The Department of Dead Ends

by Roy Vickers  –  Penguin Books  –  1955 paperback
mystery short story collection

This is the 33nd in my series of Friday Forgotten Books

“If you were to inquire at Scotland Yard for the Department of Dead Ends, you might be told, in all sincerity, that there is no such thing, because it is not called by that name nowadays.”

Here are collected the best ten Department of Dead Ends stories as selected by the author, in a plain looking Penguin paperback. The contents belie the humdrum cover.

These stories were written in the forties and the collection was originally published in 1949. Contents:

  • “The Rubber Trumpet”
  • “The Lady Who Laughed”
  • “The Man Who Murdered in Public”
  • “The Snobs Murder”
  • “The Cowboy of Oxford Street”
  • “The Clue of the Red Carnations”
  • “The Yellow Jumper”
  • “The Case of the Social Climber”
  • “The Henpecked Husband”
  • “Blind Man’s Bluff”

    NOTE: Dover Books published, in 1978, a collection with the same title which has 14 stories in it, these 10 and four others. That collection is readily available from ABE Books. I’d love to read those extra four stories, but so far haven’t been willing to spend the money since I already have this book.

    The Department of Dead Ends is where hopeless cases go to lie in a coma until something causes them to get another look. These are stories, as Ellery Queen puts it in the introduction, of the inverted type. We are shown the crime, the victim, the perpetrator and then left to watch Scotland Yard muddle along until something, a bit the flotsam which has found it’s way to the Department of Dead Ends, gives Inspector Rason the clue needed to make a connection and bring the criminal to justice.

    The crimes and cast are contemporary for the period and that’s one of the enjoyments in reading them now. It’s nice, in addition to the inverted format and the delightful Department of Dead Ends itself, to read stories in which there can be no DNA testing or telecommunications.

    A caveat: in cases like these, in a department which relies on stray bits of information coalescing into a recognizable pattern, there will be coincidences. It’s inevitable. The reader has to be able to accept them. In each of the first three stories there is a coincidence which allows Rason to make his connection between an object in the D.D.E. and a past or current crime. In the first three stories, these coincidences come from a person, usually the criminal who has so far gotten away with his or her crime, acting out of character. Possibly Vickers realized he couldn’t continue cheating in this way, or perhaps someone else brought this flaw to his attention, because the events resulting in the apprehension of the criminal in the later stories are more believable.

    This is a book that appears on lists as important, influential, groundbreaking (though it was Austin Freeman who invented the inverted mystery, I believe). I can see why in the context of the times. Today these ten stories (or 14 if you get the Dover edition) make a nice change from the rest of the mystery fare you are likely to encounter.

    ~  ~  ~  ~

    Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more FFB reviews at her own blog, and
    posts a complete list of today’s participating blogs.

    About Rick Robinson

    Enjoying life in Portland, OR
    This entry was posted in Friday Forgotten Book, mystery, reading, Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

    9 Responses to The Department of Dead Ends

    1. Patti Abbott says:

      Every time I see that green and that bird, my heart soars a little. Maybe the Hardcase Crime Books give people the same lift today.

    2. I’m going to have to look this one up. I love this kind of story. You had me when you mention Ellery Queen’s introduction. I’ve long favored the cousins’ books.

    3. Richard says:

      Patti – I understand what you mean, but I prefer a painted cover.

      Randy – The intro here is good, but as for Queen, that’s one of our disagree areas. I find the solutions in the novels and stories range from unlikely to incredible and beyond. I can often accept the initial explanation, but there always seems to be, in the novels anyway, yet a second far more complicated and unbelievable one, then often a third that stretches beyond willing suspension of disbelief. I read a half dozen Queen novels last year and only the oldest one was barely acceptable.

    4. I have the DOVER BOOKS edition of this classic. The stories are outstanding and memorable. Excellent pick, Rick!

    5. Bill Crider says:

      A great choice, and a writer who should definitely not be forgotten.

    6. Carl V. says:

      It is a plain cover, but honestly if a person has a few similar books from the same company they actually look quite nice grouped together. By and large I really like what Penguin does with some of their classics.

      I don’t mind coincidence in stories written in an early time, it is really part of their charm in my opinion. While I don’t mind watching them on tv occasionally, I’ve never had any interest in reading mysteries that are contemporary and rely on DNA evidence, etc. Its just not my cup of tea. Give me something written in a time period before all this technology was available. I find it more interesting.

    7. Todd Mason says:

      Vickers has been on the periphery of my reading forever…I might even have read a short story or two. I should go get.

    8. Richard says:

      Don’t delay, Todd, I think you’ll enjoy these stories.

    9. Jeff Meyerson says:

      Vickers is one of those writers whose bibliography can drive you crazy, what with several books with the same title but different contents, and several very similar detectives (I think there were two different Insp. Rasons). I’ve read this one,though I can’t remember which edition!

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