I make no secret of the fact that my favorite kind of mystery story is the locked room/impossible crime puzzle. I enjoy authors who can lay out a story so that it appears that the crime (or other event) could not possibly have happened, but did. The locked and sealed room, the murder scene surrounded by unbroken fields of snow, the mysterious disappearances, they are all part of the genre. Of course, it requires an exceptional writer to give us such a puzzle and then to explain how the trick was done - and provide the reader with well-hidden clues to the true nature of the problem and its solution.
The late Edward D. Hoch was just such an exceptional writer, a prolific author of short stories who saw one of his tales published in every monthly issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 1973 until his death in 2008. You do the math. Hoch created many series characters. One of the most popular was country doctor Sam Hawthorne who invariably was called upon to tackle seemingly impossible crimes - and who, invariably, came up with a rational solution to the mystery.
Crippen and Landru Publishers have been republishing Hoch's Dr. Sam stories in a series of anthologies. The latest, released this Spring, is Nothing Is Impossible: Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne, and it is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, which you can hear by clicking here. Nothing Is Impossible contains fifteen short stories with impossibly marvelous puzzles for Dr. Sam and the reader to solve. Among the problems:
- A man's throat is cut with an apparently invisible weapon;
- A circus trapeze artist disappears from his trapeze in mid-act;
- A teenaged girl rides her bicycle around a corner - and vanishes;
- Someone is stabbed to death in a cabin surrounded by unbroken snow.
You get the idea. These are tremendously entertaining. Hoch was proud of his ability to vary these puzzles; I seem to recall reading somewhere that he never repeated the same solution. This is the third anthology of Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories reprinted by Crippen and Landru. There's still material for several more, and I hope that those stories too will be brought back for new readers to enjoy. The editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Janet Hutchings, provides an introduction to this anthology, offering more background about both the author and this marvelous series. I recommend the package very highly indeed.