The pandemic has turned my day job upside down (no complaints, I still have a day job), but I finally have a chance to do another blog entry, so here goes! This is the third and last look at Edward D. Hoch’s third collection about impossible-crime specialist Dr. Sam Hawthorne. Reviews of the first and second thirds of the book can be found here and here.
“The Problem of the Two Birthmarks”
What seems to happen: a patient at Pilgrim Memorial Hospital is murderously attacked during the night; shortly after, a nurse who should have been on duty at the time turns up strangled in the operating room, even though it’s locked and the one and only key accounted for. The whole thing is somehow mixed up with an attempt to destroy a ventriloquist’s dummy at a local night spot.
A weak explanation for the impossibility (Dr. Sam has to say “try it yourself if you don’t believe me”) and some motivation I found impossible to swallow keep this from being a classic.
“The Problem of the Dying Patient”
What seems to happen: elderly Betty Willis has been poisoned while lying in her sickbed, and it looks as if the only person who could have done it was the attending physician, Dr. Sam himself, who has to think fast to keep from being arrested and losing his license.
The clue that tips Sam off is not bad, but it’s not that well-concealed… if you spot it as soon as it’s mentioned, you’ll wonder why someone as sharp as our hero is doesn’t as well, and you’ll be impatient waiting for him to see the light.
“The Problem of the Protected Farmhouse”
What seems to happen: Rudolph Frankfurt lives in a house with locked windows and doors, an electrified fence and guard dogs, convinced his enemies want to kill him. Someone does.
The first one in this group to really score, with a well-concealed killer and motive.
“The Problem of the Haunted Tepee”
What seems to happen: In 1890, western gunman Ben Snow (another of Hoch’s series characters) comes across a mystery he can’t solve – a tepee that seems to kill anyone who spends the night in it. In 1935, he tells the story to Dr. Sam and his nurse Mary, and they’re able to explain what happened.
I love a good “room that kills” puzzle, but this one depends on a fact you either know or don’t. Not very satisfying. This is the only Dr. Sam story that’s told in the third person, I guess because we see the beginning and end from his viewpoint and the middle part from Ben’s.
“The Problem of the Blue Bicycle”
What seems to happen: Teenage Angela Rinaldi is part of a group of kids riding their bicycles along a winding country road. She sprints ahead and rounds a curve, the others momentarily losing sight of her. When they also round the curve, her bike is lying in the middle of the road, but she’s gone – and there is no place in the surrounding fields where she could have hidden in the few seconds she was unobserved, nor were there any other vehicles around.
Another really clever one and a high note to end the collection on.
I’ll try not to let so much time pass before my next review!