From Canning (1911–86), best noted for hard-nosed thrillers like The Rainbird Pattern (1973), come two dozen stories, most no bigger than petit fours, from 1956 through 1965.
The tales fall into three groups. The first five deal with members of the Minerva Club, a gentleman’s club for convicted criminals. The best of these, “Three Heads Are Better Than One,” describes the efforts of the three Head brothers to steal appropriate gifts for their sister’s wedding. The following seven stories feature France’s Department of Patterns, whose members, under Papa Alphonse Grand, seek patterns among apparently random crimes and try to decode them. Especially clever are “Nine Little Fishermen,” which links a series of deaths to a drowning accident in 1950; “Tattoo Pattern,” which traces the fates of three mates tattooed with portraits of the Three Musketeers; and “The Chicken Breast Pattern,” which crams an impressive amount of ratiocination into its account of a truck hijacker who steals only frozen chicken breasts. The most original stories, and by far the shortest, are the 12 starring Dr. Lin Kang, a con man who spends his early years as an escape artist constantly marked for death and just as constantly eluding it, usually by putting someone else on the spot. Even when Kang turns into a more orthodox sleuth in “A Question of Tailoring” and “The Slasher Slips Up,” he retains an admirably sharp eye.
Civilized entertainments redolent of bygone days.