A Pocketful of Noses: Stories of One Ganelon or Another
By James Powell
Cover art by Gail Cross
Crippen & Landru, 2009
These twelve tales are ingenious and fantastical, and possess just the right amount of whimsy.
Most mystery writers have just one series character, whereas James Powell has a series. A quartet, in fact. Ambrose Ganelon the first founded the family business, a detective agency, around the middle of the nineteenth century. He used reason and logic alone to solve crimes, but his son and namesake placed his trust in science. Perhaps you could call him a David Hume to his dad’s Rene Descartes. Now Ambrose Ganelon the third often found himself moseying down mean streets late at night, where he had to use his fists to get out of trouble, so he abandoned empiricism for pragmatism. ‘Whatever works’ became his motto. As for the fourth and final Ambrose Ganelon, he lives hand to mouth since there’s now virtually no crime in Powell’s imagined principality of San Sebastiano. He has a hard time because his predecessors have done such a good job.
All twelve are solid detective stories, the solutions often hingeing on a new understanding of the original situation, an inconspicuous fact being recognised as crucially significant. However, it is the entertaining historical background that Powell provides for San Sebastiano which raises these tales above the rest. And a further layer of enjoyment is added by the invention evident in various imaginary contraptions and devices, vehicles and weapons especially. You could well describe these devices as being steampunk in nature, although the term wasn’t in widespread use when the stories were first written.
If you love Conan Doyle and Chesterton, then I’d definitely recommend that you explore Powell’s work. An exhilarating and entertaining collection.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.