Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books: A Treasury of Great Mysteries Vol. 2

I previously reviewed A Treasury of Great Mysteries Volume 1 and for this week's FFB, I'm highlighting the second volume. The complete anthology mixes full length novels, novelettes, and short stories with excellent results. Any collection that begins with Chandler's The Big Sleep and ends with Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is definitely a four star collection. As with Vol. 1, I passed over the familiar classics in Vol. 2 and started with Carter Dickson's The Man Who Explained Miracles.

Miracles presents Sir Henry Merrivale (HM) as the last stop for cases Scotland Yard has rejected for one reason or another. His division is called "The Ministry of Miracles", which is where Jenny Holden is taken to uncover the identity of the person who is trying to murder her. Since, seemingly, no one is to gain by her death, it's up to HM and his Sherlockian skills to put together the pieces of the puzzle. A locked room, a whispering hall, a knife in back, and a ventriloquist all take center stage before the end. The revelation of the culprit is a bit implausible but the story is so entertaining that it hardly matters. Carter Dickson, writing as John Dickson Carr, has the more believable The Incautious Burglar in Vol. 1, but The Man Who Explained Miracles is great fun.

The venerable Leslie Charteris begins The Arrow Of God by stating that Simon Templar despises the detective story where the murder victim "wanders vaguely through the first few pages with the sole purpose of becoming a convenient body in the library by the end of chapter one." Amusingly, Charteris makes this first chapter a mere three paragraphs long and kills the victim at the very end of chapter two. I like the guy's style! Playboy Templar is in Nassau when supercilious and opinionated Floyd Vosper, while asleep on the beach, is killed by an umbrella shaft driven through his chest. Everybody is a suspect because Vosper had insulted everyone, including Templar. When the superintendent of police is about to accept the idea that Mother Nature was responsible, Templar asks if anyone owns a gun. This is a perfect short story. The main protagonist and all the suspects are engaging and the revelation of what happened to the victim is very well done. Charteris was a master. No doubt about it.

I was not familiar with the writing team of Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice before reading their contribution, Rift in the Loot. Eddie The Actor escapes from prison. With the help of his lawyer and another client of his lawyer, they search for 'his' $50,000 in the backyard of an old girlfriend's house. The loot was buried under a rosebush but, to their dismay, dozens of other rosebushes had been planted during Eddie's stint. A bogus cop, a genuine cop, and Poe's The Purloined Letter all figure into this story's ending. Though I didn't care for this yarn as much as the others, in the category of "they don't write 'em like that anymore", this story, though dated, has it's charm.

Volume 1 and 2 is a great omnibus of detective stories to have on your book shelf. I mentioned in last week's FFBs that I don't normally reread a book yet I found myself turning to Maurier's Rebecca and began reading, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."

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7 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of the great first lines, isn't it. So romantic and yet suspenseful.

Randy Johnson said...

I have these books in my collection. Have loved them for years

David Cranmer said...

Patti: Yes, Rebecca may have the all time greatest opening and the film version is a wonderful adaption. I haven't seen it in years. I think its time to dust off my old VHS copy and watch it.

Randy: These are a joy to read. I'm glad I found this near-mint set and saved it from certain death at an 'antiques' store.

Jeffrey Marks said...

Actually, Craig Rice mainly came up with the idea and Palmer wrote the stories. That was pretty easy to verify for my biography of Rice (Who Was That Lady?) since Rice was dead when the last 3 stories were published.

David Cranmer said...

Jeffrey: Thanks for the info! The two of them apparently had figured out a good working relationship. I love discovering writers that I haven't read before, and I will look into more of their work.

Barrie said...

This really sounds good. I love Chandler and du Maurier. And I'm in the mood for something detective-y. I wonder if the volumes are available at the library?

I have got to get back in the groove for a FFB post!

David Cranmer said...

Barrie, I'm sure you can find these at your local library. I just finished Rebecca again and, in my opinion, it's ageless. It's time for me to watch the Hitchcock film. I haven't seen it in at least twenty years and I remember the ending creeped me out.