Stories I’m Reading

K. G. McABEE “Dyed to Death.” Black Orchid Novella Award winner, 2015. Published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, July-August 2015.

   I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the winners of the Black Orchid Novella Award, sponsored by The Wolfe Pack (The Official Nero Wolfe Society), would all fall into the same general pattern of story telling as this one. That is to say, there is a crime to be solved, a detective to do it, with the story narrated by his (or her) assistant on the case.

   The setting in “Dyed to Death” is sometime in the 1920s, somewhere in the South, and dead is a mischievous minx who in her short life was a flirt (if not outright hussy) who enjoyed the hold she easily could have on any man she wanted. When her body is found, dyed purple, downstream from the local fabric and clothing mill, it is up to village constable Guy Henson to find out who did it.

   Assisting him by tagging along as he investiages and taking constant notes as he interviews possible suspects is a young teenage boy by the name of Sam Nicholson, whose chief qualification for the job is his love of reading stories in magazines such as Black Mask and being a big fan of such authors as Dashiell Hammett, Sax Rohmer and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   As is the case in many of Rex Stout’s own stories, it isn’t the mystery itself that will be remembered most when the mystery is solved, it’s the overall ambience and the camaraderie between the two leading characters that is most likely to stay with you. This story also takes place in a time when accidents in the local mill were common, and shrugged off, even fatal ones. And when dumping purple dye into the local river as common waste was also far from a rarity.

   Unfortunately, while this tale seems to cry out for another in a series, it hasn’t happened, at least not yet. In fact this seems to be K. G.McAbee’s only major work in the realm of crime fiction. According to one online source, she’s primarily a writer of science fiction, horror, gothic, steampunk, and fantasy. But no mistake about it, this one major venture of hers into detective fiction is a good one.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

CHARLES FINCH “Gone Before Christmas.” Charles Lenox #10.5. eBook novelette. Minotaur Books, December 2017. Setting: London-1887.

First Sentence: The two brothers stood motionless upon the top step of a fine London townhouse, each with arms crossed, assessing a correspondingly motionless pair of trees propped against a railing.

   Lt. Ernest Austen of the Grenadier Guards has disappeared. Charles Lenox is trying to establish his detective agency, the first of its kind, but having little luck. Even Scotland Yard is so baffled, they’ve agreed to having Lenox consult. Solving this case would give him credibility and recognition. But can he solve it?

   One of the many things to love about Finch’s writing is his use of humor, whether it’s about life, death— “Death is the great spiritual adventure toward which all living things mush lean forward in hope and humility, in neither fear or anger.” –and Christmas trees.

   It is always interesting learning about the customs of a period, and that they relate to Christmas makes them even more so. The tradition of Lenox’s father is quite progressive for the time. Yet one of the best things about a prequel, is to learn more about the protagonists and their history.

   Finch creates wonderful analogies— “France and England were rather like an unhappy couple out to supper at friends’: not presently at war, except in the sense that they were continually at war.” His descriptions are evocative— “There was evidence all over it of wealth, and ancient lineage—tapestries on the walls, enormous hunting scenes in oils, tables of marble….”

   His use of language is a treat— “…he discovered that the next train was in ninety minutes. He set out to see the wonders of Ipswich for himself. When that was finished, he had eighty-seven minutes left….” It is elements such as these, along with learning bits of information such as how the term “butler” came to be, that makes reading Finch such a pleasure.

   “Gone Before Christmas” is a lovely story for the holidays with just the right balance of seriousness and sentimentality.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at :

DONALD BARR CHIDSEY “Flight to Singapore.” Short novel. Argosy, 3 August 1940. Available online here.

   For wisdom is greater than rubies; and all things that may be desired are not compared to it.

   Pick up any issue of the major pulps like Adventure, Argosy, Blue Book, Popular, or the like and you could be guaranteed to find at least one stem winder of a story inside, that would at least have made a first rate B-film and maybe more.

   The names that graced those pages include the famous of course like Burroughs, Brand, Merritt, Woolrich, Mundy, Lamb, and such, but also half-forgotten names that once guaranteed a headlong tale well told and usually much more, names like Robert Carse, Georges Surdez, H. Bedford-Jones, George F. Worts, Gordon Young, and the prolific and popular Donald Barr Chidsey.

   Some, like Chidsey, Carse, and Surdez even had post-pulp careers in hardcover for a time, but it is their pulp work that resonates today.

   The story “Flight to Singapore” by Donald Barr Chidsey, is one of those tales, one in a series about Prince Mike of Kammorirri and his bodyguard/pal George Marlin, who finds himself a beat cop and insurance tec now Captain of the Guard, Chief of Police, and head of the Army of the small principality of Kammorirri in Southeast Asia, where Prince Mike’s father, the Sultan, fights to keep his little nation free of being “protected” by the Western powers by keeping almost all contact with the outside world at bay.

   Not an easy task when his heir and pride is Prince Mikuud, Phni Luangha, late of Princeton, a most modern young man who flies his own plane and fights his own fights with the help of his friend George Marlin, who struggles to call him Your Highness when they visit the outside world.

   It starts as George is escorting a rare wanted visitor out of the country and encounters an eager missionary, a type the Sultan especially loathes, but in the pulp world these things can move fast and soon the “Missionary” has drawn a gun and had it shot out of his hand by George and the jungle is hot with gunfire.

   Three men, Langford (the phony Missionary), Kelt (the pilot), and a brutal Australian named Claessens, have found rubies in Kammorirri, the last thing the Sultan needs as the palace drips of them and such treasure would inevitably be an invitation by some Western nation to protect the hell out of the small principality.

   How Prince Mike, with George Marlin’s fast gun and fists, outwits the bad guys, avoids the crisis in treasure by convincing the outside world the rubies are worthless, and cleans up the mess is the crux of a fast moving and entertainingly told tale that encompasses pitched jungle battles, fancy flying, lost temples, well meaning Europeans who have to be protected and held at bay, and just about everything but a romantic interest.

   I don’t know how many of these Chidsey wrote. I do know of at least one other, that being “Run, Tiger!” which appeared in the August 9, 1941 issue of Argosy, and there may be more. “Flight to Singapore” is an entertaining take on the Westernized modern Asian trope that had begun appearing alongside the Yellow Peril several decades earlier, where Number 1 Son and Mr. Moto are both the lead and the brains of the operation, and the plot and action move along at a pace and in high style.

   It’s a shame Prince Mike and George Marlin never got a full length novel adventure. One was well deserved.

LESLIE CHARTERIS “The National Debt.” Simon Templar “The Saint.” Novella. First published as a non-Saint story in The Thriller, UK, 06 April 1929, as “The Secret of Beacon Inn.” Reprinted in All Star Detective Stories, US, March 1931. Rewritten and collected as a Saint story in the book Alias the Saint (Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, May 1931) and in the US as part of the larger compilation Wanted for Murder by the Doubleday Crime Club in 1931. Reprinted many times in several collections and formats. TV adaptation: As “The Crime of the Century,” The Saint, starring Roger Moore (Season 3, Episode 22; 1965.)

   The history of The Saint over the years is a highly complicated one, and if any of the information above is incorrect, please set me straight. I read this particular story in a paperback entitled Alias the Saint published by Charter in the 1980s, I believe, but as an overall collection, it contains only two of the three stories originally published under that title in the UK in 1931.

   That this was not originally a Saint story, but was cobbled into one when the character proved to be so popular in other stories, helps explains why the Saint spends quite a bit of his tine doing his crime-solving duties under the name of Ramses Smith, as the leading character was so named in the Thriller version.

   Specifics of how he gets onto the trail of a trio of miscreants is not gone into. Suffice it here to say that the three have grandiose plans of some kind, but definitely criminous. To that end they have forced a young female chemist to work on their project with them. How? By drugging her with a doped cigarette, then killing a detective from Scotland Yard and making her believe she did it.

   Enter the Saint. He barges into the inn of the original title where the villains have set up a laboratory for the kidnapped girl to work in. Proving that the direct approach works, and delightfully so, Templar drives up, and improvising as he goes, declares that he’s working for Scotland Yard and if they don’t serve him a meal, he will arrest them all and take them in.

   This is not a whodunit by any means. For the Saint it’s only a matter of “what are they up to?” Before the story ends, he has found out, escaped from a cellar room filled with a deadly gas, and (of course) rescued the girl, all in Leslie Charteris’s usual breezy fashion, glossing over messy details as he goes. The story’s so much fun to read, though, that only nitpickers like me would even bring them up.


“I’m Dangerous Tonight.” All American Fiction, November 1937 (Volume 1, Number 1). Collected in (among others): The Fantastic Stories of Cornell Woolrich Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1981; Vampire’s Honeymoon, Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1985. Available as a free download (various options) from

    — “Señor Flatfoot.” Argosy Weekly, February 03, 1940. Collected as “One Night in Zacamoras” in Six Nights of Mystery, Popular Library #258, paperback 1950, as by William Irish. Readable online at

   THE thing, whatever it was — and no one was ever sure afterwards whether it was a dream or a fit or what — happened at that peculiar hour before dawn when human vitality is at its lowest ebb. The Blue Hour they sometimes call it, l’heure bleue — the ribbon of darkness between the false dawn and the true, always blacker than all the rest of the night has been before it.

   “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is one of those stories that edge the fringe of the supernatural, hint, snap, and pull back from going too far, but only just. It’s almost a Janus Solution story (term coined by Frank McSherry) save the supernatural has a bit more weight than the natural.

   Like many of Woolrich’s plots, it doesn’t bear too much thinking about. The setting is Paris, where a disgraced FBI agent, Frank Fisher, is out to find Fed killer Belden, head of a dope-smuggling ring. Swirling around those events is a cursed dress that seems to make women go mad with evil, and acts as a catalyst to the events that end Fisher’s quest. Fate looms heavy, and every woman who wears the gown feels its siren’s call, “I’m dangerous tonight…”

   Fisher is bitter, guilt-ridden, and -driven. Belden is a back-shooting murderer and dope pusher, and the dress itself is simply evil. It is Gothic noir out of the Weird Menace pulps with just a hint of madness.

   There is always a rational explanation for everything in this world — whether it’s the true one or not. Maybe it is better so.

   If not in the front rank of the master’s work, this is nonetheless a fine example of the kind of power and control Woolrich could exert, grabbing the reader by the lapels and whispering of unkind and uncaring blind fate, here stalking from the fine shops of Paris to the smoky Apache haunted nightclubs, with doomed people briefly finding love and even bad men finding something worse than them moving just beyond the lights.

   No one ever wrote more convincingly of what lurked just beyond the light than Woolrich.

   I chose these two stories, not only because I read them recently, but because they could not be less alike, save the voice for both is distinctly that of Woolrich.

   Where “I’m Dangerous Tonight” suggests something ancient and evil, “Señor Flatfoot” is a straight forward action tale that was well suited to Argosy, and an example of something of the variety of Woolrich’s work, which encompassed, not only suspense and the weird, but also adventure, a hint of science fiction (“Jane Brown’s Body”),international intrigue (“Tokyo 1941”), and romance, as might be expected of anyone successful in a pulp career.

   O’ROURKE was enjoying a gin-and-lime under the arcade fronting the Plaza when the government changed on him. Or around him, whichever way you care to put it.

   “Flatfoot,” which incidentally was the cover story for that issue of the famous pulp, opens with the New York cop of the title in Latin America on a matter or extradition (waiting for his prisoner to get over typhoid in the local hospital), but before he can accomplish that job, he’ll find himself in the middle of a revolution amid beautiful dark eyed and passionate young women, ambitious generals with an eye for wristwatches, and up to his neck in murder.

   While fully in the Woolrich vein, the hero of “Flatfoot” could as easily have come out of Black Mask or one of those Warner Brothers movies about tough New York types in exotic locales. It’s hard not to wonder reading it if maybe you didn’t see Pat O’Brien in the film somewhere and have it stored in your memory palace as half a dozen other films.

   At times you can nearly hear O’Brien narrating.

   Things get more complicated when O’Rourke is recruited to display his skills as a detective to solve a murder that arises, not that you would think it would matter much with all the dead piling up around him.

   Of course O’Rourke ties it up all neatly:

   “I don’t want thanks,” remonstrated O’Rourke, wrinkling his forehead at her. “You don’t thank a duck for swimming or a bird for flying, do you? I just don’t know any different, that’s all. That’s my job; that’s why they call me flatfoot.”

   Neither story is a lost masterpiece by Woolrich (neither is reprinted much either, especially “Señor Flatfoot.”). Both are solid and entertaining pulp tales though, and each in its way shows just how much in control of the material he was as a professional. O’Rourke’s little coda could almost be Woolrich speaking. Writing was his job, and even in a lesser mode he did it well, and with an economy and skill that was admirable.

SZU-YEN LIN “The Miracle on Christmas Eve.” First English translation published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 2016. Reprinted in The Realm of the Impossible, edited by John Pugmire & Brian Skupin (CreateSpace, softcover, August 2017).

   The Realm of the Impossible is an anthology of — guess what? — locked room mysteries and other tales of impossible crimes, both new and old, written by authors from all over the world. If you’re a fan of the genre, as I am, if you don’t have have copy already, don’t hesitate. Put it on your Christmas wish list right now.

   Szu-Yen Lin is a young author from Taiwan with one detective novel already translated into English, that being Death in the House of Rain (2017), which I have not seen, but from the description, is filled with impossible crimes of all kinds.

   In this particular story, though, a father helps his young son stand up to the ridicule of his friends who do not believe in Santa Claus. Inviting them all for a Christmas Eve sleepover, they close up the boy’s room by sealing up the door and single window. Then all the boys and the father go to sleep on mats in the narrow hall just outside the locked door of the bedroom.

   They are awakened to the sound of music in the room. Entering the sealed room, to their wondering eyes they find: a Christmas tree, a dozen gifts in wrapping paper and a music box still playing. Even the non-believers are now convinced that, yes, indeed, there is a Santa Claus!

   While there certainly is no crime involved in this story, it certainly is a mystery story. One could only wish that the spooky magic of this cleverly contrived tale did not disappear as quickly as amateur detective Ruoping Lin comes up with his explanation, but that is totally mitigated by the secondary story of the relationship between a father and a son he loves (or a daughter, equally well).

   There is no instruction manual that hospitals give out to new fathers, but if you know of any such, this story will serve that purpose like few others I can think of.

E. R. PUNSHON “The Avenging Phonograph.” First published in Black and White, UK, 12 January 1907. Collected in The Ash-Tree Press Annual Macabre 2000, edited by Jack Adrian, and Bobby Owen, Black Magic, Bloodshed and Burglary: Selected Short Stories of E. R Punshon (Ramble House, US, 2015).

   Before hitting upon the idea of writing detective novels to make a living, with some 35 cases of police constable Bobby Owen produced between 1933 and 1956, E. R. Punshon was a prolific author of dozens of tales for the British weeklies of the teens and 20s of the last century.

   Only a handful of these had even a hint of the supernatural or the macabre, and a trace of the latter is all that’s in “The Avenging Photograph.” It is the mayor of a small identified town who has committed murder and who is greatly relieved when the coroner’s jury brings in a verdict of suicide.

   Perhaps it is only conscience working its way through his mind, but suddenly the mayor has this almost undeniable compulsion (not really a conscience!) to tell someone — anyone! — that he did it. That he was the killer.

   Not being a king able to talk to the reeds, he finds himself buying a recording phonograph, one of those new machines which you can speak into and have your voice preserved on a wax cylinder inside.

   I won’t tell you more, except to say that the ten pages of this rather understated story should make a solid impression on anyone happening to read it, an opportunity, I imagine, not very likely to occur in its original publication, a magazine so rare that I doubt more than five copies may even exist.

BRAM STOKER – Dracula’s Guest. Published posthumously in the collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories (George Routledge & Sons, UK, hardcover, 1914). Reprinted many times including: Weird Tales, December 1927; The Ghouls, edited by Peter Haining (W. H. Allen, UK, hardcover, 1971; Pocket, US, paperback, April 1971); Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories, edited by Victor Ghidalia (Xerox, US, paperback, 1972); Werewolf!, edited by Bill Pronzini (Arbor House, US, hardcover, 1979); The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard / Vintage Books, softcover, 2009); The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, softcover, October 24 2017). Film: Among others “inspired” by the story, Universal’s film Dracula’s Daughter (1936) was supposedly based on the tale, but nothing of the plot was used.

   It is generally stated and accepted that this story, somewhat complete in itself, was the the first chapter of the original manuscript of Dracula, but deleted for reasons of length. It is told by an unknown narrator, but presumably it was Jonathan Harker who very foolishly ignores the advice of his innkeeper and the coachman of his carriage to get out to investigate on foot a village said to be unholy and abandoned for some 300 years.

   On Walpurgis Night, no less. Needless to say, he soon realizes that he has made a dangerous mistake. Some thoughts. First of all, how modern Stoker’s writing is. This is story that could easily pass as having been written last week, if not yesterday. Secondly, it is wonder how well this story anticipates all those Hammer horror films that came along so many years later.


   Here are the stories included in the Rogues and Villains anthology:


At the Edge of the Crater by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace
The Episode of the Mexican Seer by Grant Allen
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby by Arthur Morrison
The Ides of March by E. W. Hornung


The Story of a Young Robber by Washington Irving
Moon-Face by Jack London
The Shadow of Quong Lung by C. W. Doyle


The Fire of London by Arnold Bennett
Madame Sara by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace
The Affair of the Man Who Called Himself Hamilton Cleek by Thomas W. Hanshew
The Mysterious Railway Passenger by Maurice Leblan
An Unposted Letter by Newton MacTavish
The Adventure of “The Brain” by Bertram Atkey
The Kailyard Novel by Clifford Ashdown
The Parole of Gevil-Hay by K. & Hesketh Prichard
The Hammerspond Park Burglary by H. G. Wells
The Zayat Kiss by Sax Rohmer


The Infallible Godahl by Frederick Irving Anderson
The Caballero’s Way by O. Henry
Conscience in Art by O. Henry
The Unpublishable Memoirs by A. S. W. Rosenbach
The Universal Covered Carpet Tack Company by George Randolph Chester
Boston Blackie’s Code by Jack Boyle
The Gray Seal by Frank L. Packard
The Dignity of Honest Labor by Percival Pollard
The Eyes of the Countess Gerda by May Edginton
The Willow Walk by Sinclair Lewis
A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry


The Burglar by John Russell
Portrait of a Murderer by Q. Patrick
Karmesin and the Big Flea by Gerald Kersh
The Very Raffles-Like Episode of Castor and Pollux, Diamonds De Luxe by Harry Stephen Keeler
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Four Square Jane by Edgar Wallace
A Fortune in Tin by Edgar Wallace
The Genuine Old Master by David Durham
The Colonel Gives a Party by Everett Rhodes Castle
Footsteps of Fear by Vincent Starrett
The Signed Masterpieces by Frederick Irving Anderson
The Hands of Mr. Ottermole by Thomas Burke
“His Lady” to the Rescue by Bruce Graeme
On Getting an Introduction by Edgar Wallace
The 15 Murderers by Ben Hecht
The Damsel in Distress by Leslie Charteris


After-Dinner Story by William Irish
The Mystery of the Golden Skull by Donald E. Keyhoe
We Are All Dead by Bruno Fischer
Horror Insured by Paul Ernst
A Shock for the Countess by C. S. Montanye
A Shabby Millionaire by Christopher B. Booth
Crimson Shackles by Frederick C. Davis
The Adventure of the Voodoo Moon by Eugene Thomas
The Copper Bowl by George Fielding Eliot


The Cat-Woman by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Kid Stacks a Deck by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Theft from the Empty Room by Edward D. Hoch
The Shill by Stephen Marlowe
The Dr. Sherrock Commission by Frank McAuliffe
In Round Figures by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Racket Buster by Erle Stanley Gardner
Sweet Music by Robert L. Fish


The Ehrengraf Experience by Lawrence Block
Quarry’s Luck by Max Allan Collins
The Partnership by David Morrell
Blackburn Sins by Bradley Denton
The Black Spot by Loren D. Estleman
Car Trouble by Jas A. Petrin
Keller on the Spot by Lawrence Block
Boudin Noir by R. T. Lawton
Like a Thief in the Night by Lawrence Block
Too Many Crooks by Donald E. Westlake

ROBERT BLOCH “The Cloak.” First published in Unknown, May 1939. First collected in The Opener of the Way (Arkham House, hardcover, 1945). Reprinted many times, including: Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories, edited by Victor Ghidalia (Xerox, paperback, 1972); Magic for Sale, edited by Avram Davidson (Ace, paperback, 1983); Vamps: An Anthology of Female Vampire Stories, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Daw, paperback, 1987); American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub (Library of America, hardcover, 2008). Film: Adapted as Part Four of The House That Dripped Blood (Amicus, 1971; reviewed here ).

   The list of places above where this small but obviously effective short story has appeared only scratches the surface, but what’s especially rewarding is seeing it progress from the pages of a 20 cent pulp magazine to a $35 hardcover from the prestigious Library of America.

   It’s one of those stories that begins, more or less, in one of those strange out-of-the-way shops that dot the side streets of the poorer sections of large cities, open for a while and perhaps only to pre-selected customers, only to disappear as mysteriously as they appeared, or to go up in flames, the owners vanished or even destroyed along with it.

   It is Halloween and a man named Henderson is looking for a costume. The shop owner in this case offers him the cloak — not a cloak, but the cloak — and once Henderson puts it one, he is a new man — or is he?

   What he definitely is is the center of attention at the party he attends that night. He is attracted to the neck of his fat host. Most positively attracted to him is a girl dressed as an angel — or is she?

   Told in Robert Bloch’s invariably easy to read writing style, the reader is always one step ahead of the main protagonist, until, that is, he meets the girl above, named Sheila, and once she is met, you are not exactly sure which way the rest of the tale is going to go. You think you do, but you’re not quite sure. Exactly where you should be at this stage of a story well told.

DAVID CHRISTIE MURRAY “The Case of Muelvos Y Sagra.” Collected in The Investigations of John Pym (White, UK, hardcover, 1895). Previously published in the newspaper Star, issue 5014, 28 July 1894, available online here. Also reprinted online here from a bound volume of the magazine The Woman at Home (1894).

   I believe (but am not sure) that all six of the stories in the hardcover collection The Investigations of John Pym were published first in the British magazine The Woman at Home. “The Case of Muelvos Y Sagra,” is the first of them, and the first few pages are devoted to describing John Pym as a man who loves to learn everything about everything but who never manages to put it to practical use.

   Until, that is, he finds that all of his accumulated knowledge can be used to solve crimes that stump the minds — and imaginations — of more ordinary men. Narrating this tale is his good friend Ned Venables, a journalist who lives in the same house on the floor above. Ill is a young child whose strange symptoms come and go, and his doctor fears that the next attack will mean his death. A most relevant fact is that if he were to die, the estate the boy is an heir to will go to a man named Josef Muelvos y Sagra, a scoundrel if ever there was one.

   You may go read the story if you like and come back — it is quite short — but if you were to ask me, Mr Conan Doyle, if he were aware of this story might have a good case of copyright infringement worth pursuing. The tale is very reminiscent, shall we say, of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which appeared in The Strand Magazine only two years before. Perhaps it is a homage to be this reminiscent, but I don’t think so.

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