Sat 18 Mar 2017
EDMUND CRISPIN “Beware of the Trains.” First published in The (London) Evening Standard, 1949. Lead story in the collection of the same title (Gollancz, UK, 1953; Walker, US, 1962).
Is it possible to tell to tell an “impossible crime” mystery in ten pages and get away with it? The answer is yes, and “Beware of the Trains” is a fine unadulterated example.
Crispin’s primary detective character, Gervase Fen, is by profession an Oxford professor, but he has a decided penchant for running into — and solving — all kinds of unusual crimes. In this story he is once again luckily on hand when the engineer of the train he is on mysteriously disappears, even though the police have the small station surrounded, hoping to nab a notorious burglar whom they suspect was on the train, but who is not.
That the thief may never have been on the train means that the latter part of that previous sentence is not an impossible crime, but where is the driver?
Fen uses his wits, does some searching, and comes up with the answer, all neatly and tidily done. Another author who specialized in short story impossibilities was Edward D. Hoch, some of whose efforts along these lines have been collected, but not enough of them to suit me.