Anthony Berkeley. Cyril Hare. Dorothy L Sayers. Christopher Bush. Agatha Christie. Nicholas Blake. John Rhode. Ngaio Marsh. John Dickson Carr.
What do they all have in common? If you said they were all fantastic writers of Golden Age detective fiction, well, you haven’t read my reviews of Ngaio Marsh, have you, but they all feature in Bodies From The Library 3, the latest collection of rare and unpublished short stories and novellas collated for your reading pleasure by Tony Medawar. As do nine others, all names that will be familiar to the connoisseur of crime fiction (with the possible exception of Lynn Brock and William A R Collins).
In particular, this collection contains a previously unpublished Ngaio Marsh TV script, A Knotty Problem, featuring Inspector Alleyn, an unpublished Cyril Hare radio script, The Murder At Warbeck Hall, and John Dickson Carr’s Grand Guignol, the novella that was reworked into his first novel, It Walks By Night, previously reprinted by the British Library.
As you may well be aware, the Bodies From The Library conference at the British Library didn’t happen this year which means you missed the opportunity of hearing me bang on in person about the wonders of Brian Flynn. Alas, it seems that dear old Brian didn’t write any short stories – I asked Tony and he hadn’t come across any, which basically means that they didn’t exist – but there are plenty of
lesser other authors here to sink your teeth into.
I’m not going to do a story by story breakdown here, but I’ll mention the highlights.
The three aforementioned items are all entertaining, yes, even the Ngaio Marsh one. Grand Guignol in particular is of interest – it tightens up the plot of It Walks By Night, although the locked room is still somewhat flawed, and a diagram of the room and its surroundings would have helped. The Joseph Commings Senator Brooks Banner story, The Scarecrow Murders, is excellent, making me regret once again leaving my copy of Banner Deadlines on a plane – copies go for a fortune now, mores the pity – and Stuart Palmer’s The Riddle of the Black Spade, a Hildegarde Withers story, is excellent. Apparently there are a dozen such uncollected stories – the simple question is, why? Get these into print NOW!!!
The collection concludes with six very short stories, written for the Sunday Dispatch in 1938, all based around the plot “One night a man picked up an orange in the street. This saved his life”. There are three crackers here, namely Nicholas Blake, John Rhode and William A R Collins (a publisher, with this apparently being his only attempt at writing his own stuff.) And just in case you think everything here is wonderful, Peter Cheyney’s attempt at this (despite it being his idea) is rubbish. But it’s only a few pages long…
All in all, an excellent collection – long may this series continue (providing the stories keep being found).
I’m sure nothing here (or in any future volumes) will beat the “new” Crispin novella from the second collection, but if anything here is within whistling distance of that one, this should be an excellent read. I’ll be looking forward to reading several of the stories you’ve mentioned here, but it’s good to hear that the Commings story is recommended.
I was very glad to hear T. Medawar say that there are several more volumes planned.