Monday, May 8, 2017

Classics #9

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017.

The Case of the Seven of Calvary – Anthony Boucher

This is the second academic mystery that I’ve read in about two months, the first one being Michael Innes' From London Far. This 1937 mystery fits the criteria for genre: set at a university department, professor as detective, an international cast, erudite dialogue, recondite digressions, and mild gibes at scholar’s manners and ways.

Though this was the author’s first mystery, he takes pleasure is satirizing the conventions of the Golden Age mystery. For instance, the professor-detective, like Nero Wolfe, never stirs out of his rooms to investigate the crime. In fact, he has a graduate student be his Archie Goodwin, getting out and talking to persons of interest. The grad student narrates the story in an arch and faux-sophisticated tone, very much like Michael Innes in the Thirties. In an outrageous post-modern technique, the grad student and Boucher meet over chow to confirm with each other that fair-play has been the byword, that clues needed to solve the mystery have indeed be given to the reader.

The story moves steadily through plenty of action. Boucher misdirects too but the long-time mystery reader, while alert to being fooled, will not be cheated out of a good surprise either. It’s very impressive that Boucher developed such a crackerjack story his first time out. This book well deserves its classic status. Although he did not return to a campus setting, he wrote many more mysteries and short stories, even producing science fiction. For many years he was the mystery reviewer for the New York Times. He has a convention of mystery fandom named after him, Bouchercon.

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