The sign on the wall of Merlini's magic shop was very emphatic: it read, simply: "Nothing is Impossible." It's a good thing somebody felt that way, given the large number of seemingly impossible crimes that take place in The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective, a collection of the first-rate Merlini short stories by Clayton Rawson. The book is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Clayton Rawson only wrote a handful of novels and a dozen short stories, but he was tremendously influential on a lot of writers, and his short stories, focusing as they do on so-called "impossible" crimes, are really first rate.
What kind of stories? Well, consider "Off the Face of the Earth," in which a man being watched very closely by police steps into a phone booth in the middle of Grand Central Station...and disappears. Yet when police enter that phone booth, they find a telephone receiver off the hook...and when they pick it up, they hear the missing man taunting them.
Or consider "The Clue of the Missing Motive," in which a man is shot and killed in the park, in front of scores of people, and yet nobody saw the killer or heard the shot.
There are a dozen stories (including the delightfully-named "The World's Smallest Locked Room." Some are very short; others approach novella length. All are remarkably ingenious. I’m glad to see these stories by Clayton Rawson re-emerging from the obscurity into which they had fallen over the years. Unfortunately, they have all but disappeared from print (unless you'd like to spend a few hundred dollars for a copy). Happily, The Great Merlini is available as an inexpensive e-book from The Mysterious Press and OpenRoad Media. It includes an introduction, written for the earlier printed version of the book in 1979, by the managing editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine at the time, Eleanor Sullivan. The stories will delight any fan of the impossible crime genre.