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Bewildering Stories

Hal White, The Mysteries of Reverend Dean

reviewed by Bertil Falk

The Mysteries of Reverend Dean
Author: Hal White
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing
Paper: $14.95
Length: 252 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0-9797863-5-8
“The fine detective story, be it repeated, does not consist of ‘a’ clue. It is a ladder of clues, a pattern of evidence, joined together with such cunning that even the experienced reader may be deceived: until, in the blaze of the surprise ending, he suddenly sees the whole design.”

That is what John Dickson Carr wrote in his long essay The Grandest Game in the World.

Agatha Christie called John Dickson Carr the King of Deception or Misdirection or something like that. He was more or less obsessed with the idea of creating impossible crime plots, like murders in locked rooms, criminals disappearing into thin air etc.

To John Dickson Carr this was an intellectual game and a challenge. He does not seem to have had any “literary” aspirations and even though he created some impressive detectives, his weakness for characterization does not seem to have been well developed.

He was totally concentrated on plotting impossible crimes.

Carr book cover
This sub-genre had its heydays in the past. Edward D. Hoch was almost the only writer who stuck to the genre until his death in January 2008. But lo, Hal White hands on the torch in this relay race. In 2008 Lighthouse Publishing published his The Mysteries of Reverend Dean.

And Hal White also passes on another tradition from G.K. Chesterton and Edward D. Hoch. The retired Reverend Thaddeus Dean treads in the footsteps of churchmen like Chesterton’s Father Brown and Hoch’s Simon Ark, the 2000-year old Coptic priest, who solves crimes in the 20th century.

One reason for the decline of the locked room murders, may be the feeling that most methods to commit them have been used and even overused, but with The Mysteries of Reverend Dean, Hall White proves that this feeling is wrong. His collection consists of six short stories with clever solutions based on that by Carr mentioned ladder of clues and pattern of evidence.

In “Murder at an Island Mansion,” three siblings are murdered, one on a sandy beach, one surrounded by wet paint and one in a mudflat. But the murderer has not made any footprints.

In “Murder at the Lord’s Table,” God predicts the death of a pastor. And an interesting thing is that Lighthouse Publishing is a Christian publisher. Here and there in the story Reverend Dean sort of preaches. It is obvious but not intrusive. Being a reverend, it is a matter of course that Thaddeus Dean displays his faith now and then.

The most impressive of the stories is in my opinion “Murder from the Fourth Floor,” where a shooter disappears from an apartment surrounded by police. I would think that John Dickson Carr had approved of the ingenious solution.

In short: stories to stir your gray stuff.

I look forward to more Reverend Dean stories.

Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk

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