Fourteen reprints from England’s golden age of detection (here, 1910-1953) show that although favorite sleuths may go on vacation, murder never does.
The very first story, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,” sets the pattern: rarely reprinted lesser tales that have been neglected for good reason. After Sherlock Holmes untangles “the Cornish horror,” Doyle’s brother-in-law E.W. Hornung sends Dr. John Dollar to Switzerland to determine why a doctor prescribed his patient a lethal dose of strychnine in “A Schoolmaster Abroad”; Paul Beck, closer to home, confronts the killer of a man unlucky in love in M. McDonnell Bodkin’s “The Murder on the Golf Links”; G.K. Chesterton sends poet Gabriel Gale to southern France to reveal the fate of a heterodox fossil scientist in “The Finger of Stone”; H.C. Bailey’s Reggie Fortune is on hand to unravel a double attack in the Swiss Alps in “The Hazel Ice”; Dr. John Thorndyke minutely reconstructs the appearance of a seaside victim and his killer in R. Austin Freeman’s “A Mystery of the Sand-Hills”; Anthony Berkeley shows Roger Sheringham performing remarkably similar offices on Penhampton Beach in “Razor Edge”; and Sgt. Beef divines how the new governor of a Normandy prison was killed in his car without ever getting clocked out of his office in Leo Bruce’s “Holiday Task.” Less formulaic but equally routine are Arnold Bennett’s “Murder!,” set on the Channel Coast, and a pair of stories—Basil Thomson’s “The Vanishing of Mrs. Fraser” and Michael Gilbert’s businesslike “Cousin Once Removed”—that rehash well-worn patterns. The most original entries here are Gerald Findler’s haunted-house tale “The House of Screams”; Phyllis Bentley’s spooky, twisty “Where is Mr. Manetot?”; and, best of all, “A Posteriori,” Helen Simpson’s unexpectedly funny crossing of prim Miss Charters with a spy whose work leaves unforgettable traces.
One truth emerges unchallenged: when English detectives go on holiday, they really do seem to relax a bit, or at least their creators do.