The Dilettantes’ Club gathers every fortnight at Moroni’s, a restaurant in Soho, to discuss problems – any problem that is “besetting mankind”, but thankfully for the mystery reader, they all happen to be murders and thefts, most of them falling into the impossible crime category.
A surgeon, a psychiatrist, a mathematician (admittedly a Cambridge mathematician but no assemblage is perfect), a pathologist, the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard and the newest member, the Professor of the title, a logician. A shooting in a locked room, an impossible poisoning, an impossible mass-poisoning – fortunately the Club’s newest member has a unique way of looking at things…
The armchair detective club is a long-running theme in mystery fiction. Miss Marple’s “Tuesday Night Club” springs to mind as a predecessor, and Asimov’s Black Widowers followed this one, all serving as a structure for short stories beyond… well, basically just being a collection of short stories. I suppose one should mention The Poisoned Chocolates Case, but there we have a single mystery with multiple solutions, so not really the same.
The Radfords’ style lends itself well to the short story form – some of their novels have, to my mind, dragged a tad in the the middle section, but with a limited word count, the focus is much more on the crime and the deduction is simple and elegant. The stories are well-constructed, even if some solutions are a bit old hat – the poisoned sandwich story has been done before with exactly the same method, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where. Have to say, I wasn’t convinced it would work the first time I read it, and I still don’t… Oh, and the impossible falling asleep case is a bit sub-par.
The other thing that might surprise the reader is that this was written in 1961, as it feels very much like a set of Golden Age stories. One would question if perhaps they were written for serialisation – Nigel Moss’s excellent introduction theorises that, but there is perhaps a good case for that not to be the case.
You see, I picked this as my next read as I knew something about the stories, something that puts the book in the same region of the Venn Diagram as the recently released Eight Detectives. This isn’t threaded throughout the book, or if it is, it is done so subtly that I didn’t notice it. Admittedly, it’s not too hard to guess, and, like Eight Detectives, it actually raises more questions than it answers if you think about it too much.
But overall, a great varied collection of stories with interesting characters and the thing that if I say any more about, it would give it away. Definitely worth your time. It is available from Dean Street Press as an ebook or a paperback, the perfect thing to pass the time while you wait until the fifth of October and the return of Brian Flynn (plug, plug)!
E & M A Radford from Dean Street Press: