ANTHONY BOUCHER – The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1940. Reprinted as Blood on Baker Street. Mercury #179, digest-sized paperback, abridged, 1953. Also published by Collier AS147, paperback, 1962; Gregg Press, hardcover, 1980; Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1986 & 1995.

   In his early days as a mystery writer, renowned mystery critic Anthony Boucher was apparently much taken by the Ellery Queen school of detective puzzle writing, the more complicated the plot, the better. And as the title indicates, TCOT Baker Street Irregulars mixes in a quintuple dose of Sherlock Holmes as well.

   There is a locked room mystery, codes to be deciphered — or should that be ciphers to be uncoded? — a large cast of characters, all trying to solve the mystery and all with (at the same time) alibis to be tested and broken, with ingenious solutions proposed by all and sundry, none of which hold up to the light of day — all with the zest and wit of an author who in his own way was a genius of the first rank indeed.

   Dead is Stephen Worth, a hardboiled writer who hates Holmesian puzzles, but who has unaccountably been hired to write the screenplay for Metropolis Pictures’ latest project, that of filming their version of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Protesting are all of the members of the Baker Street Irregulars around the country, five of whom are invited to come to Hollywood and be creative consultants on the project, mostly to keep them mollified and quiet.

   Boucher’s most frequently used series character, Hollywood PI Fergus O’Breen is not on hand, but his sister Maureen is. She’s the trusted assistant to the head of Metropolis Pictures, and it becomes her job to keep an eye on the Irregulars (it was her idea, after all), all housed in one building. Who’s the housekeeper? None other than a young lady named Mrs. Hudson. Who’s the policeman who given the task of watching over the house after the murder occurs? None other than Sergeant Watson.

   It is hard to keep the level of wackiness exhibited by the first third of the book going indefinitely, and the middle third sags noticeably, while the ending seems entirely too jerry-rigged to hold up against a bout of serious questioning. So I didn’t and I won’t. I just sat back and enjoyed it immensely. Not a book for modern readers, to be sure, but if your tastes are anything like mine, you’ll have a good time with this one too.