The Avenging Chance and Other Stories (Anthony Berkeley)

By Anthony Berkeley

First published: US, Crippen & Landru, 2004; later enlarged, with a new story

Blurb (US) – enlarged edition


Berkeley - The Avenging Chance.jpg
Source: Crippen & Landru

In 1930, Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971) founded London’s Detection Club, whose members swore that their “detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them.”  The Detection Club pledged “never to conceal a vital clue from the reader.”  Anthony Berkeley’s novels and short stories featuring Roger Sheringham and Inspector Moresby are among the finest examples of the fair play, challenge-to-the-reader tradition of the Golden Age.


The title story in The Avenging Chance has long been considered one of the greatest formal detective stories.  This book also collects all the additional cases of Sheringham and Moresby.  This enlarged edition includes – for the first time- the newly discovered short-short, “The Bargee’s Holiday.”  Edited by Tony Medawar and Arthur Robinson.

My review

Tony Medawar’s introduction is excellent, and the stories are, as one would expect from Berkeley, of a high order.

“The Avenging Chance” is an acknowledged masterpiece, so little need be said of it, other than what a pleasure it is to read it again.

“Perfect Alibi,” a very short story that inspired The Second Shot, is quite entertaining for its length, but one wonders that SPOILER the local police didn’t wonder why the constable committed suicide.

The third tale, “The Mystery of Horne’s Copse,” which bears some resemblance to Hitchcock’s under-rated The Trouble with Harry, has one of the cleverest (and most convincing) uses of the vanishing and reappearing corpse, and should be better known.

Everybody believes “Unsound Mind” is the best story, but is more interesting for its detection (pastiche Christopher Bush?) than for the solution, which is evident from the beginning.  Interesting psychology, though: SPOILER the victim goes out of his way to protect his beloved murderer (rather like Not to Be Taken, in fact).

“White Butterfly,” in which Sheringham sets out to be the psychological sleuth but ends up solving the case on the basis of the title’s physical clue (rather like Reggie Fortune), is mild entertainment.

“The Wrong Jar” is a tedious and sour reworking of the masterly Not to Be Taken, interesting only for the bloody child who calls forth Cox’s sadomasochism.

The very early “Double Bluff,” which features Alec Grierson, is pleasantly facetious, and, under the banter and ’20s atmosphere, has a clever (too clever?) plot not too dissimilar to The Silk Stocking Murders.

“Mr. Bearstowe Says…,” which takes Roger into the 1940s, is a clever little tale, related to “White Butterfly.”  A very pleasing collection.