets a job with Grandison’s company, and finds herself up against one of Broadway’s deadliest actors in a desperate play for the truth.

The Verdict

This book boasts a clever and morally complex setup and an exceptional villain. My only complaint is with the overly tidy ending.

Yes, I know a man who has committed that gravest and most interesting of all crimes, the crime of murder, and who never has been suspected at all.

My Thoughts

I have only read a handful of Charlotte Armstrong novels so far but I already count myself a fan. I was blown away by the tension generated in The Chocolate Cobweb, a superb thriller, while I felt The Dream Walker was a fascinating and largely successful blend of the inverted and impossible crime forms. Little wonder then that I quickly set about tracking down copies of her other works and this title, reprinted a couple of years ago as part of the American Mystery Classics range, was a natural next step.

The Unsuspected begins in the aftermath of a death. Rosaleen Wright, secretary to Luther “Grandy” Grandison, was found hanging in his home having apparently committed suicide – a belief reinforced by a note left by the body written in her own hand. Her friend Jane expresses her disbelief in the idea while dining with Francis, another friend of the deceased, and expresses her belief that it was not suicide but murder and that the man responsible is her charming and charismatic boss.

The pair conceive a plan to worm their way into his household to enable them to search for evidence that may confirm their suspicions. Jane convinces Grandy to hire her as a replacement for Rosaleen, giving her close access to him and his papers while Francis poses as the husband of his ward who had been tragically lost at sea only to find his position made much more difficult when she dramatically resurfaces.

The Unsuspected, like The Chocolate Cobweb, is an example of an inverted thriller in which our heroes place themselves in danger to try and catch a murderer who appears to have already got away with it. In addition to puzzling over whether the heroes will catch the killer and how they might manage it, the reader will also be looking at the reasons behind that murder. To put it another way, this is a blend of the howcatchem and whydunnit forms.

Understanding why anyone would place themselves in the orbit of a presumed murderer can be challenging but I feel Armstrong does a pretty good job here of giving Jane and Francis a clear and powerful motivation to get involved. While their situation becomes less comfortable as the action progresses, much of that could not be predicted at the outset and so the steady increase of danger feels quite natural to the situation: by the time the danger increases, they are already too invested and too close to the truth to back out.

Of the pair I found Jane to be the more likable. She is the organizer and while she is less active in driving the action than Francis, she retains an important role throughout. Given her need to stay deep undercover, she is often in the background of the action and I delighted in observing the sometimes quite subtle ways she exerts influence on the action.

Francis carries more of the action, in part because his role requires a greater degree of active deception. While I described Jane and Francis as heroes earlier, not everything they do in the course of this story is portrayed as heroic. Throughout the novel we see Francis do his best to convince Mathilda that they really were married prior to her taking that sea voyage, engaging in some pretty heavy gaslighting. Armstrong is quite clear about the mental distress this causes her, thoughtfully exploring her responses to these suggestions, and while it is clear that Grandy is also exerting a similar control over her the reader will have to decide for themselves if Francis’ actions are at all justifiable.

Armstrong does an excellent job of constructing her story to slowly build pressure on these two protagonists as they inch nearer to learning the truth. It is quite fascinating to see how she builds tension less through moments of action (and the threat that it might happen) as through the subtle changes within a relationship or even the language used within a conversation.

The character of Luther Grandison is, for me, the standout figure of the novel. I was struck by how strong his presence feels throughout the novel, even though his direct appearances are often quite brief. This serves to make the character seem more mysterious and to leave us in the dark as to exactly what he believes at any point, at least in the first half of the book. Early in the book there is a striking passage in which Jane and Francis discuss how some people have to wear masks until they die to hide their secrets and it is clear that Grandy is such a person. The question the reader has to resolve is just what lies behind that mask.

I have mentioned before on this blog that I am not a particularly imaginative reader – at least in terms of visualizing places and characters. Sometimes though I find myself thinking of film actors and in this case the person who sprang to mind was Claude Rains in his ability to be charming but also have a sharp edge. I was rather delighted to learn shortly after finishing the book that there was a film version and that he played that role (although the description sounds as though there were some changes made – I look forward to watching for myself at some point soon to see how it was adapted).

While I think the concept and the characters are exceptional, I found the novel’s resolution to be a little unsatisfying. It is not that I think the ending is untidy but rather the reverse. The book up until that point seemed to have played with the moral complexities of what was being done and I expected that to have a dramatic payoff. It should have been emotionally difficult and uncomfortable but that moment never came and instead Armstrong chose to whiff on confronting those challenging themes.

Still, while I think the ending is a little underwhelming dramatically, I admire much about this book up until that point. The premise struck me as clever and quite original while the characters seemed quite vividly drawn. Particularly Grandy himself. Though I think her next book, The Chocolate Cobweb, a more satisfying read overall, I found plenty to enjoy here and I really look forward to my next Armstrong read.

It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr

Book Details

Originally Published 1930
Henri Bencolin #1
Followed by Castle Skull

The British Library Crime Classics reprint also includes the short story ‘The Shadow of the Goat’ (1926).

The Blurb

In the smoke-wreathed gloom of a Parisian salon, Inspector Bencolin has summoned his allies to discuss a peculiar case. A would-be murderer, imprisoned for his attempt to kill his wife, has escaped and is known to have visited a plastic surgeon. His whereabouts remain a mystery, though with his former wife poised to marry another, Bencolin predicts his return.

Sure enough, the Inspector’s worst suspicions are realized when the beheaded body of the new suitor is discovered in a locked room of the salon, with no apparent exit. Bencolin sets off into the Parisian night to unravel the dumbfounding mystery and track down the sadistic killer.

The Verdict

This story delivers on atmosphere but I felt that it distracted a little from the puzzle parts of the plot.

It will not be best to marry her. I am watching. I have put myself close to you, but you do not know it.

My Thoughts

The famed sportsman the Duc de Saligny is about to get married. His bride, Louise, had previously been married to a man who had become mad and tried to murder her, ending up in an insane asylum. In a worrying turn for the couple, Laurent appears to have escaped and may even have changed his appearance with the help of a skilled plastic surgeon. Our sleuth, juge d’instruction Henri Bencolin, suspects that Laurent’s actions have been with the intention of returning to Paris to kill the Duc and possibly Louise too.

Bencolin arranges for the couple to be guarded while visiting a gambling house but his fears become reality when, a short while after entering an empty card room, the Duc’s decapitated head is found on the floor. The position of his body suggests he intentionally knelt before the murderer, raising the question why he would just meekly submit to that fate, while there is also the problem that no one was seen entering or leaving the room by its only entrance. The crime seems impossible…

It Walks By Night has been on my to read pile for a long time. Long enough that I accidentally purchased two additional copies of it after receiving a review copy when it was first published. Whoops (this would be one of the reasons I created my publicly-accessible TBR pile page).

The novel was Carr’s first to be published and while it features an impossible crime and discovering the explanation of that will be key to solving the mystery, I think it would be fair to suggest that this doesn’t feel like its focus. Instead I would suggest that Carr is more interested in creating a thick atmosphere of dread using elements of the supernatural, sex and implied gore to unsettle the reader.

The obvious comparison would be with the works of Poe, one of the fathers of the genre who gave us another genius-level French detective in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (and its two sequels). Carr clearly leans into this, referencing the writer repeatedly including in a chapter’s title, but it is not simply a question of atmosphere. The character of Bencolin himself possesses an almost diabolic appearance with a Mephistophelean beard and an apparent appreciation for the macabre elements of this case.

Bencolin is the first of Carr’s significant recurring sleuths and differs somewhat from his subsequent and more popular creations, Dr. Fell and Sir. Henry Merrivale. Part of this is presentational as each of those characters felt lighter and more comic, but he also fulfills a slightly different role in relation to the investigation. While those characters are typically reacting to a crime that has already been committed, Bencolin begins this story aware of the likelihood of a crime and taking action to try and prevent it. Even once the crime takes place, he seems far more physically active than either Dr. Fell or H. M. and seems to be constantly moving rather than cogitating.

That sense of constant action makes this feel more like a thriller or adventure story than a straightforward detective story. While there certainly are clues that the reader can use to get to much of the solution, the story is peppered with improbable and far-fetched developments. To give just a couple of examples that leap to mind, I think the author has a misplaced idea about precisely what could be achieved with plastic surgery while a visit made to a woman in a darkened room feels rather ridiculous in the context of what had just occurred.

It was all a bit much for me, overwhelming the puzzle aspects of the novel, and I wished that the story had been a little more consice. Perhaps I was just not in the right frame of mind and this was just the wrong book for my mood at the moment. I will note though that I found the additional short story included in the British Library reprint, The Shadow of the Goat, to be significantly more entertaining and engaging. I certainly enjoyed the puzzle elements of the story and found the conclusion to be both logical and satisfying.

I am sure that I will return to Bencolin at some point. I have copies of Castle Skull and The Four False Weapons on my TBR list after all. But for now I suspect my next Carr will likely mean a return to Dr. Fell.

A copy was provided by the publisher, The British Library, for review though I purchased my own additional copies.

Case Closed, Volume 2: The Woman of Mystery by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Book Details

Originally published in 1994
English translation published in 2004
Volume 2
Preceded by The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times
Followed by One and the Same?

The Blurb

Conan must contend with the murder of a man who burns to death while the prime suspect has the perfect alibi; he helps a seemingly sweet and innocent girl look for her missing father; and he still has time to explore a haunted house with some of his new friends from elementary school!

All the clues are there–can you piece them together and solve these baffling cases before Conan does?

The Verdict

This second volume of Detective Conan stories is as entertaining as the first, though the cases feel a little simpler.

“Hah! Nobody will believe you… What’s the word of a child?”

My Thoughts

A few weeks ago I reviewed the first installment of the long-running Manga series Case Closed. I had not planned on posting about the second volume so soon but I found myself with less time to read than I would like this past week and rather than rushing some posts out I decided I would go ahead and release one of these a little earlier than planned (sorry, no impossibilities this Monday – I hope to make it up later this week!).

The premise of the series is that teenaged Jimmy Kudo, a brilliant amateur detective who has styled himself on Sherlock Holmes, stumbled onto the activities of a group of mysterious villains who force-fed him a drug that they thought would kill him. Instead it de-aged him by ten years meaning he now has the body of an elementary school student. Until he can identify the villains and find the formula they used on him, he cannot tell anyone his secret. Instead he has adopted the identify of Conan Edogawa and is staying with a private detective, secretly assisting him with his cases whenever possible.

Case Closed volume two contains three standalone cases, though I would agree with TomCat (who inspired me to try the stories) that the series ought to be read in order to follow the overarching story of Jimmy’s transformation. While there are not many developments in these three stories, there is one moment that seems to play into that plot line. With that in mind, let’s start talking about the specific action in this volume.

The first case file begins with Conan being introduced to his new classmates. While this is not directly related to the action in this particular case, it reminds us of the overall premise and reintroduces us to the problem that he always has to overcome – how to exert his influence as a detective when he looks like, and has the body strength of, a young child. Perhaps more importantly it introduces us to some supporting characters who will feature in this volume’s final case, establishing their relationships a while before we get to that action.

The case proper begins with Rachel’s father, Richard Moore, being hired to follow a man around for several days. Shortly after he finishes his assignment however the man’s body is discovered in a fire tower during a village’s fire festival. While this story is not exactly inverted, I think it is safe to suggest that there is an obvious suspect with a strong motive and that this is an example of an unbreakable alibi problem.

I do not think that this is a particularly challenging case to solve – you can imagine many of the developments that will occur by working through the scenario logically – but it is entertaining nonetheless and moves quickly enough that its relative simplicity isn’t a problem.

It also does a couple of things that I really like. For one, there is a visual representation of the unbreakable alibi timeline that works very well, condensing what in a novel would be several paragraphs or bullet points into a single small graphic. For another, I really enjoy the problems Conan encounters trying to steer this investigation and his interactions with the killer, even if I am less enamored of the way this case is resolved. All in all, this is not mind-blowing but a good, solid start to this second volume.

The second story is much meatier involving a high school girl visiting Richard to ask his help in finding her father who moved to Tokyo to find work but then disappeared. Conan thinks to himself that disappearances aren’t much in his line but before long he will find himself also investigating a murder.

This story initially struck me as quite predictable but it picked up for me as it progressed. It is not so much that the facts of the case become more complex but rather the situation surrounding it becomes increasingly intriguing. I also really like that this case sees Rachel take a more prominent role, becoming emotionally involved in the case and showing her toughness in a memorable sequence in which she chases a suspect down. While I have liked the character since she was first introduced, it is nice to see her in a role other than simply being oblivious to Conan being a de-aged Jimmy.

The final story is a bit of a change of pace as Conan is begged by several of his grade school classmates to join them as they investigate a house that is supposedly haunted. Several years earlier a man had been murdered there though the police were unable to discover the killer’s identity. Soon after they arrive however the group begin to disappear one-by-one…

I am in two minds about how I feel on this one. On the one hand it is nice to see the book properly lean into the premise of him having become a young child, involving him in a case that would certainly interest someone of that age. I enjoyed the mix of personalities among his classmates and it is interesting to see him interact with characters who are supposed to be his peers but that he feels quite separate from. That presents him in a slightly different light which I feel is welcome. I also quite like the idea of him effectively taking of a cold case, albeit quite unwittingly.

On the other, I don’t feel that the case is particularly satisfying. While I can understand the motives being explored here, I think the characters and the explanation feel rather flat and they are not properly introduced prior to the case being explained reducing the impact of that moment a little. Still, I appreciate this for trying to do something a little different and I really like the ending of the piece which sets up a fun idea that I hope would be picked up soon.

Overall I found this to be another quick and entertaining read. The cases here are perhaps a little less striking than those found in the first, but the stories all move pretty quickly and I enjoyed seeing how Jimmy would find ways to assert himself in his much younger Conan persona. I certainly plan on continuing to read this series though ideally these posts will be a little more spaced out in the future!

Sherlock Holmes: Beyond the Elementary by James Krasner

Audiobook Details

Originally published in 2021
This work is exclusively available through Audible to its members

The Blurb

Every hero works to soothe the fears of the people during their period in history. Heroes are not only brave, but they’re also able to navigate the convoluted corridors of society, and to see through the respectable pretense of others to detect the evil that lies within.

So, who better to take on the foggy, crime-ridden streets and strict social mores of Victorian London than the iconic literary detective Sherlock Holmes?

In Sherlock Holmes: Beyond the Elementary, you’ll investigate the history behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s whip-smart, charismatic detective. James Krasner, a scholar of British Victorian literature, will play the role of “Watson” as he offers a clearer picture of the imaginative influence Sherlock Holmes has maintained over readers from the 19th century through today. While you examine the secrets of novels like A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles and stories like “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Final Problem,” you’ll deepen your appreciation of these enduring works. You’ll also gain insights into Holmes’s continued relevance to the social problems we face in our own world.

What does the relationship between Holmes and Watson tell us about friendship? Is Sherlock Holmes just a “thinking machine”? How do these adventures lay bare gender dynamics in surprising ways?

The answers are far from elementary.

The Verdict

An interesting and well-paced exploration of Holmes and the themes found in the canon. Ideally designed for those who have read all the stories and want to dig a little deeper.

In this series we’ll talk about the history behind Sherlock Holmes and we’ll talk about how his adventures take us right into the heart, and sometimes the seedy underbelly, of Victorian England.

My Thoughts

Several years ago I blogged about The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction, a lecture series from The Teaching Company’s Great Courses range that discussed the history and breadth of the mystery and suspense genres. I credited that series for encouraging me to explore the genre more widely and bringing a number of authors and sub-genres of crime fiction to my attention.

In recent years in addition to their broader video and audio courses, The Teaching Company have partnered with Audible to create shorter lecture series specifically designed for the audio format. These are often on more tightly defined topics (such as the life of Prince Albert or the history of holiday celebrations) and recently became part of the Audible Plus library that are available to subscribers (edit: this may only be true of the US Audible service – see comments below) without using up any credits. This new short course is one of those Audible Originals, discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories in depth.

The first thing to emphasize is that Sherlock Holmes: Beyond the Elementary is not designed for newcomers to the Holmes stories. Krasner discusses key plot developments of a number of stories including often identifying the villains or the manner in which they are caught. Instead it is designed for those who have read the stories and are keen to dig a little deeper with each installment teasing out and discussing certain themes that run throughout the stories.

For example, the first lecture discusses the importance of the city of London and the way it is depicted within the stories. Krasner discusses this in terms of the growth of the city in the nineteenth century and the anxiety about aspects of city life that is reflected in a number of stories. This was one of the most interesting installments for me as it focuses on how these stories were being received specifically in the period in which they were first published.

Other topics include the characters of Watson and Holmes, the construction of mystery stories, the role of women and the supernatural in the stories. There are also lectures on the relationship between Doyle and his creation and how the character has been depicted on stage and screen. The material is well-structured and varied enough that there is not much repetition between the various sections. I include a full list of the lecture titles at the end of this post.

I found Krasner’s material most engaging when he goes beyond the Doyle stories to discuss how they align with themes being developed in other stories written during the period. This places the material in a slightly different context to the way I have usually encountered it in terms of the development of the mystery genre and I enjoyed getting to consider it from that slightly different perspective.

Krasner is clearly a fan of the character, something he establishes in his introduction where he talks about dressing up as Holmes on several occasions during his childhood, but he discusses the Holmes phenomenon with enough distance to be able to make some occasionally surprising comparisons such as with Twilight, Star Trek and the Harry Potter series, particularly in relation to the development of its fan culture.

One difference between these Audible Originals and the original Great Courses releases is that the lack of visuals allows the presenter to speak directly from a script. This means that there are no hesitations or stumbles but it can also mean that in spite of the lecture label, that it feels more like a reading than a spontaneous performance. I feel that is the case with this release, though Krasner speaks clearly and I found him easy to listen to.

One slight disappointment for me was that the lectures focus pretty exclusively on the books’ and the character’s reception in the anglophone world. This is unfortunate as I believe that one of the things which most defines Holmes is his global fanbase. It is a shame that this means there is no discussion of the appeal of these stories to that global audience or of adaptations like Miss Sherlock. I do appreciate though that obviously with a limited running time a line has to be drawn somewhere and obviously these have more limited audiences than the likes of Downey Jr’s or Benedict Cumberbatch’s takes on Sherlock.

Overall I found this an enjoyable and engaging listen and if you have an Audible subscription I certainly think that it is worth the listen if you are someone who has read all the stories and wants to start to dig a little deeper. And if someone from The Teaching Company or Audible happens to read this, I’d be very interested to see a similar series developed on the works of Agatha Christie.

Lecture Titles Listing

Lecture 1: The Victorian City
Lecture 2: My Dear Watson
Lecture 3: Sherlock Holmes: Man or Machine?
Lecture 4: How to Write a Mystery Story
Lecture 5: Doctors and Detectives
Lecture 6: Nice Work If You Can Get It
Lecture 7: Women and Sherlock Holmes
Lecture 8: The Supernatural and Sherlock Holmes
Lecture 9: The Final Problem: Sherlock Holmes and Popular Culture
Lecture 10: Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Book Details

Originally published in 1936
Hercule Poirot #14
Preceded by The A. B. C. Murders
Followed by Cards on the Table

The Blurb

Suspicious events at a Middle Eastern archaeological excavation site intrigue the great Hercule Poirot as he investigates Murder in Mesopotamia, a classic murder mystery from Agatha Christie.

Amy Leatheran has never felt the lure of the mysterious East, but when she travels to an ancient site deep in the Iraqi desert to nurse the wife of a celebrated archaeologist, events prove stranger than she could ever have imagined. Her patient’s bizarre visions and nervous terror seem unfounded, but as the oppressive tension in the air thickens, events come to a terrible climax–in murder.

With one spot of blood as his only clue, Hercule Poirot must embark on a journey not just across the desert, but into the darkest crevices of the human soul to unravel a mystery which taxes even his remarkable powers.

The Verdict

Not a favorite. The setting and characters feel well-observed but I find Amy Leatheran tiresome and to say a couple of plot points are incredible would perhaps be understating things.

“She’s an odd woman. A mass of affection and, I should fancy, a champion liar – but Leidner seems honestly to believe that she is scared out of her life by something or other.”

My Thoughts

Last week I put the call out on Twitter for my followers – a small but intrepid band – to help me select the title I would read and write about for today’s locked room or impossible crime post. It was quite rightly pointed out that I had somewhat stacked the decks by including a Christie title among the ones offered. While I do not think it was conscious, I suspect that my doing so was rather purposeful. I needed a little extra push to get around to reading Murder in Mesopotamia again so thank you to the Big Four who voted this into the lead.

Before I explain why this novel is not a favorite, let me first recap the scenario. Amy Leatheran is a nurse who is invited to join an archaeological dig to help care for the wife of the leading archaeologist, Dr. Leidner. It seems Mrs. Leidner appears to be nervous though it takes some time for Amy to discover the cause of that anxiety and learn about her past. Soon afterwards she is discovered dead in the bedroom of her house having been forcibly struck on the head. There was only one entrance to the bedroom, which could not have been entered, while the window was shut and barred. Nor was there any sign within the room of an object that might have been used to murder her.

The mystery of the death initially puzzles the local police. Fortunately Hercule Poirot happens to be traveling in the region and he is persuaded to travel to the dig to assist with the investigation. He soon appalls everyone however when he asserts that the murder must have been carried out by someone involved in the dig. With the assistance of Amy Leatheran who documents the case, he begins to look into the matter…

It is the choice of narrator that is largely responsible for my lack of enthusiasm for this title and I am sorry to report that my feelings are not significantly altered. While I think there are some positive things that come of Poirot’s association with a tough and rather straightforward nurse, I find this particular character rather unlikable and I am not a fan of the awkward structure that this then imposes on the novel’s opening chapters.

Some of my issues with Amy Leatheran stem from her personality traits. From the start of the novel she comes off as highly judgmental and occasionally xenophobic, particularly towards Poirot. While I appreciate the idea of undermining some of Poirot’s own pretentious behaviors and quirks, my problem is that I find Leatheran’s less endearing. That is in spite (or perhaps because) of their being quite realistic and well observed. This means that I can find her company something of a chore.

Her role in this particular story requires her to enter as an outsider, both to the characters involved at the dig but also to Poirot. This leads to a certain amount of awkwardness however as it requires a certain degree of setup to be done to explain her presence and then her involvement with the investigation. This would not be such an issue if Christie didn’t also include a rather awkward and frankly quite unnecessary preamble in which we learn how she came to be asked to write this manuscript. All of this slows down the start of the story and leads to it feeling somewhat self-conscious.

The introduction of Poirot is welcome, both in terms of signaling the start of the investigation but also because it gives the proceedings a greater degree of focus. He quickly focuses our attention on some specific questions and pieces of evidence as well as starting to interview the various suspects. This section of the book is done fairly well and I appreciated that those interviews are not presented in full but rather key moments from each are pulled out and put into focus for us.

Poirot is on pretty solid form here. Certainly he has some moments where he not only shows off his brilliance and imagination but also his understanding of people’s characters, drawing some rather striking conclusions at times. More on those later… What I like most though, and this is the one aspect of the narration I think works well, is the sense of Poirot as an outsider. We have had some hints of that in previous stories, perhaps most recently in Three Act Tragedy, but I think this novel presents it as far more significant than most of its predecessors, even if it is not terribly important to the plot.

The main strength of this novel though lies in its depiction of the workings of an archaeological dig and of the types of individuals who might be involved in them. Christie by this stage in her life had quite some experience of digs, having accompanied her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, to some. She even is supposed to have drawn on some real people as inspiration for characters in this story. That detail helps the setting and characters feel quite credible, even if the narrator threatens to eschew providing any sort of local color in her narrative.

Let’s turn to the locked room aspect of the story which was, after all, my inspiration for revisiting it this time. The circumstances of the murder are intriguing and I appreciate that the clues are rather limited and relatively subtle. I think it might be fair to suggest that Poirot is rather fortunate that the murderer feels it necessary to commit a second killing as that does push things forward quite a bit and highlight some key aspects of the crime – certainly I cannot imagine him solving it based on the initial pieces of evidence.

There are challenges in accepting some of the aspects of this plot. Much has rightly been made of a rather ridiculous matter of identity and while I think Christie wisely tries to prime the reader early by discussing the idea in generalities, it is really hard to believe that it could work in practice. Some may also feel that the murder method relies on everything working in the killer’s favor and some extremely fortunate timing that they could not have counted on. I am rather more forgiving of this however as I feel that had things not happened that way then the murder would simply have been quickly solved and the case would never have come to Poirot’s attention at all.

Murder in Mesopotamia does have some points that I think do commend it. The setting feels credible and well-observed and while Amy may intend to provide no color, I think this is one of Christie’s more atmospheric locations for a Poirot story. I do also enjoy some of the aspects of the solution. My problem is that there are a couple of points which feel incredible in all the worst senses of that word. Those few ludicrous reveals, coupled with a tiresome choice of narrator, make this hard-going for me.

The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Book Details

Originally published in 1934

The British Library Crime Classics reprint is currently available in the UK. A US release is planned for early 2022.

The Blurb

The Chianti Flask opens at a moment of courtroom drama. A quiet, enigmatic young woman called Laura Dousland is on trial for murder, accused of poisoning her elderly husband, Fordish Dousland. The couple’s Italian servant, Angelo Terugi, chief witness for the prosecution, is on the stand and is also under suspicion. At the heart of the puzzle of Fordish Dousland’s death is the Chianti flask that almost certainly held the wine containing the poison which killed him. But the flask has disappeared, and all attempts to trace it have come to nothing.

The jury delivers its verdict, but this represents simply the ‘end of the beginning’ of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ novel. This book is, in essence, a psychological study into the bitter effects of murder and its aftermath both on the person accused and those close to her. Is it true that there’s no smoke without fire? Only in the closing pages is the mystery of the Chianti flask finally unraveled.

The Verdict

This novel about the social repercussions of being associated with a crime is well observed though be aware the genre elements may be too slight for some readers.

…there was in the story those elements of mystery and strangeness which fascinate most thinking minds.

My Thoughts

I had a plan to have several reviews written and queued up before I went on vacation and this was to be one of those titles. Rather unfortunately though I went and got food poisoning, deadlines flew by, hotel trips got missed among other things. Which is why this post is coming to you on a Sunday rather than Friday as planned. The good news is that I recovered pretty quickly and we were able to make alternative trip plans to my favorite city break spot so things worked out okay in the end and obviously I ended up bringing my laptop with me…

The Chianti Flask begins in the concluding days of the trial of Laura Dousland, a woman who is on trial for the murder of her husband who had died of ingesting poison. One of the reasons Laura found herself under suspicion, other than the prejudices of the coroner, was that their Italian manservant had suggested that he had seen a flask of chianti on the dinner tray that had been prepared for the dead man which had vanished upon his return. While popular sentiment seems to lean towards her innocence, the disappearance of the chianti flask presents a point of mystery that ensures that even when the verdict comes back in her favor the mystery lingers.

This book then is not really about the mystery of what happened to Fordish Dousland, although that will be fully explained by the end of the novel, as it is about the way the stigma of a crime lingers and the uncertainty about the explanation affects those caught up in it psychologically. This is not dissimilar from the exploration of the psychology of the two landlords in The Lodger, although though figures involved are obviously more closely tied to the central crime here.

The focus here is on the character of Laura Dousland and on exploring the social stigma she experiences as a consequence of the trial. There is quite naturally some ghoulish interest in meeting and socializing with a woman accused of murder but there is also a lot of unthinking cruelty in her treatment from her supposed friends. The exploration of that discomfort is quite thoughtful and I found it quite convincing, particularly in depicting Laura’s awkwardness in asserting her wishes with friends who had supported her throughout the trial.

One of the questions is whether Laura will be able to move forwards or if this event will define her. I found this strand of the plot to be the most compelling on a character level, even though it is quite removed from the business of the crime itself. I found myself wanting her to be able to let go of the past and people’s opinions of her, even as I understood why she struggled to do so. It is well-observed and, I feel, quite realistic in its depictions of those doubts and tensions even if the writing style must have felt quite old-fashioned, even in 1934.

I think one of the more interesting elements of this book though is allowed to play out quite subtly in the implications of characters’ conversations rather than any heavy-handed point making. It seems clear that Laura’s relationship with Fordish was a consequence of manipulation and coercion while the character of that marriage seems to have been quite cruel. It also seems clear that societal pressures were stacked against her, making it impossible for her to escape that marriage. For those reasons I found it easy to empathize with her plight, even if I wondered myself if she might be guilty after all.

That question about whether she is guilty or not is the most conventional mystery element within the novel and it is, as I said, addressed by the end of the novel. I was fine with that explanation, though not especially surprised, although I was a little disappointed that the explanation that had occurred to me was not the correct one. On reflection though as I finished the novel I could understand why it was the appropriate conclusion to this story and feel that, on balance, it works.

On the whole I enjoyed the exploration of that question but would emphasize that it is far from a central feature of the novel, meaning that this is a book about a crime that doesn’t really read as a mystery or even suspense fiction (as The Lodger had) but instead primarily as a piece of human drama. That makes this a rather hard book to endorse as a piece of genre fiction, even though I personally enjoyed it a lot. I am certainly glad that I went ahead and imported my copy early and I am interested to read more from Lowndes. I can say though respect the range for taking such an expansive view of the genre and including some occasional unorthodox selections such as this and that if you enjoy more psychological fiction you may well feel like me.