Saturday, June 30, 2012

Satan is a Devil

Brother Anselm and his novice Stephen are summoned to St. Michael’s Parish. The church has been the site of recent hauntings, and the mysterious warlock known as the Midnight Man is blamed for a demonic midnight ceremony that opened the very gates of Hell on the parish. But as Brother Anselm explained, these (undoubtedly) supernatural phenomena must have a human cause—its root lies in the wickedness of a human heart. And so in order to weed out these demons, Brother Anselm must find the human cause of their wickedness. Stir in plenty of ghostly Gothic atmosphere, and don’t forget that impossible crime that takes place in a locked church. And ta-da! you have the plot of Paul Doherty’s The Midnight Man.

Paul Doherty’s latest effort is a return to his Canterbury Tales series, which is my personal favourite. The premise of this series is that the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales have made an agreement that, at night, each of them should tell a story about the night-time, a story to chill the blood. (This time, it’s the physician’s turn, although there isn’t a physician appearing anywhere in the story.) And so, in these stories, the supernatural goes without question. God exists, and just as importantly, so does Satan—but their inclusion doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fairly clued mystery thrown into the works!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Batman, Riddle Me This!

Bruce Wayne, dressed in the Batman costume at a social function, runs into Commissioner Gordon, who confides in him that the Riddler is back in town, leaving a corpse in the river with a tattoo on its chest. Before long, the Riddler strikes again, vandalising a famous painting and leaving behind another riddle. This starts a chain of riddles and crimes, as the Riddler targets the “Wise Men of Gotham”. It’s up to Batman to solve the riddles and save the wise men.

It’s the promising plot of Edward Wellen’s Wise Men of Gotham, collected in The Further Adventures of Batman. I don’t know much about Wellen, and all I could discover about him was in obituaries that informed me that he was a mystery-SF writer known for his short fiction. (Why do mystery and sci-fi writers often cross over in genres? Seriously: Anthony Boucher, Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, René Reouven, and now Edward Wellen!)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Batman the Bird Watcher

The Penguin has just been released from prison on parole, but the Batman is not happy about this. So he’s sure to welcome the jailbird and warn him that one of his hobbies is bird watching. However, it seems that this time, the Penguin (whose real name is Oswald Cobblepot) has turned over a new leaf. There are no more crimes bearing his signatures: umbrellas and birds. But Batman isn’t quite satisfied, and for good reason…

That’s the plot of Max Allan Collins’ Robber’s Roost, a Batman story collected in The Further Adventures of Batman Volume 2: Featuring the Penguin. The Penguin seems like an odd choice to get his own volume of stories. He’s one of the more preposterous villains, a gentleman thief whose shtick is umbrellas and an obsession with birds. Which isn’t to say anything against the Penguin; he’s just one of the hardest villains to treat realistically, which seems to be what stories in these books try to do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Interview with John Curran: Part Two

Hello everybody, and welcome back for part two of my interview with John Curran! I posted part one yesterday on this page. Today I’m glad to share the last six videos with you all. In today’s clips you can find out what Mr. Curran thinks about the new version of Murder on the Orient Express, After the Funeral, and whether Christie was forced to change the ending of Taken at the Flood (among other things).

Again, there’s no need to worry about spoilers because I personally interrupt the video if a spoiler is coming up. Hopefully you all enjoy the conclusion to this interview; I know that I had a blast in this discussion and hopefully this sort of conversation can become a semi-regular feature on the blog!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Interview with John Curran: Part One

John Curran
When I reviewed Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making, I was pleased to announce that I had the great honour of interviewing John Curran, the author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks and Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making. It was a great honour for me as an admirer of Curran’s Christie-related work.

But this isn’t necessarily a traditional interview. This is more of a discussion between two enthusiasts about Agatha Christie. We do refer to Mr. Curran’s books quite often, but this is an opportunity to get to know the man behind the book—what are his opinions on Christie, her work, her skills? It was quite an enlightening discussion and to put it simply, I had a blast.

As I write this the final part of the interview is currently uploading to YouTube, but because there are 13 clips I will share them with you all over two days to make things easier. (And I know what you’re thinking—doesn’t thirteen mean bad luck? Well, we should be fine as long as ominous music doesn’t play in the background and if Poirot isn’t praying in the next room.) So I present you with the first seven clips below. Feel free to watch them without any fear: whenever a major spoiler is coming up, I personally interrupt everything to warn viewers about it.

Below, Mr. Curran and I talk about all sorts of things Christie, including: the recent stage version of And Then There Were None with the original ending restored; the horrible job filmmakers have done with Christie’s plots; the merits of Nemesis and the completely different approaches the two adaptations took; the masterwork that is Five Little Pigs; whether Geraldine McEwan did a decent job as Miss Marple; and whether Endless Night is really the finest book of Christie’s late career. And there’s plenty more where that came from!

I hope you all enjoy this interview/discussion, and I look forward to sharing Part Two with you tomorrow!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hail to the Queen (of Crime)!

Devoted readers of this blog (all three of them) might remember a review I did back in April of John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. I concluded the review by warning readers to keep an eye out for a review of the sequel, Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making. Well, it’s been almost two months now, which for me is probably a record time.

Despite all the recent Batman reviews and a very negative Ellery Queen review, I remain a devoted fan of the traditional puzzle-plot mystery, and one of its greatest practitioners was Agatha Christie. Indeed, until I discovered John Dickson Carr I considered Agatha the greatest. Which is why I was very interested in John Curran’s two books, examining the notebooks that Agatha Christie left behind. Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making is his second volume and contains much of the material that was left out of the first book, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Batman Meets the Black Widowers

Yesterday I made the surprising discovery that Isaac Asimov contributed a short story to The Further Adventures of Batman— but not only that, this short story was one that reunited his famous Black Widowers! Entitled Northwestward, the subtitle reads “Black Widowers #61”. The story seems to have been an original one, and was only collected posthumously in the 2003 collection The Return of the Black Widowers.

It seems like explaining the Black Widowers is redundant to mystery fans, but there could be someone out there who is unfamiliar with the stories. (Indeed, I myself have only read a handful of them, despite meaning to read more.) The Black Widowers are a literary dining club that meets once a month. Each month, a different person plays the part of the host and brings along a guest to the meeting. Women are not allowed. When the brandy is served, the Black Widowers being the grilling of the guest of honour, who is asked to justify his existence. This is where the mysterious problem lies, and the Widowers fail to solve it. Henry, the waiter, is the one who comes up with the correct, and very simple, answer.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Batman and the Man Who Laughs

One day, as the citizens of Gotham City are watching the news, the broadcast is interrupted. A cloud of static invades the screen, and when it fades out, the Joker, that Clown Prince of Crime, is sitting there smiling. And then he makes a truly astonishing announcement: he is retiring from the criminal world! He says that he will sorely miss Gotham, and that it has been good to him, but that he now wishes to go away and live a nice, quiet, peaceful life.

Bruce Wayne – a. k. a. Batman – doesn’t buy it. Neither does Commissioner Gordon. In fact, all of Gotham City mistrusts the Joker’s announcement. But it seems he’s been true to his word! His gang has been disbanded, the Joker has apparently left town, and nothing unusual happens for several weeks. Phew! It’s a good thing that things are nice and peaceful for the arrival of a travelling art exhibition! Or is the Joker keeping quiet in order to plan out his attack on the exhibit?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Batman Triumphant

The Joker is dead. While fighting his legendary arch-nemesis, Batman killed him by accident, pushing the Joker into one of his own deathtraps and crushing the Clown Prince of Crime between two grindstones. But who does Bruce Wayne see the next day walking on the streets? After multiple encounters with the Joker, or his double, or whatever it is, Bruce Wayne decides to check into the finest hotel in Gotham City, the New Era, where something fishy seems to be going on.

These are the events of Death of the Dreammaster by Robert Sheckley, a Batman story collected in The Further Adventures of Batman. It is the first story of the collection, and it has got the most imaginative build-up of any Batman story I’ve read thus far. From what I’ve discovered, Sheckley was known for his science fiction output, but he wrote some novels involving mystery and espionage. And to be honest, if I didn’t look up Sheckley, I might have mistaken him for a hardboiled mystery novelist, because that is the best description I can come up with for this Batman tale.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A deer, a deer! My kingdom for a deer(stalker)!!!

“Today I do some real sleuthing. In a deerstalker, I suppose. Wonder if Holmes ever did? Stalk a deer, I mean.”
—Thackeray Phin, By an Unknown Hand (by John Sladek)

Anthony Boucher’s The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars is a delightful book full of wit, but at the same time it is an incredibly frustrating mystery. Boucher, a prolific author, critic, and editor, was also a big Sherlockian and this really shows in this book, which I own in a highly attractive Gregg Press edition. Although it does not star his usual detective, Fergus O’Breen, it does connect to O’Breen in that his sister is a major character, as well as a police officer who appeared in The Case of the Seven of Cavalry.

[Note: This review is far overdue. This is because on the day I originally planned to release this review into the wild, TomCat had just written a review of Boucher’s The Case of the Crumpled Knave. I decided to push back the review due to the extremely similar content.]

When F. X. Weinberg of Metropolis Pictures set out to adapt the Sherlock Holmes story The Speckled Band into a film, the reception was initially enthusiastic. After all, it is a great story for adaptation and Conan Doyle himself said so. Unfortunately, Sherlockians everywhere suddenly turned against Weinberg when he hired the hated Stephen Worth to write the screenplay.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pierre Boileau will forever be remembered as half of the Boileau-Narcejac writing team that got translated into English back in the day. Not only that, one of their novels was adapted by the great Alfred Hitchcock into Vertigo! How cool is that? But before Boileau and Narcejac met, they wrote their own stuff… and one of Pierre Boileau’s most famous works is Six crimes sans assassin (literally Six Crimes Without a Murderer, though I believe it was translated as The Phantom Strikes Six Times). It’s considered a classic of the French roman policier, right up there with the likes of S. A. Steeman’s L’Assassin habite au 21 (The Murderer Lives at No. 21), or, in my humble opinion, Paul Halter’s Le Diable de Dartmoor (The Demon of Dartmoor). (English readers, you really have no idea what treat you’re in for when Halter’s Demon is published in English soon!) And as the title indicates… it involves an impossible crime!

That right there is my entry for Understatement of the Year, for really, there are six crimes to solve, and each of them involves a baffling impossibility. First, the phantom murderer kills Marcel Vigueray and severely injures his wife, Simone, in a brutal attack in their Paris apartment. But here’s the tricky part: Simone screamed to alert the neighbourhood, and from that moment on, the apartment was under constant observation by hundreds of witnesses, as a crowd of people advanced towards the Vigueray’s apartment! They swear nobody left, but when the door is opened, the killer is nowhere to be found…

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Batman Returns

This is the second instalment in my unofficial series on Batman stories. To catch up on why I am doing this, feel free to read the first post in the series, which is also a review of Edward D. Hoch’s The Pirate of Millionaire’s Cove.


Although I have yet to read one of his novels, Max Allan Collins is no stranger to me, or to this blog. When I did a series of reviews of hardboiled mysteries, I kicked it off with one of his quotes and agreed with the general sentiment (though I expressed reservation at the generalisation of it). A while ago, he did a slideshow for The Huffington Post where he chose his “game changers” in the mystery genre—not necessarily personal favourites, mind you, but people who really transformed the genre in different ways. And this list was an interesting one! Kudos to Collins for praising Agatha Christie’s characterization and for including Ellery Queen on the list, and also for an excellent defense of Mike Hammer, although it is not a defense that makes me warm up to the character. (Also, the comments are frankly depressing, and if I hear one more person praise an author as “transcending the genre”, it’s to the guillotine for them!)

But I bring up Collins today because as it turns out, he too wrote a Batman adventure that was collected in The Further Adventures of Batman. Entitled The Sound of One Hand Clapping, this is a story that includes Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime—The Joker!