Monday, April 25, 2011


"And have I not cause for such a feeling? Consider the long sequence of incidents which have all pointed to some sinister influence which is at work around us."
"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

While I mostly read and review Japanese detective novels here, it doesn't mean that I don't read English detectives. It just means that I seldomly read English detectives. Which in turn doesn't mean that I don't like them. On the contrary, there is still much I really want to read. But with a gigantic tower of books looking down on me, I try to be a bit more careful with any new purchases. And that means I don't really get to read many English detectives nowadays. I kinda wonder why I bought that Japanese Holmes story collection last year though. And mental note: I still have to procure a copy of Queen's The French Powder Mystery this year.

One of the few English-language detective novels purchased this year was Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit. With the novel ending rather high in best locked room mysteries lists and the writer being a magician himself, expectations were naturally a bit high. Luckily excellent, Rim of the Pit was excellent. And the Rambling House edition even features the original crime scene map on the backside cover. Which is something reprints of older books occassionally miss. Yes, I'm looking at you, Leonaur's Philo Vance omnibuses. Having a map on the backside cover is actually brilliant, as you don't have to look for the right page all the time.

A seance session held in snowy New England to contact the ghost of the medium herself (to negotiate logging rights. With the ghost), ends in the possession of one of the party by the ghost and a locked room murder. Add in disappearing footprints in the snow and a flying ghost (the Windigo) and you have a nice pile of impossible situations. It is up to Roger Kincaid (gambler, adventurer, survivor extraordinaire) to solve the case.

The main strength of this novel is no doubt its atmosphere. New England forms a snowy background for some genuine creepy happenings. The build-up to the murder(s) is done very well and while I feel that not all the impossible situations are resolved as satisfactory as others, Rim of the Pit is still a very strong novel. I've seen the remark in several reviews, but Rim of the Pit is a very Carr-ish non-Carr. Which is indeed true. The supernatural, the impossible situations, it all screams Carr. Except for the solutions, there Carr remains the master.

I have to admit though, with a flying ghost, the snowy background and the constant wandering of the characters and splitting up of the gang, I personally first associated the novel with Scooby-Doo. Seriously though. Stop. Walking. From. A. To. B. And. Back. It is very, very confusing. Ah well, at least they didn't had those Scooby Doo corridors.

The Rambling House edition also features the short story The Other Side, but I personally didn't like it at all. The story itself is a bit like a Chesterton story with a religious confidence trickster, but it's a bit of a let-down after the excellent novel.

The cover of this book is super creepy by the way. Which is why I always keep it turned away from, like I do with my Queen's And on the Eight Day and Uchida's The Togakushi Murders. Scary faces are scary.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and that my list of tips hasn't turned up a dud yet. Next up is The Frightened Stiff, right? :)

    Oh, and Leonaur has re-released their Philo Vance omnibuses, which now includes all the original floor plans and diagrams, but I completely lost interest in them after struggling through The Dragon Murder Case.

    You would think that a detective story featuring a semi-impossible disappearance from a lake, harboring a mythological dragon that's tied to an old New York family, would be able to compete with Talbot and Carr... but it's completely devoid of atmosphere and the solution is idiotic and has some serious problems.

  2. I read this a few years ago but remember thinking as you did that the solution did not cover everything. In particular the last couple of things like why nobody saw a certain person leave and maybe a few other things. Maybe if it had ended earlier without those extra incidents near the end the book would be stronger. There were already enough "impossible things". Also it is not hard to guess who is behind it regardless of how it was done.

    1. I have to admit I remember next to nothing about this novel, except for how it was brimming with ideas. Maybe I should reread it some time. But yeah, sometimes less can be better.