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Six Against the Yard by The Detection Club

Six Against the Yard (1936)

by The Detection Club

Other authors: Margery Allingham (Contributor), Anthony Berkeley (Contributor), Agatha Christie (Essay), Ex-Superintendant Cornish (Afterword), G. W. Cornish (Contributor)4 more, Freeman Wills Crofts (Contributor), Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (Contributor), Dorothy L. Sayers (Contributor), Russell Thorndike (Contributor)

Series: The Detection Club (5)

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Before beginning, it's worth noting that "The Detection Club" isn't merely a publisher's invention. It was an actual organization formed in 1930 by a group of British mystery writers, including such big names as G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Baroness Emma Orczy. Indeed, it was these eminent personages who determined the "rules" of detective fiction, rules that writers have (more or less) followed ever since, such as "you have to provide sufficient clues in the text for the reader to be able to guess the perpetrator" and "the perpetrator can't be a new character introduced at the end."

I figured that any collection of stories by such an eminent group of writers ought to be good. Well ... maybe, maybe not! If anything, these stories serve as a reminder of just how much tastes have changed since the 1930s, when character development regularly took a back seat to dry, complicated, puzzle-like plots.

The conceit of this collection of stories is that each writer has been asked to submit a "perfect murders," which is then scrutinized by a C.I.D. Superintendent who passes judgment on whether the murder would, in fact, have been likely to have escaped detection.

"It Didn't Work Out," Margary Allingham's contribution, relates the story of how an obnoxious, boastful old showman is extinguished by his own vanity. Is it murder if you merely taunt someone into doing something stupidly dangerous? I rather liked this tale, perhaps because it's more about personalities than puzzles.

Not so much Father Ronald Knox's "The Fallen Idol," in which a fictional dictator meets his doom in the equivalent of a locked room - an apartment under constant guard. One would need a minute-by-minute timeline to actually puzzle the thing out, plus the main clue relies on a word association experiment, which feels a lot like cheating. Definitely my least favorite of the lot.

"The Policeman Only Taps Once," by Anthony Berkeley, tells the story of a con man who ends up conned into marriage; so outmatched, indeed, is our protagonist by his cannier spouse, she even manages to trick him into murdering himself. It's rather fun watching these two reprehensible souls endeavoring to outwit each other, though I'm still trying to process the fact that - apparently - it used to be a common thing for women to dip their hair in petrol as a beauty treatment. Seriously?

In Russell Thorndike's "Strange Death of Major Scallion," an odious, blackmailing British officer is extinguished by the man he is blackmailing. The elaborateness of the plot is a little hard to swallow, but "death by ant" is definitely a novel approach to murder!

Dorothy's Sayers contribution to the collection, "Blood Sacrifice," was my favorite, and definitely the most psychologically authentic of the lot. Indeed, it's hard to say for certain whether a murder actually occurs, though there is certainly murderous intent. For this reason, I'd easily nominate this as the most "perfect" murder of the lot.

Regrettably, the collection ends on a weak note with Freeman Wills Croft's "The Parcel," in which yet another odious blackmailer meets his doom, this time through the agency of an explosive parcel. Forget any pretense of character development: this one is as dry as a Popular Mechanics article, and relies on no one being able to connect the murder and victim. Anyone who hangs out with the likes of Christie, Allingham and Sayers ought to be able to do better!
  Dorritt | Sep 3, 2017 |
I got this book mostly for the Dorothy L. Sayers story, of course, but I was interested in the premise, too. Six master mystery writers, including Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers, took it upon themselves to write a short story each in which someone committed the perfect murder. And then, in response, an ex-Superintendent of the CID explained the ways he thought that perfect crime could be picked apart.

Cornish didn't seem to think any of the six would really 'pass', for various reasons, but it bothered me a little that it didn't matter how many precautions the characters took to get rid of the evidence, Cornish was sure the police would find something. The police are not all-knowing or perfect; I guess the problem is that I approached the stories as literary, and Cornish tried to view them as reality, while still seeing himself having access to all the facts. Not quite fair!

Margery Allingham's story is good; she sets up a great narrator, handling themes of domestic violence and so on pretty well. I did applaud Cornish's understanding of psychology in his response, where he pointed out that the murderer presented themselves in the most sympathetic light possible, but there's no reason to take their word as gospel truth, even in a confession. Overall, clever but obvious.

I was pretty ambivalent toward Father Ronald Knox's story of a dictator murdered in his home. That all seemed fairly obvious. Cornish's feeling that the crime is perfect through unfair play is right: like he says, the crime is unpunishable, but not untraceable.

Anthony Berkeley's story is fun: another great narrator, fun set of characters. That aspect of it is better than the perfect murder stuff, and the whole story reminded me of Lynn O'Connacht's beef with first person narrators: why, how, and when are you telling the story? Berkeley didn't really explain why the two narrators would tell the story in the way they did.

Thorndike's story was simply too theatrical and contrived. Rooooolling of eyes actually happened here.

Sayers' story was well written, but fell down in terms of being the perfect murder because it wasn't a murder. She spent so much time tying up each loose end that Cornish could've used to untangle the thing that ultimately, while there was motive, means, and opportunity, there was no defining moment where the 'murderer' acted. He simply failed to act, and he wasn't even sure if that would change anything. I did like the set-up and the psychological understanding, though.

Freeman Wills Crofts' story has an interesting set-up, but I didn't think it was even nearly a perfect murder -- there were several holes in the logic, which Cornish quite rightly points out.

So as I said, entertaining little collection, nice idea; not overwhelmed by the result, but it's fun enough. ( )
  shanaqui | Nov 23, 2014 |
Each story is followed by an afterword in which Ex-Supt. Cornish of the CID explains how in his view the police might have solved the case. Allingham's (about a musicahall singer ruined by her love for a worthless man) is tragic; Knox's (about the killing of a Latin American dictator in a quasi-locked room) is more cheerful and reminds me of GKC, which means i'ts better than usual for Knox. Anthony Berkeley's is told in a Damon Runyon style by an American crook who marries an Englisdh lady for her money,. ( )
  antiquary | Feb 10, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
The Detection Clubprimary authorall editionscalculated
Allingham, MargeryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berkeley, AnthonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Christie, AgathaEssaysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cornish, Ex-SuperintendantAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cornish, G. W.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crofts, Freeman WillsContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Knox, Ronald ArbuthnottContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sayers, Dorothy L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thorndike, RussellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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U.S. title is Six Against Scotland Yard.
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A unique anthology for crime afficionados - six 'perfect murder' stories, written by the most accomplished crime writers of the 1930s, designed to fox real-life Scotland Yard Superintendent Cornish, who comments on whether or not these crimes could have genuinely been solved. Includes a rare newspaper article by Agatha Christie, in which she discusses a real-life 'perfect murder'. -- Cover.… (more)

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