John Quincannon was a Secret Service agent but has now (well, in the United States in the 1890s) become a private investigator in partnership with Sabina Carpenter, an ex-Pinkerton and the object of his unrequited desire. This book collects three short stories and one novella featuring the pair – well, primarily Quincannon – as they investigate some bizarre crimes.
Bill Pronzini impressed me with the novel Hoodwink, a modern spin on the classic locked room mystery, so I thought I’d try out some more of his work. In particular I was drawn to this collection, as I do like the western-detective crossover, as evidenced by my raving about Steve Hockensmith’s work and also my fondness for Edward D Hoch’s Ben Snow mysteries. So, that’s pretty stiff competition – how does Quincannon fare next to those rivals? Well he does have someone to help him out in the novella – a certain visitor from London who’s lying low after faking his death at the Reichenbach Falls.
It turns out that Hoodwink wasn’t my introduction to him, as I’ve read at least one of these short stories before, but let’s address them in reverse order:
Quincannon In Paradise
Quincannon pursues a pair of swindlers to Hawaii. There’s some interesting stuff about the islands, but this is a straightforward adventure without any real surprises.
Quincannon and Carpenter (the only significant appearance of her in the collection) are hired to flush out a bogus medium – only for him to be killed mid-seance when everyone present has linked hands. A nice little story, but all too predictable, plot-wise.
The Cloud Cracker
Quincannon sets out for a Californian town to bring back a swindler posing as a rainmaker, only for him to “shoot himself” inside a locked shed. A clever little locked room murder – old hands will probably spot the how.
The Bughouse Caper
The novella of the piece and the star attraction. Quincannon encounters Holmes as he investigates a serial burglar. On the evening he sets out to catch the villain, with Holmes guarding the front door, the owner of the house is found shot and stabbed inside a locked room and the burglar has vanished into the ether. The interplay between Holmes and Quincannon is a lot of fun – Quincannon has quite the ego, you see, and can’t abide someone who might be cleverer than him, and the mystery is clever, although you’ll probably guess part of it. The how is unfortunately a little reminiscent of Hoodwink – unfortunate in the sense of me reading them in close proximity, that is.
I’ve done these in reverse order, as the only real issue I had with the book is that the quality goes down with each story. I always thought the plan was to save the best ‘til last. Not sure why they were chosen in this order – they’re not chronological, as Quincannon even refers to Medium Rare in The Bughouse Caper.
All in all, a good collection of short stories, and I’d like to see more of the characters. Time to invest in the Crippen and Landru collection, methinks.