by Francis M. Nevins

   A few columns ago I spent some space on the earliest Maigret short stories, written by Georges Simenon in a single month and published in the French weekly magazine Paris-Soir-Dimanche between October 1936 and January 1937. This time we take a look at some of the slightly later and somewhat longer tales about the titan of the Quai des Orfèvres, including two that have never been published in English. Not in print anyway.

   After a hiatus of a bit more than a year, the second series of Maigret stories began to appear on a monthly basis in the interconnected weeklies Police-Film, Police-Roman, and Police-Film/Police-Roman. All were collected during the Nazi occupation period in LES NOUVELLES ENQUÊTES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944) except what I shall call the two outliers, which were included in later printings of the collection. The last three stories in the series first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1949 and 1952 and most of the others much later, in the early and middle 1970s. All but the two outliers were included in the collection MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977).

   Of the ten stories in the series the earliest to be published in French was “Mademoiselle Berthe et son Amant” (Police-Film, 29 April 1938), which appeared in EQMM for April 1973 as “Maigret and the Frightened Dressmaker” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE under its proper title, which I assume any reader of this column can figure out. Maigret has retired and is happily cultivating his garden at his villa in Meung-sur-Loire when he receives an anonymous letter from a woman claiming to be the niece of a Police Judiciaire colleague of his who was killed by his side. (Later this colleague is identified as Sergeant Lucas, but as far as I can tell, no fellow cop has ever been killed by Maigret’s side, least of all Lucas, who appears several times after this story, including in one of the ten tales in this series.)

   Maigret travels to Paris, meets Mlle. Berthe on the terrace of Montmartre’s Café de Madrid, and discovers that she’s the lover of one of four young men who robbed a radio store in the boulevard Beaumarchais and killed a cop during their getaway. That young man, now a fugitive, has sent Berthe some letters threatening to kill her if she doesn’t abandon her work as a free-lance dressmaker and join him on the run.

   Maigret takes a room in a hotel facing Berthe’s apartment and starts to keep watch. In a neighborhood bistro known as the Zanzi-Bar he meets Berthe’s brother, a young hoodlum called P’tit Louis, who’s been following her. (There are countless Simenon underworld characters known by that name, which some translators leave as is and others, like Jean Stewart in this story, render as Louis the Kid.) Later Berthe is attacked in her apartment, but Maigret sees through what has been going on—though the reader who can do likewise is as rare as a toad with wings—and magnanimously allows the dressmaker and her Albert to escape.

   “Tempête sur la Manche” (Police-Film, 20 May 1938; published both in EQMM for December 1978 and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Storm in the Channel”) seems almost like a full-length Maigret in miniature, complete with the vivid atmospheric touches one always encounters in Simenon novels. The Commissaire has been retired for three months and he and Mme. Maigret are in the harbor city of Dieppe, awaiting the Channel boat that will take them to a vacation in England.

   But the harbor is shut down by the titular storm and the Maigrets take shelter in a quayside boardinghouse. When one of the maids in that establishment is shot down on the deserted rue de la Digue on the way back from carrying a boarder’s luggage to a Channel boat about to brave the storm and make for Newhaven, Maigret tries to keep his identity a secret but soon finds himself helping the local police identify the murderer, who seems clearly to have been one of the boarders.

   The central clue is a series of numbers written on a back of a boardinghouse menu card, but not one reader in a million will be able to decipher the figures although Mme. Maigret grasps their meaning in an instant. The story implausibly ends with the police beating a confession out of the murderer—not at Headquarters, which would be credible enough, but in the boardinghouse front room.

   Next came “Le Notaire de Châteauneuf” (Police-Film/Police- Roman, 17 June 1938), which was translated in EQMM for March 1972 as “Maigret and the Missing Miniatures,” the same translation appearing in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Three Daughters of the Lawyer.”

   Maigret, still retired, is puttering around his garden, “in a patch of tomatoes so ripe that they dropped to the ground and spilled their scarlet juice,” when he receives an unexpected visitor named Motte, a notaire from Châteauneuf, some 40 kilometers from Meung-sur-Loire. One of Motte’s three daughters, 19-year-old Armande, is engaged to a poor but handsome young man who aspires to be an artist. Motte is also a collector of “carved and engraved ivories,” several of which have disappeared from his study.

   The prime suspect is his soon to be son-in-law, whose father is a notorious international thief, but Motte’s chief clerk, who wants Armande for himself, might have taken the ivories in order to discredit his rival the aspiring artist. Then of course there are Motte’s three daughters, and his all-but-invisible wife, and Motte himself.

   This turns out to be one of those Maigrets in which there’s no crime but only what we might call a domestic entanglement. It’s a bright and springlike tale, but it must have convinced Simenon that as long as he kept Maigret retired and without authority, he’d be pretty much confined to unexciting cases like this one.

   He overcame this challenge, in part at least, with the next month’s tale, “L’improbable Monsieur Owen” (Police-Roman, 15 July 1938), which has never been officially published in English but can be read and downloaded on the Web simply by googling the title.

   When Mme. Maigret is summoned to Quimper to care for a dying aunt, the former Commissaire heads south to Cannes at the invitation of an old friend, nominally the porter at the palatial Hôtel Excelsior, who seems to have the clout to treat Maigret to a luxury suite indefinitely at no charge. His enjoyment of the high life is interrupted when his benefactor knocks on his door and reports some strange goings-on in the hotel.

   A young man no one has ever seen before has been found naked and drowned in the tub of a suite in which resides a well-to-do Swede with the most un-Swedish name of Owen who meanwhile has vanished, leaving all his clothes and possessions behind. An empty whiskey bottle is found which didn’t come from the hotel but Owen’s lovely French nurse has also vanished.

   It almost sounds like an Ellery Queen puzzle but Maigret refuses to become involved, although he gets sucked in before he knows it. The highlight of the story is the exceptionally strong interrogation scene in the final pages, but Simenon never bothers to explain what the grand scheme underlying the events was all about, let alone how it could have been profitable enough to justify the carload of francs it must have cost. How that whiskey bottle figured in the plot likewise gets dropped down the memory hole. Quel dommage. This story had potential that Simenon let go to waste.

   In “Ceux du Grand Café” (Police-Film/Police-Roman, 12 August 1938) the Maigrets are back in Meung-sur-Loire and the bored former Commissaire has taken to spending his afternoons drinking at the local bistro and playing cards with the other town characters, who are never referred to by their names but only as the butcher, the mechanic (a.k.a. Citroën), the blacksmith and the veterinarian, who also happens to be the mayor.

   The only parties besides Maigret who have names are Urbain, the proprietor of the Grand Café, and the barmaid Angèle, whose “blouse is particularly well filled.” One afternoon the butcher is found shot to death at the edge of town shortly after displaying to his fellow Grand Café habitués a wallet apparently filled with 1000-franc notes which are now missing.

   Maigret is begged to step in by the mayor and every other dignitary in town but adamantly refuses until events force his hand. This tale, which has a much thinner plot than “Monsieur Owen,” can also be accessed on the Web by googling the title.

         (To be continued.)

by Francis M. Nevins

   The timing couldn’t have been worse. If I had learned of his death a few weeks sooner I would have made him the subject of last month’s column, which was centered on the year 1930. The year he was born.


   Donald A. Yates’ birthplace was Ayer, Massachusetts. In 1936 his family moved to Michigan and he spent his formative years in Ann Arbor, where in his teens he met and became close friends with local detective novelist H. C. Branson, to whom someday I must devote a column. He entered the University of Michigan in 1947, choosing pre-law as his major because he “had consumed dozens of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels and was entranced by the prospect of becoming myself a crackerjack courtroom lawyer.”

   But after finding one of his courses “so cut and dried, dusty and lacking in drama and emotion” and learning that most of the courses he’d need to take were of the same ilk, he switched his major to Spanish and graduated in 1951. After two years in the Army he returned to academia and earned his M.A. and Ph.D., the subject of his doctoral dissertation being Argentine detective fiction. He joined the Michigan State faculty in 1956 and remained a professor until 1982 when he took early retirement.


   I first met Don in the late 1960s when he was teaching Spanish and Latin American literature at Michigan State and I was fresh out of law school. He had been a professor for more than ten years and had made a name for himself as a translator of the now internationally renowned Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), who was little known outside his native Argentina until the early 1960s.

   Like Poe, Borges wrote all sorts of literary works: poetry, essays, fantasies, and some landmark detective-crime stories that were like no others ever written before or since. It was one of these, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” translated by Anthony Boucher and published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (August 1948), which first introduced Borges to a wide English-language audience.

   But he remained relatively obscure until a few years after Don had begun his career at Michigan State. He had become interested in Borges while studying for his doctorate, and LABYRINTHS (New Directions, 1962), edited by Don and another young professor named James E. Irby, was one of the first collections of the Argentine’s work to appear in English, published almost simultaneously with FICCIONES (Grove Press, 1962), with which Don was not connected.

   Together the two volumes established Borges’ reputation as a titan of international literature. Among the now classic crime stories collected in LABYRINTHS with Don serving as translator were “The Garden of Forking Paths” (why Boucher’s translation wasn’t used remains a mystery) and “Emma Zunz,” which today has been rendered politically incorrect almost to the point of unrevivability by time, feminism and the Holocaust.

   Don’s LABYRINTHS translation of another now world-famous Borges detective story, “Death and the Compass,” originally appeared in the Mystery Writers of America anthology TALES FOR A RAINY NIGHT, edited by David Alexander (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961). Fred Dannay was offered the translation first but, for reasons that remain unclear, turned it down.

   Don was under the impression that Fred thought it “too far above the heads of the magazine’s readers” but, unless my aging memory has deceived me, Fred told me that the Borges story, which had first been translated several years before, had struck him as too similar to the plot of the Queen novel THE PLAYER ON THE OTHER SIDE, which he was either working on at the time or had recently completed. “Death and the Compass” appeared in EQMM for August 2008, long after Fred’s death.

   During the decades following the Sixties, Don’s translations of various Latin American crime stories appeared in EQMM and elsewhere. Among the authors whose appearances in English were to his credit are Augusto Mario Delfino, Marco Denevi, Alfonso Ferrari Amores, Antonio Hel_, Maria de Montserrat, Manuel Peyrou, Hernando Tell_z and Rodolfo J. Walsh.

   In the early 1970s the Catholic religious publisher Herder & Herder was bought by McGraw-Hill and expanded into several new areas. It was for Herder that Don edited LATIN BLOOD (1972), an anthology of mystery tales from Central and South America, which includes three stories by Borges: the by now much reprinted masterpieces “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “Death and the Compass” plus the unfamiliar, rousingly Chestertonian “The Twelve Figures of the World” (co-authored by Borges’ longtime friend Adolfo Bioy Casares).

   Don also translated for the same publisher Manuel Peyrou’s THUNDER OF THE ROSES (1972), a murky and labyrinthine political thriller with detective overtones, set in an imagined variant of the Third Reich and heavily indebted for its plot elements to Borges. The morning after dictator Cuno Gesenius has been murdered, a tormented intellectual named Felix Greitz publicly assassinates Gesenius’ double. Did Greitz think he was killing Gesenius? Was he trying to protect his own wife, a member of the anti-Gesenius underground who disappeared shortly before the dictator’s death? Did he kill Gesenius and then shoot the double to convince the authorities he didn’t know the dictator was already dead?

   Police inspector Hans Buhle saves Greitz from execution on condition that he work inside the underground to expose Gesenius’ murderer. Whether he or Buhle or we ever find out or are meant to find out the truth is debatable. That seems to be the purpose of Peyrou’s Borgesian labyrinth: to make us perpetually uncertain.

   In his introduction Borges compared Peyrou with Dostoevski and praised the novel’s “shrewd interrogations and treacherous dialogues; the spheres of the search and of what is sought are interwoven and become confused. We experience the melancholy that is the attribute of any dictatorship, the systematic oppression of stupidity, but also mockery and courage. I do not hesitate to declare that Manuel Peyrou is one of the first storytellers of Hispanic letters.”

   In 1969, when Borges was in the States on a lecture tour, Don invited me to have lunch with the great Argentine and his then wife. Knowing very little about Borges at that early stage of my life and my relationship with Don, I can recall nothing of what we said over the meal. I do remember that while we were eating a man with a camera came to our table and requested permission to take a picture. Borges agreed. The man told him to say Cheese. “Might I say Chesterton instead?” Borges asked. As I hinted above, GKC was always one of his favorites.


   Over the decades Don wrote several detective short stories of his own. One of his earliest, written during his time in the military, was “The Wounded Tyrolean,” which was based on a cryptic reference in Ellery Queen’s THE SPANISH CAPE MYSTERY (1935) to a case the great sleuth was unable to solve. The tale, which has no connection with EQ except that its title comes from an allusion in a Queen novel, wasn’t published until well over half a century later when it appeared in the Fall 2012 Michigan Quarterly Review.

   Don’s earliest published story that I’m aware of is “Inspector’s Lunch,” which appeared in something called the Birmingham Town Hall Magazine back in 1955 and was reprinted in The Saint Mystery Magazine for May 1959; the most recent (except for the Wounded Tyrolean tale) is the Sherlockian “A Study in Scarlatti” (EQMM, February 2011).

   Don was an enthusiastic Baker Street Irregular, being invested as “Mr. Melas” (The Greek Interpreter) back in 1960 and founding a Napa Valley branch of the Irregulars after he retired from Michigan State and moved to California’s wine country. Well into his final years he’d fly into New York for the annual BSI dinner whenever his failing health permitted.


   As the Wounded Tyrolean anecdote suggests, Don was a devotee of Ellery Queen from an early age. When he was 16 he took a bus from Massachusetts to Manhattan and visited with Ellery’s co-creator Fred Dannay, the beginning of a friendship that lasted until 1982 when Fred died. In 1979, during an elaborate dinner at New York’s Lotos Club celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first Queen novel, THE ROMAN HAT MYSTERY, Don paid two heartfelt tributes to EQ. One was what he called an acrostic sonnet, with the first letters of each of the fourteen lines spelling out the name FREDERIC DANNAY. The second, on a more lighthearted note, was a song to be sung to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme, with the last line, where Mickey’s name is spelled out, being replaced with E-L-L-E-R-Y Q-U-E-E-N. Both Fred and I heard Don sing that song. I wish I had a copy.


   For most of the world the great author with whom Don was associated was Borges, but personally I was more interested in another writer with an international reputation: Cornell Woolrich, the Hitchcock of the written word. Don first met Woolrich at the Mystery Writers of America awards dinner in 1961. What followed, Don wrote, was “a long and glorious evening, the first of many…that I would spend doing the nightspots with him, with this lonely writer who would never let you say goodbye until daylight was in the street.”

   On his frequent trips from East Lansing to South America and back on various Fulbright grants Don often stopped off in Manhattan and spent time with Woolrich, getting to know that haunted recluse as well as he allowed himself to be known. Woolrich died in September 1968, and I believe it was on the visit the following year during which Don introduced me to Borges that he read to me from a memoir he had written about the master of suspense. Many years later I included excerpts from it with his permission in my Woolrich book FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE (1988). The final version of his memoir can be found in THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR, edited by Ed Gorman, Lee Server and Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf, 1998).


   He died at his home in St. Helena on October 17, 2017, with his wife Joanne and their beloved dogs at his side. The cause was aplastic anemia, a condition which develops as a result of bone marrow damage. As most readers will remember, October was the time when the Napa Valley wine country was plagued by wildfires. I became concerned about Don and called him. His house was still intact, he told me, but he and Joanne had packed their bags and, with their dogs, were ready to leave on a moment’s notice.

   I never heard from him again. It must have been soon after our conversation that he died. In his final years he was working on a memoir of Borges which, so Joanne tells me, remains unfinished. If she can turn the raw material into a book, it will be a tribute to one of the most fascinating people I knew during much of my adult lifetime. And to another fascinating man I only met once.

by Francis M. Nevins

   A new year, a new month, a new column. A few days after anyone reads this I’ll enter the fourth and no doubt final quarter century of my life. What ho.

   For reasons I’ll explain later, a few weeks ago I began to think about the year 1930. A sad year in one respect for those of us who love crime and detective fiction, since it saw the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but a banner year in other respects since it also saw the debut of John Dickson Carr (IT WALKS BY NIGHT), the second novel of Ellery Queen (THE FRENCH POWDER MYSTERY), the third of Dashiell Hammett (THE MALTESE FALCON), and the beginnings of the long careers of two writers not in the same league with the Big Three but, I decided, worth a few paragraphs today. The first novels of both authors were published by the Doubleday Crime Club and, minus dust jackets, look like twins on my shelves.

   Helen Reilly (1891-1962) is not much read today, but in her time she ranked with Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon G. Eberhart and Leslie Ford as one of the best known American women writing whodunits. Her first two novels, THE THIRTY-FIRST BULLFINCH and THE DIAMOND FEATHER, were both published in 1930. Several Web sources list the latter as her first book but I’ve checked the Copyright Office online catalog and found that BULLFINCH has an earlier registration date (June 20, as opposed to October 31 for FEATHER) and an earlier number in the copyright system.

   Whether it’s a better novel than its successor I don’t know but I must confess I didn’t find it terribly engrossing. The setting is a privately owned island off the New England coast and the detective is a shrewd country sheriff named Tilden who apparently never returned for an encore. Our viewpoint character is not, as one might suspect after reading later Reillys, a beautiful woman in peril. Cliff Shaver, junior attorney in a top New York law firm, is sent to the island by his senior partner to find out why utilities tycoon John Bedford has torn up his will, which leaves most of his estate to his 19-year-old granddaughter, and what the old tyrant plans to do with his fortune now.

   He arrives at the island just ahead of a monster storm and is introduced to the dramatis personae: old John, who’s confined to a palatial suite in the house, his son Mark, Mark’s second wife Claire, his daughter by his deceased first wife (the teenager who was to have become an heiress), his 4-year-old son by his second marriage, Claire’s ancient mother, two resident doctors and an enigmatic butler. Late on the night of his arrival Shaver visits the elder Bedford’s quarters for a legal conference and finds him dead.

   It soon transpires that he was poisoned by hydrocyanic acid in the barley water he always drank before going to bed. But the rare bullfinch he kept in his room, and to whom he always gave a late snack of a cracker moistened with his barley water, is alive and well and chirping as usual. What gives here? Sheriff Tilden somehow makes his way through the storm to the crime scene and begins to investigate.

   Shaver and the sheriff are convinced there may be a lead in Bedford’s locked wall safe, to which no one seems to have the combination. Tilden happens to have all the skills of a professional safecracker but the hidey-hole yields nothing to help solve the murder. Neither does anything else. Meanwhile all the suspects—well, all except the 4-year-old—take up endless pages doing suspicious things which aren’t worth the effort to itemize, and the crime is solved when Shaver enters the wrong room at the wrong time and—but I’d be a toad if I said more.

   This novel definitely dates from a long way back. The teen-age girl is called Miss Anne and a man’s pajamas are referred to as a sleeping suit. Prohibition is still in force but the Bedfords apparently have a bootlegger and the family cocktail-mixer tells Shaver: “[W]e’ve got everything in the shaker except Father’s Ed Pinaud’s.” Anyone know what that is? It’s a popular brand of mustache wax. (Not that I ever had a mustache but my late brother did and I once saw a can of the stuff at his house.) I see that someone on eBay wants over $300 for a first edition. My advice to any potential buyer: save your money.


   Our other 1930 debutant was the once quite popular but now long forgotten F. Van Wyck Mason. Most of the print and Web sources I’ve consulted give the year of his birth as 1901 but one or two date him back to 1897. Everyone seems to agree that his middle name was pronounced Van Wike. His birthplace was Boston but he spent most of his early years in Berlin and Paris (where his grandfather was U.S. Consul General) and didn’t learn English until he was in his teens.

   After graduating from Harvard in 1924 he started his own importing business and traveled the world purchasing antique rugs and other objets d’art.

   As a fiction writer he debuted in 1928, appearing in many pulps but most often in Argosy, which published several of his historical adventure serials with titles like CAPTAIN NEMESIS, CAPTAIN JUDAS, CAPTAIN RENEGADE, CAPTAIN REDSPURS and CAPTAIN LONG KNIFE. As these titles unsubtly suggest, he was a military kind of guy, serving in Squadron A of the New York National Guard and later in the Maryland National Guard. He was also something of an athlete, his favorite sport being polo, a subject which crops up in many of his novels and stories.

   During World War II he put his writing career on hold and returned to the military, rising to the rank of Colonel and the position of chief historian on General Eisenhower’s staff. After the war he returned to fiction writing and eventually moved to Bermuda, where in 1978 he drowned.

   He was probably best known for a string of gargantuan historical adventure novels, beginning with THREE HARBOURS (1938), STARS ON THE SEA (1940) and RIVERS OF GLORY (1942), but here we are interested in his crime fiction. His first novel, SEEDS OF MURDER, is set in late July of 1929, the last full year of Conan Doyle’s life, and introduces his series character Captain Hugh North, an officer in Army Intelligence but never seen in uniform and obviously intended as an American Sherlock Holmes since in the first few pages of his first exploit he’s called “probably the best detective this side of Scotland Yard” and “that prince of detectives….”

   Appropriately enough for a sleuth modeled on Holmes, he has a Watson and, I kid you not, another medical man, a doctor named Walter Allan who vanished after his second appearance in the series. North is visiting with Allan at Hempstead, Long Island, when both men are invited to dinner at the palatial home of Royal Delancey, a former Philippine plantation owner who made a fortune during World War I and afterwards returned to the U.S. and bought into a firm of stockbrokers.

   If I mention that a house party is in progress there, can you avoid thinking that this already sounds like a traditional English country-house mystery? As in THE THIRTY-FIRST BULLFINCH, the premises are besieged by a savage storm. Before dinner can be served, one of the party guests, who is also Delancey’s brokerage partner, is found dead in his bathroom, seemingly having strangled himself with a strong chain. But why was his apparent suicide note written on a piece of paper a quarter-inch shorter than the other sheets on his desk, and how could he have reached the hook on which the chain was hung by standing on a wire-and-enamel wastebasket too flimsy to support his weight?

   Even stranger, why were three mysterious seeds found on the bathroom floor, arranged in a precise triangle? North keeps his counsel and doesn’t dispute the police verdict of suicide, but before dawn the next morning Delancey himself is stabbed to death with an exotic dagger in his bedroom, and three more of those triangularly arranged seeds are lying beneath his chair.

   Among the chief suspects is a former neighbor of Delancey’s who thanks to investing with the dead man had lost the fortune he’d made as a henequin planter in the Philippines, but there are a number of others: Delancey’s mistress, his abused young wife and her brother (both of whom are also near broke after having entrusted him with their money), and a sinister Filipino butler who perpetrates lines like “‘Scuse if I speak slow. Me no spik English ver’ well.”

   At times the novel veers close to silent-movie melodrama, especially at the action climax where North disguises himself as a gypsy and sets a trap for the murderer in front of a disused Russian Orthodox church. But, unlike most of the subsequent books in the long series, this one is a genuine detective novel, rife with complexities, clues, conundrums, the works. Mason seems to know his Philippine background and datura seeds but ridiculous is the best word for his notion of an inquest, held in the Delancey living room and culminating with the coroner’s jury indicting two suspects.

   The novel isn’t as scrupulously fair as, say, an early Ellery Queen, and its politically incorrect portrayal of Filipinos and gypsies—oops, my bad, we’re required today to call them Roma — make it an unlikely candidate for revival in the 21st century. In later novels North was promoted to Major and then to Colonel (somehow leapfrogging over the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) and his exploits stressed international intrigue in exotic locales rather than detection, turning him into something of a prototype for James Bond and perhaps for James Atlee Phillips’ American secret agent Joe Gall. Personally I wish he’d remained a Captain and a Holmes-like sleuth, at least for a little longer.


   So what sparked my interest in the year 1930? A thought that recently crossed my mind: that year marked not only the death of Conan Doyle but the birth of a man whom, like Doyle, I discovered in my teens but who may never have been mentioned before alongside the creator of Holmes. I refer, if you haven’t already guessed, to Clint Eastwood, whose new Euro-thriller THE 15:17 TO PARIS will be released this February. He’ll turn 88 in a few months. If and when we reach that age, will any of us enjoy the creativity and vigor Eastwood still has today?

Part 20: Pulp Art, Part Two
by Walker Martin

   This is a continuation of the pulp art subject which commenced in my last column numbered Part 19. When I started this column in 2010, I never planned for it to last and continue for long. I thought I’d just discuss my collecting of The Big Three in the detective genre(BLACK MASK, DIME DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY). But I’ve received such great support for the series that it has continued now to Part 20 and beyond.

   And the Collecting Pulps subject led to me writing the series about ADVENTURES IN COLLECTING, and also book reviews and the pulp convention reports. I firmly believe we should be discussing these shows and collecting in general. I can remember the time when there was very little discussion of the importance and fun of collecting pulp magazines and original pulp art.

   We all know about how much fun it is to read and collect these old magazines, but it also is of great importance. It will be difficult for future generations to be aware that once there was a golden period of excellent fiction magazines and illustration art. It’s hard now to even find a newsstand, but once there were thousands of such outlets in drugstores, deli grocery stores, and on street corners. The newsstands groaned under the weight of scores of fiction magazines both pulp and slick. And they all used illustrations from talented artists that numbered in the hundreds.

   I collect this great art and the columns titled Part 19, Part 20, and Part 21 (upcoming) contain the story about how I managed to track down and find many unique cover paintings and interior illustrations. Every now and then the accusation is made that you have to be rich in order to collect paintings and sets of long running magazines. No, you don’t, and I’m living proof of how it can be done on a middle class income.

   True, you have to be a committed and enthusiastic collector, but I built up this collection while working on a salary and bringing up a family with the usual mortgages, car payments, and other bills. I often went through periods where I had very little money in the bank account, or I had to borrow money from the credit union at work. For many years I skipped lunch in order to save money to buy books. Sounds familiar right? I’m sure many collectors have scrimped and saved in order to feed their collections. And yet they still had all the usual things that we take for granted such as family, children, homes, cars, education.

   One of my favorite book conventions is Pulp Adventurecon, otherwise known as the Bordentown show, or Harveycon, after Rich Harvey the organizer of the show. He’s been putting it on for almost 20 years now, and it is an annual event held every November. Officially it’s a one day show, but for the last several years, I and some of my best friends have turned it into a four day convention lasting Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Not only do we discuss books, pulps, and art, but we eat and drink everything in sight. It’s like a gigantic bookish picnic and party.

   This photo shows several of us at my kitchen table: left to right is me in a SHORT STORIES T-shirt, Matt Moring, Digges La Touche, Scott Hartshorn, and Ed Hulse. Also present but not in the photo are Sai Shanker, who is responsible for these great photos, Nick Certo, Paul Herman, and Laurie Powers. These are all committed and serious collectors that I have known for many years.

   And fitting in with the collecting art theme, they all collect art except for Ed. Even Ed has a big interest in the art and though Digges and Laurie only have a piece or two, they represent what I think every book and pulp collector should strive for, and that is to have at least one representative piece of art to go with your collection of books. Anthony Powell once titled a novel, BOOKS DO FURNISH A ROOM, and so does original art.

   Two weeks prior to the show, Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton visited me and I finally managed to obtain an Edd Cartier illustration from one of my favorite magazines, UNKNOWN WORLDS. In a prior convention report I had bemoaned the fact that I had missed out on a previous Edd Cartier drawing from UNKNOWN. I think this 1941 drawing showing a scene from a Jane Rice story is even better that the one I missed out on.

   Before I move on to more art, I would like to mention that this year’s Pulp Adventurecon was one of the best yet. 50 tables and well over a hundred attendees. No guests, no panels, no movies. Just hard core pulp collecting and book buying! Two important items made their debut at the convention: ART OF THE PULPS, an excellent book on the pulps and the artwork, by Doug Ellis, Ed Hulse, and Bob Weinberg and the third issue of the new and revived BLACK MASK.

   Matt Moring and I shared a table, and many collectors were wearing the Altus Press pulp T-shirts. These look great, and Matt has over a dozen titles available. The selection can be seen on the Altus Press website and so can the hundreds of pulp reprints that Altus Press has published.

   Though this is only a one day show, there are many unusual and rare items for sale. A couple years ago I completed my set of ALL STORY at this convention, and you can’t get rarer that that. This year John Gunnison of Adventure House, had many bound volumes of FLYNN’S and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY from the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Also available from Altus Press was a complete run of ASTOUNDING, 1937-1943 which are the great John Campbell years, otherwise known as The Golden Age of SF.

   I had a couple stacks of the rare British mystery digest magazine, LONDON MYSTERY MAGAZINE. So there were some rare and collectible items. Speaking of rare items, I also saw and spoke with Bob Lesser, another pulp art collector. He says he is 94 years old! That give us all hope for the future and a reason to keep collecting even when we get old.

   Matt Moring and I completed a pulp cover painting trade. Here Matt is holding a cover from SKY RIDERS, 1929, that he has just traded to me. Many pulp cover paintings and interior illustrations change hands through trades.

   Another painting Matt traded to me: PEOPLES from 1922 and the artist is Franklin Wittmack.

   This item is absolutely unique, and something I never thought I’d find. For decades, ever since Pulpcon started to give the Guests of Honor a plaque in honor of their work in the pulp field, I have wanted to find one of the plaques for my collection. It was the one thing that Pulpcon got absolutely right because these plaques are beautiful. I have seen many of the guests get emotional after receiving these great plaques. They always show four pulp covers and bear the guest’s name while praising them for their contributions to the pulps. This one I found out about when I read an article by David Saunders. Dan Zimmer, the publisher of ILLUSTRATION MAGAZINE, had it hanging in his office and I managed to buy it. It’s the one given to Walter Baumhofer during Pulpcon 8, 1979 in Dayton, Ohio.

   This is from ADVENTURE in the 1940’s. During a visit to Gerry De Ree’s house in 1989, I saw two beautiful paintings by Earle Bergey from STARTLING STORIES. Gerry had a terminal illness and was selling his collection, but the price was more than I could pay for the two Bergey paintings. He saw how disappointed I was and sold me this painting at a special bargain price. Gerry was a great collector and dealer and has never been replaced.

   This is a favorite of mine because of the unusual scene depicted. A sixgun preacher in a saloon forcing the boozers to listen to his sermon. I got it at an early Pulpcon for only a couple hundred dollars.

   1930’s DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY by Rudolph Belarski. Author Richard Sale had two popular series characters, Daffy Dill and Candid Jones. This cover illustrated the story where they meet. Artists often had to leave space for writing on the the cover. This square was for the blurb “Daffy Dill and Candid Jones, Together Again!” Many collectors would not buy this art because of the empty yellow square but I love it. Plus it made it affordable for me to buy it!

   The reason for this photo is sort of weird. If you look carefully you can see 6 small risque paintings by J. Brandt. They all are signed and were submitted in the paper envelope I’m holding to CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine. But the publisher and editor, Calvin Beck, never used them as far as I know and never returned them to the artist.

   Now J. Brandt paints fine art and would be amazed to see his teenage paintings have survived. I consider these paintings to be sort of outsider art and of great interest as examples of unique and strange pieces of art. Most collectors would bypass these as just unpublished amateur work, but I think they are beautiful.

   DIME MYSTERY in the 1940’s. Many collectors have a fetish for guys or women in hoods! I love it!

   Lee Brown Coye, one of my favorite artists, but many collectors are blind to his great bizarre talent. There have been three recent books discussing his work. This lacks the Coye weird figures but has the bizarre house and the sticks that became his trademark in later life.

   Nick Eggenhofer is one of the greatest of the pulp artists and he did hundreds of illustrations for WESTERN STORY and the Popular Publication pulps. For many years I couldn’t find one of his illustrations that I could afford but finally in the 1980’s I found one and the floodgates have opened. I now have 9 or 10. One of the great books on the pulps is one titled EGGENHOFER: THE PULP YEARS.

   I have over 30 of these smaller preliminary paintings and drawings like the one below, all framed by art dealer Steve Kennedy in the same type of frame. The artists were often requested to submit a preliminary sketch or painting before receiving the ok to do the finished cover painting. Many of these prelims are well done and some are mere sketches, very rough indeed. I have them in all styles, some painted like these but some drawn in pencil or ink. Most collectors do not seem to want to bother with these preliminary sketches but I like them a lot.

   Here I am holding up the issue of ASTOUNDING which started the serial, SLAN by Van Vogt. I obtained the drawing back in the 1970’s at the Toronto world science fiction convention. I have a total of six Charles Schneenman drawings, all from ASTOUNDING in the 1940’s. I got them for the minimum bid at the big auction. No one else was interested in bidding! A puzzle that I cannot understand. One thing about collecting art is that you eventually run out of wall space. These six drawings are hung in the master bathroom. Not a good idea but I don’t want to add them to the ones I have stacked against the wall, unable to hang them for lack of space.

   This is a painting that I just traded to Matt Moring. Richard Lillis is the artist for this cowboy portrait from STAR WESTERN. The Lillis is the last one I bought from Steve Kennedy before his early and sudden death two years ago. He had met Lillis at an art class and they became friends even though Steve was in his 30’s and Lillis in his 80’s. They became friends and when Lillis died in his 90’s, Steve was the executor of the estate. Prior to meeting Lillis Steve was mainly a fine art dealer and knew nothing about the pulps. This friendship changed Steve’s life because he started to specialize in pulp art.

   De Soto didn’t sign many of his pulp paintings but this ADVENTURE cover is signed. Sometimes we forget that non-collectors just do not understand the collector. This is an example. I had this painting hanging in a good spot in the powder room but one year after returning from Pulpcon, my wife had moved it and replaced with a $20 Walmart decoration. I just don’t understand how non-collectors think.

   Charles Dye cover for ADVENTURE. Bargains are still out there. I got this from Heritage Auctions and didn’t have to pay much at all.

   This is an unfinished ADVENTURE cover and I guess we will never know the story behind it. It looks like it was painted in the teens which means it is a hundred years old. But why did the artist stop painting? Perhaps the editor did not like it? We will never know. And how on earth did it survive all these years. Even finished excellent paintings were often destroyed or lost.

   STAR WESTERN by DeSoto and I’ve owned it twice, which is not an uncommon occurrence with me. I first had it many years ago and the previous owner got it back in a trade. Then a couple years ago I got it back again. Unusual scene.

   This drawing by Lorence Bjorklund is representative of the ones I just bought from Paul Herman. One good side effort of the pulp brunches is that I often get art, pulps, books. These are quite interesting and were published as interiors in WILD WEST WEEKLY and WESTERN STORY.

   This is the room where I write these columns, surrounded by art and books.

   Close up of the three Lyman Anderson drawings from UNDERWORLD. These were among the first pieces of art that I bought back in the early 1970’s. Nils Hardin had a stack of them and I picked only three. Why only three? Maybe I was broke?


by Francis M. Nevins

   I discovered mystery fiction when I was twelve or thirteen and was first allowed access to the grown-up section of the public library in Roselle Park, New Jersey. Chance, fate or what have you guided my footsteps to the mystery shelves where I found and checked out a large volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and The Celebrated Cases of Charlie Chan, an omnibus consisting of five of the six Chan novels.

   That was more than sixty years ago, and I still read mysteries today. It’s just as the philosopher Walter Kaufmann said: “The loves of childhood and of adolescence cannot be subtracted from us; they have become part of us….It is as if they had entered our bloodstream.”

   Exactly when I discovered Ellery Queen I can’t recall, but it must have been soon after my introduction to detective fiction. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a rocking chair in front of my grandmother’s house during the stifling hot summer of 1957, entranced as I wandered with Ellery through the labyrinths of The Greek Coffin Mystery. How could I have guessed that less than a dozen years later I’d be sitting in the living room of one of Ellery’s creators?

   It was in 1968 that I stepped off a commuter train out of Grand Central station at Larchmont, about 45 minutes from midtown Manhattan, and was shaking hands for the first time with Fred Dannay and his then wife Hilda and riding in their car to the Dannay home in Byron Lane. In the fall of 1941, when I was studying to be a fetus, Fred had founded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which he continued to edit actively until shortly before his death.

   One of Fred’s abiding concerns was bringing new blood into the genre, and each monthly issue of EQMM contained at least one short story by an author who had never published a mystery before. He must have encouraged almost everyone he met to try writing for him, but in any event, after we had come to know each other a bit better, he certainly encouraged me. I slaved over a story for two months and finally mailed it to him. Its inspiration was a line from one of my favorite Queen novels, Ten Days’ Wonder (1948), and I was sure he’d like it.

   A few weeks later he invited me to Larchmont again. We had dinner at a lovely old seafood restaurant and returned to Byron Lane and sipped brandy in his living room as he ripped that story of mine apart with a surgical precision that I soon came to realize was more than justified by the sheer unadulterated silliness of what I’d written.

   Then we began to build the story up again. He taught me what I should have done not in so many words, but indirectly, by emphasizing the wrong steps I’d taken and leaving it to me to make them right. I spent the next couple of months rethinking and rewriting that story from first word to last. Finally in fear and trembling I sent him the revised version, and in turn he sent me a contract. “Open Letter to Survivors” was published in EQMM for May 1972.

   During the month that issue was on the nation’s newsstands, every time I entered a store and saw my name on that blue-and-white cover along with the names of all the other contributors it was all I could do to restrain myself from shouting “HEY!! THAT’S ME!!!” to everyone within earshot.

   That was more than 45 years ago. Ellery Queen was still a household name back then, and many readers of the time would have spotted most of the countless Queenian motifs with which the tale was studded. Today I’m afraid even some readers of this column wouldn’t recognize the origins of the X-Y-Z theme, the dying message clue, the Iagoesque manipulations, the Alice in Wonderland-like will (Lewis Carroll was always a favorite of Fred’s), and so many more. How many 21st century readers will catch the oblique references to Queen’s masterpiece Cat of Many Tails (1949), or the attempt to replicate the intellectual excitement of a Queen climax?

   Without the giveaway in the opening quotation, how many could even name my nameless detective? We may soon find out: the story is being reprinted in Josh Pachter and Dale Andrews’ anthology The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, forthcoming from Perfect Crime Books.

   In case you are among the anthology’s readers, I should mention that the biology in the story also owes something to Alice in Wonderland. Today (though not necessarily in 1948) there’s a scientific consensus that both heredity and environment contribute to one’s fingerprints, from which it follows that the prints of monozygotic siblings are similar but not identical. But which of us hasn’t made a mistake? Who can forget the story (not by Queen) that opens with a St. Patrick’s Day parade on which the April sun is shining down?

   I can’t believe I’ve lived to see one (or, if you include Fred’s cousin and collaborator Manfred B. Lee, two) of the most important authors of my formative years fall into obscurity. Will the Pachter & Andrews anthology help return to Ellery the prestige he deserves? Will e-books or some other high-tech medium we haven’t yet dreamed of restore the author(s) and character to the central position they enjoyed for years before I was born and for much of my lifetime? Many of us are trying to achieve that goal. I see the book as a step in the right direction.

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 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.

by Francis M. Nevins

   If ever there were two stalwarts of the English detective novel during the so-called Golden Age, their names were Christopher Bush, whom I talked about last month, and John Rhode (1884-1964). Rhode like Bush was at his best during the Thirties and, for my taste anyway, became all but unreadable soon after World War II. Bush’s wartime novels have never been published in the States but Rhode’s continued to appear over here during the war years, and I happen to have a number of them. Shall we take a dekko at a few?


   DEAD ON THE TRACK (1943) begins with the discovery of a man’s body, mutilated beyond recognition, beside the railroad tracks between the villages of Bockingfold and Filmerham. Apparently the man was dragged to his death by a passing goods train (what we call a freight train), but an autopsy reveals a bullet in the victim’s head. Clothing fragments and other evidence identify him as Alexander Gargrave, a prosperous solicitor from the county town (what we call the county seat) of Wensford.

    Gargrave apparently came by train to the Bockingfold area in response to a letter from his old friend John Cardeston, who denies having written the letter. Evidence builds up against Cardeston and he’s soon found in his home shot to death, apparently a suicide. Ballistic evidence proving that the gun used on him was the same weapon that shot Gargrave strongly suggests that he killed himself out of fear he’d soon be arrested for his friend’s murder.

   Superintendent Hanslet, retired from Scotland Yard but called back to duty because of the wartime shortage of policemen, is summoned to investigate and eventually describes the case to Dr. Priestley, who quickly deciphers the two coded documents involved in the case—one of them apparently taken from a volume of old sermons!—and later identifies the double murderer.

   This is unmistakably a wartime whodunit. Priestley refuses to leave his home in Westbourne Terrace even though several of his neighbors have been bombed out. The blackout forces Hanslet and his local counterpart to drive by night without lights through a howling storm. Food shortages make all too plausible Cardeston’s last meal, which is called vegetable goose and consists of “parsnips and lentils with apple sauce.”

   In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle (2 May 1943) Anthony Boucher passed over these period details, which eighty-odd years later constitute one of the book’s fascinations, and concentrated on the cerebral aspects. “Devotees of ultra-British detection will find a pleasantly solid job (despite dubious statements on ballistics); others beware.”

   Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME (revised edition 1989) say only that “[t]he tale is not helped by an unlikely piece of practical joking.” Something of a slip here: what they’re referring to is not a practical joke but the coding of a new chemical formula potentially worth a fortune and its division into two parts, one of which the discoverer bequeathed to each of the murder victims.


   MEN DIE AT CYPRUS LODGE (1943, US 1944) deals with a house in the village of Troutwich which has been the scene of two deaths — first a prosperous pig butcher in 1897 who may have been poisoned, then a homeopathic doctor just before the outbreak of war who was definitely poisoned. Thanks to weird noises emanating from the house, it has come to be viewed as haunted.

   Then in 1943 it claims its third victim, a local squire and amateur of the occult who’s determined to find out the truth behind Cyprus Lodge but gets scratched with a Rube Goldberg booby-trap device behind a secret panel which is coated with the poison Rhode variously calls aconitine and aconite: the same poison which killed the second victim and perhaps also the first.

   Troutwich of course is not within the jurisdiction of Scotland Yard, but the Yard’s Inspector Jimmy Waghorn, temporarily attached to the special investigation branch of the War Office, has been frequenting the village, trying to find out who is collating scraps of information from the nearby military camp and passing them on to Germany, and he takes an unofficial hand in the case, which of course means that it comes up during one of his Saturday night dinners in Dr. Priestley’s house, which still hasn’t been bombed.

   In due course the brother of the squire who was victim number three (if you include the Victorian pig butcher) is himself murdered, not inside Cyprus Lodge but in the alley on which its back door opens, and the cause of death once again is aconite or aconitine. Near trail’s end Priestley explains everything satisfactorily except why the fatal poison has two names.

   This too is definitely a wartime book: a nightly fire watch is kept at Troutwich town hall, and “a depressing array of austerity confections” is displayed in the window of the local tea-shop. “They say that beer’s not rationed,” a publican tells Waghorn, “but in a way it is. My brewers only allow me so much every week, enough for my regular customers and no more. And if the troops [from the adjacent military camp] drink it up, why the others grumble, and small blame to them.”

   There’s even an air raid on the camp — although it’s a one-plane attack described to Waghorn after the event—and a bit of action at the climax as Waghorn collars the enemy spy, whose activities, as you might have suspected, are connected with the murders.

   The wartime ambience is one of the high points of the novel, but Boucher’s review for the Chronicle (11 June 1944) once again passed over that aspect and concentrated on the detection. “At his best, nobody can top Rhode for ingenious murder gadgets and few can top him for meticulous unraveling; he’s very close to his best in this one.”

   Barzun & Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME are somewhat less enthusiastic, with Taylor calling the book “a bumbling business” although Barzun thought more highly of it. Both seemed to agree, however, that the gimmick for creating the fake supernatural manifestations was “unconvincing.”


   Either Rhode or his English publisher had a tendency to come up with amazingly dishwater titles for some of the Dr. Priestley books. Can you imagine detective novels called VEGETABLE DUCK, THE TELEPHONE CALL or DR. GOODWOOD’S LOCUM? Fortunately for Americans, Rhode’s U.S. publisher changed each of these to more appropriate titles, respectively TOO MANY SUSPECTS, SHADOW OF AN ALIBI and THE AFFAIR OF THE SUBSTITUTE DOCTOR.

   I happen to have a first edition of TOO MANY SUSPECTS (1945), which begins with Mr. Charles Fransham returning to his luxurious flat in London’s Battersea district to find his wife Letitia dead of poisoning. Jimmy Waghorn, back at Scotland Yard as in peacetime, quickly determines that the poison must have been administered in the dinner Mrs. Fransham ate alone, since her husband got a mysterious phone call that took him out of the flat just before mealtime.

   The main course, which both the Franshams would have shared had it not been for that phone call, was a dish apparently common in England but unheard of over here, something called vegetable duck– not to be confused with vegetable goose! –which consists of “a marrow, not too big, stuffed with minced meat [in this case the remains of a leg of mutton] and herbs, and baked whole.”

   The prime suspect of course is Mr. Fransham, who as chance or otherwise would have it was also the prime suspect in the death of Letitia’s wealthy brother back in 1935. Could he have slipped poison into that marrow before their cook served it? He had plenty of motive, for Letitia had saved a great deal of money and died intestate, which means the money is now his.

   Waghorn spends much of the novel meticulously investigating every aspect of the poisoning, with the usual kibitzing by Dr. Priestley after the customary Saturday night dinner at his house. Eventually it becomes apparent that the poisoned marrow came from the village of Newton Soham, about 70 miles from London and the home of Fransham’s son by his first marriage.

   About 60 pages from the endpoint Charles himself is shot to death in the woods while visiting his son, who inherits the role of prime suspect in the poisoning of Letitia besides being under suspicion in the death of his father. Eventually, after more kibitzing by Dr. Priestley, Waghorn makes an arrest—for, of all things, the theft of a marrow! — and the culprit obligingly confesses every detail of a hugely complex scheme.

   TOO MANY SUSPECTS is one of the finest Rhode novels I’ve read, and I’m delighted to be the owner of a nice first edition. One aspect of it, however, does make me scratch my head. The book was written and published near the end of World War II, and there are a few war references: one character was killed in the Blitz and a couple of others mention that they served as air raid wardens.

   As we know from the journalism of George Orwell and many other sources, England in fact was plagued by rationing and shortages for years after the war, but you’d never guess it from this novel, in which trains run on time, consumer goods flow freely and no one seems to be suffering privations. Take for instance Letitia Fransham’s last meal, which “had consisted of cold salmon and cucumber, vegetable duck with potatoes and gravy, and cheese.” What a real-life Londoner in 1945 wouldn’t have given for such a feast!


   I’ve read many a Dr. Priestley novel over the decades, but the ones I’ve tried to cover here are Rhodes not taken before I started this column. Three is enough. If nothing else, they show what Tony Boucher meant when he described mysteries as (in Hamlet’s words to Polonius about the players) the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time. It’s hard to imagine any other type of fiction with the potential to reveal so vividly the way we lived then.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Two months ago I devoted my column to Stanislas-André Steeman, a European crime novelist who was almost never published in this country and unsurprisingly has long been forgotten here. This month’s topic is an English writer who was once published regularly over here but has been just as completely forgotten.

   Christopher Bush (1888-1973) was one of the stalwarts of the British detective novel’s golden age, but almost nothing is known of his life. According to the Penguin paperback edition of one of the books I’ll be talking about shortly, he was born of Quaker ancestry in an East Anglian village and served in both World Wars. At the time of the Penguin reprint in the early 1950s he was living in Suffolk and pursuing his hobbies of bridge, crossword puzzles and what he called “post-middle-aged self.”

   Back when I was a mystery fiction newbie I read at least a dozen of his books. After a few years I concluded that there wasn’t much of interest in what he wrote after World War II, when his series character, a moneyed bloke named Ludovic Travers, opened a detective agency and began narrating his exploits in soporific first-person prose.

   But the pre-war Travers novels I found much better written and characterized and much more engaging. Bush’s specialty was the perfect alibi, with which in most of his novels several suspects happen to be supplied. You won’t lose money if you bet that the one with the apparently most impregnable alibi is the murderer.


   The earliest of the three Bushes I recently decided to tackle is THE CASE OF THE CHINESE GONG (1935). The Great Depression, or as Bush calls it the slump, is very much in evidence and has laid low three of the four principal characters, the father of two of whom was the brother of the other pair’s mother. The failed toy manufacturer, his brother the painter on his uppers and their cousin the struggling schoolmaster are in desperate financial straits and stay precariously afloat only thanks to the generosity of the cousin’s brother, a gassed veteran of World War I, who is himself near broke thanks to bailing out his brother and cousins.

   The only hope of the four is their uncle, a wealthy and vindictive old tyrant who reigns in a stately home near the town of Seaborough. He has refused to help any of them, but when he dies they’ll each inherit enough to make them whole again. All four come down to celebrate (if that’s the word) the old man’s 74th birthday, at which the festivities (if that’s the word) are marred when he’s shot to death in his drawing room, in the presence of his solicitor and three of the four next of kin (the painter being in a summerhouse about twenty feet away), while across the room the resident butler is loudly ringing the titular gong. Happily Travers is in the area, visiting Major Tempest, chief constable of the county, and as usual takes a hand in the investigation.

   I wouldn’t call this book a model of fair play with the reader, and there are a number of gaffes. Would you believe that three independent plots to kill the old man are going on at the same time? (At one point Travers ventures the suggestion that everyone did the crime together, showing the influence of Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS just a year after its publication.)

   The sinister letter Uncle Hubert received early on, supposedly from the husband of his estranged sister, is never explained, and the diagram that precedes the book fails to show the side door to the summerhouse, which figures heavily in the plot. Even back in 1935 I should think that simple police routine would have uncovered the scorch marks in the screen that Travers finds at the climax, proving where the fatal shot was fired from.

   But it’s a readable enough effort, and studded with the kind of lines one never finds in postwar Bush. Here for example is a description of the Toad Hall in which Uncle Hubert lives. “It was a biggish Victorian house, with gardens chock-full of second-rate rubbish—monkey-puzzle trees, laurel shrubberies, mossy croquet-lawn and miniature temple-cum-pagoda summer-house—as in the year its first owner had had them laid out.” GONG leaves much to be desired but showed me that I still have an affection for Golden Age puzzles.


   THE CASE OF THE MISSING MINUTES (1937; U.S. title EIGHT O’CLOCK ALIBI) takes place in the same area but it’s far superior to CHINESE GONG and indeed may be Bush’s finest novel. Travers is approached by his sister after a former maid tells her of strange doings and horrible night shrieks in the house called Highways where she and her husband are the servants.

   Soon after Travers makes an investigatory visit to the village of Seabrake — which happens to be not far from Seaborough where CHINESE GONG took place — he finds stabbed to death the bizarre old man who was living at the house with his 10-year-old granddaughter. Among the prime suspects are the child’s tutor and a classical pianist who happens to be in Seabrake on vacation.

   As usual in Bush novels, both men and some other characters as well have seemingly airtight alibis. At the head of the police team who come to the scene are the trio we met in CHINESE GONG — chief constable Major Tempest and his subordinates Inspector Carry and Sergeant Polegate — and all three are delighted to have Travers’ help in sorting things out.

   I can discuss this novel without revealing the murderer but not without giving away a central part of the plot. At about the two-thirds mark Travers connects the dots between a large number of subtle indications, concludes that the dead man had been a sadistic child-abuser obsessed with inflicting physical and psychological torture on his half-Jewish granddaughter with the aim of driving her insane, and refuses to give the police any more help finding the murderer.

   In Golden Age British detective novels this was a radical story element indeed, and Bush exerts all of his skill persuading us that if anyone ever deserved killing it was the old monster whose murder Travers is investigating. Readers who want to know whether or not the killer was caught will have to track down their own copy of the book. Mine is not for sale.


   CHINESE GONG and MISSING MINUTES are unusual in the Bush canon in that they take place outside the London area and therefore are without Travers’ usual Scotland Yard counterpart Superintendent George Wharton, who sports “a huge weeping-willow of a moustache” and, to me anyway, looks and sounds something like the late great Leo McKern when he played Rumpole of the Bailey.

   In THE CASE OF THE TUDOR QUEEN (1938) the setting is close to London and Wharton is front and center as usual. Passing through the village of Arneford, he and Travers encounter a frightened maid and wind up in a house in the London suburb of Westmead where they encounter two dead people: an actress who had recently scored a success playing Mary Tudor and the horserace-loving old rip who served as a sort of factotum to her.

   Both have died of poison, and as far as anyone can prove it was a case of double suicide, unless the man killed the woman and then, a day or so later, poisoned himself. Various parties are interviewed — the owner of the theater where the Mary Tudor play ran, the playwright, the actors who played the male leads opposite the dead woman — and eventually Travers comes up with a theory of how the most elaborate alibi might have been faked.

   At the fadeout the police are preparing to arrest the person Travers’s analysis points to. But since his reconstruction is speculative to say the least, and since there’s no proof even that the two deaths weren’t suicides, I would hate to have been the prosecuting attorney trying to get a conviction on this state of the evidence.


   Well, I’ve beaten around enough Bushes for one column. I do own several more pre-WWII Ludovic Travers novels that predate the three I’ve talked about here. Perhaps someday I’ll dig them out and report on them. If I hold out that long.

Editorial Acknowledgement:   The photo of Christopher Bush at the top of this post was borrowed from J. F. Norris’s “Pretty Sinister” blog. Thanks, John!

by Francis M. Nevins

   Remember MGM-TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.? It was one of the most successful of the many quasi-spy series that flooded prime time in the wake of the early James Bond movies. The stars were Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, with Leo G. Carroll as their boss, Alexander Waverly. The series ran for four seasons (1964-68), the first in black-and white and the remaining three in color.

   I began law school at around the time U.N.C.L.E. debuted but, despite a grueling study schedule, managed to catch most of the first season’s episodes, which were reasonably serious with lots of action. Once the series switched to color it also switched to spoofery and camp. I stopped watching.

   But millions stuck with Solo and Illya, and once the ratings showed that U.N.C.L.E. was a hit, MGM-TV commissioned a series of tie-in novels, 23 in all, the first of which was written by Michael Avallone (1924-1999). I had no interest in junk paperbacks but in 1970, when I moved to East Brunswick, New Jersey and was working as a Legal Aid attorney, I discovered that my apartment was only a few blocks from Avallone’s house and called him.

   That was the beginning of a weird off-and-on relationship that lasted till his death. Before becoming a neighbor of his I had known very little about him, but after we met I began to collect his books, of which there were dozens. Many of them were movie or TV tie-in novels for which he was paid around $2,000 apiece and which he ground out on his smoking typewriter in a few days or a week. I don’t recall reading any of these, but I did get him to sign them and squirreled them away.

   After my wife died and I moved into a condo, I segregated all the tie-in books and put them into a cabinet with sliding doors which were generally kept closed. A couple of months ago I happened to open one of those doors and, since the books were arranged alphabetically by author, discovered a bunch of Avallone that I’d never read, including that MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. novel and two tie-ins from the unsuccessful spin-off series THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68), which starred Stefanie Powers as April Dancer and Noel Harrison as Mark Slate. I decided it was time to tackle the trio.

   Avallone’s great contribution to pop culture was the Avalloneism. You can’t pick up any of his 200-odd books without finding yourself awash in lines you’d swear couldn’t possibly have been published. But they were. Thousands of them. Small wonder that I soon began to think of Avallone as the Ed Wood of the written word. These three tie-in books offer further proof that my name for him was not off the mark.

   In THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR (Ace pb #G-553, 1965) Solo and Illya fly to a remote German village to find out what diabolical device killed an U.N.C.L.E. scientist while in his tub and why, just before dying, he put on his clothes backwards.

   It’s no surprise that the culprit is a minion of the evil agency THRUSH, a villain called Golgotha who comes straight out of the Weird Menace pulps of Avallone’s teens. Solo solves the puzzle when he remembers that the dead man was a mystery nut with a particular fondness for Ellery Queen—and that one of the best known Queen novels, THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY (1934), had to do with a corpse who was also dressed backwards.

   Someone, quite possibly Avallone himself, called the book to the attention of Fred Dannay, who was half of the Ellery Queen collaboration and the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known. A number of years after the incident Fred told me that he’d been furious with Avallone for having given away the raison d’être of the CHINESE ORANGE puzzle. But Avallone couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Hadn’t he promoted Queen? In a paperback that sold a gazillion copies, hadn’t he plugged one of the most famous EQ titles?

   Whether the book really sold that well remains a mystery. In later years Avallone publicly accused the publisher of having cheated him out of huge royalties. The name in the copyright notice is MGM-TV, and most likely he wrote it as a work made for hire, earning a flat fee and no more. In any event Ace had nothing more to do with him. But a year later, when MGM-TV launched the GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. series and made a tie-in book deal with another publisher, it was Avallone who was tapped to write the first two entries, the only ones that appeared in the U.S. although three more came out in England.

   More than half a century has passed between the time Avallone’s contributions to the U.N.C.L.E. saga appeared and the time I pulled them out of my sliding-doored cabinet and read them. I was not disappointed.

   First let’s take THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, which should have won an Edgar had there been such an award for largest number of words misspelled. In a mere 160 pages we encounter such gems as propellor, esconced, earthern (twice!), jodphurs and cemetary. We are also treated to butchered German locutions like dumbkopf, Vast ist?, Seig heil! and nicht yahr.

   Illya’s patronymic or middle name, never given in the TV series, is rendered as Nickovetch, which is gibberish. (The genuine Russian name closest to Avallone’s invention is Nicolaievitch, which I happen to know only because it was the patronymic or middle name of Tolstoy.) And there’s hardly a page without at least one juicy Avalloneism. I will show mercy and offer only a handful, complete with page references.

   There was something damnedably odd— (19)

   The mechanized bug shot over the road, whipping like the mechanical rabbit at a quinella. (41)

   Stewart Fromes’ ten stiff naked toes wore no shoes. (57)

   Jerry Terry said “Oh!” and that was all. For Napoleon Solo, it said it all. Oh, indeed. (82)

   Like a dead fish, Solo’s right arm fell to his side. (100)

   The unexpected was always likely to happen when you least expected it. (140)

   When we turn to the second and third of Avallone’s contributions to the saga we find more of the same. THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #1: THE BIRDS OF A FEATHER AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3012, 1966) not only recycles some of the misspellings like propellor and esconced, it describes one of the bad guys as both a Hindu and a Sikh.

   On one page he’s killed by a bullet in the back of the neck and on the very next page we are told that “[b]lood from his blasted skull dripped to the floor.” As if those gaffes weren’t enough, Stefanie Powers’ first name is spelled wrong on the front cover. (That one we have to chalk up to Signet.)

   Storywise it’s typical Avallone, with first Slate and then Dancer kidnapped by THRUSH in a plot to swap them for a top enemy scientist, who claims to have discovered the secret of eternal life and is being held at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. It turns out that the scientist has an identical double who’s operating as a mole inside the good guys’ stronghold but no one in U.N.C.L.E. suspects they might be twin brothers as in fact they are.

   At one point while April Dancer is being held prisoner, a THRUSH man relieves her of “her handbag, personal effects, and even her bra (without having had to undress her).” Neat trick if you can pull it off!

   Of Avalloneisms the book has no shortage. This time I’ll limit myself to five.

   Noise echoed around the room, gobbling up echoes. (20)

   “You’re a fool,” the redhead hissed. (23)

   His kindly brown eyes were unaccustomably grim. (69)

   Her bra, taut from immersion, was strangling her breasts. (72)

   The whipsaw wore a long green velvet dress. (80)

   Tugs and seagoing freighters mooed like enormous cows in the harbor. (103)

   Whoops! Was that six? Just goes to show that quoting from Avallone is habit-forming.

   THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #2: THE BLAZING AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3042, 1966), in which Stefanie Powers’ name is again misspelled on the front cover, pits our heroic agents against an organization calling itself TORCH and described on the back cover as “so fantastically evil it puts THRUSH to shame!”

   April begins by foiling an assassination plot in the Ruritanian kingdom of Ostarkia, then joins Slate in Budapest before the two of them go on to Johannesburg on the trail of a TORCH scheme to fund its plans for world domination with South African diamonds. There seem to be fewer Avalloneisms this time around, but those that survived the Signet editorial process, such as it was, are choice.

   Kurt’s beady eyes roved between them, not sure what they were talking about, not certain as to exactly what to do next. (59)

   The colt in the chair was straining at the leash now. (69)

   The man with the withered face frowned a frownless frown. (71)

   Like so many little men wanting to be bigger than they ever really were in the first place. (126)

   In case I’ve whetted your appetite and you’re determined to read more of these cubic zirconia without visiting your shelves or a secondhand bookstore, I’ve put together a much more extensive catalogue from the trilogy, again complete with page references, which I’ve provided because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m making this stuff up. You’ll find the bonanza of boners by clicking HERE. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

by Francis M. Nevins

   Ever heard of Stanislas-André Steeman? Thought not. In Anglo-American crime fiction his name is all but unknown, but in Europe and especially France he’s considered one of the most important exponents of the roman policier. Like his far better known older contemporary Georges Simenon, he was Belgian by birth, born in Liège in 1908, five years after the creator of Maigret.

   Simenon launched the Maigret series early in life, but Steeman’s first books, written in collaboration with Hermann Sartini (whose nom de plume was Sintair) were published in 1928, a year before the first Maigrets and when Steeman was 20 years old at most, maybe even 19. After five novels the partnership broke up, and from then on Steeman was on his own, turning out more than 30 policiers before his death in 1970 at age 62.

   Only two of his novels made it across the Atlantic, with the 1931 SIX HOMMES MORTS translated (by the wife of poet Stephen Vincent Benét) as SIX DEAD MEN (Farrar & Rinehart, 1932) and 1932’s LA NUIT DU 12 AU 13 appearing in English as THE NIGHT OF THE 12th-13th (Lippincott, 1933). After that he became a nonentity in English but he was already a celebrity in France, having won the Grand Prix du Roman d’Aventures for SIX HOMMES MORTS.

   Steeman’s principal detective character was Inspector Wenceslas Vorobeitchik (the Russian word for sparrow), usually called Monsieur Wens, but on the basis of what I’ve found on the Web, it’s impossible to determine how many of Steeman’s novels he appeared in. Most of what we in the U.S. know about his work we owe to Xavier Lechard’s superlative “At the Villa Rose” website, which I highly recommend. Lechard calls Steeman “one of the greatest authors of the French Golden Age, and arguably one of the greatest mystery writers of all times….”

   Unlike Simenon, whose goal was to go beyond the conventions of classical detective fiction, Steeman loved them and loved even more to play with them. SIX DEAD MEN for example is a Tontine story of the sort we tend to associate with Ellery Queen. The fatal six agree that whoever outlives the others will inherit most of the men’s money, then the group starts dying off.

   A few years after its appearance in English translation, this novel was the basis of a low-budget “quota quickie” movie, THE RIVERSIDE MURDER (Fox British, 1935), directed by Albert Parker, with Basil Sydney starring as Inspector Philip Winton (obviously the Brit counterpart of Monsieur Wens) and, in one of his earliest film roles, Alastair Sim playing his sergeant. Featured in the cast are Ian Fleming (no, not that Ian Fleming) and Tom Helmore, who more than twenty years later played the Iago figure in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.

   Thanks to my friend Tony Williams and his forthcoming essay on French film noir during the years of Nazi occupation, I know more about Steeman’s involvement with the movie industry of his adopted country than can be learned on the Web.

   The French version of the same Steeman novel, LE DERNIER DES SIX (1941) was directed by Georges Lacombe from a screenplay by Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907-1977), who went on to become a director himself and indeed to become celebrated as the Hitchcock of France. I don’t know whether the Monsieur Wens of Steeman’s novel or the Inspector Winton of the 1935 British film had a sex partner, but in this version as played by Pierre Fresnay he has a mistress, portrayed by Suzy Delair, who was Clouzot’s mistress at the time, and according to Tony Williams, the pair operate as a sort of Nick-and-Nora couple.

   The movie must have been a hit with French audiences of the Occupation era, for it was soon followed up by Clouzot’s first film as a director, L’ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21 (1942), again starring Fresnay and Delair and with a screenplay by Clouzot and Steeman, whose 1939 novel of the same name was never translated into English, but it takes place in London and involves a serial killer who murders his victims in the fog, leaving behind a calling card in the name of “Mr. Smith.”

   Since England in 1942 was at war with the Nazis, Clouzot inserted Fresnay and Delair from LE DERNIER DES SIX as Wens and his mistress Mila Malou and shifted the locale to France and the killer’s nom de guerre to Monsieur Durand. According to Tony Williams, the serial killer in the film turns out to be three men, former schoolmates each of whom believes himself to be a sort of Raskolnikov.

   At the end of the film, says Williams, “all three master criminals have their hands in the air when they are surrounded by the police.” Wens stands opposite the ringleader of the three and, in order to strike a match on his neck, has him lower his right hand, while his left remains in the air as if he’s giving the traditional Nazi salute. How could Hitler’s censors have missed this zinger? If L’ASSASSIN sounds like a serious film noir, Williams insists that this time Fresnay and Delair form “an even more excessive screwball comedic partnership” than in LE DERNIER DES SIX.

   The end of World War II did not end the connection between Steeman and Clouzot. The only new Steeman novel published during the war had been LEGITIME DEFENSE (1942). A few years after the liberation of France, Clouzot took this novel as the basis for his film QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947), which Xavier Lechard describes as “arguably the best adaptation of Steeman’s work and one of the summits of French cinema.”

   Steeman wasn’t pleased with the result, principally because Clouzot “changed the guilty party….” Having worked on the screenplay, perhaps he was better satisfied with MYSTERE A SHANGHAI (1950), directed by Roger Blanc and based on the second and last Steeman novel to be translated into English, LA NUIT DE 12 AU 13.

   Steeman continued to write crime novels until his death but apparently they were far removed from his earlier books. Monsieur Wens returned in POKER D’ENFER (HELL’S POKER, 1955) and SIX HOMMES À TUER (SIX MEN TO KILL, 1956) but as a sort of shape-shifter, with the principal puzzle being which character in the story is he. Steeman’s final novel, AUTOPSIE D’UN VIOL (AUTOPSY OF A RAPE, 1971), is described by Lechard as “a courtroom mystery set in the United States” and displaying “a grim worldview with none of the author’s previous flippantness.”

   Although I’ve read a lot of Simenon and most of the Swedish team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and some of Friedrich Duerrenmatt and a few others, most of the mysteries I’ve consumed in the 60-odd years since I discovered Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan have been written in English. I’ve never read Steeman but what I’ve learned about him while researching this column leads me to think I might have missed a bet. Perhaps we all have.

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