Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


ROBERT J. RAY – Merry Christmas, Murdock. Delacorte Press, hardcover, 1989. Dell, paperback, 1990.

ROBERT RAY Merry Christmas Murdock

   L. A. private eye Matt Murdock is back, celebrating a holiday in decidedly unfestive fashion in Merry Christmas, Murdock. Here the past rises up before Murdock in two ways.

   Cindy Duke, a teen-ager who had maybe saved his life a couple of years earlier by driving him out of a burning canyon, asks him to find her father. He teaches in Wisconsin and came to L. A. in response to Cindy’s cry for help, raged at his ex-wife, battered her brother’s car with a baseball bat, ranged through a shopping mall in a failing search for Cindy, and disappeared.

   Meanwhile, another teen-ager, Heather Blasingame, lies in a coma from a hit-and-run encounter with a vehicle at that same mall. She’s the daughter of Jane Blasingame, feisty Texas state senator, and the senator (though with considerable reluctance) hires Murdock to supplement what seems an inept police investigation.

   These two cases are of course related, and powerful interests — not only Cindy’s grandfather Wheeler Duke and Duke Construction — are willing to go to about any lengths to keep Matt’s nose out of these matters.

   Vivid, active tale.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 12, No. 4, Fall 1990.


        The Matt Murdock series —

1. Bloody Murdock (St. Martin’s, 1986)
2. Murdock for Hire (St. Martin’s, 1987)
3. Dial ‘M’ For Murdock (St. Martin’s, 1988)
4. Merry Christmas, Murdock (Delacorte, 1989)
5. Murdock Cracks Ice (Delacorte, 1992)
6. Murdock Tackles Taos (Camel Press, 2013)

Bibliographic Notes: For more on the author and this last book in the series, published after a gap of 21 years, go here. For more on Matt Murdock himself. check out Kevin Burton Smith’s essay on him here.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


H. C. BRANSON The Leaden Bubble

H. C. BRANSON – The Leaden Bubble. Simon and Schuster, hardcover, 1949. Unicorn Mystery Book Club, hardcover reprint, 4-in-1 edition. Mercury Mystery #153, digest-sized paperback, no date [1950].

   The title of this novel comes from a line of a poem by Henry Treece: “Taste the black leaden bubble of despair.” This may provide the answer to whodunit and why to those who read each page of a book, including the copyright page. Those who start with the first page of chapter one will probably discover the answer without that information, although the solution would appear too improbable.

   John Bent, a mysterious man about whom all that is known is that he once was a practicing M.D., has a beard, and investigates murder, blackmail, and conspiracy and fraud — “the seamy side of life in general” — is asked to visit an elderly man who merely says in his note that he is “greatly disturbed.” Before Bent arrives, his possible client has a stroke and dies unable to communicate why he sought Bent’s services.

   Thus Bent has to find out why the man was greatly disturbed before he can begin investigating what had disturbed him. When the lawyer for the estranged wife of the elderly man’s son, the same lawyer who had maligned members of the extended family earlier on in a case in which a man had shot his wife whom he found in bed with another man, is murdered, there is reason to assume this had something to do with the elderly man’s being disturbed. Perhaps it has to do with the visit of the elderly man to a boarding house? Bent thinks it’s possible and becomes a roomer himself.

   The publishers say that this novel “is not a book to be told; it needs to be read…” I agree. Discover, if you haven’t already, John Bent, quiet, careful, compassionate, mysterious, and the people with whom he deals.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.


       The John Bent series —

I’ll Eat You Last (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1941.
The Pricking Thumb (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1942.
Case of the Giant Killer (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1944.
The Fearful Passage (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1945.
Last Year’s Blood (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1947.
The Leaden Bubble (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1949.
Beggar’s Choice (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1953.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith


ROBERT UPTON – Fade Out. Viking, hardcover, 1984. Penguin, reprint paperback, 1986.

ROBERT UPTON Fade Out

   You could love private eye Amos McGuffin for his name alone — but he also has a wry way about him. After McGuffin crashes two cars, Ronald Worthy, the president of Executive Rent-A-Car, denies him any more vehicles. “Isn’t that just like Ron,” says our hero to the clerk. “As if I were the only guy sleeping with his wife.”

   McGuffin lives in San Francisco, where he hangs out at Goody’s bar, putting away Paddy’s when he isn’t on a case — which is just about all the time of late. In fact, he’s just bending an elbow when Nat Volpersky tracks him down at Goody’s. It seems Volpersky’s son, Ben Volper, a Hollywood producer, is thought to have committed suicide by wading out into the Pacific Ocean after leaving an unsigned note on his typewriter.

   But Volpersky doesn’t believe it; and Izzy Schwartz the deli man, his only friend in California, has recommended McGuffin to find his son. That means McGuffin has to go to Los Angeles, where he encounters the Bronx Social Club- a group of Ben’s childhood friends who’ve made it big in show biz. “Who else can you trust?” Volpersky asks.

   But McGuffin isn’t so sure the old neighborhood pals are trustworthy. He’s even less inclined to put his faith in Aha Ben Mahoud, a wealthy Arab who financed Ben’s last picture. And he has serious doubts about Pedro Chan, the six-foot-six cop assigned to the case.

   After pursuing a single-minded inquiry throughout most of the book, he suddenly sees the light and pulls the solution out of a hat. Upton didn’t really play fair on this one, McGuffin’s latest case. (He made his debut in 1977 in Who’d Want to Kill Old George?) But no matter. Even though we can’t see it coming, the denouement is ingenious. And McGuffin is a delight.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

      The Amos McGuffin series —

Who’d Want to Kill Old George? (n.) Putnam 1977.
Fade Out (n.) Viking 1984.
Dead on the Stick (n.) Viking 1986.
The Farberge Egg (n.) Dutton 1988.
A Killing in Real Estate (n.) Dutton 1990.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


NIGEL MORLAND – The Clue in the Mirror. Farrar & Rinehart, US, hardcover, 1938. First published in the UK by Cassell, hardcover, 1937.

NIGEL MORLAND The Clue in the Mirror

   Why did the world need V. I. Warshawski and her sistren when it had Palmyra Pym? As Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mrs. Pym — don’t bring up her unfortunate marriage, the only mistake she’s ever made — struggles mightily for law, as she sees it, and disorder, which is generally what she produces.

   To fulfill her tasks, she carries an automatic that she doesn’t know how to use properly and slugs it out toe to toe with the bad guys just like any bobbie. While not old, she’s no youngster: she was born in 1892, and if the date of publication of this novel can be taken as a clue to her age, she must at least be in her early forties.

   In this case, apparently her fifth since her appointment to the police, the recently promoted — one does wonder why, since loyalty seems to be his only virtue — Chief Inspector Shott brings to Mrs. Pym’s attention the picture of a murdered man whose corpse has disappeared. Neglecting all other work, if she has any, Mrs. Pym becomes involved, making herself, as is her wont, unpleasant to all concerned.

   In this thriller, rather than mystery, Mrs. Pym is the central focus. If you can enjoy her badinage and insults, you will enjoy the novel. It was good fun for the most part, I thought, but in 312 pages the lady can become a bit trying. I’ll read another of her investigations in novel form, but I suspect that the short-story collections featuring her might be more appealing.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1990.


          The Mrs. Palmyra Pym series —

The Moon Murders (n.) Cassell 1935.
The Phantom Gunman (n.) Cassell 1935.
The Clue of the Bricklayer’s Aunt (n.) Cassell 1936.
The Street of the Leopard (n.) Cassell 1936.
The Clue in the Mirror (n.) Cassell 1937.
The Case Without a Clue (n.) Cassell 1938.
A Rope for the Hanging (n.) Cassell 1938.
A Knife for the Killer (n.) Cassell 1939.
The Clue of the Careless Hangman (n.) Cassell 1940.
A Gun for a God (n.) Cassell 1940.
The Corpse on the Flying Trapeze (n.) Cassell 1941.
A Coffin for the Body (n.) Cassell 1943.]
Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard (co) Vallancey 1946.
The Talking Gun (n.) Polybooks 1946.
The Case of the Innocent Wife (co) Martin 1947.
Dressed to Kill (n.) Cassell 1947.
The Hatchet Murders (n.) Martin 1947.
26 Three-Minute Thrillers (co) Martin 1947.
The Lady Had a Gun (n.) Cassell 1951.
Call Him Early for the Murder (n.) Cassell 1952.
Sing a Song of Cyanide (n.) Cassell 1953.
Look in Any Doorway (n.) Cassell 1957.
A Bullet for Midas (n.) Cassell 1958.
Death and the Golden Boy (n.) Cassell 1958.
The Concrete Maze (n.) Cassell 1960.
So Quiet a Death (n.) Cassell 1960.
The Dear, Dead Girls (n.) Cassell 1961.
Mrs. Pym and other stories (co) Ellis 1976.

Editorial Comment: This is but a fraction of the huge output of crime fiction by author Nigel Morland, who also wrote as Mary Dane, John Donavan, Norman Forrest, Roger Garnett, Hugh Kimberley, Vincent McCall, Neal Shepherd & Nigel Van Biene (the latter of which may have been his real name).

FORTY INTERESTING BIOGRAPHIES
OF MYSTERY WRITERS
A List by Josef Hoffmann


   This list contains only biographies which are written about one crime writer or a couple who works together. It does not include books which have two or three short biographies like Master of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel 1920-1961 by Curtis Evans.

   Furthermore the list does not contain autobiographies of the writers like G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography or memories of partners or relatives like Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers by Jo Hammett or Highsmith – A Romance of the 1950s by Marijane Meaker (Vin Packer).

   Also the list does not contain biographical fiction like Arthur and George by Julian Barnes about Arthur Conan Doyle.

   I cannot say that the selected biographies are the best because there are many more I do not own and have not read. I also have to admit that I have not read all forty biographies on the list in full length because some I use only as reference books. Fortunately most of them have an index where you can look for special names, books and events. I am sure that I missed several real gems on my list, and I hope that readers will supplement the list with their comments.

   The list presents the books in the chronological order of the lives of the mystery writers. It begins with the oldest and ends with the youngest person.

      Poe, Edgar Allan (1809-1849)

Ackroyd, Peter: Poe: A Life Cut Short, Vintage Books 2009

Symons, Julian: Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Penguin Books 1981

Zumbach, Frank T.: Edgar Allan Poe. Eine Biographie, Winkler 1986

      Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889)

Klimaszewski, Melisa: Brief Lives: Wilkie Collins, Hesperus 2011

      Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)

Carr, John Dickson: The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pan 1953

Lycett, Andrew: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes, FREE PRESS 2007

Stashower, Daniel: Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Holt & Company 1999

      Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (1874-1936)

Pearce, Joseph: Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton, Hodder & Stoughton 1996

Ward, Maisie: Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Rowman & Littlefield 2005

      Wallace, Edgar (1875-1932)

Lane, Margaret: Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon, Doubleday, Doran 1939

      Van Dine, S. S. (1888-1939)

Loughery, John: Alias S. S. Van Dine, Charles Scribner’s Sons 1992

      Chandler, Raymond (1888-1959)

Hiney, Tom: Raymond Chandler: A Biography, Vintage Books 1998

MacShane, Frank: The Life of Raymond Chandler, E. P. Dutton & Co. 1976

Williams, Tom: A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler: A Life, Aurum Press 2012

      Christie, Agatha (1890-1976)

Morgan, Janet: Agatha Christie: A Biography, HarperCollins 1984

Osborne, Charles: The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, HarperCollins 2000

      Cain, James M. (1892 -1977)

Hoopes, Roy: Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain, Southern Illinois University Press 1987

      Sayers, Dorothy Leigh (1893-1957)

Hitchman, Janet: Such a Strange Lady: A Biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, New English Library Hodder and Stoughton 1988

Hone, Ralph E.: Dorothy L. Sayers: A Literary Biography, Kent State University Press 1979

      Hammett, Dashiell (1894-1961)

Johnson, Diane: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, Picador 1985

Layman, Richard: Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1981

Mellen, Joan: Hellman and Hammett: The Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, HarperCollins 1996

Nolan, William F.: Hammett – A Life at the Edge, St Martin’s Press 1983

      Marsh, Ngaio (1895-1982)

Lewis, Margaret: Ngaio Marsh: A Life, Chatto & Windus 1991

      Glauser, Friedrich (1896-1938)

Saner, Gerhard: Friedrich Glauser. Eine Biographie, Suhrkamp 1981

      Woolrich, Cornell (1903-1968)

Nevins, Francis M., Jr.: Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die, The Mysterious Press 1988

      Simenon, Georges (1903-1988)

Bresler, Fenton: The Mystery of Georges Simenon, Heinemann 1983

Eskin, Stanley G.: Simenon. A Critical Biography, McFarland&Company 1987

Marnham, Patrick: The Man Who Wasn’t Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon, Bloomsbury 1992

      Dent, Lester (1905-1969)

Cannaday, Marilyn: Bigger Than Life: The Creator of Doc Savage, Bowling Green State University Popular Press 1990

      Queen, Ellery: Fredric Dannay (1905-1982), Manfred Bennington Lee (1905-1971)

Nevins, Francis M.: Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection: The Story of How Two Fractious Cousins Reshaped the Modern Detective Novel, Perfect Crime Books 2013

      Thompson, Jim (1906-1977)

McCauley, Michael J.: Jim Thompson: Sleep with the Devil, Mysterious Press

Polito, Robert: Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, Vintage Books 1996

      Fleming, Ian (1908-1964)

Pearson, John: Alias James Bond – The Life of Ian Fleming, Bantam Books 1967

      Himes, Chester (1909-1984)

Muller, Gilbert H.: Chester Himes, Twayne Publishers 1989

      Ambler, Eric (1909-1998)

Howald, Stefan: Eric Ambler. Eine Biographie, Diogenes 2002

      Marlowe, Dan J. (1914-1986)

Kelly, Charles: Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe, Asclepian Imprints 2012

      Macdonald, Ross (1915-1983)

Nolan, Tom: Ross Macdonald: A Biography, Poisoned Pen Press 2001

      MacDonald, John D. (1916-1986)

Geherin, David: John D. MacDonald, Frederick Ungar 1982

      Highsmith, Patricia (1921-1995)

Wilson, Andrew: Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, Bloomsbury 2004.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


EVIL UNDER THE SUN. Universal, 1982. Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nicholas Clay, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, Sylvia Miles, James Mason, Denis Quilley, Diana Rigg. Based on the novel by Agatha Chrsitie. Director: Guy Hamilton.

EVIL UNDER THE SUN

   In a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement, Julian Symons complained mightily about the betrayal of the Christie novel on which this is based. Chris Steinbrunner, in the July 1982 EQMM, recognized the tinkering with the novel but thought the result was splendid.

   I haven’t read the novel, but, apart from competent performances by good actors — of whom the most amusing are Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, and Diana Rigg (whose archness is, however, beginning to wear thin) — good tunes by Cole Porter attractively orchestrated by John Lanchbery, and handsome location filming on Majorca, there is no reason to pay more than a bargain matinee admission for this film.

   It is too long, the narrative sags intermittently as the camera doodles across the landscape and sets, and there is the curse of a campy performance by Roddy MacDowell as a critic who is probably modeled on the insufferable Rex Reed.

   This might warm you if there’s a blinding snowstorm outside, but this is television fare dressed up as a big screen offering.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982.


EVIL UNDER THE SUN

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


“DIPLOMAT” – Murder in the State Department. Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, hardcover, 1930.

DIPLOMAT Murder in the State Department

    “Diplomat” dedicates this, his first mystery, to the “pacifists and bootleggers of the United States, without whom the author would have been at a loss for a motive for a murder in the State Department.” This gives you some idea of the tone of the book, and those who are neither pacifists nor bootleggers may read safely on with the pleasant anticipation that someone else’s ox will be gored.

    A guard at the State Department finds Harrison “Handsome” Howard in his office, a steel filing spike transfixing a top-secret unsigned treaty, Howard’s hand, and Howard’s heart, in that order. Also in the office is a revolver with a silencer, unused.

    (Who is it that makes silencers for revolvers? Does anyone outside the characters in mysteries purchase them? Why is there never dissatisfaction with their performance?)

    Only one other person is working in the building — Howard’s rival for position and prestige. He, however, has an unimpeachable alibi. Dennis Tyler, Chief of the Bureau of Current Political Intelligence (Now there’s an oxymoron! Oops. Sorry.) has a low opinion of police investigators, so he takes charge.

    Tyler talks like a mixture of Bertie Wooster and Reggie Fortune; his intellect, at least to this reader, is closer to Bertie’s than Reggie’s. Still, he does come up with the solution, which is for the most part plausible. Those who can accept an exchange like the following with good heart and maybe even appreciation should enjoy the novel:

    “The chemical man turned over to the parson a cylinder of a secret new gas, the effect of which is to make people go to sleep….”

    “Ether?” Nichols suggested.

    “Either that or something like it,” Tyler admitted.

    Amiable nonsense, for which I admit a weakness.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1990.


Bibliographic Notes:   “Diplomat” was, according to Hubin, the pseudonym of John Franklin Carter, 1897-1967. According to Wikipedia, Carter was an American journalist, columnist, biographer and novelist. Dennis Tyler appeared in all of the novels Carter wrote under that name, as follows:

Murder in the State Department (n.) Cape & Smith 1930.
Murder in the Embassy (n.) Cape & Smith 1930.
Scandal in the Chancery (n.) Cape & Smith 1931.
The Corpse on the White House Lawn (n.) Covici Friede 1932.
Death in the Senate (n.) Covici Friede 1933.
Slow Death at Geneva (n.) Coward 1934.
The Brain Trust Murder (n.) Coward 1935.

   Al Hubin reviewed this same title earlier on this blog; you may check it out here. In the course of the review and the update that followed, much more information about the author was supplied. (You may also enjoy Al’s opinion of the book, and compare it with Bill had to say.)

H. W. RODEN – Too Busy to Die. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition (no date). First edition hardcover: William Morrow, 1944. Other hardcover reprints: Grosset & Dunlap (no date); World, 1946. Paperback: Dell #185 [1947] & #349 [1949]; both mapback editions.

H. W. RODEN Too Busy to Die

   Knowing little about the author, H(enry) W(isdom) Roden, 1895-1963, I first checked with Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV (naturally), and besides the information found in the first part of this sentence, I learned that Roden was an executive with various food corporations over his lifetime. Private detective Sid Ames was a character in all four of his mystery novels; sharing the bill on three of them was public relations expert, Johnny Knight.

   Here are the titles of the four books, all published first in hardcover by Morrow, in what I believe is correct chronological order: You Only Hang Once (1944), Too Busy to Die (1944), One Angel Less (1945 and the only solo appearance of Sid Ames), and Wake for a Lady (1946).

   Four books in three years, then no more. Searching on the Google, I also found an appearance by Roden on Ellery Queen’s radio program, “The Secret Weapon,” February 28, 1945. As was standard procedure for the show, Roden was a guest “armchair detective” whose job in the closing minutes to name the killer before Ellery did. (If Roden succeeded or not, I do not know. Most of the EQ radio programs are not available for listening.)

   On Kevin Burton Smith’s thrillingdetective.com website, he claims the city that Ames and Knight called home was New York City, but I’m not convinced. It’s not named in Too Busy to Die, but the surroundings to me don’t feel like Manhattan — much more like a small Midwestern town, but it had me wondering all the way through. Tellingly, Hubin does not identify the setting either.

   Sid Ames takes only a secondary role in the one I’ve just read. The story is told by Johnny Knight, who hires Ames after a client is found murdered in his hotel room. The old man, now rich with Oklahoma oil money, had come to Knight with a far-fetched story of trying to locate his former adoptive family, from whom he had run away when he was a kid. “Lammed,” is his very word.

   So, with a $2000 fee in hand, Knight feels obligated to find the man’s killer. This is one of those typically 1940s wacky type of screwloose capers, complete with a beautiful blonde, a pint-sized bombshell named Patricia Rodkins who is not only deeply involved in the case but who also goes completely gaga over Knight at first glance, reason unknown but Johnny does not mind.

   Diamonds are also involved, in a package the dead man had left in Johnny’s care, and two families (and hangers-on) of strangely-behaved matrons, dipsy husbands, assorted personal assistants, a hulking lug named Homer and a butler who is also the operator of a well-known west side crap game.

H. W. RODEN Too Busy to Die

   Here’s a quote from page 88, a total non sequitur, I grant you, but I liked it:

    I dropped Pat at her house and returned to my apartment. I found I had a visitor.

    Sid Ames sat in my living room. He looked very comfortable. He was stretched out full length on the couch. He had taken off his coat and shoes. A half-emptied highball glass rested on the floor within easy reach. He had just turned to the final pages of the latest Perry Mason story when I walked in.

    “That Della Street is some dish.” He addressed me as if Della were a personal friend of mine. “But what’s the matter with that guy Mason? There she is all the time waiting to be– Oh, well–” he finished, tossing the book on the floor.

    “Make yourself at home, fellah,” I grinned at him.

   With the body found on page 189, however, there are no more jokes. Things get serious and quite a bit darker in tone, and in spite of the relative loony atmosphere at the beginning, you begin to wonder if the mystery could possibly have a well-explained, coherent ending. It doesn’t.

   Which is not bad, you understand, but a last minute confrontation with the killer, which consists largely of eight pages of Johnny Knight doing all of the explaining, even though the killer on page 201 says:

    “…So why shouldn’t I want to talk about it? In fact, I’ve wanted to talk about it. I’ve wanted to tell someone … [how] … clever I’ve been.”

   And the aforementioned eight pages of tangled reasoning and impossible coincidences ensue. Johnny is also one of those guys who reports on what he sees but nothing more, nothing on what he’s actually thinking. And when he doesn’t comment on the obvious, the reader (that’s me) begins to think that either (a) he’s a lunkhead, or (b) the reader (again that’s me) was wrong, or at least sadly mistaken.

   On the other hand, do I regret the two or three late evening sessions I spent reading this? No, not at all, and I must have the other three of Roden’s books around here somewhere.

— March 2004


   NOTE: Previously reviewed on this blog, both times by Bill Deeck: You Only Hang Once and One Angel Less. (Follow the links)

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


PATRICK LAING [AMELIA REYNOLDS LONG] – If I Should Murder. Phoenix Press, hardcover, 1945. Bleak House #19, no date [1948].

PATRICK LAING If I Should Murder

   The reader is asked to accept that a jury which has convicted an accused murderer and thus caused his death by execution would want to meet each year on the anniversary of its decision; that the jury members would continue this annual get-together despite the grieving widow showing up on each occasion to give a basilisk stare to the participants; that when a jury member dies, his daughter would be asked to take his place and would agree to attend.

   Of course, if she hadn’t accepted, Patrick Laing, assistant professor of abnormal psychology and sometime criminologist would not have accepted an invitation to speak to the assembled jurors, Laing is in love with the deceased juryman’s daughter, but since Laing is blind, he never reveals his feelings to her.

   Although the gathering is held in a hard-to-find mountain lodge, the widow naturally shows up. What is more, the executed man’s lawyer arrives to read a confession by the real murderer.

   As a blizzard rages, as blizzards never fail to do, some of the jurors discuss how they would commit murder in the unlikely event any of them should wish to do so. Later that evening certain of the jury members are killed by the very methods they said they would have employed.

PATRICK LAING If I Should Murder

   Dr. Gideon Fell once stated:

   I have been improving my mind with fiction of the Bloody Hand variety for the last forty years. So I know all the conventional death-traps: the staircase that sends you down a chute in the dark, the bed with the descending canopy, the piece of furniture with the poisoned needle in it, the clock that fires a bullet or sticks you with a knife, the gun inside the safe, the weight in the ceiling, the bed that exhales the deadly gas when the heat of your body warms it, and all the rest of them — probable and improbable. And I confess that the more improbable they are, the better I like ’em. I have a simple melodramatic mind.

   Dr. Fell, I believe, would — and maybe did — enjoy the works of Amelia Reynolds Long in whichever guise she wrote. While I would not admit it as boldly as Dr. Fell did, I, too, have a tendency to appreciate melodrama in the mystery, which helped me enjoy this book, one that otherwise has no redeeming value.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1990.


      The “Patrick Laing” series —

If I Should Murder (Phoenix Press, 1945)
Stone Dead (Phoenix Press, 1945)
Murder from the Mind (Phoenix Press, 1946)
The Shadow of Murder (Phoenix Press, 1947)
The Corpse Came Back (Phoenix Press, 1949)
A Brief Case of Murder (Phoenix Press, 1949)
The Lady is Dead (Phoenix Press, 1951)

CLYDE B. CLASON – Murder Gone Minoan. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2003. Original hardcover: Doubleday Crime Club, 1939. Pulp magazine reprint: Two Complete Detective Novels, Winter 1939-1940 (with The Cat Saw Murder, by D. B. Olsen). Hardcover reprint: Sun Dial Press, 1940.

   Checking on www.abebooks.com just a few minutes ago, I found only one copy of the Crime Club edition for sale: Near Fine in a Near Fine jacket. Price: a mere $250.00. Further searching revealed a few other copies on other venues, one being a former library copy with no jacket. Price: a much more reasonable $35.00.

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

   But if $14.95 is all you want to spend, this handsome trade paperback will do very nicely. This is but one of many classic mystery reprints coming from Tom & Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press, and they should be commended for a job well done, and for jobs yet to be done. (At the moment, the only other Clason title they’re published is The Man from Tibet, but perhaps others are on their way. Only sales will tell, I imagine.)

   Only one thing is lacking, before I continue, and that is the original cover art, which as I recall was by Boris Artzybasheff. That gentleman no longer being available (or affordable) a fine piece of work by Rob Pudim was used in his stead. To my eye it’s a bit cluttered, but it Does Catch the Eye.

   Clason’s series detective is an eminent Roman historian named Theocritus Lucius Westborough — Westborough for short — who also has earned a well-deserved reputation as a private investigator on the side. If this book is an example — which from my point of view it has to be, at least for the moment, since if I ever read an earlier book in the series, it was long ago and long forgotten — Westborough’s adventures are copiously filled with well-researched lore of ancient times, interspersed with mini-lectures on the same.

   I’m jumping the gun here, but it’s Westborough’s knowledge of ancient history that helps crack a killer’s alibi — which is not quite fair to the reader not recently tutored in such matters — such as myself, I have to admit — but it’s a sizable step above nabbing a villain who reveals himself because he’s not aware that buildings do not have thirteenth floors, for example.

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

   Just in passing: There is a deliberate misstatement on my part that is not quite correct in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, but if I were to speak more clearly, I would be revealing more of what Clason had up his sleeve than I should.

   This, the seventh of ten cases Westborough is on record as having solved, takes place on an isolated island off the southern California shore, where first a valuable artifact is stolen — and Westborough called in — and then murder, when a missing butler is later found dead.

   The owner of the island, a rich Greek businessman named Paphlagloss, is fascinated with the ancient Minoan culture, pre-historic Cretans whose civilization arose and fell even before the ancient Greeks, and his mansion is filled with valuable relics, artwork and jewels. Just the right place for skullduggery to be done, and with only a handful of suspects, one of whom is responsible for doing the dugging, it’s a perfect setting for a mystery.

   Clason’s strength is in his characters and their dialogue. To my ears, the lengthy reports of letters and verbatim interviews of suspects are close to perfect. Other parts of the tale are excellent, while others, contrarily, are pure fuddle-muddle.

   I like the following quote, for some reason, taken from pages 160-161. Paphlagloss’s daughter is having a private conversation with Westborough:

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

    She shivered and drew the wrap closely to her slim body. “Why do things have to be in such a perfect devil of a mess?”

    His mild eyes peered distressfully through his gold-rimmed spectacles. “The question, I should conjecture, has been propounded rather frequently during the four thousand years of recorded history. However, I am unable to recall a single instance where it was answered satisfactorily.”

    “You are very wise!” she exclaimed.

    He shrugged deprecatorily. “My wisdom is confined to a single fact. I have lived long enough to learn that most of my fellow creatures — and myself, as well — must of necessity be a little foolish.”

    “What would you advise me to do?”

    “I dare not advise you, my dear. The situation is too delicate. As delicate,” he added thoughtfully, “as the ripples of a Chinese nocturne.”

   While it’s great to have this small gem of the Golden Age of Mysteries back again in print, I also have to suggest that it didn’t then, and it doesn’t now, have the staying power of one by a Queen, Christie, or a John Dickson Carr. Even so, and within its limitations, it is a gem in its own right, and no, they don’t write them like this anymore.

— January 2004


[UPDATE] 09-05-13. Checking on abebooks again just now, I found nine copies of the Crime Club edition for sale, ranging in price from $25 (bumped and frayed) to $300 (almost fine in jacket). Rue Morgue Press has a long informative profile of Clyde Clason, the author, and seven books in the Westborough series are now available from them. See below.

    CLYDE B(urt) CLASON, 1903-1987.

The Death Angel (n.) Doubleday 1936.    RM = Rue Morgue Press.
The Fifth Tumbler (n.) Doubleday 1936.
Blind Drifts (n.) Doubleday 1937.    RM
The Purple Parrot (n.) Doubleday 1937.    RM
The Man from Tibet (n.) Doubleday 1938.
The Whispering Ear (n.) Doubleday 1938.
Dragon’s Cave (n.) Doubleday 1939.    RM
Murder Gone Minoan (n.) Doubleday 1939.    RM
Poison Jasmine (n.) Doubleday 1940.    RM
Green Shiver (n.) Doubleday 1941.    RM

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