The Shrieking Pit
Classic Australian SF 2
by Arthur J. Rees
Reviewed by Russell Blackford
The Shrieking Pit by Arthur J. Rees (first published 1918), like Fergus Hume’s The Crowned Skull reviewed last issue, is another murder mystery set in the UK—this time a remote and wild part of Norfolk. After a man is killed for his money in a seldom-visited inn, suspicion falls on a shell-shocked former soldier who was in the wrong place at the wrong time—but if he didn’t commit the murder, who did? All the evidence seems to point to him, and the police have no doubt they’ve found their man… except that some things don’t add up in the astute mind of celebrated detective Grant Colwyn, who investigates the crime at a deeper level (in more ways than one).
There’s a lot of entertainment in this story of crime and detection from an earlier era, reminding us of the competence and cleverness of the successful detective novelists not named ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’ who were writing in the later part of the Sherlock Holmes era. As he investigates the multiple possible interpretations of the crime’s circumstantial evidence, Colwyn also has to sort out the mystery of the shrieking pit, supposedly the home of a powerful ghost whose appearance brings death to those who see her. What lies within the pit, and whence the source of the hideous shrieking? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
As with The Crowned Skull, The Shrieking Pit is quite a romp, though its connections to science fiction or modern fantasy are rather tenuous. Next issue I’ll be writing about one of the standout works of early Australian science fiction, James Morgan Walsh’s Vandals of the Void. This is number 3 in the Classic Australian SF series (The Shrieking Pit is number 2).