Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The World's One Hundred Best Short Stories, Volume 3: Mystery, edited by Grant Overton (1927)

I recently won this exciting pile of old books through a giveaway on the Forgotten Bookmarks blog (and if you don't follow that blog, you should, because it is awesome). And rather than just put them on my shelf and gaze at their pretty spines, I thought I'd read them. I know that is unusual behavior for me, but just bear with it.

Starting off the pile is one volume of a multi-volume collection of short stories edited by Grant Overton: The World's One Hundred Best Short Stories, Volume 3: Mystery (1927). The title page doesn't do this adorable 4"X6" book justice -- it was physically fun to hold and in great shape, with clear type and a nice binding. Oh, and the stories were pretty great too.

Overton's definition of mystery is broad and includes some authors who are still very well known today, and others that I'd never heard of. A very worthwhile collection, and most of the stories are available in full-text online since they were published before 1923 -- just Google them, fools!

Here's the line up:

"The Doomdorf Mystery," by Melville Davisson Post (1918)
A brain twister where two friends try to figure out how the town meanie was shot when he was locked in a room by himself that could only be opened from the inside. Everyone wanted him dead, but no one could actually have done it!

"The Three Strangers," by Thomas Hardy (1883)
During a christening celebration in an isolated cottage in rural England, a stranger comes knocking on the door to get out of the rain. A few minutes later, another stranger does the same. And while he entertains the company with a song about his profession, a third man comes to the door asking for directions, takes one look inside, and runs away as if his life depended on it.

"The Gold Bug," by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
Probably the most famous story in this collection -- William Legrand and his former slave Jupiter live alone together on an island off the coast of South Carolina. While walking one day, they find an unusual gold colored bug that bites Legrand as he tries to catch it. Legrand soon starts acting very peculiarly, and sends Jupiter for his good friend, our unnamed narrator, who joins the pair on what turns out to be an extremely profitable expedition.

"The Guilty Secret," by Paul de Kock (1910)
A funny mystery of romantic misunderstandings, tobacco, and protective uncles who like to play backgammon.

"Out of Exile," by Wilbur Daniel Steele (1919)
Possibly my favorite story in the anthology -- a moody story of two brothers in love with the same young woman. When she makes a flippant comment at a party that the first to sail to the mainland and come back with a golden ring will be the one she marries, both brothers head out in a violent storm but only one returns. She refuses to believe that the missing brother has died, and won't marry until he can attend the wedding. Told through the eyes of a teenager in the village, and its the distanced but character-based narration that make this one so great. [Read it here -- do it!]

"The Knightsbridge Mystery," by Charles Reade (1896)
This is the most detective-y of all the stories in this collection. Tells the story of a British boarding house whose tenants include a down-on-his-luck retired Captain and a substantial business man. On a night when the Captain's fortunes have fallen further and the businessman has a bag full of all his collected rents, the businessman ends up murdered in his bed and all his money stolen. The murder is pinned on the drunken horsemaster, but a police detective finds too many doubts in the story and tests all the honest tenants with another irresistible set-up.

"Silence," by Leonid Andreyev (1910)
A heartbreaking story of a stern minister whose daughter kills herself without an explanation, and whose wife then has a stroke that leaves her unable to speak or move. Beautifully written, lonely, and harsh.

"The Doll's House," by Katherine Mansfield (1923)
Three young sisters receive a marvelously huge dollhouse from their aunt and savor the attention it brings them at school, hand selecting no more than two girls a day to come and see it. Everyone gets a turn except the little Kelveys, whose mother takes in laundry, and whose father is out of the picture. No respectable family will let their children play with the Kelveys! A wonderful balance between the open-minded excitement of the youngest sister (who really really loves the tiny lamp in the dollhouse) and the hilariously biting asides and descriptions of the "proper" adult society.

"A Terribly Strange Bed," by Wilkie Collins (1852)
An Englishman who has amazing luck at a seedy French casino soon finds himself exceptionally drunk and checked into a room at the gambling house for the night. But then he runs up against a terribly strange bed, and his night takes a turn for the worse. This one was great fun.

"The Bamboozling of Mr. Gascoigne," by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1925)
This one wins the award for most exciting title -- an American swindler in Monte Carlo hooks up with a local man and his niece when they try to swindle him out of the cost of their lunch. Together the three team up to bamboozle the titular Mr. Gascoigne.

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