This anthology might be better titled Mysteries On, In, By, or Bearing Some Incidental Connexion with Water. You would think a nation laying claim to a rich maritime history would be able to dredge up a few more presentable crime stories with an outright maritime aspect. Moreover, the overall quality of the stories is not outstanding. A brief description of each of them follows.
‘The Adventure of the “Gloria Scott”’ (1893) by Conan Doyle.is, like all Holmes stories, very well known. It is unusual in that it is narrated largely by Holmes himself. Unfortunately, it is not very good. There are a number of careless inconsistencies, and the bulk of the story involves neither detection nor a Holmes-Watson caper, but is a piece of run of the mill sensation fiction.
‘The Eight-Mile Lock’ (1897) is a mystery by LT Meade and Robert Eustace, first published in 1897 in Cassell’s Family Magazine. Eustace lent scientific expertise, and sometimes plots, to a number of authors, among them Meade, who then wrote the stories. Accordingly this story features a piece of gadgetry, novel at the time of writing, and interesting to read about, but otherwise the story is quite dull.
‘The Gift of the Emperor’ is the last story in the first Raffles collection, Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman (1899). The Raffles stories are proto-thrillers, but they are unique in a way that cannot be properly appreciated by reading only one. Raffles is a ‘gentleman thief’, a fantasy figure, and it seems as if the reader is expected to admire his crimes as expressions of sporting prowess. He exercises a near hypnotic influence over his younger confederate, Bunny Manners, who chronicles his exploits, half with adoration, half with disapproval. There are a great many sociological theses that might be written about Raffles, but from a narrow literary view I struggle to see how the stories can be enjoyed by anyone over the age of 14.
‘Bullion!’ by William Hope Hodgson from Everybody’s Weekly (1911) is a locked room mystery that is well set up, but the solution is a disappointment.
‘The Echo of a Mutiny’ by R Austin Freeman from the collection The Singing Bone (1912) is an early and very good ‘inverted’ mystery. Thorndyke does sometimes speak as if he is addressing a lecture theatre but the story is ingeniously plotted.
‘The Pool of Secrets’ by Gwyn Evans from Detective Weekly (1935) is a piece of pulp fiction with a comic book plot.
‘Four Friends and Death’ by Christopher St John Sprigg, was published in The 20-Story Magazine in 1935. Sprigg wrote only a few short stories and to my knowledge they have never been collected. If the dialogue is a bit stagey, the story is well-developed puzzler that Sprigg fits to the constraints of the form he is working in.
‘The Turning of the Tide’ by CS Forrester, was originally published in The Story-Teller in 1935. It is a gruesome thriller that employs a very original idea. Unfortunately, the timing cannot be fitted to the medical reality.
‘The Swimming Pool’ by HC Bailey is a Reggie Fortune story. It first appeared in Windsor Magazine, 1936 and was then collected in A Clue for Mr Fortune. This is the longest story here, although the puzzle is not complicated. (Nor is the plot very plausible.) It is written in a leisurely manner for no better reason than to give Reggie ample opportunity to be tediously facetious and express his sense of moral superiority.
‘A Question of Timing’ by Phyllis Bentley (Poppy Annual, 1946) is only very incidentally a crime story. It is an insubstantial adventure romance with a happy ending.
‘The Thimble River Mystery’ by Josephine Bell (Evening Standard, 1950) is a fair-play puzzler that features Bell’s series sleuth Dr David Wintringham. Given the short story medium, it does not matter that Wintringham is completely colourless. The puzzle itself is workmanlike, and the reader is given a good chance of working through the solution as Wintringham does.
‘Man Overboard’ by Edmund Crispin first appeared in the Evening Standard in 1954 and was reprinted posthumously in Fen Country (1979). It is short and sweet and depends on an innovative re-working of (what I recall to be) an old trick. If my recollection is wrong and the trick is original with Crispin, then the story is even cleverer. It also features a novel (tongue in cheek?) defence of the social utility of blackmailers.
‘The Queer Fish’ (Argosy, 1955) by Kem Bennett, is an undemanding thriller that is tolerably entertaining due to its ironic elements. There is a humorous sub-plot that does not work because neither of the principal characters concerned is characterised sharply enough to carry it off - one is not engaging enough and the other not petty enough.
‘The Man Who Was Drowned’ by James Pattinson appeared in John Creasey Mystery Magazine, 1958. It is uninventive and unmeritorious, purely a page filler.
‘Seasprite’ by Andrew Garve was originally published in the Evening Standard in 1963 under a different title. It is a brief, bald, predictable narrative in which the apparent motive for the first murder is not very convincing.
‘Death by Water’ (collected in The Appleby File, 1975) by Michael Innes, is a derivative Appleby story that depends on a device that goes back at least to Thorndyke and has been re-used on many occasions since. The story is redeemed by the exercise of Innes’ gift for memorable characterisation.
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (1 September 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1464211779
- ISBN-13: 978-1464211775
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 331 g
- Customer Reviews: 16 customer ratings