Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Eight Mile and Dequindre", by Loren Estleman

From: Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, Tyrus Books, 2010.

Private eye Amos Walker drove out to a little diner on Dequindre where it me Eight Mile Road just to be stood up by a prospective client. He was still there, nursing his coffee and thinking about a career change, when a young guy who looked a bit like Howdy Doody came in, beaming and flashing a picture of the girl he's there to meet.

Walker was just leaving when the two thugs barged in and shot Howdy Doody dead.

So naturally he's obliged to stick around a while longer, until the homicide detectives are all done with him. Much later he's finally crawling into his Chevy for the drive home when something catches his eye - a woman, naturally. The woman from the dead man's picture.

The set-up has obvious similarities to Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind", and it's the first time I noticed a well-known author giving a hat tip to his influences. The rest of the story plays out in the traditional way - nice guy mixed up with the wrong crowd wants out - and is pretty typical of early Walker.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

"The Avenging Chance", by Anthony Berkeley

From: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories, ed. Patricia Craig. Oxford Univeristy Press, 1990.

Sir William Anstruther went to his London club for lunch, as he did every day, at half past ten. Waiting for him in the mail was a small box of chocolates, along with a letter stating the this was a new product designed to appeal to men, and asking for his opinion. Sir William was rather a man's man and was quite prepared to bin the lot when another member, Graham Beresford, happened by. In the end the chocolates went home with Beresford, to the delight of both men.

Once at home, Beresford had a few of the chocolates before leaving to attend to some business. Upon arriving back at his club several hours later he was taken gravely ill.

His wife had a few of the chocolates, and then a few more, and by evening she was dead.

All this was brought before Roger Sheringham, occasional consultant to Scotland Yard. He could make no more of it than the police. To the essential question, Who would want Sir William dead?, there seemed no good answer. Although the investigation went on, the general feeling was that this was the act of a lunatic, someone unlikely to ever be uncovered.

Until Roger had a chance meeting with a very silly woman on a busy London street. This woman, an acquiantance of his and of the unlucky Mrs. Beresford, mentioned a small fact in passing, the significance of which she did not recognize, though Roger saw it at once. And through tugging on that tiny scrap of string, he unraveled the entire mystery.

One of the greatest short stories of the Golden Age of detection (think Christie, Sayers, et al), "The Avenging Chance" has been reprinted many times, and appears in many anthologies of the best such stories. It strikes an excellent balance between dismay as such a callous crime, and a certain intellectual airiness in treating it largely as a puzzle. To a modern reader it's not as old-fashioned and windy as many of its ilk, and is certainly a landmark of mid-twentieth century crime fiction.