Edward D. Hoch’s More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (2006), reviewed by Mike Tooney

In Diagnosis Impossible, Crippen & Landru reprinted the first twelve adventures of Dr. Sam Hawthorne. More Things Impossible reprints the next fifteen stories in the order of their publication in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Let’s let the blurbster have his say:


Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a New England country doctor in the first half of the twentieth century, was constantly faced by murders in locked rooms, impossible disappearances, and other so-called ‘miracle crimes.’ More Things Impossible contains fifteen of Dr. Sam’s extraordinary cases solved between 1927 and 1931, including:

–Impossible murder in a house that whispers

–Poisoning by a gargoyle on the courthouse roof

–The case of the Devil in the windmill

–The houseboat that resembles the MARY CELESTE

–The affair of the vanishing Gypsies

–Stabbing in the locked cockpit of a plane in midair

–A ghostly pirate in a lighthouse

–And eight other ingenious riddles.

Edward D. Hoch is a legend of ingenuity in the world of mystery writing. Author of more than 800 short stories, winner of the Edgar Award, former President of the Mystery Writers of America, and contributor to every issue of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE since 1973, Hoch is one of the great mystery writers of our time. As John Dickson Carr remarked, ‘Satan himself would be proud of his ingenuity.’

I’ve read Satan (a third-rate hack); Hoch is much better.


More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (2006)
by Edward D. Hoch
Crippen & Landru
Short Story Collection: 15 Stories
Trade Paperback (1st Edition)
254 pages


More Things Impossible cover artIntroduction by Edward D. Hoch (2 pages): The author notes that fans have their own favorites among his various series characters (Nick Velvet, Dr. Sam Hawthorne, Captain Leopold, Simon Ark), but he believes there are two reasons why Dr. Sam’s popularity has not waned:

First, of course, is the eternal fascination with locked rooms and impossible crimes. When Fred Dannay, the legendary editor of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, suggested that all the Dr. Sam stories feature some sort of impossibility, I readily agreed. I’ve now [as of September 2005] published 68 of them, and I don’t believe I’ve ever duplicated an idea, or a solution. In fact, I sometimes find it easier coming up with a new impossible crime for Dr. Sam to solve than a new valueless object for Nick Velvet to steal. A second reason for their continued popularity is that, taken together, they relate the life and times of my main character and tell the reader something of the world in which he lived. My previous volume of Dr. Sam stories, DIAGNOSIS: IMPOSSIBLE, began with the good doctor’s arrival in Northmont in January of 1922 and carries up to September 1927. The present collection … begins in the Fall of 1927 and ends in December of 1931….

I do enjoy writing about Dr. Sam Hawthorne and Northmont’s impossible crimes, and plan to continue the series for as long as I, and my computer, hold up. In later stories Sam finally finds a wife, just as the nation plunges into the Second World War. His 68th adventure is set in September of 1943." (pages 9-10)

Now, a look at each of the individual stories:

1. "The Problem of the Revival Tent" (1978

–Time: Fall 1927.

–Problem: "’Didn’t I ever tell you about the time I was almost arrested for murder?’  Dr. Sam Hawthorne began…. ‘Can’t blame the sheriff, though, ’cause it looked like I was the only one there when the murder happened. Just me and the victim, alone in a big tent.’" (page 11)

–"You’re tellin’ me the statue came to life and killed him?" (page 19)

2. "The Problem of the Whispering House" (1979)

–Time: February 1928.

–Problem: In a haunted house that whispers, Dr. Sam and a ghost-hunter witness the perambulations of a man who’s been dead for nearly a day. "Terrible case," he admits

–"’This body is already cold and stiff.  He didn’t die within the last half hour.  He’s been dead for probably fifteen to twenty hours.’ 

"’But that’s impossible! We just saw–‘

"I nodded.  ‘It wasn’t a ghost that killed him, but it certainly seems to have been a ghost that walked into this room tonight.’" (page 33)

–"How about telling me instead how you could see a dead man walkin’." (page 35)

–"Some people don’t like ghosts and other people don’t like publicity." (page 39)

"I almost lost my life twice over, and I did lose my car!" (page 44)


3. "The Problem of the Boston Common" (1979) 

–Time: Spring 1928.

–Problem: A serial killer is poisoning his victims while they walk about on the street; the police know who he is but not what he looks like. Dr. Sam’s task: Determine how he dunnit. "He was invisible only because nobody noticed him" [obviously a nod to G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant Father Brown story "The Invisible Man"—SK] (page 60)

–"…don’t walk across the Common….Three people have been murdered there, all in the early evening while it was still daylight. The killer seems to be absolutely invisible." (page 46) 

–"Are you going to solve the murders for them?"

"No, I’m here to attend a medical convention." (page 47)

–"Do you use a magnifying glass, Doc? Want to crawl around on the ground like Sherlock Holmes?"

"To tell you the truth I want to go back to my room." (page 47)

4. "The Problem of the General Store" (1979)

–Time: Summer 1928.

–Problem: A man is killed in his locked-down general store, and the only
person there with the victim claims she’s innocent–and has a head bruise that suggests she just might be. Sheriff Lens boasts, "I know who did it, though, and for once I’ve solved a locked-room mystery ahead of you, Doc!" (page 72) Yeah, right.

–"Even if he’d fired the shotgun with his toe–which he didn’t–the barrel couldn’t have been six feet away from his chest.  It was murder, no doubt about it." (page 66)

–"’…that woman’s cold as a fish’….

"’Maybe she had a gentleman friend on the side,’ I suggested.

"’Her? You kiddin’ me, Doc?’

"’Stranger things have happened.’" (page 69)

5. "The Problem of the Courthouse Gargoyle" (1980)

–Time: September 1928.

–Problem: Right in the middle of a murder trial, the presiding judge is murdered; could the two events be related? Sheriff Lens has cause for concern: "The voters’ll have my scalp for lettin’ a judge be poisoned in his own courtroom." (page 81)

–"’He’s been poisoned!’ I shouted over my shoulder. ‘Get help!’

"…as I leaned forward I heard him say, quite distinctly, ‘…gargoyle…’

"Then I realized I was holding a dead man in my arms." (page 80)

–"Doc, you draw corpses like flies, I swear!" (page 81)

–"I don’t never trust a woman who chews gum in public." (page 83)

–"’There’s nothing to fear,’ I told him, hoping it was true." (page 89)


6. "The Problem of the Pilgrim’s Windmill" (1980)

–Time: March 1929.

–Problem: When one man is badly burned and another dies in an old windmill, suspicion falls on the Devil. "No," says Dr. Sam, "it was only the Devil that dwells within each of us." (page 107)  "It was like something Mister Chesterton might have written about, and if he had I suppose he would have called it THE DEVIL IN THE WINDMILL…" (page 93)

–"’You get rid of this man!’ she screeched. ‘He’s in league with the Devil! If he stays here Satan himself will come!’" (page 96)

–"I tried to beat at the flames with my coat, but it was useless. With his dying screams still in my ears I was forced to retreat before the fire." (page 103)

"You’ve been reading those mystery novels again, Sheriff." (page 105)

7. "The Problem of the Gingerbread Houseboat" (1981)

–Time: Summer 1929.

–Problem: "… four perfectly normal, sensible, middle-aged people" (page 117) take a houseboat out to the middle of a lake—and disappear.  But nothing’s ever that simple.  "As it happened," confides Dr. Sam, "that was the summer I fell in love…" (page 110)

"What do you mean? Like the people on the MARY CELESTE?" (page 113)

–"…but there was nothing. It was as if the lake, or the sky, had swallowed them up." (page 116)

–"How could she have caused their disappearance?"

"Don’t know HOW, Doc. But I know WHY." (page 118)

–"Remember how the wicked witch tried to bake them in the stove? That was the whole plan." (page 121)

8. "The Problem of the Pink Post Office" (1981)

–Time: October 1929.

–Problem: An envelope containing a $10,000 negotiable bond is stolen, and seven people are instant suspects–including the sheriff and Dr. Sam himself.

"’I can’t believe that,’ April scoffed. ‘The two-cent letter is a tradition.’" (page 125)

–"Haven’t you heard the news? The stock market is collapsing again….It’s a panic down on Wall Street…" (page 127)

–"If, as Chesterton wrote, a wise man hides a leaf in a forest and a pebble on a beach, what better place to hide a stolen letter than in a post office?" (page 131)

"…maybe if one romance had died at the post office that morning, another had been strengthened." (page 135)

"Sheriff Lens shook his head. ‘What people won’t do for money.’

"’Or love,’ I added and gave him a wink." (page 138)


9. "The Problem of the Octagon Room" (1981)

–Time: December 1929.

–Problem: Sheriff Lens is getting married, but the best man is definitely not the hobo found murdered in the nuptial chamber; a story that faintly echoes The Crooked Hinge [by John Dickson Carr—SK] and "The Norwood Builder." 

–"Even in the dim light from the shaded window we could make out the man in the center of the floor, arms and legs thrown wide….I’d never seen him before. But with a slim silver dagger in his chest, I had no doubt that he was dead." (page 145)

–"All he said was that he was coming home. Coming home to Eden." (page 149)

"You ruined your own life…" (page 153)

10. "The Problem of the Gypsy Camp" (1982)

–Time: January 1930.

–Problem: Sheriff Lens is fit to be tied: Not only has he been assaulted, his assailant, a gypsy, has absconded to a gypsy encampment—which itself has managed to vanish into thin air, despite being under constant police surveillance, not to mention the little matter of a man dying of a bullet that evidently was never fired into his body. It was, says Dr. Sam, "… the story of a gypsy curse—and of a weird mystery that confronted me with not one but TWO impossibilities…" (page 154)

"’You need the sheriff,’ I suggested, ‘not a hospital.’

"But the words were hardly out of my mouth when he clutched his chest
and toppled over." (page 156)

–"’We were having a violent argument and I spoke the curse. "May you die with a bullet through the heart!" I shouted. He turned pale at my words, and ran off.’

"’And died with a bullet through the heart,’ the sheriff said. ‘Are your curses always that effective?’" (page 159)


11. "The Problem of the Bootlegger’s Car" (1982)

–Time: May 1930.

–Problem: Dr. Sam gets caught in a crossfire between warring criminal factions, but is still able to solve The Case of the Vanishing Mobster.  "It was all over a shipment of empty barrels—yes, I said empty—and it involved an impossible disappearance from a bootlegger’s car that I had to solve, quite literally, to save my own life. But it all began with my kidnaping…" (page 170) 

–"A man in a pin-stripe suit and a brown fedora stood in the center of my waiting room, pointing a long-barreled revolver at me. ‘Dr. Hawthorne?’" (page 170)

–"’Sixty dollars each for empty barrels?’

"’These are special,’ Phil said with a smile. ‘You’ll see.’" (page 175)

–"…I wondered if I could make a run for it then, but I decided against it…. He might like to practise on a running target." (page 179)

12. "The Problem of the Tin Goose" (1982)

–Time: July 1930.

–Problem: At the end of a barnstorming act, a plane makes a perfect landing, taxis to a stop, shuts down its engines, and the pilot is found murdered in the cockpit—yet no one else was seen to enter or leave it.  Truly, as Dr. Sam says, "That was a wild time, I’ll tell you, with murder committed in what could be called a flying locked room." (page 187)–"’I can’t imagine women barnstorming and walking on wings,’ I said when I’d found my tongue.

"’Oh, we do it, Dr. Hawthorne.’" (page 189)

–"’So there’s our motive,’ I said. ‘The oldest motive there is.’" (page 200)

13. "The Problem of the Hunting Lodge" (1983)

–Time: Fall 1930.

–Problem: When Dr. Sam’s parents pay him a visit, a wealthy man is found alone, murdered in a hunting lodge, with only one set of footprints, the victim’s, leading into it: "Someone had taken that club, crossed the unmarked snow with the wings of a bird, and slain the man." (page 219) 

–"She pouted prettily. ‘Would you mistake me for a deer?’ she asked me.

"’I might,’ I conceded." (page 207)

–"He lay on his face and the back of his head was bloody. Nearby was one of the clubs edged with sharks’ teeth, from his collection of primitive weapons.

"’He’s dead, all right,’ I confirmed. ‘That thing probably killed him instantly.’" (page 214)

–"'[He] was killed by the first person to enter the lodge, before the rest of us reached it.’

"’The first person to enter was my father.’

"’I know,’ Sheriff Lens said." (page 216)

–"…I did her the biggest favor I could.  I killed him." (page 221)

14. "The Problem of the Body in the Haystack" (1983)

–Time: July 1931.

–Problem: A farmer is murdered and his body is found in a stack of hay that’s been under constant observation for hours.  Sheriff Lens can smile and boast, "I finally solved one on my own, Doc." (page 234); but Dr. Sam can truthfully add, "Oh, I solved it, but he beat me to the solution." (page 222) 

–"She stood up, brushed the soft brown hair from her eyes, and said, with all the composure in the world, ‘What can I do for you, Doctor?’" (page 223)

–"A smile formed beneath the mustache, but there was no humor in it. ‘I’m just out of prison, Felix. Nine long years. Remember I told you I’d come to see you when I got out?’" (page 226)

–"Then, prodding gently with their rifles, they found the body near the top of the stack….The row of wounds across his chest indicated he’d been stabbed with a pitchfork." (page 231)

–"’How’d the body get in the haystack?’

"’You know my methods…’

"Sheriff Lens looked unhappy. ‘Is there anything special you could point out to me?’

"I smiled and said, ‘The curious incident of the bear in the nighttime.’

"’Huh?’" (page 234)


15. "The Problem of Santa’s Lighthouse" (1983)

–Time: December 1931.

–Problem: How can someone on one end of a building stab somebody else on the other end? Would it matter if you knew that, except at Christmas, "Santa’s Lighthouse" is called "Satan’s Lighthouse"?

–"I looked up in time to see a figure falling from the circular walkway at the top of the lighthouse…. Then I saw the handle of the dagger protruding from between his ribs and I knew that help was useless." (page 242)

–"We made it halfway down the stairs before they caught us, and I tripped and stumbled the rest of the way to the ground floor, landing hard on my chest.  I looked up and saw one of the men take out a knife…." (page 248)

–"A Dr. Sam Hawthorne Checklist" (3 pages): A complete bibliography,December 1974–January 2006, listing 68 stories.