“We want to murder someone. We haven’t the courage to walk up to him and attack him, or for that matter to strike him from behind. So we go to the corner drug store, buy a penny’s worth of rat poison, and give it to the son-in-law, the man across the street, the husband, the lover.”
Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of The British Crime Classics series, published here in America by Poisoned Pen Press. The short story collection, Foreign Bodies, edited and introduced by Martin Edwards, contains a wide range of short stories from all over the globe. We readers often seek out books from other countries and chew over the customs, traditions and beliefs. Foreign Bodies shows that international flare aside, murder… occurs everywhere and for the same reasons: greed, rage, jealousy are all ingredients that, when explosive enough, can add up to murder.
Here’s the list of contents:
The Swedish Match: Anton Chekhov (Russia) Translated by Peter Sekerin
A Sensible Course of Action: Palle Rosenkrantz (Denmark)
Strange Tracks: Balduin Groller (Hungary: Romania after his death)
The Kennel: Maurice Level (France)
Footprints in the Snow: Maurice Leblanc (France)
The Return of Lord Kingwood: Ivans (Netherlands) Translated by Josh Pachter
The Stage Box Murder: Paul Rosenhayn (Germany)
The Spider: Koga Saburo (Japan) Translated by Ho-Ling Wong
The Venom of the Tarantula: Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay (India) Translated by Sreejata Guha
Murder à la Carte: Jean-Toussaint Samat (France)
The Cold Night’s Clearing: Keikichi Osaka (Japan) Translated by Ho-Ling Wong
The Mystery of the Green Room: Pierre Véry (France)
Kippers: John Flanders (Belgium) Translated by Josh Pachter
The Lipstick and the Teacup: Havank (Dutch) Translated by Josh Pachter
The Puzzle of the Broken Watch: Maria Elvira Bermudez (Mexico) Translated by Donald A. Yates
I’m not going to discuss all the stories in this wonderful collection–after all, the themes are murder and detection, but I will discuss some of my favourites. The Chekhov story, The Swedish Match seems to have fun with the detective genre, while The Kennel is short, vicious and horrific. Shades of Joseph Conrad linger in Kippers.
If spiders creep you out, then you will shiver over The Venom of the Tarantula and The Spider. In The Venom of the Tarantula, a man is asked to discover how a bedbound “foul-mouthed; mistrustful, crafty malicious” writer continues to get a supply of his favourite drug: the venom of tarantulas.
The Spider is eerie, unusual and gripping. In this tale, a young man is employed to enter the abandoned laboratory of Tsujikawa, a dead professor, who died of … yes you guessed it … a bite from a poisonous spider.
At first sight, the laboratory resembled a misshapen lighthouse or a time-worn fire watchtower. I gazed up at the building in awe.
The narrator is asked by the dead professor’s family to go into the building which is full of jars of “monstrous spiders.” He’s supposed to dispose of them, and after all … the one that killed the professor may still be loose.
I knew where The Return of Lord Kingwood was headed, but I enjoyed the character of Mr Monk (and his bribery of a local lad) so much that I didn’t care that the story’s trajectory was predictable.
Murder à la Carte deals with the subject of poisoning in an intriguing way:
Poisoning? What with? With anything you choose! Or nothing whatever! I mean just that. People don’t realize it, that’s all. They think they know; they really don’t know anything about it. They think that you have to use a poison. Strychnine? Obviously strychnine is a poison. A killer. But the symptoms of strychnine poisoning are too well know. And besides, you have to get strychnine. But why bother with strychnine? You talk about poisons. There are hundreds of effective poisons. Ah, but their symptoms, too, are all known? And even those whose symptoms aren’t known reveal themselves in the autopsy? Well there are things which are poison, and things which are not poison. Poison and nonpoison. There’s no trick about murdering with poison; any fool can do it, provided he has the killer instinct, or the desire, or the need.
The Stage Box Murder is an epistolary between a young man and the girl he hopes to marry when his fortunes improve. A murder opens up a career opportunity for the young man, but the crime brings a famous American detective to the scene…
A Sensible Course of Action from Danish writer Palle Rosenkrantz is set right after the Russian civil war and concerns a beautiful Russian countess who claims that her vengeful brother-in-law, who is hot on her heels, intends to kill her. Lieutenant Holst is called in to investigate a situation that requires no small amount of diplomacy. Holst tends to dismiss the Countess’s claim (the fact that she’s female works against her), and yet … there’s always the thought of recent Russian political events:
The whole business mighty have come out of a Russian novel, but in Russia, as one knew from the newspapers, anything was possible.
Included here is yet another new name for me: Maria Elvira Bermudez “One of the most prolific female detective fiction writers in the Spanish-speaking world,” and here I’d (shamefully) never heard of her, and that brings me back to the collection’s merit. I’d never heard of most of these writers, but according to the intro before each story, these authors were prolific, popular and important to the genre in their respective countries.
This is a wonderful collection for crime aficionados and it’s a great way to collect names that we may not have heard of before. Martin Edwards provides a brief, yet informative intro, focusing on literary careers, of each writer.