In this perilous age of political craziness, where most of us are shaking our heads and muttering that invaluable Latin phrase, “What the fuuuuuu – ?” (translation: “I am stymied, Marcus Aurelius”), it behooves us to be grateful for small matters. For instance, it’s turning out to be a great time to be alive if you love classic detective fiction. Authors and titles dimmed by time and changing tastes have re-emerged, and for the first time in a long-time groups of readers can argue over which is the best Brian Flynn, or John Rhode, or Harriet Rutland. Figures like Bobby Owen and Ludovic Travers and Inspector French are spoken aloud in meetings and conferences all over the world. And if too many of our world leaders have taken a nationalistic stance, provoking rather than connecting with other countries, fans of GAD fiction (and other interests) are reaching out to each other, celebrating Japanese shin honkaku and lifting a lone Frenchman who fights the fight for the classic locked room mystery to a prominence he might not have otherwise enjoyed.
We fans, many of us bloggers, are doing what we can and reaping the fruits of our rewards, first by finding a community to talk with and next by prompting publishers, mostly small ones, like Locked Room International and Coachwhip, to bring a long forgotten author and/or title to light. As those of you who read my friend Kate’s blog know, this is the time of year when a group of us examine many of the new/old titles that have come to light this year. And Kate, because she plays with goats and has a sense of fun, has turned it all into a competition of sorts.
And so this week and next, I will offer two nominees for the Reprint of the Year. Vote for me or not, I guarantee you that the best thing about this project is that it will provide all of us with a not-to-be-missed reading list for 2020! We all promised Kate we would post on Saturday (and she will link to our posts on her own site), but I’m playing in a bridge tournament in the morning, so I’m sneaking in my first pick a day early.
My first title comes to us from Crippen & Landru, which has been publishing short crime fiction for 2004. I cannot stress enough how much we owe to Douglas and Sandi Greene, who founded C&L and now Jeffrey Marx, who took over from Doug as publisher in 2018, for the wealth of authors, both classic and modern, that they have made available in attractive copies that are sure to add luster to your book collection.
When I was a kid, my access to short stories came from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Each issue contained tales from the Golden Age and beyond, as well as the occasional special event. The classic authors have been essentially dropped from the magazine in these modern times, which gives modern authors more room for sure, but EQMM isn’t the same for me anymore.
C&L took many of the current short story authors one could find in EQMM or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and bound them into collections. (Some of the most prolific, like Edward D. Hoch, wrote enough to fill multiple volumes.) Now we can read en masse the Miss Phipps tales by James C. Bentley, all the Basil Willing short mysteries by Helen McCloy or the Inspector Cockrill tales of Christianna Brand. Crippen and Landru has given us access to rarities like radio scripts from the Ellery Queen program and The Casebook of Gregory Hood and some wonderful John Dickson Carr rarities. Simply check out the site here and you can see a treasure trove of titles for you to enjoy – something for every mystery lover’s taste.
Oddly enough, my offering today is not a short story collection or any sort of fiction. It is, if that is possible, something even better. In 1995, Doug Greene published biography called John Dickson Carr: the Man Who Explained Miracles. And while all my fellow bloggers, those self-professed locked-room aficionados, were trying to figure out if there could be anything worse than junior high school, this grown-up was picking up a copy of this biography.
Except it is so much more than a biography. Yes, it details Carr’s beginnings as a writer – his influences, his college work, his early failed attempts. You will also find valuable information about every detective, every long and short work, as well as wonderful data about Carr’s experiences in radio. For example, I did not know how instrumental Carr was in developing the classic series, Suspense. He wrote many of the early episodes, and many of them were brilliant examples of fair play mystery.
Best of all, we have here an analysis of what made Carr tick and how he worked, all put together with the love of a great fan of the author’s work. Here is a compendium of information about everything he wrote, sometimes with cogent analyses of the various tricks – and variations thereof – up Carr’s sleeve. (Greene is careful to mark where spoilers occur, so you can skip passages if you have not read the book under discussion.) If Curtis Evans wasn’t inspired by the structure and content of this book, I would be surprised. And if you have read any of Curtis’ scholarly work, you will get an idea of the depth of substance mixed with a sheer enjoyability of reading you will find here.
I ripped through the book as a mere fan, but now that I find myself in more academic pursuits regarding Carr and his ilk, the book has become an invaluable reference work for me. As I make my way through A Carter Dickson Celebration, for instance, I always turn to Doug to see what he has to say about a particular work. We are lucky to have such a rich celebration/discussion/analysis of a fairly niche author, and it is not surprising that the book went out of print and was relegated to the stuff of legends. All those little boys grew up to be bloggers, and they coveted what was mine. Mwaaah-haaah-haaah-haaah!!!!
Until now! Crippen & Landru have republished the book, both as a trade soft-cover and as an e-book. This is an absolute must-have part of any self-respecting lover of classic detective fiction. Along with some of the latest re-issues by Otto Penzler and the British Library of a few Carr titles, I hope the re-emergence of John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles signals a resurgence and much-deserved popularity for the very best impossible crime writer of all and one of the finest authors of the Golden Age.