Review published on May 11, 2017.
Miraculous Mysteries is the latest short story collection in the British Library Crime Classics series and it might just be the best of the bunch. The previously published anthologies are Crimson Snow and Silent Nights, which both feature the cream of the Christmas murder crop, Resorting to Murder, which collects crimes set during the summer holidays, Capital Crimes, which deals in death in the Big Smoke, and Murder at the Manor, which includes some sublime country house mysteries. All these collections feature brilliant works in their respective subgenres and they are all highly recommended reads. However, Miraculous Mysteries concerns locked-room murders and other impossible crimes, which arguably represent the pinnacle of classic crime fiction. These stories are the true brain teasers, the perplexing puzzles, the seemingly insurmountable scenarios that only the greatest investigative minds can penetrate.
As with previous anthologies in the series, some famous [sleuthing] faces feature in Miraculous Mysteries. For instance, in “The Haunted Policeman” by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey celebrates the birth of his son by helping an unfortunate beat bobby who seems to have misplaced a crime scene (murder victim and all), while in “The Miracle of Moon Crescent” by G.K. Chesterton, providence ensures that Father Brown turns up just in time to explain the perplexing disappearance of a wealthy philanthropist. I also like to think that Sherlock Holmes makes an epistolary cameo in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost Special”, although he isn’t the detective tasked with tracking down the missing train and its equally absent passengers. All these supersleuths are on excellent form in their respective stories, and the “impossible” nature of the crimes arguably lets them show off the power of their little grey cells even more than usual.
In addition to featuring stories about perennially popular crime-fighting characters, one of the joys of a collection such as this is the inclusion of much lesser known tales starring detectives, both amateur and professional, who were once well-known for their outstanding investigative abilities, but who have now sadly been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of Golden Age crime fans. Miraculous Murders includes a number of these “lost classics”, including “The Invisible Weapon” by Nicholas Olde, wherein it appears no one (and most certainly not the likely suspect) had the means to commit the murder, and “The Broadcast Murder” by Grenville Roberts, which features a delightfully macabre sting in the tale. These lesser known works are every bit as exciting and ingenious as the stories by the more famous crime writers, and it’ll be interesting to see if the British Library decides to reprint any of the novels by these previously overlooked authors.
Happily, as well as containing a selection of excellent short stories, the British Library Crime Classics anthologies are particularly appealing to crime fiction buffs because Martin Edwards, who edits the whole series and who has a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the Golden Age of murder, provides an introduction to each story. These introductions provide a brief biography of the authors and highlight their notable works, meaning that they are chock-full of recommendations for future purchases. On the strength of Edwards’ introductions in Miraculous Murders, I have bought The Dream Detective by Sax Rohmer, The Jacob Street Mystery by R. Austin Freeman and Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes, and I’m on the lookout for several other titles. There’s something special about a book that spurs you on to read numerous other books.
Miraculous Mysteries is an outstanding collection of sixteen highly intelligent and inventive short murder mystery stories, each one a joy to read and a challenge to unravel.
Erin Britton 5/5
Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
British Library Publishing 9780712356732 pbk Apr 2017
SECOND OPINION: Cursed by Thomas Enger