Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


EDWARD D. HOCH – All But Impossible: The Impossible Files of Dr. Sam Hawthorne. Crippen & Landru, hardcover/softcover, 2017. Story collection, with all 15 reprinted from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Edited by Douglas G. Greene, including a memoir by the latter.

   When it comes to stories with solid mystery plotting, you really can’t go wrong with those by the late Ed Hoch, the best and certainly the most prolific generator of impossible crime stories since John Dickson Carr. In his nifty memoir about Hoch, Douglas Greene tells us that over the course of his lifetime Hoch produced at least 960 stories. Was each one a superior production? Not having read them all, we couldn’t say; but if they were good enough for shrewd editors, then you can be assured that even Hoch’s lesser efforts were better than most of his contemporaries.

   All But Impossible is Crippen & Landru’s penultimate collection of Ed Hoch’s series of tales about Dr. Sam Hawthorne, little Northmont’s general practitioner, “amateur” (his word) detective, and in Doug Greene’s view “Hoch’s finest creation.” Hoch seems to have reserved most of his best impossible crime plots for Dr. Sam to unravel: one kidnapping case, one accidental death that looks like foul play, and fourteen outright murders.

   Here’s a brief rundown: A baby that disappears right out from under everyone’s nose, including the mother’s … a murder in a locked room, with the only other person present innocent … a vanishment, with Dr. Sam an eyewitness … Sam spending the entire day with a man, being seen by others with him, but only Sam remembering him … a body found in a room that keeps disappearing—not the body, the room … a grandstanding swimmer dying in the pool—of poisoning … a man getting run over in the parking lot of a place that never existed … homicide by book—explosive literature at its worst … a fresh body in an old coffin (shades of JDC) … a man murdered in an open field by, to all appearances, a giant owl … a classic homicide in a locked house surrounded by pristine, undisturbed snow … another vanishment, this time with two observers … a disappearance involving the mayor, with Sam not fifty feet away … a murder solved, at least partly, by Alexander Graham Bell … and a dead body materializing inside a scarecrow in a public park in broad daylight.

   With the Sam Hawthorne stories Ed Hoch also put some effort into creating continuing characters and situations against a real world backdrop of developing history; Northmont is recovering from the Depression, but the first tremors of the approaching cataclysm in Europe are beginning to be felt in the little New England town. The stories in All But Impossible span the period from November 1936 to July 1940; in a few of them deteriorating world conditions serve to activate plot developments.

   If you like the Sam Hawthorne stories and have a complete collection of EQMMs running from August 1991 to June 1999, then you won’t need to get All But Impossible; and if you have a complete EQMM collection from December 1974 to May 2008, then you won’t need any of the C&L collections at all. If your situation is otherwise, though, you’re missing out on tales that, as Doug Greene says, are “wonderful in their ingenuity and superb storytelling.” And rumor hath it that a fifth and final collection of fifteen Dr. Sam Hawthorne adventures is already in the works.


Diagnosis: Impossible (1996) (12 stories)
More Things Impossible (2006) (15 stories)
Nothing Is Impossible (2013) (15 stories)   (reviewed here )