The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King

A mystery to me…

😐 😐

A collection of eight mysteries starring the mysterious Trevis Tarrant, ably assisted by his manservant, Katoh, who is actually a Japanese spy.

I must admit that sometimes the most baffling mystery to me is why a book has been included in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and this is one of those cases. Edwards says: The Curious Mr Tarrant is one of the most renowned collection of stories focusing primarily on impossible crimes.” It appears the stories were admired by Ellery Queen and Dorothy L Sayers, amongst others, so clearly they saw more in King than I. Apparently he never achieved popular success in his native America, though, and had difficulty finding publishers there. I’m kinda with the Americans on this one, and think it’s unfortunate this has been chosen to fill one of only four slots in the Across the Atlantic section.

It actually starts off pretty well. I gave a couple of the early stories 5 stars and another 4. But the rest ranged from mediocre to dire, getting progressively worse as they went along. The final story slumped all the way to one star.

Tarrant is an amateur detective, but his interest is purely in the bizarre. He investigates for the intellectual thrill, and has no particular interest in achieving justice. In the early stories the narrator is Jerry Phelan, a young man about town who meets Tarrant during the first case in the collection, The Episode of the Codex Curse. Jerry and the girl he loves, Valerie, are quite fun, as is Jerry’s sister, Mary – all three of them have a Wodehouse-ish vibe. They gradually play smaller and smaller roles and eventually all but disappear, and the later stories badly miss the element of humour they bring to the earlier ones. Tarrant himself is one of these annoying geniuses with a remarkable gift for working out what seems unfathomable to the mere mortals around him. I liked him well enough at the beginning but tired of him quite quickly. And the last few stories introduce a strange kind of supernatural or mystical element, which is too nonsensical to be taken seriously, but not nonsensical enough to be amusing.

Challenge details:
Book: 92
Subject Heading: Across the Atlantic
Publication Year: 1935

When reviewing a collection, I usually highlight a few of my favourite stories. Here I’m afraid there are only two that I really enjoyed, although, in fairness, both of them are very good:

The Episode of the Tangible Illusion – Valerie is refusing to marry Jerry because she thinks she’s going mad. She hears footsteps in her house when no-one is there, and sees strange images in her room at night. Jerry, having met Tarrant in a previous case and admiring his talent for explaining the inexplicable, asks him to investigate. This is the second story in the book and is very well told, with a great mix of humour, spookiness and a lovely little romance. The solution is ingenious and the detective element is stronger than in most of the other stories.

The Episode of “Torment IV” – Torment IV is the name of a small yacht, and the story is based on the idea of the Mary Celeste. One day the yacht is found abandoned, and it transpires that the family who were on it all drowned. Tarrant investigates what happened to drive them all into the sea, given that the sea had been calm and nothing seems to be amiss on the boat. This is as much horror as detection and it has a great element of suspense. Although the solution is actually a bit silly, the ending is quite effectively scary.

C Daly King

And that’s it. There’s another one, The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem – a traditional locked room mystery – which seems to be highly thought of. I fear I found it dull. The characterisation is non-existent and the whole thing hinges purely on the technical details of how the deed was done.

Overall, I couldn’t recommend this collection, although the couple of stories I’ve highlighted are worth reading should you ever happen across them. A disappointment.

(The Kindle version I’m linking to has an extra four stories that King wrote later which weren’t originally included in the collection. I’m afraid I couldn’t get up enough enthusiasm to read them.)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

20 thoughts on “The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King

  1. Oh, I am sorry to hear this, FictionFan. It’s always nice when a collection lives up to expectations, and so hard when it doesn’t. Among other things, it sounds as though this one ‘runs out of steam’ as it goes along, and it’s disappointing when that happens. Well, one collection I’m in no hurry to add to my wish list…

    • Yes, I felt if he’d stopped after the first three he’d have left the reader wanting more – sadly, by the time I got through eight, he’d left me wanting less! 😉 I think we need an American with an encyclopaedic knowledge of crime fiction to do a volume called The Story of American Crime in 100 books… just sayin’… 😀

  2. I wonder what happened here, as judging from the books you have read for this challenge so far, Martin Edwards seems to have been pretty much on the money with his suggestions for books which demonstrate a particular development in crime fiction. As you imply, perhaps he just doesn’t have enough knowledge of early American crime fiction. Too bad.

    • I’ve enjoyed most of his picks but some have seemed a bit odd. Like his pick for Dorothy L Sayers was very weak – neither the first in the Wimsey series nor one of the better ones. And I could see no reason why he chose it over the others – it wasn’t original in style or anything like that. And I abandoned one recently because it was simply badly written. Some of the books I’ve been reading via the British Library series have been considerably better than some of the ones for the challenge. I’m actually wondering whether to continue with it once I finish the books I’ve already acquired for it. I guess it will depend on whether I enjoy them more or not!

  3. Oh, well. I guess they can’t all be good. It’s just a shame the best was at the beginning, only to go down from there. Otherwise, you could have chunked it right at the start!

  4. Well, at least you found a couple of them rather enjoyable, right? It seems to me that most collections have several stories (or poems) that I don’t like. Maybe that’s why the author and publisher grouped them together, so nobody would go away too miserable, ha!

  5. I’m going to guess this is one of the few times you will relate to Americans yes? haha

    Well like you I’m always relieved to hear of a book I’m not missing out on 🙂

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