AUGUST DERLETH “The China Cottage.” Solar Pons. Short story. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, March 1965. First collected in The The Casebook of Solar Pons (Mycroft & Moran, hardcover, 1965), as “The Adventure of the China Cottage.” Reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Games Killers Play (Dell, paperback, 1968.

   I wonder if this story marked the first appearance of Solar Pons’ brother Bancroft, a man of some size and weight and who worked, not surprisingly, for the British Foreign Office. Dead in a locked room is an eccentric breaker of codes and ciphers, found slumped over the latest set of papers he was working on.

   But as it turns out, Pons quickly deduces that the papers and the secrets that may have been in them were not the reason for his murder, and the problem of the locked room is disposed of almost as quickly. If it was indeed murder, the killer simply walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Or her.

   No, the puzzle, as Pons finally works it out, and I hope I’m not giving too much away, has to do with the china cottage of the title, an ordinary incense burner in the shape of … a cottage. It is imagined, by me at least, that at one time these were quite popular in England.

   As a consulting detective whose cases you may decide to follow when you’ve read the entire Holmes canon several times over, Solar Pons certainly has his fans, even today, but I’ve always found his tales to be a mixed bag. This one’s better than many, but in my opinion, no way near the best of them. I found the shift in focus from a case in Bancroft’s purview to a much more domestic one disconcerting, but your opinion may vary.