Jonathan Creek: Miracle in Crooked Lane (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 28 December 1999
Season 3, Episode 5
Preceded by Ghost’s Forge
Followed by The Three Gamblers

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse

Familiar Faces

Dinah Sheridan makes her final screen appearance in this episode of Jonathan Creek but had a long career that included an appearance in the movie version of The Mirror Crack’d (which I just purchased on blu-ray and look forward to revisiting).

Tom Goodman-Hill was towards the start of his TV career and has become a familiar face since this was made. He has made a number of genre appearances including in episodes of Inspector Lewis, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. More recently he appeared in Silent Witness and the Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Finally, period drama fans will know Benjamin Whitrow for playing Mr. Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series.

The Verdict

One of the better impossible situations from this season though the investigation phase of the episode, though sometimes amusing, seems to lack focus .

Episode Summary

Kathleen, a missionary, is staying with a photographer friend in a small village while she recovers from heart bypass surgery. He takes her outside to sit in his garden and enjoy some fresh air. While she is there she chats with Jacqui Jordan, a rather infamous glamor model who has recently shared some stories of her sexploits with the rich and famous in The Sun. The problem is that earlier that same day Jacqui was caught in an explosion that left her in a coma. How could Kathleen have spoken with a woman who was lying unconscious in a hospital bed at the time?

My Thoughts

I have been interested to see this episode, Miracle in Crooked Lane, receive quite a lot of love in some of the comments for some of my recent Jonathan Creek posts. This struck me as particularly curious because I didn’t have much of a memory at all of this episode prior to revisiting it. I think our conversation needs to begin with a discussion of the episode’s impossibility and how it fits into the season as a whole.

While I have found parts of the previous stories entertaining, I think it is fair to suggest that the impossibilities in this season are not particularly compelling. In some cases it is because the stories around the impossibility feels convoluted to allow for Jonathan or Maddy’s involvement. In others it is because some aspects of the explanation just don’t seem to hold up. And in the case of The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish, it’s just a garbled, ridiculous mess that favors style over substance. But I digress.

Miracle in Crooked Lane is not necessarily a great impossibility (we’ll get to that in a moment) but it is a significant improvement on the stories surrounding it. In my review last week I commented that a problem with that story was that I couldn’t sum up the problem in a sentence. Well, here I can and it’s pretty interesting – how can someone have had a conversation with a woman who, at that same time, was in a hospital in a coma? It’s simple, clearly mysterious and of about the right complexity to be explored properly in 45 minutes.

Perhaps the most interesting feature that sets it apart from other Creek episodes is that it does not seem to be connected to a crime. Jonathan and Maddy do not learn about it from a news headline but because it is brought up as an interesting problem meant to grab his attention. Their investigation reflects that, focusing more on the curiosity of the situation rather than an attempt to uncover any sinister reason behind it (though, fear not, there is something darker going on under the surface for them to discover and explain). This means it feels a little different than many of the stories around it, helping it to stand out a little.

The scenario intrigues because Renwick is careful to make sure we know that the basic facts are trustworthy. This is partly achieved with the portrayal of Kathleen as an unimpeachable witness. She is an outsider with no real ties to the community or to Jacqui Jordan, the victim of the tragic accident. As she lacks any personal reason to lie about speaking with her, we have to take her statements at face value. At the same time however we witness the events leading up to the explosion in the shed ourselves, meaning that we have a pretty clear idea that she had been hospitalized exactly as claimed.

I found this to be an intriguing variation on the person in two places problem. If there is an issue with its premise it is that it seems pretty clear which of the two places Jacqui must have been in at 7:40pm. While Renwick could have tried to stretch it out by suggesting that someone else may have been injured in the explosion in Jacqui’s place, that idea is raised and immediately dismissed as not credible. Instead of wondering which of the two accounts is true we are left to consider why her appearance in the other place appears so credible.

Where I think the lack of a clear link to a crime becomes problematic is that the investigation lacks some central points of focus. Jonathan and Maddy begin by investigating what exactly happened to Jacqui but there isn’t a clear sense of exactly what they’re looking for. This gives the investigation a more disorganized feel than is typical of the show and means that at points the focus instead seems to fall on some of the more comedic elements of the script.

In fairness that isn’t a bad thing as I think this is one of the funnier episodes this series had made up to this point. This begins with the framing structure of the pair attending a Crime Writers’ convention where a small but intense group enthusiasts, many of whom have styled themselves after Jonathan, have gathered to meet them. I found the conversation they have in which they pick apart flaws in some of their earlier cases to be pretty amusing and felt it did a good job of nailing fans’ ability to nitpick (see any of my recent Jonathan Creek reviews for evidence of that).

Similarly there is some amusing material with Jeff, one of those fans, who is responsible for initially hooking Jonathan with this case. Tim Goodman-Hill plays that part really well while Emma Kennedy is really amusing as his long-suffering and frequently bemused girlfriend. There are some pretty entertaining comedic moments and while I think the ending feels a little too ridiculous, I do enjoy the dynamic between them and our two leads.

Perhaps my favorite of the comedic moments though belongs to Benjamin Whitrow who plays Rupert, Jacqui’s wealthy husband. He has a wonderfully dry, matter-of-fact delivery and a light touch with comedic material which makes the scene in the library where he gives Maddy a tour of sorts particularly amusing. It may not be very mature but I thought it was executed really well.

Predictably I was a little less enamored of the attempts to resolve the sexual tension between Jonathan and Maddy. While it was probably overdue given I’ve grumped about those scenes in several recent episodes, I cannot say I found it tremendously satisfying. I seem to remember wishing that those two would get together when I watched the show for the first time but in revisiting them I cannot quite understand why. Perhaps I just recognize that they are really poorly suited to each other romantically or maybe I am just grumpy that I wish some of that time was given over to developing the mystery. Either way, I don’t feel it adds much.

Though amusing in places, Jonathan and Maddy’s investigation offers little in the way of new or compelling information about the impossibility. Rather than steering the viewer towards the correct solution it feels like the investigation is more helpful in terms of ruling out possibilities.

The result is a solution that feels like it is reached simply because it is the only one that seems to fit the rather odd circumstances of the case. Though the ideas he describes are quite exciting, Jonathan’s explanation contains relatively little direct evidence. While it is certainly very persuasive, I feel confident in saying that he falls short of proving it. This is reflected in the way in which a character simply folds under indirect pressure and confirms all of the points the detective could never have proven. The weak, unforced confession is one of my biggest frustrations with mysteries, particularly on television, and so unsurprisingly I felt disappointed by that aspect of it.

On the other hand, I cannot help but admire the construction of that ending. The explanation of what happened is clear and easy to follow and I think a lot of thought was given to making the impossibility come together credibly. I think that it does at least do that and so while I think the storytelling lacks the focus found in many of the other episodes, I can agree that it is one of the most interesting and unusually structured stories the show had produced up until this point and certainly it does stand out in the context of this unfortunately rather uneven season.

Jonathan Creek: Ghost’s Forge (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 18 December 1999
Season 3, Episode 4
Preceded by The Omega Man
Followed by Miracle in Crooked Lane

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse

Familiar Faces

Normally I choose people from an episode who have some sort of link to the mystery genre but how could I do that here when I have a chance to draw attention to a super, smashing, great cameo from northern comic Jim Bowen.

He had got his start on the TV show The Comedians and in the 80s began hosting the darts gameshow Bullseye which brought him to national, and my own, attention. My flatmate at University watched reruns constantly so he is about as familiar a face for me as you get.

The Verdict

The mystery plot is rather awkwardly structured and a little weak but the material around it is really entertaining, particularly the secondary mystery of how Maddy vanishes from inside an observed room.

Episode Summary

Mimi Tranter, an old colleague of Maddy, is having an affair with a man who keeps muttering about a house named Ghosts Forge in his sleep. She learns that the last owner of the house, the reclusive author Ezra Carr, was found dead several years earlier. The police had suspected that he was killed during a burglary yet nothing of value seemed to have been stolen.

Mimi takes Jonathan and Maddy to look over the house, frustrating both with her repeated assertions that she knows exactly how he pulls off different tricks from the magic show. While they look over the house Maddy appears to disappear inside a room after climbing into it with a ladder. Jonathan acknowledges it as a very clever trick played on Mimi later on so how did Maddy pull it off?

My Thoughts

Ghost’s Forge is another one of those episodes that I have seen several times but that I could not have described in any detail prior to rewatching it. That does not reflect on its quality so much as that it lacks an easily summarized problem and that the impossibility in the episode is not part of that main investigation but a gag played in a comedic subplot involving Maddy’s obnoxious friend Mimi.

What exactly are Jonathan and Maddy investigating? It’s all a bit vague. There’s the strange mutterings of Robin, the married man that Mimi is sleeping with, but that alone would not be much of a story. The strange death, which is presumably linked, adds more of a crime element to the tale but that too feels rather insubstantial and it would not be of much interest on its own either. And then there’s the question of Ezra Carr’s identity which is relatively simple and only a small point within the episode.

Pulling these together makes for a more substantial case but working each of these elements in also makes Jonathan and Maddy’s involvement feel quite contrived, basically hinging on Mimi being a terrible oversharer. A lot seems to be staked on the viewer quickly becoming engaged in the oddities, though not the impossibilities, that they find in that house enabling them to overlook how awkward the pair’s involvement in this story feels.

One of the ways I think you see the weakness in that central plot reflected is in the number of comedic subplots you see in this episode. You have the running gag of Mimi explaining how easy it is to solve Jonathan’s tricks (which is obnoxious enough to annoy him without becoming tiresome for the viewer), Maddy being mistaken for Robin’s mistress, a repetitive brass band, Adam Klaus’ inability to commit to a single woman and his attempts to smooze a critical reviewer. And then you have Maddy’s disappearance trick.

Typically I have bemoaned these sorts of subplots in previous episodes so I am happy to be able to say, quite enthusiastically, that I think all of them fundamentally work here and also help contribute to binding the episode’s mystery elements together. What makes that possible is the way these subplots often directly feed into each other, such as the link between Adam’s serial infidelity and the later interactions with the reviewer or Mimi’s annoying habit leading to Maddy constructing that trick to fool her.

I want to focus on that last one – the disappearing trick – as it is the episode’s impossibility and the thing I most clearly remembered about the episode though that memory kicked in only when I saw Maddy about to climb the very long ladder. In my opinion it is one of Maddy’s best moments in the series as it shows the growth in her ability to construct a puzzle as a result of her friendship with Jonathan.

The trick itself is simple but clever. Jonathan’s rating of the trick as a 6 out of 10 in itself is pretty fair but the way it is handled in the context of the episode should give it a few extra points. The viewer is unlikely to guess at how it is worked in its immediate aftermath, although they are given a pretty good view of Maddy climbing the ladder, the interior of the room and Jonathan rattling the handle of the stuck door from the corridor outside. Smartly the episode presents the basic facts and quickly distracts the viewer, only returning to the problem to explain it at the end.

Which I suppose will bring me back to that central mystery plot (or plots). Without grafting that disappearing puzzle onto that crime scene there simply isn’t enough here to make it feel like a Jonathan Creek case. The circumstances of the murder are certainly odd but they never feel remarkable. There is no sense that the police really missed anything obvious in the crime scene and were it not for the very specific way the case is introduced to Jonathan he would have no way to solve the puzzle at all or have any grounds to doubt the official verdict of what happened.

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I would also suggest that I do not know that Jonathan proves the links between each point in his explanation. It happens to be right and so it is accepted, but it really feels more like informed conjecture – in part because it relates to human choices rather than a mechanism or trick that was used. That’s not necessarily inappropriate but it does not reflect the type of solution I look for from this show and so it strikes me as a little underwhelming.

As I noted at the top of this review, though I had seen it several times I remembered very little about it. Having revisited it again I have no reason to think that will be any different the next time I return to it. It’s not terrible in the way that The Problem at Gallows Gate or The Curious Case of Mr. Spearfish were, but it just doesn’t deliver the sort of trickery and interest that I look for in the cases from this series. In spite of that though I still found it to be quite entertaining, in large part because of those comedic subplots, and I do think it is one of Maddy’s best episodes in the series (and with just two episodes left with the character, there isn’t much opportunity left to top this).

Jonathan Creek: The Omega Man (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 11 December, 1999
Season Three, Episode Three
Preceded by The Eyes of Tiresias
Followed by Ghost’s Forge

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Familiar Faces

John Shrapnel was best known for his stage work but made a number of appearances in beloved mystery dramas. Among his television credits are roles in Inspector Morse, Between the Lines, Wycliffe, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, The Last Detective, New Tricks and Waking the Dead.

The Verdict

The science fiction elements are a welcome change of pace but I am unconvinced that the solution is credible.

Episode Summary

Maddy is preparing for a media interview to promote her new book when she receives a note from Professor Lance Graumann who promises her ‘the most incredible story of your life’ if she meets him in a warehouse. When she arrives he shows her an alien skeleton in a glass case and explains how touching it caused burns to appear on his assistant’s hands. He offers her the chance to get some photographs but as she goes to her car to get her camera trucks of American military personnel arrive to seize the body and transport it to their base.

When the soldiers arrive they open up the truck only to find that the skeleton has completely disappeared. Desperate to find an explanation they track down Jonathan to demand he explain why the skeleton vanished.

My Thoughts

I was really fed up of the whole paranormal alien thing back when this story first aired. Everyone at school was still obsessed with The X-Files, a show I was never able to get into. This story seemed to be pretty clearly influenced by that series and I am pretty sure I resented it a little for that. No doubt that’s the reason I didn’t remember this story particularly fondly and why I skipped over it whenever I would rewatch the stories.

That is, of course, exactly the reason why I decided to revisit these seasons and watch all of the stories in order. To view them once again through fresh eyes. Some have fallen in my estimations as I am much more familiar with common tricks now than I was back then while some, like this one, have definitely gained a little with some distance.

The scenario is certainly hokey although it is a fun change of pace to have a break from those horror elements that dominated the second season and the previous episodes and have a switch to science fiction. It makes the story stand out from those around it, giving it a pretty distinct identity.

The idea of a government agency forcing Jonathan to solve a case for them is also pretty entertaining and I liked the problem it creates for him in terms of keeping Maddy’s involvement in the events of that night secret from them (though the idea of dozens of US troops carrying out a covert operation in uniform on UK soil does seem rather ridiculous – it does reinforce that X-Files feel however). Once again I appreciate it for being a little different from the usual ways he stumbles onto cases and I appreciated the complications this adds to his investigation and to his working relationship with Maddy.

Speaking of Maddy, I think that this episode is one of her best in quite some time. This not only allows us to see her using her journalism skills at work but also reminds us of some of the potential dangers an investigative journalist might face. This episode reminded me that this is the part of the character I am most interested in and that I wish had been the focus rather than the will they, won’t they relationship with Jonathan.

The final thing that I think works well here is the casting of John Shrapnel as Professor Graumann and that character’s general characterization. It is not just that he has a frankly magnificent voice that sounds just right for this sort of character but that he contrasts with Alan Davies in an interesting way. That contrast is drawn quite directly for the viewer with Creek noting that the two men have fairly similar backgrounds and skill sets but use them differently and this casting helps to illustrate that idea.

Given that we know the identity of who devised this trick from the beginning we are simply then looking at how it was carried out. I appreciated that the character is given a little more depth and context by introducing us to one of his acolytes, showing us the impact of what he does. It makes him a pretty enigmatic figure and he stands out for me as one of the more interesting antagonists that Jonathan faces, precisely because he doesn’t behave as such (or, to be more accurate, because Jonathan isn’t really the focus of his activities). He even gives Jonathan a pretty significant, if enigmatic, hint about how the trick was worked.

Which brings me to how the trick was carried out. While the trappings of this episode bother me less today than they did on first viewing, I feel I have become more suspicious about whether the scheme Graumann came up with could work.

The biggest question I have is the economic feasability of his scheme. Graumann’s plan would seem to require a pretty large outlay of cash, not to mention time, to make it work. While I can see that he could expect to make money back from donations, book and VHS sales (!), that takes time and if the trick here is rumbled then he presumably would face total discreditation and financial ruin.

I have further questions but they are all heavily spoilery so I will confine them to the end of this post. To put it briefly, I like the idea of this story but I do have strong doubts that it could actually work.

Overall then I think I liked this one a little more than I did when I first saw it. The concept is still incredibly silly but I think it represents a fun change of pace within the season. I just have difficulty accepting that this scheme could work as shown.

Jonathan Creek: The Eyes of Tiresias (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 4 December, 1999
Season Three, Episode Two
Preceded by The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish
Followed by The Omega Man

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Familiar Faces

Rebecca Front will probably be best known to genre fans for her recurring role as Chief Superintendent Innocent in Inspector Lewis. At the time this episode was made though she was best known as a comedic actor having appeared in shows like Knowing Me, Knowing You and The Day Today.

Terrence Hardiman is probably best known to people of my generation as the Demon Headmaster. He does have a number of genre credits which include the recurring role as Abbot Radulfus in the Cadfael television series and has roles in Poirot, Inspector Morse, Wallander, the 80s Miss Marple among his credits. In addition to his acting performances he is also an excellent audiobook narrator – I can particularly recommend his reading of Ruth Rendell’s From Doon with Death which makes me wish he had recorded all the others too.

The Verdict

Perhaps not a top tier episode but it boasts a very solid story hook and a logical solution.

Episode Summary

Audrey is settling down for a relaxing night in, reading a book about Greek mythology and listening to music. She drifts off to sleep in her armchair, waking up in a start after a nightmare in which she hears a man being murdered. She tells her niece who is staying with her about what she had dreamt, commenting on how vivid it seemed. She is shocked when she learns of the murder of Andre Masson in circumstances exactly like those she imagined a few hours later.

When she has other dreams that seem to come true, Audrey becomes concerned that she can predict death – particularly as she has forseen her own…

My Thoughts

I found last week’s episode to be pretty hard going so I am really happy to be able to say that the show quickly rebounded back to form. Even better, it turned out that I had little memory of this episode beyond the predicting the future hook so this one felt pretty fresh to me.

Let’s start by discussing the episode’s concept that someone might be able to predict the future. As with the previous episode, there is a sense that this story is playing with some supernatural elements. There is a significant difference in tone however between the two with this story focusing more on how those ideas are really distressing to Audrey. That makes it easy to empathize with her and only increased my desire to see Jonathan work out what has happened to bring her peace.

The episode takes great care to clearly show us the events of the evening when Audrey has the nightmare as well as the events in the Masson home, establishing the core facts of the case. We know, for instance, that Audrey definitely makes her predictions before the murder happens and was quite specific in her description of what happened. While there are a few minor differences in the account, it is clear that her prediction is detailed enough to be tested and that she had no personal knowledge of Masson to be able to predict it in some other way.

The episode is similarly very clear about the sequence of events leading up to Masson’s death, introducing us to the most significant figures in his life and establishing that they were both on the other side of his locked office door at the moment he is murdered. The problem is that the suspect with the strongest motive seems to have a pretty unbreakable alibi.

I think it would be fair to suggest that the Masson murder is rather simpler than most cases on Jonathan Creek. Assuming that there is no random murderer breaking in, have an extremely limited pool of suspects and some pretty clear motives for murder. It is the overlap between this case and Aunt Audrey’s visions of the future that provide much of this story’s novelty and much of the interest here for me.

The solution is, I think, quite logical, and clearly explained. While there are parts of the killer’s plan that strike me as having the potential not to work as planned, I have no problem accepting that they do. Jonathan’s method for getting there is similarly quite solid and while I think this is a case where the truth could well have been discovered eventually without his efforts, I enjoyed seeing which details would lead him there and felt it ultimately played fair.

I have a rather more mixed response to some of the material around those two mysteries. I think the way in which Jonathan first meets Audrey’s niece and the consequences of that are pretty amusing. Given I am a strong advocate for more Rebecca Front in everything, I predictably enjoyed her scenes with Alan Davies. The pair play nicely off each other and I enjoyed some of the other business that it sets up on the grounds of Jonathan’s windmill.

On the other hand Maddy’s subplot with her romantic misadventures didn’t really work for me. For one thing it doesn’t get much time, meaning that the gag has to be pretty simple. The basic idea that she will do something that she will be really embarrassed by is solid enough but if you’re going to go that route then the situation ought to be mortifying or feel like their getting their just desserts. Instead what we get just struck me as pretty tame and a little cringeworthy.

At this point I am long over the will they, won’t they relationship with Jonathan, particularly given it often seems to come back to some variation on the same gag in the end. It all rather feels like the show is treading water, unable to advance their relationship for fear that changing the frustrated dynamic between them will somehow damage the experience. The first series at least felt pretty focused and consistent – as we went through the second and into the third I felt that it was far from clear how they each felt about the other, making it hard to invest in them.

Take away these sideplots and distractions and you are at least left with a pretty interesting case. I doubt I will be picking it in my top 5 Jonathan Creek episodes of all time list whenever i come to make that but I appreciate the cleverness of the problem the pair have to solve.

The Devil’s Wind by Steve Goble

Book Details

Originally published in 2018
Spider John #2
Preceded by The Bloody Black Flag
Followed by A Bottle of Rum

The Blurb

A historical mystery that blends nautical adventure in pirate waters with a locked-room murder mystery, featuring a pirate sleuth whose wits are as sharp as his blade. 1723–Spider John, longing to escape the pirate life he never wanted, has an honest seafaring job at last, aboard a sailing vessel, and is returning to his beloved Em and their child. But when Captain Brentwood is murdered in his cabin, Spider’s plans are tossed overboard.

Who killed Redemption’s captain? The mysterious pirate with a sadistic past? The beautiful redhead who hides guns beneath her skirt? One of the men pining for the captain’s daughter? There are plenty of suspects. But how could anyone kill the captain in his locked quarters while the entire crew was gathered together on the deck?

Before he can solve the puzzle, Spider John and his ex-pirate friends Hob and Odin will have to cope with violence, schemes, nosy Royal Navy officers, and a deadly trap set by the ruthless pirate Ned Low.

The Verdict

An enjoyable blend of mystery and historical adventure. As good as the first installment.

My Thoughts

It has been a little over two years since I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Bloody Black Flag, the first book in this series. I noted in that review how that book blended elements of the mystery and adventure story genres together very effectively and I am happy to report that this is similarly successful.

This book, like the last, is set in the early eighteenth century in the years following the Golden Age of Piracy. Famous pirates like Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham and Charles Vane are all long dead and while their legends are widely known, there is a sense that piracy will soon be on the decline.

Spider John, an unwilling pirate, had long been wanting to return to his old life and we join him as he lies low under an assumed identity while waiting for a ship to set sail. We learn he has enlisted as a ship’s carpenter aboard the Redemption, a merchant vessel headed for Boston, and is keen to see his wife and son who he has not seen in some years. The first couple of chapters are rather leisurely paced and remind readers of John’s backstory, while also serving to update us on what has happened since the last book and reintroduce us to his friends, Odin and Hob, who will join him on the journey.

The ship sets sail as planned but things take a bloody turn when a gunshot is heard from inside the Captain’s locked cabin. The door is broken down and they find him dead with a gun in his hand and a short apologetic note on his desk. It appears to be suicide and yet John notices a few things that seem wrong with the scene leading him to believe it was murder.

As I noted in the review of the first installment, Spider John interests me as an investigator because of the challenges and limitations he faces in that role. To give an example, he is unable to read which means he is unable to properly evaluate and consider the letter as evidence, relying instead on others’ thoughts. Another is that he draws upon his own experiences rather than any formal training. That sometimes means the things he notices are a little unusual but it also helps to make his investigations feel more credible.

Spider John identifies two key questions that he will need to answer. The first is why anyone would want the Captain, who appears to be widely liked by his crew, dead in the first place. The other more technical one is that we must work out how anyone could leave the cabin after firing the gunshot. The only door was under observation from the moment the shot was heard while a hatch was locked from the inside and was also observed within a few seconds. Escape seems impossible so where did the killer go?

The problem is an interesting one, helped by Goble’s thoroughness in showing that those exits were observed by multiple characters within moments of the crime taking place. That helps to establish the reliability of the witnesses, making it clear that the room really was properly locked and that no one could have left without being observed. In short, it clearly establishes the parameters of the room.

As with the first book in the series, the fact that the murder takes place while on the water adds a little novelty and intrigue to the case a well as serving as a very effective way to close the circle of suspects. The change in setting does force Spider John to act cautiously to guard his identity but it does not fundamentally alter his nature or that of his friends. Expect plenty of salty language and occasional bursts of violence which all helps to conjure up a sense of the historical period it is set in.

There are an interesting mix of crew members and passengers aboard the Redemption, several of whom seem to be carrying their own secrets. I think it is arguable that we do not spend enough time with some of them for them to feel truly credible as suspects but I enjoyed the variety regardless and appreciated the various backgrounds and personalities they had.

While I missed some of the atmospheric touches of life aboard the pirate ship from the first book, I did appreciate that the fresh setting offers a look at piracy from a slightly different perspective while still including plenty of references to pirate lore and some of the most notorious figures from the period. Those with an interest in piratical history will find plenty to appreciate here and for those less familiar with it there is an author’s note at the end of the text that provides a little context on a couple of the names mentioned.

After the midpoint of the novel the book introduces some more adventure-themed elements, building to a pretty memorable action sequence that serves as a sort of interlude in the mystery. Goble writes this type of material really well, creating a sense of credible peril for the characters while reinforcing the setting and theme of the series. As in the first book, I really enjoyed this blend of the mystery and adventure styles and I think without it the setting would never truly come to life.

The mystery does play fair with the reader who will be given all of the information required to solve the case prior to the final accusations being made. Fans of locked room stories will no doubt recognize the significance of one of the last clues to be shared but I thought it was a fun reworking of a familiar concept that felt appropriate to the setting. It struck me as being quite credible, both in terms of someone being able to imagine it and being able to pull it off. While I had worked out who did it, why and how, I realized that there were some clues given that I had overlooked that made me appreciate the solution all the more.

Overall then I thought that this was a pretty enjoyable second installment in the series that recaptured the things I enjoyed about the first. The third volume, A Bottle of Rum, is already out and the fourth is expected in a few months so clearly I have a little catching up to do. Based on this experience I am sure I will be doing so soon.

Jonathan Creek: The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 27 November, 1999
Season Three, Episode One
Preceded by Black Canary (1998 Christmas Special)
Followed by The Eyes of Tiresias

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Familiar Faces

Griff Rhys Jones, a comic actor best known for eighties comedies Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, was probably the most recognizable face in the cast at the time it was first transmitted.

Adjoa Andoh who plays Anthea, the investment manager, will be recognizable to anyone who watched the Netflix show Bridgerton in which she plays Lady Danbury.

The Verdict

Not the best story to start out season three with. Highly disappointing

Episode Summary

Lenny Spearfish and his wife Alice were struggling with mounting debts. One day, after drinking his sorrows away at a pub, Lenny happens upon a small shop that sells oddities and goes inside. He doesn’t see anything in the shop that he wants to buy but the shopkeeper suggests that he might want to sell his soul in exchange for good fortune. Thinking it a harmless con Lenny signs a contract in blood and thinks nothing of it until the next day he digs up a chest full of treasure that is several hundred years old, instantly changing the couple’s fortunes.

Rather than ending their troubles it seems to provide new ones as Lenny starts behaving recklessly, gambling and partying heavily. When Alice finds the contract she is horrified and the pair argue. Lenny angrily screws the contract up and tosses it into a tea chest which catches fire a short time later.

Stranger events are to follow as Lenny survives not one but two attempts on his life, leading him to think he has become immortal. Jonathan and Maddy, after learning their strange story, investigate and try to figure out what is responsible for Lenny’s strange rise in his fortunes.

My Thoughts

One of the reasons for the slight delay in starting my series of posts about the third season of Jonathan Creek was that I knew it would necessitate me rewatching The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish. While I have seen it a couple of times over the years including on first transmission, I find it one of the most frustrating episodes from the Maddy seasons and I had little reason to think that my views would likely be much different this time around. Still, I could hardly skip over it and so I tried to empty myself of any prejudgments and attempt to view the story afresh.

Let’s start with the positive which is the strange atmosphere it tries to build. There is a strong tradition of blending the apparently diabolic with impossible crime, no doubt because of the idea that only a supernatural force could be responsible for fantastic things happening, and a pact with the devil is about as diabolic as you can go. It makes for an interesting base for the story and ties in well thematically with many of the apparent miracles we witness – particularly Lenny surviving two attempts on his life.

While she only appears in a few scenes, I really liked Adjoa Andoh here who was appearing in one of her earliest roles as an investment manager. She convinces, not only appearing slick and confident but giving off a sense of someone with ulterior motives. She also is involved in one of the most entertaining sequences in the episode in which Maddy tries to investigate her car.

I would add that both Andrew Tierman and Rachel Power give decent performances as Lenny and Alice. Tierman’s Lenny is infuriating, not least for the casual way in which he reveals some information to Alice, but I think he does a pretty good job of reflecting the character’s growing sense of disregard for others and feelings of exceptionalism. Meanwhile Power is sympathetic as his victim and I did feel sorry for her at points in the story. In short, they fit the material well.

Finally (and yes, I could only come up with three things), I think that the Adam Klaus subplot in which he is being sued for indecently assaulting a hotel maid with a kipper. While I have had issues with the tone of some of the Klaus storylines in previous episodes, this one works pretty well because I think it acknowledges that he is absolutely a jerk, even when the accusations against him register as clearly ridiculous. His terrible performance on the stand is pretty amusing, heightened by the performance of Griff Rhys Jones opposite him, and I do think the resolution to this plot thread is pretty entertaining.

The Adam Klaus scenes are, in short, the most successful part of this episode. Yes, you did read that right.

The problem is that while the atmosphere of this story may be appealing, the story is enormously contrived and relies not only on a terrific number of coincidences and lucky breaks but on a third party developing a frankly terrible plan. Those contrivances become all the more apparent and frustrating when you know what the actual solution will be and it becomes clear that things happen not because they make sense to the character performing the action but because they need to appear a particular way to the sleuth.

The story actually acknowledges this issue in a moment in which Jonathan questions the theatricality of what has happened, querying who the audience is meant to be. While we get an answer of sorts, I think that it doesn’t really work to explain the case as a totality and so I am left deeply unsatisfied with what we get.

Watching for the first time I can imagine that the episode would build a sense of intrigue about how these strange events would be tied together. There are several set pieces that are quite exciting to watch and there is a sense that the episode is building towards a really compelling solution. The problem is that while many elements of what we get feel very logical (as does Jonathan’s explanation), there is no cohesion or sense to what has occured. To the extent that what we see is planned, it is a terrible plan both logistically and in terms of motivation.

To give just one very basic example, consider why Lenny even goes into that odd little shop in the first place. He has no particular business there, nor does it seem very likely that anyone should expect him to go in at some point. Given that visit is a prerequisite for everything else that is planned, it seems that the scheme attempted here is really nonsensical.

As you have probably surmised, my views of The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish have not changed – at least for the positive – in the two decades since I first saw it. Other than a few brief humorous moments, the episode has little to commend itself and so it felt like a long, drawn out slog to me.

Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

Book Details

Originally published as Misshitsu No Kagi Kashimasu in 2002
Ikagawa City Series #1

The Blurb

Ryuhei, a would-be film director, has just been dumped by his girl friend and his drunken threats to kill her have made him the prime suspect, as she has just been murdered. 

His alibi is that he was watching a film in his friend’s home movie theatre at the time. Unfortunately, his friend has also been stabbed to death in his bathroom, with the door to the apartment locked with a door chain. 

Worse still, Ryuhei was the only other person in the apartment at the time, and passed out until the following morning after he discovered his friend’s body. Fearing that the police will not believe him, because the door chain can only be locked from the inside, he panics and runs away. Not a good idea. 

Lending the Key to the Locked Room is not only brilliantly clever, it is also genuinely funny.

The Verdict

An excellent example of a lightly comic puzzle mystery with some clever plotting.

My Thoughts

Lending the Key to the Locked Room is an example of the shin honkaku ha (New Orthodox school) of Japanese mystery fiction. Works in this style, which began in the 1980s, hark back to the idea and rules of the fair play puzzle mystery practised by the likes of S. S. van Dine and Ellery Queen. Such works can be regarded as a game or contest of wits where the author promises to give the reader all the clues they need to be able to solve the mystery before the detective if they have the imagination to do so.

This was Tokuya Higashigawa’s first novel and it presents us with a complicated situation in which a man finds himself linked to two murders in bizarre circumstances.

Ryūhei joined the film program at Ikagawa University but as he nears graduation he decides that wants a guaranteed job and so he reaches out to a friend, Kōsaku Moro, who workss at a small film company. The work won’t be lucrative or glamorous but he is glad of the security. His girlfriend is appalled as she does not see her future in Ikegawa and dumps him. A few days later he gets heavily drunk and starts a bar fight screaming his girlfriend’s name and saying he will kill her. This will not look good for Ryūhei…

Ryūhei is invited over to Kōsaku’s home to watch a movie together on his home theater system. After the movie finishes Kōsaku offers to get snacks and drinks, leaving him alone in the house while he runs to the store. When he returns he tells him that he saw a commotion and that he had heard that someone had died from falling from a building which turns out to be the one where Ryūhei’s ex-girlfriend lives. We will later learn that she was murdered.

His friend leaves him alone to take a shower. When he doesn’t emerge after a long period, Ryūhei investigates to find his friend dead of a knife wound. He finds that the door to the apartment had been chained and that no one could have gained access or left through any of the windows. It makes for an intriguing scenario, built around a very solid locked room problem. Not only was he present at one murder in a location that no one else could gain access to, there are clear links between the two crimes such as the weapon used. Given that we have followed Ryūhei throughout the events of that evening we can be confident that he is not responsible for either murder yet it clearly looks bad for him.

I felt pretty confident that I had the answers quite early in the investigation but I quickly realized that the solution could not be quite as simple as I was thinking. Even when an idea appeared that it might fit the facts, some point would be brought up that would make me realize that my ideas would not work. While I would work out a few of the key points by the end of the novel, I have to say I didn’t get close to the details of the actual solution.

The best part of that solution relates to the sequence of events that evening. Towards the end of the novel we are given a detailed, step-by-step explanation which does a superb job of laying out exactly why things happened the way they did. The mechanics of the killer’s plan struck me as quite clever and one aspect of it in particular stood out as quite imaginative and original. I enjoyed it as much for the manner it is revealed by piecing ideas together as the audacity of the concept itself.

I did have an issue with the solution which relates to motive. Being as vague as I can be, I feel that the killer’s motive is rather weak. While I accept that some signs of it are clearer once you know what it is, I am not sure that I think it would push someone to act in the way they do and so I did find that reasoning to be a little unconvincing. I will say though that it has grown on me as I have reflected and thought of the indications in the story that I have missed. There are a few points in that solution that struck me as strange when I first read them but as I thought back through the story I could see the clues that could have led me there.

Though I am a little reluctant to label this as a comic detective story, in part because the humor is not frequent enough to feel like the purpose or focus of the story, Higashigawa does approach telling his story in a rather light-hearted fashion. His narration is peppered with little comments that acknowledge that we are reading a detective story, reflecting on the expected structures and plot developments of such works. They prompted more smiles than laughter for me but I still appreciated their inclusion and felt it fit well with the general craziness of the story’s premise.

Overall, I found Lending the Key to the Locked Room to be an entertaining read. The puzzle has some really clever features and I enjoyed the occasional meta asides in the narration which I found amusing and which gave the piece a rather unique style. I would certainly be willing to read more from this series should others become available.

Further Reading

This release does not have either an introduction or endnotes but the translator, Ho-Ling Wong, recently blogged about the release and had previously offered their thoughts on the book. Both are worth reading.

The Lord of Misrule by Paul Halter, translated by John Pugmire

Book Details

Originally published in 1994 as Le Roi du Desordre
Owen Burns #1
Followed by The Seven Wonders of Crime

The Blurb

We are in Victorian London, with its gaslight and fog, not long after the Jack the Ripper Murders. A mysterious cloaked figure wearing a hideous, leprous mask and sleigh-bells is stalking the countryside outside the capital, committing murder wherever it goes, yet leaving no footprints.

This is the first Paul Halter novel featuring amateur detective and aesthete Owen Burns, who regards the impossible crime as an art form.

The Verdict

The chilling seasonal elements work nicely but the solution feels rather contrived.

My Thoughts

The Lord of Misrule was the subject of a bit of a mystery for me last week when I sat down to start reading it. As I opened up the ebook for what was apparently the first time I found that my copy contained multiple annotations including highlighted passages and notes about aspects of the book. This went from the first page to the very end of the book and, what’s more, each thought was largely in line with the things I was thinking and feeling about the book.

Had I perhaps read the book before and, for some reason, decided not to review it and mark it as unread? If that was the case, why had I no memory of any part of it? Were those notes and highlights somehow transferred from the future? If so, given that I didn’t make any new ones should I expect to find myself in a Back to the Future-type situation where those notes would fade from my ebook when I failed to create them… Or was there some sort of Kindle glitch that gifted me the notes of a kindred spirit? Alas, I will never know. Rest assured however that the opinions that follow are my own – those notes were only consulted after forming them!

The book begins by recounting the story of how the narrator, Achilles Stock, got to know the amateur detective Owen Burns shortly after arriving in England for the first time. That first encounter, while somewhat tangential to the story, is quite amusing and does give us a strong understanding of both men’s personalities and characters. This in turn will help to explain the rather far-fetched circumstances by which the pair come to get involved in this crime story.

The next chapter jumps forward a year as the pair renew their acquaintance and Burns seeks a favor from his friend. Judging him to be a man who enjoys intrigue, he asks Stock to take his place at the Mansfield family’s Christmas at their estate on the outskirts of London to enable him to spend time with a young woman he is enamored with. He is supposed to attend in the guise of the fiance of Catherine, the sister of Samuel Piggott, the man engaged to Mansfield’s older daughter Sibyl.

The reason for the deception is that Catherine fears that for the safety of her brother because of a family curse that strikes fatally when the family occupy the estate at Christmas. It appears that the Lord of Misrule, a killer with a white mask and wearing jingling bells, has been responsible for a number of murders in the family over the centuries including three years earlier when Sibyl’s brother was murdered by an assailant who did not leave tracks in the snow. Achilles agrees to Owen’s request and attends the gathering only to find that further inexplicable events occur, all credited to this Lord of Misrule…

Let’s start with the legend of the Lord of Misrule because I consider it to be the most intriguing part of the book. The concept dates back to an old tradition by which someone is appointed to be the figurehead of the Christmas revelries, organizing games and jokes to entertain the party. While this custom may not be familiar to many today, it does help ground the story around the festive celebrations as well as emphasize that this family legend has been around for some considerable time.

The story of the origins of this Lord of Misrule, when it is relayed to the reader, is actually rather chilling and speaks to the idea of wild excesses being committed by the nobility. While we will know given that this is a detective story that a supernatural explanation will not be the correct one, it is understandable why the historical event would cast such a long shadow over the family and why it would be a very effective idea to revive in the present day. Similarly I love the image of the frightful face appearing at the window – it is creepy and fits in with the older concept of Christmas as a time for ghost stories.

I have more mixed feelings about some other aspects of the setup for this adventure. The circumstances in which Stock becomes involved in the case are quite convoluted and while I enjoyed some of the subterfuge this involves, the story does dance around describing what actually happened all those years ago for quite some time. This does mean that we then get a lot of detail compressed into a few dense chapters which meant that the book read more slowly than you might expect for a 180 page story.

On the other hand, I do quite like the mechanism of having Stock on his own at the start of the adventure and I also appreciate that the business with needing to pretend to be part of the family does mean that he experiences events from the perspective of part of the party rather than as an adversary. This had echoes for me of The Hound of the Baskervilles in its structure of allowing the reader to witness things through the unqualified eyes of the Watson-figure with the knowledge that a more brilliant reading of the crime will be given later when the Great Detective character arrives on the scene and explains it all. Just as with that story, the structure does build our anticipation for that happening.

In the meantime, Stock’s account of his misadventures is often quite entertaining and does manage to emphasize how startling and inexplicable many of the incidents that take place during the festivities are. Halter does do a fine job of creating situations that do seem to be genuinely impossible which only built my interest and left me wondering just how he could craft a solution that would pull everything together in a satisfactory way.

Rather unfortunately I think the solution misses the mark. There are certainly some strong ideas here, not least with regards the explanation for the strange circumstances surrounding Edwin’s death, but the crime that takes place in the present has some elements that struck me as highly unsatisfactory. Particularly the reveal of an critical element on the very last page that had me groaning and feeling frankly a little cheated.

Reading this I was reminded what I look for in impossible crime stories. I want a fantastic premise that becomes breathtakingly simple and logical when viewed from a perspective that would never have occured to me. Halter gives us that with the death of Edwin. The setup is superb while its explanation, viewed on its own, would be quite strong. Were that crime allowed to be the focus of the story I would no doubt be writing a very positive review right now.

The book’s problems lie in attempting to weave additional crimes into the mix. While those present day events add some additional complexity and interest to the investigation, they also make the solution significantly more contrived. Instead of taking a fantastic situation and making it simple, the result is that the reality of that seemingly fantastic situation is even more bizarre than it seems, leaving me rather frustrated and disappointed.

Murder in a Peking Studio by Chin Shunshin, translated by Joshua A. Fogel

Book Details

Originally published in Japanese in 1976 as Pekin Yūyūkan
English language translation first published in 1986 as Occasional Paper No. 19 by the Center for Asian Studies, University of Arizona

The Verdict

The historical details are excellent and do a good job of conveying a sense of place and time. The locked room, while it takes a minute to arrive, is good enough to justify the read on that score alone.

My Thoughts

Doi Sakutarō, a young man who is about to finish his apprenticeship in selling art antiques, arrives in Peking with instructions to make contact with a Japanese Foreign Office agent. He is asked to renew his contact with Wen Pao-t’ai, a Chinese expert in inscription rubbings who Doi had studied under a few years earlier. It turns out that Wen has been operating as an intermediary in passing bribes to members of the government and Japan, fearing growing Russian influence, initially wants Doi to get close to him to monitor his old friend’s activities.

Doi’s contact, Nasu Keigo, explains how Japan and Russia each have an interest in steering Chinese policy in relation to Manchuria. Tensions are building between the two countries over the future of the region and war seems inevitable but each side wants it to happen on their terms. Japan favors a quick war to take advantage of Russia’s poor infrastructure while Russia wants to drag the conflict out to give them time to move troops and weapons into the region.

The early chapters of the book, while interesting, are extremely heavy in terms of historical content. Chin Shunshin does explain the most important aspects of the background and I think he does a fine job of explaining the complex political tensions. Personally I found the setting to be quite fascinating but I recognize that for those who have never heard of the Boxer Rebellion or the background to the Russo-Japanese War may find the first dozen pages rather dense and overwhelming.

Readers primarily interested in the mystery aspect of the novel, rather than espionage and political maneuverings, will have to wait until about a third of the way into the novel for those elements to be introduced, though readers will no doubt pay close attention when Wen’s studio is initially described. Access to this small building with its single entrance is restricted to just one servant and Wen routinely engages a heavy deadbolt when inside. In short, we have a promising location for a locked room murder.

Once Japan decides to act, Doi is sent in a small party to deliver the first installment of a bribe. When they come to deliver the second the scene plays out much as before. They leave $250,000 with Wen who locks the door behind them. They are being escorted to the gate when they realize they forgot to ask for a receipt and so return to find that Wen is not responding. Just a few minutes have passed and the lock is still engaged so they decide to look through the window only to see him lying on his inscriptions slab. Forcing the door they find him dead having been stabbed with a poisoned dagger and no sign of the bribe money inside.

I found there was a lot to like about this setup which feels extremely well thought-out. I particularly appreciated that the two strands of the puzzle – the question of what happened to the money and how the murder was done – are solved at quite different points in the novel and not viewed as equally important by each player in the drama.

Of the two questions, the one that appealed most to my imagination was the matter of the vanishing money. The interior of the studio is pretty empty while the incredibly short time frame between Doi leaving and returning makes it hard to see how Wen would have had time to hide it anywhere. While the possible explanations feel pretty limited, that is understandable given the extremely constraining circumstances in which this crime took place. Though the investigation is perhaps a little rushed, the explanation struck me as pretty satisfying.

The other question, the matter of the murder, is both simple and complex. Like the issue of the money, the circumstances are extremely constraining, particularly as suspects are thin on the ground. The question of how the crime was achieved is much tougher however. While I note that the author does take pains to reference all important elements needed for the solution before delivering that to us, I came nowhere near to the solution. On reflection, I think the author does enough for the reader to conclude that they played fair.

Chin does introduce us to a sleuth, Chang Shao-kuang, who has an interesting backstory that reflects some of the themes he is discussing more broadly in this novel. For instance, when he is introduced to us it is as a young man who feels like he belongs to the era to come rather than the one he happens to live in that prizes merit above all else. As it happens his professional qualifications, the law, are of less use to him than you might expect. Rather than feeling born for this type of work, it was the only one he could think of when he made his return to the country after many years away and we learn that he has come to be quite successful.

He is certainly a smart investigator and I did enjoy that he does not necessarily feel that he wishes to share his findings with everyone. This does help differentiate him from other genius sleuths and I enjoyed watching him handle the other investigators with more formal standing to investigate the case. I also really appreciated the epilogue in which, several years later, he explains the things he wouldn’t share with the investigators. That felt both satisfying and in keeping with the character while providing the reader with the appropriate sense of closure.

Of course, one of the disappointments in writing this review is that I know that not many people will get the opportunity to read it. It had been published by an academic press, albeit quite affordably, which does mean there are limited copies kicking about.

While Murder in a Peking Studio may seem a little intimidating, at least to begin with, it is built around a solid locked room puzzle. Though a little dense and dry in places, I enjoyed the exploration of a moment in history which felt pleasantly neutral and felt that the solutions to the puzzles were handled and explained well. With the minor caution that the locked room is not the focus until some way into the book, I would suggest that this is worth a look for fans of the locked room or of this era of history.

Constable Guard Thyself! by Henry Wade

Book Details

Originally published in 1935

Inspector Poole #5
Preceded by Mist on the Saltings
Followed by The High Sheriff

The Blurb

Two threats from a newly released convict – a poacher framed on a murder charge – put Captain Scole, Chief Constable of Brodshire, on his guard. Special men are assigned to protect him.

But four days later, Captain Scole is found shot through the head at his desk in Police Headquarters.

A full week later, young Inspector Poole of Scotland Yard is called in to follow a cold trail in the face of open hostility from the local police. And the further he explores the murder, the more baffling it becomes.

Could Scole’s First World War past be catching up with him – or something much closer to home? 

The Verdict

A thoroughly interesting (and thorough) procedural complete with a compelling impossible murder situation.

My Thoughts

Henry Wade is one of my favorite writers of the Golden Age so I cannot really explain why it has been well over a year since I last read one of his books. I had been intending to get back to him again for the past few months but got an extra little push when I noticed several of his books listed in Brian Skupin’s Locked Room Murders Supplement. After reading the descriptions of the impossibilities this seemed like the one that intrigued me most based on the apparent audacity of the crime committed.

That crime is the murder of a Chief Constable within his office in the police station. Junior officers are present in the corridor outside when they hear shots and dash inside. There they find Scole dead having been shot in the forehead, yet there is no sign of the murderer in the room. They could not have escaped through the only door without passing the officers, nor is it easy to see how they could have got in or out through the window given the office is on the first floor and there are no signs of anyone having touched the old drainpipe which seems to be the only thing an intruder could grip onto.

Suspicion quickly falls on Albert Hinde, a recently released prisoner who had made several threats of violence to Scole including once in person. Years earlier Scole had been responsible for sending Hinde to prison causing considerable resentment. What doesn’t make sense though is why Hinde waited to commit murder when he had already had the opportunity and how could he have got through the police station when officers had been placed on alert to look out for him.

Scole’s subordinates are keen to get to work and find his killer and initially resist calls to summon assistance from the Yard but when they are unable to track down Hinde and with their investigation stalled they reluctantly recognize that they need help. Inspector Poole is dispatched and decides to take the case back to the beginning to look at all their base assumptions, taking no fact for granted.

While this book does contain a solid impossible crime story, it is important to stress that it is first and foremost a police procedural. What this means is that we have lots of care taken to establish the critical points of the investigation, checking over important details, carefully comparing pieces of information to make sure that they fit together and ruling out other lines of inquiry. This type of storytelling will appeal to those who like to focus on the details of the investigation but may feel a little slow for those seeking action or big reveals. I enjoyed the story but I would accept that it is quite deliberate in its pacing, although I found the sensation of circling ever tighter around the killer to be quite compelling.

I have now read several stories featuring Inspector Poole and I am increasingly coming to appreciate him as a sleuth. He is a detective of the Inspector French school, albeit a little more fallible in his reasoning. At several points in this story we see him make well-reasoned but incorrect guesses about what might have happened, only to see his theories crumble around him. That fallibility only adds to the book’s strong sense of realism and makes me like him all the more.

Wade not only draws Poole well but also creates a convincing group of policemen to fill the station. While there is not a lot of diversity in the conceptions of those characters, I think each is portrayed quite thoughtfully and credibly. Their squabbles and resentments all feel well observed and I had little difficulty in believing that the reactions of those characters were realistic. Similarly those characters beyond the police station are also portrayed thoughtfully and manage to make significant impact, even when they only appear in a single sequence or phase of the novel.

I was also impressed by the rich themes Wade works into this book, some of which feel quite heavy. While I think this book works simply as a really engaging puzzle story, I think the author thoughtfully raises and tackles a number of challenging topics, some of which feel quite modern.

Reading this I was struck by the thought that this book must have been in the works at about the time a national debate was taking place around the future of policing. In 1932 Lord Trenchard, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, had presented his white paper with recommendations to reform policing and in the same year that this book was published the Police College at Hendon accepted its first cohort of trainees. There was some quite strong reaction to these reforms at the time however, prompting some heated debate about the future of policing.

Given the themes of this novel, which discusses issues concerning police recruitment and heirarchies, the tension between the civilian and military mindsets of policing and issues of malpractice, I do wonder if Wade was intending this work to be supportive of the need to professionalize and reform the police. It does seem clear that Wade places much of the blame for the events of this story on Scole and his uncompromising military mindset.

I do continue to find Wade’s discussion of social and political issues to be quite fascinating, in large part because they seem so at odds with the way I often see them described. Typically Wade is portrayed as a conservative, establishment figure which certainly matches his own social background and yet I continue to find his works to offer support for a more progressive view of justice. This book is certainly no exception, discussing the way excessive punishment and a lack of support can lead to greater odds of the individual returning to a life of crime or violence. Add in the discussion of police malpractice and this work does feel quite progressive for its era and at odds with the general picture so often painted of Wade (four years later he wrote an even more pointed work addressing the causes of recidivism, Released for Death, which I have previously reviewed on this blog).

Having discussed the book as a procedural, I do want to take a moment to address the impossible crime elements of the story. Those were after all the reason I was inspired to pick up this Wade.

While I stand by my earlier comment that this book is first and foremost a procedural, the impossible element of the story is quite pleasing and handled pretty well. The physical circumstances of the crime scene are explained well, as is the forensic evidence left at the scene. Though the investigation does hit several dead ends early on, I enjoyed following Poole as he tried to reason through the difference ways someone might have gained access, only to stumble when he realized why that plan did not work. We do drift away from the circumstances of the crime scene in the middle of the novel but I had confidence that there would be a thorough explanation of what happened later on and I was not disappointed.

That explanation may not be particularly dramatic or imaginative but I think it is detailed and convincing. Unfortunately I have to concur with Martin Edwards and J. F. Norris (see his review linked below) that Wade is a little heavy-handed in some of the clues he drops to the murderer’s identity at the start of the novel. I suspect he was assuming that readers would read this as an inverted-style story (or else ROT13: Abg pbafvqre n cbyvprzna orpnhfr bs n gehfg va nhgubevgl) and fail to register their significance. Unfortunately though it did stand out just a little too much for me. Still, even if you recognize the killer it is still satisfying to piece the other parts of this puzzle together.

Overall I was really pleased I made the choice to pick this book for my return to Wade. While its slow and methodical pacing will not suit every reader, the author crafted an interesting scenario with an equally interesting conclusion.

Second Opinions

J. F. Norris at Pretty Sinister Books also enjoyed this, finding it “fascinating on all levels”. He does raise a good point about the need for a character directory!

Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name describes it as ‘an interesting portrait of Police work’ though he notes that a couple of early clues give the murderer’s identity away too easily.

Nick at The Grandest Game in the World also praises the book, saying it has all of Wade’s merits.