“While you’re at it, Sheriff, find out how any of them could change water into poisoned wine inside a locked house surrounded by unmarked snow.”
It’s time to go back to Northmont in New Hampshire, the abode of Dr Sam Hawthorne, local doctor and impossible crime solver. And he’s clearly better than Gideon Fell or Henry Merrivale because it never takes him more than twenty pages to sort things out. This is the fourth collection of short stories featuring Hawthorne, following Diagnosis: Impossible, More Things Impossible and Nothing Is Impossible, featuring the run of stories from The Problem Of The Problem Of The Country Church (set in November 1936) through to The Problem Of The Scarecrow Congress (July 1940).
Whether it be a baby that turns into a doll during a christening, a body that appears inside a scarecrow in the middle of the day in a busy town square, a fresh body discovered inside a recently dug up coffin, there’s no crime too perplexing for Sam to solve…
I’ve been looking forward to this collection for a while – the previous collection consisted entirely of stories that I already owned, whereas this one came with three stories – The Problems of The Enormous Owl, The Miraculous Jar and The Scarecrow Congress that were new to me. And, as you may have guessed, I’m a massive fan of this series – and Edward D Hoch in general.
For those not in the know, Hoch was a mystery writer who specialised in short stories – he wrote over 950 of them. He wrote a load of impossible crimes, including the entire Hawthorne series, and unlike the other Crippen & Landru collections, the Hawthorne series is reprinted in order. And I think this collection is the best yet.
In fact, it’s the best, as I’ve read most of the stories that will make up the inevitable fifth volume and while there are some very strong stories there, there are a few duffers as well. Here, there are a couple that are weaker than the rest – The Unfound Door is very obvious and The Second Problem Of The Covered Bridge (a sequel to the very first Hawthorne tale) is a bit silly – but the rest are absolute crackers. All fairly clued, most with false solutions and some – The Country Mailbox, for example – having a real sting in the tale.
One could point out the occasional clunky history-drop, where a character happens to mention what’s happening in Europe to date the story, as being a bit unnecessary, and I would point out that the Kindle version is badly typeset – every paragraph has a double line space after it, some lines sentences have line breaks in the middle and there are a few typos, notably when Sam’s nurse turns from Mary into Mark. I’ve emailed the publishers – no reply yet – but hopefully that’ll be sorted soon. But you find yourself ignoring these problems and enjoying Sam’s Problems instead.
One of the finest collection of impossible crimes that you could read. Highly Recommended.