This massive anthology, edited by Ellery Queen, does its best to sum up mystery fiction from its birth in 1841 through 1941, the 101* years of the title, and in large part succeeds. When published, the editor could not have forseen that the traditional mystery would very shortly go into decline; the contents, therefore, amount to a summary of the Golden Age, as comprehensive in its mammoth way as Otto Penzler’s recent Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries, which mentions this volume and contains several of the same stories.
Following a fairly long and generally interesting introduction, the first and largest section is The Great Detectives, beginning with the grandfather of all detectives, Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin in “The Purloined Letter”. Many of the stories here will be equally familiar, such as Lord Dunsany’s “Two Bottles of Relish” or Melville Davisson Post’s “The Doomdorf Mystery”. The standout is a Hercule Poirot story called “A Chess Problem”. You won’t find this in the collected Poirot stories; instead is was used as a section of the novel The Big Four.
Another standout, for a very different reason, is M.P. Shiel’s “The S.S.” – to a modern reader, it’s deadly boring. I can’t imaging that the Reggie Fortune story presents him in the best light, either, though others such as Father Brown, Philip Trent, and Lord Peter Wimsey have more respectable entries.
Queen, dispensing with modesty, also includes one of his own stories.
The next section is The Great Women Detectives, and it’s quite short, with only three stories. Two of them, “The Tea Leaf” and “The Mackenzie Case”, are quite good, but Mignon Eberhart’s “Introducing Susan Dare” drags.
This is followed by another short section, The Great Humorous Detective Stories. The lead story may be the most unexpected in the book. “The Treasure Hunt” by Mary Roberts Rinehart features her character Tish in a hilarious farce, and Tish and her friends manage to wrap up a scavenger hunt and a robbery while indulging in all sorts of shenanigans. There’s a Tuppence and Tommy story by Christie, and a story called “The Mystery of the Missing Wash”, by Octavus Roy Cohen. It’s told in a heavily exaggerated black dialect, and honestly, I couldn’t finish it.
The Great Thieves comes next, and this may have been my favorite section. It’s got a very good Raffles, “The Criminologists’ Club”, and an even better Saint story, “Paris Adventure”.
Queen leaves detection behind in The Great Crime Stories, which includes well-known stories such as Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Suspicion”. Aside from those, the most notable story is “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole”, by Thomas Burke.
The last section is called The Detective Story To End Detective Stories; its selection, as you may guess, is debatable.
Many of these stories surprised me. “The Absent-Minded Coterie”, with detective Eugene Valmont, was neatly done and very amusing; Ronald Knox, famous for his rules for detective stories, is represented by the only good story he ever wrote, “Solved By Inspection”; there’s a fine Albert Campion story, and two humdrum ones with Arsene Lupin.
The reputations of many of these authors, giants in their own time, has suffered in the decades since, but this huge book (995 pages!) is probably the best introduction possible to mystery fiction as it stood seventy years ago.
The Great Detectives
C. Auguste Dupin in “The Purloined Letter”, by Edgar Allan Poe
Nick Carter in “The Mystery of Mrs. Dickinson”, by Nicholas Carter
Martin Hewitt in “The Lenton Croft Robberies”, by Arthur Morrison
Prince Zaleski in “The S.S.”, by M.P. Shiel
The Old Man In The Corner in “The Dublin Mystery”, by Baroness Orczy
The Thinking Machine in “The Problem of Cell 13″, by Jacques Futrelle
Eugene Valmont in “The Absent-Minded Coterie”, by Robert Barr
Arsene Lupin in “The Red Silk Scarf”, by Maurice Leblanc
Dr. Thorndyke in “The Puzzle Lock”, by R. Austin Freeman
Father Brown in “The Secret Garden”, by Gilbert Chesterton
Average Jones in “The Man Who Spoke Latin”, by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Uncle Abner in “The Doomdorf Mystery”, by Melville Davisson Post
Philip Trent in “The Sweet Shot”, by E.C. Bentley
Max Carrados in “The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage”, by Ernest Bramah
Inspector Barraclough in “The Pink Edge”, by Frank Froest and George Dilnot
Mr. Fortune in “The Long Dinner”, by H.C. Bailey
Hercule Poirot in “A Chess Problem”, by Agatha Christie
Superintendent Wilson in “The Owl At The Window”, by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
Lord Peter Wimsey in “A Matter of Taste”, by Dorothy L. Sayers
Dr. Hailey in “The Cyprian Bees”, by Anthony Wynne
Miles Bredon in “Solved by Inspection”, by Ronald A. Knox
Roger Sheringham in “The Avenging Chance”, by Anthony Berkeley
Albert Campion in “The Border-Line Case”, by Margery Allingham
Mr. Linley in “Two Bottles of Relish”, by Lord Dunsany
Sam Spade in “A Man Called Spade”, by Dashiell Hammett
Professor Poggioli in “The Resurrection of Chin Lee”, by T.S. Stribling
Ellery Queen in “The Mad Tea Party”, by Ellery Queen
Colonel March in “The Crime in Nobody’s Room”, by Carter Dickson
The Great Women Detectives
Ruth Kelstern in “The Tea Leaf”, by Edgar Jepson and Robert Eustace
Gwynn Leith in “The Mackenzie Case”, by Viola Brothers Shore
Susan Dare in “Introducing Susan Dare”, by Mignon Eberhart
The Great Humorous Detective Stories
Tish in “The Treasure Hunt”, by Mary Roberts Rhinehart
Tommy and Tuppence in “The Disappearance of Mrs. Leigh Gordon”, by Agatha Christie
Florian Slappey in “The Mystery of the Missing Wash”, by Octavus Roy Cohen
The Great Thieves
Raffles in “The Criminologists’ Club”, by E.W. Hornung
Arsene Lupin in “Arsene Lupin in Prison”, by Maurice Leblanc
The Infallible Godahl in “Blind Man’s Bluff”, by Frederick Irving Anderson
Four Square Jane in “The Stolen Romney”, by Edgar Wallace
The Saint in “Paris Adventure”, by Leslie Charteris
The Great Crime Stories
“The Clock”, by A.E.W Mason
“The Most Dangerous Game”, by Richard Connell
“The Eleventh Juror”, by Vincent Starrett
“Philomel Cottage”, by Agatha Christie
“Faith, Hope, and Charity”, by Irvin S. Cobb
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole”, by Thomas Burke
“Treasure Trove”, by F. Tennyson Jesse
“Suspicion”, by Dorothy L. Sayers
“The Silver Mask”, by Hugh Walpole
“Ransom”, by Pearl Buck
The Detective Story To End Detective Stories
“The Perfect Crime”, by Ben Ray Redman