Review: Nine Man’s Murder

Regular readers of this blog (and thank you immeasurably for that!) know that I don’t usually do reviews. That’s mostly because I simply don’t have the patience for them (oh, how my mind wanders!), which is why my hat is lifted to JJ, Brad, Patrick, TomCat, PuzzleDoctor, and all of you for doing what I cannot!

Well, rules–even un-cemented ones–are made to be broken, and here I am, doing a review.

I feel I have to do it, simply to get it off my chest.

I hated this book, Nine Man’s Murder. Hated hated hated hated hated this book. Hated it.


(And, yes, I could have simply re-phrased Roger Ebert’s entire review of North and had it serve as my review of Nine Man’s Murder.)

Right after I finished it, I wrote down my thoughts and finished it up with “I think I’ll probably forget it as of tomorrow.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I still remember the time I spent on it, and how disappointed I was in every aspect. Not to take anything away from author  Keith, who apparently has a great love of our genre and seems like a nice person from his comments on PuzzleDoctor’s blog. Nor from the people who liked it, including PD and Patrick. Nevertheless, I feel I must be truthful about my reaction, if you’re at all interested. Here goes:

Keith cannot write, plain and simple. Nor can he plot, in the sense of creating a story that keeps one reading on. He can formulate puzzle plots, which are necessary ipso facto for detective stories, but without anything to keep me reading on, I find that it has all the interest of the coldest logic puzzle you can conceive. Suspense, humor, human emotion, clever writing–all missing. I’m skeptical that Keith even understands Ten Little Indians, the book he’s riffing. That book has nail-biting tension as the end approaches, combined with wondering how Christie could ever pull off an ending. This book had me yawning, as I couldn’t give a damn which of these stick figures had murdered the other eight. It’s this kind of book, to be honest, that gave detective stories a bad name.

This is the same flaw I see regarding most of Paul Halter’s works, but Halter seems like the greatest writer on God’s green earth compared to Keith. (And that is something I thought I’d never, ever, say!) The silliness of something like The Invisible Circle, or the lack of characterization in The Tiger’s Head, is nowhere in the same level of badness as something here. I used to be one of those people who thought that Halter’s books read less like detective stories than synopses of detective stories, but that’s nothing compared to Keith. I’m loath even to call what he did “writing.”

And the puzzle-plot. Ah, yes, the puzzle-plot, that sine qua non of detective stories. John Dickson Carr formulated the central twist here in 1935. Anthony Horowitz invented a creative variant of Carr’s trick in 2004. Keith took Horowitz’s variant and combined it with Christie’s main trick from And Then There Were None. There was some clever locked-room stuff, but nothing that held my interest out of idle curiosity.

As I noted above, despite the unoriginality of the central twist, Keith can create puzzle-plots. The chain of cluing here is good, if (again) dull to read. If Keith desires to go on writing detective stories, he should invest in a collaborator who can do the writing whilst he does the plotting. It would be an improvement for all involved.

Ugh. This is one of the worst detective stories I’ve read in a long time. (Luckily, Hard Tack, the detective story I just finished, is a good remedy.) Anything else in the field, even the unbearable Crofts, is better than this.


P.S. In his [also negative] review, TomCat mentions an alternate solution he dreamt up, and it’s a great one. As I told him, I can only wish that Keith had gone with something like that instead.


What You Should Read/Watch Instead–And Then There Were None

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Open Question

I do intend soon to post something that’s more than filler, folks, but until then…


What books do you know that are comparable to Christie’s And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians)? On the IMDb v2.0 boards, one poster asked for books with a similar set-up–people invited to an abandoned location, where they’re killed off one-by-one–and theravenking (who has commented on JJ and Brad’s blogs from time to time) and I listed several. The OP listed The Invisible Host (Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning), but I listed these (of which I’ve only read the Berkeley, the Carr, the Horowitz, and the Queen) —

Panic Party (Anthony Berkeley)

The Unicorn Murders (“Carter Dickson” /John Dickson Carr)

“I Know What You Did Last Wednesday” (Anthony Horowitz)

The House of Brass (Ellery Queen)

Death and the Dancing Footman (Ngaio Marsh)

The Eleventh Little Indian (Jacquemard-Sénécal)

The Ex (Nicholas Sanders)

–and Raven King listed these:

The Frankenstein Factory (Edward D. Hoch)

The Riddle of Sphinx Island (R. T. Raichev)

Nine Man’s Murder (Eric Keith)

Fire Will Freeze (Margaret Millar)

Bertie and the Seven Bodies (Peter Lovesey)

The Dying Game (Asa Avdic).

None of which I’ve read, by the way.

Anyhoo, does anyone know of any more? Both for helping the OP there with her question and for helping me with trying to find alternate solutions for the ATTWN scenario, which I’d like to work on after trying to work out a hypothetical alternate solution to The Hollow Man. (I haven’t forgotten, JJ!) 🙂

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“The Time Has Come…

…,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.”



Well, the time has come for the solution to “Death in the Sun,” too–so here goes…









I’m trying to decide how to do this one: I’m having a little difficulty writing the dénouement (which, to be perfectly honest, is why I’ve taken so long to write this), so I’ll just do what I did before and describe the solution. (I hope you don’t mind!)

As noted, JJ correctly noted the clue about “being able to see the beach from the house”; in fact, the Arning house is “…right next to the public beach,” according to the sheriff.

Silver Screenings correctly noticed that the shoulder is an odd place to shoot someone with intent to kill–which is indeed a major clue that we should keep in mind.

JJ then suggested that Thurlow could not have been shot outside, but rather that he was shot in the house and then walked out. But–as he wrote–“would there not be a trail of blood along the sand from the gunshot wound?”

“The deed must have been done in the house,” Colin wrote–and, as noted, correct!

What other points should we keep in mind? “Sadly, said hand and not seen fit to deliver him as brazened as the other sardines…” Thus: he could not have been on the beach long, on that very hot day, if he were not sunburned, as is inferrable, also, from his personality. Where could he have come from? The house, obviously, which is right nearby. So why, as Geoff asked, should he have been at the public beach? The point is what JJ noted: that he had been shot in the house and walked out to the public beach so that someone could see him.

Substantiating evidence? Naturally, he could not have been shot at close range on the sandbar, with no one around him. At close range–and that, my friends, is the point.

George Thurlow, remember, was shot twice: once in the shoulder and once in the back. The shot in the shoulder had powder burns–indicating a shot at close range–but the shot in the back did not.

Conclusion: we assumed that both bullets entered the body at the same time because two shots were heard at once.

But there’s the secret: George Thurlow was shot once in one place (close-range) and once in another (long-range).

In other words, he was shot once in the house (in the shoulder) and once, long-range, on the beach, from the house. Substantiation? In the back–he was facing away–long-range. He had recently come from the house; the people on the beach watched him walk out–he’d been shot in the shoulder at this point–and didn’t see anyone, or any kind of weapon, around.

Who could have committed the crime? The person who was standing on the roof when the shot was fired–the person who brought up “golf clubs” when nobody was up there to take any golf clubs–the person who had argued with Mrs. Ball and with his employer over changes to the house–the person who, obviously from his demeanor and attitude, loved and missed his former employer–the person who had only a few minutes before shown that former employer through what had been her home…

To wit, Billy Cummings.














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New Carrian Author?

I’ll try to post the solution to “Death in the Sun” soon, but until then…

Has anyone seen this piece of Jon L. Breen’s in the Weekly Standard? Fascinating stuff.

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“For Every Evil Under the Sun…”

“Death in the Sun”


a Geoffrey Lord tale

The heat was oppressive that afternoon, cooking the sand and brazening the outstretched, squirming bodies such that they resembled brass sardines.

One of the sardines, however, was outstretched but not squirming; the blackening on the shoulder was caused not by the sun’s heat, oppressive though it was, but by the muzzle of a gun put up against it—and the trigger pulled.

We may classify this particular sardine (for let us continue to deem him that) by that appellation of stock melodrama, the crooked lawyer. He was a crooked lawyer, a nasty, no-good scoundrel, the type who robs Peter to pay Paul and keeps a perquisite-for-self on the side. His name? You remember George Thurlow, no? Of course you do. Universally-known as the sort of lawyer for whom the term “shyster” was invented—indeed, the term was too kind for that low-grade arachnid.

And now a kindly hand had taken the incentive and delivered him to his maker. Sadly, said hand had not seen fit to deliver him as brazened as the other sardines, but let us not gild (or brazen) the lily. Nevertheless, George Thurlow was a human being (perhaps; the physicians are out on that point), as deserving of life as any of us (perhaps; the philosophers are out on that point), even if Sheriff Hank Gibbons nearly spat on the body as he overlooked it:


“I don’t have anythin’ good to say about that man, Mr. Lord—I woulda gladly shot him myself if I thought I coulda got away with it. Came along from the city, all how-do-ya-do and fancy, the way the city folk do—exceptin’ yourself, ’course; you’re almost like a local—and rents the Arning place, right next to the public beach, every year. Not that he liked bein’ there, naturally: only that he was a cheapskate, and old Mrs. Arning lets it out cheap. And now he’s dead.”

“Now he’s dead,” Mr. Geoffrey Lord repeated softly, removing his glasses and polishing them with his pocket handkerchief. The first time he had visited Nordharbor, he remembered, he had seen George Z. Thurlow (very important, that middle initial) on the old Arning balcony, sunbathing as if he expected to be seen and heralded by all, and told himself that Thurlow was setting himself up for a run-in with tragedy. He’d known Thurlow from a case on which Pop O’Leary had asked Geoff’s help; Thurlow had defended the doctor involved (for a hefty fee) and won the case. (For all his flaws, no one could call Thurlow a bad lawyer.) Geoff, that nicest of men, had disliked Thurlow—a pompous peacock with a mean streak to match—ever since.

Pop O’Leary had been philosophical about it—“If we went after every crooked lawyer in New York…”—while sweet Paula Vale let her emotions get the better of her—“Shoot the crook!” Geoff remembered shooting Miss Vale an amused looked and thinking that he was now seeing a new side to her.

“Is there any reason he should be at the public beach, Sheriff?” Geoff inquired. The point had puzzled him.

“No reason at all—though it’s the least of our worries. Gad, if only he’d committed suicide!”

“I understand the conviction. The footprints?”

“The footprints. Gad Almighty, the footprints! Explain that and Nordharbor’ll give ya a parade, I’m bettin’. How can a man be shot (at close-range, mind ya—see the powder burns round the hole in the shoulder?) in the middle of a beach, in full view of a dozen people, with only his footprints around, and nobody sees the fella that did it?”

For that was what had happened. Thurlow had walked out on to a sandbar, watched by the sardines mentioned before. Some carefully, some askance, but all saw him. And two shots rang out on a hot summer afternoon, and the man was dead, shot in the shoulder and the back. Alone on a sandbar, with only his footprints leading up to him. Weird? Unreal. The sort of thing you’d expect of a Lewis Carroll phantasmagoria, or—if you have the tastes that you probably have, dear reader—a detective story of the impossible sort.

The tide was coming in.

“I suppose the water couldn’t have washed away any footprints?” Mr. Lord asked, at this point clutching at straws (for he saw no way it could have happened either).

“No, siree,” said Sheriff Gibbons. “He was in the middle of the shoal, as nice as you could get, and there woulda been something around him. Nothin’. Mr. Lord, there wasn’t nobody here, I’m tellin’ ya. Not a single living soul came to this barge exceptin’ the man himself. Ghosts, goblins—there’s talk of an old Indian legend aroundabout these parts…”

“An awfully able one who can fire a modern gun,” Geoff said, smiling. “No, Sheriff, there’s a human side to this puzzle. Have you ever read detective stories?”

“Ah,” said the Sheriff, cocking his head to one side. “I thought it’d get to that. Ya write ’em, don’t ya? That’s why I called ya up when I heard ya was in town—seems like a detective-story sort of crime, if y’know what I mean…”

Evil Under the Sun 1982

“Do I ever. Body, shot at close range, found on otherwise unmarked sand, whole house of suspects… I suppose a boat couldn’t have come up nearby and someone could have fired from that?”

“Woulda got caught up on the reef,” the sheriff pointed out, “and ’course somebody woulda seen it.”

“Silly notion, anyway—sorry,” said Mr. Lord. “And the first person to find the body?”

“Hm, yes, siree, we thought of that. Lots o’ people on the beach saw him fall; we had a few different calls in to the precinct about the case. But nearly everyone was sayin’ no one approached the body till my men and I got here.”

“Well: back to the house of suspects, then—the Arning house, to be exact. His son?”

Gibbons gave the OK to the deputies standing nearby to take the body away; there was no evidence to be found on the bar, he and Geoff had determined (the gun? Probably thrown into the ocean by an invisible killer, they reasoned); and, even if there were, the water would soon sweep it away anyway.

“His son, yup,” he said. “And his housekeeper and the boy doin’ work for him. Gad knows they’ve all got a reason for it, but then I’ll bet ya half the town does. We can’t quite narrow it down, can we?”

“Maybe we can,” said Mr. Lord. “Listen here, Sheriff, there’s a way someone could have killed Thurlow without ever being on the sandbank. There’s an old solution in detective fiction…”

The house creaked, as if it were about to give up its ghost and sink into the sea at last, and folks had long said Mrs. Arning would go with it—prob’ly one of her reasons for letting it for so little, the Sheriff told Geoff as they walked up the beach to the estate. Geoff looked up at the balcony and recalled how many times Mrs. Arning—white-haired, tall and noble, with the accent and bearing of near-royalty—sat there, overlooking the waves (her late husband’s true love, people had gossiped), being waited on by the obsequious Billy, a cheerful lad of about 19. Billy stayed on after Mrs. Arning left—left the house, left the town, handled the business details through a lawyer—and did various odds and ends for Thurlow.

“His motive,” the Sheriff laughed unhappily.

The housekeeper was about fifty—a dumpy woman with stringy hair and the complexion of glue. Mrs. Ball, her name was (though no one had seen Mr. Ball in many years)—Edith Ball, she of the Judith Anderson face and voice. She was brought in from New York, and there had been talk (Geoff remembered, and told the sheriff) years ago, of marriage between her and her employer. All scuttled when said employer married Beryl Innes.

“Her motive,” said Geoffrey Lord.

And the son, August: a grown man with the brain of a child, who had hated his stepmother and was delighted when his father threw her out. Not that he liked his father any more, but then he rarely bothered his father and his father rarely bothered him. His stepmother, however, had longed for August to leave his room, to leave his father’s house, to grow up and live and… Not for the Thurlows, this lifestyle. Miss Paula Vale would have said that they were not a very nice family.


It was August who blocked the doorway when Geoff and the Sheriff had tried to enter.

“The sheriff?” he said. “You’ve come about the woman?”

“We’ve come about your father’s death,” Sheriff Gibbons said sharply.

But Mr. Lord said, “Woman?”

August Thurlow sighed. “Of course, the woman. The old woman who owns this house.”

“Mrs. Arning? But she’s…”

“I know that. But she was here.” He stamped his foot as if about to throw a temper tantrum. “She bothered me, going through all the rooms. I’d like to have her arrested.”

“Huh.” The sheriff coughed. “For what charge, exactly? Enterin’ her own house?”

The housekeeper’s entrance interrupted August Thurlow’s outburst of a reply. “Sheriff Gibbons? Yes, one of your men talked to me on the telephone. I understand you wished for a statement of our whereabouts?”

“That would be appreciated, ma’am.”

“Indeed. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Thurlow, Mr. Cummings, and I all heard the shots—”

(“‘Mr. Cummings’?”

“Billy,” the Sheriff explained.)

“—at about 1:18, is that correct, sir?”

This to August.

“I guess,” that personage sulked.

“Yes, sir.”

“That fits in with what the coroner said,” Gibbons whispered to Geoff.

“Now, as for where everyone was…”

“One moment,” Geoff interposed. “Mrs. Ball, do you know where everyone was before you heard the shots?”

“Before? I don’t know…” She knew exact whereabouts when she heard the shots fired—of course she did. Mrs. Ball, in her ever-knowing way, was expectant and ready for that.

“About 10 to 20 minutes before. Apologies for the question, but as I was just saying to the sheriff—well, it’s connected to our theory on how the crime has been committed.”

“Let me think, sir,” said the eternally unruffled woman, now ruffled and unaware how to react to it. “Mr. Cummings was here, with me—before he went up to the roof to bring up Mr. Thurlow’s golf clubs, sir. I was explaining how, under Mr. Thurlow—the late Mr. Thurlow—one could not act as one acted in Mrs. Arning’s day… I don’t know about Mr. Thurlow.”

“I was in the game room, playing with the pool balls—nothing murderous, Sheriff. But I do have an alibi for the time of… Anyway, how about that woman? She probably murdered Father—everyone hated Father.”

“Did you?” said Mr. Geoffrey Lord, who already knew the answer to the question.

Billy Cummings was the last to arrive. Yes, he had been up on the roof when he heard the shots; yes, he knew why the Sheriff and Geoff were there; and…

“You knew the woman?” said August Thurlow.

“Of course,” said Billy, surprised. “I thought everyone knew. It was Mrs. Arning—she explained how she wished to see her old home. Of course I took her through the rooms–she was gone before we heard the shots, you know–and…”

“My God,” said Mr. Lord, suddenly. “What a fool I’ve been. Of course—yes. That’s the only way it could have been done. Billy, one thing: did she explain why she wished to see everything?”

“I—I think she’s sick, sir: I mean, in the sense that I doubt she has long to…”

“That’s it,” the great man murmured. “Fool that I am.” He paused again. “Sheriff, if the question is one of arrest…”

Who killed George Thurlow?

How could the murder have been committed?


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I’m still wondering if anyone is interested in expressing his or her thoughts about the last two posts–mostly because I’ve been musing over them for the last few days!

I intend to post a Geoffrey Lord impossible crime/ “no footprints” problem (apropos of JJ’s post here!), a post on the element of parody in Christianna Brand’s Tour de Force (which I recently finished), and another on Paul Halter’s The Phantom Passage, the first Halter in which I liked both the puzzle-plot and the reading experience.

If I get sidetracked (as usual), please remind me!

This blog will, as always, continue at its famously irregular pace (to quote Xavier Lechard of “At the Villa Rose” ).

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Is ‘Lord Edgware Dies’ Fair Play?

I’m still musing over the question posed in the last post and am interested in your thoughts.

Until I decide, I’d like to hear everyone’s thought on this post, from the former blog for now sadly-vanished “GAD Fiction Forum”: I never before thought that Lord Edgware Dies might not be fair, but the argument presented here makes sense, at least to me.

What say you?

Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

I’ve recently reread Christie’s “Lord Edgware Dies” (aka “Thirteen at Dinner”) and was again troubled by the question of whether one of the key moments of misdirection is fair.

Hastings has narrated a scene between Poirot and Jane Wilkinson which concludes as follows. [Jane Wilkinson is speaking.]

“‘I shall always think you were wonderful.’

“I only saw Jane Wilkinson twice again. Once on the stage, once when I sat opposite her at a luncheon party. I always think of her as I saw her then, absorbed heart and soul in clothes . . . ” etc.

The tone of this passage is brilliantly designed to be valedictory. By ending with a line of dialogue that sounds like an envoi, and then recounting how he only sat opposite her once at “a luncheon,” Hastings is giving the impression that Jane Wilkinson will vanish from our story. But of course she doesn’t…

View original post 309 more words

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An Undignified Melodrama for My Bone of Contention

OK, folks, I’m in a bit of a quandary: I have a new Geoffrey Lord story, and I think it’s fairly decent, but it’s longer than any of the others I’ve posted, and I’m not sure if you’d all be interested or not.


Now, it’s not the size of a novel or something–in fact, it’d probably be on the shorter side as far as strict “short stories” go–but most of the tales I’ve posted here have been very short, and I really don’t want to bore you just with my meager efforts.


I would probably post pictures and other things to keep up interest, but still…

Oh, and if I do post it, perhaps all of you may help me out: I’m completely stumped as to a title!



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Solution Time!

OK, folks, it’s time for the solution to “The Unhinged Man”…































































The murderer is Terence Crane. He is the only one not in a pattern of the names, just as in “Thirteen at Dinner.”

Inurhadi’s logic was correct and made up Geoffrey Lord’s original solution:

Cardinal is indeed derived from the Latin cardinalis, or “hinge.” Based on that fact–“the derivation of one word in particular,” as Geoff put it–he originally deduced that the killer was William Cardinal.

But then Geoff realized the most pertinent fact: the killer was not the hinged (“cardinal”) man but rather the unhinged man–the man who did not fit the “hinged” pattern.

But what was the pattern, and how did it relate to hinged, or unhinged?

What are some meanings for cardinal? The Catholic cleric, of course, and the bird (“volucrine”!), and… The four cardinal directions.

That’s our pattern, boys and girls: North, South, East, and West.

And our names? Leaving aside the avian surnames and focusing on the Christian names: Norman, Sam, Edgar, and William. North, South, East, and West again.

But there is one name that is not one of the cardinal directions–un-cardinal, shall, we say, or un-hinged: Terence Crane.


(By the way, the individual to whom Mr. Lord’s last comment was directed was Prof. Tewksbury, who obviously came up with the Latin derivation of cardinal.)



































































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Desert [Not “Dessert”!] Island Books

Well, it seems that I haven’t posted anything here except my own fiction for a while–a sincere thank you to everyone who has looked at it and especially to those who have commented!–but I’ll try to remedy that with this question–er, game– for all of the mystery bloggers out there.

I’ll call it “desert island books,” but it’s a bit different from the “mysteries you would take to a desert island.” (I wouldn’t take a mystery to a desert island; I’d follow Chesterton’s lead, and take A Practical Guide to Ship-Building! 😀 ) Desert Island Discs

So, here are the “rules,” then (your mission, if you choose to accept it): you choose your ten favorite mystery authors, first of all, and then have to choose one book from each to take with you. Only one–no more! (You can pick a runner-up, though, if you’d like.) I would prefer that we stick to novels, which unfortunately means no Chesterton and little of Conan Doyle. (I’m going to try to keep to the formal, fair-play, “puzzle-plot” mystery, but you can be a bit more open with your criteria if you want.) A bit like Carr’s list, which I suppose we all know–at least, I hope so, because I no longer seem to be able to find a copy online!

Anyway… Anyone game?


My Favorites:

John Dickson Carr: The Crooked Hinge (runner-up: He Who Whispers)

Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile (runner-up: Five Little Pigs)

Ellery Queen: Ten Days’ Wonder (runner-up: Cat of Many Tails)

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death (runner-up: The Nine Tailors)

Gladys Mitchell: Come Away, Death (runner-up: When Last I Died)

Christianna Brand: Death of Jezebel (runner-up: Green for Danger)

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley of Fear (runner-up: The Sign of the Four)

A.E.W. Mason: The House of the Arrow (runner-up: At the Villa Rose)

E.C. Bentley: Trent’s Last Case

Rex Stout: Some Buried Caesar (runner-up: Too Many Cooks)



P.S. Unless something unforeseen occurs, I’m intending to post the solution to “The Unhinged Man” tomorrow, if that’s OK for everyone! 🙂

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