The Monkey’s Clue and The Stolen Sapphire by Edward D Hoch

Meet Tommy Preston, supersleuth and part-time zookeeper – and he’s still at school! But he’s smarter than everyone around him, and he’s going to need to be. Not only has he got to work out who sabotaged the equipment that was being used to communicate with Max the chimpanzee (and also assaulting one of the scientists in the lab) and once that has been sorted out, he has to find out who stole a sapphire from a school science fair – a sapphire that disappeared into thin air.

And on top of that, Tommy has to solve the greatest mystery of all – what the hell’s wrong with his face? I mean, look at it! Is he the secret second monkey who’s been strategically shaved? Oh… it’s just wonky art. Oh, fair enough. So the mystery is, why ask someone to illustrate a book who clearly can’t draw faces…

OK, a word of explanation. My dealer in second hand crime books – with a speciality in Brian Flynn – sent me a list of his latest acquisitions and it had on it a book from Edward D Hoch that I’d never heard of before. Now, as you may recall, I’m a massive fan of Hoch, the master of the short mystery story, who can set up an intriguing, fairly clued, mystery with multiple suspects and provide a cunning solution in just twenty pages. So I thought I’d splash out a couple of quid on this collection of two tales, clearly intended for children, just to see what he could do with a different target audience.

And you know what? He does a pretty good job. When I was young, I read a few puzzles-for-kids stories but they were pretty lightweight, if I recall. These stories have multiple fake solutions, proper clues hidden in plain sight, multiple suspects… To be honest, the motives are a bit slight and the tale of the chimpanzee is stronger than the sapphire mystery – the solution hinges on a single clever idea, rather than a few put together – but this is an interesting pair of tales that showcases Hoch’s undeniable talent.

Unlike the talent of the artist – that chimp’s a bit wonky too, isn’t it? And a chimp isn’t a monkey anyway…


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