The Singing Bone by R. Austin Freeman

Book Details

Originally published 1912.
This volume collected stories originally published from 1909 to 1911.

Dr. Thorndyke #5
Preceded by The Mystery of 31 New Inn
Followed by A Silent Witness

The Blurb

Silas has diamonds in the heel of his shoe. He is a thief, but until the night he meets Oscar Brodski on the footpath near his house, he has never considered murder. A diamond dealer, Brodski’s pockets bulge with more precious stones than Silas has ever dreamed of, and they will be his with one swift, violent act. Silas does the deed and arranges the diamond dealer’s body to make the death look accidental. He has provided for every contingency—except for the arrival of a doctor named Thorndyke.

In this collection of stories, the reader knows the killer’s identity long before the ingenious medical detective enters the scene. These are brilliant early examples of open mysteries, in which the question is not whodunit—but how will he get caught?

The Verdict

A key text in the development of the inverted mystery which includes several entertaining short stories.


My Thoughts

In the introduction to The Singing Bone, R. Austin Freeman takes the credit for inventing what he terms the inverted mystery novel when he wrote his short story The Case of Oscar Brodski. He suggests that this was something of a experiment – an attempt to refocus the reader’s attention from whodunnit to the question of how they would be caught.

Freeman’s reason for experimenting with the form was to reject the artificiality of the detective story with its focus on who did the crime and instead create something more realistic. The suspense would not come in waiting for the reveal but rather in smaller, incremental moments in which we see the killer’s deceptions coming undone.

Freeman wrote of his project:

Would it be possible to write a detective story in which from the outset the reader was taken entirely into the author’s confidence, was made an actual witness of the crime and furnished with every fact that could possibly be used in its detection? Would there be any story left when the reader had all the facts? I believed that there would; and as an experiment to test the justice of my belief, I wrote “The Case of Oscar Brodski.” Here the usual conditions are reversed; the reader knows everything, the detective knows nothing, and the interest focuses on the unexpected significance of trivial circumstances.

R. Austin Freeman – Preface to The Singing Bone

While Freeman did not invent the idea of following a criminal as they conduct a crime, he does create a format that retained the structure of a detective story that would prove to be a model for later authors. Crofts, for example, follows the structure of splitting some of his inverted stories in half such as in Antidote to Venom, beginning by following the criminal and then switching to the investigator.

I have previously read and reviewed the earliest of the inverted stories, The Case of Oscar Brodski, on this blog but I wanted to go back and read the rest of the collection. This week I was given a little push towards doing that when I agreed to prepare for about inverted crime novels (more on that at a future time). It seemed to me that I couldn’t approach that without a fuller experience of Freeman so this jumped up to the top of my TBR pile.

Dr. Thorndyke is not the most animated sleuth around but Freeman’s stories are far from dull. The cases themselves and the process of deductive reasoning built on forensic evidence he uses can be really novel and entertaining. In a few cases, such as The Echo of a Mutiny, complex ideas are communicated and used very effectively.

I also appreciate that while Thorndyke is always successful at discovering everything the physical evidence has to offer there is no guarantee that the criminal will be held accountable. This not only adds an additional layer of interest to each story, it is also an acknowledgement that forensic scientists do not solve crimes themselves and also that sometimes you can find the killer but be unable to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

I found points of interest in each story in the collection but some particularly appealed. A Case of Premeditation engaged me with its challenges to the reader – something I had never encountered in an inverted story – and while I think Thorndyke guesses at some aspects of the case, it is very entertaining.

I also loved A Wastrel’s Romance which I think has an entertaining scenario and some charming character choices. Finally, I recommend The Case of Oscar Brodski for its importance to the development of the form.

On the whole I think that this is a very effective collection that left me keen to read more Freeman. Sure, the sleuth himself is a little dry but the situations Freeman creates are both colorful and interesting.

I offer more detailed thoughts on each of the individual stories on the second page of this review.

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More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne by Edward D. Hoch

Book Details

Collection originally published in 2006. It contains stories first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1978 and 1983.

Dr. Sam Hawthorne #2
Preceded by Diagnosis: Impossible
Followed by Nothing is Impossible

The Blurb

Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a New England country doctor in the first half of the twentieth century, was constantly faced by murders in locked rooms, impossible disappearances, and other so-called miracle crimes.

More Things Impossible contains fifteen of Dr. Sam s extraordinary cases solved between 1927 and 1931, including impossible murder in a house that whispers; poisoning by a gargoyle on the courthouse roof; the case of the Devil in the windmill; the houseboat that resembles the Mary Celeste; the affair of the vanishing Gypsies; stabbing in the locked cockpit of a plane in midair; a ghostly pirate in a lighthouse; ad eight other ingenious riddles.

The Verdict

Another very solid collection of impossible crime short stories. Some are more ingenious than others but the best are sensational.


My Thoughts

Today’s reviewed was not planned out but rather thrust upon me. You see, the book I was reading is in my locker at work and although we were warned to take everything with us the other day I forgot about it. Unfortunately that means it is currently off limits for at least a couple of weeks and so I had to come up with a new read quickly.

Adding to what is frankly a comedy of errors on my part, I continued my tradition of reading Dr. Sam’s adventures out of order by picking up this second volume. So now I have read volumes two and four for no good reason (I own the others so this is just ineptitude on my part).

For those unfamiliar with Dr. Sam, he is a midwesterner who opens a medical practice in the New England town of Northmont. The stories began in the 1920s and this volume transitions between that decade and the start of the 30s, often incorporating outside events or some of the unique features of the period.

Each case features some sort of element that is supposed to be impossible such as a killing inside a locked room or an invisible murderer. I will say that some of these impossibilities are more satisfying than others and a few feel like not much of an impossibility at all (such as The Problem of the Gingerbread Houseboat – easily my least favorite of this collection).

Overall I enjoyed this collection, feeling that the quality of the stories was a good match for All But Impossible. A couple of stories have explanations that require the killer to be far happer taking risks than I would expect but the best of the stories are excellent.

My favorite story in the collection was The Problem of the Pilgrim’s Windmill which features two people being burned in fires that take place in the same abandoned spot. Other strong points come in The Problem of the Gypsy Camp and The Problem of the General Store.

For more detailed thoughts on each story check out the notes on the second page of this review below.

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Diary of a Murderer and Other Stories by Young-Ha Kim, translated by Krys Lee

Book Details

Originally published in 2013 as 살인자의 기억법
English translation first published in 2019

The Blurb

Diary of a Murderer captivates and provokes in equal measure, exploring what it means to be on the edge—between life and death, good and evil. In the titular novella, a former serial killer suffering from memory loss sets his sights on one final target: his daughter’s boyfriend, who he suspects is also a serial killer. In other stories we witness an affair between two childhood friends that questions the limits of loyalty and love; a family’s disintegration after a baby son is kidnapped and recovered years later; and a wild, erotic ride about pursuing creativity at the expense of everything else.

The Verdict

This collection of stories sits on the very edge of the genre as literary fiction but they show the writer’s skills at exploring and evoking feelings.


My Thoughts

Some months ago I wrote a review of Young-Ha Kim’s Your Republic Is Calling You in which I praised the author’s creativity and ability to explore the nuances of human relationships. Those qualities are also present in this more recent collection of four short stories.

Like the novel, these stories touch on genre elements and themes but may be seen first and foremost as character and situation explorations. Each story places the characters into tense and challenging situations involving crime or the threat of violence and shows us how those flawed characters respond.

Young-Ha Kim creates some intriguing and striking situations, particularly in Diary of a Murderer which takes up almost half the page count for the collection. That story explores the idea of a serial killer experiencing Alzheimer’s Disease and how they respond when they fear another killer may be targeting their adopted daughter. It is a really clever story that plays with our perceptions and conveys the protagonist’s feelings of confusion.

The other story that really impressed me was Missing Child. As the title suggests, it centers on the way a child’s abduction affects the parents and the child themselves. I felt the characterizations were excellent and the plot unfolds in thoughtful and unexpected ways.

Those looking primarily for detective stories will probably want to pass over this collection but there are some really interesting ideas here that are worth exploring for those willing to venture outside the genre.

Thoughts on the individual stories follow on the next page.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Details

This collection was originally published in 1893. It contains stories published in The Strand between 1892 and 1893.

Sherlock Holmes #4
Preceded by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Followed by The Hound of the Baskervilles

Note: some editions, including the first, exclude The Adventure of the Cardboard Box. If purchasing separately make sure that the story is either in your copy of Memoirs or His Last Bow if you wish to collect the whole Holmes canon.

The Blurb

In The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective’s notoriety as the arch-despoiler of the schemes concocted by the criminal underworld at last gets the better of him.

Though Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr Watson solve what will become some of their most bizarre and extraordinary cases – the disappearance of the race horse Silver Blaze, the horrific circumstances of the Greek Interpreter and the curious mystery of the Musgrave Ritual among them – a criminal mastermind is plotting the downfall of the great detective.

Half-devil, half-genius, Professor Moriarty leads Holmes and Watson on a grisly cat-and-mouse chase through London and across Europe, culminating in a frightful struggle which will turn the legendary Reichenbach Falls into a water double-grave . . .

The Verdict

Though the stories may not be as famous as those in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, there are several that struck me as among Conan Doyle’s best.


My Thoughts

Today I continue my series of posts in which I revisit stories from the classic Holmes canon. This time it is the turn of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – a volume that contains several of Holmes’ most famous cases.

The Adventure of Silver Blaze remains one of the most iconic Holmes short stories which I think reflects its relative simplicity. It is a good story with a simple but cunning solution.

The Final Problem is similarly quite superbly atmospheric and contains some thrilling action moments. Not to mention it introduces us to Moriarty – one of the most significant characters in the Holmes canon.

Not every story thread proves successful. Stories like The Adventure of the Cardboard Box feel rather silly and some repeat themes and ideas. Still, even when Conan Doyle’s plotting fails to thrill, he is always highly readable and gives us some truly great moments here.

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Here Comes The Copper by Henry Wade

Book Details

This collection was originally published 1938.
It contains stories first published between May 1935 and June 1938 featuring PC John Bragg.

The Blurb

PC John Bragg is young and full of ambition, and with his eye on making Superintendent one day, he squares up to each case that comes his way as an opportunity to show himself brave, reliable and a good detective. In town and country, at scenes of murder, robbery, fraud, abduction, military and industrial spying and arson, PC John Bragg’s character grows as his mettle is tested.

From dealing with artists’ models in a murder case, to ensuring a bejewelled, high-spirited American heiress doesn’t attract the wrong sort of attention, to protecting the pay destined for a staff of quarrymen, PC Bragg has his work cut out for him.

The Verdict

A fairly unremarkable collection of procedural short stories. There are a few strong entries but, the collection as a whole is pretty bland.


My Thoughts

Henry Wade has been one of my favorite authors to return to since starting this blog and I hold several of his novels in very high regard (especially his excellent inverted story Heir Presumptive). Other than an entry in a British Library Crime Classics collection, this is my first experience reading his short stories.

Unfortunately I was less impressed than I had hoped to be.

These stories, each of which feature Police Constable Bragg as he strives to make a name for himself and earn promotion up the ranks, are first and foremost procedural adventures. The focus for the most part in this collection is not on the deductive process but rather his bravery and perseverance working on often quite straightforward cases.

Many cases are simply dull and lacking in a creative spark or the sorts of memorable elements to make them stand out but there are a few exceptions. The first story, These Artists, features a rather macabre idea to good effect. Steam Coal is even better, offering a genuine puzzle to the reader that I think has a clever solution.

The best two stories though, in my opinion, are The Little Sportsman and Lodgers, both of which are puzzles and require some thought on the part of the reader. I was engaged by both and appreciated that each took their plots in rather unexpected directions at times.

Sadly these stories are the exceptions in an otherwise rather pedestrian collection of tales. As much as I have enjoyed the Wade novels I have read to date, this fell a long way short of those experience.

There is only one other Wade short story collection – the earlier Policeman’s Lot – and after this I am a little less excited to read it.

Thoughts on the individual stories follow:

Kingston Noir, edited by Colin Channer

Kingston Noir
Edited by Colin Channer
Originally Published 2012

When I pick up one of the Akashic Noir anthologies I am really hoping for two things.

The first hope is that the stories contained in the collection will be interesting and speak to the distinctive aspects of a city such as its people and geography. Something that draws on a culture’s identity and perhaps immerses you so much that you feel you are there when you pick them up.

The second hope is to discover authors that would otherwise not be on my radar. Sometimes there are authors who are working for the first time in this style and genre but you also encounter more seasoned and distinctive voices.

Of the various Akashic titles I have read so far, Kingston Noir does the best job of fulfilling both of those hopes. Every story had its own distinctive voice, use of language and discussed themes and ideas that emerge from and make use of the stories’ settings.

Pleasingly the stories also generally avoid falling into cliche, showing us different aspects of society and in a few cases exploring the way the city has changed over the years. Not all are equally strong but even the less successful stories feel like they have something meaningful and interesting to say and justify the read.

The first section of the collection deals with characters visiting Kingston, exploring their statuses as outsiders in the city. All four stories in this section were interesting and offer quite distinctive voices and perspectives but my favorite here was Tomcat Beretta, a fascinating story that opens with a woman trying to acquire a gun leaving the reader to learn her reasons why.

The second section, “Is This Love?” was, for me, the weakest of the three. These stories are more crime-focused than those in the other two sections but they are also heavily psychological and discuss issues of sexuality and desire. I found this and some of the discussion of social issues to be interesting and of the four tales, Immaculate is by far the most successful.

The final section, “Pressure Drop”, features just three stories though each of them is remarkable in their own way. The first tale, 54-46 (That’s My Number), is a clever tale that follows an investigation into the disappearance of an athlete. As the title suggests there are mathematical elements to this and I found the relationship between the narrator and his math prodigy brother to be quite compelling.

The other two stories, Sunrise and Monkey Man, are heavier reads and end the book on a rather intense note (in spite of the section’s title). The former is a genuinely upsetting read but I think Abani’s story is quite powerful and it is highly successful in exploring how a character’s life will lead up to a moment and a choice. The latter is a crazier story with some dark elements but, once again, I was impressed by how thoughtful the writing is. Certainly nothing here felt unnecessary to the plot and themes that the writers developed.

Now, I suppose I should point out that Kingston Noir will not be for everyone. Triggers abound, particularly in terms of sexual violence, making for some heavy reading at time. Still, the quality of the writing is superb and I was impressed with the diversity of voices and the richness of the themes that this group of writers develop.

Of the various Akashic anthologies I have read so far, I consider this to be by far the most successful and engaging. Thoughts on each of the stories follow…

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Many a Slip by Freeman Wills Crofts

Many A Slip
Freeman Wills Crofts
First Collected 1955
Inspector French #29
Preceded by French Strikes Oil
Followed by Anything to Declare?

While I enjoyed reading through Crofts’ four inverted mystery novels, I felt quite disappointed when I realized that meant I had no more left to read [Update: 3/10/2020 – Since writing this, I learned that I have at least two more inverted mystery novels to read – Fatal Venture and Anything to Declare?]. You can imagine my delight then when I finally got around to reading this short story collection and found that it was entirely made up of inverted puzzle mystery stories!

Most of these tales are very short as they were written to be published in newspapers – a fact Crofts references in his introduction where he comments that he had to flesh some of them out for inclusion here. Accordingly most are designed to feature few characters and comparatively simple situations, though most feature either an apparently perfect crime or unbreakable alibi.

The ‘Many a Slip’ of the title refers to the idea that one small mistake can allow a diligent police detective to unravel even the most complex of alibis. After presenting us with a description of the events leading up to a murder, Crofts then provides a short epilogue, most of which feature his series detective Inspector French, in which he comments on how the case was solved. The format is a little reminiscent of the adventures of Boy Detective Encyclopedia Brown with most cases relying on some tiny incongruous detail, usually not directly related to the murder.

Many of those solutions are quite ingenious but they are not without their issues. A pretty common issue is that a few stories rely on information that may go a little beyond common knowledge as few stories directly describing the crucial clue. This isn’t a problem if your interest is chiefly procedural of course and in many cases you could probably work out what the issue is likely to be based on Crofts’ habit of using the principle clue for his titles. On balance I think most of the stories are fair and would have been even more so at the time they were written.

For the most part I found this to be a pretty entertaining collection but I do suggest that these may be best dipped into rather than read in one or two sittings. Crofts picks on several murder methods and themes and returns to them repeatedly. Usually he presents a different or interesting twist on those ideas but I think they would have more impact in small doses.

I would suggest that Crofts’ skills were perhaps better suited to the novel rather than short story format but in spite of that I think this is a solid collection with some highlights. A couple of stories stand out as particularly strong efforts. Mushroom Patties stood out for its fair play solution which I am happy to report I missed as did The Aspirins and The New Cement. My favorite tale in the collection though is The Photograph which I felt was exceptional, putting its inventive solution in plain sight.

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