Thursday, September 3, 2015

The A.B.C. Murders

I walk to Green Fish to listen to the sound of silence.
A man who plays the harp gently shakes my hand
and he leads me in to the story of him. 
「廃墟のソファ」 ("Sofa in a Ruin") (Akeboshi)

I can't even remember when I read this book, but I think it was a good, two, three weeks ago. Better write this review down now before I forget even more.

Nowadays we might be looking at our smartphones or tablets while we take sips of our beverage of choice with too long a name, but in essence, the experience at a coffee or teashop the last century hasn't changed much. You enjoy a drink and enjoy a read, or maybe have a chat with someone else. And sometimes, that someone might actually be a detecting genius. Polly Burton is a newspaper reporter who often stops by the local A.B.C. teashop. Another regular customer in the shop is an old man who sits in the corner who always seems to be thinking about crime. While putting knots in a piece of string, and untying them, Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner (1908) tells Polly, and the reader, about the most baffling crimes and the even more shocking truth behind them.

I knew I had to read Baroness Emma Orczy's stories someday, but certain events finally left me with no other choice than to finally do it. Which might make it sound like I really did not feel like doing it. Anyway, The Old Man in the Corner (1908) is a short story collection featuring the titular old man in the corner, with two other collections, The Case of Miss Eliot (1905) and Unravelled Knots (1925), completing the series. Note that while the publication of The Case of Miss Eliot predates that of the book The Old Man in the Corner, the stories in the latter were actually the first to be written.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the stories, often about murder in the more affluent spheres of society, but there is one problem that makes it hard to discuss the dozen stories of The Old Man in the Corner indepedently. That is, most of them are actually based on the same fundamental trick and it is usually very easy to see what is going on once you recognize the pattern. That said, Orczy does manage to present the same pattern in a variety of ways that prevent you from instantly recognizing how the trick is used every time, but in general, a lot of the stories do come close to if you've read one of them, you've read them all. Which is a shame, because the stories themselves are fun to read. It's just that they're practically all built on the same foundation.

I know someone like Christie also often reused patterns for different stories, but it's one thing to have some 'same pattern' stories spread across one's whole oeuvre of books, or just one single collection with basically just one pattern.

The writing is enjoyable though and it read a lot smooth than other writing from the same time, I think. In fact, I had initially thought that the stories dated from a good ten, twenty years later than their actual publication period. The settings might be a bit dated, but the writing feels quite modern.

I liked the armchair detective device of the old man in the corner, but the concept seems a bit underused in this collection. Sure, the idea of an old man in the corner of a teashop solving the most sensational crimes from behind newspaper is fun, but the old man in the corner of this collection always has prepared all the information needed from various sources and has often gone to the crime scenes/trials himself; which kinda means he isn't an armchair detective, in the sense that he is only sitting in his chair after having done all the necessary legwork himself. I like my armchair detectives to be a bit more sedentary. Also, I'd loved a bit more Polly-Old Man interaction.

The Old Man in the Corner is an entertaining short story collection with an armchair detective-ish character, though a lot of the stories in this collection are basically the same. I hope that the other collections feature more variety, because I do like Orczy's writing and her plot construction.


  1. Oh, wow, it might actually be more than ten years since I read this collection, but I agree with your assessment that most of them are interchangeable. I guess that's why I threw the other collections on the big pile and sort of forgot about them. The most memorable one, till this day, is the one that revealed The Old Man's secret and Christie's superb parody in Partners in Crime.

    1. On one hand, I do want to read the rest of the series, but if they're all like this,..

  2. Hello,

    I guess you will say no but I'll attempt anyway

    I have the Dai Gyakuten Saiban gameplay videos from Court Records, and I intend to have them fansubbed

    so, I was wondering if you'd like to help (since you know Japanese)

    1. Sorry, I do a lot of translations in Ace Attorney fandom, but I'm not really interested in such a project.