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review 2016-11-23 00:22
The Locked-room Mysteries
The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

This 1400+ page mammoth of a book is a collection of short stories; each of them (as should be obvious from the title) is a locked room mystery. This term is used very loosely as mysteries deal not only with a person shot, stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise disposed of in a completely inaccessible room locked from inside, not only with things stolen from equally inaccessible room/storage/safe,

Locked Room Mysteries
but also with other seemingly impossible crimes, like a guy stabbed in a snow or a sand field with the only footprints appearing being his own.

There are stories of well-known authors, some of them with status of classics of literature and some approaching it. To give you an idea I will just name the writers mentioned on the cover (yes, I am too lazy to look through the whole book myself): Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Dorothy L. Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse, Erle Stanley Gardner. Just like myself you might be surprised to see some names in the list as some of these became famous writing in a completely different genre.

I am puzzled by the reason why such giants as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle did not get mentioned on the cover. The former wrote mysteries featuring the first private investigator ever which also happened to be a locked room mystery (this is the first story of the book) and the latter made genre immensely popular. Speaking about his best-known character Sherlock Holmes, this collection includes The Speckled Band which I consider to be one of the best Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In my opinion any collection including this one cannot be rated lower than 4 stars, but this was not the only reason for my rating.

Continuing my discussion of the most famous detective I would like to return to one of the best ideas mentioned by him - or his author to be exact: I used it as an epigraph. More than half of the mysteries in here can be solved by stripping away the impossible - in fact several times the investigators did just this and one of them even quoting Holmes.

Still speaking about the guy I will have to mention something else. What does a good mystery need? A great fleshed out investigator (Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot being two best examples from this book) is a must. While a detective needs to be a good character, his sidekick can make or break a story. In my opinion Dr. Watson is greatly unappreciated.

Dr. Watson
Surely he is not the brightest guy around, but he is a loyal friend, he never hesitates to rush into a danger following Holmes, and most importantly he never ever gets in the way of an investigation.

The reason I talk about Arthur Conan Doyle creation so much is that it is an excellent example of how to create a great mystery. The sidekick I just mentioned: in one of the story there was a good mystery, interesting investigator and absolutely awful sidekick (in this case a husband of a woman who played the detective). The guy kept getting in a way of his wife's investigation and as a result the story itself suffered.

I became convinced of the following fact. If you read an anthology of locked room mysteries, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, or anything else whatsoever you can tell the quality of the story without reading a single line. Is the author well-known? The story is most probably good (4 and 5 star level good). Is the author forgotten? There is a very good reason for this: the stories are forgettable. This idea fully applies here. I mean 100% fully. Speaking about literature in general I can only think of one or two exceptions.

Yes, there are forgettable stories in the collection. However even the weakest ones never fail at something mysteries strive to do: they never ever fail to entertain and sometimes even make your brain work trying to find the solution.

So yes, to make a long story short (I will not make you suffer by reading my 1400+ page review as I am not going to write the one so huge): the book is good, especially if you like this kinds of mysteries. The solutions to some might seem kind of similar, so it is not a good idea to read the whole thingy in one sitting - but who would want to do it considering its length?

The last unsolved mystery still remains though: that the heck does the last story has anything to do with locked room mysteries? Is somebody was able to puzzle this one out, I would dearly love to know the explanation. For me it looks like the editor owned a guy a favour and he paid it off by including his story in here. 

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text 2016-11-02 13:49
Reading progress update: I've read 33%.
The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

I said it once and I will say it again. For a mystery book to be really good it needs two things:
1. A complicated mystery (sorry for a bad pun).
2. Great characters, in particular investigators.

This book never fails at #1, however only the well-known writers featured here deliver colorful investigators (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and others).

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text 2016-10-24 14:47
Reading progress update: I've read 23%.
The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

 

This piece of wisdom by immortal Sherlock Holmes (or to be exact his creator Arthur Conan Doyle) can really help solving about half of the mysteries here, including the one starring The Great Detective himself.

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review 2016-10-20 18:26
The Case of the Empty Tin
The Case of the Empty Tin - Erle Stanley Gardner

We all have an aunt like this (if not aunt, then some other close relative; you do not have to go as far as second cousins to find such person). The kind who loves make homemade preserves: pickles, jams, and such. The preserves are carefully stored on shelves in a basement, labeled and ordered.

Preserves

Florence Gentrie was such person. Imagine her righteous indignation when she found an unlabeled closed empty tin can on her shelf. To a casual observer it would seem like much ado about nothing, but it looked like this can was somehow connected to a crime committed in a nearby house.

 

The crime was a strange one. People heard exactly one shot in the middle of the night and the car of the apartment tenant from where the shot came from was all in bloodstains in the morning. Both owner and his housekeeper disappeared. This meant it was not even clear who was the victim and who was the (possible) murderer. Where does Perry Mason come in? He was hired by a reclusive handicapped guy living above the apartment where the crime was committed. Mason’s task was to keep his client in the background as much as possible – from the police interrogations and the resulting publicity mostly. Obviously the best way to do it would be to solve the crime before the police starts meddling.

Police investigation

 

Perry Mason is very good at investigating, even if it means lying to the police hiding behind client-lawyer confidentiality, breaking into somebody’s home, finding a dead body or two, and generally put his life in danger. Do not feel bad for the guy as his fees clearly show all the excitement he had to go through.

 

The mystery was complicated enough to make me keep guessing about not only the identity of the villain, but also about what exactly was going on. I admit that the vital clues were given early, but it was practically impossible to recognize them as such behind all the red herrings thrown in. I also learned a simple but effective method of encrypting your messages which would put all the modern computer cryptography to shame.

Cryptography

 

I had one fairly big problem with the book using one of the worst trope of a mystery story. Not to spoil anything I will use a completely different situation from another book with the same trope. A guy was murdered. The investigation uncovered two facts from his history – among others. Some time ago the victim was driving a car being completely intoxicated, lost the control and ran over a wife and a kid of a guy named X, used a good lawyer and avoided the jail. Some other time the victim looked at another guy called Y the wrong way. Now for the trope itself: the investigators completely forget about the existence of X and build their investigation around Y trying to find (non-existing) evidence against him. I consider this to be an insult to readers’ intelligence.

 

This book had one such trope. Fortunately it was not about the main clue, otherwise I would have lowered the rating a lot, my love for the series notwithstanding. This was one additional very obvious lead which Mason overlooked. I came to expect better from one of the most famous lawyers in literature.

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review 2016-10-14 20:44
The Case of the Silent Partner
Case of the Silent Partner - E. Gardner

All the previous books of the series followed roughly the same general plot. A client came to Perry Mason office with a non-trivial but also not critical problem. Mason began investigating (usually involving Paul Drake) until a dead body showed up with all evidence pointing to his client being the murderer. Mason continued the investigation while avoiding the obstacles created by his archenemy Sergeant Holcomb until the court hearing where he would finally show the truth with skillful cross-examination of witnesses.

 

This book signifies the departure from the formula above. For starters it contains not just Mason's POV which was the case before. Sergeant Holcomb is gone replaced by Lieutenant Tragg. This was quite surprising as Mason mentioned that he was partially responsible for Holcomb's departure - and I thought the two finally came to (reluctant) understanding in the previous book. Tragg is smarter than Holcomb and tries to cooperate with Mason most of the time. Paul Drake does not make his personal appearance, but he will be back in the next book.

 

Two sisters opened several flower shops.
Flower Shop
Later when they become successful one of sisters - Mildred Faulkner began to suspect a guy who was holding a virtual monopoly on the business was trying to take over by buying off their stock.

Monopoly

So her part of the stack was safe, but when she checked on her sister it turned out the sister let her husband manage it. The husband could not produce it immediately and Mildred realized she needs a good lawyer - say Perry Mason - to protect her interest. Before she came to him she did her own investigation which led her to an illegal casino and its poisoned employee.

Illegal Casino

By the time Mason got involved another employee was shot with clues pointed at Mildred. To his complete surprise Mildred did not want Mason to represent her.

 

It was fun to see Mason closely working with police represented by Tragg for a change. I did miss Paul Drake and his attitude on life, but I am happy to say he will be back in the next book - as I already mentioned. Due to the cooperation the case was solved before it got to the courtroom, but it was complicated enough to make up for the absence of Mason's interrogation of witnesses. Even despite the fact that I was able to figure out what exactly was going on, I still rate the book with 4 stars.

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