Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known.
The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors' lives and the background to their writing.
I’ve had this anthology on my shelves for a few years, always waiting. Well, this year I needed to read a mystery set in London for 2020 Halloween Bingo and I finally remembered I had this wonderful stash of stories all in one spot.
For this year’s bingo, I chose – of course – Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox. This is not a Sherlock Holmes story, in spite of the title, and it’s closer to horror than mystery. It’s also classic Conan Doyle style. As such, I guessed the twist at one point, when I read a specific sentence that reminded me of Holmes:
View Spoiler »“The merchant knocked loudly, and as he turned his face towards the light, Douglas Stone could see that it was contracted with anxiety.” « Hide Spoiler
Don’t ask me why, but with that sentence I knew how the story would end. And I was right, and it was horrifying. Darkest London, indeed.
In this definitive collection, Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler selects a multifarious mix from across the entire history of the locked room story, which should form the cornerstone of any crime reader's library.
Virtually all of the great writers of detective fiction have produced masterpieces in this genre, including Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Ngaio Marsh and Stephen King.
The purest kind of detective story involves a crime solved by observation and deduction, rather than luck, coincidence or confession. The supreme form of detection involves the explanation of an impossible crime, whether the sort of vanishing act that would make Houdini proud, a murder that leaves no visible trace, or the most unlikely villain imaginable.
There were so many promising selections and recommendations from everyone for locked-room mysteries, I found it a little overwhelming: what to choose?
Then I stumbled across this book at my library and it seemed the perfect answer; at 900+ pages I was certain to find a few good stories and all of them locked room mysteries.
I was not disappointed. In fact, I think I’ll probably buy a copy of this book for my personal shelves; if half the stories are as good as the ones I’ve read, I can’t go wrong.
For the Halloween Bingo challenge, I read the following stories; noneof them less than 4.5-5 star reads:
A Terribly Strange Bed – Wilkie Collins What do Disney’s Haunted Mansion and the movie Murder by Death have in common? This story! It was so much fun; I admit I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Collins’ writing style after listening to Mrs. Zant and the Ghost, but I found this story so entertaining, I’m feeling much more confident about picking up his longer classics.
The House of Haunts – Ellery Queen A new author for me – I know, Queen is a legend! – but I’d never picked him up, thinking his work might be more noir or graphic than I’d like. HA! It was great! This is the longest of the stories I read, and it had all the elements: dark, forbidding atmosphere, gothic houses, mentally disturbed residents, an unending snow storm, a question of paranormal influences, and of course a locked room setup. The ending is nothing short of fantastical and cunning, with Queen coming across as a blend of Whimsey and Holmes.
The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke – Lawrence Block & Lynn Wood Block Years ago I had a first date that took me to a bookstore and bought me a Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. Despite such auspicious beginnings, the boyfriend didn’t last, but I’d read a few of the Burglar Who… books, so I pounced on this story as a guarantee of something light. After reading it, I sort of think Block would have been better off keeping Rhondenbarr confined to the short story format: this was a much better mystery than I remember the full-length books being. This is a true locked-room mystery, and while most relatively savvy readers will recognise the method of death, the details were really fiendishly clever, while still being a light, entertaining read.
The Poisoned Dow ’08 – Dorothy L. Sayers My first Montague Egg mystery, and probably the ‘weakest’ of the stories I chose at 4.5 stars. Egg reminds me too much of Poirot, only a little bit… smarmy. This was also the most conventional of the locked room scenarios offered in the stories I read. Still, Sayers is a master and given a choice, I might choose Egg over Poirot in short story format. Maybe.
Death at the Excelsior – P.G. Wodehouse Did you know Wodehouse wrote crime stories before he brought Wooster and Jeeves into the world? I didn’t, and when I saw him in the TOC there was no way I skipping it. It’s a classic mystery, and there are hints of the wry, dry humour Wodehouse would become famous for here and there. Another truly locked room mystery, with shades of The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but ultimately very different. This short could also be used for the Black Cat Square.
I’m looking forward to owning my own copy of this; I highly recommend it for classic mystery lovers.
(Read September 8-9 2016; Library copy; ISBN 9780857898920)
Not a bad collection, but not the best one I’ve read. I liked about half the stories, found most of the rest just ‘ok’ and completely disliked one. Still, there are a few here that I’ll probably re-read again in the future when I’m looking for a quick Supernatural fix.
I’ve only read the first three books of the Dresden Files – I intend to continue the series on Audio as I’ve heard James Marsters does an excellent job. However, I still really enjoyed this anthology of short stories and novellas. Jim Butcher does an excellent job of introducing each story and the stories themselves are excellent.