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The Casebook of Jonas P Jonas and Other Mysteries, Elizabeth Ferrars 16 June 2023

2012 collection of short stories (published between 1958 and 1992) with murder, or at least attempted murder, as a theme.

This is the post-mortem collection of all the stories that weren't included in Designs on Life. The first few are the "Jonas P. Jonas" stories, recounted by a retired private eye to his niece-in-law, whom he's hoping to get to turn them into a book.

"The Case of the Two Questions" involves an over-complex murder setup and a false alibi.

"The Case of the Blue Bowl" has a murder given away by the milk-bottles.

"The Case of the Auction Catalogue" has Jonas solving a killing on a train by explaining the actions of the prime suspect, and then working out who must really have done it.

"The Case of the Left Hand" has Jonas trying to identify a wanted man knowing only that his left hand is partly paralysed.

"Invitation to Murder -- On the Party Line" has an old woman hearing about murderous plans on her party-line telephone.

"A Lipstick Smear Points to the Killer" most closely approaches the puzzle-story, with a situation described and the narrator asked to work it out.

The other stories are individual pieces sharing no characters.

"Custody" has a divorced father obsessing about his children, and this leads to murder, though not in the obvious way.

"The Trap" has a young woman coming to keep house for an invalid so that the invalid's sister can get back to work, but something isn't quite right. (And a very dispiriting view of romantic love…)

"Stop Thief!" has a woman developing kleptomania.

"The Long Way Round" has a couple on Cyprus, with a wildly complex murder plan; I was more surprised that anyone had thought it would work than that it went wrong.

"Fly, Said the Spy" has the stress of a spy warned by his bosses to flee at once: but what to say to his wife?

"Instrument of Justice" has the blackmail victim desperate to go through her deceased blackmailer's things for incriminating photographs. But there's more to it.

"Suicide?" is a very short piece with a simple mistake foiling a murder plan.

"Look for Trouble" has a hair-dresser's regulars being murdered – but why?

"Justice in My Own Hands" has a retrospective of a carefully-plotted crime (or is it?).

"The Handbag" has a very strange plot happening during a visit to a stately home. It breaks some rules but works reasonably well.

"Sequence of Events" has a journalist looking at forgotten murders, and being told a story in a pub. It's oddly distanced, since there's no further investigation or follow-up.

Appendices give a full bibliography of Ferrars (some of these are quite hard to find) and some positive comments from critics.

I think The Handbag and Instrument of Justice are probably my favourites here; none of these is really a detective story in the usual sense, since when there's a puzzle it's usually only in regard to one element of the crime rather than a complex book-length investigation. And few of the characters are sympathetic. But as mystery short stories go, these go rather well.

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See also:
Designs on Life, Elizabeth Ferrars

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