All But Impossible by Edward D Hoch

While you’re at it, Sheriff, find out how any of them could change water into poisoned wine inside a locked house surrounded by unmarked snow.

It’s time to go back to Northmont in New Hampshire, the abode of Dr Sam Hawthorne, local doctor and impossible crime solver. And he’s clearly better than Gideon Fell or Henry Merrivale because it never takes him more than twenty pages to sort things out. This is the fourth collection of short stories featuring Hawthorne, following Diagnosis: Impossible, More Things Impossible and Nothing Is Impossible, featuring the run of stories from The Problem Of The Problem Of The Country Church (set in November 1936) through to The Problem Of The Scarecrow Congress (July 1940).

Whether it be a baby that turns into a doll during a christening, a body that appears inside a scarecrow in the middle of the day in a busy town square, a fresh body discovered inside a recently dug up coffin, there’s no crime too perplexing for Sam to solve…

I’ve been looking forward to this collection for a while – the previous collection consisted entirely of stories that I already owned, whereas this one came with three stories – The Problems of The Enormous Owl, The Miraculous Jar and The Scarecrow Congress that were new to me. And, as you may have guessed, I’m a massive fan of this series – and Edward D Hoch in general.

For those not in the know, Hoch was a mystery writer who specialised in short stories – he wrote over 950 of them. He wrote a load of impossible crimes, including the entire Hawthorne series, and unlike the other Crippen & Landru collections, the Hawthorne series is reprinted in order. And I think this collection is the best yet.

In fact, it’s the best, as I’ve read most of the stories that will make up the inevitable fifth volume and while there are some very strong stories there, there are a few duffers as well. Here, there are a couple that are weaker than the rest – The Unfound Door is very obvious and The Second Problem Of The Covered Bridge (a sequel to the very first Hawthorne tale) is a bit silly – but the rest are absolute crackers. All fairly clued, most with false solutions and some – The Country Mailbox, for example – having a real sting in the tale.

One could point out the occasional clunky history-drop, where a character happens to mention what’s happening in Europe to date the story, as being a bit unnecessary, and I would point out that the Kindle version is badly typeset – every paragraph has a double line space after it, some lines sentences have line breaks in the middle and there are a few typos, notably when Sam’s nurse turns from Mary into Mark. I’ve emailed the publishers – no reply yet – but hopefully that’ll be sorted soon. But you find yourself ignoring these problems and enjoying Sam’s Problems instead.

One of the finest collection of impossible crimes that you could read. Highly Recommended.

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11 comments

  1. Well, this all sounds rather wonderful. I need to get round to Hoch, I really do — I’ve still only read the handful published in the “main” impossible crime short story collections of recent years. Though a quick glance at Amazon tells me that the majority of the Hawthorne anthologies aren’t available in this country…which seems odd, given that a huge number of his books also do seem to be on Kindle. Curiouser and curiouser…

    Anyway, thanks for the metaphorical kick in the pants. I shall investigate Hoch post haste…probably by about 2023.

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    • It’s Crippen and Landru’s fault. Not that I should knock them for reprinting these books, as there are more than welcome, but they aren’t the easiest publisher to buy from outside of the US. The postage alone on All But Impossible stopped me from buying a print copy and I still haven’t heard from them about fixing the formatting issue with the Kindle version. I don’t know, maybe it’s supposed to be that way, but it’s annoying. But the ebooks are done erratically.

      There are some collections, again as ebooks, done through MysteriousPress.com, with some paperback versions available. Leopold’s Way doesn’t contain many impossible crimes, but it does have one of my favourites, The Vanishing of Velma, where a young woman gets into a Ferris wheel carriage and and has vanished when the car returns to the ground. Also be aware that there is some overlap of stories in the Simon Ark, Jeffrey Rand and Nick Velvet collections – I think. Definitely in the Ark collections. It’s been a while…

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      • Well, C&L aren’t the only niche publisher it’s difficult to buy from outside the US — I have the same difficulty with getting everything I’d like to from Coachwhip, Ramble House, and even certain Rue Morgue titles when they were going. Hi-ho. We persevere…

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      • There are a lot of cheap copies of the first collection on Abebooks – from US sellers, but with low postage, so you can get it for under £8. It’s a good collection, just one duffer in there, but you might have read one of the stories already if you’ve read Otto Penzler’s massive locked room collection.

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  2. These stories are really good. I have only read “les chambres closes du dr hawthorne” (the locked room of dr hawthorne), a best of Hoch, the only anthology available in french (and some stories published in other anthologies) but all of them are really good.

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