Despite Colin Watson’s witty averral that golden-age mystery writers restricted their crimes to the mythical village of Mayhem Parva, quite a few of them crossed the Channel, as this collection of 14 past voyages, originally published between 1898 and 1959, eloquently attests.
The two best stories here are the most frequently anthologized: G.K. Chesterton’s “The Secret Garden,” his second Father Brown story, a locked-garden tale that boldly burns bridges he erected in his first, and H.C. Bailey’s “The Long Dinner,” in which the insufferable Reggie Fortune teases out the links between a vanished English painter and a monstrously clever murder scheme. Of the lesser-known reprints, top honors go to F. Tennyson Jesse’s “The Lover of St. Lys,” in which Solange Fontaine, that quiet specialist in evil, susses out the truth about a French domestic intrigue; Stacy Aumonier’s bright, dry “The Perfect Murder,” in which a pair of impecunious brothers plot their wealthy aunt’s demise with predictably unpredictable results; and “The New Catacomb,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s eerie, updated take on “The Cask of Amontillado.” Also along for the trip are Arnold Bennett (an eminently guessable puzzle that restores a bracelet accidentally dropped into a Bruges canal), E. Phillips Oppenheim (ceremonious upper-crust maneuvering around some missing military plans), Ian Hay (sprightly wartime thefts-cum-espionage), Marie Belloc Lowndes (charming Hercules Popeau shows why he was such a powerful inspiration for Agatha Christie), J. Jefferson Farjeon (an Englishman rents a Rhine castle with a haunted tower), H. de Vere Stacpoole (a routine murder in glittering Monte Carlo), Josephine Bell (a drastically compressed romantic triangle gone wrong), and Michael Gilbert (the suspicious drowning of a Byronic poet whose visit to an Italian villa ends abruptly). Readers who like this sort of thing will find every single story, even if it isn’t outstanding, well worth their time.
The field is so rich, in fact, that veteran editor Edwards (Miraculous Mysteries, 2017, etc.) can’t have had much trouble in plucking these plums and near-plums—a feast for the equally nostalgic.