Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
It all involves the Querrin family, who back in the days of their greatness had a solemn ritual, where one month before the eldest son’s marriage, he was taken aside by his father and was confided the Querrin family secret. Unfortunately, the last time this took place, something went terribly wrong, and both father and son died. As a result, the secret has been lost for many years, and it is still said that the ghost of the father, Thomas Querrin, haunts the room in question.
About Algy Lawrence himself, you are, alas, absolutely correct. He is a somewhat shadowy and unconvincing figure. I was in danger of ending up with exactly the sort of detective I don’t like – what Nicholas Blake defined as: “as undistinguished as a piece of blotting paper, absorbing the reaction of his subjects; a shallow mirror… a pure camera-eye.” What I had intended was a developing portrait of a young idealist, highly intelligent, yet rather naïve and slightly sentimental – a romantic who would eventually be caught in the trap of his own sensibilities.
You’ve never heard of Hamilton Cleek … or the Hanshews either. Tell me … that their writing was bad, their sentimentality embarrassing, and their drama wildly funny. Tell me all that and I’ll agree with you. But, by God, they used ideas! A man walked into a room and vanished without a trace. Or died alone, from an explosion out of nowhere. Ingenuity, my boy! Not half-baked Freudian theory.Meet the Vanishing Cracksman and you might find also a nine-fingered skeleton, a monster footprint, an icicle shot from a crossbow, or a camera that takes the picture of a murderer from the retina of a dead man’s eye.The Hanshews, Thomas and Mary … knew the true detective story was only as good as its plot. (page 52)
I knew Derek slightly and would often see him at London book fairs. He was always wearing the same clothes and looked somewhat down at heel. After he died it turned out that he had left his book collection to a London dealer ... When the dealer went to collect them he found a house that was not only literally falling down but also rammed packed with tens of thousands of books. There was hardly any space that was not taken up by books… The door to one room was opened outwards and the dealer was faced with a sea of books piled up to eye level that ran from the door to the back wall. At the back of the room was a glass case with more books in it which couldn't have been opened for decades. Every conceivable Golden Age book was found in the collection including dustwrappered Agatha Christies from the 30's. A lot of the books had to be dumped because the roof leaked and water and damp had ruined them but the better part of collection was dispersed to the four corners of the world to grateful readers who had searched for some of these scarce titles for many years.