Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

Locked doors don’t guarantee safety…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Anyone who’s been reading my blog over this last year or two will be aware that I have developed something of an addiction for the themed anthologies being published under the British Library Crime Classics label. This one concentrates on “impossible” crimes – “locked room” mysteries and others of the kind where the emphasis is more on how it was done than on whodunit. As always, the stories have been selected by Martin Edwards who gives a brief introduction to each one telling a little about the author. They’re printed in rough chronological order, covering the period from the beginning of the 20th century (or just before) through to 1960.

There are lots of well-known names here – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, etc – as well as some more obscure authors, some of whom have appeared in the earlier anthologies and some who I think are making their first appearance. The crimes are a lot of fun, ranging from the fiendishly clever but quite possible to work out if you have that kind of mind, to ones that rely on something that couldn’t have been known – trick doors or things of that nature. I did guess a few, but was baffled by plenty, and even the easier to solve ones are still entertaining.

As with all anthologies, the quality is variable but I must say I think the average standard throughout this collection is actually higher than in some of the earlier collections. Perhaps this kind of puzzle just appeals more to me, but I don’t think that’s it, really – I think this is just a particularly good group of stories. There are sixteen of them in total, and I ranked ten of them as either 4 or 5 stars, with only one getting a rating lower than 3 (and that was the GK Chesterton story, which can be put down to my own prejudice – I simply don’t enjoy his style).

Here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most:

The Lost Special by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – a special train goes missing between two stations and, though the driver is later found dead by the side of the tracks, nothing is heard of the passengers or other crew for eight years…until a man waiting to be executed in France reveals how it was done. ACD is a master storyteller and builds up a nice air of almost supernatural mystery around the disappearance, though the answer is firmly of this world. And there’s a brief cameo appearance from an anonymous man who writes to a newspaper with a possible solution to the crime – a man who sounds very like a certain consulting detective we all know and love…

The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland – when a woman dies in poverty, she leaves behind a diary blaming all her former friends for deserting her in her time of need. Now someone is bumping those friends off one by one. Loreto Santos, an amateur ‘tec from Spain, is on site when the third murder happens in a locked room during a house party. In truth, the method in this one is blindingly obvious, but the writing is very good, there’s some nice characterisation and the story is interesting, so that being able to work out how it was done didn’t spoil the entertainment.

The Music-Room by Sapper – Forty years earlier, a man was found killed in the middle of the locked music room. No-one ever worked out how it happened. Now, during a dinner party, the new owner of the house tells the old tale to his guests. Later that night, his nephew and business partner is killed in the same room, apparently accidentally. But amateur sleuth Ronald Standish is unconvinced. This is one of the ones where it wouldn’t really be possible to work out the how – though one can make a rough guess – and the who is relatively obvious. But the plotting is tight and the telling of the story is done very well.

I could just as easily have highlighted any of half a dozen others, and now feel quite qualified to bump off anyone who annoys me in ways that will baffle the greatest detective minds. So probably best if you were to send me some chocolate, just to be on the safe side…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned pen Press.

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62 thoughts on “Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

    • Certainly am, thanks! I need something to take my mind off the tragedy that everyone I supported lost. 😉 Absolutely – who knew just locking a door could be so dangerous…

  1. This one is definitely on my list – I can’t think of a better book! I was just discussing Margery Allingham this weekend, actually. Can you believe my friend thought her better than Agatha Christie and preferred her sleuth Campion to the mighty Poirot?! I mean, I have great affection for Campion but better than Poirot? Honestly! Luckily, my friend opened a bottle of wine and the friendship was saved, but it was a close call for a moment! 😀

    • These anthologies are great fun! Hahaha! Yes, that could easily turn into a friendship-breaker! I have to be honest and admit I’ve never taken to Campion much, though I did listen to one on audio recently and enjoyed it a bit more, mainly because the narrator totally camped him up. But he always seems like a cross between Lord Peter Wimsey and Bertie Wooster to me – no match for Hercule!

      • This very book is now winging its way to me! Really looking forward to it 🙂 I first came across TV Campion one cold winter’s afternoon on some random channel, it had Peter Davidson in the lead role and Brian Glover as Lugg the butler and I found it quite bizarre, to be honest, and ended up watching a whole 2 series. Quite often, lots of the subplots weren’t resolved and I was never quite sure what was going on, nor why every butler seemed to have been in prison with Lugg at some point, but apparently the books were just as confusing. Could never match our own Hercule – why, the bugger doesn’t even have a moustache!

        • I’m 99.999999% certain you’ll enjoy it! 😀 Yes, normally I love anything with Peter Davidson in it but I still couldn’t get into Campion. I think it’s partly the whole Lugg thing – same as Bunter in the Wimsey books, or Br’er Fox in the Alleyn books – it’s all so snobbish with the working class sidekick who’s always a bit thick but very loyal to his master. Our Agatha would never do anything like that – I’m listening to One Two Buckle My Shoe at the moment and I was thinking last night how nice it is that Japp is always shown as quite intelligent and efficient…

          • I couldn’t understand why all the butlers had to be ex-criminals! Really bizarre. It really is nice to enjoy proper golden age writing after such frippery – I do love Japp and whilst he doesn’t have a great deal of imagination he is never portrayed as an imbecile. Hurrah for Christie! 😀

    • Ooh, I just acquired that one a few days ago but it’ll be a while before I get to it. I’m loving this collection – so much fun. I’m reading The Story of Classic Crime at the moment, and the editor, Martin Edwards, rates Verdict of Twelve as one of his top 100…

    • A lot of these anthologies start off with a Conan Doyle story and I always think it gets them off to a cracking start – he’s such a brilliant storyteller! (You’re safe for the moment then…)

    • Nor do I but I’m throroughly enjoying finding out more about it through these anthologies and the whole British Library Classic Crime collection. I’m currently reading Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, which is proving to be a great introduction to the Golden Age – my list of books to read is growing exponentially…

  2. Delighted to hear you enjoyed this, FictionFan, although I will say I’m not surprised. With Edwards at the helm, you weren’t likely to go wrong. The ‘locked room’ mystery is especially tricky, in my opinion, because of the credibility factor. At least for me, I like to stay on very good terms with my disbelief, so that sort of story has to be done exceptionally well for me to ‘buy’ it.

    • As always, this is a great mix of well and lesser known authors, though I’m getting to know some of them a good deal better after all these anthologies and re-issues! Yes, overall, I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan of ‘locked room’ mysteries, and some of these definitely stretch credibility. But somehow, because Edwards’ little introductions put them in context, I always end up enjoying even the less good stories…

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this collection – I did too. I found it amusing to think that with modern technology a lot of these stories would be solved more quickly and easily. Not the point, I know, but that thought popped into my mind reading The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room (CCTV for example in the museum).

    • I’ve enjoyed all these anthologies so far – I think because Martin Edwards’ little intros put them into their context, I find myself enjoying even the less good stories. Haha! Yes, I often feel sorry for crime writers these days, what with technology and mobile phones and DNA and so on – it must be so much harder to create a plausible mystery…

  4. We must all make very very certain we don’t get on the wrong side of you now you are amassing fiendishly clever ways to bump off those that annoy you. Hmm……there are quite a few on the political stage, mention no names, that I am now wondering, how could I lock them in a room and quickly, quickly get you to come to the said locked room and ply your skills………………..

    • You will have to be very careful… or just put in a standing order with Hotel Chocolat for delivery to my address! I have a little list of people I feel might benefit from the application of obscure South American poisons myself, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if our lists had a rather large crossover…

    • That’s a really interesting thought – you may be on to something there. Certainly they do require a good deal of skill in plotting, though I notice they often tend to be light on characterisation…

      • When you described the Canon Doyle story, i wondered if the author starts his stories much like you might approach a math or engineering problem. What if a train left a station and then disappeared? And half the fun of writing it is just coming up with a solution that persuades and seems plausible. Kind of a crossword for the advanced mind…as a big fan of the pbs(bbc) agatha christie productions from the two miss marples to poirot, (and Japp is wonderful!) im so glad i discovered this post and a new book to scratch that itch.

        • Yes, that’s an intriguing idea and I can see how it might work better than working forwards towards the crime. It might also explain why the technical side often takes priority over the charactersiation. Thanks for popping in and commenting and sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been having a brief hiatus. If you do get a chance to read this one, I hope you enjoy it!

  5. This collection sounds like so much fun! I love those kind of mysteries. Also, do you think people who read lots of mysteries are more equipped to bump people off? People better take care around you!

    • All thes anthologies have been a lot of fun – I’m loving them. I’m pretty sure that’s the case – I know all about poisons, ingenious murder weapons, how to set up a good alibi… I reckon my friends and family should work hard to keep on my good side. Sadly, though, my sister has read far more of these things than I have… 😉

  6. I read this a few weeks ago and enjoyed it too, although I picked out different stories as favourites. I liked the Dorothy L Sayers story and also the Margery Allingham one, which surprised me as I wasn’t all that impressed by the full-length Campion novel I’ve read. This is the first of these anthologies I’ve read but I’m sure I’ll be reading more!

    • I’ve read most of them and have enjoyed every one – Capital Crimes, mysteries set in London, is particularly good I think. From this one, I could have easily picked out three different favourites, or more. I liked the Campion one too even though, like you, I’m not much of a fan of the novels. I think quite often mysteries work better as short stories – there are only a few authors who can really sustain the interest and suspense over a long period. They’re the ones who’re not “forgotten”, I suppose…

      • Not even for chocolate? 🙂 It does sound like a terrific way to start. Hard to top a disappearing train! Not even disappearing planes and autos can compete (which I think have happened for real).

        • Oh yes! I still have no idea how they made that plane disappear – just watched it again on youtube and still can’t work it out! But the train is defininitely better…

  7. I’m so glad to see you back here, FF — you’ve been missed! This sounds awfully good — I do love a mystery, and it’s such fun trying to solve the puzzle. I need to add this to my TBR (shh, don’t tell it — we’ll just kind of slip it in and hope it’s otherwise occupied!!)

    • Aw, thank you, Debbie! 😀 Ha! My TBR has gone down – it always does when I take a break proving that it’s the fault of all these book bloggers that it gets out of control! But this is a worthy addition to yours – these collections are a lot of fun, and the little intros to the stories give just enough info about the authors to make them interesting.

    • Thank you! Yes, everyone I was supporting got beaten – I decided halfway through that I must be a jinx… But it was nice to see Federer beat the young’uns – again!

  8. I really need to read one of these British Crime Classics! Ugh! So many books, so little time. I tell myself that when I retire I’ll be able to read to my heart’s content… only another 25 years, ha ha! 🙂

    Maybe I’ll read one in October when I’m looking for creepy reading for the RIP Challenge. Now if only I can remember that!

  9. I love when anthologies are order chronologically. It helps me see how the style in that genre changed over time. I read a chronological anthology about werewolves, vampires, zombies, and ghosts, and the order made a huge difference!

    • I like that too – it lets you see how the genre has developed and how the later writers build on the work of the earlier ones. Sci-fi is another genre where I love to read chronologically.

  10. These types of mysteries just never lose their appeal do they? I’ll definitely look out for this, I really enjoy the BLCC series and it’s good to hear this is a strong anthology 🙂

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