Review: MIRACULOUS MYSTERIES edited by Martin Edwards

Published by British Library; ISBN 978 0 7123 5673 2

Rather too many years to think of, when I first created Medieval Murderers, and later, when we decided to collaborate on a novel, one of the very first decisions we made was, that no matter how things went, we would avoid a collection of short stories. Publishers tend to hate them, because there is a perception that readers aren’t keen. 

I think there is a lot of sense in that. After all, the quality of writing and the style will change radically from one writer to another. Reading a collection is rather like hurdling: as soon as your body is used to the level, flat course, it’s time to take a leap into the unknown again. Some short story writers can be very concise and give a wonderful story in only a few pages (the best example of this, to my mind, was the editor of this collection, Martin Edwards, with his brilliant short “InDex”, which was to my mind one of the most inventive short stories I’ve ever read – in ID: CRIMES OF IDENTITY published by Comma Press). Others use more space, but are masters of collecting characters on the page. But my point is, the variation in style can jar. 

In this collection there are some occasions when the stories are … well, less than perfect. But it was the golden age of crime writing, and the delight of the book is that there are so many of the great names: GK Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers, Marjorie Allingham amongst them. Of them all, my favourite is Marjorie Allingham’s THE VILLA MARIE CELESTE, as the perfect example of a story which sets up expectations – only to then blow them away. On the other hand, Father Brown’s outing in GK Chesterton’s THE MIRACLE OF MOON CRESCENT was, for me at least, a hugely satisfying tale.

Because the main point of these stories is that they are all “impossible”. Locked rooms, disappearing weapons, or murders that could not have happened, all abound in this tome, and it’s great fun to pit the wits of the reader against the imagination of the authors.

This is a pleasant collection, with every author given a short introduction by Martin Edwards, who is one of the world’s experts on crime writers of the golden age. 

If, like me, a series of short stories gives you a perfect, short read at bedtime, this collection may be just perfect for you!

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