Forty-two snippets of detective craft from the genre’s most famous apostate.
Long before he came to disavow the detective story as a childish precursor to the crime novel, Symons (1912–94) produced a dizzying volume of short puzzles featuring solid, low-key private detective Francis Quarles for the London Evening Standard between 1950 and 1955. This volume gathers nearly all of them—miniatures from three to eight pages long—and quite a box of bonbons they are. Though none rise to the level of their novel-length counterparts, from The Thirty-First of February (1950) through The Narrowing Circle (1954), they’re all enjoyable and professional. The slightest of them, like “Red Rum Means Murder,” “A Present from Santa Claus,” “Murder in Reverse” and “Final Night Extra,” turn on a single clue or discrepancy reminiscent of the contemporaneous stories Ellery Queen would collect in Q.B.I. (1955). But Symons can weave unusually complex webs in a short space, and “The Barton Hall Dwarf” (a tart echo of a famous G.K. Chesterton story) and “The Vanishing Trick” would do any puzzler proud. Symons’s mastery of varied approaches and tones expertly disguises the fact that three of the most ingenious entries—“A Man with Blue Hair,” “Ghost from the Past,” and “The Whistling Man”—are basically the same tale, but with different trimmings.
Powerful evidence that Symons’s notorious attack on the detective story overlooked some of his own most clever contributions.