Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Challenge the Impossible: The Final Problem" Edward D. Hoch

 (Review by Jeff Meyerson, a few years back)

Edward D. Hoch, Challenge the Impossible: The Final Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (Crippen & Landru 2018).

When I thought of which book to choose for the first of these short story collections to review, the choice was fairly easy.  Why not go with possibly the most prolific short story writer ever, a man who published over 950 stories, including one or more in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for 35 years?  Ed Hoch created a dozen or more series characters of varying types, but my favorite remains the impossible crime specialist, small town Connecticut doctor Sam Hawthorne, who had some 72 recorded cases, published between 1974 and 2008, of a remarkably high quality.  Hoch did something interesting here, besides the ingenuity of the stories themselves, by setting them in a specific time and place, a smallish town in Connecticut between the doctor's arrival in 1922 and his final story, in 1944.  You always get a feel for what was going on in the world then, from the Depression to the Second World War.  Crippen & Landru has done fans a favor by publishing all 72 stories in five volumes (of which this is, clearly, the last), all with "Impossible" in the title.  From the first story, "The Problem of the Covered Bridge," in which a man drives into a covered bridge and seems to vanish off the face of the Earth, Hoch was a master at coming up with truly impossible-seeming crimes and then providing mostly brilliant solutions.  I'd recommend starting at the beginning and reading all five volumes, but you can't go wrong with any of them.
Jeff Meyerson


Jerry House said...

Hoch was the modern master of the detective story. Each of his many charaters were unique in their own right, seldom -- if ever-- bordering on parody. I don't think Hoch ever truly repeated himself. Each story, despite the restrictions of his characters, was unique: a Doctor Sam story never repeated itself; neither did a Jefffey Rand story, or a Nick velvet story, or a Captain Leopold story. An amazing accomplishment. Every collectiomn by Hoch is worth both your time and money.

Doctor Sam Hawthorne is one of my favorite Hoch characters. My absolute favorites, however, are Ben Snow, the western detective many thought was actually Billy the Kid, and Simon Ark, the (perhaps) 2000 year old Coptic priest.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Thanks for reprinting this, Patti. Glad to see that Crippen & Landru is continuing to put out collections as Hoch's work, the latest being a very good Captain Leopold collection.

As for current reading, I read a recommendation somewhere (it might have been in the Dwight Garner book) for Allegra Goodman's short story collection, THE FAMILY MARKOWITZ. I'd never heard of her before, let alone read her, and since the library had it available in an ebook edition, why not? It's a series of interconnected stories about various members of the family - grandmother and matriarch Rose, now in her 80s, a bright but sometimes difficult to get along with woman; her two sons, the aesthetic Henry, a single art dealer who married in one of the stories, now living in Oxford; younger son Ed, a Georgetown professor, and his wife Sarah (their four kids are grown and off-stage). I'm enjoying the longish stories and might well reak one of her novels at some point.

Todd Mason said...

Allegra Goodman overlapped with me at Punahou Academy in Honolulu, and I have a sense I might've known her slightly, as she was a frosh in my graduation year of 198i-82. She might be the most famous member of her graduating class, but I haven't kept a very close eye on that. (Punahou's college-class-style scheduling allowed for more interaction between classes, in both senses, than most high schools of the time, I suspect, certainly than in my public hs in New Hampshire or the armed camp that was the Kailua, HI hs where I took Driver's Ed one summer.)

Edward Hoch was a very genteel and fan-friendly writer, in my limited experience of meeting him at the 2001 Bouchercon.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Interesting, Todd. I found it fascinating that she was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Hawaii.

Todd Mason said...

Well, her mother got the offer to come work at UHawaii (I was a student there during her administrative job years), and that was probably persuasive to both Goodman parents..."Hey, we can move to the only place in the US at this moment where the cost of living averages higher than NYC!" (Well, maybe my birth city Fairbanks, AK could give them both a run for all one's money, in home-heating alone, along with food.)

I wonder how much Conservative Judaism gains adherents who might've been comfortable being Orthodox but, like AG's mother, were also feminists, or of similar persuasions, in one sense or several. And did not as a result move to Reform, or weren't as at peace there.

Margot Kinberg said...

I have not read a Hoch in too long, Patti. I appreciate the reminder.

TracyK said...

I enjoyed Jeff's review of this book and it made me wish I had some of these stories. I do have several of the Crippen & Landru collections and some collections on my kindle but to my knowledge, none of those are Sam Hawthorne stories. I will have to remedy that.

I am also interested in the short story collection, THE FAMILY MARKOWITZ, that Jeff mentions in his comments.