Simon Ark is not your typical detective. He scours the Earth searching for the Devil, either the actual Devil him/herself or his agents, and has been doing so for nearly 2000 years since he was a Coptic Priest in Ancient Egypt. Allegedly. Anyway, what this means in real terms is he tends to be called in to deal with impossible crimes with an air of the mystic about them.
This volume presents sixteen of Simon Ark’s investigation from throughout his career – a man being hunted by the devil, lightning bolts striking people dead across the world, a murderous mermaid, a trumpet that ages to death people who blow it and, um, a car disappearing from inside a car-wash. Trust me, the last one is linked to a mystical story… But all of the tales have a rationale explanation.
This is the latest release from Crippen and Landru and the stories were hand-picked before his death by Edward D Hoch as his favourite Ark stories. You may be aware there are three other collections of Ark tales, The Quests Of Simon Ark, City Of Brass and The Judges of Hades all from MysteriousPress.com, and if, like me, you’ve looked into these, you’ll know there is an irritating overlap of stories in them. Not here, these stories are for the most part uncollected – Day Of The Wizard, the opening tale involving a lost plane and a woman appearing inside a locked box, is in a collection of locked room tales that I own, but the rest were new to me. Also, it’s worth noting that these stories come from a variety of sources, not just from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, so there are some rarities here, I presume.
These are all enjoyable tales, all fairly clued mysteries, with some genuinely surprising villains in some of the tales. Some of them, you can see where they’re going from the start, like The Gravesend Trumpet, but most have surprising twists and turns in their short page count.
The only problem is that you have to suspend disbelief somewhat. For example, to return to The Gravesend Trumpet. If the dastardly villain’s scheme was to work, the authorities would have to accept “aged to death by a magical trumpet” as a cause of death, so we’re veering dangerously close to Scooby Doo territory. And there’s at least one “call in the expert to confirm there’s a ghost/mermaid/vampire/haunted trumpet” story where the villain dooms themselves by enlisting Ark’s help. There’s a subtle difference between the “don’t know how it happened” tales of Sam Hawthorne and the “was it a ghost/mermaid/vampire/haunted trumpet” tales of Simon Ark.
However, after a few stories, I banished that issue from my brain, and I really enjoyed this collection. As it progresses – the tales are in chronological order – Hoch seems to tone down some of the more fantastical edges to Simon, but I think because of that some of the later stories worked slightly better for me than the earlier ones. But overall, this is a very entertaining set of tales, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from Crippen & Landru’s Hoch reprints. Apparently, it’s the Alexander Swift stories and the ones I’ve read of those are amongst my favourites of Hoch’s work…
Funeral In The Fog is out now in paperback and in ebook.