Authors


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


   Three months ago, while writing the column in which I said farewell to my old friend Don Yates, I hinted that one of these days I hoped to devote some attention to H.C. Branson, who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan and befriended Don when he was growing up in that city. The time has come to realize that hope.

   Henry Clay Branson (1904-1981) was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. He read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy, was educated at Princeton and the University of Michigan, and spent a few years in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, reading Philo Vance novels and trying without success to become an expatriate literary figure, before he settled in Ann Arbor.

   According to Don’s entry on him in 20th CENTURY CRIME AND MYSTERY WRITERS (3rd ed. 1991), he “was one of the most familiar of card-holders at the Ann Arbor Public Library, where he withdrew and consumed hundreds of mystery stories.” Whether he was independently wealthy or had a day job I haven’t been able to determine. Once a highly regarded and fairly prominent detective novelist, he’s remembered today, if at all, for having also befriended a young academic born Kenneth Millar but best known as Ross Macdonald.

   According to Tom Nolan’s 1999 biography, Macdonald and Branson remained in touch and exchanged letters regularly until Branson’s death, two years before Macdonald’s own. Our concern here however is not with Macdonald, who’s been the subject of a number of books, but with Branson’s seven detective novels, published between 1941 and 1953 and featuring a bearded, sophisticated former physician and free-lance criminal investigator named John Bent.

   The character never made it to the movies but if he had, for my money the ideal actor to play him would have been Vincent Price—not as he looked in the Forties and early Fifties when the novels first came out but the more mature Price, before he descended into hamminess and schlock horror pictures.

   As we’ll see shortly, Anthony Boucher reviewed most of Branson’s whodunits, first for the San Francisco Chronicle and later for the New York Times, and always praised them to the skies. On whether they’re worth reading and reviving today, opinions differ. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME (2nd ed. 1989) have positive things to say about all seven. William Deeck concurs in his reviews of several Branson titles for Mystery*File. But Bill Pronzini in 1001 MIDNIGHTS (1986) is nowhere near so enthusiastic, saying: “Branson wrote literate, meticulously plotted (but flawed) novels in which the emphasis is on deep-seated conflicts that have their roots in the dark past.”

   Might the later Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald, whom Branson had befriended when both men lived in Ann Arbor, owe their emphasis on the same kinds of conflicts to Branson’s books of the Forties? Perhaps, says Pronzini, but he leaves no doubt about which of the two authors is superior. “There’s a good deal of passion among the characters [but] Bent is a virtual cipher….The writing, while well crafted, is so detached and emotionless that the reader tends to lose interest….Had Branson…been able to make Bent more human and sympathetic, had he injected some passion and vividness into his work, he might have become an important figure in the mystery field.”

   Branson had no desire to explore a different setting in every novel, but on the other hand he couldn’t allow his master criminologist to keep returning to the same part of Michigan in every case. That, said Don Yates, is why “[o]ne is never precisely sure where the action [in a particular novel] is taking place. In his mind, Branson sees all of his stories laid out in and around Battle Creek, Jackson, and Kalamazoo, Michigan.” Sometimes however, as we’ll see, he unintentionally indicates a setting that can’t possibly be the area around Ann Arbor.

   The Branson septet contains certain family resemblances which some might call gaffes and others quirks. The off-trail clues we might have expected from reading early Ellery Queen and writers like Anthony Boucher who were strongly influenced by Queen are conspicuous by their absence, replaced by lengthy speculations about possibilities. The word “perfectly” recurs almost as often as does “replied” in the novels of John Rhode/Miles Burton.

   A host of other characters, sometimes two in the same book, happen to share Bent’s first name. Bent and virtually every other character except the occasional child consume huge quantities of liquor and tobacco. They also smile incessantly, and shrug their shoulders. (That latter phrase always irritated Fred Dannay. “What else can they shrug?” he’d demand to know.) Any music played in the course of a Branson novel is invariably classical chamber music — Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, most of the household names — and there are some nice incidental scenes involving the 78 rpm sets on which such music was bought and played in people’s homes 70-odd years ago.

   The murderer almost invariably escapes facing a judge and jury, either because he (or she) commits suicide, dies accidentally, or is killed in turn. Each of these resemblances pops up several times as we make our way through the seven novels.

***

   The first pages of I’LL EAT YOU LAST (1941) find Bent driving around the shore of beautiful Lake Badenoch on his way to the area’s Toad Hall, the home of former Senator James Maitland, who is a toad of the first water, having amassed in his decades in the seats of power a fortune of between 50 and 55 million dollars. (In today’s money that would probably make him a billionaire.)

   Maitland has sent for the great investigator because several of his closest relatives — first his sister and her entire family, then his brother, most recently his much younger and promiscuous wife — have suffered apparently accidental deaths within a few months of each other. The old senator has come to be afraid that at least some of the deaths may be part of an elaborate scheme to channel his fortune in certain directions, and that he’s next on the death list.

   Events prove him a true prophet: on the evening of Bent’s arrival, Maitland is fatally shot by a slug from a .22 rifle fired through the window of his lordly library. Bent is a total outsider, but thanks to his reputation as a criminologist he immediately becomes unofficial head of the police team assigned to the murder; another family resemblance in Branson’s novels.

   Among the suspects are Maitland’s few surviving relatives — his intellectual nephew, his distant cousin and factotum, the daughter of a predeceased cousin — and various non-relatives like the odious college president and the members of a fanatical religious cult whose Vatican City is adjacent to the Maitland property. Bent spends most of his time drinking, smoking, and teasing out various possibilities without benefit of substantive clues. Unfortunately the labyrinthine plot he exposes at the climax is vitiated by a radical mistake of law which any interested reader who doesn’t mind my revealing who done it can learn about by clicking here.

***

   At the end of the first chapter of THE PRICKING THUMB (1942) we are told that the date is Monday, November 24. This is irrelevant to the plot but is still significant for two reasons. First, on the reasonable assumption that the year is 1941, we are less than two weeks away from Sunday, December 7, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. You’ll find no hint of that earth-shaking event anywhere in the novel.

   Second, the Thursday following the 24th has to be Thanksgiving Day, although Branson treats it as a day just like any other, with nobody even having a turkey dinner. Late in the afternoon of the 24th Bent in his home city receives a visit from old friend Marina Holland, whose much older husband Gouvion has been suffering from some strange illness and has recently had a violent argument with his 20-year-old son by his first marriage.

   The next evening Bent drives from his never identified home base to the town of New Paget and discovers Gouvion shot to death in his study, apparently a suicide. Gouvion’s younger brother arrives at the Holland house and announces that he’s just come from the nearby home of Dr. Brian Calvert, the Holland family physician, with whom according to local gossip Marina was having an affair, and found two more dead bodies: that of Dr. Calvert and Marina herself.

   Apparently Gouvion had shot the other two, then returned to his house and taken his own life. Bent isn’t satisfied and, as is his wont, commandeers the local authorities and takes over the investigation. There are virtually no tangible clues, which is pretty much par for the course in Branson, but by the end of the week Bent has exposed a particularly brutal murderer and scheme. Anthony Boucher left the verb out of the key sentence in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle (20 December 1942) but left no doubt that he was pleased: “Quietly convincing detective and unusually interesting murderer in a solid and rewarding work rare in the American mystery.”

         (To Be Continued)

BERNARD MARA – A Bullet for My Lady. Gold Medal 472; paperback original; 1st printing, March 1955.

   I didn’t buy my copy of this book when it first came out, although I might have and I lost or misplaced it later on. But I have had the copy I just read for probably just under 35 years. How do I know? (You ask.) Inside the front cover it has the stamp of a used bookstore I used to go to, a place called Tessman’s, and that’s where I spent all of my spare change when we first moved to Connecticut in 1969. All told, I must have stopped in there on the average of once a week. The price is stamped in, too. All of the paperbacks they had were 20 cents each. Gee, how I’d love to back there today.

   But I digress. Bernard Mara was one of two pseudonyms used by the rather famous Irish-born Canadian author Brian Moore. You might recognize him as the author of such novels as The Luck of Ginger Coffey, I Am Mary Dunne, The Magician’s Wife and others. He was nominated for the Booker award three times, and none other than Graham Greene called him “my favorite living novelist.” (Taken from his 1999 obituary in the LA Times.)

   Not bad for someone who started out by writing paperback originals for Harlequin-Canada, Gold Medal and Dell:

          — as Brian Moore

Wreath for a Redhead. Harlequin #102, Canadian pb original, 1951.
= Reprinted as Sailor’s Leave, Pyramid #94, 1953.
The Executioners. Harlequin #117, Canadian pb original, 1951.
= No US edition; reprinted in Australia by Phantom Books (paperback).

         — as Bernard Mara

French for Murder. Gold Medal #402, pb original, May 1954.
A Bullet for My Lady. Gold Medal #472, pb original, Mar 1955.
This Gun for Gloria. Gold Medal #562, pb original, Mar 1956.
= Reprinted as Wild as by Edwin West in a pirated edition (Zodiac pb, 1963).

          — as Michael Bryan

Intent to Kill. Dell First Edition #88, pb original, 1956.
Murder in Majorca. Dell First Edition A145, pb original, Aug 1957.

   You might find this interesting. Here is how one Internet source describes his early work:

   … Following a tentative start as a short-story writer, he began trying his hand at hack thrillers in the Chandler-Hammett mode, under the name of Brian Mara, before taking off into serious fiction in 1955 with The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.

   Other than the books above, only a few of his later books could be described as being mystery-related. Using Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV as a source, they are:

The Revolution Script. Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971.
The Color of Blood. E. P. Dutton, 1987.
Lies of Silence. Doubleday & Co., 1990.
The Statement. E. P. Dutton, 1996.

   Copies of A Bullet for a Lady, in about the same condition as the one I have, are offered on ABE at $30.00 and up. Not bad for a 20¢ investment, and now I really wish I could go back. (And take a look at the prices wanted for the Harlequin editions. They don’t seem to be scarce, but my oh my.)

   What I do not think is precisely true is that Moore was writing in “the Chandler-Hammett” mode. I think someone was stretching matters there, using the only names the writer could think of (or thought his readers could identify with). Hammett and Chandler are always used as a crutch by (and for) people not so familiar with the field, when they cannot come up with names on their own.

   I’m reminded a little of Eric Ambler myself, but with a hero a little more knowledgeable and capable than some of the innocents (more or less) in Ambler’s work, guys here and there overseas, mostly postwar Europe, who fall into trouble and struggle to get out, and trouble not of their own doing. The adventuresome kind of guy, scraping by, doing this and that, independent and on his own. Jack Higgins’ earlier heroes fall into this category, people like Jack Nelson in The Khufra Run. But since he came along later, then how about Harry Bannock in Edward S. Aarons’ Girl on the Run?

   It is no coincidence, I do not believe, that the Aarons book was also published by Gold Medal, nor that later on many of Higgins’ earlier books first appeared in paperback in this country as Gold Medal’s.

   The hero in Bernard Mara’s book is Josh Camp, and he is a partner in a small (two person) aviation company based in France, specializing in small jobs that take them all over the world. In 1955, when this book was written, the world was huge, and men who flew around it on their own were greatly to be admired.

   When Camp’s partner goes missing in Spain, Josh does not hesitate. He immediately goes to find out what went wrong. And as soon as he lands in Barcelona, he is met by a beautiful woman who tells him that Harry is dead. This is on page 7, and this is where the story begins.

   Mara [aka Brian Moore] had a way with words, even at this early stage of his career. Josh checks into the hotel where Harry stayed in Barcelona, and the elderly bellhop leads the way to up to his room. From page 22:

   We went up. My room had a thirty-watt light bulb, a bathroom so small you could shave and shower at the same time, and a small balcony looking down at a street as narrow as an alley. A sign on the back of a door said it cost the equivalent of seventy-five cents a night. I gave Grandfather a bill and he left. The place was clean, but being in it made you feel dirty. I took my jacket and shirt off and began to wash. Harry must have been pretty broke to stay here. Not that we hadn’t stayed in worse places when the going was rough. But Spain is the cheapest country in Europe and Harry was on expenses. Still, if he was running from something, the Strasbourg was an ask-no-questions joint.

   The language is picturesque, and for readers never more than 200 miles from home, Mara/Moore makes them feel as if they were. I must have led a sheltered life myself. Look at the lady on the cover. If I ever met a lady like that, I know that I wouldn’t be able to say a word. I wouldn’t even begin to know what to say.

   In the first 50 or so pages, Josh meets: three women, all enigmatic but beautiful in varying ways; one tough guy; one second- or third-rate toreador; a dwarf; miscellaneous (but not very friendly) cops; and assorted cab drivers and hotel staff. They all have different agendas, especially the three women and the second- or third-rate toreador. All the cops care about is getting Josh out of the country, and they give him only 24 hours to do so. And therefore only 24 hours to discover how Harry’s death happened and who was responsible.

   When I got to page 57, I made myself a note. It says, “Do you know what? None of this makes any sense.” On page 67, Mara/Moore rightly decides that a sort of a recap is in order, and by page 84, the true story starts to come out. What it is that the bad guys want and at the same time, to some extent, at least, an idea of who the good guys are.

   As you may know, Gold Medal paperbacks in the 1950s were usually only 160 pages long. They could almost be read in a day, and this book is no exception. It may surprise you if I were to tell you that it is the first half which is the more interesting – the half in which confusion is king – but it is so. Once the story rights itself around and heads off in the right direction, it is as if the mystery is gone, as if the story from that point on is a mere formality, as though (but not quite) it’s only going through the motions.

   Go figure. An “A minus” perhaps for the first half, and a “C plus” for the second. The works out to a solid “B,” doesn’t it? That’s just about what I would have called it, anyway. If I were still using letter grades.

— December 2005

CLEVE F. ADAMS – No Wings on a Cop. Handi-Book #112, paperback original, 1950. Harlequin #256, Canada, paperback, 1953.

   Cleve F. Adams (1895-1949) was a fairly prolific writer for the detective pulps in the 1930s and early 40s before making the transition to hardcover novels under not only his name but as John Spain and Franklin Charles. His most well-known series character was a hard-boiled PI named Rex McBride, but even the latter is little remembered today.

   Before getting the story line of this one, one of two he wrote that came out in paperback only, there is a tale to tell about it. As I understand it, No Wings on a Cop began life as a pulp story, then after Adams’s death was expanded into a novel as a favor to his wife by fellow pulp writer Robert Leslie Bellem. In James Reasoner’s online review of the book, he suggests the original story may have been, in his words: “‘Clean Sweep,’ from the August 24, 1940 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly, which, according to the Fictionmags Index, features police lieutenant John J. Shannon, the hero of No Wings on a Cop.”

   From the title, this is good detective work on James’s part, but it’s still only one possibility among a handful of others it may have been. Until someone is able to check it out to be sure, we’ll have to leave it as an open, unanswered question.

   John J. Shannon was also the name of the title character in the novel The Private Eye that Adams wrote in 1942. Everyone assumes it’s the same character, but when it was, and why Shannon made the transition from police lieutenant to PI is a story that Adams never told. (I may be wrong about that.)

   The main story line in No Wings on a Cop is a very common one in its day, that of corruption in a small town involving a the head of the local rackets and working its way up to (possibly) the mayor and several members of the police force. Shannon gets involved when a fellow officer and a good friend is killed, with the suggestion that he was on the take.

   Shannon knows better and spends the entire book trying to come up with evidence to prove it. His kind of investigation involves a goodly amount of gunplay, but as it turns out, he has a head on his shoulders as well, and a good instinct for who’s running on the wrong side of the track. He also has one arm in a cast all through the book, a hindrance that doesn’t show him down one bit.

   Unfortunately I’ve read a lot of stories like this before, and I found this one slow going for most of the first half of the book. Things picked up considerably after that, but all in all, while competently written, it’s still not better than average, even for the genre it’s in. I wouldn’t say this a “must read” for anyone reading this, but I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

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


   At the end of last month’s column we saw Simenon becoming a bit uncomfortable with having retired Maigret and deprived him of official status. His next published case, “L’Etoile du Nord” (Police-Film/Police Roman, 30 September 1938), takes place two or three days before he’s due to retire and features, of all people, Sergeant Lucas, who according to “Mademoiselle Berthe et son Amant,” published less than six months earlier, was killed beside him.

   Madame Maigret is already in Meung-sur-Loire, preparing their new home, and the Commissaire has spent the night cleaning out his office in the Quai des Orfèvres. Around dawn he hears the phone ringing in the office next to his, picks up the receiver and quickly finds himself going out in the rain and gloom to investigate a murder in the titular establishment, one of those “drab fourth-rate hotels” to be found near every major train station, in this case the Gare du Nord.

   The victim is Georges Bompard, a fortyish womanizer who rented a room from the hotel’s night porter around 3:30 A.M., two hours before someone entered the room (which apparently wasn’t locked) and stabbed him in the back. Prime suspect is a self-proclaimed prostitute in her late teens who claims to have picked up Bompard in the street and rented her own room in the Etoile du Nord shortly before her customer rented his. Maigret takes her back to Headquarters where there begins a tense confrontational interrogation of the young hooker, complete with seamy sexual stuff—the kid is made to stand naked with other whores picked up during the night—but also with clues of the sort we might expect to find in, say, the cross-examination of a hostile witness by Perry Mason.

   The story never appeared in EQMM—obviously because too many elements, including a botched abortion crucial to the plot, were not to Fred Dannay’s taste—and as far as I know its only appearance in English was in MAIGRET’S PIPE. Too bad. It’s one of the most intellectually challenging of the shorter Maigrets, and one could almost say that Simenon permits the astute reader to figure out the truth by pure reasoning.

***

   With “L’Auberge aux Noyés” (Police-Film/Police-Roman, 11 November 1938) Maigret is back in harness as if he’d never retired, although he’s not at the Quai des Orfèvres but in the town of Nemours on a business visit to the local captain of gendarmerie. A savage storm comes up and he spends the night at the house of Captain Tillemont, who receives a phone call at 6:00 A.M.—another of those damn early-morning phone calls!—and invites the Commissaire to accompany him to the site of a “curious accident” where the highway between Nemours and Montargis parallels the banks of the river Loing.

   There’s a curve in the road 700 meters from the Auberge des Pecheurs, which means the Fishermen’s Inn but is locally known as the Inn of the Drowned (the story’s French title) because of several fatal accidents at the curve. Now there seems to have been another. “A ten-ton lorry, one of those stinking monsters that travel by day and by night along main roads,” has hit a car stalled at the curve with its lights off. The car went over the bank into the swollen Loing but no one knows what happened to the young couple who were apparently inside.

   When the auto is pulled out of the water, somehow the door of the luggage compartment comes open and reveals the body of a middle-aged woman, her throat cut by a razor. With the Auberge aux Noyés as his headquarters Maigret takes an unofficial hand in the investigation and soon finds reason to believe that things aren’t what they seem. That evening, under weather conditions equally miserable, he sets up a reconstruction of the event as only he can.

   It’s an excellent story, perhaps more cerebral than emotional, although there are too many unseen but crucial characters and too much happens too quickly at the climax. I wish Simenon had taken a few thousand extra words for this one, which appeared in EQMM for January 1975 as “The Inn of the Drowned” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Drowned Men’s Inn.”

***

   Perhaps the most popular of the Maigret short stories, at least in this country, is “Stan-le-Tueur” (Police-Roman, 23 December 1938). It’s the earliest short Maigret to appear in English, translated by Anthony Boucher (EQMM, September 1949), and was collected both in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (1959, Boucher’s translation) and in MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977, translated by Jean Stewart). Its title all three times was “Stan the Killer,” a literal translation of the French title.

   Simenon opens with Maigret and his men—including once again the supposedly deceased Sergeant Lucas—having staked out a shabby hotel which is being used as a hideout by between four and eight Polish criminals, a ruthless gang responsible for raids on several farmhouses and the slaughter of everyone inside including children. The gangsters are known only by the colorful nicknames the police have given them—the Beard, One-Eye, Spinach, the Fat Boy—and their leader, known as Stan the Killer, has sent a note to Maigret threatening to shoot down any number of innocent bystanders if an arrest is attempted.

   Into this powder keg steps Michel Ozep, a former Polish army officer with nothing to live for, who comes to Maigret and offers in effect to commit suicide by cop, taking Stan out in order to prevent bloodshed even if it means his own life. At the climax Maigret sends Ozep into the Hôtel Beauséjour to confront the young Polish woman who runs with the gang, and the results are violent and tragic.

   In some respects the two English translations of this story differ wildly, and we must try to account for the differences. In Boucher’s version Maigret from a hotel room across the street from the gang’s hideout observes the young woman “dusting the frame of a bright-colored picture on the wall.” On entering the room he discovers that the picture is a portrait of the woman herself, who’s lying on the floor with her throat cut. He pulls down the picture and finds from the lettering on the back that it’s an illustration accompanying an article entitled “The Pretty Pole and the Terror of Terre Haute” from the American true crime magazine Real Life Detective Cases.

   Except for the woman’s throat being cut, there’s not a word of this in Jean Stewart’s later translation. Did Stewart omit it or did Boucher invent it? I strongly suspect the latter. As we’ve seen in earlier columns, Boucher did have a tendency to translate very freely at times. Besides, the American details suggest Boucher because they seem to ring true—and also to be way beyond Simenon, who in the Thirties knew less than nothing about the U.S., so much so that in the Stewart version (and presumably the French original) Maigret and Lucas “drew aside the [dead] woman’s dress and uncovered white flesh on which was the mark with which, in America, they brand criminal women.”

   From what benighted source did Simenon unearth that tidbit? And should we be surprised that Boucher thought it necessary to get rid of it and substitute his own account of how the French police learned of the woman’s American criminal background?

   Within less than a year of the story’s appearance in EQMM it became the basis of a 60-minute live TV drama (THE TRAP, CBS, 20 May 1950), starring E.G. Marshall and Herbert Berghof, although which actor played Maigret seems to be lost to history. A little more than two years later the story was recycled for CBS’ STUDIO ONE SUMMER THEATER (1 September 1952), this time with Romney Brent and Eli Wallach in the leading roles although once again we don’t know which man played Maigret. Paul Nickell directed from a teleplay by Paul Monash, whose script was likely used also in the version seen on THE TRAP considering that the adaptations were broadcast on the same network so close together. In view of the infant medium’s infantile restrictions I find it hard to believe that either TV version came close to doing justice to Simenon’s story.

***

   In “La Vieille Dame de Bayeux” (Police-Roman, 3 February 1939) we find Maigret transferred to Normandy and based temporarily in Caen, where he’s been assigned to reorganize the Brigade Mobile, the French counterpart of England’s Flying Squad. There he’s visited by 28-year-old Mlle. Cécile Ledru, the paid companion to wealthy widow Joséphine Croizier, with whom Cécile lives in Bayeux, a half-hour from Caen.

   While on a visit to Caen for dental work and staying in the palatial home of her nephew and heir Philippe Deligeard, the older woman suffered a fatal heart attack. More than one doctor has certified the nature of Joséphine’s death but Cécile is convinced that her benefactress was murdered and insists that Maigret investigate. The result is a fascinating but almost completely cerebral story, so arranged that most readers will be able to figure out the gist of the plot but can’t possibly know the details until Simenon reveals them.

   This story too was translated twice, by Boucher for EQMM (August 1952) and the SHORT CASES collection and by Jean Stewart for MAIGRET’S PIPE, the title all three times being “The Old Lady of Bayeux.” Once again there are differences between the translations but they’re not as consequential as those between the two versions of “Stan the Killer.”

   According to Boucher, Cécile tells Maigret: “I was an orphan, and I started out in life, at the age of fifteen, as a maid of all work. I was still wearing pigtails, and I didn’t know how to read or write.” Stewart renders this passage: “I was an orphan, and my first job was as a maid of all work. I was only fifteen, with my hair still down my back, and I couldn’t read or write….”

   Close enough, yes? The other variations are no more important than this one. The strangest detail in the story is common to both translations and therefore almost certainly Simenon’s: Cécile tells Maigret that she knows she takes nothing under Mme. Croizier’s will because “I drew up the will myself….” Neat trick for someone who isn’t a notaire!

   This story too was adapted for live TV in the medium’s infant years. “The Old Lady of Bayeux” (SUSPENSE, CBS, 2 September 1952, 30 minutes) was directed by Robert Stevens from a teleplay by Halsted Welles. This time we know who played Maigret. It was Mexican-born Luis Van Rooten (1906-1973), one of the best known actors of radio’s golden age, who indeed appeared on THE ADVENTURES OF ELLERY QUEEN and was the subject of an encomium by Queen co-creator and radio supervisor Manfred B. Lee.

   In a letter of 1 August 1946 to Tony Boucher, who was collaborating with Manny on Queen scripts while also translating Simenon, Jorge Luis Borges and others for EQMM, Manny called Van Rooten “a little bald-headed guy who for my money is one of the great radio actors….A terrific performer. You simply can’t believe that a voice like that can come from a guy so small.”

   Anyone who’d like to travel back in time and see Van Rooten playing Maigret is in rare luck: this particular episode of SUSPENSE happens to be accessible on YouTube. Featured in the cast are Edgar Stehli (Philippe Deligeard) and Nicole Stéphan (Cécile). There’s more suspense in the SUSPENSE version than in Simenon’s story, but for my money Van Rooten with his bald pate and neat little mustache evokes Poirot rather than the heavy-set titan of the Quai des Orfèvres.

***

   The last Maigret story to be written and published before the outbreak of World War II was “L’Amoureux de Madame Maigret (Police-Roman, 28 July 1939), which appeared in EQMM (“The Stronger Vessel,” January 1952, translated by Boucher) but didn’t show up in a collection until MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977, translated by Jean Stewart).

   Here but to the best of my knowledge in no other novel or story, the Maigrets’ home is an apartment in the Place de Vosges, where Simenon and his first wife in fact lived from 1924 until the early Thirties. Madame Maigret notices a strange old man in a dandified outfit sitting motionless in the park below her window for hours on end and mentions the matter to her husband, who playfully suggests she has an admirer (the amoureux of the title).

   One summer evening Maigret goes down to talk to the old man and finds him shot to death, apparently from a window of the apartment house looking down on the park. It quickly becomes apparent that the “old dandy” was a young man wearing a wig and false mustache, but why he spent hours every day sitting on that park bench remains a mystery.

   Then one of Maigret’s neighbors reports that his maid has vanished, along with his wife’s jewelry. Madame Maigret herself takes something of a hand in the investigation, which establishes that the two matters are of course connected, but the denouement reveals a spy vs. spy intrigue with the countries carefully unspecified, appropriate for the time but not very exciting, and Maigret is ordered to drop the case.

   As Fred Dannay pointed out in his introduction to the EQMM translation, the first English-language title is based on a Biblical verse (“giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel,” 1 Peter iii, 7). Almost certainly the title came from Boucher, who knew his Bible well.

   As with some of the earlier tales in the series, comparison of the two translations yields some interesting results. In Boucher’s version, examination of the murdered man’s clothes reveals “a sizable quantity of very fine flour—not pure, but mixed with traces of bran….” The bran indicates a mill rather than a bakery, but what would the dead man be doing in a mill?

   The question is answered at the end when, in Boucher’s words, we learn that he lived “at Corbeil, near the mills.” Jean Stewart bungles the translation when she locates the man’s home “at Corbeil, near Moulins….” Moulin means mill, but if the French word refers to a place not a physical mill, the flour-and-bran dust in the dead man’s clothes remains unaccounted for.

***

   “L’Amoureux” was the last story in which Maigret appeared for almost three years. He was next seen in MAIGRET REVIENT, a volume consisting of three new novels, published by Gallimard in 1942 but written during the earlier years of war and ocupation: LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC late in 1939, LE MAISON DU JUGE and CÉCILE EST MORTE in 1940. In 1944, still under Nazi occupation, Gallimard published another omnibus of original novels, SIGNÉ PICPUS, which consisted of the title book (written in 1941) plus FÉLICIE EST LA (from May 1942) and L’INSPECTEUR CADAVRE (from March 1943), plus an assortment of non-series short stories dating from 1937-38.

   The same year saw publication by Gallimard of LES NOUVELLES ENQUÊTES DE MAIGRET, which brought together all the short stories discussed here and in earlier columns. Three new Maigret shorts, including one never officially translated into English, also came out during the dark years.

   These works, all of which seem to have embodied Simenon’s “contract with France” to say not a word hinting that the country was under German control, are best discussed in another column at another time. This one is far too long already.

  E. C. R. LORAC – Shepherd’s Crook. Inspector Robert Macdonald #38. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1953. First published in the UK as Crook o’ Lune (Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1953).

   Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is thinking of retirement, getting away from the crowded bustle of London and starting a farm, so while on leave he heads for Lancashire sheep country — and instead of rustic quiet, finds yet another mystery on his hands.

   The death of an elderly housekeeper in a fire, while not intended, may be due to the work of sheep thieves, or it may be a matter of a will that dates from 1690. The pace may be slow, but the place setting is aptly described, and every word is there to be savored.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990.

[UPDATE.] I don’t remember how Macdonald’s proposed retirement worked out in the book itself, but in the real world, he had eight additional recorded case to follow this one. His career began with The Murder on the Burrows in 1931, and came to a close with Dishonour Among Thieves aka The Last Escape in 1959.

   Lorac’s books are becoming scarce. I found only one copy of the US edition on abebooks.com just now, for example, the asking price for that one being a mere $99.95. Three copies of the British edition are offered there, however, including one in fair condition for $36.06.

   Although not yet this one, some of Lorac’s novels have recently been reprinted, first by by Ramble House and then more recently by British Library Crime Classics. Hopefully there will be enough interest to warrant more to come.

   For as much as is known about Lorac herself, her real name Edith Caroline Rivett, (1894-1958), check out Curtis Evans’ Passing Tramp blog here: http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2017/09/edith-caroline-rivett-1894-1958-aka-ecr.html

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MARTIN GREENBERG, Editor – The Tony Hillerman Companion. HarperCollins, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   Well, the photo on the dust jacket finally provided confirmation from my wife — Tony Hillerman and I resemble each other. I think it’s the ears.

   The Companion contains several sections, the first two being a book-by-book synopsis of Hillerman’s detective novels by Jon Breen, and then a lengthy 1993 interview with Hillerman by Breen. Then there is an article chosen by Hillerman on the Navajos, a section on Navajo Clan names, and then the longest section of the book, 200 pages of character concordance.

   The book ends with several short non-fiction pieces by Hillerman, and three of his short stories. There are also several pages of photos, in which he manages to resemble me two or three times.

   For a real aficionado of Hillerman’s books this would be indispensable, and for anyone interested in them at all very enjoyable. Breen is an excellent interviewer, obviously thoroughly familiar with Hillerman’s work and with a great appreciation of it.

   The Navajo material was interesting, as were Hillerman’s non-fiction pieces — the part of the book most likely to be new to his fans. The Concordance was the least interesting to me, and I think likely to any but his most involved fans. At $25 a throw I’d say it’s best read from the library for all but his most enthusiastic followers, but for them it will be a treasure.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, August 1994.

CARLETON CARPENTER – Deadhead. Curtis, paperback original; 1974. Paperback reprint: Black Walnut, 1985.

   If you were to do a search for Mr. Carpenter on the Internet, you’d find more in the movie and entertainment databases than you will regarding his writing career, which consisted of only a small handful of paperback originals. There’ll be a list of them soon, in case you’re interested.

   Before concentrating on the books, though, perhaps it suffices to say that Carleton Carpenter was a both a composer and an actor, in both the movies, on television and in Broadway musicals. One of the top musical hits of 1951 was “Aba Daba Honeymoon,” sung by Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter (from the film Two Weeks in Love). His career in the movies and on TV is summed up neatly at imdb.com (with some 42 credits as an actor).

   Here’s a list of Mr. Carpenter’s mystery fiction. As previously mentioned all of these are paperback originals. * = Chester Long mysteries. ** = billed as a Jasper Wild mystery.

Games Murderers Play. Curtis 07271, 1973; Black Walnut, 1985.
Cat Got Your Tongue? Curtis 07272, 1973; Black Walnut, 1985.
* Only Her Hairdresser Knew… Curtis 07299, 1973; Black Walnut, 1985.
Pinecastle. Curtis 09187, 1973, as by Ivy Manchester; Black Walnut, as Stumped, as by Carleton Carpenter.
* Deadhead. Curtis 09263, 1974; Black Walnut, 1985.
** Sleight of Hand. Popular Library 00661, 1975; Black Walnut, as Sleight of Deadly Hand.
The Peabody Experience. Black Walnut, 1985.

Short story: “Second Banana.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 1976.

   Little is known about Black Walnut Books, but they seem to have been in business only to print Mr. Carpenter’s books.

   Whether Jasper Wild appeared in any of the earlier books or was intended to be another continuing character is also unknown. It would also be interesting to learn whether the AHMM short story has either Chester Long or Jasper Wild as characters, leading or incidental. Someone with access to that issue will have to let us know.

   As you can see from the cover, Pinecastle (aka Stumped) was marketed and sold by Curtis as a gothic romance, but a quick scan through my copy indicates that the people who are in it all have a very strong theatrical background, which is not surprising.

   Chester Long is a hairdresser (straight). Jasper Wild’s occupation is unknown. Someone who has a copy of Sleight of Hand will have to let us know. If by chance he’s a magician as well as a detective, that would be worth knowing.

   As for the book at hand, Deadhead, when Chester is offered a position on the side as the head of the hairdresser crew for a musical bound for Broadway, he jumps at it. For the rest of the book he’s a fascinated observer behind the scenes, giving the reader an equally vicarious (and authentic) look at a world largely foreign to us mere mortals. Even so, as Chester admits on page 81:

   In my heart I knew I was nothing more than a voyeur who was being overpaid for the opportunity to peep.

   The going is as light and breezy as this for over 100 pages, chatty and gossipy in trunk loads. The murder of the show’s bizarrely flamboyant producer does not occur until page 104, which gives Chester the opportunity to show his flair as a sleuth. (Not that there’s any inkling of a previous criminous adventure. Until I checked out the bibliography, I was working under the impression that this was Chester’s first encounter with detective work.)

   With the entire company on the road and snowed in as a mammoth snowstorm hits Boston, the effect is that of an isolated country house, which means, of course, besides clues and motives, means and opportunities galore.

   And until the end, when things seem to fall apart plotwise, there would be much in the reading to recommend. While Carleton Carpenter is a story teller’s story teller, he unaccountably allows Chester’s previously mentioned flair as a sleuth to fizzle out well before the finale, all of his theories disappearing into smoke. On page 189, after the killer has been nabbed, and the case is being rehashed, Chester says:

   This has been hindsight babbling on. I was just as surprised as anyone else.

   In any case, all I can offer for a recommendation is hemi-semi-demi-positive one. The book is worth reading for the show business element – that part is simply Grade A all the way – but as a mystery, while it has its moments, the answer, if that’s what you’re asking, is, reluctantly, no. The cast and choreography are excellent, but the book itself? Good, but not up to par. It needs some work.

— April 2005

RICHARD WORMSER – The Body Looks Familiar. Dell First Edition A156; paperback original; 1st printing, March 1958. A shorter version previously appeared in the September 1957 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as “The Frame.” Also: Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2017, combined with The Late Mrs. Five, also by Wormser; introduction by Bill Crider.

   After reading I don’t know how many thousands of mystery novels in my lifetime, it seems strange to say this, but all of them have been different in some way from the others. Sometimes in very minor ways, sometimes more. Sometimes a lot more. Like this one.

   In fact, I’m inclined to say that the story line in this one is unique. Absolutely. You can tell me if I’m wrong or not by keeping on reading.

   The problem is, if I tell you what the story line is, it may tell you more than you want to know. For once, the blurbs inside the front cover and on the back cover are rather vague about it. On the other hand, the factor that makes it unique takes place in Chapter One, so if you were to start reading the book yourself, you’d find out soon enough anyway.

   But maybe you’d like to learn what it is that I’m talking about on your own. Hence the following

          SPOILER ALERT

   Reading any further will reveal essential plot elements that you may not wish to know about in advance.

   What happens in Chapter One? Well, now I’ll tell you. The assistant D.A. for an unnamed city kills the mistress girl friend of the city’s chief of police in the apartment he keeps for her and frames the murder on him. He shoots her right in front of him, taking the chief’s gun away from him by surprise and using it for the deed.

   What’s his motive? Revenge. James Latson, fast on his feet both in the political arena as well as in the bedroom, had taken Dave Corday’s wife away from him. She later committed suicide when she was dumped by Latson, and Corday could not bear the shame of taking her back.

   Whew! With an opening like that, you (the reader) have no way of knowing which way the story is going from there. Of course you’ve got to believe that Corday’s plan has any chance at all of working, and Richard Wormser as the author has his job cut out for him.

   For the most part he’s up to the task, but I have to admit that reading this particular work of crime fiction was like reading a science fiction novel, one for which the “willing suspension of disbelief” is a required element of what the reader has to bring along to the task.

   It’s not a classic, far from it, but it’s not as though reading this book really was a task. It only took a very enjoyable couple of hours, mostly spent in guessing which way the story was going to go next — and usually being wrong about it.

   Richard Wormser, by the way, was born in 1908 and wrote a couple of hardcover detective novels in the mid-1930s before switching to writing for the pulps and slick magazines through the 1940s. Westerns, adventure, mysteries, the whole gamut.

   Mostly he’s remembered, if at all, for the paperback originals, including movie tie-in’s, he did from the late 1950s on to early 1970s. He died in 1977.

[FOOTNOTE] Also shown are the covers for:

The Communist’s Corpse. Smith & Haas, hc, 1935. Series character: Sgt. Jocelyn “Joe” Dixon.

Argosy. April 6, 1940. Includes the story “Detour, Mr. Darwin,” by Richard Wormser. (His name should be discernible in the upper right corner.)

[UPDATE.]   This review was first posted on this blog on November 18, 2008. I’ve reposted it without any changes except for the information about the recent Stark House reprint. I started reading it today, and I said to myself, “This sounds familiar.” It was.

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


   A new year, a new month, a new column. A few days after anyone reads this I’ll enter the fourth and no doubt final quarter century of my life. What ho.

   For reasons I’ll explain later, a few weeks ago I began to think about the year 1930. A sad year in one respect for those of us who love crime and detective fiction, since it saw the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but a banner year in other respects since it also saw the debut of John Dickson Carr (IT WALKS BY NIGHT), the second novel of Ellery Queen (THE FRENCH POWDER MYSTERY), the third of Dashiell Hammett (THE MALTESE FALCON), and the beginnings of the long careers of two writers not in the same league with the Big Three but, I decided, worth a few paragraphs today. The first novels of both authors were published by the Doubleday Crime Club and, minus dust jackets, look like twins on my shelves.

   Helen Reilly (1891-1962) is not much read today, but in her time she ranked with Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon G. Eberhart and Leslie Ford as one of the best known American women writing whodunits. Her first two novels, THE THIRTY-FIRST BULLFINCH and THE DIAMOND FEATHER, were both published in 1930. Several Web sources list the latter as her first book but I’ve checked the Copyright Office online catalog and found that BULLFINCH has an earlier registration date (June 20, as opposed to October 31 for FEATHER) and an earlier number in the copyright system.

   Whether it’s a better novel than its successor I don’t know but I must confess I didn’t find it terribly engrossing. The setting is a privately owned island off the New England coast and the detective is a shrewd country sheriff named Tilden who apparently never returned for an encore. Our viewpoint character is not, as one might suspect after reading later Reillys, a beautiful woman in peril. Cliff Shaver, junior attorney in a top New York law firm, is sent to the island by his senior partner to find out why utilities tycoon John Bedford has torn up his will, which leaves most of his estate to his 19-year-old granddaughter, and what the old tyrant plans to do with his fortune now.

   He arrives at the island just ahead of a monster storm and is introduced to the dramatis personae: old John, who’s confined to a palatial suite in the house, his son Mark, Mark’s second wife Claire, his daughter by his deceased first wife (the teenager who was to have become an heiress), his 4-year-old son by his second marriage, Claire’s ancient mother, two resident doctors and an enigmatic butler. Late on the night of his arrival Shaver visits the elder Bedford’s quarters for a legal conference and finds him dead.

   It soon transpires that he was poisoned by hydrocyanic acid in the barley water he always drank before going to bed. But the rare bullfinch he kept in his room, and to whom he always gave a late snack of a cracker moistened with his barley water, is alive and well and chirping as usual. What gives here? Sheriff Tilden somehow makes his way through the storm to the crime scene and begins to investigate.

   Shaver and the sheriff are convinced there may be a lead in Bedford’s locked wall safe, to which no one seems to have the combination. Tilden happens to have all the skills of a professional safecracker but the hidey-hole yields nothing to help solve the murder. Neither does anything else. Meanwhile all the suspects—well, all except the 4-year-old—take up endless pages doing suspicious things which aren’t worth the effort to itemize, and the crime is solved when Shaver enters the wrong room at the wrong time and—but I’d be a toad if I said more.

   This novel definitely dates from a long way back. The teen-age girl is called Miss Anne and a man’s pajamas are referred to as a sleeping suit. Prohibition is still in force but the Bedfords apparently have a bootlegger and the family cocktail-mixer tells Shaver: “[W]e’ve got everything in the shaker except Father’s Ed Pinaud’s.” Anyone know what that is? It’s a popular brand of mustache wax. (Not that I ever had a mustache but my late brother did and I once saw a can of the stuff at his house.) I see that someone on eBay wants over $300 for a first edition. My advice to any potential buyer: save your money.

***

   Our other 1930 debutant was the once quite popular but now long forgotten F. Van Wyck Mason. Most of the print and Web sources I’ve consulted give the year of his birth as 1901 but one or two date him back to 1897. Everyone seems to agree that his middle name was pronounced Van Wike. His birthplace was Boston but he spent most of his early years in Berlin and Paris (where his grandfather was U.S. Consul General) and didn’t learn English until he was in his teens.

   After graduating from Harvard in 1924 he started his own importing business and traveled the world purchasing antique rugs and other objets d’art.

   As a fiction writer he debuted in 1928, appearing in many pulps but most often in Argosy, which published several of his historical adventure serials with titles like CAPTAIN NEMESIS, CAPTAIN JUDAS, CAPTAIN RENEGADE, CAPTAIN REDSPURS and CAPTAIN LONG KNIFE. As these titles unsubtly suggest, he was a military kind of guy, serving in Squadron A of the New York National Guard and later in the Maryland National Guard. He was also something of an athlete, his favorite sport being polo, a subject which crops up in many of his novels and stories.

   During World War II he put his writing career on hold and returned to the military, rising to the rank of Colonel and the position of chief historian on General Eisenhower’s staff. After the war he returned to fiction writing and eventually moved to Bermuda, where in 1978 he drowned.

   He was probably best known for a string of gargantuan historical adventure novels, beginning with THREE HARBOURS (1938), STARS ON THE SEA (1940) and RIVERS OF GLORY (1942), but here we are interested in his crime fiction. His first novel, SEEDS OF MURDER, is set in late July of 1929, the last full year of Conan Doyle’s life, and introduces his series character Captain Hugh North, an officer in Army Intelligence but never seen in uniform and obviously intended as an American Sherlock Holmes since in the first few pages of his first exploit he’s called “probably the best detective this side of Scotland Yard” and “that prince of detectives….”

   Appropriately enough for a sleuth modeled on Holmes, he has a Watson and, I kid you not, another medical man, a doctor named Walter Allan who vanished after his second appearance in the series. North is visiting with Allan at Hempstead, Long Island, when both men are invited to dinner at the palatial home of Royal Delancey, a former Philippine plantation owner who made a fortune during World War I and afterwards returned to the U.S. and bought into a firm of stockbrokers.

   If I mention that a house party is in progress there, can you avoid thinking that this already sounds like a traditional English country-house mystery? As in THE THIRTY-FIRST BULLFINCH, the premises are besieged by a savage storm. Before dinner can be served, one of the party guests, who is also Delancey’s brokerage partner, is found dead in his bathroom, seemingly having strangled himself with a strong chain. But why was his apparent suicide note written on a piece of paper a quarter-inch shorter than the other sheets on his desk, and how could he have reached the hook on which the chain was hung by standing on a wire-and-enamel wastebasket too flimsy to support his weight?

   Even stranger, why were three mysterious seeds found on the bathroom floor, arranged in a precise triangle? North keeps his counsel and doesn’t dispute the police verdict of suicide, but before dawn the next morning Delancey himself is stabbed to death with an exotic dagger in his bedroom, and three more of those triangularly arranged seeds are lying beneath his chair.

   Among the chief suspects is a former neighbor of Delancey’s who thanks to investing with the dead man had lost the fortune he’d made as a henequin planter in the Philippines, but there are a number of others: Delancey’s mistress, his abused young wife and her brother (both of whom are also near broke after having entrusted him with their money), and a sinister Filipino butler who perpetrates lines like “‘Scuse if I speak slow. Me no spik English ver’ well.”

   At times the novel veers close to silent-movie melodrama, especially at the action climax where North disguises himself as a gypsy and sets a trap for the murderer in front of a disused Russian Orthodox church. But, unlike most of the subsequent books in the long series, this one is a genuine detective novel, rife with complexities, clues, conundrums, the works. Mason seems to know his Philippine background and datura seeds but ridiculous is the best word for his notion of an inquest, held in the Delancey living room and culminating with the coroner’s jury indicting two suspects.

   The novel isn’t as scrupulously fair as, say, an early Ellery Queen, and its politically incorrect portrayal of Filipinos and gypsies—oops, my bad, we’re required today to call them Roma — make it an unlikely candidate for revival in the 21st century. In later novels North was promoted to Major and then to Colonel (somehow leapfrogging over the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) and his exploits stressed international intrigue in exotic locales rather than detection, turning him into something of a prototype for James Bond and perhaps for James Atlee Phillips’ American secret agent Joe Gall. Personally I wish he’d remained a Captain and a Holmes-like sleuth, at least for a little longer.

***

   So what sparked my interest in the year 1930? A thought that recently crossed my mind: that year marked not only the death of Conan Doyle but the birth of a man whom, like Doyle, I discovered in my teens but who may never have been mentioned before alongside the creator of Holmes. I refer, if you haven’t already guessed, to Clint Eastwood, whose new Euro-thriller THE 15:17 TO PARIS will be released this February. He’ll turn 88 in a few months. If and when we reach that age, will any of us enjoy the creativity and vigor Eastwood still has today?

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


   The first series of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels ended with a book titled simply MAIGRET (original U.S. title MAIGRET RETURNS), which was written in 1933 and first published in France a year later. In the English-speaking world it was long believed that Simenon then took a sabbatical of a dozen years or so before resurrecting the titan of the Quai des Orfèvres shortly after World War II.

   Thanks to some meticulously detailed French websites we now know that Maigret’s vacation, if we want to call it that, lasted only two years. The final months of 1936 saw his reappearance in short stories published first in the French weekly magazine Paris-Soir-Dimanche, then in the obviously interconnected weeklies Police-Film, Police-Roman and Police-Film/Police-Roman. The last of them was published late in July 1939, shortly before Hitler launched World War II.

   These and a few more written during the war years, when much of France was under German occupation, were collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944). A few Maigret shorts, translated by Anthony Boucher or Lawrence G. Blochman, appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning in 1949 and were collected in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (Doubleday, 1959), but most of them didn’t see print in EQMM until the late 1960s and ‘70s.

   For reasons we’ll explore below, a couple of them never appeared in the magazine at all, although they were included in the collections MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS (Hamish Hamilton 1976, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977) and MAIGRET’S PIPE (Hamish Hamilton 1977, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977). Simenon wrote too many Maigret short stories to deal with in a single column but I’m sure there’s room for all the truly short ones.

***

   The first nine were written in a single month, October 1936, and began to appear late that same month in >Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The earliest to be published is “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” (25 October 1936), first collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQU TES DE MAIGRET like all the others discussed here, and included in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Mysterious Affair in the Boulevard Beaumarchais.”

   The entire story takes place in and just outside Maigret’s office and most of it deals with his interrogation of the two suspects in the poisoning death of 26-year-old Louise Voivin: her 37-year-old husband Ferdinand and her 18-year-old sister Nicole, who was having an affair with her brother-in-law. The sexual sordidness, plus the fact that the wormy Ferdinand—how shall I put it?—soils his trousers under Maigret’s questioning, probably explain why Fred Dannay chose not to run this one in EQMM.

   The next five followed in Paris-Soir-Dimanche at the rate of one a week. “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus” (1 November 1936) appeared in EQMM, June 1967, as “Inspector Maigret Thinks” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Two Bodies on a Barge.” The story was republished in EQMM for June 1990. According to my web search a péniche is “a steel motorized inland waterway barge of up to 350 tonnes” but the vessel in the story, on which the bodies of the hanged couple (the “Deux Pendus” of the title) are found, is a much more primitive affair: “It was an old barge without a motor, a ‘stable-boat’ as they call those barges that travel along canals with their horses on board.”

    Like several other Maigret novels and stories, this tale takes place beside one of the locks along the Seine. Old Arthur Aerts, who was reputed to have hoarded away 100,000 francs, and his second and much younger wife Emma are found dead in their cabin while the boat is docked overnight at the lock, Arthur hanged with a dog’s chain and Emma with a sheet.

   Apparently the only suspect is a young tough named Emile Gradut, the stoker on “a small tug from the Upper Seine” that was docked beside the Aerts’ barge, who was sleeping with Emma and ran away into the nearby forest of Rougeau before the crimes were discovered. Maigret exposes the truth by reasoning of sorts but I doubt if any reader could beat him to the solution.

   We are back in Paris for “La Fenêtre Ouverte” (8 November 1936), which can be found in EQMM for June 1977 as “Inspector Maigret Smokes His Pipe” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE under the correct title “The Open Window.”

   An arrest warrant in his pocket, Maigret goes to the office of shady financier Oscar Laget in the rue Montmartre only to find him shot, apparently a suicide. Since these stories run only about a dozen pages apiece, there are just two suspects besides Laget himself: his wife and his office manager. This murderer’s plot is actually a bit ingenious but of course no match for Maigret.

   There’s no need to discuss here the fourth story in the series, “Peine de Mort” (15 November 1936)—which appeared in EQMM, October 1968, as “Inspector Maigret’s War of Nerves” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Death Penalty,” an accurate translation of the French title—because I talked about it at length more than two years ago. If you missed that column, or aren’t blessed with a photographic memory, you can access what I said by clicking here.

   Over the next tale’s French title, “Les Larmes de Bougie” (22 November 1936), I scratched my head for a while, and so must its translators have done. Larmes, from the Latin lacrimae, means tears, and bougieq means candle. The tears of the candle? Small wonder the title as it appeared in Lawrence G. Blochman’s translation for EQMM (June 1956) was “Journey into Time,” changed to “Journey Backward into Time” for its first hardcover appearance in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET. In MAIGRET’S PIPE it’s called “Death of a Woodlander.”

   This is one of the early short cases of Simenon’s protagonist that somewhat resembles a detective story, with Maigret traveling to a tiny village deep in the forest of Orléans to investigate the murder of 62-year-old Marguerite Potru, who had been found in the bedroom she shared with her older sister Amélie “with three stab wounds in her chest; her right cheek and her eye had been savagely slashed.”

   Amélie is alive but has suffered eleven stab wounds, almost all of them on her shoulder and her right side, and either can’t or won’t speak. The women were rumored to have hidden a lot of valuable securities in their grim and ancient house, although none were found when the police searched. The prime suspect is Marguerite’s illegitimate son Marcel, a young tough cut from the same cloth as Emile Gradut in “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus.”

   The French title refers to drips of candle wax found in the Potrus’ coach house, and these are the clues which lead Maigret to the truth and the missing securities.

   In “Rue Pigalle” (29 November 1936), which appeared in EQMM for June 1968 as “Inspector Maigret Investigates” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “In the Rue Pigalle,” we are back in Paris and, for the first time in these short stories, in the underworld milieu familiar from novels like MAIGRET/MAIGRET RETURNS.

   On a cold and gloomy morning Maigret visits a modest bistro in the titular street after receiving an anonymous tip that something violent happened in the place the previous night. He finds no sign of violence except two gangsters who have spent the night sleeping in the joint and a bar mirror damaged by a bullet but in due course he finds a third gangster, the body of a fourth, and the answer to his murder, which isn’t of much interest although Eleanor Sullivan, who succeeded as EQMM editor after Fred Dannay’s death, thought enough of the story to reprint it (May 1985).

***

   There seems to have been a three weeks’ pause before the next Maigret short appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The first U.S. appearance of “Monsieur Lundi” (20 December 1936) was in EQMM for May 1969 as “Inspector Maigret Hesitates,” which in MAIGRET’S PIPE is called “Mr. Monday.”

   The commissaire visits the house of Dr. Armand Barion, a prosperous physician whose ménage includes a wife, three kids, a man-of-all-work and, until recently, an 18-year-old girl of peasant origins named Olga Boulanger, who was found both dead and more than four months pregnant. An autopsy has revealed that she was killed by a gruesome method unknown in France but common in Malaya and the New Hebrides: she was “induced to swallow a certain number of those slender beards, as sharp as needles, that grow on ears of various cereals, including rye….These beards remain in the bowel, the lining of which they eventually pierce….”

   Both Barion and his factotum had had sex with the girl, “a gawky little thing with a freckled face,” and are therefore prime suspects, but the story is just beginning. It seems that a wandering beggar comes to the Barion house every Monday afternoon and receives a portion of the family lunch, in return for which he offers two cream cakes known as religieuses which he is given earlier every Monday at a neighborhood pâtisserie.

   Dr. Barion has forbidden his kids to eat the cakes, which he’s afraid are stale, and apparently the unlucky Olga gobbled them up. So who put those beards in the cream cakes, and who was the intended target? This tale, my favorite among the ones discussed here, is no longer than any other in the first series of Maigret shorts but somehow seems almost a novel in miniature. In addition to presenting a host of characters, many of them glimpsed or talked about rather than seen or interacted with, Simenon shows us Maigret moving around the neighborhood and absorbing the atmosphere almost as if he had a hundred pages or so to find the truth.

***

   After another short hiatus came “Une Erreur de Maigret” (3 January 1937), which is translated in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Maigret’s Mistake.” Like “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” this one never appeared in EQMM, for reasons which become clear after one reads the story.

   If nothing else, the tale boasts unity of time and place and only two onstage characters, Maigret himself and Eugène Labri, a fat unctuous toad who owns a pornographic bookshop in the rue Saint-Denis, “between a pork butcher’s and a hairdresser’s….” What brings Maigret to this place with its “revoltingly scented basement” is that Labri’s assistant, Mlle. Emilienne, has been found dead there, apparently from an overdose of sleeping tablets.

   The unremittingly sleazy atmosphere, plus the fact that Maigret socks the slimy Labri at the story’s end (which is no less than he deserves) and that the plot requires a mature woman—a Frenchwoman no less!—to be totally ignorant of the facts of life, seem to me quite enough to explain why Fred Dannay passed on this one for EQMM.

***

   The ninth and last story to be discussed here is “Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!,” a title which refers to the stop of almost an hour’s length at the French train station just across the border from Belgium. We know from the superlative website www.trussel.com that the tale was written in October 1936, the same month as the eight tales covered above. And since it’s also the same length as those eight, most likely it first appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche, perhaps during that mysterious three-week hiatus we saw a few paragraphs ago.

   Along with the other eight, it was first collected in France in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944), but it wasn’t included in either MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS or MAIGRET’S PIPE although it did appear in EQMM (November 1966) and in Bill Pronzini’s anthology MIDNIGHT SPECIALS (Bobbs-Merrill, 1977) as “Inspector Maigret Deduces.”

   The train referred to in the French title is bound from Warsaw to Berlin to Li ge in Belgium (Simenon’s birthplace) to Erquelinnes, which is in Belgium just across from the border, to Jeumont, which is the first stop in France after leaving Belgium. Its final destination is Paris but on this trip a wealthy German banker named Otto Bauer, one of the six passengers in a particular compartment, is found dead in his seat at Jeumont.

   Called in by his railroad-detective nephew, Maigret gets in touch with his Berlin counterparts and learns that Bauer was forced out of the banking business “after the National Socialist revolution, but gave an undertaking of loyalty to the Government, and has never been disturbed….” and also that he’s “[c]ontributed one million marks to party funds.” Despite his name, Bauer was obviously a Jew, and was desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany with whatever money he could salvage. That element is what makes this tale unique in the Maigret canon. At least in translation there’s not a word of sympathy for the victim, not a word of disgust for the regime he was fleeing.

   For Maigret, and for Simenon I fear, it’s just another factor in another case. Does this explain why the story wasn’t included in either of the major Maigret collections? It just might.

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