Looking at stories #6 through #10 in this collection of impossible-crime stories featuring Dr. Sam Hawthorne, country medico and amateur sleuth in 1930’s New England. Part 1 is here.
“The Problem of the Invisible Acrobat”
What seems to happen: The Bigger & Brothers Circus has come to Northmont, which means the five Flying Lampizi Brothers will be performing their death-defying trapeze act. At the end of the performance, though, only four of them have come back down to ground level. Later, the missing brother is found murdered…
A classic problem with a classic solution you’ll spot in no time if you’ve read enough classic mysteries. If you’re new to the genre, Hoch does a pretty good job of hiding the clues.
“The Problem of the Curing Barn”
What seems to happen: tobacco magnate Jasper Jennings and two of his employees are in a curing barn when one of them cuts his throat, practically under Dr. Sam’s nose – but neither man has a weapon on his person, nor is there one anywhere near.
If you read this story up to the point where Dr. Sam tells us “suddenly I knew I was right” and then do a re-read, you’ll probably spot the phrase that indicates the secret of the impossibility. The solution satisfies but is not all that well-hidden.
“The Problem of the Snowbound Cabin”
What seems to happen: You can guess, can’t you? Ted Shorter enters his cabin in the Maine woods; snow falls; the next morning he’s found dead with no weapon or killer inside – and no tracks outside.
There’s nothing quite like a good no-footprints problem, and this is a good one, one that had me fooled. Before Dr. Sam figures out the truth he offers a solution that turns out to be false, but would have been good enough to be the real one.
“The Problem of the Thunder Room”
Not the typical locked-room or impossible-disappearance situation that usually confronts Dr. Sam. Instead, May Russo is lying on an examining table in his office at the exact time that witnesses swear she was several miles away, murdering Hank Foster.
Like “Invisible Acrobat,” the basic solution to this one is not original, but Hoch does give a fresh spin to an old classic.
“The Problem of the Black Roadster”
It’s the era of John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, so naturally masked men hold up the Farmers & Merchants Bank and clean out all the cash. Dr. Sam and Sheriff Lens happen to be driving by as the getaway car zooms off, but even though Lens has the state police throw up roadblocks all around Northmont, the robbers don’t go through any of them. And there’s no place they could be hiding within the perimeter.
The weakness of this one is that the impossibility does not seem all that airtight – a witness even says that the bad guys could have gone past one of the checkpoints before the roadblock was set up, and the best comeback a state cop has is “I doubt it.” That said, the way the robbers escape detection is a clever one, and for once it’s not Dr. Sam who figures things out, although again he comes up with a decent wrong explanation.
To be concluded eventually!