Death from Nowhere (Clayton Rawson)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mystery’s master magician Clayton Rawson moonlighted with murder; he wrote a series of startling and sensational shorts as Stuart Towne, featuring debonair Don Diavolo.

“The Claws of Satan”: A crooked circus chief is killed – with CURARE! – in a locked room 34 storeys high. LETHAL LACERATIONS! Five scratch marks on his face – from a leopard! DON DIAVOLO IN DANGER! He was in the room when the police burst in – and nobody else entered or left! So how did the diabolical desperado depart? CALAMITY AT THE CIRCUS! Later that day, at the circus, a tightrope walker falls to his death. His rope was greased! HIGH WIRE HORROR, you say? But that didn’t kill him. He too was poisoned with curare! There are claw marks on his back – but nobody approached him! Could the witch doctor of the headhunting Leopard Men have cast black magic?

Trust Clayton Rawson to turn murder into a three-ring circus, with a sideshow attraction on every page. You’ll gasp with amazement as he juggles theories of how the murderer could have left – was it a tightrope walker or a human cannonball? – and then produces a corpse that never entered the room at all. You might spot how he does it (I certainly did), but the idea is clever and novel. (It has its roots in Chesterton, and Brand and Dexter later hit on variations.) Go on, applaud. And then you’ll gape like a rube when Diavolo unmasks the murderers.

“The Enchanted Dagger”: SINISTER SECRET OF THE SANDS! A young American brings a 2,000-year-old secret from India to New York; he is murdered in his hotel room – but the body vanishes. He had already died, in a Persian sandstorm, while following the trail of Alexander the Great to buried treasure, the spoils of Susa and Persepolis! UNHOLY HALLUCINATIONS! A millionaire interested in the occult falls under the sway of a Tibetan gomchen who can do anything: levitate, vanish into thin air, manifest a double. Could he have made the dagger of Darius rise, float in the air, and stab the victim without anyone touching it?

Some people hate this one, I know, but I loved it. Tibetan sorcery, multiple impossibilities, archaeology – more, more! This is terrific – madly imaginative and exciting, and Rawson makes you stare fixedly at the wrong thing. And, frankly, shouldn’t more detective stories remind you of Tintin, or Blake and Mortimer, or Broken Sword?

We sometimes forget that the detective story is meant to be FUN – and flamboyant, far-fetched, and frenetic as the Stuart Towne stories are, they are also two of the most goshdarned entertaining tales I’ve read in many a moon.

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3 thoughts on “Death from Nowhere (Clayton Rawson)

  1. Thanks for highlighting that Rawson published under the pen name, Stuart Towne, as I wasn’t aware.

    So now I am ready to take a trip into Towne. Unfortunately checking the usual sources, printed copies of Death Out of Thin Air and Death from Nowhere are scarce. Normally I don’t read e-books but may consider an exception here as these sound fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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