But there is a poignancy to the Batman story. This is a man who saw his parents gunned down as a young boy, and so he dedicates his life to making sure nobody else has to experience the same thing he did. In the recent Christopher Nolan reboot film Batman Begins, an intriguing angle was added by making the young Bruce Wayne partly responsible for the death of his parents. It was indirect, of course, but it was another thing that could eat away at his psyche at such a fragile age, and which makes his determination to fight crime that much more believable.
I will reserve my full reviews of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight—two brilliant films IMO which I will cover some other time in more detail. But the third instalment, The Dark Knight Rises, is due this summer, and I am very excited. The trailer is very intriguing, with master criminal Bane and the seductive Catwoman making fantastic appearances. But it also seems to draw upon my favourite themes in Batman—how much is enough? When does Batman’s quest to stop crime end? Where is the invisible line, when should he throw in the towel and say to Gotham “I’ve given you enough!”? He’s given the city his youth, his fortune, the best part of his life. What does he get in return? A vigilante status and a police squad that is attempting to track him down and bring him to “justice”, an imperfect system in which monsters can get away if they have enough cash.
But what does all this have to do with mysteries? Well, to count down until the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I will be reading several Batman short stories, collected in two volumes that I own: The Further Adventures of Batman and The Further Adventures of the Joker. These are some very high-profile authors “degrading” themselves to write Batman adventures: Isaac Asimov (!), Stuart Kaminsky (!), Edward D Hoch (!!!), Max Allan Collins… What could it be about Batman that attracts them all to write stories about him?
Puzzle Doctor review the newest Paul Doherty, or TomCat raving about John Dickson Carr, or John at Pretty Sinister Books unearthing authors nobody’s heard of in years. This is my personal fandom, and I’ll be sure to warn readers when we’re dealing with a non-mystery.
That being said, let’s start this out with a true and proper bang: the late, great Edward D. Hoch’s story The Pirate of Millionaire’s Cove. It is collected in The Further Adventures of Batman, which I found by pure luck in the discount room at a bookstore that rarely has anything of interest to me. (Had I left five minutes earlier like I’d initially planned, I would never have given that shelf the detailed look I gave it!) So I’m pretty lucky to be able to read this story in the first place.
It goes like this: a gang of pirates seems to be lurking in the waters of Millionaire’s Cove, operating a ghost ship and supernatural fireflies. The fireflies set the sails of other ships ablaze and the pirates climb aboard, slaughtering everyone in their path and taking any valuables they can find. The story opens on the second such massacre, and the local real estate is suddenly in a downwards spiral. A third attack could make the market crash.
Enter Bruce Wayne. He is perturbed by the events and so leases a yacht, joining the yachting club and attempting to lure the pirates to his ship. Batman will have a nice surprise ready for them when they do show up…
This story already makes the purchase of this collection worthwhile. It’s an ingenious fair-play mystery—I particularly liked the explanation for the mysterious “fireflies”, and the ramblings of the pirates’ last victim set an eerie tone for the rest of the story. It’s neatly clued, although there is one minor reservation: to arrive at the solution you have to assume that witness X is telling the truth without getting further confirmation of that fact. It’s not a major problem in this case because of Hoch’s sheer calibre as a story teller, but it is a minor dent in the story’s quality as a fair-play mystery.
Overall, The Pirate of Millionaire’s Cove is an excellent story and a very good mystery, albeit with one or two minor reservations. These reservations are purely a matter of form, though. Hoch is a master storyteller and will have you transported to the world of Batman in no time flat. And trust my word as a long-time fan-boy, it’s a great world to be stuck in!