Eight blasts from the past of mystery’s Golden Age.
Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893–1971) is best remembered under the pseudonym Francis Iles, author of a pair of pioneering inverted novels of murder, Malice Aforethought (1931) and Before the Fact (1932), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Suspicion. As Anthony Berkeley, he founded London’s famed Detection Club, whose legendary oath enjoined members like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers never to conceal a vital clue from the reader. In these ebullient stories, written mostly during the 1930s, the clues are prominently displayed, but their significance is rarely clear, even to beer-loving amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham and Inspector Moresby. The eyewitnesses who saw Jimmy Meadows shoot his married friend Mrs. Greyling, the way a newly bereaved widow fainted at the mention of a casual acquaintance, the repeatedly disappearing corpse of Hugh Chappell’s cousin Frank—they all come in for repeated interpretation in these brainy, facetious tales that show the gifted amateur falling on his face as often as not, looking back to E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case and forward to the more realistically fallible detectives of a later generation.
Berkeley’s weakness for double-twist endings often makes his stories too clever by half, but this compendium adds at least one minor classic—“Unsound Mind,” exposing a brilliantly faked suicide—to “The Avenging Chance,” Berkeley’s imperishable contribution to the detective short story.