Detective Stories by Philip Pullman

Detective Stories is a 1998 collection of fifteen short stories and two brainteasers from the detective genre compiled by Philip Pullman. It is a part of Kingfisher Publication’s Red Hot Reads series.

The book tries to cover the entire detective genre right from Arthur Conan Doyle to Andrew Vachss. Pullman has tried to make a perfect combination of vintage and contemporary stories and he succeeds to a large degree.

The collection starts with The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine in 1892. Panic grips a lonely woman when she starts to hear the same late night whistling noise that her twin sister spoke of in her dying moments. I’ve read The Speckled Band before and I think that it is one of the best Sherlock Holmes short stories. The atmosphere of fear that Doyle manages to create in such a short space is admirable.

They Can Only Hang You Once by Dashiell Hammett was first published in 1932 in the Colliers magazine. In it Sam Spade investigates a double homicide. I didn’t really take to the character of Sam Spade. The main mystery is nothing really interesting, only a little weird.

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb by Agatha Christie was first published in The Sketch magazine in 1923. A series of deaths at an Egyptian excavation site starts a frenzy of superstition. I have read this one before and think that it is one of the better early Poirot short stories. The murderer’s motive is a little thin in my opinion.

An extract for Erich Kästner’s classic children’s novel Emil and the Detectives (Emil und die Detektive in German) from 1929 is next. I had read the original novel as a child and enjoyed it greatly. This ‘extract’ will be highly dissatisfying for anyone who has not and even for those who have read the original novel. It feels awkward and hardly does the book any justice.

The Inspiration of Mr. Budd by Dorothy L. Sayers is a part of the short story collection In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939). A down on his luck hairdresser is confronted by a wanted criminal in his salon on a lonely afternoon. It is a good story but it doesn’t really fit in to the whole detective genre .

Butch Minds the Baby by Damon Runyon was published in Collier’s magazine in 1933. The perfect robbery needs the perfect safe breaker. But the problem is that the safe breaker is baby sitting for the evening and can’t leave the baby on its own. This is a really unusual story, unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s one of the best stories of the bunch.

Murder at St. Oswald’s by Michael Underwood was a part of Verdict of Thirteen: A Detection Club Anthology (1979). A group of 12 school boys plan to get rid of their bullying teacher. The story is kind of dull.

From Isaac Asimov’s the Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980) comes the story The Cross of Lorraine. It features his club of mystery solvers, The Black Widowers. A stage magician is looking for a woman he once met at a bus stop and seeks the help of The Black Widowers. The story starts out quite promisingly but ends rather uninterestingly.

The Newdick Helicopter by Leslie Charteris features the legendary character of the Saint. It was published in the short story collection Boodle in 1934. In this story Saint gives a con artist a taste of his own medicine. The story is interesting but dated.

Cold Money by Ellery Queen was published in the Ellery Queen magazine in 1952. A convicted bank robber gets murdered within days of being released from prison. The police suspect his former accomplices but finding any proof is harder than they think. The story is nothing original but enjoyable.

The One-Handed Murderer is an Italian folktale re-told by Italo Calvino. It was a part of his Italian Folktales (Fiabe Italiane) published in 1956. A young princess is chased across the land by a mysterious one-handed assassin. Considering the fact that this is a folktale, the story is surprisingly chilling.

Finger-Printing a Ghost is an excerpt from the non-fiction book From Memories of Murder by Tony Fletcher. A group of people try to finger print a pair of ghostly hands to make sure that it is indeed a ghost that they are seeing. I don’t get why this was included in this particular collection. It is more of a ‘paranormal phenomenon’ story than a detective one.

It’s a Hard World by Andrew Vachss was published as a part of the collection Born Bad (1994). A man on the run tries to dodge a pack of ruthless killers amidst the chaos of a busy airport. This interesting and incredibly short story feels like a throw back to the ‘noir’ genre.

Maddened by Mystery is a satire on the detective genre by Stephen Leacock. It was published in his book Nonsense Novels in 1911. I really didn’t like him making fun of my favourite genre. For a satire it’s not even funny.

Two brainteasers by Raymond Smullyan called From the Files of Inspector Craig and More From the Files of Inspector Craig are also included in the book. They are mathematical in nature. I managed to solve a few of them but I’m not really good at this kind of stuff. The solutions to Inspector Craig’s problems are given at the end of the book.

My favourites form the book are The Speckled Band and Butch Minds the Baby. The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb and It’s a Hard World are also good.

The cover is amazing! It has a kind of ‘pulp magazine’ like quality to it.

The book comes with a cool bookmark that features the other books in the Red Hot Reads series.

The illustrations by Nick Hardcastle are not up to the mark. But if I were a young person I’d probably be too engrossed in the story to be bothered with such trifles.

This collection is mainly aimed at younger readers but adults can equally enjoy it (as I did). Recommended for fans of the detective genre. Detective Stories is a true treat!

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3 comments

  1. I like the sound of this one very much – had no idea Pullman had such a book out. I own something a bit similar I think: Mystery Stories edited by Helen Cresswell, This is also aimed at teenagers and includes stories by Conan Doyle, Ursula le Guin, Agatha Christie, Joan Aiken etc. and extracts from books such as Wuthering Heights and King Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. I plan to pass it on to my grand-daughter when I’ve read it and will recommend the Pullman too.

    1. Thanks for visiting! I’m always glad to be able to recommend any good books that comes to my notice. Hope your grand-daughter likes it.

      Mystery Stories sounds good too. Thanks!

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