Sunday, June 23, 2019

Solved! (1987)

Richard Glyn Jones is a busy anthologist who might be best known for "Mammoth Book" collections: The Mammoth Book of True Murder, The Mammoth Book of Killer Women, and The Mammoth Book of Women Who Kill are three of his. I don't know them—the only place it seemed like I ever saw those Mammoth Books was at Half Price Books and I haven't been there in a while. I found out about Solved! in Bill James's book on true-crime literature. It's a sequel of sorts to another Jones collection (Unsolved!, natch). The idea is famous writers writing about famous crime cases, with or without conjecture about whodunit. It's a bit misleading that way—the last piece here, for example, is Harlan Ellison's short story about Jack the Ripper set in the future. Jack the Ripper is not a solved case and we don't know that he was transported to the future. Still, for the most part they are interesting cases, interesting treatments, or both. In his introduction Jones says the collection is built around the three longest pieces, by Arthur Conan Doyle, Damon Runyon, and Erle Stanley Gardner: "the tripartite core of this collection and [showing] the writer as detective, reporter and judge." Again, yes and no. Doyle's piece does more to clarify the gap between mystery fiction writers and crime investigation. He might have guessed right about the solution to an open case, but he doesn't seem that credible and the police ignored him completely, though at least that was likely self-serving. Doyle's piece is best at showing how police have been self-serving for a long time. Damon Runyon's series of newspaper reports on a sensational murder of the 1920s has some intrinsic interest, but reads like someone typing in a hurry. Erle Stanley Gardner's treatment of Argosy magazine's so-called "Court of Last Resort"—a kind of early Innocence Project—is good stuff, though the case itself doesn't hold that much interest, alas. Robert Graves writes about the poisoning of the Roman emperor Claudius. Other writers appearing here include Ellery Queen, John D. MacDonald, and Edgar Wallace. Jones shows up with excited headnotes for some of the pieces, not all. The book has more than its share of typos and other printing errors. The result is that it feels like a hurry-up job rushed to market. A lot like those Mammoth Books at Half Price Books always looked, in fact. But I like the scope of this and its literary ambitions, however misplaced. And as true-crime, it's perfectly adequate for the most part. As each writer settles into relating the facts of a case, or most of them, I soon feel the reveries of reading true-crime overcome me. Not bad.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. The Half-Priced Books U-District and Capitol Hill are long gone, and so I was thinkin' they were gone everywhere. But based on google maps, it appears they've maybe only left the cities like Dairy Queen.