Authors


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


   The earliest published stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, dating back to the middle 1920s, were written in a style that might best be described as non-existent. Around the end of the decade he began to be heavily influenced in terms both of style and story substance by Dashiell Hammett, and he remained more or less in Hammett’s shadow during the first few years he was writing novels including the earliest cases of Perry Mason, which began to appear in 1933.

   Mason as portrayed in the first nine novels about him could almost be a Hammett character: a tiger in the social Darwinian jungle, totally self-reliant, asking no favors, despising the weaklings who want society to care for them. Then a sea-change came over the character. The Saturday Evening Post offered Gardner a ton of money for permission to serialize the Mason novels before their book publication, but part of the deal was that the character had to be toned down to conform to the magazine’s “family values” ideology.

   Money talked. Mason from then on became a much tamer character, still skating on the thin edge of the law but always as advocate for a client we knew was innocent, so that we readers could delight in his legal tricks without the moral qualms we might experience if we thought the client might be guilty. Still, the earliest Masons remained in print unaltered, and many of us are especially fond of the novels of Gardner’s Hammett years. But how many readers know that there are more such novels than the first nine Masons?

   THE CLUE OF THE FORGOTTEN MURDER (1934) first appeared under the aegis of Gardner’s lifelong publisher William Morrow but under a pseudonym (Carleton Kendrake) and with the first noun in the title spelled CLEW. It’s unlikely that any of the novel’s original readers caught on that Kendrake and ESG were the same man, simply because a number of other writers were attempting to channel Hammett in the early Thirties, and also because the book’s protagonist doesn’t dominate the action from page one like the early Mason and isn’t even introduced until Chapter 7.

   Until then our viewpoint characters are, first, a crime reporter for a big-city newspaper and, after about thirty pages, one of the paper’s publishers. We open late at night in the Police Headquarters basement press room where reporter Charles Morden is learning about a number of incidents, among them the murder of a private investigator which doesn’t seem terribly interesting, not at the time anyway.

   Another item does capture Morden’s attention: a man driving a rental car with an attractive young woman was arrested on suspicion of DWI and then, being accused of having pulled some gas station hold-ups, has identified himself as Frank B. Cathay, a prominent citizen in the smaller nearby community of Riverview. Morden’s paper prints a story to this effect. Then the real Cathay comes forward, claims that his wallet was stolen by a pickpocket who used the ID inside to pass himself off as Cathay, and threatens to sue the paper for libel.

   At this point publisher Dan Bleeker decides to counterpunch by having Morden thoroughly investigate Cathay, hoping to turn up something that will make Cathay drop the suit. When Morden is murdered and Cathay dies (possibly of poison) shortly after the reporter’s body is found, Bleeker hires criminologist Sidney Griff, who is something of a cross between a Hammett character and Philo Vance, and from this point forward Griff takes center stage.

   At the climax we find him channeling not Vance or a Hammett sleuth but Carroll John Daly’s pistol-packing PI Race Williams, standing on the outside of a speeding taxi “with one foot on the running board, clinging to the rod of the windshield support with his left hand” while with his right he engages in a running gun battle with the murderer in another car, a battle which ends of course with a crack-up.

   To suggest the labyrinthine nature of the plot I’ll quote a remark from Bleeker to Griff in Chapter XVII. “My God, this case is full of women, and every woman has at least one alias. We started with the hitch-hiker, who gave the name of Mary Briggs to the police. We now find her in a hotel registered under the name of Stella Mokley, and probably that’s not her real name. [It is.] Then, there’s this Stanway woman, who apparently is Blanche Malone [a woman whose actual married name is Lorton but who was married to a certain Peter Malone and therefore claims to have been Cathay’s legal wife]; and there’s Alice Lorton [actually the daughter of the woman who calls herself Malone and Stanway], who built up a fictitious Esther Ordway [who Lorton claims was her roommate although in fact she had none]. I wouldn’t doubt if it turns out that Mrs. Cathay really isn’t Mrs. Cathay at all [which is exactly what is claimed by Blanche Malone, who also calls herself Stanway].”

   And those complications barely mention any of the men in the case! If you think the plots of Perry Mason novels are too twisty, perhaps you should give this one a miss. But it all seems to make sense if you think about it long and hard enough. There’s not a great deal of law here except for a brief discussion of the legal difference between accidental death and death by accidental means which crops up again a few years later in DOUBLE OR QUITS (1941), one of the earlier novels about Bertha Cool and Donald Lam which Gardner turned out as A.A. Fair, a byline which lasted decades longer than did Carleton Kendrake. Or than another pseudonym he used only once, a year after Kendrake’s debut and swan song.

***

   THIS IS MURDER (Morrow, 1935), first published as by Charles J. Kenny, is less of a brain-buster but also more like a Hammett novel, reminiscent of THE MALTESE FALCON and THE GLASS KEY in that, like Sam Spade and Ned Beaumont, its protagonist is with us from first page to last, and even more like THE GLASS KEY in that it deals with two corrupt political bosses fighting to gain power in the forthcoming election.

   District Attorney Phil Duncan, who is reasonably honest but allied with sleazy power broker Carl Thorne, is asked to look into the disappearance of Ann Hartwell, the half-sister of Thorne’s mistress Doris Bender. When Bender receives a note claiming that Hartwell has been kidnaped and demanding $10,000 ransom, the DA’s poker buddy Sam Moraine, a wealthy advertising executive, is chosen to deliver the money, mainly because the exchange of woman for money is to take place at sea and Moraine has a yacht.

   He comes to suspect that there’s something phony about the set-up but hands over the money and recovers the woman, only to be arrested by the Feds as his yacht puts in to port. No sooner has his buddy the DA pulled him out of that mess than he finds himself hip-deep in another when Ann Hartwell’s husband, a struggling and insanely jealous dentist, tries to kill him.

   Then thanks to some detective work by his secretary Natalie Rice, who seems to have an interest in the case more personal than any Della Street ever had, Moraine learns that that the kidnapping was indeed a hoax: Ann Hartwell went out to sea only hours before the “ransom” payment, and left for the docks in a taxi she entered near the home of political boss Peter Dixon, Carl Thorne’s enemy.

   Moraine plans to go out into the windy night and pay a surprise visit to Dixon but is kept from leaving his office by the DA and his chief investigator and sends Natalie Rice to Dixon’s house instead. While still closeted with the DA he gets a phone call from a terrified Natalie and, after another encounter with the furious Dr. Hartwell, makes his way to the Dixon house, which is in total darkness thanks to a tree having fallen over a power line.

   There he finds Dixon’s body, a broken window and a candle apparently snuffed out by the wind. Next morning the DA forces him to go to the morgue and view a dead body: not Dixon’s but that of Ann Hartwell, which has been found nearby. A little later Moraine discovers what’s behind Natalie’s involvement in the case, appropriates a suitcase filled with papers incriminating Carl Thorne and his machine, and makes plans to go on the run.

   The climax takes place at a Grand Jury hearing with Moraine cross-examining witnesses—he’s not a lawyer but the DA lets him behave like one—and, as if he’d suddenly become a Perry Mason clone, gets the real murderer to confess on the stand.

   Certainly THIS IS MURDER is closer to the Hammett model than THE CLUE OF THE FORGOTTEN MURDER was. But neither the Continental Op nor Sam Spade nor Ned Beaumont got involved in their dangerous escapades because the danger gave them what we today might call an adrenaline rush, which is precisely the reason Sam Moraine gives for his involvement.

   Still, he’s closer to a Hammett character than that bush-league Philo Vance figure Sidney Griff from FORGOTTEN MURDER. Both novels are still readable more than eighty years later, but few readers will deny that Gardner was wise not to bring back either of their protagonists and to stick, most of the time anyway, with Perry Mason.

THE NON-MAIGRET NOVELS OF GEORGES SIMENON
by Walker Martin


   In the comments following Steve Lewis’s review of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novel, The Bar on the Seine, he asked about my favorite non-Maigret novels. I see from my notes that I spent most of 2015 reading Simenon’s psychological crime novels. I read most of the hundred or so novels and even thought of writing an article for Mystery*File about my experience. But I couldn’t figure out how to discuss 75 or so novels in an article without making it into a long book.

   But now that the question has come up again, here’s a short answer. For anyone interested in Simenon’s non-series crime novels, I recommend that you buy an omnibus of four novels titled A Simenon Omnibus (Hamish Hamilton, UK, 1965). Here are my notes on all four:


MR. HIRE’S ENGAGEMENT. This was one of the first of his serious non-Maigret novels. Told from the viewpoint of a very strange man, a peeping Tom. Made into two movies: Panique (1947, France) and Mr Hire (1989, France).


SUNDAY. Told from the viewpoint of a guy plotting to poison his wife. Looks autobiographical to me especially in regard to his relationship with the girlfriends. Simenon said more than once that he had thousands of sexual encounters.


THE LITTLE MAN FROM ARCHANGEL. Excellent tale of a second hand book store owner and stamp collector who makes the mistake of marrying a slut 16 years younger. He’s 40 and she is 24. Needless to say, this does not have a happy ending. The book and stamp details are fascinating.


THE PREMIER. Also known as The President. Not only a study of politics and the political life but also a look at old age and the impact it has not only on the famous but also every man. I was so impressed by this novel that I reread most of it immediately. Made into a 1961 movie starring Jean Gabin (Le President).


   I consider all these novels excellent and there are many more titles that impressed me, too many to list here.

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


   We continue our discussion of H. C. Branson with his third novel. He never tells us in so many words where CASE OF THE GIANT KILLER (1944) takes place but he does give us two clues. We open at a country club which is said to overlook Lake Erie. That lake borders on only four states—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. At first one might conclude that the events are taking place in Michigan, but later in the novel that state is referred to as a place other than the book’s setting, although whether Branson meant to rule out his home state or simply made a mistake isn’t clear.

   Bent is vacationing at the country club near the town of Port Arthur when he’s approached by two parties. The first to seek his advice is Barney Hogan, a local investment adviser whose wife’s first husband, convicted of embezzling from Hogan’s firm and just released from prison, is making revenge noises. The second is Elizabeth Orme, widow of a prominent Supreme Court justice, whose bookish young son has gotten involved with a married woman several years his senior.

   The two sets of dramatis personae are of course connected: the ex-con is the brother of the woman young Orme is involved with and her husband, Arthur Pickett, is Barney Hogan’s business partner. Pickett is found dead at the bottom of a cliff a few days after these conversations, and a few nights after the first murder Hogan is shot to death. As usual in Branson, the clues to both crimes are somewhat less than concrete.

   But Bent keeps formulating reconstructions of what might have happened and eventually the complex truth comes out. There’s not a smidgen of a hint that the United States is fighting a world war — not even in the final conversation between Bent and the novel’s Iago figure where the fact of war would be extremely relevant. It’s as if Branson had made a “contract with America,” similar to Georges Simenon’s wartime “contract with France,” to write nothing that would reflect the real-world situation at the time.

   Tony Boucher once again dispensed with a verb in his Chronicle review (26 March 1944) but was even more lavish in his praise: “The best Branson yet, a flawless job to delight the purist who does not insist on extraneous excitement, and demonstrating…that the so-called rules of detective fiction are made to be broken—but only by one who understands them as well as Mr. Branson.”

***

   In THE FEARFUL PASSAGE (1945) World War II is once again conspicuous by its absence, but this time Branson tells us unequivocally where his protagonist is based and where the action takes place. At 1:40 P.M. on a bright October day, after a journey of two to three hours, Bent steps off the train from New York City at the affluent town of Chalcis, having been summoned by county prosecutor Mark Shaftoe, on behalf of a private client he refuses to name, to investigate a murder that took place the night before.

   It’s apparent that the prime suspect in the murder of Gavin Hunter is young Tom Shepherd, the son of Hunter’s deceased wife by her first husband. Not only does Tom hate his stepfather but upon Hunter’s death he’ll inherit the fortune made by his biological dad, a wealthy candy manufacturer. At first it seems that Tom can’t possibly be guilty since he was in New York at the time of the murder. But when it develops that he was seen in Chalcis the evening of the shooting, he’s given a second alibi by the much younger wife of Professor John Winter Shaftoe, the uncle of the prosecutor who sent for Bent and an historian of civilizations whom Branson portrays as a sort of cross between Hemingway and Arnold Toynbee.

   In fact the town seems to be full of people, including the prosecutor himself, who don’t want Tom to be charged with anything. With only one murder, Branson’s fourth novel is more unified than the previous three but, in a quiet detached way, just as emotionally intense, although few if any readers are likely to beat Bent to the answer. Boucher in his Chronicle review (9 December 1945) didn’t eschew verbs but lavished praise as before: “Like all of Branson’s works this is a civilized and distinguished contribution to the serious literature of the detective story, and there’s a peculiar ironic aftertaste to this one.”

***

   On the first page of LAST YEAR’S BLOOD (1947) we’re told that Bent has come from New York, but later events prove pretty conclusively that the setting is nowhere in the Empire State. Near the end of the book we learn that one of the characters left Chicago at 7:10 P.M., drove to the nameless town where the novel takes place, committed a murder, and was back in Chicago by 4:35 A.M.

   From Chicago to Erie, Pennsylvania, which is a little nearer the Windy City than any point in New York, is almost 450 miles. Can you imagine driving more than 900 miles in a little over nine hours, years before anyone ever heard of the Interstate Highway System? If we assume that the novel’s center of gravity is in Michigan, probably not far from Ann Arbor where Branson lived, we aren’t likely to go far wrong.

   Wherever it is, Bent arrives there on a snowy February evening on commission from Bertha Gretsch, a wealthy vindictive old woman whose daughter Madeline was found in her garage, dead of monoxide poisoning but with chloral hydrate in her system. The death could have been an accident or suicide but Bertha insists it was murder, committed by Madeline’s new second husband, a young doctor.

   Bent begins a quiet investigation which is sidetracked when, the day after his arrival, Bertha herself is clubbed to death and stuffed into a clothes press in the house shared by the late Madeline and her husband. Eventually Bent comes to suspect that the deaths of daughter and mother are part of an elaborate scheme to channel the Gretsch fortune in a certain direction. (Haven’t we seen that element before in Branson?)

   The novel doesn’t offer a diagram of the family tree which might help to clarify the characters’ relationship to each other, but I’ve drawn one and you can access it by clicking here. This time, unlike in I’LL EAT YOU LAST, there are no estate law blunders.

   In 1947, with World War II over, Branson is willing to admit that it happened. Madeline’s second husband served in various stateside Army medical facilities and, after the war, worked as a psychiatrist in a VA hospital, and the husband of another female character (not related to the Gretsches and therefore not shown on the diagram) was killed in the Pacific. Not that any of these details are connected with the plot, which Bent probes in his usual speculative way and which he probably wouldn’t have been able to solve except that in the last chapter one suspect shoots another to death in full view of Bent and the local cop nominally in charge.

***

   THE LEADEN BUBBLE (1949) may well be Branson’s finest novel. Among those who thought so was Ross Macdonald, who in July 1953, a few years before he adopted that byline, called the book “remarkable” in a talk at the University of Michigan with Branson himself in the audience. Almost twenty years later, in a letter to Eudora Welty dated December 4, 1972 and included in the authors’ correspondence collection MEANWHILE THERE ARE LETTERS (2015): “Hank wrote some marvellous mystery novels, as you doubtless know—you perhaps remember THE LEADEN BUBBLE, and if you don’t give it a try….”

   Perhaps the book had a special appeal for Macdonald because so much of it takes place in a shabby-genteel boardinghouse of the sort he spent several years in while growing up in Canada. As BUBBLE begins we find Bent once again visiting a nameless state, although it can’t be too far from his home base because he arrives on a rainy Friday evening in mid-January, driving his own car, and apparently set out only a day or two earlier. What brings him to the town of Marchfield is a letter from an old friend, former Supreme Court justice Matthew Gregory, saying that he’s been “greatly disturbed” by something he doesn’t reveal.

   Bent reaches Gregory’s house only to find the old jurist an inch from death, and in fact he dies a few hours later, leaving Bent in the dark as to what he wanted. Might it somehow be connected with the dead man’s son Robert Gregory, whose estranged wife is about to file for divorce and, with the help of an odious local attorney named Horace Bradley, turn her soon to be ex-husband into a pauper? Might the appeal to Bent have something to do with the old man’s granddaughter, Robert’s niece, whose husband had found her in bed with another man and killed her? Might it be significant that the murderer’s attorney, who managed to get a jury to find the man not guilty (a foreshadowing of the O.J. Simpson trial almost 50 years later?), is the same shyster Robert Gregory’s wife has hired to clean out her husband?

   Bent begins to poke around and, discovering that shortly before his fatal stroke the elder Gregory had paid a mysterious visit to a boardinghouse in the town of Waterford, twelve miles from Marchfield, decides to rent a room in the house himself. On the evening of Bent’s first full day in the area, Horace Bradley is shot to death.

   As usual the suspect list is a long one: Robert Gregory, his rapacious wife, the lover who was in bed with old Gregory’s granddaughter when her husband shot her, and even the husband himself, whom Bradley had been dunning for an exorbitant fee. Barzun and Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME give away the murderer but I shall be kinder and quote only their last sentence: “The atmosphere of steady rain and glistening pavements suits the mood of night wandering, driving to nearby towns, and steady speculation aided by brandy and Beethoven’s piano works.”

***

   At the opening of BEGGAR’S CHOICE (1953) Bent is again disembarking from a train in a town that seems to be in the upper midwest although as usual Branson declines to name the state and mentions the town’s name, Fairfax, only once. Awaiting the detective is attorney Leo Murphy, brother of the county prosecutor, who has sent for Bent because of pervasive rumors that the recent death of aged local millionaire Augustus Lefever, apparently the result of a heart attack, was actually something more sinister.

   The principal beneficiaries of Lefever’s estate are his niece Irene Miller, long a resident of Fairfax, and a young grandnephew from California who happened to be visiting at the time of the old man’s death, but Bent doesn’t rule out the possibility that the murderer, assuming there is one, is an outside party whose motive was to enrich one or the other beneficiary.

   Not much happens besides speculation until some attempts are made on the life of the young woman who’s engaged to the grandnephew. As usual the guilty party never has to face a judge and jury. Although the last couple of paragraphs, describing the murderer’s fate, are strictly out of the blue, Tony Boucher in his New York Times review (21 June 1953) praised the book’s “fine tragic denouement.”

***

    As we’ve seen, opinions about Branson are divided. On the positive side we find not only Don Yates and Ross Macdonald, whom Branson had befriended when all three lived in Ann Arbor, but critics like Tony Boucher who probably never met him. In his final discussion of the novels Boucher called them “….so meticulous in detection and so subtly revealing of human character that they rank high among connoisseurs’ delights….” and commended their “sensitive, courageous, adroit, perspicacious probing….”

   On the other side we find Bill Pronzini, who found the books too “detached and emotionless” for his taste. After re-reading all seven novels in chronological order over a month or so, I’d venture the opinion that anyone with an interest in what is now commonly called Golden Age detection will find Branson an off-trail author well worth more attention than he’s received. Quirks, gaffes and all.

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

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