The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany (1952)
Dunsany's seminal mystery collection, The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories, is firmly ensconced in the Queen's Quorum, a listing of the 125 most significant mystery/detective collections published from 1854 through to 1967. Strangely, it seems to have been published only twice -- both times in England: its original appearance by Jerrold's an a 1978 reprint by Remploy, a company I had never heard of. The book was printed three times in Germany (in 1958, 1972, and 1979) and once in Japan (in 2009). It was never published in America. (Information courtesy of Worldcat.)
Smethers, for those who don't know, is a salesman for Numnumo, a relish for meats and savories during the years before World War II. He is also the narrator of eight short mysteries featuring Mr. Linley, to whom both Scotland Yard and the British govenment turn when they have an extremely difficult mystery on hand. (A further Smethers/Linley story is narrated in the third person.) The first story in the series was the deservedly famous "The Two Bottles of Relish" -- Dunsany's best-known and most reprinted story.
In addition to the nine Smethers/Linley tales, this volume contains seventeen other quirky stories of mystery and crime. Most of these are puzzle stories in one way or another. Events an motives leading upto each story is usually glossed over without explanation other than an acknowledgement that these details are not pertinent to the point of the story; this allows Dunsany to make the story brief (often just five pages or so) and to add some impact to the story's solution. Deduction is often what is important here, not details. This, in no small way, reminds me of Isaac Asimov's Black Widow and Union Club stories. This comparison seems particularly apt since most of these stories read like "club stories" -- and, indeed, several of them are actual club stories, much in the mode of Dunsany's stories about Joseph Jorkens. What is important about club stories is that you never know if the narrator is telling the truth, all that is important is that it seems he may be telling the truth.
These stories may be quirky and some may be slight, but each is a highly polished gem leading to a satisfying (and sometimes highly improbable) conclusion. There's a reason why Queen selected this volume for the Quorum. I just can't find a good reason why it has not been reprinted in the United States.
Patti Abbott is off this week and Todd Mason will be collecting today's Forgotten Books links at Sweet Freedom.