Some of the most recognized names in crime fiction are also represented here, and the choices are sound ones. While Arthur Conan Doyle's Italy-set "The New Catacomb" suffers from being both similar to Edgar Allan Poe's unforgettable "The Cask of Amontillado" and three times longer than that compact story, G.K. Chesterton's entry "The Secret Garden" has everything that I adore about his best Father Brown tales: a bizarre murder (here the beheading of a victim in an enclosed garden), a moment of utter bafflement for the reader, and the blinking, unremarkable Father Brown ready to demystify with an explanation that grounds the bizarre tableau once more in reality.
And the most recognized name of all is included, albeit with a lesser-known detective and story. Agatha Christie's Parker Pyne helps a woman on a train bound for Istanbul in "Have You Got Everything You Want?" After some encouragement from professional problem-solver and fellow passenger Pyne, the woman confides that she's worried about what might happen to her on the trip, based on a scrap of writing she saw on her husband's blotting paper: "Just before Venice would be the best time." While I am hardly the Christie acolyte that so many other GAD readers understandably have become, there is something admirable and clever in the way the Queen of Crime spins a story with three characters (not counting Pyne) and a hook and effortlessly manages to engage the reader and keep the actions moving forward with the efficiency of a European express train. It's a minor tale, but it's masterfully done.
My favorite discoveries in Continental Crimes include "Petit-Jean" by First World War soldier and playwright Ian Hay (Major General John Hay Beith), a lively and wryly comic story about a British military unit stationed in France and its relationship with a pair of native lads, Jean and Henri (or 'Nrri', as Captain Crombie refers to him in his labored lingua franca). It's an uncommon scenario, and Hay's deft tone and narrative sweep provided a satisfying story.
Equally enjoyable were "The Room in the Tower" by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a short and effective ghost story about familial defenestration in an imposing German castle tower, and Michael Gilbert's "Villa Almirante", which combines assured writing with the specter of Percy Shelley's death when a poet is found drowned off the Italian coast.
With fourteen tales in this collection – additional authors include H.C. Bailey, Josephine Bell, Arnold Bennett, Stacy Aumonier, and Henry de Vere Stacpoole – Continental Crimes is a great companion to bring along on international travel … or for enjoying in as sedentary a setting as your favorite armchair. I received an eBook reading copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.