University historian Jaya Jones, with her reputations for solving mysteries and puzzles, is enlisted by her old enemy Henry North who is in desperate need of her help; an ancient – and cursed – Cambodian sculpture has been stolen from an academic’s office, and the academic has been killed. And the office was under observation the whole time – no one entered or left, but no killer is inside when the door is broken down…
And that is just one of the impossible crimes on display here – more deaths inside locked rooms, a haunted room where valuables disappear at will, a cursed copy of Murder On The Orient Express, a magic trick gone impossibly wrong, a disappearing manuscript, and a stolen gold chess set…
I think a bit of background first – apologies to Gigi Pandian but I hadn’t come across her work before, despite her winning an Agatha, so I was intrigued when she wrote the introduction to the recent collection Edward D Hoch collection, Funeral In The Fog, talking about locked rooms and the suchlike. Intrigued enough to take a look at this collection, a group of short stories and novellas featuring her series sleuth Jaya Jones, her magician friend Sanjay Rai and his magician friend Tempest Mendez. The stories are sourced from various collections, with the lead story being new to this collection.
There’s a brave statement in the introductions – one from Laurie R King and one from Douglas Greene – that not only mentions in some detail the eight locked room solutions from Carr’s The Hollow Man but also makes the claim that each of the eight solutions are used somewhere in the collection. You can see why I was tempted.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable collection of stories. The characters are charming and the tales are told with a light touch. Don’t misunderstand, some of the ghost story/curse bits are effectively creepy, but we’re not in gruesome murder territory here and all the better for it. The mysteries are clued – to be honest, they feel closer to Hoch than to Carr – but they are sufficiently puzzling and none of them are too obvious. One of the set-ups is particularly original – a magician stabbed while doing the magician-in-a-box-that-swords-are-stuck-into trick, except the assistant was using a plastic sword.
Admittedly, a lot of the solutions will be, on a base level at least, familiar to students of locked room – to be honest, if you’re not, then leave Douglas Greene’s introduction until after you’ve read the stories as it might give you some ideas.
Sometimes as a book blogger, you try something on a whim and get pleasantly surprised; this was one of those times. You can be certain I’ll be back to try one of the novels from the series soon. Any recommendations?