Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Diagnosis of Murder

"Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age"
His Last Bow

A full review of a Sam Hawthorne volume, and not a Short Short?! Like I mentioned in my review of the third volume, this means it's finally time for the final problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne.

Dr. Sam Hawthorne series
Diagnosis: Impossible - The Problems of Dr. Sam Hawhtorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 3 - Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 4 - More and More Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 5 - Further and Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne

Dr Sam Hawthorne first arrived in the small New England town of Northmont in 1922 and many things have happened since then. He has become best of friends with the sheriff, has seen nurses come and go, has moved his private clinic to a corner of the local hospital and of course parted with his original sportscar. And not to forget, Sam has solved countless of impossible crimes that happened in and around Northmont, a town even deadlier than Cabot Cove and more mystery-filled than Crystal Cove. But now, in the midst of World War II, Sam is facing his greatest challenge yet. For he is finally getting married. But will marriage change his crime-solving career? Of course not! From gigantic birds that sweep up persons to a man-eating orchard and a suicide inside Sam's locked cottage and caring for his wife and baby, Sam has never been busier than now.The final volume of the Japanese complete collection sports the English subtitle Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne and marks the end of an excellent series by Edward D. Hoch.

I first came in contact with Hoch's Dr. Sam Hawthorne series in 2012. I had always wanted to read the series, but with some hesitation, because there was no complete collection available in English. As the Japanese versions seemed to be the only complete collection around at the time (and I think still is), I decided to read the Japanese translation of an English-language series. And I've loved the series since. But, and I have also made that clear in previous reviews, I find it kinda hard to discuss the stories in detail, because I'd risk spoiling important parts of each story as they're all excellent examples of functional brevity. Also, the stories all follow the same set-up and plot structure, so writing the review of one collection, is pretty much writing the review of any other collection. For example, I quote this from my review of the third volume:

The fact is though that a lot of the stories are actually very similar. Like a Scooby Doo episode, you can guess the following is present. 1) Sam Hawthorne meets a fellow townsman whom we have never met before, but Sam is acquainted with (in same cases a recurring character). Said character is involved in way or another with whatever the title of the story is. 2) Sam is witness to the impossible crime. He usually just happens to be there (often doing his rounds). There is a moment where all witness lose sight of the subject or object of the crime. 3) The trick behind the impossible crime was done in that split moment nobody could have seen anything, be it a switch, or setting off a mechanism. 4) The story ends, and Sam alludes to his next adventure. Most adventures follow this scheme, making it easy to guess what's going on. If you'd just read the stories seperatedly, this might not seem to obvious, but as every collection has about ten stories you read in one go, yeah, this pattern tends to become obvious.

And it still holds. Does that mean the series is bad? No. The complete series consists of 72 stories, all roughly following the formula above, and I was still entertained each time. Hoch was an amazing writer, both as someone who came up with great impossible crime situations, as well as someone who could write interesting stories. While I wouldn't say that every story in the series is as good as the other, there's is definitely a high standard in quality in these stories. The series has been as good as it was since the first volume, so while it might sound a bit negative if I say, 'you could start anywhere, they all the same', I actually mean 'they're all so awesome, I really can't choose'.

And while I doubt this is the main attraction for most readers, it's also very fun to see time slide by as you progress in the series. You see changes in the characters and the city of Northmont, and while the middle part of the series dealed with the Prohibition, the last two volumes had a distinct feeling of dread because of World War II (which also often ties in with motives in the last quarter of the series), obviously not present in the early parts of the series.

My favorite stories in this volume are The Problem of the Interrupted Seance (which is interrupted because the medium was murdered, and the two other persons in the room knocked out, with no murder weapon inside the observed room) and The Problem of the Shepherd's Ring, where a ring which grants the power of invisiblity is used by a madman to kill one of his enemies. Most of them are worth a read though. It's only a shame the series has no real ending because of Hoch's demise.

I'm not actually sure why I'm writing this review. If you're already a fan of the series, you'll probably know that Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne is a must read. And those with no real interest in the series anyway, would hardly choose to start with the last volume of a series.But I'd like to think that everyone who started with Sam's first impossible crime adventures, will eventually reach this final volume.

Oh, and for those who haven't read the stories yet, you might want to check out the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine podcast: it featured several audio plays of the Sam Hawthorne series!

Original title(s): Edward D. Hoch 『サム・ホーソーンの事件簿』VI: 'The Problem of the Haunted Hospital' 「幽霊が出る病院の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Traveler's Tale' 「旅人の話の謎」 / 'The Problem of Bailey's Buzzard' 「巨大ノスリの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Interrupted Seance' 「中断された降霊会の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Candidate's Cabin' 「対立候補が持つ丸太小屋の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Black Cloister' 「黒修道院の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Secret Passage' 「秘密の通路の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Devil's Orchard' 「悪魔の果樹園の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Shepherd's Ring' 「羊飼いの指輪の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Suicide Cottage' 「自殺者が好む別荘の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Summer Snowman' 「夏の雪だるまの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Secret Patient' 「秘密の患者の謎」


  1. Crippen & Landru in the U.S. have done three volumes of Hawthorne stories with the first 42 stories in order of publication. If they stick to their schedule of 15 stories per volume, they should finish the series in two more volumes.

    1. Let's just hope it doesn't take years again for the next volume to be released!

    2. Crippen & Landru definitely have a problem getting books out the door. The first book came out in 1996, the second came out in 2006, and the third came out a few months ago. This is almost one per decade. The one I have really been waiting for is the Simon Ark book they are supposed to be publishing, but I have pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I won't see it this side of the grave because I don't have Ark's longevity.

  2. Did you know Edward D. Hoch also wrote a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiche short stories?


    1. Hmmm....torn between my love for Hoch and my reservedness towards Holmes pastiches...

  3. I've read those stories. They're okay, but not up to the level of the Dr. Sam stories (though what is?) They seemed a little easy, but that might just be due to me reading enough Hoch that I can see through his straight whodunits.

    Also, does that shepherd ring story sound familiar? Like a certain fantasy novel perhaps?

    1. Heh. Almost didn't get that.

      Just to make sure, you are aware that I was talking about Hoch's Holmes stories above, right? I messed up where my reply went.

    2. Yes, I had guessed that you were a victim of the sometimes confusing comment system.