Penzler Pick, January 2002: One of the mystery world's all-time prodigies (as well as one of its best-loved citizens), Edward D. Hoch is a short-story master with a subspecialty in the "locked room" or "impossible crimes" genre. Thanks to his many ongoing series characters and hundreds of tricky tales, many first seen in the pages of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Hoch's talents have been celebrated repeatedly by his peers, including those at the Mystery Writers of America, who made him a Grand Master in 2001.
Whether he's writing about Nick Velvet, the brilliant thief who steals only items with no apparent value; the wandering gunslinger Ben Snow; occult sleuth Simon Ark; or any of his other instantly recognizable heroes, Ed Hoch is uniquely successful as a mystery writer in the short story form. It is no wonder EQMM has labeled him "the king of the classical whodunit."
As is fairly obvious, to pull off the execution of an "impossible" crime within the confines of just a few pages, and also to resolve that crime in those same few pages, is a serious challenge. It usually took John Dickson Carr, probably the preeminent practitioner of the locked-room form, a whole book to accomplish what Hoch manages within a fraction of the space.
The Jeffrey Rand stories, now collected for the first time as The Old Spies Club, are top contenders for Hoch's most enduring creations. (Those involving Nick Velvet run a close second, probably because I'm at heart a romantic, drawn to gentlemen thieves as well as to well-bred secret agents.)
Rand, director of the Department of Concealed Communications until his recent retirement, is an Englishman with an archaeologist wife and a penchant for finding trouble in exotic places. Among the most satisfying of the Rand intrigues found here are "Waiting for Mrs. Ryder," which offers a clever riff on a classic ploy of misdirection, and "The War That Never Was," a dangerous story of one man's memories and the risks brought about by sharing them. --Otto Penzler