My entry today for Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a collection that updates a book of short stories that is fondly remembered, I think, by a fair number of Golden Age fans. This is The Complete Curious Mr Tarrant, a Crippen & Landru ‘lost classsic’ which expands The Curious Mr Tarrant, first published in 1935.
The author, C. Daly King, was a psychologist, who wrote on his professional subject as well as venturing into detective fiction in half a dozen novels, some of them now fabulously rare in first edition. I’m still trying to trace Careless Corpse – in any edition. His plotting was labyrinthine, and occasionally eccentric. Obelists Fly High, which I’ve discussed before, is a truly remarkable mystery novel, well worth seeking out.
The original book of stories about Trevis Tarrant were not published in King’s native US until the 70s, but they deserved a better fate, and the expanded book, dating from 2003, contains four additional tales – fascinating finds, making the collection a true cabinet of curiosities. There is a nice introduction by the late Edward D. Hoch, who speaks fondly of King’s ingenuity, and his penchant for impossible crime stories.
The book offers ‘headless torsos, a haunted house, a vanishing harp, a museum mystery and other delights’, as Hoch says, along with a story about a murder solved only by the absence of a fish. ‘The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem’ was admired and anthologised by Dorothy L. Sayers, who knew a clever writer when she saw one. These stories are dated and sometimes quite barmy, but for me they have an irresistible appeal. What a shame that King’s one and only novel about Tarrant never saw the light of day.