Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Never Go Away

愛よ消えないで もう u um
I need you ずっと捜してた
『CITY HUNTER~愛よ消えないで』 (小比類巻かほる)

Oh Love, pease don't go
I need you / I've searching for you
"City Hunter ~Oh Love, Don't Go Away" (Kohiruimaki Kahoru)

Another non-Japanese review! I think that three of them on a row is usually my limit: I always come back to Japanese fiction. The only times when there are more than three reviews of non-Japanese books in a row is when I read the books and write the reviews as a series on purpose, like with the Drury Lane novels earlier this year.

The first disappearance mystery in the English town Winchingham ("Wincham" for the locals) involved a Miss Janet Soames. She had eloped with her husband-to-be, a Mr. Philip Strong, and were to stay for one night in Winchingham and marry the following day. The wedding however never happened, because Philip Strong quite suddenly and impossibly disappeared from Janet's eyes. The second disappeareance mystery starred a Mr. Stokes and his lovely secretary. The two were busy with their own disappearance act, with company money, when their car decided to stop running. Posing as a married couple, Mr. Stokes and the secretery book rooms in the Welcome Inn, just outside Winchingham. Here the 'couple' come across a room that appears just as as easily as it disappears, and even the police can't make any sense out of the mystery of the disappearing room. Finally, a Mrs. Prattley, invited over to Winchingham by a gentleman friend, becomes witness to an awfully curious murder in cul-de-sac near a rivier, but when she brings the local beat cop, they discover the whole street is gone. Lancelot Carolus Smith of the police has quite a lot to solve in Norman Berrow's The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947).

Last time, I wrote about Norman Berrow's The Footprints of Satan. I got that book together with The Three Tiers of Fantasy. I read The Footprints of Satan first, because the cover was more attractive in design, but I now discover that The Three Tiers of Fantasy was not only written earlier, it is in fact the first book in the Detective-Inspector Lancelot Carolus Smith series, about the fairly open-minded police inspector who has to deal with a lot of strange going-ons in the otherwise 'normal' town of Winchingham.

Perhaps I should have left more time between reading the two books, because reading them one after another makes it too obvious what Berrow's strengths and weaknesses are. The Three Tiers of Fantasy shares its pros and cons with The Footprints of Satan, which is a bit disappointing. Once again, the book's strength lies in its atmosphere: the build-up to each of the disappearance acts is great and unique enough, and as we go from the disappearance of a man, to a disappearance of a room to the disappearance of a whole street, there's definitely build-up over the course of the whole book too. Berrow loves to play with suggestions of the supernatural, and each of the three 'tiers' feature some background story that ties it with the unscientific. The feeling of repetition is also strengthened by the character of Melrose, who has the same function as Ms. Pendlebury in The Footprints of Satan: 'an expert in psychic and other supernatural phenomena' who 'helps' the investigation with err... insightful opinions.

But once again, the puzzle plot is very simple. Berrow has a great knack for building up the suspense and the mystery, but when it comes to actually taking away the illusion and having to explain them himself, he shows not as much imagination as with the build-up. Each of the three mysteries is basically solved by the most obvious solution anyone would think of. These are very safe solutions: they are the solutions most people would think of because they are the most practical, the most feasible. It's the reason why I have trouble writing about the solutions of this novel. They work, okay, but I can't help but shrug at them. The gap between how much imagination Berrow shows when he writes the set-up, to how much he shows during the solution is rather significant, and it makes his books feel a bit more disappointing than they should. For they are decent mystery novels. Only the good parts are skewed towards the build-up.

That said, I once again have to stress that Berrow's stories are very plotted very well. The Three Tiers of Fantasy has more than enough hints for any reader to solve the mysteries and in terms of fair play, I'd say that few even try to play the game as fair as Berrow. In that respect, I really love reading his stories, as between the lines you can feel how he wants the reader to solve the problem and give them a good feeling, like a teacher teaching a child to solve a problem. Yet, it never feels belittling or anything like that. It's simpy the wish of a writer who wants to see a reader solving the mystery he created, rather than just baffling the reader. The only 'problem' is that Berrows solutions in the end are too simple, and thus offer not nearly as as much satisfaction as you'd be led to believe from the build-ups. I think that even a bit more complexity to the puzzle plots would have given me much more satisfaction, especially if you consider how well the rest of the stories are plotted.

This review of The Three Tiers of Fantasy is basically the same as my review of The Footprints of Satan, but I guess it couldn't be helped, because those books do share the same good, as well as the same bad points. It wouldn't be right, nor fair, to say that you can enjoy Berrow's books if you don't expect too much from them, but they do have some problems. Still, I did enjoy The Three Tiers of Fantasy in general and I might read some more Berrow later.


  1. I've a couple of novels by Norman Berrow sitting on my metaphorical TBR pile in my Kindle. To date I've only read 'Don't Go our after Dark', which I felt only hit its stride towards the end.

    1. Oh, interesting, the two novels I read were at their best at the beginning, so I was wondering whether that was a Berrow characteristic, but apparently no ^^'