Francis Quarles, named after an obscure English poet, was one of the late Julian Symons' least interesting characters, and he figures in every one of the tales on display. I have often hailed the "Lost Classics" series published by Crippen & Landru for their genuinely terrific work in bringing back out of print material, but this time they've gone to the well once too often. People love Julian Symons, but i have never known why. They think of him as the Graham Greene of detective fiction, but I expect that he was sort of a clubby, fraternal guy otherwise how could he have won all those awards like the Diamond Dagger? He's hardly a good writer, he just imitated whatever was in the air in "mainstream" fiction and copied it in detective writing.
Most trying of all are these tiny little stories that remind me of the stories they used to anthologize for subteens called "Minute Murders." Quarles always traps the guilty party by using the most ridiculous of "evidence"--an art critic, for example, who doesn't know that Picasso was from Spain. Or how about the fellow whose American aunt uses "lift" for elevator and "pavement" for sidewalk. Guilty! In all of these cases there are 100 plausible reasons for the "mistake" in question, and yet they are each presented as the smoking gun in Quarles' brilliant arsenal of little grey cells. You won't believe your eyes. Yes, Ellery Queen did the same sort of thing--it didn't work for Ellery Queen either. And wait till you read Symons' dying message stories, they will make you appreciate Queen's all the more. In one story, a dying bibliophile arranges five books on his desk as he slips into death. Quarles deduces that these books spell the name of the killer. It's beyond inane, it must have been some sort of parlor game for old Symons.
The more I read, eventually I passed the point where the formula was bothering me, and I began to enjoy the subtle, minute variations in the tales. And yet still, it's a pretty negligible return. I do notice that the editor, John Cooper, while printing 41 brief cases here, left out many of the tales because some depend on data we couldn't possibly know about nowadays, such as what London telephone operators used to say in the 1950s. IMHO he should have printed them all, for the excluded stories couldn't possibly be more banal than the ones Cooper gives us, and at least we could then have the pleasure of the completist.
Hello, Crippen & Landru! 1) for goodness sake get a proof reader! On the back jacket it says, "The book is edited John Cooper." What? Did the word "by" vanish from the sentence? And 2) please hurry with the book you have promised giving us the short fiction of Mignon G. Eberhart! Now there's one to anticipate.