1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe #1. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, digest paperback, 1942; New Avon Library [#38], paperback, 1943. Movie photoplay edition: World, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; director Howard Hawks; Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe). Also: United Artists, 1978 (screenwriter-director: Michael Winner; Robert Mitchum as Marlowe).

   It is difficult to imagine what the modern private eye story would be like if a forty-five-old ex-oil company executive named Raymond Chandler had not begun writing fiction for Black Mask in 1933. In his short stories and definitely in his novels, Chandler took the hardboiled prototype established by Dashiell Hammett, reshaped it to fit his own particular vision and the exigencies of life in southern California, smoothed off its rough edges, and made of it something more than a tale of realism and violence; he broadened it into a vehicle for social commentary, refined it with prose at once cynical and poetic, and elevated the character of the private eye to a mythical status — “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

   Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language. (Howard Browne, the creator of PI Paul Pine, once made Chandler laugh at a New York publishing party by introducing himself and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Chandler. I’ve been making a living off your work for years.”

   Even Ross Macdonald, for all his literary intentions, was at the core a Chandler imitator: Lew Archer would not be Lew Archer, indeed might not have been born at all, if Chandler had not created Philip Marlowe.

   The Big Sleep , Chandler’s first novel, is a blending and expansion of two of his Black Mask novelettes, “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935) and “The Curtain” (September 1936) — a process Chandler used twice more, in creating Farewell, My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and which he candidly referred to as “cannibalizing.”

   It is Philip Marlowe’s first bow. Marlowe does not appear in any of Chandler’s pulp stories, at least not by name: the first person narrators of “Killer in the Rain” (unnamed) and “The Curtain” (Carmody) are embryonic Marlowes, with many of his attributes. The Big Sleep is also Chandler’s best-known title, by virtue of the well-made 1944 film version directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

   On one level, this is a complex murder mystery with its fair share of clues and corpses. On another level, it is a serious novel concerned (as is much of Chandler’s work) with the corrupting influences of money and power. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, an old paralyzed ex-soldier who made a fortune in oil, to find out why a rare-book dealer named Arthur Gwynn Giger is holding his IOU signed by Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the wild and immoral Carmen, and where a blackmailing abler named Joe Brody fits into the picture.

   Marlowe’s investigation embroils him with Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, and her strangely missing husband, Rusty, a former bootlegger; a thriving pornography racket; a gaggle of gangsters, not the least of which is a nasty piece of work named Eddie Mars; hidden vices and family scandals; and several murders. The novel’s climax is more ambiguous and satisfying than the film’s rather pat one.

    The Big Sleep is not Chandler’s best work; its plot is convoluted and tends to be confusing, and there are loose ends that are never explained or tied off. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful and riveting novel, packed with fascinating characters and evocatively told. Just one small sample of Chandler’s marvelous prose:

   The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had a unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

   That passage is quintessential Chandler; if it doesn’t stir your blood and make you crave more, as it always does for this reviewer, he probably isn’t your cup of bourbon.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider


M. E. CHABER – The Splintered Man. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1955. Perma Book M-3080, paperback, 1957. Paperback Library 63-308, paperback, 1970.

   Kendall Foster Crossen published more than twenty novels as M. E. Chaber. All but one of these featured Milo March as the first-person narrator and protagonist. At times March functioned in his usual capacity as an insurance investigator, but he often had occasion to work for the State Department or the CIA.

   There is a certain similarity in many of March’s adventures, but Crossen is a writer who perfected his craft, and the Chaber books are fast, smooth, funny in spots, and always entertaining. The Splintered Man stands out among them because long before the Beatles were singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Crossen introduced lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) as a major [;pt device in an espionage story.

   Milo March is called back into the army and sent into East Berlin to find Herman Gruss, the head of the counterespionage police in West Berlin, who is believed to have defected to the East. Getting into East Berlin is not too hard for March in those days before the wall. Getting out is something else again, especially when March is caught and given a hefty dose of LSD by a doctor who is experimenting with the drug at a large Russian hospital.

   The description of the drug’s effects on March, while perhaps not clinically accurate by today’s standards, is nevertheless convincingly carried off. It is not revealing too much to say that March;s inevitable escape from the hospital is accomplished by a little fudging of scientific facts, but the result us still satisfactory.

   The cover of the first paperback edition of The Splintered Man (Perma Books, 1957), is a collector’s dream. March, in his undershorts, cowers in the background while held by two men in uniform. In the foreground are two large red hands, one holding a test tube, the other holding a sizable red hypodermic needle. (In the story, March’s dose of LSD is administered in a glass of water.)

   Milo March’s other adventures include The Gallows Garden (1958), Softly in the Night (1963), The Flaming Man (1969), and Born to Be Hanged (1973). Crossen also published numerous mystery novels under his own name and such pseudonyms at Christopher Monig, Clay Richards, and Richard Foster.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


BRIAN GARFIELD – Death Wish. McKay, hardcover, 1972. Fawcett Crest, paperback, August 1974. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1985. Other reprint editions exist. Film: Paramount Pictures, 1974.

   Brian Garfield is a highly versatile writer at any number of story types and forms. He began his career in the western field,where he published dozens of novels, including at least five of outstanding quality. In 1970 he shifted his sights to the contemporary novels with criminous themes that have earned him wide acclaim in this country ans best0seller status in England.

   These, published under his own name and the pseudonym John Ives, cover most of the criminous spectrum: action/adventure, political intrigue, comic farce, historical suspense, espionage, and urban crime. More recently, he has published a nonfiction book on western films, written screenplays, and formed his own Hollywood production company.

   Death Wish is probably Garfield’s most famous (some might say infamous) novel, not so much by its own virtue but as a result of the 1974 film version with Charles Bronson. It is certainly the work that catapulted him into national prominence, at least in part of his violent reaction to the film.

   The plot is simple and gut-wrenching. Paul Benjamin, a happily married cliff dweller on New York’s Upper West Side, receives a call from his son-in-law one hot, ordinary summer afternoon. Three young hoodlums have broken into his apartment (the building was supposedly secure) and brutally beaten his wife and daughter — attacks of such violence that neither woman survives.

   The police are helpless: they have no clear description of the youths, no way to track them down. Paul’s grief, frustration, and rage finally lead him to take action himself — to buy a gun and go hunting the three kids in their world: the deserted alleys and streets and byways of the city after dark. But his mission of vengeance soon assumes a much larger scope: It becomes a vendetta against all the criminals who prey on helpless victims, a one-man vigilante committee bent on destroying as many of the enemy as possible before he himself is caught.

   As the jacket blurb says, this “is the story of a society having a nervous breakdown. It is about something that causes a a secret uneasiness far back in the conscious minds of many people. What would happen to a man who is unable to keep to the narrow line that stands between being a victim or executioner?”

   Garfield does not glorify or advocate vigilantism: his is the story of Paul Benjamin’s descent into hell. The film version, however, does glorify Paul’s actions. Its makers misinterpreted the novel’s ambiguous ending and produced a paean to violence, an ultra-right-wing fantasy that ends with Bronson winking at the camera and silently promising more carnage to come.

   Garfield was so appalled at the film’s distortion of his novel that he ought — unsuccessfully, foe thr most part — to keep t from being shown on national television.

   In a sequel, Death Sentence (1975), Garfield completes Paul’s story, reaffirms the original intent of Death Wish, and makes a strong anti-violence statement. This novel, however, did not have the commercial success of Death Wish ad unfortunately seems to be one of Garfield’s least-known works. This reviewer, at least, accords it considerable respect.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


SARAH CAUDWELL – Thus Was Adonis Murdered. Hilary Tamar #1. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1981. Penguin, paperback, 1982. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1981.

   In her first mystery novel, Sarah Caudwell provides proof that a Victorian epistolary novel, a mystery in the manner of the Golden Age, and a late-twentieth-century sex farce can all be harmoniously combined in one exceptional novel. But then, no less was expected from the child of British author Claud Cockburn and actress Jean Ross (who was Christopher Isherwood’s model for Sally Bowles).

   Caudwell is a barrister, so it is not surprising that the legal profession features prominently in her story. The central character is Julia Larwood, a gifted barrister who is hopeless with the simple details of daily life. She goes on an art lover’s tour of Venice to forget the dunning of the Inland Revenue (her archenemy) and to seduce a beautiful young man or two. Her sexual success (with a taxman, of course!) is quickly followed by disaster: Soon after Julia rises from the bed of her young swain, he is found stabbed to death. Julia, not surprisingly, is arrested.

   It is up to her colleagues back at Lincoln’s Inn, notably law professor Hillary Tamar, to find the real killer. Narrative and clues are provided by Tamar and supplemented by various letters, especially those of Julia to her barrister friend Selena. The tone is quasi-Victorian, very British, and highly amusing. The plot is improbable but skillfully handled. The characters are a delight. All in all, Thus Was Adonis Murdered marks a highly impressive debut.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

       The Hilary Tamar series —

1. Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981)
2. The Shortest Way To Hades (1984)

        

3. The Sirens Sang Of Murder (1989)
4. The Sibyl In Her Grave (2000)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Third Bullet and Other Stories. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1954. Bantam #1447, paperback, 1956.

   The virtues of Carr’s detective novels are present in his short fiction as well. He gets about his work with more directness, and there are fewer atmospheric side trips, but the ingenuity of plot, the sprightly dialogue, and the smooth misdirection are all in evidence. The seven stories in this collection are the cream of his detective short stories.

   The title story is actually a long novelette, originally published in England in 1937 and later reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where all the other stories in the book first appeared. (The book is dedicated to Frederic Dannay, EQMM‘s founder and editor,” who inspired so many of these stories.” )

   “”The Third Bullet” is a fully developed locked-room story, complete with floor plan, false alibis, and a thoroughly detestable villain. In “The Clue of the Red Wig,” CID inspector Adam Bell and a delightful interfering reporter, Jacqueline Dubois, investigate the murder of health-and-exercise columnist Hazel Loring, found beaten to death, “half-dressed, in a public garden on a bitter December night.”

   Three of the stories are locked-room crimes investigated by Dr. Gideon Fell: “The Wrong Problem,” “The Proverbial Murder,” and “The Locked Room.” “The Gentleman from Paris” is an EQMM prize-winning story set in Paris in 1849, in which the identity of the detective is of as much interest as the solution to the crime. The remaining story, “The House in Goblin Wood,” originally appeared under Carr’s pseudonym, Carter Dickson, and features Dickson’s series detective Sir Henry Merrivale. A girl disappears from a country cottage, all of whose exits are locked or under observation. The story is one of Carr’s most ingenious, and also one of his grimmest, in spite of the classic pratfall with which it opens.

   This collection is a perfect accompaniment to “The Locked Room Lecture” [from The Three Coffins], offering cleverly wrought demonstrations of all of Dr. Fell’s analytical points. It also demonstrates the diversity that can exist within one seemingly restrictive category of detective story. And the stories are, above all, immensely readable.

   Among the more than fifty books published under the Carr by-line, many are worth special attention. The Blind Barber (1934) is a notably smooth blending of grisly murder and all-out farce, as a slasher-type killer is loose on an ocean liner. Dr. Fell is not on board, but acts as an armchair detective in the later chapters. Another of Dr. Fell’s cases, The Crooked Hinge (1938), has what is probably the most audacious of Carr’s plots.

   He Who Whispers (1946) and Below Suspicion (1950) expertly mix eerie atmosphere with baffing murders. The latter book features one of Carr’s most interesting secondary characters, the barrister Patrick Butler. Among the non-series books, The Burning Court (1937) is the most praiseworthy.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.


Note:   Earlier reviews of the novels of John Dickson Carr by Bob Briney taken from 1001 Midnights are:

     The Arabian Night Murder.
     Castle Skull.
     The Devil in Velvet.
     The Three Coffins.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Devil in Velvet. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1951. Bantam F2052, paperback, 1960. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1987.

   Carr’s lifelong fascination with history, specifically that of England, shows up in many ways in his books, from casual excursions to important plot elements. His first completed novel, never published and now lost, was a historical romance “with lots of Gadzookses and swordplay.” In 1934, using the pseudonym Roger Fairbairn, he published Devil Kinsmere, a novel set in the time of Charles II; many years later the book was rewritten and published as Most Secret (1964) under Carr’s own name. Carr’s first novel to merge the detective puzzle with historical construction was The Bride of Newgate (1950), well received by both critic and readers.

   The second of Carr’s historical mysteries, The Devil in Velvet, sold better than any of his other novels. Here the detective and historical elements were joined by a third ingredient: the strain of overt fantasy that had cropped up from time to time in his earlier work.

   Nicholas Fenton, history professor at Cambridge in the year 1925, makes a deal with the devil to be transported back to the year 1675 in order to solve, and possibly prevent, the murder by poisoning of Lydia, Lady Fenton, the wife of an earlier namesake. Transported back into the body of the Carlie Nicholas Fenton, the protagonist finds himself immediatel3 enmeshed in political intrigue: the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury to subvert the monarchy and solidify the power of Parliament.

   Fenton must also juggle the attentions of two lovely women, Lydia and the mysterious and temperamental Meg York. Eventually he comes to realize that he must do something much more difficult than solving a murder: He must outwit the devil himself in order to save his own life and that of the woman he loves.

   Bawdy, turbulent Restoration London is re-created with verve and meticulous attention to historical detail, and the events of the story are viewed with a beguiling combination of twentieth- and seventeenth-century sensibilities.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Three Coffins. Dr. Gideon Fell #6. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1935. Published in the UK by H. Hamilton under the title The Hollow Man hardcover, 1935. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft.

   In this Dr. Fell novel, one of the most intricate in the series, the author loses no time in making his intentions clear. In the very first paragraph, two impossible crimes are announced: a locked-room murder and what might be called a “locked-street” murder.

   The victim in the first crime is Professor Charles Grimaud, a lecturer and writer of independent means, whose habit it is to visit a local pub every evening and hold forth to a fascinated audience on magic, the supernatural, vampirism, the Black Mass, and similar topics. One evening the professor’s lecture is interrupted by a man who identifies himself as Pierre Fley, “Illusionist.”

   Although he tries to hide the fact, the professor is terrified by Fley’s cryptically threatening remarks. Some days later, Grimaud is in his study at home when a mysterious visitor arrives, forces his way into the room, and locks the door. The door is thereafter under constant observation; the room has no other exits and no hiding places. A shot is heard, and when the door is forced, Grimaud is found alone in the room, dying of a gunshot wound. His visitor has vanished.

   On that same evening, some distance away, Fley is also shot to death. The crime takes place in the middle of an empty, snow-covered street, with watchers at either end; yet no one sees the murderer, and there are no footprints in the snow.

   It quickly develops that Grimaud and Fley shared a deadly secret, with roots going back to tum-of-the-century Hungary. This connection from the past provides the book’s title: Fley once told an acquaintance, “Three of us were once buried alive. Only one escaped.” When asked how he had escaped, he answered calmly, “I didn’t, you see. I was one of the two who did not escape.”

   It also supplies the motive for the crimes. But Fell must delve into more-modern relationships and unravel some subtle trickery in order to explain the apparently impossible circumstances of the crimes and identify the guilty. When the last piece of the puzzle has fallen into place, with an extra twist in the concluding lines of the book, Fell says, “I have committed another crime, Hadley. I have guessed the truth again.”

   Chapter 17 of the novel has become famous among mystery enthusiasts, and has been reprinted separately. It is “The Locked Room Lecture,” in which Fell systematically classifies the principal types of locked-room situations. Other writers — notably Anthony Boucher and Clayton Rawson — later added to this discussion, and many others have profited from it in constructing their own plot devices.

   This chapter also contains a comment that has disconcerted more than one reader. When Fell brings the topic of detective fiction into his analysis of impossible situations, he is asked why he does so. “‘Because,’ said the doctor frankly, ‘we’re in a detective story, and we don’t fool the reader by pretending we’re not. Let’s not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories. Let’s candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book.'”

   The device of having a character acknowledge that he is a fictional character and comment on the fact has been used more than once in “high” literature. For Carr, it was simply part of playing the game — “the grandest game in the world” — with his readers, and for those readers willing to enter into the spirit of the game, it is a clever and charming touch.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – Castle Skull. Henri Bencolin #2. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1931. Reprint editions include: Pocket #448, paperback, 1947. Berkley G-412, paperback, 1959; F960, paperback, 1964. Zebra, paperback, 1987.

   Carr’s writing career began with a sports column in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. During his prep-school years at the Hill School, he was already writing locked-room stories and an Oppenheim-style serial. At Haverford College he worked on the college’s literary magazine, The Havelfordian, and it was here that the first stories about his Parisian magistrate-detective, Henri Bencolin, appeared.

   When he wrote his first full-fledged mystery novel, it was only natural that he should use Bencolin as his detective. Bencolin’s debut in book form was in It Walks by Night (1930), and three other books in the series followed within the next two years.

   Castle Skull is the second of Bencolin’s recorded exploits. The setting is Schloss Schadel, a castle on the Rhine River near the city of Coblenz. The castle had been the home of the world-famous magician Maleger. Some time before the start of the story, Maleger had disappeared from a railway carriage that was under constant observation; his drowned body later turned up in the Rhine.

   In his will he left Castle Skull jointly to his two friends, the actor Myron Alison and the financier Jerome D’Aunay. Now Alison has been murdered in spectacular fashion: “The man’s vitality was apparently enormous. He had been shot three times in the breast, but he was alive when the murderer poured kerosene on him and ignited it. He actually got to his feet and staggered out in flames across the battlements before he fell.”

   Bencolin, on vacation from his official duties, is persuaded by D’Aunay to investigate Alison’s death. He is accompanied on the case by his “Watson,” an American writer named Jeff Marle, who narrates the story.

   This is the young Carr in full flight: a meticulously constructed formal detective story cloaked in extravagant melodrama and exuberantly macabre trappings, peopled by doom-laden characters. The relative smoothness and restraint of Carr’s later work is little in evidence, but there is no denying the power and fascination of the story.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


VERA CASPARY – Laura. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1944. Reprinted many times, including: Bestseller Mystery #B74, paperback, no date stated. Popular Library #284, paperback, 1950. Dell D188, paperback, Great Mystery Library #3, 1957. Avon, paperback, 1970. The Feminist Press at CUNY, softcover, 2005. Film: 20th Century Fox, 1944. TV adaption: Season 1, episode 2 of The 20th Century-Fox Hour, as “A Portrait of Murder,” 19 October 1955. TV movie: ABC, 24 January 1968 (co-screenwriter: Truman Capote). [See also the comments.]

   The main strength of Vera Caspary’s writing is her depth of characterization; in fact, in many of her mysteries the actual crime takes a back seat to her detailed studies of the persons involved. In this, her first novel, the persona of Laura Hunt, the heroine- initially thought to have been the victim of a brutal murder is so well described that the reader can visualize her and anticipate her actions and reactions long before she appears on the scene.

   The other principals — a crime writer and close friend of Laura’s, and the investigating officer who finds himself falling in love with his image of her — are likewise drawn in meticulous detail, through the use of their individual narrative voices. (The story is told in sections, each from the viewpoint of one or the other of the main characters.)

   The story they tell is basically a simple one. A young “bachelor girl,” Laura Hunt, has been shot to death in her apartment in Manhattan’s East Sixties.She took the force of the blast in the face, and is virtually unrecognizable except for her attire. Mark McPherson, a police officer with a distinguished record, is assigned to the case and acquires much of his knowledge of Miss Hunt from her friend, a sexually amorphous writer named Waldo Lydecker.

   There was a fiance in Miss Hunt’s life — an impoverished copywriter from the ad agency where she worked; and an aunt who is quick to complain about the fiance’s shiftlessness — and to use him when convenient. As McPherson delves further into Laura Hunt’s life, he becomes entranced with the dead woman, a fascination that Lydecker, who narrates the first section, notices and plays upon.

   When McPherson takes up the narrative, we find that Laura is not really dead; she had loaned her apartment to a model frequently used by her agency and gone away to her summer cottage for a few days’ contemplation before her impending marriage. McPherson’s attention is now focused on the question of who killed the ordinary little model who was temporarily using Laura’s apartment, and his suspicions eventually point to Laura herself The ending, narrated by McPherson, with an intervening section told by Laura, is predictable, but completely satisfying.

   Laura was made into a classic suspense film of the same title, starring Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, and Gene Tierney, and directed by Otto Preminger, in 1944. In another notable novel, Evvie (1960), Caspary’s characterization of a genuine murder victim is even more sharp and haunting than that of Laura Hunt. And her mastery of the deviant but still socially accepted personality is demonstrated to great effect in Bedelia (1945) and The Man Who Loved His Wife (1966).

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Arabian Nights Murder. Dr. Gideon Fell #7. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1936. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1936. US paperback reprints include: Hillman #1, 1943; Collier, 1965.

   For more than forty-two years, John Dickson Carr was a skilled and enthusiastic player in what he called “the grandest game in the world”: the construction of ingeniously plotted murder puzzles, set forth with an illusionist’s skill at deception for the bafflement and delight of his readers. Carr, under his own name and especially under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, showed a fondness for stories of impossible crime, particularly locked-room murders. He compiled a longer list of variations on this theme than any other writer.

   Even when no overt “impossibility” is involved, the crimes in Carr’s books often have bizarre trappings. Other characteristics are his use of comedy, his fondness for “bad” women, his expert evocation of eerie and threatening atmosphere, the frequent disquisitions on curiosities of history, and his use of the multiple solutions –the apparently complete explanation of the crime, which is shown to be flawed and is then replaced by a second (and sometimes a third) solution.

   Although Carr was born and educated in the United States (his father was a congressman during the first Wilson administration), he lived for many years in England, and a majority of his books have English settings. He was, however, equally at home on both sides of the Atlantic. He was an officeholder in both the prestigious Detection Club in London and the Mystery Writers of America.

   From the latter organization he received a special Edgar in 1949 for his biography The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and again in 1969 in honor of his fortieth anniversary as a mystery writer. In 1962 he received MWA’s Grand Master Award. In addition to his books, he wrote several dozen short stories (two of which were award winners in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine‘s annual contests) and many radio plays for the BBC in England and such programs as Suspense in the United States. He also reviewed mystery fiction in both Harper’s Magazine and EQMM.

   Carr’s principal series detective, the bulky and bibulous Dr. Gideon Fell, was introduced in Hag’s Nook (1933). He is a retired schoolmaster who serves as an unofficial consultant to Scotland Yard. He has at his command a large fund of miscellaneous facts, a formidable analytical mind, and an ability to notice seemingly minute points and make connections between unlikely pieces of information.

   He is usually on stage for most of a case, stumping around on his two crutch-handled canes, beaming like Old King Cole, asking disconcerting questions, exasperating his friend Superintendent Hadley with his cryptic remarks, and finally gathering the key personnel together for the climactic revelation of the murderer’s identity.

   The Arabian Nights Murder is unusual in that Fell appears only in the few pages of the prologue and epilogue. The main text is taken up by the statements of Detective Inspector Carruthers, Assistant Commissioner Armstrong, and Superintendent Hadley, recounting their investigation of the murder of Raymond Penderel, an actor with an unsavory reputation.

   Penderel had been found inside an Elizabethan coach in a private museum, stabbed with an ivory dagger taken from a locked case nearby. The body was adorned with a set of ill-fitting false whiskers, and was clutching a cookbook in its arms. Suspects include rich Geoffrey Wade, owner of the museum; his wild daughter and ineffectual son; his prospective son-in-law, soldier of fortune Gregory Mannering; and assorted museum employees.

    When the three Scotland Yard men have finished their statements, Fell, in pure armchair-detective tradition, picks out just the right combination of overlooked or misinterpreted facts and hands them the solution to the crime.

   The book’s tour de force of a plot is clothed in Carr’s patented combination of atmospheric description, misdirection, action, interesting characters (including the engaging old financial pirate Jeff Wade), and a touch of romance. It is a prime example of Golden Age detection.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

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