Authors


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GUY CULLINGFORD – Conjurer’s Coffin. Hammond, UK, hardcover, 1954. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1954 Penguin Books, UK. paperback, 1957.

   Miss Jessie Milk, spinster of uncertain age and kin to the distressed gentlewomen so well portrayed by Barbara Pym, finds somewhat unsuitable employment as a receptionist at the Bellevue Hotel, which does not live up to its name and which the police have nothing against, muddle and unconventionality not yet being against the law. The Bellevue caters, if that’s the mot juste, to the less eminent variety performers.

   Gene the Genie, a magician and one of the not-quite-successful artistes, primarily because of his interest in horse-flesh and not because of lack of talent or imagination, checks into the hotel with his wife and his female assistant the first afternoon Miss Milk is on duty. He plays a trick on her then and becomes aware that she is a perfect foil for a magician.

   When first Gene the Genie’s assistant and then his wife disappear, Miss Milk is an excellent witness. When the wife’s body turns up in the trash, the police are baffled by Miss Milk’s testimony but accept her transparent honesty in telling things as she believes she saw them. Fortunately, a retired Merchant Navy Captain, now a bookstore detective, lives in the hotel and has Miss Milk’s interests at heart in more ways than one. He is able to determine what happened, although it’s not by any means all ratiocination.

   Well written, amusing, excellent characterization, and an interesting crime. All of Cullingford’s novels are well worth trying to find.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Notes:   Guy Cullingford was the pen name of (Alice) C(onstance) Lindsay Taylor, 1907-2000, who has one title in Hubin under her own name, and ten as by Cullingford. Of the latter, only four have been published in the US. In spite of the possibilities suggested by Conjurer’s Coffin, there seems to be no series character appearing in any more than one of them.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   In ELLERY QUEEN: THE ART OF DETECTION I mentioned that the music for the first ten episodes of the ADVENTURES OF ELLERY QUEEN radio series, which debuted in 1939, was composed by the young Bernard Herrmann, and that three excerpts from his scores for the series could be heard on the Web, played on a synthesizer by David Ledsam.

   A few weeks ago I discovered that three complete Herrmann scores for the series were uploaded to the Web last summer, more than a year after my book came out. The episodes for which Herrmann’s music can now be heard are “The Fallen Angel,” “Napoleon’s Razor” and “The Impossible Crime,” which aired respectively on July 2, 9 and 16 of 1939.

   Each score runs from ten to twelve minutes and is played on a synthesizer by Kevin Dvorak. I’m sure the music would sound more like the Herrmann we know and love if it were played on the instruments for which he wrote it, but it’s a lot better than what we had before, which was nothing. Check all three out via the YouTube videos above.

***

   For us old-timers “Gone Girl” is the name of a Lew Archer short story by Ross Macdonald. Now it’s also the name of a first-rate crime-suspense movie, directed by noir specialist David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn based on her 2012 best-seller of the same name.

   Most readers of this column are likely to have seen something about the picture, so I won’t bother to summarize the plot beyond saying that when beautiful Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappears from her upscale Missouri home amid signs of violence, the media go into a frenzy and all but crucify her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) as her murderer.

   There are several strong females in the film so perhaps I’m not revealing too much when I say that one of them struck me as the film noir woman to end all film noir women, and a manipulator of such epic proportions that she leaves Diedrich Van Horn and all the other Iago figures in the Ellery Queen novels choking on her dust.

***

   A few weeks ago, with a bit of time to kill, I decided to tackle REDHEAD (Hurst & Blackett, 1934), the fourth of John Creasey’s 600-odd novels, the second of 28 that deal with Department Z — which in those days of Creasey’s youth was called Z Department — and the earliest I happen to own.

   According to the invaluable Hubin bibliography, this item was never published in the U.S., not even back in the early 1970s when Popular Library was putting out original paperback versions of countless Creaseys from the Thirties. My copy is an English softcover (Arrow pb #417, 1971) and indicates that the book was revised for republication, although the revisions must have been done with a very light hand indeed.

   Department Z has little to do with the operation, which pits a muscular young Brit named Martin “Windy” Storm and various of his cohorts against an American gangster known as Redhead who’s determined to bring his crime methods into England.

   If Creasey took this notion from Edgar Wallace’s 1932 novel WHEN THE GANGS CAME TO LONDON, he moved the center of gravity to the remote Sussex village of Ledsholm and the ancient castle that dominates the area. Much of the book’s second half is taken up by a long long action sequence in which our guys inside Ledsholm Grange are besieged by two separate gangs equipped with revolvers, automatics, machine guns, armored cars, explosives, the whole nine yards of weaponry.

   But since all the characters are stick figures, it’s very hard to keep the action straight or care who shoots or socks whom. Every other sentence ends with an exclamation point (“The greatest criminal enterprise in the history of England was reaching its climax!”), and the king toad makes Lord Voldemort look like a newborn kitten (“Through the hole in the wall he saw the demoniac eyes of Redhead, green, fiendish, glowing with the blood-lust that possessed him”).

   The writing is almost Avallonean in spots: “‘Be quiet!’ hissed Redhead.” And if Creasey preserved lines like “A bullet winged its message of death across the room, sending the dago staggering back”, I can’t help wondering what gems of political incorrectness he tossed out.

Fast forward to his books of only seven or eight years later, like the early Roger West novels (the first five of them collected in INSPECTOR WEST GOES TO WAR, 2011, with intro by me), and you see at a glance how radically Creasey’s writing skills improved over the Thirties.

***

   Or did it take that long? I also happen to have a copy of the next Department Z adventure, FIRST CAME A MURDER (Andrew Melrose, 1934; revised edition, Arrow pb #937, 1967). It has all the earmarks of a Thirties thriller but the writing is so much more restrained and stiff-upper-lippish that it’s hard to believe it came from the same pen as REDHEAD just a few months before.

   I don’t have copies of any Creaseys earlier than these but, judging from the quotations in William Vivian Butler’s THE DURABLE DESPERADOES (1973), both SEVEN TIMES SEVEN and THE DEATH MISER resemble FIRST CAME A MURDER in this respect. Of course, what I have is the revised version of the latter title, and perhaps Butler was quoting from the revised versions of Creasey’s earlier novels too.

   But in that case why does the revised version of REDHEAD sound so different? I can only speculate, and perhaps, in the words of so many Erle Stanley Gardner characters, I’m taking a button and sewing a vest on it. But it strikes me as significant that REDHEAD was originally published by Hurst & Blackett whereas the publisher of all the other early Creaseys was Andrew Melrose.

   Creasey once said that SEVEN TIMES SEVEN, the first novel he sold, was the tenth he’d written. Could REDHEAD have been one of the rejected nine? If there’s ever a comprehensive biography of that awesomely prolific author, perhaps we’ll learn the answer.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


VALENTINE WILLIAMS and DOROTHY RICE SIMS – Fog. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1933; Popular Librar #76, paperback, n. d. [1946]. Film: Columbia, 1933 (starring Mary Brian, Donald Cook and Reginald Denny).

   The S. S. Barbaric lives up to its name as three of its passengers are strangled en route from New York to England. The first is the irascible millionaire Alonzo Holt, who wouldn’t have sailed if he had known that the son he never knew, his estranged second wife, and the charlatan who used to conduct seances for him were aboard.

   While there is an occasional good sentence — for example, “The curious delusion that the ability to amass wealth implies a disposition to distribute it in charity, deserving or undeserving, attracts shoals of beggars to the millionaire’s door” — the authors have overwritten throughout. Worse, none of the characters ring true, except for the bridge fanatic, nicknamed Sitting Bull. Still worse, the hero spots the murderer through a clue provided by the heroine, who could not possibly have been in possession of the information she gave him.

   Skip this one unless you’re a real nostalgia buff.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:   This is co-author Dorothy Rice Sims only entry in Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. Valentine Williams was a far more prolific writer of crime ad detective fiction. There is a very extensive article about him on Mike Grost’s Classic Mystery and Detection website. Highly recommended!

PostScript.   It belatedly occurred to me that I had been lazy, and that I should have tried harder find out more about Mrs. Sims, if I could. It turns out that there is quite a bit more to say.

   From a website dedicated to famous contract bridge players, there is a short biography of her, along with a photo. Excerpting from the first couple of paragraphs:

    “Dorothy Rice Sims was born June 24, 1889 at Asbury Park NJ. From her teens, Dorothy was active in competition, holding the motorcycle speed championship for women (1911) and becoming one of the first U.S. aviatrixes, in which capacity she met and married ACBL Hall of Fame Member P. Hal Sims.

    “She was a noted sculptress, painter and author in fields other than bridge, though she wrote several bridge books. She is widely credited with inventing the psychic bid, but probably initiated only the popular name for it. However, she wrote her first book on the subject, Psychic Bidding, 1932.”

   Note that one of the characters that Bill mentions is a fanatic bridge player.

IT’S ABOUT CRIME: A. A. MILNE
by Marv Lachman


   Though he died in 1956 and wrote only one true mystery novel, A. A. Milne is a writer who keeps cropping up. As parents we likely have read his Winnie-the-Pooh stories to our children. As mystery fans we probably have read his classic novel, The Red House Mystery, and Raymond Chandler’s devastating criticism of it in “The Simple Art of Murder.”

   Milne wrote other works that fall into our genre, including his very first sale as a free-lance writer, a delightful little Holmesian parody, “The Rape of the Sherlock” (1903). He also wrote several plays with mystery elements, including one, The Perfect Alibi (1928), which is clearly a forerunner of Sleuth, Witness for the Prosecution, and Death Trap.

   Though it is long out of print, Milne’s Autobiography (1939) is worth searching for in your local library. It’s a delightfully witty picture of someone growing up in Victorian England. At one point Milne remarks that “Very few Victorians were on Christian name terms with each other; Holmes, after twenty years of intimacy, was still calling his colleague Watson.”

   Finishing a chapter on how he writes, Milne provides some clever, though helpful, advice to those of us with authorial ambitions:

    “For myself I have now no faith in miraculous conception. I have given it every chance. I have spent many mornings at Lord’s hoping that inspiration would come, many days on golf courses; I have even gone to sleep in the afternoon, in case inspiration cared to take me by surprise, In vain. The only way I can get an ‘idea’ is to sit at my desk and dredge for it. This is the real labour of authorship with which no other labour in the world is comparable.”

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1986.


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ELIZABETH HELY – A Mark of Displeasure. Scribner, hardcover, 1960. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1961.

   Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, for the first time, Commissaire Antoine Cirret of the Paris Sûreté is somewhat bemused. The references to the weather by everyone he meets lead him, temporarily, to believe that many of the inhabitants of that city are weather fetishists.

   In Edinburgh at the request of a friend to support him while he’s giving a concert, Cirret goes to sleep during the “Emperor Concerto.” This does not, Cirret would assure you, mean he does not think much of his friend’s technique; it’s just that he does not care that much about music.

   Alec Trevor, the friend and pianist, also has friends in the city, one of whom dies while leaving the concert. Except for Cirret’s curiosity, the murder of a not-much-loved widow by nicotine poisoning would not have been detected.

   The poisoner is known to the reader and maybe to Cirret. Since she is also a friend of Trevor’s, Cirret disturbs the musician by wanting to investigate the case. Actually, Cirret doesn’t care who did it; he, as a humanitarian, merely wants no repetition of the crime.

   Hely presents a wicked but well-liked murderess whose motives are, she assures herself, of the highest, and a delightful detective in Cirret, who looks much like a monkey and may have that creature’s sense of humor. There aren’t that many French detectives that I have enjoyed reading about, but Cirret is an exception.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Elizabeth Hely was the pen name of Nancy Elizabeth Brassey Leslie Younger, (1913-1981). Her criminous output as a writer consisted of three books in the Cirret series (see below), plus one standalone, The Long Shot (Heinemann, 1963).

       The Commissaire Antoine Cirret series —

   Dominant Third. Heinemann, UK, 1959. US title: I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury. Scribner, 1959.
   A Mark of Displeasure. Heinemann, UK, 1961. Scribner, US, 1960.
   Package Deal. Hale 1965. No US edition. TV movie: Universal, 1968, as The Smugglers (with Shirley Booth and Emilio Fernández as Inspector Cesare Brunelli).

   From ThePeerage.Com:

Nancy Elizabeth Brassey:

   Nancy Elizabeth Brassey is the daughter of Lt.-Col. Harold Ernest Brassey and Lady Norah Hely Hutchinson. She married, firstly, S/Ldr. Reginald Frederick Stuart Leslie on 16 July 1935.1 She married, secondly, William Anthony Younger, son of Sir William Robert Younger, 2nd Bt. and Joan Gwendoline Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone, on 25 July 1945.

   From 16 July 1935, her married name became Leslie. From 25 July 1945, her married name became Younger.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MARGOT NEVILLE – Murder of a Nymph. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover 1950. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint [3-in-1 volume]. Pocket #829, paperback, 1951. First published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1949.

   Another young woman, no better than she should be, bites the dust. And here it’s Australian dust, in, of all places, Come-Hither Bend. Apparently the young woman’s, for want of a better word, friends and relatives at that oddly named place, including her betrothed, were not too fond of her. When she gets off the bus to spend the weekend there, someone beats her about the head and pushes her off a cliff.

   Since everyone had problems with Enone — thus one reason for the nymph — coverup is the name of the game. Detective Inspector Grogan knows this but has difficulty penetrating what each person is trying to conceal. When another murder occurs through the stupidity of one of the characters, all begins to come clear.

   It took me five attempts to finish this book. Grogan appealed, but the rest of the characters left me cold or slightly nauseated. While she writes well, Neville doesn’t provide the wit or lightness that I particularly enjoy. Maybe if I’d read it in sunlight and warmth –

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Data: Margot Nevile was the joint pen name of Margot Goyder (1896-1975) and Anne Neville Goyder Joske (1887-1966). Most but not all of their criminous output consists of the Inspector Grogan series. All were published by Geoffrey Bles in the UK; those marked with an asterisk (*) were never published in the US:

       The Inspector Grogan series —

Murder in Rockwater. 1944. US title: Lena Hates Men.
Murder and Gardenias. 1946. (*)
Murder in a Blue Moon. 1948.
Murder of a Nymph. 1949.
Murder Before Marriage. 1951.
The Seagull Said Murder. 1952. (*)
Murder of the Well-Beloved. 1953.
Murder and Poor Jenny. 1954. (*)
Murder of Olympia. 1956. (*)
Murder to Welcome Her. 1957. (*)
The Flame of Murder. 1958. (*)
Sweet Night for Murder. 1959. (*)
Confession of Murder. 1960. (*)
Murder Beyond the Pale. 1961. (*)
Drop Dead. 1962. (*)
Come See Me Die. 1963. (*)
My Bad Boy. 1964. (*)
Ladies in the Dark. 1965. (*)
Head on the Sill. 1966. (*)

EDITH HOWIE – Murder for Tea. Contained in the 3-in-1 omnibus volume Three Prize Winners. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1941. No editor stated. Foreword by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Also published by T. V. Boardman, UK, paperback, 1942.

   The other two books in this scarce volume are Old-Fashioned Murder by Marguerite McIntire, and Westbound Murder by C. S. Wallace. The only copy offered for sale on abebooks.com right now, for example, is being offered at a rather steep $75 price tag. When I spotted one on Amazon last month for $20, I snapped it right up.

   What the three books have in common, you might ask, is that they were all “losers” in the second year of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Mystery Contest. Well, it says “Honorable Mention” in the lower right corner of the book’s front cover, so it’s clear that none of the three were winners.

   So who did get the top prizes? Mary Roberts Rinehart’s foreword tells us that the contest was open only to first time authors. Getting the honor of having their novels published in stand-alone volumes were A. R. Hilliard with Justice Be Damned, and Carolyn Coffin with a book entitled Mare’s Nest. Hilliard (male) wrote only one more work of crime fiction, Outlaw Island (1942), and also so did Carolyn Coffin, that one being Dogwatch (1944).

   Of the runners-up, this was the only work of crime and detective fiction that either McIntire or Wallace (male) managed to get published. In some sense, that makes Howie the real winner, as she went on to write six additional detective novels. A list will be provided later.

   At the moment I don’t know how long this contest continued, but I can tell you who the winners were for 1940: Clarissa Fairchild Cushman (I Wanted to Murder), Ione Sandberg Shriber (Head Over Heels in Murder), Elizabeth Daly (Unexpected Night) and Frank Gruber (The French Key, reviewed here by Jeff Meyerson). I believe, but I am not sure, that all four books were published individually.

   A couple of those authors’ names I’m sure everyone will recognize.

   As for Murder for Tea, I enjoyed it, most of it, that is. I wonder why Howie didn’t make a series with the two leading characters in this one. Shawn Cosgraeve, a six foot black Irishman with a temper to boot, is a mystery writer. Telling the story is his wife of three years standing, Kit, who didn’t make it in New York as a musician niy did find a husband whom she can manage very well, most of the time.

   It takes all of those three years to convince Shawn to take a trip back to her home town of Nashiona, somewhere in the American midwest, not too far from Chicago. From here I’ll quote from page 172:

    “Then what was he doing in Lower Town?” the Sergeant demanded. “Oh, I know there ain’t an answer. Hell! I’m sick of this whole screwy case, Look at it! A woman gets poisoned while a couple hundred people stand around and nobody knows who done it nor why nor even where the poison could have come from. Then a man’s killed and safe’s blown while people wonder what was the noise and a bunch of dopes stand around to watch the guys who did it flop in their car and drive off. And that ain’t all!” The Sergeant flapped his hands despairingly. “We got another murder and a brace of threatening letters and a mess of jewelry that you don’t know whether or not it’s going to be real or phony the next time you see it–” It was too much. He dropped his head and remained sunk in a misery beyond all expressing.

   Kit’s problem is that all of the suspects are friends of hers and their husbands and wives. She knows them from before, but she soon discovers that she doesn’t know them now very much at all — and one of them, the killer, not at all.

   On the overall scale of things, the story takes place in the upper middle class of a small town, which means of course that they think of themselves as the upper class. The prospects of an upcoming war are not mentioned at all.

   One huge drawback to the story is the Had I But Know aspect of Kit’s story, told some time well after all of the events in it had taken place. One wonders if that is what might have caught the judges’ eyes. The other drawback is that when the killer’s identity is revealed I discovered that it didn’t really much matter who it was. Picking a name from a hat may have produced the very same reaction.

   Nonetheless, it might have been instructive to see if Edith Howie could have thought of another situation to place her two leading characters in, to give them a chance of cracking another case. Even though it’s a detective story through and through, this one may have been a little too personal.

    Bibliography: EDITH HOWIE (1900-1979).

Murder for Tea. Farrar, 1941.
Murder for Christmas. Farrar, 1941.

Murder at Stone House. Farrar, 1942.
Murder’s So Permanent. Farrar, 1942.
Cry Murder. Mill, 1944.
The Band Played Murder. Mill, 1946.

No Face to Murder. Mill, 1946.

Note: For more about the author and a review of Murder for Christmas, check out what Curt Evans has to say over on his blog.

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