Purists be warned: This latest XXXL-sized anthology from veteran editor Penzler (The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, 2013, etc.) should really be titled The Black Lizard Big Book of Impossible Crimes.
Not that fans of the most distinctive strain of golden-age plotting will be disappointed, for even if locked rooms appear in only a fraction of these 68 reprints, here is God’s plenty. After they skip the seven endlessly anthologized entries by Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jacques Futrelle, Melville Davisson Post and Lord Dunsany, readers will be able to choose among shootings from Agatha Christie to Bill Pronzini, stabbings from R. Austin Freeman to John Lutz, disappearances from E.C. Bentley to H.R.F. Keating, impossible thefts, impossible poisonings, and no fewer than six stories featuring corpses found in the sand or snow with no footprints indicating the presence of a killer. Penzler, who provides introductions to every story, includes one by John Dickson Carr, the acknowledged master of the genre, one by his alter ego Carter Dickson, and three by his most prolific disciple, Edward D. Hoch. Nostalgia buffs will be reunited with Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Clayton Rawson and Edmund Crispin, along with ancient debut stories by Judson Phillips (aka Hugh Pentecost, who’s also represented) and James Yaffe. More adventurous explorers will find that writers as diverse as P.G. Wodehouse, MacKinlay Kantor, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Leslie Charteris, Georges Simenon, William Irish, Fredric Brown, Lawrence Block and Stephen King have all in their time created impossible crimes and solved them neatly. And that’s the biggest limitation of this behemoth collection: Unlike locked-room novels, which can pleasurably tease readers for hundreds of pages before taking them behind the curtain, short stories barely have time to lay out the impossible circumstances before the solution is due. Better not subject yourself to more than one or two of these parlor tricks at a sitting.
However fast or slow they go, however, connoisseurs of this eccentric, demanding form will find this an indispensable resource, a pearl beyond price.