Nine Times Nine by Anthony Boucher was a book I read in my younger days and forgot completely except that 1) I liked it and 2) nuns had something to do with it. So, having always meant to read more of Boucher, I found a 4 thriller compilation. Thriller — not in the modern sense. It’s a locked room mystery that’s a bit more noir than GAD. Down on his luck writer Matt Duncan is drinking his cares away after getting his pink slip from the WPA — this is Los Angeles, 1940. He runs into an old… friend isn’t quite the right word – guy he went to school with – who’s also wanting to get drunk to get over his problems with Concha Harrington, an heiress and still a schoolgirl, whom Greg is engaged to. Concha wants to be a nun and Matt decides he must help his friend rescue this girl from this terrible fate. So, off they go to save the day. Greg falls asleep on the way and Matt arrives at the house where he is not warmly received, blunders about a bit and leaves having accomplished nothing. As he does so though, he spots a mysterious intruder and the telltale glint of a gun in the moonlight. There follows a short fight in which Matt takes out the intruder neatly and meets the man of the house Wolfe Harrington. They get along so well, Wolfe offers Matt a job as his assistant exposing dubious cults of which there are apparently many, the most central being The Children of Light lead by a man who claims to be The Wandering Jew.
This is not just a locked room mystery – with much hat tipping to John Dickson Carr – it is also a good novel. There are numerous scenes of family life and budding romance which do nothing to further the plot, but do further our understanding of the characters. The locked room solution is both ingenious and absurd as I’m beginning to think all locked room mysteries might be. Boucher, unlike Carr, is able to go over the list of locked room mystery solutions without spoiling a dozen books. The characters are good, the mystery intriguing, Terry Marshall and Sister Ursula characters I’d like to meet again, and can in Rocket to the Morgue, but that’s it. They only appear in the two mysteries. I’m looking forward to reading more Boucher novels although I’m a little creeped out by his choice of H.H. Holmes as a pen name. And if you don’t know who he was, go read Devil in the White City, stat.
This counts for Bev’s Follow the Clues challenge: both it and Detection Unlimited featured writers in prominent positions. In Detection, the writer was a best-selling mystery author, very unpopular in the small town for his bluntness and lack of respect for anyone. In Nine Times Nine, the writer is not doing so well, he’s fired at the beginning of the book. He seems to be landing on his feet, but then his new boss becomes the victim of an impossible crime. He’s well enough liked though that he becomes a sort of Watson to detective Marshall.
Also has A Number in the Title for Bev’s Just the Facts, Ma’am