I’ve been a fan of the British Library Crime Classics series for many years. Since 2012 they have been reprinting a decent selection of ‘golden-age’ mysteries (although not exclusively from this period) and the occasional short story anthology. As a general rule, the anthologies tend to be not quite as good; perhaps because a few of the stories have been anthologised elsewhere, whereas the novels are often overlooked or simply more obscure.
This one, Miraculous Mysteries, is – like the other anthologies in the series – edited by crime fiction expert Martin Edwards, himself a fine writer. Like the others, this one contains short stories from some of the famous names in the genre (such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, Edmund Crispin, G K Chesterton, Margery Allingham and Michael Innes) alongside some from lesser known authors.
Although I tend to prefer the shorter length in such genres as horror or weird literature, the simple fact is that crime fiction doesn’t really suit the shorter form, due to its reliance on complex plotting and the need for a careful distribution of clues among the prose.
The introduction by Martin Edwards lists an interesting top ten of the best ‘locked room’ mystery novels, as voted for by the Mystery Writers of America in 1981. Like all of Edwards’ editorial content, there is much to enjoy in the details and his experience.
My biggest problem with the locked-room mystery or the impossible crime is that the set-up and premise is always infinitely more interesting than the solution. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways one can kill someone in a locked room without stretching credulity to its limit. Even using hidden compartments or spring-loaded daggers fired at an arranged time starts to wear thin after a while. However what I did like about this anthology – which I read in the wake of a couple of others, notably a mammoth collection edited by Otto Penzler and a more modest one from Mike Ashley – is that there is some variation to the crime, so that the stories don’t become too monotonous. I can’t say I was particularly gripped by any of the tales, however the entries from Margery Allingham, Nicholas Olde, Grenville Robbins, GDH Cole and Margaret Cole were probably my favourites. It managed to pass a few entertaining hours, but this isn’t a book I would recommend to anyone looking to start out reading in the genre, and it’s not a patch on many of the other anthologies in the Crime Classic series, let alone the novels.