Authors


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


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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dear Steve,

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

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

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

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

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

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

   And finally, here’s his new, revamped website: www.DennisLynds.com

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

                  All best,

                     Gayle

          www.GayleLynds.com

   

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

   I’ve asked Dick Etulain, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

RICHARD W. ETULAIN – Ernest Haycox and the Western. University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover, illustrated, 2017.

   This book attempts to resurrect writer Ernest Haycox as a major figure in the development of the fictional Western. It is not a biography; Haycox’s son, Ernest Haycox, Jr., does that in his smoothly written book On a Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox (2003). Nor is it primarily a work of literary criticism. That book is available in Stephen L. Tanner, Ernest Haycox (1996).

   Rather, my book is a work of literary history, tracing Haycox’s literary career from its origins in the early 1920s to his death in 1950.

   Born in 1899 and reared in Oregon, Haycox contributed to high school publications and then to college outlets at Reed College (1919-20) and the University of Oregon (1920-23). By graduation, Haycox had published several stories in pulp magazines. Hoping to establish strong links to fictional outlets in the East, Haycox traveled to New York City, where he met editors important to his career in the 1920s. Meeting Jill Marie Chord (also from Oregon) on the train east, they married in New York City but soon returned west to Portland, which would be the Haycox home for the remainder of his life.

   By the end of the 1920s, Haycox was a steady contributor to many pulp magazines, including such stalwarts as Adventure, Short Stories, and Western Story Magazine. In 1928, he published his first full-length serial, which appeared the next year as Free Grass, his first novel. In the opening 1930s, Haycox made his first appearance in Collier’s and remained a steady contributor for almost twenty years.

   Hoping to move to the top of writers of Westerns, Haycox experimented with several new wrinkles to chosen genre. He created reflective protagonists (“Hamlet heroes”) and dark and light heroines (passionate and reserved women).

   Even more important, he began to turn out historical Westerns, infusing his lively fiction with historical backgrounds such as building the transcontinental railroad, fighting Indians in the Southwest, and settling Oregon. His most notable historical Western was Bugles in the Afternoon (1944), a fictional recreation of Gen. George Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

   Immensely successful, Haycox was nonetheless dissatisfied with the restrictions of the Western and entered a period of revolt in the last half-dozen years (1944-50) of his career. Abandoning lucrative serial markets, he set out to write first-rate historical fiction. His best historical novel, The Earthbreakers (1952), appeared two years after his death.

   Talented, ambitious, and driven, Ernest Haycox became a major figure in popular fiction written about the American West. Haycox’s continuing growth, gradual but steady, amply demonstrates an author determined enough to defy popular demands and honest enough to write novels consistent with his changing literary beliefs.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


OSMINGTON MILLS – No Match For the Law. Chief Inspector William Baker #3. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1957. No US edition.

   Mr Justice Craven is rather an amusing personality — that is if you don’t have to appear before him as barrister or defendant or plaintiff. In that event, his biting wit might not appeal. And it’s not always comfortable being a member of his family.

   During a cricket match to celebrate St. Geoffrey’s Day. a match that takes place between the ‘law’ — members of the bar — and ‘order’ — local civil officials — Judge Craven, in his 70s and having scored 42, takes a break and drinks a beverage he made himself from a recipe he found in an old book. Three hours later he dies from oxalic poisoning. a rather unpleasant way to go.

   Since there were people about who had no liking for the judge. the police do have some suspects. though because of the circumstances it’s a small list. Later, more information is developed that broadens the field.

   Both the police and the suspects are interesting people. Mills handles characterization well. If there’s a complaint, it is that there are so many characters who are possible suspects that he can’t really do justice to all of them. Chief Inspector Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch is at the cricket match when the judge is poisoned and handles the investigation well, but how was he to know about the joker in the woodpile?

   Purists may cavil and claim that this is not a fair-play novel. Perhaps it isn’t. It is certainly an excellent whodunit.

— Reprinted from CADS 16, May 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bibliographic Notes:   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks, (1922-2002). Besides five other detective novels, he was the author of ten cases for Inspector Baker between 1955 and 1966. Only five of the fifteen have been reprinted in the US.

[UPDATE.]   If you read the comments, you will find that it has been suggested — and confirmed — that Osmington Mills was female, and that all references to her as “he” should be changed to “she.”

LESLIE T. WHITE “Tough Guy.” Reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017. This issue’s Mystery Classic, selected and introduced by Jim Doherty. First published in Liberty, 21 June 1941. Reprinted in Liberty Quarterly: 19 Tales of Intrigue, Mystery & Adventure (Vol. 1, No. 1, ca. 1950).

    In his introduction to this story, Jim Doherty makes a solid case for Leslie White as one of the very first practitioners of the police procedural novel. Up for discussion in particular are Me, Detective (1936), a biographical account of White’s own career, Harness Bull (1937), and Homicide (1937).

    Most of White’s work was done for the pulp magazines, producing as he did well over 100 short stories for that market, beginning with “Phoney Evidence” in The Dragnet Magazine, January 1930. To substantiate his case, Doherty describes some of White’s career in police work, and how he used it to give all of his crime fiction a solid, believable setting.

    “Tough Guy” was written toward the end of his pulp fiction days, and that’s even a stretch, as Liberty magazine was not really a pulp. It’s the story of a tough cop named Gahagan who lives for nothing other than his job, a primary part of which is nailing a notorious killer and crime boss by the name of Danny Trumbull.

    Things go awry in his life when the trail leads him to Trumbull’s eight-year-old daughter Penny, who lives alone with her father but who has no idea how totally bad he is. This one starts out in full tilt pulp mode, but by the end, it’s become, as you might have expected, a long way from being a hard-boiled tale of a tough guy cop. Quite the opposite.

    Which does not make it a bad story, by any means. In fact, I enjoyed this one more than any of the other twelve stories in this latest issue of AHMM, many of them (to my mind) rather weak efforts and/or not interesting to me. It’s starting to get difficult to justify spending $7.99 an issue for a magazine that I can’t get excited about any more.

D. B. OLSEN Rachel & Jennifer Murdock

D. B. OLSEN – The Cat Saw Murder. Rachel & Jennifer Murdock #1. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1939. Dell #35, paperback, mapback edition, no date stated.

   Although this is the second case for Lt. Mayhew, his first being The Clue in the Clay (Phoenix Press, 1938), this is the book that introduced Rachel Murdock (and only briefly in this one, her sister Jennifer) to the world of mystery fiction. And for someone who’s 70 years old, Rachel is active and agile, with a sharp, inquisitive mind.

   It’s her niece whom she’s come to visit, and her niece who is the victim of bloody murder, with a whole rooming house full of suspects. And of course there is a cat. The whole story is told with gaps and holes, however, and it’s all muddled up in grand old fashion.

[PLOT WARNING] And it’s the gaps and holes that I’ll be discussing from this point onward, and while I don’t intend to tell you whodunit, I am going to tell you more details of the plot than I would if this were a more ordinary review. Let’s go point by point:

   (1) I suppose one cat could be switched with another, and the owner would never be able to tell the difference right away, but it doesn’t seem likely to me that such a masquerade could be pulled off for very long. On page 126, at any rate, Miss Rachel expresses doubts to Lt. Mayhew that her cat Samantha is really the cat she’s always had. “No,” she told him slowly. “I’m not sure.” End of chapter.

   Whether or not she could be taken in by somebody else’s cat, when the next chapter begins, this small piece of the plot is totally ignored — no questions, no immediate followup, no anything — and it’s page 208 before it’s brought up again, when Rachel decides to test the possibility that the cat’s fur has been dyed.

   (2) The same kind of maneuver takes place at the end of Chapter 17. Miss Rachel is questioning Clara, a small girl who lives in the house, and Clara says she knows “Something happened the night the lady died.” She won’t tell Rachel, though, not until she’s promised a kitty of her own. End of chapter.

   The next chapter begins, nothing is mentioned, and it isn’t for another 20 pages that Miss Rachel decides to get serious about it. Then she promises Clara a kitty, and they all discover that the girl saw someone leaving the dead woman’s apartment that night with a bloody axe in her hand. This is not what I call terrific detective work.

   (3) Mayhew is not really a slouch as a detective, since he did get alibis from everyone in the house immediately after the murder — and it was pretty good work to establish that it was an inside job so quickly — but then why does it take him until page 235 to start cross-checking those alibis, and then until page 244 before he starts out on the footwork needed to verify them?

   (4) I don’t understand this one at all. On page 118 he sets up a trap for the killer with a girl he is starting to get sweet on. “I’ll be watching,” he tells her on the same page. On page 127, he’s woken up from his vigil to find Sara in the process of being strangled in the room across the hall. He taps gently on the door and asks, “Is everything all right” The girl’s half dead, and he’s tapping gently on the door.

   (5) In Chapter 16 the girl’s mother tries to commit suicide. Why? I don’t know. She’s rescued in the nick of time, and the matter’s never mentioned again.

   (6) The man across the hall from the murdered woman has disappears, but Mayhew finds a note with the word CAVES written on it hidden inside a shoe. Does he suspect that there are caves in the area where the man will eventually be dug up? Nope. Is that where he’s found? Yep.

   (7) You’re going to think I’m screwy, but I enjoyed the book anyway, and I’d read the next in the series any time at all. You figure it out.

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


Bibliographic Notes:   Lt. Stephen Mayhew appeared in seven of D. B. Olsen’s detective novels, five of them overlapping the mystery adventures of Rachel and Jennifer Murdock, who appeared together in 13 novels between 1939 and 1956, all of which featured cats in the title.

   As for D. B. Olsen, she may be better known today under her real name, Dolores Hitchens, which starting in 1952 she used as the byline for 20 later novels, sometimes in tandem with her husband Bert, that were not nearly as cozy as the Olsen books were.

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