A fun collection of early mystery short stories…
Besides being a genuine Hungarian baroness (!), Baroness Orczy is probably best known as the author of the Scarlet Pimpernel books and stories, the first of which was a hit on the London stage, and several of which were made into movies. (And which I loved as a kid.) But she was also an author of detective fiction, including a series of short stories about the Old Man in the Corner (also known as The Teahouse Detective) and another set of short stories about Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. This book, Unravelled Knots, is a collection of thirteen of the later stories in Old Man series, set many years after the earlier stories. It is being re-issued in a nice new e-book edition, and I want to thank Pushkin Vertigo for providing me with an advance review copy.
Orczy’s detective stories have (to me, at least) sort of a similar feel as the Sherlock Holmes stories, which is not all that surprising, since they were written at about the same time: a police force that doesn’t manage to solve much of anything (so there are cases to figure out), a logical detective (the Old Man), and a sidekick who serves as the foil for the detective’s brilliance at solving the puzzle (in this case, a journalist, Polly Burton). They also remind me a little bit of some of Rex Stout’s work, since the Old Man, like Nero Wolfe, solves his cases by logic and thought, rather than by clues and forensics. And, the Old Man, also kind of like Wolfe, is a little obnoxious, but still quite entertaining as a detective.
I found this collection of stories to be a bit uneven. I really enjoyed a lot of them, and had trouble figuring many out for myself. But a couple of the others had solutions that were so obvious that I almost couldn’t believe that they were, in fact, the solutions. All of them were fun to read, though, because they were little time capsules of an earlier era – not originally meant to be historical mysteries, but now, after about 100 years, that’s essentially what they are. I debated a little bit about whether to give this collection four-stars or five-stars, but in the end, the unevenness bumped it down to four. Please keep in mind that I don’t give many five-star ratings, so that the four-star rating I’m giving this collection is still a solid “read” recommendation. And my thanks again to Pushkin Vertigo and Edelweiss for the review copy!