I got a copy of this anthology originally because I knew there was an uncollected Charlotte Armstrong story in it, one of her strangest, "The Second Commandment" from 1967. This story is so unlike Armstrong's regular fiction that I have sometimes wondered if she was attempting a new tack and trying to carry off an imitation of another Southern California suspense writer, Margaret Millar, for the story is much more like Millar's HOW LIKE AN ANGEL than any of the Armstrong tales I'm familiar with. Hugh Macroy, a pastor, is on his honeymoon when he pulls his car over on a foggy section of Highway One overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so that his new bride, an older woman of 55, can "answer a call of nature," as the police chief puts it. When she tumbles over (or disappears at any rate), the police look harder and harder at Macroy's possible motives for doing her in, despite the opposition of Macroy's superiors in the church. The "water sports" plot of the story, to put it mildly, is unlike anything Armstrong had previously attempted, and she doesn't want to let it go, it comes back at the very end of the story in an umcomfortably graphic way.
But there is more to MURDER MOST DIVINE than this rarity. One of the best Father Brown stories, "The Wrong Shape," is here, as well as the "Sister Ursula" story "The Stripper," by Anthony Boucher.
I didn't really care for the "Sweating Statue," by Edward Hoch. I keep hearing people talk about Hoch like he's this great genius but please, if the "Sweating Statue" caper is typical of his impossible crime tales, he's not all that he's cracked up to be. I understand he has published at least one story every month in EQMM for the past fifty-five years. Maybe sometimes he could use a vacation. I don't know, perhaps "The Sweating Statue" makes more sense in the whole corpus of Hoch's writing? I was glad to see the reclusive Alice Scanlan Reach make a welcome appearance with "In the Confessional," not the best thing she ever wrote but hey, this is the one Orson Welles picked up and introduced in his 1970s "Great Mysteries" so that Milo O'Shea could play Father Crumlish--an inspired casting choice. Some of the stories in MMB are below average, but nowadays, I'm just glad to see that somebody, in whatever fashion, is still reprinting the work of the tragically underappreciated Charlotte Armstrong, one of the USA's very best novelists whose shorter fictions are also worth tracking down.