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 (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


   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.

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?

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 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.

JACKSON GILLIS – Chain Saw. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1988; paperback, August 1990.

   Sometimes I think a writer spends so much time polishing up Chapter One of his or her book that it ends up so overwritten as to be almost unreadable. I exaggerate, but it did happen again here, and I almost quit reading, which would have been a serious mistake, as I very much liked a lot of what came later.

   Former LA policeman Jonas Duncan is hired in this book to discover if a young orphan making a claim on an elderly lumberwoman’s fortune is for real or not. I’m not sure why this was published by St. Martin’s in paperback under their “Mean Streets” imprint. The phrase implies “urban streets” to me, and this particular tale, which also includes an authentic portrayal of a lumber industry which is slowly dying out, is as rural and outdoorsy as they come.

   There is also a decent mystery involved, with plenty of twists and false trails. Skip Twin Peaks and read this instead.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (Considerably shortened and revised.)

Bio-Bibliograhic Notes:   This was Jonas Duncan’s only appearance in printed form. Author Jackson Gillis wrote one other detective novel included in Hubin: The Killers of Starfish (Lippincott, 1977) which also took place in Washington State, but that is the only connection between the two.

   His name may, however, be more familiar to some of you for a couple of other reasons. According to his Wikipedia page, Gillis was “an American radio and television scriptwriter whose career spanned more than 40 years and encompassed a wide range of genres.”

   Some of the radio shows he wrote for: The Whistler and Let George Do It. For TV: Perry Mason, Lost in Space, and Hawaii Five-O. He died in 2010 athe age of 93.


PAUL HARDING – Red Slayer. Brother Athelstan #2. William Morrow, US, hardcover, 1994. Avon, US, paperback, 1995. First published in the UK as The House of the Red Slayer (Headline, hardcover, 1992).

   Unless I’m mistaken, Harding writes historical mysteries under a number of different names, P. C. Doherty among them. However, when I tried to find something to substantiate all this, I couldn’t put my hands on anything, so I may be wrong. I don’t think so, though.

   Brother Athelstan (a friar, not a monk) is parosh priest of Saint Erconwald’s, a church in Southwick in London of the mid-fourteenth century. He is also cleric to the City Coroner (a very important person in that time and place), Sir John Cranston. Just before Christmas in the fierce winter of 1377 they are called to the Tower of London, where the Constable of the Tower has been found in a locked bedroom in the Tower’s upper reaches, throat cut from ear to ear.

   It develops that while the Constable was not a well-liked person at all in the present, his past (he was once a mercenary knight in Egypt) might hold the secret to the murder. To round out the story, Sir John has wife problems and someone is robbing corpses from the cemetery at Brother Athlestan’s church.

   One book from so prolific a writer is far too small a sample from which to generalize, so I won’t I’ll just say that I didn’t find this particular book quite up to the level of, say, the historical mysteries of Peters, Marston, Tourney, et al. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Harding is at pains to provide a vivid historical background, and tells his story well enough.

   I suppose my reservations were in the natter of the leads. Sir John in particular seemed to be somewhat of a one-note character with his constant wine-bibbing and bellowing, and Athelstan never came quite to life for me. I also got tired of reading “he slurred” every time one of the drinking characters spoke. Nevertheless, I’ll try Harding again.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE:  Barry was quite correct in stating that Paul Harding was one of several pen names of P. C. (Paul) Doherty. Other bylines he has used are Vanessa Alexander, Anna Apostolou, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, and C L Grace. To this date (2017) there are 18 books in his Brother Athelstan series, the last eleven of them under his own name.

Dear Steve,

   I remember with delight the correspondence between my late husband, Dennis Lynds, AKA Michael Collins, and you and Ed Lynskey that went into creating the wonderful Dan Fortune page on Mystery*File. It’s an outstanding analysis and resource.

    “Dan Fortune is the sort of guy you’d like to strike up a conversation with late at night or in a bus station. He stays a choice friend from book to book.” Ed wrote that, and I’ve never forgotten it. Ed succinctly and vividly captured the essence of the series.

   With that in mind, I’m thrilled to tell you Dan Fortune is back. The entire 17-book series of private eye novels are available again, for the first time in Kindle and trade paperback. We hope a new generation of readers will discover Dan, and that long-time fans will enjoy rereading the classic tales.

   In addition, we’re offering a $1.99 sale for the Kindle version of the first book, Act of Fear, which won the Edgar Award, to help get folks started. Take advantage here.

   Last week I sent out a newsletter readers might find interesting. Here’s the link.

   Who is Dennis Lynds? A raconteur and Renaissance man, he’s considered among the most important and influential writers of private-eye stories in the past 50 years. Beginning in the late Sixties, he changed the mystery form and along the way created iconic private detectives who won the hearts of readers and the awards of critics. His books remain not only entertaining but relevant, while giving vivid life to the eras in which he wrote.

   And finally, here’s his new, revamped website:

   Thank you so much for letting me alert readers, Steve. You make many contributions to our industry, and I am grateful.

                  All best,



William F. Deeck

JOHN NEWTON CHANCE – Aunt Miranda’s Murder. Macdonald, UK, hardcover, 1951. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1951.

   Aunt Miranda is Miranda Jeans, author of 49 novels of what appear to be romantic suspense. It is unclear whether Jeans, considering that she has been married three times, is the name under which her books appear. Some of her titles are High Honeysuckle, The Weak Avenger and The Wraith of Retribution.

   At age 84, Aunt Miranda feels that she is near death. Having been bothered by a ne’er-do-well nephew for some years and having no wish that her heirs should be bothered by him after her death, she threatens to kill him. The next day, the nephew’s body is found under the couch in the music room, shot to death with a pistol presented to her some years ago by an admirer.

   Covering up for Aunt Miranda becomes the order of the day, although no one seems sure that this aged lady did indeed murder her nephew.

   A splendid cast of characters makes for enjoyable reading and also tempts one to seek out other novels by John Newton Chance.

— Reprinted from CADS 17, October 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Bibliographic Notes:   Under his own name, John Newton Chance (1911-1983) wrote over 120 mystery novels between 1935 and 1989, many of them not published until after his death. Very few of them ever had US editions. Chance also had a number of pen names, one of which was John Lymington, which he used primarily to write science fiction. It’s under that byline that you can find his Wikipedia entry.

William F. Deeck

ANNE HOCKING – Poison Is a Bitter Brew.Chief Inspector William Austen #7. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1942. First published in the UK as Miss Milverton, by Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1941.

   Miss Milverton, or Aunt Augusta to some, is the doyen of the Milverton family in Trevarrow, a large Cornish village. She has inherited, for the duration of her life, the Milverton home, grounds. and farm, and administers them as a maiden lady of uncertain years and fixed views would be likely to do. Miss Milverton cannot be said to be liked by anyone, but she is certainly respected by most.

   Unfortunately, the heir to the estate is a bit of a wastrel with a tendency to low morals, though not as low, Miss Milverton feels, as those of his wife. When the heir dies on the estate from what appears to be food poisoning — oxalic acid presumably made from rhubarb leaves — there is little mourning.

   Another death under similar circumstances opens up a reinvestigation of the first one, and Chief Inspector William Austen is brought in from Scotland Yard. Austen is a gentleman and a scholar, and he handles the investigation in a manner befitting those two attributes.

   The novel is well written, with some interesting characters, but the ultimate heir is a bit too charming, or so we are told, to be real. Still, this book makes one look forward to reading more mystery novels by Anne Hocking.

— Reprinted from CADS 17, October 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Bibliographic Notes:   Anne Hocking was the name under which Naomi Annie Hocking Messer (nicknamed “Mona”) wrote most of her more than 40 mysteries, in a career extending from 1933 to her death in 1966, with one book appearing in 1968, two years after her death. Over 30 of them were cases for Superintendent Austen. Only a small fraction of her work was ever published in the US.

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