101 Years’ Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century Edited by Ellery Queen (Part 4 of 6: Criminals Win)


101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century

Part 4 of 6: Criminals Win

I’m not big on short stories, mysteries excepted. Unfortunately, this anthology includes a selection of “mystery” stories that are more like horror, or fairy-tales gone amok; so I can’t recommend the whole batch of 50. That said, there are too many stories for one review: this is review 4 of 6, the ten short stories in which the thief is our hero and/or is not brought to justice. Some of these I enjoyed to one degree or another, and where I recommend them, it is so noted. I object in principle to the whole idea of the thief as hero, so unless its circumstantially explained away, I vote no to the whole genre.
• The Red Silk Scarf, by Maurice LeBlanc, Arsene Lupin. A well-known crook gives a police detective all the clues he needs except one. Said crucial clue threatens to unravel all the hard work of the police, because said crook won’t give it up until the other half (of this red silk scarf) is found. Very clever, if unacceptably and overwhelmingly bumbling policemen weren’t the main feature of the story. The resolution, also, uses a bit of dues-ex-machina that’s not set up well and therefore unbelievable.
• The Cyprian Bees, by Anthony Wayne, Dr. Hailey. Average writing, stellar if rather scary mystery. So well wrapped is the plot hat explaining any of it requires SPOILERs; a doctor/beekeeper wants an inheritance and if he doesn’t get it, no one else in the family will either. END SPOILER Not A Night Read.
• Arsene Lupin in Prison, by Maurice LeBlanc, Arsene Lupin. For all the faults of this one, it was one of the genuinely humorous mysteries in the book (despite having a chapter by that title, there were very few that made me laugh out loud. This one succeeded). The whole thing is so clever one can almost forgive the thief for being a protagonist; almost.
• Blind Man’s Bluff, by Fredrick Irving Anderson, The Infallible Godahl. Another genuinely funny one. Godahl is a member of an elite social club that plays mean pranks for laughs on its stage. (Our thief, being also the hero, naturally, is disgusted with his clubmates and doesn’t like them.) This round it’s a blind black magician who happens to be a fellow thief of our hero. When the magician shows up for a show, our hero isn’t among the crowd, and soon, neither are everyone’s wallets. The ending line needs to be read twice for full appreciation; recommended.
• The Stolen Romney, by Edgar Wallace, Four Square Jane. Clever, if somewhat contrived story of a female thief who uses the stolen goods to make donations to charity, and the police are baffled by her most recent heist: a painting, stolen in broad daylight, that could not possibly have left the museum.
• Paris Adventure, by Leslie Charteris, The Saint. Interesting story along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe in that it’s a character study more than a mystery (which makes it worth recommending despite the “hero”); a famous thief is on the lam when he meets a lady in a bar (further details would spoil the story, but trust me, its really complex and fun). Recommended
• The Eleventh Juror, by Vincent Starrett. A man is about to be convicted of murder and the jury must convince our narrator to vote him guilty or else he’ll escape the electric chair (and may I say, this one also qualifies for “Most Poorly Executed”; the author wrote himself into a hole and then just pulls the plug on realism).
• A Chess Problem, by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot. A chess genius dies two minutes into a tournament, his partner having just returned from iron-curtain Russia; who is the real victim, and why? Its Hercule Poirot’s job to find out, and I have to say, SPOILER if he’s such a great detective as he keeps telling us he is, why does the murderer get away with a fortune? END SPOILER not recommended; anyone know of a good Agatha Christie short story?
• The Sweet Shot, by E.C. Bentley, Philip Trent. This last is a truly ingenious mystery, with sublte turns of plot unraveled in true British style, over a tea at a golf club. A quietly nasty member of the community has no enemies but winds up dead, struck by lightening on a cloudless day, which blew him up but left his golf club untouched.
• The Criminologist’s Club, by Raffles A well known thief is invited to a dinner by London’s most distinguished detectives, to discuss the most recent criminal affairs of the city. Will they entrap him into confession, or will current criminal activity overtake them?

Overall, the thief stories were not my favorite. If you must find a guilty pleasure in criminal success, read the Artemis Fowl series, The Saint (mentioned above), or The Infallible Godahl (also mentioned above) for a more morally acceptable version of a good steal.

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