Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Minerva Club -- Victor Canning

I mentioned this in a previous post about Victor Canning. Crippen & Landru has put together a dandy collection of short stories (edited by John Higgins) by the versatile Canning. There are five "Minerva Club" stories, seven about the Department of Patterns, and twelve short-shorts about Dr. Kang. I found all of them quite a lot of fun to read.

The Minerva Club's members are all ex-cons. Aside from that, it's like any other London club. The ex-cons find that while crime might not pay, it's hard to give up, and so they get into trouble doing such things as kidnapping dogs and kids. Sometimes they wind back up in prison again. "The Ransom of Angelo" was my favorite of the group, and the O. Henry reference in the title is of course deliberate.

The Deparment of Patterns is in the Surete, and the young cops assigned to it spend their time looking over unsolved cases and trying to discover if there are any patterns that might tie various cases together. These tales are narrated in the first person, but not always by the same person. The one constant (other than the patterns) is Alphonse Grand, the head of the department, known to the men who work for him as Papa Grand. Again, a very entertaining group of stories.

Dr. Kang is, in the first story about him, a young man who has just received his doctor of philosphy degree. He ages as the stories progress, though the odds against his getting older seem pretty big. In each story there's a plot to kill him, a plot that he escapes at the end by his own cleverness. Often someone else winds up dead in his place.

As I said in my earlier post about Canning, I liked these stories so much that I went to the shelves for one of his novels. I think you'll find the stories as entertaining as I did, and the collection is highly recommended.

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