6/2/12

Go Gadget Go

"Nothing's impossible, Hadj. There are only possibilities waiting to be discovered."
- Jonny Quest (Assault on Questworld)
The primary purpose of this nook is to provide me with an outlet for my observations, musings and conjecture on the detective story, after having rooted around in its murky past, but today's review is composed from notes dating back nearly two years.

In my last post, I referred to a collection of short stories, Arthur Porges' The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey (2009), which I read and reviewed on the John Dickson Carr forum in my pre-blogging days. It was one of my first, tentative steps to become the Fredric Dannay of the 21st century (Patrick has dibs on Anthony Boucher's mantle) and while it's not a terribly good review, it isn't a bad one either – and decided to revise rewrite it a bit and repost it here. Please remember that I wrote this two years ago, and it's therefore very summary.

The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey is a collection of (mostly) short-short stories, in which a paralyzed research scientist, whose wheelchair is studded with neat little gadgets, lends his analytical mind to one of his former pupils, Lt. Trask, when a case is starting to become an impossible one. Grey's 14-year-old son Edgar, a child prodigy who possesses an IQ of 180, playing the Archie Goodwin to his father's Nero Wolfe, rounds out the team. He's also very fond of Trask and this usually results in some fun, lighthearted banter between the police lieutenant and the pint-sized genius. Yes, it's basically Rex Stout, Detective Conan, Ellery Queen and a dash of the impossible meshed together and poured into one slender volume. 

The stories themselves are very readable, fun and well written, but also very uneven in quality, although, there were only two real duds in this book – which is not a bad ratio for a collection of fourteen stories. It should be mentioned, however, that half of the stories have solutions that are variations on two basic ideas. You can read them (if you're curious) in my original post where they are hidden behind proper spoiler tags. But now, on to the stories!

The Scientist and the Bagful of Water

The book opens with a monumental dud and one that can almost be heard when a bag of water, plunging from a multi-story building, becomes a deadly projectile and squashes a man's skull. Grey's evidence to hang the murderer has a glimmer of cleverness, but the only real impossibility in this story is being able to anticipate the solution.

The Scientist and the Wife Killer

The stand-out story of this collection, in which a man, under grave suspicion of having buried his previous wives a tad bit prematurely, electrocutes his latest spouse inside a locked bathroom, which was bare of any electric appliances, and her husband was miles away at the time of her sudden demise! A good example of how to retain the puzzle element in an inverted mystery.

The Scientist and the Vanished Weapon

A minor tale in which a delinquent teenager kills a cop, and than miraculously makes the gun disappear. A competent story with an unusual premise, but that's about it.

The Scientist and the Obscene Crime 

Grey finds a clever method to trace an apparent untraceable pervert who terrorizes a young woman with lewd phone calls. A mildly amusing, but not very memorable, story.

The Scientist and the Multiple Murders

This entry in the casebook of the wheelchair bound detective is the longest in the collection, running for fourteen pages, and concerns a congregation of eight directors who are found floating in a pool on the top of an office building – electrocuted without apparent means or a way the murderer could've gained access to the roof. The method to kill an entire group of people in one stroke, on top of an inaccessible building, managed to be both inventive and deadly simple, and thus very satisfying.

The Scientist and the Invisible Safe

The police suspects a notorious jewel thief of having stashed the spoils of his nefarious activities, a precious stone, in his hotel room, but they turn up empty handed after thoroughly going over the room and ask Grey to help them locate the thief's invisible cubbyhole. A fun little story similar to Queen's "Diamonds in Paradise" and Dickson's "Hot Money."

The Scientist and the Two Thieves

Once again, a jewel thief performs a vanishing trick with a valuable gem as a stage prop and Grey has to find it, which he does, only to discover that another thief beat him to it. 

The Scientist and the Time Bomb

This utterly bizarre story opens with a threatening letter from a dead man, in which the dearly departed reveals that he has placed an untraceable time bomb in his former ancestral home with a fifteen year fuse (!) – and that was well over fourteen years ago. The solution is one like you've never seen before and I'm still not entirely sure what to think of it. It's original; I'll give him that!

The Scientist and the Platinum Chain

Grey has to figure out what happened to a platinum chain after it disappeared from a crime scene. Not very interesting.

The Scientist and the Exterminator

A notorious and vicious man is killed when a whiff of cyanide gas drifts into his securely locked and guarded apartment that even has its windows covered with chicken wire. It has a fairly interesting method to introduce a cloud of noxious fumes into a tightly secured, top floor apartment. However, it should be mentioned that's also a bit farfetched and we've seen the general idea behind this trick before in this collection.

The Scientist and the Stolen Rembrandt

This story also follows the formula of the previous story with Trask asking Grey's help in locating another hidden object. This time a top fence made a newly discovered sketch by Rembrandt disappear from a ship moments before he was apprehended. It's a new wrinkle on the concept of Poe's "The Purloined Letter."

The Scientist and the Poisoner

A man is poisoned in a restaurant and only the waiter was near enough to add an extra, poisonous ingredient to the meal, but, naturally, this person is innocent – which gives Trask, Grey and the reader another impossible situation to digest. One of the better stories in this collection, but, again, we've seen this type of solution before.

The Scientist and the Heavenly Alibi

Grey rips what appeared to be a perfect photographic alibi to shreds. Not as interesting as it could've been.

The Scientist and the One-Word Clue

This collection opened and ended with a dud, and this story can only be described as an unnecessarily afterthought to the series, in which Trask asks Grey's assistance in making sense out of the final scribbles of a murdered man.

The stories in this collection were culled from the pages of The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, where they appeared from 1965 through 1975, and three more were dug from the authors personal archives and were published in this volume for the very first time. The Curious Cases of Cyriack Skinner Grey is still in print and recommend it not only to the enthusiasts of the locked room mystery, but also to everyone who reads detective stories for the same reason as they were read during the Golden Age... because they are fun!

2 comments:

  1. I discovered these books published by Richard Simms a few months ago on amazon.com. He seems to have a huge collection of magazines or some resource of Arthur Porges' entire magazine published fiction. Some of these sound very intriguing and I'll probably break down later this season and finally buy a copy of this.

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    1. I hope Simms will continue to gather uncollected Porges stories and anthologize them, because I would love to have the complete casebook of Dr. Joel Hoffman on my shelves ("No Killer Has Wings" has one of the best solutions for the no-footprints situation).

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