The Measure Of Malice edited by Martin Edwards

Science has always been an important part of detection, from basic fingerprinting to the advanced forensic science of today, and Martin Edwards has, on behalf of the British Library, collected together a selection of short stories that demonstrate the various scientific principles that are used by both detectives and criminals alike.

From writers that you might expect, such as R Austin Freeman and John Rhode, to others that you might not, such as Dorothy L Sayers and H C Bailey, there are fourteen tales here for the reader to sample. But are these worth your time?

Well, not all of them, obviously, as one of them is by H C Bailey…

Sorry, couldn’t resist, but even Martin’s introduction mentions how those stories have dated. But all in all, this is one of the strongest collection of short stories that the British Library has collected.

The reason is, perhaps, that the scientific mystery is, for the most part, a whodunit, and if not, it’s a howdunit, rather than a story about crime. I’m much less fond of the latter, so this was a very enjoyable set of stories. I’m not going to do a story-by-story breakdown – I’ve every confidence that Kate may well do one, as she has done recently for Deep Water, the preceding collection – but thought I’d mention some highlights.

Unfortunately, I read this about a fortnight ago and I’ve a dreadful memory – but the contributions from J J Connington, Anthony Wynne (although I wish it had been anything other than the one short story that I’ve already read) and John Rhode, with only the H C Bailey sticking in the mind as a bit of a stinker.

All in all, this is a great collection of tales and well worth your time.

[Apologies from the brevity of the review – the memory fades quicker with age…]

11 comments

  1. Ah you know me too well, yes I imagine a story by story account will be forthcoming on this collection, at some point. Good to know that it’s a good set of stories, (on the whole). Interested in particular to read the Wynne tale, as he’s an author I want to read more of, but prohibitive second hand prices have somewhat stymied me. Also the cover on this collection is pretty great, isn’t it?

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    • H.C Bailey seems to be present on all BLCC anthologies…And I fail to understand why. Not only the stories ramble all over the place , the language leaves a lot to be desired. Bailey seems incapable of constructing a complete coherent sentence to save his own life.

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  2. Perhaps a little off topic, but I wonder if you have come across the mystery stories written by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. He wrote a number of mystery stories both short stories and full length novels with a science background within the science fiction genre and a novel A Whiff of Death set in an American university chemistry department. Maybe one day, should you have the time and inclination you might have a look at some of them.

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    • Having loved Isaac Asmiov’s SF mysteries, it behoves me to warn most mystery fans off A Whiff of Death, which must be one of the most turgid and unsatisfying examples of the genre I’ve yet encountered.

      Of course, as noted above about the works of H.C. Bailey, it will have its fans…but, well, I can’t believe there will be many of them 🙂

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      • Fair enough, It is about 40 years since I read it, so my memory of it is to say the least a bit hazy. I seem to recall enjoying it, but at the time I was gearing up to study biochemistry at university so the location and subject matter probably appealed to me more than the actual mystery.

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      • The location is beautifully captured, I agree…but that’s about all I’d say there is to recommend it 😛 I’m grateful to you, though, for reminding me of Asimov’s similarly crime-themed Black Widower tales which I’m still yet to read; I shall get on to trying to find them post haste…

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