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Friday, January 11, 2013

A "Dog in the Night-Time" Mystery

I'm delighted that a couple of my thirtysomething friends are reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe corpus. Stout was a great mystery writer and a great Sherlockian. And thereby hangs a mystery.

In 1943, Vincent Starrett wrote in his "Books Alive" column that Stout had once given him his personal list of the 10 best detective stories. Here they are in order:
  • The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins;
  • The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett;
  • The Benson Murder Case, by S.S. Van Dine;
  • The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace;
  • The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton;
  • Call Mr. Fortune, by H.C. Bailey;
  • The Bellamy Trial, by Frances Noyes Hart;
  • The Cask, by Freeman Wills Crofts;
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie;
  • Lament for Maker, by Michael Innes.
 Of course "the dog in the night-time," what is notable by its absence, is a Sherlock Holmes book. Where is The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

Struggling to explain the unexplainable, Starrett theorized that perhaps Stout didn't think any single Holmes adventure was the equivalent of the ones cited. This is silly, of course, because two of the 10 books are collections of short stories. (You can read the entire column in Sherlock Alive, edited by Karen Murdock and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.)

While disagreeing with what he thought Stout might have thought, Starrett goes on to say it is true that "Holmes himself, the epic creation, is greater than any isolated story about him; the miracle is the entire Holmes saga considered as a unit."

True enough, but I still can't imagine anybody -- much less a Sherlockian like Stout -- compiling a list of the 10 greatest mysteries without Sherlock Holmes being included. That may be Rex Stout's greatest mystery.

What are your 10 favorite mysteries?

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