Fri 17 Mar 2017
by Bill Pronzini
ANTHONY BOUCHER – Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1983.
Boucher published some sixty short stories during his thirty-year writing career, about equally divided between mystery/detective and science fiction/fantasy. The twenty-two stories in Exeunt Murderers clearly show that he had a fine hand with the form — a finer hand, perhaps, than he had with novels.
Included here are all nine of the Nick Noble stories, Boucher’s best series and most inspired work. Noble is an ex-cop who was thrown off the force in disgrace for taking graft, something he resorted to in desperation to pay for an operation his wife needed — an operation that failed and left him a widower. The combination of tragedies turned him into a wino who spends most of his time at a cheap bar called the Chula Negra, drinking rotgut sherry and fending off an invisible fly that keeps pestering him.
But even though he is “the lowest and soddenest kind of drunk that even the Skid Row of Los Angeles can exhibit,” he can still deduce with the best, as he proves whenever his friend, Lieutenant MacDonald, brings him cases no one in the department can solve. Dying messages and codes are Noble’s specialties. And among his best deductions are those that clear up the murder of a priest in “Screwball Division,” the murder of a librarian in “QL 696. C9,” and a football mystery in “The Punt and the Pass.”
Also included are a pair of cases featuring Sister Ursula, the cloistered nun whom Boucher created for a pair of early novels published under the pseudonym of H. H. Holmes. ” The Stripper” is the grisly tale of a Jack the Ripper-style murderer on the loose in southern California. “Coffin Corner,” like the Nick Noble case mentioned above, has a college-football background.
Boucher’s best nonseries stories are here as well: the wonderfully macabre “The Retired Hangman,” a much tougher story than was usual with him; “Mystery for Christmas,” a story-within-a-story that features Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse; “The Smoke-Filled Locked Room,” which combines deduction with some of Boucher’s political views; and “The Ultimate Clue,” a short-short (again about football) with the ultimate detective-story ending.
An insightful introduction by Francis M Nevins, Jr. (who co-edited the volume with Martin H. Greenberg), rounds out what is surely one of the best and longest overdue collections to be published in the past several years.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.