Settling Scores: Sporting Mysteries is editor Martin Edwards’ look at the myriad different crime and mystery short stories in which one sport or another serves as a major story element. The book collects 15 stories from several decades, each by a different author and featuring a wide variety of sports, ranging from track to cricket and beyond. Two women and 13 men are represented in the book, each given a tale.
The collection opens with an introduction that also serves as a brief history of sports in the mystery genre, starting with “Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle and moving quickly through time and format. Not only are short stories and longer works discussed, but also past examples of anthologies dealing in such materials. This provides a historical survey and also a treasure trove of different possible reads for an interested party.
Each individual story is preceded by a page or so of biographical information on the career and life of the author, as well as the particular story. While a student of the genre might know some of these facts, the idea that there would be no new information is difficult to believe. Further, these introductions are careful to relate back to the sports and themes the anthology centers on.
The first story, Arthur Morrison’s “The Loss of Sammy Crockett” focuses on footracing as a sport. The mystery centers largely on the disappearance of the young man of the title, around the time of the discovery of the shredded remains of a note. The man in charge of the races is naturally concerned. The detective, Morrison’s Martin Hewitt, looks over the scraps of paper (one of which includes the partial word “ammy”) and quickly determines a number of useful facts. These include each individual piece’s place in the letter overall as well a number of other details about its writing. The ways the facts are determined seem quite clever, and as the letter fragments are illustrated for the reader, these revelations are more than believable. This story, while not identical to a Holmesian tale, is very much of a kind with it. The clues are clear and the investigator explains his conclusions. Overall an effective introduction to what was a recurring character for the author.
Another story in the collection, “The Swimming Gala”, is Gladys Mitchell’s look at a murder in a rather old fashioned bathhouse, dealing with three different superintendents and their own little measures of scandal. It is an extremely short story, told in first person, and certainly manages to work as a nice little thriller. Times changing and the myriad risks and complaints that come with living outside of the mainstream play roles. In this particular tale these details have an overall effect of making a much greater concern than whether or not a man is guilty of a murder. Are suspicions dependent upon more on his odd and arguably immoral behaviors otherwise than they are on facts? More than one figure is given a motive in the short space of the tale, each believable enough, and the evidence left behind could be carefully planted. A very good example of how to do the very short detective story.
Then there is Leo Bruce’s “I, Said the Sparrow”, which focuses on the sport of archery although it uses a much less widely used term, which is much more entertaining and allows for some mild levity at the beginning. Chances seemed high that the overall working might grow too light at times, with a real possibility that a farce might result. The tale is indeed told in a lighthearted fashion. The lead character, Sergeant Beef, collects the majority of his information via telephone and uses a basic knowledge of target shooting to add to the sum of knowledge and solve the murder. “I, Said the Sparrow” is another quite short piece that does not cheat the audience and produces a believable answer to its mystery. A cozy little story.
Overall Martin Edwards’ Settling Scores: Sporting Mysteries is a very nice survey of the stories making up this particular subgenre. Stories from different sports and different people are packed into one nice little volume, including more than a little information outside of the tales themselves. Chances seem high that a reader will find a sport they follow, an amusing character, or an unexpected puzzle. Easy to recommend to sports fans and mystery lovers.
(British Library 2020)