Authors


Mike Resnick, who died yesterday or early today, was primarily known as a science fiction and fantasy author, editor and publisher, accumulating many significant awards over the years, but he wrote in many other categories as well, including mystery fiction.

   Here is his entry in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

RESNICK, MIKE [i.e., Michael Diamond Resnick] (1942-2019)

Eros at Zenith (n.) Phantasia 1984 [Future]
Santiago (n.) Tor 1986 [Future]
Stalking the Unicorn (n.) Tor 1987
Neutral Ground (ss) The Further Adventures of Batman, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Bantam 1989 [Batman]
Origins (ss) Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, Max Allan Collins & Martin H. Greenberg, Tor 1990 [Dick Tracy]
Second Contact (n.) Easton 1990 [2065]
Museum Piece (ss) The Further Adventures of the Joker, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Bantam 1990 [Batman]
Dog in the Manger (n.) Alexander 1995 [Cincinnati, OH]
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit [ed. with Martin H. Greenberg] (oa) DAW 1995 [Sherlock Holmes]
The Adventure of the Pearly Gates (ss) Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, ed. Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1995 [Sherlock Holmes]
-The Widowmaker (n.) Bantam 1996 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]
Mrs. Vamberry Takes a Trip (Vamberry the Wine Merchant) (ascribed to J. Thorne Smith) (ss) Resurrected Holmes, ed. Marvin Kaye, St. Martin’s 1996 [Sherlock Holmes]
-The Widowmaker Reborn (n.) Bantam 1997 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]
-The Widowmaker Unleashed (n.) Bantam 1998 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]

   The dash indicates perhaps only marginal criminous content, but for completeness, there was one additional Widowmaker story:

4. A Gathering Of Widowmakers (2006)

   From the Fantastic Fiction website:

   “The Widowmaker, the consummate bounty hunter-has been frozen for a century in order to defeat a deadly disease. Only now the cost of his care has risen, so the Widowmaker is called out of retirement for one special commission…”

    And two additional private eye Eli Paxton mysteries:

1. Dog in the Manger (1997)
2. The Trojan Colt (2013)
3. Cat on a Cold Tin Roof (2014)

   The following may qualify as criminous in nature:

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
1. The Amulet of Power (2003)

   Anthologies he edited of possible interest to mystery readers include:

Whatdunits (1992)
More Whatdunits (1993)
Alternate Outlaws (1994)
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (1995) (with Martin H Greenberg)
Down These Dark Spaceways (2005)
Alien Crimes (2007)

   If you’re more familiar with Resnick’s many other novels, anthologies and collections than I, and know of others that qualify as crime or mystery fiction, please tell us about them in the comments.

THOUGHTS ON CORNELL WOOLRICH
by Dan Stumpf


   Just finished re-reading Mike Nevins’ Woolrich bio: First You Dream, Then You Die, an excellent work and one I recommend highly.

   It was Nevins who reminded me, almost 50 years ago, how fine a writer Woolrich was. I had read and been very impressed by Rendezvous in Black, back in the 60s, but Nevin’s well-edited collection of Woolrich short stories, Nightwebs, got me seriously into collecting him, and turned me on to a lot of very fine tales.

   There’s one point, though, where I disagree with Nevins seriously, and I’m afraid it’s a point that he insists on over and over:

   The Police in Woolrich books are always out there. Everywhere. Vaguely menacing, impossibly vigilant, and unconscionably brutal. They do things in Woolrich stories that would make LAPD look like Quakers. Naturally, Attorney Nevins is appalled by all these shenanigans, and he says so. But he also implies that Woolrich himself condemns such tactics, and that he means for his readers to be horrified by them as well.

   But unfortunately for Woolrich’s reputation with those of a progressive nature, I have never seen any sign in any of his books that he regarded the Cops as anything Other than a Fact of Life, and their fantastically hard-nosed tactics as other than necessary. This, by the way, is not just a problem for Nevins; It’s a question that invariably confronts any fan of Woolrich — How can such a sensitive, romantic stylist condone such brutality and facism?

   The answer, I think, is in Woolrich himself. Woolrich was Homosexual, but he could hardly be called Gay; By all accounts he despised himself for his attraction to men, and there are several passages in his books where he seems to positively lavish self-hatred on characters who are in any way less than manly.

   It’s worth remembering, then, that homosexual conduct was against the law in Woolrich’s day, and that the Police were notoriously rough on Gays. There was a phrase still current in my childhood, “Smear the Queer,” whose frightening implications were not apparent to me until much later, but it pretty much describes the treatment a Gay could expect in those days at the hands of the Law.

   Think, then, of that tormented mind when Woolrich knew that at any time, he might be caught by the slimiest of dodges and subjected to legal torture — and probably thought he deserved it — writing of crime and necessarily of Police.

   For an apt contrast, look at the obsessive detective Ed Cornell in Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming. Visually based on Woolrich himself, the bent cop does all the things a Woolrich cop might do, and comes off as purely evil. But in the view of Woolrich himself, nothing the Police did was as corrosive to Society as evil the Evil they were trying (literally) to stamp out, and hence the most outrageous conduct on the part of Cops throughout his canon gets casually shrugged off, if not defended.

   This aside, First You Dream, Then You Die, is a model of what a Literary Biography should be: Informative, Analytical and compulsively readable. Go out and buy a copy. And tell ’em Stumpf sent ya.

From Wikipedia:

   Marion Gibbons (née Chesney; 10 June 1936 -30 December 2019) was a Scottish writer of romance and mystery novels since 1979. She wrote numerous successful historical romance novels under a form of her maiden name, Marion Chesney, including the Travelling Matchmaker and Daughters of Mannerling series.

   Using the pseudonym M. C. Beaton, she also wrote many popular mystery novels, most notably the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth mystery series. Both of these book series have been adapted for TV. She also wrote romance novels under the pseudonyms Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Charlotte Ward, and Sarah Chester.

   In addition to the books below (courtesy of the Fantastic Fiction website), many of her romance novels may have considerable mystery content:


       The Hamish Macbeth Mysteries —

1. Death of a Gossip (1985)

2. Death of a Cad (1987)
3. Death of an Outsider (1988)
4. Death of a Perfect Wife (1989)
5. Death of a Hussy (1990)
6. Death of a Snob (1991)
7. Death of a Prankster (1992)
8. Death of a Glutton (1993)
aka Death of a Greedy Woman
9. Death of a Travelling Man (1993)

10. Death of a Charming Man (1994)
11. Death of a Nag (1995)
12. Death of a Macho Man (1995)
13. Death of a Dentist (1997)
14. Death of a Scriptwriter (1998)
15. Death of an Addict (1999)
15.5. A Highland Christmas (1999)
16. Death of a Dustman (2001)
17. Death of a Celebrity (2001)
18. Death of a Village (2001)
19. Death of a Poison Pen (2004)

20. Death of a Bore (2005)
21. Death of a Dreamer (2006)
22. Death of a Maid (2007)
23. Death of a Gentle Lady (2008)
24. Death of a Witch (2009)
25. Death of a Valentine (2009)
26. Death of a Chimney Sweep (2011)
aka Death of a Sweep
27. Death of a Kingfisher (2012)
28. Death of Yesterday (2013)
29. Death of a Policeman (2012)
30. Death of a Liar (2015)
30.5. Knock, Knock, You’re Dead! (2016)
31. Death of a Nurse (2016)
32. Death of a Ghost (2017)
33. Death of an Honest Man (2018)
34. Death of a Love (2020)


       The Agatha Raisin Mysteries —

1. The Quiche of Death (1992)

2. The Vicious Vet (1993)
3. The Potted Gardener (1994)
4. The Walkers of Dembley (1995)
5. The Murderous Marriage (1996)
6. The Terrible Tourist (1997)
7. The Wellspring of Death (1998)
8. The Wizard of Evesham (1999)
9. The Witch of Wyckhadden (1999)
10. The Fairies of Fryfam (2000)
11. The Love from Hell (2001)

12. The Day the Floods Came (2001)
13. The Case of the Curious Curate (2001)
14. The Haunted House (2003)
15. The Deadly Dance (2004)
16. The Perfect Paragon (2005)
17. Love, Lies and Liquor (2006)
18. Kissing Christmas Goodbye (2007)
19. Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison (2006)
20. There Goes The Bride (2009)
21. Busy Body (2010)

22. As the Pig Turns (2011)
23. Hiss and Hers (2012)
24. Something Borrowed, Someone Dead (2013)
25. The Blood of an Englishman (2014)
26. Dishing the Dirt (2015)
27. Pushing up Daisies (2016)
28. The Witches’ Tree (2017)
29. The Dead Ringer (2018)
30. Beating About the Bush (2019)
31. Hot to Trot (2020)

   Novellas —

Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble (2012)
Hell’s Bells (2013)
Agatha’s First Case (2015)


       The Edwardian Murder Mysteries —

1. Snobbery with Violence (2003)

2. Hasty Death (2004)
3. Sick of Shadows (2005)
4. Our Lady of Pain (2006

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Door to Doom and Other Detections. Edited by Douglas G. Greene. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1980. International Polygonics, paperback, 1991.

   For this audience it goes without saying that mystery author John Dickson Carr will be remembered longest for his many unmatchable novels of locked-room detection, published both under his name and as the easily identifiable Carter Dickson.

   In his work the greatest emphasis was most often on atmosphere – and what better magician’s device to thwart he mind and eye of the reader could there be than clouds of (figuratively) black swirling darkness and ominous threats f the supernatural?

   Such hints rarely extended beyond what was needed to trick the reader’s thoughts into taking yet another false trail, however. Carr’s conservative roots never allowed him to stay an iota from the credo of fair-play detection he so firmly believed in. To the discerning reader, the clues were always there, but if you missed them, you needn’t worry — you were far from being alone!

   In his introduction to this anthology of previously uncollected short work, Douglas Greene downplays Carr’s ability at characterization, but I demur. True, as with most of Carr’s contemporaries in what is fondly called “The Golden Age of Detection,” the story was the thing. I still suspect that few who have read any of the cases solved by Carr’s most famous character, Dr. Gideon Fell, will ever forget the picture they have in their minds of that jovial, triple-chinned detective with the shovel hat, bumbling manners, and the razor-sharp mind for the smallest false detail. Carr just did not happen to believe that the personal lives of his detectives were a matter of concern to the reader.

   The stories in this collection are themselves a mixed bag. They range from the early stories of Carr’s first detective, Henri Bencolin of the Paris police, recently discovered in the pages of his college’s literary magazine, to a selection of radio plays from the famous CBS series Suspense, vintage early 1940s, to a trio of horror stores done a few years earlier for the pulp magazines. Needless to add, when Carr wrote a horror story, it was a horror story.

   Nor has Greene included (or more likely, could not find) a story, no matter its source, which does not reflect an obvious professional finesse in mixing plot with atmosphere.

   Also included are a pair of Sherlockian playlets, parodies for which the best one might say for them is that you had to be there. Closing out the book, just before the inclusive 26-page bibliography, is Carr’s famous essay on “The Grandest Game in the World,” the game he played with his readers for over forty years. The game of fool-them-if-you-can, but never at all costs.

   John Dickson Carr died in 1977. After finishing this book, the only regret one can have is that there are no more stories out there somewhere to be discovered someday to make up another such volume as this. There are more radio plays, to be sure, but so low is the state of dramatic radio in this country today, it seems highly unlikely that any publisher would consider a followup collection of more of these to have a chance for commercial success.

   But we have the novels, and the other stories, don’t we, a wealth of riches to read and enjoy, if not for the first time, why then, again and again.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.

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


   I had thought to devote my final column of the year to the next segment of my series about Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novels, but a bout of ill health interfered. So this month we’ll turn to something extinct that I wrote perhaps 15 years ago, about a writer as far removed from Block as it’s possible to imagine: the nuttiest filbert who ever pounded on typewriter keys. I refer, as if you hadn’t guessed, to Harry Stephen Keeler.

***

   Harry (1890-1967) had been pounding that keyboard since around the outbreak of World War I, but in the early 1950s his career was in a death spiral. He had lost first a major and then a distinctly minor U.S. publisher (Dutton and Phoenix respectively) and would soon lose his British publisher Ward Lock. In his own wacko way he worked desperately to adapt to new markets and new styles. Seeing that science fiction was enjoying boom times, he tried his hand at that genre. The result was a series of commercially impossible novels whose protagonist is a house. Seeing that the police procedural represented the new wave in detective fiction, he tried his hand at that genre too. The result was another string of commercially impossible novels, each featuring a different Chicago police detective as the main character but having about as much relation to, say, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series as a toad has to grand opera.

   One of these books was The Straw Hat Murders, which was never been published anywhere in his lifetime, not even in Spain where he remained in print almost until his death. It was completed on October 14, 1958 and, weighing in at roughly 48,000 words, is one of the shortest novels he ever wrote. If offered by a trade-book publisher today, it would probably be blurbed as dealing with a big-city cop’s hunt for a serial killer. Which would be a technically accurate description but wildly misleading.

   We open on a street under an abandoned Elevated line as Huntoon Cambourne, British-born chief of homicide in Chicago’s police department, is parking his car on the way to investigate a telephone message from patrolman Aert de Gelder: “S.O.T.! No. 633.” None but a Keeler Kop would have made such a cryptic report but Cambourne has had no trouble deciphering it. “For what could ‘S.O.T.’ stand for but ‘Same Old Thing’?” Clearly there’s been yet another homicide in the piano studio on the third floor of the warehouse building at 633 South Street.

   “Yes, the Straw Hat Murderer—killer of four pianists—must have struck again. Springing—the crazy fool!—across that 7-foot gap in the roofs, three stories up—to get to the single and only ingress that could bring him into the murder studio, the roof trap. Must have struck—unless, perchance, ‘S.O.T.’ stood for something like—like ‘Samuel O. Torber’—or ‘Saul O. Tabwith’—at 633 Wabash Avenue—or 633 Dearborn Street —or—

   “But if he had struck again, Cambourne reflected, leaving the car, had he again left behind him the straw hat which, apparently, he wore, or carried, to every killing, rain, snow, shine, or sun? And had he, as in the last four cases, contemptuously, triumphantly, dropped his usual $20 goldpiece into the repository of the blind, deaf beggar around the corner, to mark his own flight to the [nearby railroad] depot? And thus make evident to the police the sheer futility of search for him? This latter being a theory, only, of Cambourne’s.”

   The building is owned by Max Goldfarb, who runs a secondhand office furniture store across the street as had his father Emmanuel and his grandfather Abraham before him. Emmanuel had bricked up the front entrance and all the front windows of the warehouse so that the only way in is via the back door, which is secured by an impenetrable lock. His will had specified that the room on the third floor must be preserved as is, complete with the $3000 grand piano on which after his wife’s death he had played the songs she had loved, so Max had advertised in Chicago’s foreign-language newspapers that the studio could be rented cheaply by piano students.

   Even after his tenants began getting knocked off—Robert Hordon and Charles Amodie stabbed in the back, Gustav Einhorn shot at point blank range, Louise Wanstreet strangled, and a straw hat of a different size and style found near each corpse—Max kept the killer’s apparent method of entry unsecured because under the fire laws he’ll be fined $1000 and sentenced to a year in jail if he nails up the roof trap. We learn all this and more, including the fact that a new $20 gold piece has been dropped into the receptacle of blind and deaf Piggy Bank Pete, before Cambourne clambers over the rooftops in imitation of what he takes to be the killer’s modus operandi and discovers that the fifth tenant, Elftherios Paleogus, has become the fifth victim—and that a fifth straw hat is in the murder room. When he can’t solve the crime, Cambourne is fired and returns to England where he rises to high position at Scotland Yard.

   All this happens in the first 72 pages of typescript, and only then do we learn that those pages did not take place in the present, as until this point we had every reason to assume, but twenty years in the past; which means, considering the date of the book’s composition, around 1938. Careful readers will note that in his efforts to fool us Harry didn’t play quite fair: the European conflict of 1914-18 was never referred to as World War I until, at the very earliest, the outbreak of World War II!

   Chapters 15 through 18 propel us forward ten years, roughly to 1948. A man in blue spectacles, who has no connection with the hero of Keeler’s classic The Spectacles of Mr. Cagloostro but used to be a world champion standing leaper with the nickname of The Human Frog, spends $20 on a long-distance phone call from Chicago to Cambourne’s office at Scotland Yard and claims to be the Straw Hat killer. The caller’s name is Steward Pann but the manuscript shows that originally it had been Peter Pann. Imagine Harry changing a character’s name because he thought it was too bizarre! The final chapters take place yet another decade later.

   In an endless conversation at London’s Carlton Club with his childhood friend Guy Standidge, who’s spent most of his life in faraway Kenya, Cambourne explains the true solution of the Straw Hat murders, which kulminates in the kind of Koindydink that Harry’s fans have come to love him for.

   Keeler does slip up here and there on points of motivation and motiving—how the murderer got hold of all his weapons is disposed of in a few perfunctory and speculative lines—but blesses us with some fine specimens of eccentric prose, two of which are worth singling out. He describes a multi-deck parking structure as “[o]ne of those places…where cars wind up and up and around—for 3 stories up sometimes—with white concrete ramps that look like strands of giant spaghetti….” Later he evokes a classical pianist at practice. “[T]he majesty—the very staccato trippery of his playing, here and there, showed that his whole ten fingertips must have been virtually little lambs, gamboling, playing hop, skip and jump—dancing the light fantastic, upon a green consisting of monotonous oblongs that formed a keyboard….”

   The Straw Hat Murders is the only Keeler title I can recall in which a family of Jews figures prominently. If one were to judge solely by the portrayal of Max Goldfarb—“dark and swarthy, with a huge beak of a nose and glittering black eyes” and “unusually thick lips”—it would take a Johnnie Cockroach to get Keeler acquitted of anti-Semitism. But precisely because the plot seems to require one stereotypical Jewish character of the worst sort, Harry goes out of his way to emphasize that the rest of the Goldfarbs are (living or dead) saints. “Max, your father…was, from all I hear, the finest old man this block ever had….You, Max, are greedy—self-seeking, and, in some ways, a murderer.”

   Late in the book Cambourne makes it clear to his pal Standidge that Max’s little daughter Rose from the early chapters, now grown up and married to a man named Yudelson, rivals her grandfather in wonderfulness. And at the climax Keeler even makes a stab at explaining anti-Semitism. “All hatreds of the Jewish race, Guy, stem out of the fact that one Jew has injured the hater sometime in the past. Then the whole race gets hated—by the victim.” I can’t help suspecting that STRAW HAT was never published in Franco’s fascist Spain precisely because all but one Jewish character was so admirable.

   Late in life Harry seems to have developed a genius for choosing the road through the yellow wood that no one in his right mind would travel by. His stabs at s-f and the police procedural are wacky to the max, and when he fiddled with serious issues like anti-Semitism he left himself wide open to misinterpretation. But then, if the novels he wrote in his last years had been conventionally acceptable, he wouldn’t have been our Harry. In The Straw Hat Murders he was quintessentially himself.

***

   Bill Pronzini would doubtless have called The Straw Hat Murders an alternative classic, but it’s most unlikely to appeal to admirers of, say, the Scudder novels of Lawrence Block. Still the question remains to be asked: If what I’ve written has piqued your curiosity, where might you obtain a copy? For the answer I can only refer you to that friend of all book lovers everywhere, Radhakrishnan Google. Good luck and happy holidays!

   Here below is the current data for author R. E. HARRINGTON in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. Both he and fellow researcher John Herrington are trying to pin down his correct dates of birth and death.

   Of the dates below, Al says: “[He] was born NY in December 1931, but I have now found a reference that says the author was born in Oklahoma 8 May 1931. And another saying 8 March 1931 which intimates he is still about.!!

   “But to be honest, wonder if either is correct. And curiously several with those names born 1931, though the obituaries I have found for some indicate they are not the author.

   One possibility, says Al is “… a Robert Edward Harrington was born in Oklahoma on 3/6/1924 and died there on 12/8/2018.”

   John’s response:

   “Another site (probably one that you found) says the author was born in Oklahoma, educated at the University of Utah, worked as a systems engineer with IBM, and manager of corporate data processing with Chrysler, later president of a computer R&D company; then living with wife and children in Southern California.”

   If anyone has any other information, it would be welcome!

HARRINGTON, R(obert) E(dward) (1931-1996?) (chron.)
    *Aswan High (with James A. Young) (U.S. & London: Secker, 1983, hc) [Egypt; 1984]
    *Death of a Patriot (Putnam, 1979, hc) [Washington, D.C.] Secker, 1979.
    *-The Doomsday Game (Secker, 1981, hc)
    *Quintain (Putnam, 1977, hc) [Los Angeles, CA] Secker, 1977.
    *The Seven of Swords (Putnam, 1976, hc) [California] Secker, 1976.

   Gothic romance author Jeanne Hines was born 29 July 1922 and died 23 August 2014, but her death has not been known to Al Hubin, author of the Revised Crime Fiction IV, until now.

   Under her own name, Hines wrote the following as paperback originals. All are presumed to be Gothic romances, which were extremely popular in the late 1960s through the 1970s.

The Slashed Portrait (n.) Dell 1973 [U.S. South]
Tidehawks (n.) Popular Library 1974
Talons of the Hawk (n.) Dell 1975 [Mexico]
Bride of Terror (n.) Popular Library 1976
The Keys to Queenscourt (n.) Popular Library 1976
The Legend of Witchwynd (n.) Popular Library 1976 [New Orleans, LA]

Scarecrow House (n.) Popular Library 1976

The Third Wife (n.) Popular Library 1977 [Mexico]

   According to her Wikipedia page, she also wrote seventeen romance novels as Valerie Sherwood and one as by Rosamond Royal.

   From the obituary pages of The Guardian:

    “The writer Margaret Hinxman, who has died aged 94, was one of the influential band of female critics who did much to encourage film in postwar Britain. She enjoyed a long and productive career on numerous magazines, including the influential Picturegoer, two national newspapers, the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Mail, and as a writer of fiction.”

   Only one of her mysteries has been published in the US. From Hubin’s Revised Crime Fiction IV:

End of a Good Woman (n.) Collins 1976 [Ralph Brand]
One-Way Cemetery (n.) Collins 1977 [Ralph Brand]
The Telephone Never Tells (n.) Collins 1982 [England; Ralph Brand]
The Corpse Now Arriving (n.) Collins 1983 [England]
The Night They Murdered Chelsea (n.) Collins 1984 [England] Dodd 1985
The Boy from Nowhere (n.) Collins 1985 [London]
The Sound of Murder (n.) Collins 1986 [Austria; Ralph Brand]
A Suitable Day for Dying (n.) Collins 1989
Nightmare in Dreamland (n.) Collins 1991 [Los Angeles, CA]

   A plot summary for The Night They Murdered Chelsea reads thusly:

    “As the much-hated matriarch of the television series ‘Wild Fortune’ receives her dramatic comeuppance and is strangled before millions of viewers, Dame Charlotte Saint-Clair, the actress who plays Chelsea Fortune, is herself strangled, and retired Detective Inspector Ralph Brand investigates.”

   Margaret Hinxman was born 08 October 1924 and died 16 October 2018, but her passing has not been known to the mystery community until now.

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


   I believe I saw him once, in a New York bar. It must have been in the bar of whatever hotel the Mystery Writers of America annual dinner was being held that year, back in the early 1970s. I had read a number of his novels and recognized him from the photographs I’d seen. He would have been near eighty by then. He had been named a Grand Master by MWA and I was a shy newbie in the genre. I didn’t have the chutzpah to introduce myself to him. My loss. He died a few years later.

***

   Philadelphia-born Baynard Kendrick (1894-1977) might have made it into the history books as a footnote if he’d never written a word. In 1914, within an hour after England entered World War I, he had enlisted in the Canadian army, the first American to sign up for the war his country entered three years later.

   It was during the war that he met a blinded English soldier who, after fingering Kendrick’s uniform and decorations, was able to tell him his entire service history. This incident apparently triggered his lifelong interest in the abilities and challenges of the blind. After the war he worked in management at a New York hotel but was fired in the grim Depression year of 1931, a week before Christmas, and swore never again to be subject to a boss. That was the beginning of his long life as a professional writer.

   What if anything he sold at the start of his new career remains unknown. The invaluable FictionMags Index website lists his earliest published short story as appearing in Liberty magazine in 1934. The same year saw publication of his debut novel, BLOOD ON LAKE LOUISA, which was set in rural Florida. His first novels with a continuing character were THE IRON SPIDERS and THE ELEVEN OF DIAMONDS, both published in 1936 and featuring Florida deputy sheriff Miles Standish Rice, who between 1937 and 1940 also appeared in more than a dozen stories Kendrick sold to Black Mask. Early in his career Florida was already a second home to him.

   In THE LAST EXPRESS (1937), his fourth novel and his first for Doubleday Crime Clu, he changed settings and made his mark in the history of his genre by creating the first American blind detective. After losing his sight in World War I, Captain Duncan Maclain set out to develop his other senses so as to more than compensate for his inability to see.

   With the help of his partner Spud Savage and Spud’s wife Rena and the German shepherd Seeing Eye dogs Schnucke and Dreist, he’d become New York’s leading private investigator, working out of a lavish air-conditioned penthouse at the corner of 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, a residence equipped with all sorts of devices, including a meticulously detailed Braille map of the city, without which he couldn’t function.

   In this book he’s consulted by lovely Evelyn Zarinka, who’s worried about the strange recent behavior of her brother Paul, an Assistant District Attorney. And well may she worry: on the night she talks with Maclain, Paul is blown up in his car, along with two caged white mice he was unaccountably carrying in the back seat, leaving the sort of Dying Message we tend to associate with Ellery Queen.

   As transcribed and heard by Maclain and printed by Kendrick, the message is: “Sea Beach Subway—the last express!” Paul’s major project at the time of his death was a murder he was trying to pin on nightclub owner Benny Hoefle, a sinister character who never appears onstage in this novel.

   The second murder takes place about 24 hours after the first. The scene is Hoefle’s club in Greenwich Village, which Maclain and District Attorney Claude Dearborn visit after receiving an anonymous tip that club singer Amy Arden has information about the bombing. Arden takes a seat at the investigators’ table and accuses a city engineer whose wife was having an affair with Paul but quickly passes out from the effects of (as Kendrick spells it) marihuana.

   The DA leaves the club in search of a doctor. While the club is in near darkness during a wild dance routine, Arden is stabbed to death within a couple of feet of our blind sleuth whose so carefully trained other senses fail to alert him to what has happened. The engineer Arden accused happens to be in the club at the time, as are Evelyn Zarinka and her fiancé, wealthy Charles Hartshorn, who happens to come over to Maclain’s table and discovers the murder. When several other club patrons claim they saw Hartshorn wielding the knife, the poor schnook is hauled off to the Tombs.

   The next day Maclain starts investigating the Sea Beach subway, apparently a genuine line in Brooklyn. Learning of a long sealed-up tunnel under that borough’s Atlantic Avenue, he speculates that Paul Zarinka might have hid something there and determines to find a way in. He and his entourage are followed to Brooklyn by Madonna, a Wilmer Cook type who starts a fire designed to kill Maclain and the DA and the municipal engineer while they’re hunting for a secret entrance.

   This not-bad thriller sequence turns out to be a red herring since Maclain has chosen the wrong tunnel, and it isn’t until he reinterprets the dying message that the truth begins to emerge. The penthouse climax pits Maclain and his trained police dog Dreist against Madonna and the real murderer, a minor character to say the least.

   As I’ve unsubtly suggested, there are a few problems with THE LAST EXPRESS. The plot is rather loose, the characters (except for Maclain and, to a lesser extent, Madonna) not all that vivid, the writing no better than serviceable. And I’m not sure I trust Maclain when he says that “a marihuana smoker, under the influence, will almost unconsciously obey a suggestion….” or that a single puff of weed is enough to knock a smoker out.

   Among the elements I found most rewarding are the evocation of underground New York with its labyrinth of tunnels, the historical material on the earliest abortive stabs at building a city subway system, and the portrait of the technology available in 1937 to help a blind person function like one with sight.

   Someone in Hollywood seems to have been more impressed by the novel than I since Universal Pictures bought the movie rights soon after publication. But those who made THE LAST EXPRESS (1938)—primarily director Otis Garrett and screenwriter Edmund L. Hartmann—had so little regard for what Kendrick had written that they turned Maclain (Kent Taylor) into a sleuth who could see!

   Also it seems that neither Paul Zarinka nor Amy Arden are killed, the name of the Wilmer Cook avatar morphs from Madonna to Pinky—can’t offend the Legion of Decency, can we?—and Hoefle who was completely offstage in the novel gets a speaking part. A few sentences I’ve adapted from the summary prepared by Les Adams for the Internet Movie Database show how radically the movie’s plot diverges from Kendrick’s.

   Underworld boss Frank Hoefle (Addison Richards) has evidence against him stolen by his henchman Pinky (Henry Brandon) from the DA’s office but it’s then stolen from Pinky and the thief demands $300,000 ransom for its return. Hoefle hires Maclain to put the money in a subway-station locker as the thief demanded, but pickpocket Eddie Miller (John “Skins” Miller) lifts the key.

   Maclain follows Miller to an apartment house but Miller sends the key up a dumbwaiter shaft. Eventually Maclain finds a 1914 newspaper story that explains the plot to him. Adams mentions that much of the film’s subway footage was recycled in Universal’s 1942 serial GANG BUSTERS, which as chance would have it also starred Kent Taylor.

***

   Later in 1937 Kendrick returned Maclain to action. Most of THE WHISTLING HANGMAN takes place in Doncaster House, “a collection of beautiful homes housed in a single building” or, more prosaically, a luxurious 480-room apartment hotel on Manhattan’s East 54th Street. Dryden Winslow, an American entrepreneur who’s spent the past twenty years in Australia amassing a fortune but has come home to reunite with the family he abandoned and die, reserves several apartments in Doncaster House—for himself, his son, his daughter, the two maiden aunts who have raised his children, and a niece and nephew from England—at a total cost of, I am not making this up, $130 a day.

   His own suite consists of “a 40-foot living room encompassed on three sides by a balcony,” opening from which are “two bedrooms, a dining-room, and a kitchenette.” Outside the French windows is a huge flagstone terrace. Residing across the corridor from this suite are a weirdo psychoanalyst and Winslow’s soon to be son-in-law. (Whoever drew the sketch of the 15th floor for the Dell mapback edition carelessly flipflopped these characters’ abodes.)

   On the evening of his arrival, Winslow orders a Gideon Bible delivered to his apartment. A few hours later, while talking with the daughter he hadn’t seen since she was a baby, he unaccountably steps out onto the terrace and the daughter hears a strange whistling sound. A few seconds later Winslow is found on a terrace nine floors below with his neck broken. At the request of his friend the hotel manager, with whom he was playing chess at the time of Winslow’s death, Maclain takes a hand in the investigation and, examining the body, quickly concludes that Winslow was hanged.

   That, together with the sound his daughter heard, gives the book its title, probably the most evocative of any Maclain novel. In due course, as usual in Kendrick, there’s a second murder: a hotel maid who saw too much is flung off the interior balcony of the suite next to Winslow’s as if by invisible hands and is found on the floor below with her neck broken as Winslow’s was.

   This book I enjoyed rather more than THE LAST EXPRESS. The plot is tighter, the reader is given ample clues, the setting is vividly drawn—thanks no doubt to Kendrick’s years in hotel management—and the Bizarre Murder Method is not too outlandish. I was fascinated by the glimpses of the machinery in a top-of-the-line 1937 hotel, ranging from a building-wide vacuum cleaner system to an ultra-modern kitchen refrigerator with its motor on top—both items figuring neatly in the plot.

   On the negative side, too much of the plot hinges on the seriously mistaken legal assumption that a man can write a valid will completely disinheriting his wife. Certainly no man can do this today, and I doubt he could do it in 1937 even if, as is the case here, the issue is governed not by US but by Australian law.

   Over the years I’ve caught Kendrick in other legal blunders, but he’s certainly not the only well-known mystery writer of his time who made up his own law as he went along. Ever read a Cornell Woolrich story with a legal component?

***

   Whether Kendrick was discouraged from immediately continuing with his character by that terrible Maclain movie remains unknown. In any event he returned to Miles Standish Rice and a rural Florida setting with his sixth novel, DEATH BEYOND THE GO-THRU (1938). Fred Dannay told me years ago that Kendrick followed this by writing Leslie Charteris’ THE SAINT IN MIAMI (1940), which is dedicated to its ghost.

   Then he switched publishers from Doubleday to Little Brown (and later to Morrow) and brought back Maclain, who is featured in all his novels from THE ODOR OF VIOLETS (1941) to OUT OF CONTROL (1945). During the war years THE ODOR OF VIOLETS was filmed as EYES IN THE NIGHT (MGM, 1942), directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Edward Arnold (star of the first Nero Wolfe movie back in 1936), who was a tad overweight for the part of Maclain but at least was allowed to play the character blind.

   In 1945 Kendrick became a founding member of Mystery Writers of America, Inc., holding Card #1 and serving as its first president. That he published so few books during the World War II years is probably accounted for by his work rehabilitating blinded veterans of the war, the fruit of his own experience during WWI.

   During the second half of the 1940s he abandoned mystery fiction for mainstream novels including one—LIGHTS OUT (1945), which was filmed as BRIGHT VICTORY (1951)—dealing with blinded vets. Then he came back to whodunits and published six more Maclain novels, from YOU DIE TODAY! (1952) to FRANKINCENSE AND MURDER (1961), but the ones I’ve read from that period struck me as cluttered and confused. He was named a Grand Master by MWA in 1967.

   A few years later a much more youthful and dynamic version of Maclain came to America’s TV screens in the person of LONGSTREET (ABC, 1971-72), starring James Franciscus as a blind insurance investigator. For what reason I haven’t the foggiest, but Kendrick’s character was acknowledged as the inspiration for the series, and at least five Maclain novels were reprinted by Lancer Books as tie-in items.

   If I had been casting the lead role and wanted an actor who at least to some extent resembled the Maclain of the novels, instead of Franciscus or anyone like him I would have opted for that mainstay of TV’s first few decades, John Dehner.

   Brief as it was, the LONGSTREET series was Kendrick’s last interaction with the visual media. At some point in his career he had moved permanently to Florida, where he died on March 27, 1977. His papers are archived at Florida State University in Tampa. How I wish I had ordered a double chutzpah straight up, that long-ago night in that New York bar when I had a chance to talk with him and blew it!

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


   THE VIRGIN KILLS (1932) was Whitfield’s third and final crime novel under his own byline and a sad comedown after his first two. Our narrator, sports columnist Al Connors, is invited to join a party on the yacht of shady gambler Eric Vennell (the “Virgin” of the title) as it makes its way up the Hudson from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie where the annual inter-university boat races are held.

   Accompanying Connors is Mick O’Rourke, a scar-faced Victor McLaglen type, who’s bodyguarded several top gangsters and has been recruited by Connors to perform the same function for Vennell, who claims he’s been threatened by racketeers after his investment firm lost a pile of their money on the stock market. Also on board the Virgin are a movie star, a bitchy female writer, a Lindberghesque aviator and some others.

   Not much happens until the big race, which the odds-on favorite California crew loses to Columbia thanks to its stroke—“the most important of the oarsmen”—collapsing and dying just before his crew’s “shell” reaches the finish line. An autopsy establishes that, either before or during the race, someone with a hypodermic needle had injected the victim under his left shoulder blade with a fatal dose of morphine.

   Not long afterwards, Vennell is found murdered in his cabin aboard the Virgin. The rest of the book is padded with endless speculations by the narrator, a Poughkeepsie cop and a Philo Vance type hired by the dead oarsman’s family. “He’s suave and very cold and superior….He’s the kind you read about in the books whose writers go in for annotations and such stuff.”

   Luckily for us, this character talks just like all the others in the book, making no attempt to ape that insufferable twit created by S. S. Van Dine. Eventually some movie footage of the race, shot from an airplane, comes to light and the murderer obligingly confesses everything. Since every moment of the action takes place on board the yacht, one might easily believe that the novel was originally intended as a stage play, with interpolated film footage at the climax.

   Whitfield is reported to have helped Hammett construct some of his plots, but I find this rumor hard to swallow considering how in THE VIRGIN KILLS he bungled some crucial physical details. At one point the Poughkeepsie cop asks: “Number Seven [the prime suspect among the California oarsmen] is right ahead of the stroke in a shell, isn’t he?” To which the captain of the Virgin replies: “He sure is.” This is confirmed by our Philo Vance stand-in, who tells us that Number Seven “was directly in front of [the morphine victim]—that is, ahead of him.”

   In that case, Number Seven would have had to reach behind him with one hand to puncture the victim, while rowing at full speed with the other. What an athlete! A page or so later Whitfield seems to have realized his blunder when he has the ersatz Vance character state that Number Seven’s “face was to [the victim’s] back….,” but he doesn’t bother to correct the earlier dialogue. We have to give Whitfield some credit for using “human” when he means “person” only a few times, but we must yank it back when he tells us over and over that the oarsman murdered during the race was “morphined.” If a different poison had been used, would we have been told that the poor guy had been arsenicked or strychnined to death?

   Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of THE VIRGIN KILLS is that the California crew’s physician happens to be named Doc Vollmer, which is also the name of the West 35th Street medico who is called in whenever a body turns up on or near the premises of Nero Wolfe. Either Rex Stout read this misfire of a mystery, and remembered, or we are faced with a full-blown Keeler Koinkydink.

***

   In 1933 Raoul and Prudence Whitfield were divorced. Did her long term affair with Hammett have something to do with the breakup? Hardly had the decree become final when Raoul married again, this time into the Vanderbilt family, and more or less retired from the words game. I have a sneaking suspicion that Hammett was tweaking Whitfield’s nose a bit when, early in THE THIN MAN (1934), he had Nick Charles say that he quit the PI game when his wife Nora inherited a fortune.

   Unlike Nick’s marriage, Raoul’s didn’t last long. Emily Whitfield filed for divorce in February 1935 but shot herself to death a few months later in their New Mexico ranch house, a chain of events on which Walter Satterthwait based his novel DEAD HORSE (2007). Thanks to her will, her estranged husband—who, being in California at the time, had a perfect alibi—morphed into a sudden millionaire.

   From then on he lived the high life and drank whiskey as if it were water. Eventually he married a third and much younger woman, a local barmaid who, in 1943, also killed herself. By this time Raoul had run through Emily’s Vanderbilt money and contracted tuberculosis, which took his life in January 1945.

***

   None of Whitfield’s three crime novels under his own name was reprinted in paperback during his lifetime. GREEN ICE appeared in softcover not long after his death (Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #46, 1947, as THE GREEN ICE MURDERS) and reappeared in the 1980s, along with DEATH IN A BOWL and THE VIRGIN KILLS, in the Quill Mysterious Classics series edited by Otto Penzler. Whitfield’s debut novel was also reprinted in hardcover by Gregg Press (1980) and, more recently, by Mysterious Press (2014).

   Between 1930 and 1933 the Knopf firm published three other Whitfield titles (WWI and aviation books apparently aimed at the juvenile market) and the obscure Penn Publishing Company issued another air adventure, but these have never been revived and are near extinct, as are the two crime novels issued by Farrar & Rinehart under the pseudonym of Temple Field (FIVE, 1931, based on the 5-part Black Mask serial published between June and October 1929, and KILLERS’ CARNIVAL, 1932, taken from the 6-part Black Mask serial published between August 1931 and January 1932).

   Of his 300-odd shorter tales the most easily accessible are the cases of the Filipino sleuth Jo Gar, certainly Whitfield’s most important character and probably the first ethnic detective after Charlie Chan. The eighteen genuine short stories about him were collected in JO GAR’s CASEBOOK (Crippen & Landru, 2002) and are also available, along with the two Black Mask serials in which he stars —one in six installments, the other in two—in WEST OF GUAM (Altus Press, 2002, expanded edition 2013).

   Most of Whitfield’s short stories featuring other series characters like Ben Jardinn or no such character at all are available to you only if your shelves are piled high with issues of Black Mask . Prudence Whitfield, the only one of Raoul’s three wives to survive him, prevailed upon Fred Dannay to reprint that six-part Jo Gar serial in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (February-July 1949; originally in Black Mask, February-August 1931, with no installment in the June issue) and also three other tales (May 1948, November 1951, June 1953).

   I suspect it was also due to Prudence that editor Hans Stefan Santesson chose two more Whitfield stories for reprint in The Saint Detective Magazine (March and August 1956) and a third (March 1960) featuring Jo Gar. Not much of a showing when stacked up against the novels and stories of Hammett and Chandler, which have been reprinted on a regular basis for generations, but then Whitfield was never in their league.

   Still, a letter from him or a first edition of one of his scarcer books can command more than $3000 in the collectors’ market. Whether or not they’re worth that much, it can’t be denied that Raoul Whitfield remains of interest today to anyone who wants to understand the formative years of the literature we now call noir.


NOTE: Part One of this two-part profile of Raoul Whitfield can be found here.

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