Quotes from Anthony Boucher

The untapped natural resources of crackpottery in this country…would astonish you. There is a Gresham’s Law of the mass intellect: muddle-headedness inevitably drives out clear thinking. And the political science of the future lies in the control and the application of that law to purposive ends.

That’s Anthony Boucher, from the Nick Noble murder mystery short story “Rumor, Inc.” (1945). A bit prescient, no?

This WWII-era story concerns a group of agents spreading anti-US propaganda in Southern California to subvert the war effort: No real need for West Coast gas rationing; Onion shortage due to government bungling. Mid-twentieth century fake news.

Here’s one more, from Nick Noble himself:

Fascist thinks he’s too strong for democracy. Makes his own laws. The hell with justice; do what’s expedient. The hell with debts; cancel ’em by force. Us, we like justice. We pay debts. Our kind of strength.

The debts under discussion here are “debts to society” — as in “if you commit a crime, you must pay your debt to society.” Let’s hope that is indeed our kind of strength.

Reading The Honjin Murders

The Honjin Murders
by Seishi Yokomizo, translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Originally published 1946, English translation published 2019


I picked this up while browsing in one of my favorite bookstores, not knowing anything about it. I was simply intrigued by the idea of a classic period murder mystery transposed to Japan. What I discovered was a well-crafted story with a really unexpected ending, and an almost 4th-wall breaking homage to Western Golden Age detective fiction and the locked-room mystery.

Author Seishi Yokomizo started out writing historical fiction (especially historical detective fiction, à la Judge Dee), before breaking into the puzzle-based murder mystery genre with The Honjin Murders in 1946. The novel won the first Mystery Writers of Japan award when it appeared, and The Guardian named the 2019 English translation one of the best crime novels of the year. It’s the first of seventy-seven novels featuring the private detective Kosuke Kindaichi. Yokomizo’s success provided a model for many Japanese mystery authors who came after him.

It’s strange that it took over seven decades before someone decided to start translating the Kindaichi series, but I’m glad that they did. And I hope they translate more of Yokomizo’s work, too.

The Story

In 1937, Kenzo Ichiyanagi, the oldest son of a prominent family, marries Katsuko Kubo, the orphaned niece of a lower class but wealthy farmer. The night after the wedding, the couple are found dead, brutally mutilated by a katana kept in their bedroom. Their two-room house was completely locked, with no footprints leading up to it. Katsuko’s heartbroken uncle Ginzo calls in his protégé, the scruffy but up-and-coming private detective Kosuke Kindaichi, to help solve the crime.

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Reading Ghosts from the Library

For a few years now, I’ve been happily devouring Tony Medawar’s anthology series Bodies from the Library, which presents lost and forgotten, previously unpublished, or never-anthologized stories and radio plays by well-known Golden Age mystery writers. So I was excited to discover that Medawar has branched out, with a new anthology called Ghosts from the Library, featuring more lost works from Golden Age masters of mystery — only these stories are supernatural! My two favorite genres, combined!


Much like the recent Agatha Christie collection The Last Seance (which I reviewed here), the stories in Ghosts from the Library are a mix of truly supernatural tales, and mysteries that only appear supernatural until solved. There are also a few mysteries with naturalistic solutions, but that retain the suggestion of “true” supernatural phenomena, a variation that I don’t recall from the Christie collection.

As always, Medawar adds some notes about the author and the story after each piece, which I find helpful when I’m not familiar with the writer in question, and interesting even if I am.

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Things I’ve Learned from Reading Ghost Stories

Some useful life lessons:

  • If the rent or sale price seems too good to be true – it is.

  • Don’t blow old whistles.

  • Found an ancient artifact? And it’s got a Latin inscription? Don’t read it out loud!

  • Ditto for old books.

  • Just put it back where you found it. Seriously.

  • Beware of “persons” in flappy flowy hooded garments.

  • Beware your child’s “imaginary playmate.”

  • If the mirrors are covered – leave them that way.

  • Ditto for paintings.

  • Ditto for plastered-over murals.

  • Never scoff at “old wives tales.”

  • There is no cat in the house.

Originally posted to Short Thoughts.

The Ghost of Charlotte Cray

This week I’m featuring another Christmas-season ghost story by a woman author: “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray,” by Florence Marryat (1833-1899).

Florence Marryat
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sigsmund Braggett is a healthy, successful, newly married middle-aged man. To all appearances, his life should be going great; and yet he is troubled. Why, you ask?

Most of us have our little peccadilloes in this world-—awkward reminiscences that we would like to bury five fathoms deep, and never hear mentioned again, but that have an uncomfortable habit of cropping up at the most inconvenient moments; and no mortal is more likely to be troubled with them than a middle-aged bachelor who has taken to matrimony.

In certain aspects of his life, Mr. Braggett was not a very nice man. And now he’s afraid that it’s coming back to bite him.

You can read “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray” here.

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Number Two, Melrose Square

This week’s winter tale is a haunted house story by Theo Gift, the pen name of Dora Havers (1847-1923). I have a soft spot for a Victorian ghost story with an independent female lead character, and “Number Two, Melrose Square” happens conveniently at Christmas, so how could I resist?

"charcoal drawing of a haunted drawing room" - generated by Stable Diffusion

The protagonist, who seems to make her living as a translator and scholar, arrives to London to work on her latest project. A friend has found her a furnished house on Melrose Square, conveniently near the British Museum. Perhaps it’s a bit dreary, but for a furnished house, with housekeeper included, it’s quite a bargain!

Oops. Naturally, our heroine soon discovers that a bargain is never as good as it initially seems.

You can read “Number Two, Melrose Square” here.

Dorothy “Dora” Havers was the daughter of a colonial governor, and lived in the Falkland Islands and then Uruguay as a child and young woman. After her father died, she returned to England, working as a writer and journalist. She wrote novels, short stories, ghost stories, and children’s fiction, all published under the name Theo Gift. In 1879 she married botanist George Simonds Boulger, Professor of Natural History at the Royal Agricultural College. Hence, the name “Theo Gift” is sometimes listed as the pseudonym for Dora Boulger.

“Number Two, Melrose Square” originally appeared in All the Year Round, vol 24, 1880. The version that I’m sharing today is from Theo Gift’s collection Not for the Night-Time, published 1889.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured image: “Dark and Winding Streets,” Charles-François Daubigny, illustration for Les mystères de Paris, vol 1 (1843). Source: Old Book Illustrations.

Post image generated by Stable Diffusion (prompt: “charcoal drawing haunted drawing room”)

Winter Tales Time! A Musical Mystery

It’s time for Winter Tales! To commemorate the old tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmastime, I’ll be sharing mostly winter-themed spooky stories here from the beginning of December through Epiphany. So grab a hot drink and curl up in your favorite armchair to savor some old-fashioned thrills and chills!

Graveyard Under Snow, Caspar David Friedrich (1826)

My first story this year is “A Musical Mystery,” an anonymous contribution to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, for April 1875. It’s the tale of a creepy winter night visit to a mortuary, when a mysterious customer comes to purchase a coffin. For himself. A coffin shaped like a violoncello-case.

You can read “A Musical Mystery” here.

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Classic Crime: A Man Built in a Wall

The last time I posted to my Classic Crime series, it was to share a relatively unknown Edgar Allan Poe murder mystery. Today, I’m sharing a tale that might be one of the inspirations for one of my favorite Poe stories.

Joel Headley (1813 - 1897)
Joel Headley (1813 – 1897) Source: Wikimedia

“The Cask of Amontillado,” first published in 1846, has inspired countless readings and presentations. The one I like best is Vincent Price’s recital from An Evening with Vincent Price (1970). I also recently discovered this interpretation by Lou Reed, featuring Steve Buscemi (Fortunato) and Willem Dafoe (Montresor), which is worth a listen. It probably doesn’t make as much sense if you don’t already know the story, but I doubt that’s an issue with most people who come across it.

I’d never given much thought to where Poe might have gotten the idea — he’s Poe, after all; but, then, I stumbled on a reference to Joel Headley‘s anecdote, “A Man Built in a Wall,” from his travelogue Letters from Italy, and its possible influence on “Cask.” In 1843, Headley wrote of viewing a skeleton immured in the wall of the Church of San Lorenzo, in the town of San Giovanni. The skeleton had been discovered during renovations of the church, and left in place.

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Reading Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book

I don’t remember quite how I tripped over this little collection of “true” ghost stories, but it turned out to be a fairly entertaining read. Charles Lindley Wood, the second Viscount Halifax (1839-1934), was president of the English Church Union, an Anglo-Catholic advocacy group, and also an enthusiastic collector of ghost stories. After he passed away, his son, the third Viscount Halifax (also named Charles Wood), published a selection of tales from his father’s “ghost book,” as Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book in 1936. The book proved to be so popular that Halifax put out a second selection, Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, in 1937.

Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax
Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax (1885-1934).
Source: Wikimedia

Lord Halifax was particularly interested in “true” or “authenticated” ghost stories, and a large number of the stories in The Ghost Book come from letters written to Halifax by his friends, often with additional attestations from the people involved (not included in the collection). Halifax fils tries to annotate each story with their sources, and a number of interesting names come up.

It’s also inevitable that the occasional urban legend, FOAF tale, or misremembered literary tale should pop up, and astute readers have found at least one. Here’s a few tales with additional, external, points of interest.

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Classic Crime: Thou Art the Man

LitHub’s This Week in Literary History for the week of April 17-23, 2022 commemorated the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in Graham’s Magazine April 1841, thereby launching the modern detective story.

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, engraving by Thomas Welch and Adam Walter, circa 1840s. Source: Wikimedia

One might take issue with the statement that Poe “invented” the detective story: E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1819 Mademoiselle de Scuderi certainly counts as a detective story, in my mind; and you can trace demonstrations of Holmesian-style ratiocination all the way back to at least the 1557 story cycle Peregrinaggio (you can find my retelling of the specific tale I’m thinking of here). But it is true that Poe’s Auguste Dupin and the adoring narrator-friend of Dupin’s cases defined the framework that gave us Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and the entire genre of ratiocination-style tales as we know it today.

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