Columns


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

   

   Happy New Year! Over the nearly two decades I’ve been writing these columns, I’ve always tried to make sure I knew what I was talking about. This time I know very little about my subject, but no one else seems to know more.

   Recently I found myself getting interested in an over sixty year old TV detective series which, when it was running, I never watched. Nor, it seems, did the overwhelming majority of Americans. THE INVESTIGATORS aired on CBS from early October till late December of 1961, a total of thirteen 60-minute episodes. James Franciscus, James Philbrook and Mary Murphy starred as three detectives specializing in insurance cases. Most episodes featured one well-known movie star — Claire Trevor, Miriam Hopkins, Jane Wyman and Mickey Rooney, just to name four.

   The Internet Movie Database provides cast lists for each episode but no plot summaries, which I dug out from my TV Guide collection. What mainly sparked my interest was that, according to the IMDb, every one of the thirteen hour-long episodes was directed by the same man, whom I happened to know well and who in fact was the subject of one of my books.

   The director in question was Joseph H. Lewis (1907-2000), on whose boat the Buena Vista I taped the conversations that became the raw material for the only book about him published in his lifetime. In 1937, after a few years as a film editor, Joe had become a director and made some superb 60-minute Westerns, usually starring Bill Elliott, Charles Starrett or Johnny Mack Brown, each of them brimming with visual excitement; pictures that earned him the moniker of “Wagon Wheel Joe,” thanks to his habit of shooting scenes through the spokes of guess what.

   After World War II he became involved with what would soon become known as film noir, helming pictures like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), SO DARK THE NIGHT (1946) and, best known of all, the classics GUN CRAZY (1949) and THE BIG COMBO (1955).

   In the early 1950s he suffered a major heart attack and was unable to work for a year. Near the end of that decade he moved from the big screen to the small, signing a generous long-term contract with Four Star, one of the top TV series production companies, whose executives wanted him to concentrate on THE RIFLEMAN (ABC, 1958-63), the iconic Western series created by Sam Peckinpah and starring Chuck Connors.

   “They wanted me to direct every show in the series. I said ‘Hell no, I won’t do that!’” The compromise they reached was that he’d work one week a month preparing and shooting an episode of THE RIFLEMAN or some other Four Star series. The rest of the time he’d relax on his boat. Under this arrangement he helmed 51 RIFLEMAN episodes over five years, plus two segments of THE DETECTIVES (ABC, 1958-61; NBC, 1961-62), a cop show starring Robert Taylor, and one story for Four Star’s anthology series ALCOA THEATRE.

   There’s no question that, on loan-out from Four Star, he did some work on THE INVESTIGATORS. “I wanted to do a close-up shot of [James] Franciscus’s hands,” Joe told me, “and I couldn’t do it because of the awful way his fingernails looked. He was a nail-biter.” But would he have agreed to direct an hour-long episode every week when just three years earlier his heart attack had led him to refuse to do more than one 30-minute show a month? In the immortal words of Eliza Doolittle, not bloody likely.

   If only we could check the credits on the 13 episodes of THE INVESTIGATORS, we’d know who directed them, but we can’t. Apparently the only segment that survives is “The Oracle” (12 October 1961), guest-starring Lee Marvin as a religious cult leader, which exists only in a truncated form, minus credits.

   But from what I’ve dug up it seems to have been an interesting little series. Its main claim to historical importance is that one of the three protagonists, played by Mary Murphy, was apparently the first licensed female PI character to star in a TV series.

   For devotees of Cornell Woolrich a further attraction is that two episodes seem to be rooted in the work of that dark angel of suspense. In “I Thee Kill” (26 October 1961) the investigators set out to clear a man (Mickey Rooney) who was in the crowd outside a church when the fellow who was about to marry the suspect’s girlfriend was shot dead. Doesn’t that sound just a bit like a variant on Woolrich’s THE BRIDE WORE BLACK?

   More clearly borrowed from a Woolrich premise is “Death Leaves a Tip” (30 November 1961), in which Franciscus and Murphy recruit a shy young waitress to serve as bait to trap a serial killer who’s preying on members of her profession. Unmistakably this is Woolrich’s 1938 classic “Dime a Dance,” also known as “The Dancing Detective,” with a different female job specialty. The guest star in this one was Jane Wyman, one of whose earliest credited movie roles was as the female lead in THE SPY RING (1938), an espionage drama directed by (can you guess?) Joseph H. Lewis, but this is hardly evidence that Joe helmed her episode of THE INVESTIGATORS.

   I touched base with an old friend who has one of the world’s largest collections of TV episodes from the Fifties and Sixties on video and he told me he had never even heard of THE INVESTIGATORS. I exchanged emails with a man whose biography of Joe Lewis will probably be published this year and he knew nothing more about the series than I did. Dead end. Game over. Case closed.

***

   I had hoped that this column would take me on a voyage of discovery that I could share, but the ship seems to have gotten itself grounded. Luckily I made another discovery late last year, and this is a genuine find. While fumbling around YouTube I came across a composition by my beloved Bernard Herrmann that I’d never heard before, a very early piece written when he was around 22 and never published or performed until after his death.

   What’s most fascinating about his Sinfonietta for String Orchestra (1936) is that it sounds very much as if it were a 15-minute excerpt from his score for PSYCHO, a quarter century later, that Hitchcock never used. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No one does ominous like Herrmann does ominous. Check out the Sinfonietta and hear for yourself:
   

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

   

   In 1946, soon after the end of World War II, the editors of the high-paying Esquire decided to launch a series of short detective stories and invited several authors to create a new character for possible publication in the magazine. Among those solicited was that incomparable filbert Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967), who strung together an outrageous plot about a barking clock and an astigmatic witness and dreamed up a 7½-foot-tall mathematically-educated hick from the sticks as his new detective.

   Reasonably enough, Esquire rejected the story. Who won the prize that Keeler lost? A guy who happened to have the same first and last initials as our Harry. The subject of this column.

***

   About the life of Henry Kane very little has surfaced. He was born in New York City on 18 May 1908 as Henry Cohen and apparently graduated from one of the city’s several law schools in the 1930s. How long he practiced law is unknown, but it does seem clear that he preferred writing to legal work.

   Whether he served in World War II is also unknown. At the time of Esquire’s hunt for a new series character he seems to have published nothing, and what the editors saw in him is likewise a mystery. The character he created for the magazine was Peter Chambers, a tough but sophisticated Manhattan private richard (as he prefers to call himself) whose first appearance in short-story form was “A Glass of Milk” (Esquire, February 1947).

   It was also early in 1947 that Chambers debuted as protagonist of a hardcover novel. Whether the early short stories preceded or followed A HALO FOR NOBODY (Simon & Schuster, 1947) is anyone’s guess: my own is that at least the first couple of them came first. Kane stayed with S&S for a few years, then migrated to the field of paperback originals where he flourished during the Fifties and Sixties, having Chambers narrate his own cases in a wackadoodle style which his admirers have dubbed High Kanese.

   It’s likely that Chambers was the uncredited inspiration for the hit TV series PETER GUNN (NBC, 1958-61), for which the tie-in novel (PETER GUNN, Dell pb #B155, 1960) was written by, you guessed it, Henry Kane. Later in the swinging Sixties Kane reconfigured his character as protagonist in a series of X-rated paperbacks for Lancer (1969-72).

   During the final phase of his career he turned out a number of stand-alone hardcover thrillers, some under his own byline, others as by Anthony McCall, Kenneth R. McKay, Mario J. Sagola (a name probably meant to evoke the Godfather saga) and Katherine Stapleton. He died in his home at Lido Beach, Long Island on 10 October 1988.

***

   A HALO FOR NOBODY opens with a report by Chambers to his friendly enemy NYPD Lieutenant Louis Parker, and of course to us: he was walking down Park Avenue in the lower Eighties on the way to an appointment with a potential client when, a block or so ahead of him, he witnessed an attempted kidnapping and the murder of a woman, who turns out to be the potential client’s wife.

   Being armed at the time — which establishes, I suppose, his machismo — he fired several shots into the back of the taxi in which the criminals were escaping. The taxi is later found in Central Park with two dead men in it: the driver and a known hoodlum.

   Soon afterwards, Chambers is hired by the dead woman’s husband not to solve the murder of his wife, whom he hated, but to find out why someone is trying to blackmail him when he knows he’s done nothing blackmail-worthy. It would take several pages of summary to penetrate deeper into Kane’s Chandleresque plot labyrinth and I doubt it would benefit anyone to read them.

   When A HALO FOR NOBODY was published in 1947, Kane was touted by Simon & Schuster as “a worthy successor to Dashiell Hammett.” Talk about ridiculous! The main connection between the two is that Kane, like so many others, borrowed from Hammett the climax of THE MALTESE FALCON.

   To Raymond Chandler he owed a bit more, including some elements of his protagonist — even the names have the same cadence, Philip Marlowe and Peter Chambers — and the all-but-incomprehensible labyrinthine plot, although he does keep to a reasonable minimum the vivid figures of speech in which Chandler indulged perhaps too often.

   The stylistic feature of HALO that jumps out at the reader is Kane’s habit of converting several short sentences into a single long one by the repeated use of the most common conjunction in the language. Here’s an example from a nightclub scene.

   Blue smoke curled and wavered and curtained the ceiling and the girl rocked at the microphone and her eyes were closed and her dark eyelids glistened and she sang slowly in a deep, hushed voice, throbbingly, against the wash of subdued conversation.

   I have a vague recollection that this trope started with Hemingway but I doubt that Papa used it to anywhere near the same extent as Kane.

   Anyone writing a dissertation on political incorrectness in PI fiction will go no farther than Chapter Four when Chambers encounters a gay ex-gangster and calls him, to his face, “a fairy, a phony, a queerie, a pervert.” Any such reader will miss perhaps the most memorable scene in HALO, the gunpoint tête-à-tête between Chambers and the most cold-blooded of the novel’s three murderers, who is also perhaps the most philosophical killer in the entire Kane Kanon:

   “Chambers, a long time ago I learned it was dog eat dog. A human life means nothing; your own life, conversely, means everything. We are taught differently. Comes a war — how quickly they attempt to reteach us. You have no personal grievance against the soldier of the enemy — -but you kill him, unfeelingly. A human life, in the vast perspective, means nothing; but protect yourself. With yourself, there is no perspective.”


   At the end of the scene a slightly wounded Chambers faints, vomits several times, finds a bottle and guzzles nonstop for five minutes. He then segues into the MALTESE FALCON climax from which, unlike Sam Spade, he emerges with five bullets in his stomach. From his hospital bed he identifies the third and final of the book’s murderers. That too, I suppose, is machismo.

   In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle (16 February 1947) Anthony Boucher wisely made no attempt to summarize the plot of HALO but limited himself to describing Chambers as “a private eye who thrives on drink, wenching and coincidences” and the book itself as a “[r]easonably good toughie, at once more literate and more confusing than most….” I cannot better that description.

***

   The second Chambers novel, ARMCHAIR IN HELL (1948), is similar to HALO in opening with three corpses. It’s after midnight when our private richard is ungently pulled out of an alcoholic haze by one of his most lucrative clients, a wealthy gambler known as Ziggy who’s found a naked woman with her throat slit in his house on West 76th Street.

   At the house Chambers and Ziggy find two additional corpses: a henchman of the gambler’s and a prominent art dealer. Chambers has his client steal a car, take the bodies and dump them near the river, then joins Ziggy for a 4:00 A.M. conference over cheesecake and coffee and learns that the gambler had been promised $500,000 to act as go-between in the transfer of some priceless tapestries that had been taken out of France by the Nazis during World War II.

   Those tapestries are Kane’s version of what Hammett called the black bird and Hitchcock the McGuffin. Like any McGuffin worthy of the name, this one is being sought by an assortment of questionable characters, including a blonde sexpot, a brunette sexpot, an art critic (whom Chambers describes as “a California elf”), an oddball Frenchman, a pool shark, a ballroom manager, and a sinister dwarf with a huge moronic goon who, in a scene reminiscent of the beating of Ned Beaumont in Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY, marks Chambers up with a set of brass knuckles.

   The climax calls to mind the conference among all the parties near the end of THE MALTESE FALCON, with Chambers pulling the strings so that the murderer is gunned down in front of witnesses by one of the other contenders for the tapestries.

   Our friend the student of political incorrectness will find short rations in this one, mainly the scene where Chambers asks about another character’s sexual preference or, as he phrases it, whether the man is “a nancy…. A fruit, a milky way, a buttercup.” Any such student who stopped there would miss perhaps the most interesting moment in the book, a sort of meta-scene where Chambers describes not only himself but almost every PI who came into the genre in Chandler’s shadow.

   He “has no wife, or sleep, or food, or rest. He drinks, drinks more, and more; flirts with women, blondes mostly, who talk hard but act soft, then he drinks more, then, somewhere in the middle, he gets dreadfully beaten about, then he drinks more, then he says a few dirty words, then he stumbles around, punch-drunk-like, but he is very smart and adds up a lot of two’s and two’s, and then the case gets solved….”

***

   Later that year Simon & Schuster published REPORT FOR A CORPSE (1948), a collection of Kane’s first six short stories, all from Esquire. Whereas in his book-length cases Chambers had been a member of a PI firm complete with senior partner, an old-maidish secretary and at least three legpersons, in these shorter tales he’s a lone wolf with only the secretary Miranda Foxworth carried over from the novels.

   For some unaccountable reason the stories in book form are not printed in chronological sequence but I shall cover them in Esquire’s order.

   “A Glass of Milk” (February 1947) opens on a Sunday afternoon as Chambers enters an elegant Madison Avenue drinking place, spies a beautiful blonde at the end of the bar nursing a glass of milk and orders another: obviously a prearranged signal. The blonde leaves and Chambers follows her to her apartment where she makes him a real drink, tells him she’s changed her mind about hiring him, and gives him fifty dollars for his time and trouble.

   That evening he’s visited by his friendly enemy Lieutenant Parker, telling him that the woman has been found dead, with her face mashed in, and Chambers’ prints all over the hotel suite. Chambers explains about the assignation at the bar but the apartment staff insist she never went anywhere that day and the bartender says he never served any blonde a glass of milk.

   Instantly we’re reminded of the situation in Cornell Woolrich’s iconic novel PHANTOM LADY (1942), with Chambers taking the part of the man who’s wrongly accused of his wife’s murder while he was in a bar with a woman no one else saw. Kane’s version of the story makes more sense than Woolrich’s but then he didn’t have to reach book length.

   Criminal lawyer Sonny Evans, who was an offstage character in A HALO FOR NOBODY, has a scene in “A Matter of Motive” (March 1947). It’s at his recommendation that Chambers is hired when a drugstore owner is charged with the murder of one of his clerks, who was blackmailing him over his sideline as a narcotics dealer, and with whom he had an appointment around the time of the killing.

   The next most likely suspect is the dead man’s nightclub-singer fiancée, who was also the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Chambers searches the scene of the murder and finds a letter indicating that the dead man was having an affair with his blackmail victim’s wife and was about to break it off. With two female suspects, both of whom admit they were near the crime scene at the crucial time, plus of course his client, who also had motive and opportunity, Chambers figures out who done it in a manner reasonably fair to the reader.

   You’d never guess from the flippant title of “Kudos for the Kid” (May 1947) that it’s quite close to a traditional detective tale, with Chambers addressing his friendly enemy as “my dear Parker” and the lieutenant in turn griping about the PI’s Sherlock Holmes act.

   Chambers happens to stop at a Fifth Avenue candy store to ogle a beautiful blonde staring into the shop window and is immediately invited to accompany her to an apartment hotel. What sounds like an invitation to bedplay quickly turns out otherwise: the blonde had lost a valuable emerald earring at a dance and was waiting for the person who had advertised in the newspaper, asking whoever lost the earring to meet him in front of the candy store, prove ownership of the jewel and take it back.

   Matters are straightened out in the hotel’s tower suite but before leaving Chambers discovers the blonde’s wealthy father dead of two bullet wounds in the stomach. Parker and the police doctor call it suicide but Chambers insists that suicides don’t shoot themselves in the stomach and instantly deduces the murderer (who appears onstage for exactly four paragraphs), then pulls a huge bluff to make the culprit confess.

   In the collection’s title story, “Report for a Corpse” (July 1947), a wealthy old woman hires Chambers to find out how her unfaithful husband, whom she’s refused to divorce (at a time when the only ground for divorce under New York law was adultery), plans to kill her. Shadowing the errant husband, Chambers discovers that he’s surreptitiously collected a huge supply of barbiturates.

   Visiting his client’s stately home to report to her, he gets to meet the couple’s lovely adopted daughter and apparently has a quickie with her. Soon afterwards the older woman is found dead of an overdose of, you guessed it, barbiturates. Chambers fakes an alibi for the husband and then pins the crime on — well, I’d be a toad if I said more.

   With five violent deaths and a plot rooted in events of a dozen years earlier, “The Shoe Fits” (July 1947) leads one to suspect that Kane had begun it as a novel and then, changing his mind, had boiled it down to the length of his other Esquire tales. In Hollywood to act as a $750-a-week technical adviser on a PI epic — perhaps a follow-up to THE BIG SLEEP? — Chambers is offered a bonus by the producer and director of the movie to bodyguard a Nevada casino owner who’s deeply in debt to the Mob and likely to be killed for welshing.

   The guy is murdered before Chambers can take on the job but our sleuth suspects that it wasn’t a Mob hit, follows the trail back to New York and three deaths that took place years before, returns to Hollywood and wraps things up as usual. One of the central clues is gibberish except to dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers and another stands out like W.C. Fields’ nose to anyone who remembers a little high-school German.

   In “Suicide Is Scandalous” (June 1948) Chambers’ client is another old lady and his job is to prove that one of her stepdaughters, an unaccountably wealthy woman who according to the evidence shot herself to death in her Park Avenue apartment on a Sunday morning, was actually a murder victim.

   If in fact she was murdered, the prime suspects would be the client herself and her other stepdaughter, each of whom inherits half under the dead woman’s will. With the bullet in her head clearly fired from her own gun and with a suicide note in her own handwriting found beside her body, Chambers seems to be up against a stone wall.

   But with the help of a penmanship clue borrowed from A HALO FOR NOBODY, and after a fistfight with the murderer, he breaks down the wall and earns his fee.

***

   Kane’s Esquire appearances were not limited to short stories. The magazine had published a condensed version of ARMCHAIR IN HELL (January 1948) and also ran condensations of his third, fourth and fifth novels, which I’ll discuss in another column, plus a single stand-alone short story, never collected (“Lost Epilogue,” October 1948).

   During the 1950s Kane’s novels were all paperback originals, his short stories appeared usually in Manhunt, and he perfected the oddball narrative style known to his admirers as High Kanese. Perhaps I’ll explore these later too.

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

   

   The first three of the six Maigret novels that Georges Simenon wrote in France while that country was under Nazi occupation were published, as we saw two months ago, in the 528-page omnibus volume MAIGRET REVIENT (Gallimard, 1942). Simenon and his family had moved back to Fontenay-le-Comte from Nieul-sur-Mer before he wrote the earliest of the later trio, SIGNÉ PICPUS, in the summer of 1941. A translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury was issued in England (as TO ANY LENGTHS, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1950, Penguin pb #1225, 1958) but only came to American shores in an edition published a few days before Simenon’s death (MAIGRET AND THE FORTUNETELLER, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1989).

   We open on a fiercely hot August evening when Maigret is visited in his office on the Quai des Orfèvres by Joseph Mascouvin, a dull unobtrusive clerk in a firm of estate agents. He claims that he embezzled a thousand-franc note from office funds and then, plagued by second thoughts, dropped into a café for a drink, asked for pen and paper—apparently a common request in French cafés—-and started to write a note of confession to his employers, only to discover on a sheet of blotting paper the reverse image of a message which, using his eyeglasses for a mirror, he was able to read: “Tomorrow afternoon on the stroke of five I am going to kill the fortuneteller.”

   Giving the novel its title, the message is signed Picpus. Maigret takes this bizarre story seriously and has the police keep an eye on the 82 known fortune-tellers in Paris. But at a few minutes after five the next afternoon, a report comes into the Police Judiciaire that a clairvoyant who had flown under the official radar has been found stabbed to death in her apartment.

   Maigret visits the crime scene and finds the door to the kitchen of the apartment locked with no key in sight. When it’s opened by a locksmith, a strange old man is found among the pots and pans. He claims that he was visiting Mlle. Jeanne when suddenly she had heard someone coming and locked him in. Maigret takes the bewildered and frightened old man back to the apartment he shares with his wife and daughter but soon senses something wrong: it seems that the old man, a retired ship’s doctor named Le Cloaguen, is kept locked in his cell-like bedroom, given only enough food to keep him alive, and is not allowed any money when he goes out although the family is living on an annuity of 200,000 francs a year.

   Then Mascouvin suddenly leaps into the Seine and comes near killing himself. Maigret patiently explores the situation—at one point spending a Sunday afternoon at a riverside inn very similar to the one he stayed at in LA GUINGUETTE À DEUX SOUS (1932; translated as GUINGUETTE BY THE SEINE)—and eventually exposes a colossal fraud scheme and a ring of blackmailers. With plenty of Paris atmosphere and a plot more complex than usual (although the astute reader may well intuit at least the fraud part of the plot along with Maigret), this is one of the wartime gems.

   Sainsbury’s translation features a number of noticeable Anglicisms: Maigret wears braces rather than suspenders, and at one point there is fear that a juge d’instruction will kick up a shindy. But I was distracted much more by Sainsbury’s strange habit of italicizing all street names, for no better reason than that they’re French. Are the British locutions and italics preserved in the U.S. edition? Je ne sais pas.

***

   During the winter of 1941-42 Simenon wrote what we might call the first Maigret novelet. “Menaces de mort” was published as a six-part serial in the weekly Révolution National (8 March-12 April 1942) but until very recently was available in English only on the Web. (It’s now the title story in a new Simenon collection, DEATH THREATS AND OTHER STORIES, Penguin 2021.)

   Like SIGNÉ PICPUS it begins with a threatening note, this one without even a fanciful signature. Constructed out of words from various newspapers, it was delivered to the head of a rag-and-scrap company, predicting that he’ll die on the coming Sunday before 6:00 p.m. Being blessed with thirty million francs and excellent political connections, Emile Grosbois prevails on the Police Judiciaire to supply him with a bodyguard, and Maigret is assigned to accompany the junk dealer to the weekend retreat on the Seine, near Coudray, which he shares with his twin brother, his widowed sister and her son and daughter.

   Calling the Grosbois family dysfunctional would be like calling King Kong a cute little monk. Maigret arrives at Coudray by train on the Saturday afternoon and witnesses roughly 24 hours of vicious infighting among the family members, who uniformly leave him disgusted, but nothing violent happens—until just before 6:00 on Sunday when Emile suddenly keels over on his terrace.

   Maigret recognizes that he’s been poisoned, saves his life by making him vomit, and the story ends, except for a Monday morning recap when the Commissaire explains everything to his boss: “It’s nice to save people but it would be better if they deserved it.” His claim that he knew the truth about the death threat since the get-go must rank as just about the most ridiculous thing he ever said.

   We don’t know whether it was Simenon’s decision to leave this farrago of silliness out of all subsequent French collections of his stories and, until recently, to exclude it from the English language completely, but if so it was a wise move. Luckily it didn’t discourage him from writing more and much better Maigrets of the same length after the war.

***

   Intent on providing his infant son Marc with a better climate, Simenon had moved his family again, this time to the village of La Faute sur Mer, before May 1942 when the next Maigret was written. FÉLICIE EST LÀ (translated as MAIGRET AND THE TOY VILLAGE, Hamish Hamilton 1978, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1979) is lighter in tone than almost any other Maigret, and Simenon liked to cite it as an illustration of his skill as a humorist.

   If he arranged the details of character and setting in “Menaces de Mort” so as to evoke our repugnance, in FÉLICIE he goes to the opposite extreme to make us feel at peace: sunlight, the pleasant odor of flowers, pink brick cottages, twittering birds, le tout monde or, as a Yank might say, the whole nine yards.

   Maigret visits a new housing development outside of Paris, looking into the murder of Lapie, a one-legged retired bookkeeper living on a pension, who was shot to death in the bedroom of his pleasant cottage on a spring morning. Sharing the cottage with him was his 24-year-old servant girl Félicie, “a caricature of a woman out of a storybook….” Maigret describes her as ”thin as a stick, with a pointed nose and a forehead like a nanny goat’s, always decked out in all the colors of the rainbow….”

   She seems to live in a fantasy world, imagining herself alternately as Lapie’s mistress, his illegitimate daughter, a princess incognito, and the heroine of one of those cheap French romance novels Simenon had turned out at dizzying speed back in his early twenties. This weird woman gives Maigret no end of trouble as he hunts for clues, to the point of hiding the murder weapon and slipping off to Paris where she plants it on a stranger in the Métro. (Simenon serves up a huge credibility croissant when he has Maigret and Félicie stop for lunch at the same Paris restaurant where the man on whom she planted the weapon is eating.)

   The murderer never comes onstage for even a moment, and whatever humor the French may have found in these pages—like the Breton accent of a character who says maisong and mossieu, the mano a mano between Maigret and a live lobster, and most of all the interplay between the Commissaire and Félicie—is not likely to make coffee spill out the noses of us Yanks. But Simenon does a fine job creating a rich light atmosphere that generates a sense that the world is an okay place.

***

   It’s hard to believe the number of moves Simenon and his family were able to make during the years of war and occupation, but we must remember that the author was a wealthy and influential figure even under the Nazis, and that movies based on Maigret novels, starring Albert Préjean as the Commissaire, were being released regularly during the Occupation.

   By early 1943 they had moved from Fontenay to a rented villa in Saint-Mesmin-le-Vieux, about 40 kilometers away. There he spent February and early March writing the sixth and final Maigret novel of the war years, L’INSPECTEUR CADAVRE (translated as MAIGRET’S RIVAL, Hamish Hamilton 1979, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1980). The title is the nickname of lugubrious Justin Cavre, a former member of Maigret’s squad who now works as a private detective.

   The Commissaire’s role from first page to last is wholly unofficial as, at the behest of a juge d’instruction, he travels on a dark January day to the marshy little village of Saint-Aubin, in the Vendée 22 kilometers from Fontenay, to look into the death of a young man who was supposedly run over by a train. There have been rumors and anonymous letters claiming that the youth was murdered by Etienne Naud, a local bigwig who happens to be the brother-in-law of a certain juge d’instruction.

   On the train to the village Maigret encounters Cavre and begins to suspect that the ex-cop has been hired on the same case. As usual, the Commissaire sets out to absorb the local environment, checking out rumors that are roundly denied throughout the village—that the dead youth’s bloody cap had been found near the Nauds’ house and that his widowed mother had come into a large sum of money—and trying to process the confession to him by the Nauds’ 20-year-old daughter that she’s three months pregnant by the dead boy.

   After the climactic confrontation scene Maigret returns to Paris with the murder not only officially unsolved but not even recognized as a murder. The plot is rather sloppy, as interested readers may explore by clicking here, but the atmosphere—darkness, ice, mud and cynicism in roughly equal parts—is superbly created.

***

   The three novels I’ve discussed here were first published in France, along with a number of stand-alone short stories, in a huge omnibus volume simply titled SIGNÉ PICPUS (Gallimard, 1944). American readers didn’t get to see these novels in their own language until generations later. The three mark the end of Maigret’s so-called middle period, followed by a sort of sabbatical during which Simenon wrote no more about the Commissaire until after the war when, fearing that he’d be punished in France for having been too cozy with the Nazis, he emigrated to North America.

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

   

   Except for Hammett and Howard Fast I don’t believe I’ve ever written about a writer who was a member of the Communist party. Unlike Hammett and Fast, the subject of this month’s column escaped the HUAC-McCarthy purge, and possible jail time, but only by dying young. His legacy includes a huge pile of non-fiction issued by various labor organizations and the Communist-run International Publishers and, perhaps more relevant to readers of this column, three crime novels.

   For those interested in his life, the place to begin is Harry Carlisle’s introduction to our subject’s posthumously published journalism collection On the Drumhead (1948), which has been digitized and is accessible online. Paul William Ryan was born in San Francisco on 6 July 1906 to Irish-American parents who apparently were not well fixed. “My family kept alive by running rooming houses,” he said near the end of his brief life.

   He left school at age 15 to enter the work force, initially, so he claimed, as manager of a pool hall. In his twenties and thirties he held down a variety of jobs on ships, in bookstores and elsewhere, but his main occupation was journalism. Under the byline of Mike Quin he wrote an estimated million words a year for all sorts of labor union periodicals and for newspapers like the Daily People’s World, a West Coast paper run by the Communist Party. After the USSR signed a non-aggression treaty with Hitler, who a few months later attacked Great Britain and other countries, he formed a committee to agitate for keeping the U.S. from joining the war on the Brits’ side, a committee that quickly dissolved after Hitler broke his treaty and invaded the Soviet Union.

   In 1944 he married the former Mary King O’Donnell and the couple soon had a daughter whom they named Colin Michaela. Shortly after the end of World War II, under the new byline of Robert Finnegan, he turned out three well-received whodunits starring newsman Dan Banion. The series abruptly ended with his death.

   There’s nothing overtly Communist in the Banion novels but, like many a 1940s movie, they tend to paint the have-not characters in virtuous colors and the haves as, pardon the expression, toads. The style is readable but, like Hammett’s, unadorned, with the vivid figures of speech we associate with Chandler noticeably absent. If the trilogy had made it to Hollywood, perhaps the ideal star to have played Banion would have been John Garfield, and any number of actors who were blacklisted in the Fifties would have fit well in other parts.

***

   From early on there are hints that the first of the trio, The Lying Ladies (1946), takes place not shortly after World War II, as its publication date would suggest, but rather back in the Depression-wracked and socially conscious 1930s. When later in the novel some of the characters listen to a radio broadcast announcing the “peace in our time” agreement between Hitler and Britain’s prime minister Neville Chamberlain, we know that the precise time is late September 1938.

   The geographic setting is somewhere in the undifferentiated Midwest — Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, take your pick. We open as a penniless young tramp with a bent for poetry approaches a prosperous-looking suburban house in search of a meal, is invited inside by a vicious-looking woman and, after being fed, is asked to move some furniture in an upstairs bedroom where he’s promptly conked on the head. He wakes up the next morning in a farmer’s pasture, minus his cap, liquor-soaked and with money, jewelry and a bloody clasp knife in his pockets.

   It’s no surprise when he’s quickly arrested for the murder of the housemaid who was found stabbed to death in the bedroom in which he claims he was knocked out. From the viewpoint of the reactionary local papers it’s a perfect case to attack soft-on-bums policies. Banion, a reporter in the area’s big city, is sent out to exploit the situation politically but, being a man of good will and friend to those who have no friend, he quickly becomes convinced that the young vagrant has been framed.

   The jailed youth’s description of the woman who fed him leads to the madam of the local brothel, which survives by paying off the proper officials, and to a hooker with a heart of gold who sets out with Banion and a compassionate farmer (who could easily have been one of John Steinbeck’s Okies) to clear the young man. Besides the stripped-down prose there’s another feature that recalls Hammett, namely the Thin Man-style sex banter, in which Banion engages not only with his lovely wife Ethel but with just about every attractive woman he meets during the case.

   Anthony Boucher in the San Francisco Chronicle (31 March 1946) called Finnegan’s debut a “[l]ong full-bodied story, rich in well-sketched characters and vigorous action,” and described Banion as “having a sense of social responsibility unique in the field.”

***

   The Bandaged Nude (1946) was published in the same year as The Lying Ladies but was obviously written not long before publication, as witness its setting in post-WWII San Francisco with its housing shortage, rampant inflation and, most striking of all, a specifically postwar malaise, expressed in several ways including some poems written by various characters. Banion has seen combat but Ethel has died while he was in the army and, even though he’s gotten a job as reporter on one of the city’s papers, like so many protagonists of noir novels and movies he’s at an existential loose end.

   One morning, while happening to drop in at the Hall of Justice, he’s invited to take a look at a recently discovered dead man, found with a weird green stain on his lips in a crate of ruined spaghetti about to be incinerated. He recognizes the body as that of a young vet and former artist with the Harry Stephen Keelerish name of Kenton Kipper whom he’d encountered in a saloon the previous night, trying to find out what had happened to one of his works, the nude painting of the title, which used to hang over the bar.

   For no good reason — or as Tony Boucher described it, “prompted…by an odd sense of human fellowship” — Banion doesn’t identify the dead man but sets out on his own to avenge him. That green stain on his lips is soon discovered to come from a rare poison called leumatine which, turning up no hits on Google, I assume Finnegan concocted ex nihilo. Banion quickly learns that not just the nude but every one of the paintings Kipper sold before going into the army have been bought by a mysterious character who goes by a different name for each transaction.

   Easing himself into San Francisco’s rather bohemian arts community, Banion interacts with a number of characters in Kipper’s life including his ex-wife (a Film Noir Woman of the first water), her estranged second husband, an obese homosexual art dealer and a sleazy PI. Eventually there are two more leumatine murders, one of them in Banion’s presence, and he himself narrowly misses becoming a fourth victim.

   Between poisonings comes a lot of pursuit through the city, so much so that readers from outside the Bay Area could have profited if a San Francisco street map had accompanied the book. About two-thirds of the way through the novel one may begin to suspect who’s guilty, but few will stop reading until after the climactic fistfight between that person and Banion. Finnegan, said Boucher in his review, “has something affirmative and warming to say about people, and he says it here even better than before….”

   That review was published in the Chronicle for 30 March 1947. In May of that year Finnegan was diagnosed with cancer and told he had two months to live. The doctors were not far off: he died on 14 August, age 41. His third and final novel was published the following year.

***

   By far the bloodiest of the trilogy, Many a Monster (1948) has been described as one of the first serial-killer novels, although I disagree with the label because all the murders turn out to be connected. We open with the escape of a disturbed WWII vet on his way to an institution for the criminally insane after being convicted of the murder and dismemberment of three young women. (I know he couldn’t have been going to such an institution unless he’d been found not guilty by reason of insanity, but Finnegan is not a lawyer.)

   Banion is assigned by his city editor to check out all the people closest to the fugitive: his sister, his ex-wife, his present girlfriend, a Marine buddy, and others. After the brutal murder of the sister he begins to question the escapee’s guilt. His doubts lead him to quit his job but he carries on as the murders continue, even after a white supremacist gang captures and beats him and comes close to ripping out his fingernails with pliers.

   The solution is surprising but is pulled out of a hat, as it were, and leaves a few key questions unanswered. With a total of fifteen fatalities — -four before Page 1, another quartet during the course of the novel and seven neo-Nazis gunned down by Banion himself, who also disposes of their Führer in a brutal fistfight — one might almost think our author was setting out to become the left-wing Mickey Spillane if one didn’t know that the first Mike Hammer novel, I, the Jury (1947), came out only shortly before Finnegan’s death.

***

   His death, wrote Boucher in the Chronicle, “meant the loss to the mystery field of one of its most up-and-coming new practitioners…. [M]ay he rest in peace.” (31 August 1947).

   It’s tempting to speculate on what would have happened to Finnegan had he lived to, say, the biblical three score years and ten. Would he have been imprisoned like Hammett and Fast? Impossible to say. Would he have quit writing as Hammett had done long before he was locked up? Most unlikely. Like Fast, would he have turned out twenty-odd mystery novels in his late years? Perhaps. If so, he might easily have earned for himself a few sentences or a paragraph in the history of our genre instead of a footnote. But a rich and fascinating footnote, yes?

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

   

   In a column from a few years back I discussed the Maigret short stories that Georges Simenon wrote in the late 1930s, the years just before the outbreak of World War II. There were very few such stories during the war years but, sandwiched between several non-series books, we find a total of six Maigret novels, which are all worth some attention.

   We have to keep in mind, of course, that Simenon wrote them in France when that country was first threatened and then occupied by the Nazis. It was an unwritten rule during these years that every novel, story and film had to be set, explicitly or by implication, back in the tranquil Thirties. (For the impact of this rule on the French film industry, which was totally controlled by Germany during the occupation years, I refer you to my friend Tony Williams’ 2018 essay “The Silence of the Noir” in FILM NOIR PROTOTYPES: ORIGINS OF THE MOVEMENT, ed. Alain Silver & James Ursini.) This is certainly true of Simenon’s wartime fiction, whether stand–alone novels or Maigrets.

***

   A few months into 1939, Simenon and his then wife and their newborn son moved to Nieul-sur-Mer, a village about six kilometers from the seaport city of La Rochelle. That was the family’s home at the time Hitler invaded his neighbors and it was there that he wrote the final two Maigret short stories. (All the later Maigrets at less than novel length are too long to be described as short stories.) Both tales first appeared in the weekly Sept Jours and were collected after the war in MAIGRET ET LES PETITS COCHONS SANS QUEUE (Presses de la Cité, 1950).

   “L’homme dans le rue” (Sept Jours, 15 & 22 December 1940, as “Le prisonnier dans la rue”) is a tale of pure atmosphere, with a plot all but non-existent. On a freezing Sunday night a well-to-do physician is shot to death in the Bois de Boulogne. A few days later Maigret has an announcement published in the newspapers that an arrest has been made and that a reconstruction of the crime will take place early the next morning.

   With the arrestee played by a small-time criminal known as P’tit Louis (perhaps the same Louis who appears in several other Simenons and perhaps not), the reconstruction is held, with Maigret’s men planted all over the Bois to check out anyone who seems unduly interested.

   Attention quickly focuses on one man and the chase begins, “a chase which was to go on for five days and five nights, through a city that was unaware of it, among hurrying pedestrians, from bar to bar, from bistro to bistro, Maigret and his detectives taking it in turns pursuing this solitary man and becoming, in the end, as exhausted as their quarry.”

   After Maigret plants another story in the papers, this one completely false, the man gives up and confesses — -no, he is not the murderer — and the story ends. It first appeared in English as “Inspector Maigret Pursues” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1967), and was collected under its original title “The Man in the Street” in MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS (Hamish Hamilton 1976, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977). In English, by the way, P’tit Louis becomes Louis the Kid.

   If nothing else, “Vente à la Bougie” (Sept Jours, 20 & 27 April 1941) is a sterling example of unity of time and place, consisting of a single scene in a single setting, an isolated country inn in the middle of the marshes of the Vendée, although describing the tale requires me to break those unities.

   On the evening before a local farm is to be auctioned off on a cash-only basis, apparently for non-payment of debts and taxes, two wealthy peasants come to the inn with large sums of money for the bidding. Near midnight one of these men is found in his room with his skull fractured, his mattress on fire and his well-stuffed wallet missing.

   Maigret, presently head of the crime squad in Nantes (a position he never held except in this story), comes alone, believe it or not, to investigate. There are seven suspects: the innkeeper (who happens to be an ex-convict), his fat paramour, a teen-age servant girl, the farmer who was about to lose his property, the other potential buyer, and two locals.

   Recognizing that the case depends on why the mattress was set on fire, Maigret makes the seven re-enact their moves on the fatal evening over and over. As usual in Simenon, the reader has no chance to beat the Commissaire to the solution, which involves an insurance policy of a sort that, if it ever existed, must have been unique to France: the insured is paid off if he lives to age 50!

   The tale appeared in English as “Inspector Maigret Directs” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1967) and, like the one before it, was collected in MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS. In case you were wondering, “Vente à la Bougie” literally means sale by candlelight, which has somehow, don’t ask me how, come to mean an auction.

***

   In December 1939 Simenon wrote the earliest of the six wartime Maigret novels, LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC, which wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1978 (as MAIGRET AND THE HOTEL MAJESTIC). The title seems to be a tip of the beret to Simenon’s friend and admirer André Gide (1869-1951) and his 1914 novel (which he refused to call a novel) LES CAVES DU VATICAN.

   The basement of this luxe Paris hotel (which, according to www.trussel.com, a gem of a website if ever there was one, was modeled on the Claridge in the same city) has more to do with Simenon’s plot than the caverns underneath the Vatican with Gide’s, but in neither work are the caves central as those beneath the Paris Opera House are in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

   The Maigret novel opens early one morning as a breakfast chef at the Majestic discovers the strangled body of a wealthy American woman in a basement locker and soon finds himself the prime suspect. Maigret discovers — Simenon doesn’t bother to tell us how — that the woman was French by birth and had been a semi-pro hooker in Cannes before she met an American millionaire and tricked him into marriage. In time the plot morphs from sexual to financial intrigue, and at the climax Maigret uncharacteristically punches the murderer in the nose.

   Here and elsewhere in middle-period Maigret, Simenon seems to stress plot more than earlier or later, although Ellery Queen-style fair play is still not his cup of café au lait. Writing at white heat as he did, he slips here and there; for example, a police report in Chapter One gives the age of the dead woman’s maid as 42, but when Maigret gets to meet her much later in the book she’s described as an old lady.

   What makes LES CAVES rough going in spots for American readers is that either the translator or the publisher was very careless with punctuation, sometimes forgetting to insert a new set of quote marks to indicate a new speaker, at other times inserting new marks although the speaker hasn’t changed.

   And one tends to get heartily sick of hearing Maigret ask “What’s he (or she) saying?” whenever a character speaks English and of hearing American characters ask the same question whenever Maigret or someone else speaks French.

   Still and all, I liked this book. After reading tons of Simenons in which Maigret simply absorbs people and atmospheres and at the appropriate moment tells us who did what, it’s a pleasure to find one in which he acts a bit more like a detective.

***

   A month later, in January 1940, Simenon wrote LA MAISON DU JUGE (translated as MAIGRET IN EXILE, 1978). Thanks to a shake-up at the Police Judiciaire, Maigret has been transferred to Luçon, in the Vendée. After vegetating there for a few months he is visited by an old woman from the village of l’Aiguillon, some six kilometers from Luçon, a tiny place where the main occupation is mussel-gathering.

   Her husband, a retired customs inspector who had met Maigret in the past, has sent her to tell him that a few days earlier, while on a ladder pruning one of his fruit trees, he had seen a dead body on the floor of a second-story room in the house back-to-back with his own, a house owned by a retired judge named Forlacroix. The body is now no longer where it was, and the suspicion is that the judge is going to drag it out and toss it into the sea as soon as the tide is high enough.

   Maigret comes to l’Aiguillon, joins the old customs inspector’s surveillance, and watches the judge setting out to do precisely what it was suspected he was about to do. Thus begins the investigation, not only of the judge but of his mentally disturbed daughter, his violent-tempered estranged son, and a tough local mussel-gatherer who was sneaking visits to the house for sex with the daughter.

   As usual, Maigret reaches the truth by intuition, coming close to making us doubt he’s a detective. Even though the bedroom of the judge’s daughter adjoins the room where the corpse was first seen, he never bothers to interrogate her: one conversation with her would have ended the book then and there.

   Simenon even allows the judge to exit the scene halfway through the novel by confessing to a 20-year-old murder and having himself put in prison, without any formalities, any trial, rien ne va plus. I find it hard to believe that under French law at the time this was, shall we say, kosher.

   The vividly evoked atmosphere that we usually find in Simenon is conspicuous by its thinness. The English translation has flaws of its own, playing so fast and loose with French accent marks that the cedilla under the c in Luçon, which signifies that the letter is pronounced soft as in Lucy rather than hard as in lucky, is perhaps best described as now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. By any measure this is certainly one of the lesser Maigrets.

***

   That Simenon managed to do any writing at all during the tumultuous year 1940 is something of a miracle. Hitler’s Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in May. Simenon, a Belgian citizen though residing in France for more than fifteen years, expected to be drafted.

   He went by train to Paris but, on consulting with the Belgian embassy, he was directed to serve as unofficial high commissioner for the thousands of Belgian refugees pouring into his part of France. He tackled this job with the manic energy he devoted to writing. When did he eat? When did he sleep? his colleagues wondered.

   After three hectic months he closed the reception center he had created and returned to Nieul and his career. A few months later he and his family moved further inland to Fontenay-le-Comte, not far from Luçon where Maigret had been stationed in LA MAISON DU JUGE. He rented part of a huge château recently vacated by the Nazis and, in December, resurrected his signature character.

   In CÉCILE EST MORTE (translated as MAIGRET AND THE SPINSTER, Hamish Hamilton 1977, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977) Maigret is back in Paris and in his office on the Quai des Orfèvres, working on a case involving a Polish gang that seems to date this novel contemporaneously with the 1938 short story translated as “Stan the Killer.”

   During this period he’s been visited several times by a dowdy and sheeplike young woman with the complaint that someone has been sneaking by night into the fifth-floor apartment she shares with her widowed and near-bedridden aunt: someone who disturbs various items of furniture but never takes anything.

   As the novel begins she’s waiting for Maigret on yet another morning, but by the time he arrives and is ready to see her she’s vanished, leaving behind a frantic note. Alarmed, he visits the woman’s apartment building and finds her aunt, who in fact owned the building, strangled to death. Later that day the missing niece is also found dead, in a broom closet in the Palais du Justice building, which is connected with the Police Judiciaire by a glass door.

   Among the most likely suspects in the aunt’s murder are a penniless nephew whose wife is about to give birth and a disbarred lawyer suspected of child molestation who occupies the apartment just below the dead woman’s. Maigret soon learns that Aunt Juliette was a miser who kept a fortune in thousand-franc notes hidden in her apartment, that she treated her niece Cécile as more or less a slave, and that, at the behest of her ex-lawyer tenant, she had become whole or part owner of several brothels.

   As the case proceeds, Maigret’s superior asks him to let a visiting Pennsylvania criminologist tag along with him on the investigation. The Yank adds nothing to the plot but helps expand the book to its proper length. Maigret is given a chance to explain his methods — which boil down to the simple sentence “I feel things” — and also to introduce the American to French cuisine, like cèpes à la bordelaise and coq au vin, washed down with Beaujolais and, later, with coffee and Armagnac. (Cèpes are wild mushrooms, also known as porcini.)

   The book ends with the truth discovered (although one discovery generates a thorny legal issue in which Simenon has no interest but which those who dote on such matters and don’t mind having part of the plot spoiled for them can find discussed by clicking here) and the Parisian and the Philadelphian getting tipsy together. Thanks to its rich atmosphere and vivid character sketches, CÉCILE ranks very high among the cases of Europe’s most famous detective.

***

   These first three wartime Maigrets were not published separately like all the previous books in the series but in a single 528-page omnibus, MAIGRET REVIENT (1942). They appeared in the U.S. in individual volumes decades later.

   Between 1941 and 1943 Simenon wrote three more book-length Maigrets, which appeared in France in an even larger omnibus volume, plus one short novel about the Commissaire which is accessible in English only on the Web. These we’ll save for another column.

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

   

   Does anybody still read F. Van Wyck Mason? I began buying his books in my teens and accumulated a generous assortment of them over time but read very few if any until recent years. His first name was Francis, his middle name was pronounced Van Wyke, and he was born in Boston in 1897, although some print and Web sources give the year as 1901, which strikes me as wrong because that would have made him 15 or 16 at the time the U.S. entered World War I, in which he is said to have served.

   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 early crime fiction — not on its merits but because, as we’ll see shortly, it had a huge influence on one of the giants of the genre.

***

   His first novel, SEEDS OF MURDER (1930), 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. Appropriately enough, he has a Watson who, like the original, happens to be a medical man, a doctor named Walter Allan.

   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, back in the U.S., bought into a firm of stockbrokers. Delancey’s version of Toad Hall is hit by a savage storm before dinner can be served. Then one of his house guests, who is also his 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 suspects are Delancey’s mistress, his abused young wife and her brother (both of whom are near broke after having entrusted him with their money), a former neighbor who had also lost heavily by investing with Delancey, 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 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.

***

   THE VESPER SERVICE MURDERS (1931) begins much as SEEDS OF MURDER did, with North on vacation and staying with his Watson at the palatial home of a nabob, but the prosperous Massachusetts mill town they’re visiting may perhaps owe something to the Poisonville of Hammett’s RED HARVEST (1929), crooked politicians, fat sloppy cops and all.

   The city’s corrupt mayor is running for re-election against a Reform candidate who’s backed by North’s host, a wealthy old judge, and who’s courting his sponsor’s lovely daughter. After a tense conversation involving the judge, the rival candidates for mayor and a local businessman who’s also interested in the judge’s daughter, the mansion is visited by an old Army buddy of North’s, now a detective hired by the judge to investigate the current administration.

   Within minutes after the conference has broken up comes a double murder, with the investigator shot dead on the drive outside the mansion and the mayor on the grounds close by, while the judge is conked on the head in his study and the mysterious message given him by his detective burned. The mayor leaves North with one of the reasons this book is historically important: a dying message.

   The next morning, after another weird coroner’s inquest, held in the mansion and presided over by the state police, a bomb goes off in the house. North sends the injured judge and his daughter to their summer place in the forest a few hours away and continues to investigate, soon getting on the track of a mystery man known as Vesper who apparently controls the city.

   Fearing for the judge’s life, North and Allan go by train to the hamlet of Deer Lake Junction, only to find the whole area menaced by a forest fire. And so on and on until the climactic shoot-out between North and Vesper, punctuated by lightning flashes and thunderclaps. Mason slathers on the melodrama with a trowel, displays his ignorance of German by adding umlauts to words like Oberleutnant and Sturm, and still labors under the SEEDS OF MURDER delusion that a coroner’s jury can indict someone for murder. On the other hand, he evokes the stifling heat vividly and handles two central clues with great subtlety.

   No one would call VESPER SERVICE a classic but, as I said before, it’s of considerable historical value for the influence it exerted on one (or perhaps two) of the finest detective novelists of the Golden Age. Fred Dannay (1905-1982), who customarily did the plotting for the novels he and his cousin Manfred B. Lee (1905-1971) wrote under the byline of Ellery Queen, is known to have gotten many of his ideas from other novels, notably Conan Doyle’s THE VALLEY OF FEAR (1914), whose main plot device he adapted again and again in the early Queen books (1929-35).

   Quite clearly he also drew on THE VESPER SERVICE MURDERS, which contains at least four elements familiar from the EQ canon. First and foremost is the one I mentioned before, the dying message theme, which the cousins first used in THE TRAGEDY OF X (1932, as by Barnaby Ross) and continued to employ for decades. Next comes the motif of color blindness, which recurs in Queen again and again (although Fred and Manny, who both smoked heavily as young men, never claimed as does the oculist in VESPER SERVICE that the disease can be caused by excessive tobacco).

   Then come the clue of the train conductor’s ticket punch, which is central to THE TRAGEDY OF X, and the forest fire, which dominates THE SIAMESE TWIN MYSTERY (1933). Except perhaps for THE VALLEY OF FEAR, I suspect there’s no other book to which Queen is so indebted as THE VESPER SERVICE MURDERS.

***

   Around this time it must have dawned on Mason that he couldn’t indefinitely continue the North series in its original configuration. After all, his protagonist was supposed to be a captain in the Army, and so far he’d had nothing but civilian detective cases with few military aspects.

   His creator made some stabs at addressing this problem in the third North novel, THE FORT TERROR MURDERS (1931), dropping Dr. Allan down the memory hole and swapping the stateside settings of the first two Norths for a more exotic locale. We are on the Philippine island of Luzon, and North, stationed in Manila, visits the isolated military outpost of Fort Espanto to play polo, although if he came with a team we see neither hide nor hair of any other player on his side.

   At a dinner party hosted by the post’s commanding officer, North hears stories about a fabulous treasure hidden by Jesuit priests (who were expelled by the Spanish in 1767) somewhere in the monastery over which the original Fort Espanto was later built. The party is interrupted by a young Spaniard who announces that the treasure has been found.

   North accompanies the colonel, his aide, several other officers and the four women in the dinner party as they go out in near pitch darkness to search the long deserted original fort. It should come as no surprise to any reader when the Spaniard is stabbed to death and the lieutenant who was working with him vanishes.

   The next day brings another murder along with various incidents like North finding a cobra in his desk drawer. But the main intellectual thrust of the novel is not so much solving the murders as cracking the code leading to the treasure, a complex cipher devised by a diabolically clever Jesuit in the 1760s and involving a pair of unusual rosaries, the Latin text of the Our Father and the positions of two stars.

   The reader of course is given no chance either to penetrate the code or to figure out who killed whom. On the plus side, the Philippine atmosphere seems to ring true and Mason doesn’t spare us the white racism: “These islands would be a great place if there weren’t any Filipinos on them,” North is told by a fellow officer.

   But the multitudinous lieutenants and captains in the cast are a bit hard to tell apart and an inordinate number of them seem to be living in the post commander’s lavish house. For better or worse, FORT TERROR makes clear that the original version of North as a sort of soldierly American Holmes had become history.

   In later novels Captain Hugh tackled various problems of international intrigue in exotic locales and did so well that he was promoted to Major and then to Colonel, nimbly leapfrogging over the intervening rank of Lieutenant Colonel. These books converted him from a Holmes-like figure to something of a prototype for James Bond and perhaps for James Atlee Phillips’ American secret agent Joe Gall. Will I tackle any of them in later columns? Dunno.

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

   

   There’s a general rule to which the most conspicuous exception in our genre is Agatha Christie: an author’s work dies with the author. Certainly Aaron Marc Stein’s has. Over a period of almost half a century he wrote a total of 114 novels, all but three of them whodunits, and at the peak of his career he was praised by Anthony Boucher of the New York Times Book Review as the most reliable professional detective novelist in America.

   Try to find any of his books now. I began reading Aaron in my teens and got to meet him when he was in his early seventies. We remained friends for the rest of his life. Isn’t it time that I try to resurrect him?

   He was the consummate New Yorker, born there on 15 November 1906, and for his college education went no farther than Princeton University, across the Hudson in New Jersey, from which he graduated in 1927, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. His first publisher was Covici Friede and his first novels, SPIRALS (1930) and HER BODY SPEAKS (1931), were of the avant-garde type and saw print thanks to endorsements from Theodore Dreiser.

   He then adopted the pseudonym of George Bagby for a long-forgotten romance novel, BACHELOR’S WIFE (1932). By this time he’d become interested in mystery fiction and, still using the Bagby byline, began writing what turned out to be a 48-book series of whodunits featuring Inspector Schmidt, a Manhattan police detective who is characterized mainly by taking off his shoes whenever possible, to ease the sore feet he developed in his early years as a beat cop.

   The first three Schmidts were published by Covici Friede, with either Aaron or his editor opting to use Bagby as both the byline on the novels and the Watson figure. Bagby the character is not a cop but a professional writer commissioned to turn Schmidt’s cases into fiction. He calls himself Schmidty’s ghost writer but, since he not the Inspector is presented as the author, it’s more accurate to describe him as Schmidty’s chronicler, just as S.S. Van Dine, still a name to reckon with in the first half of the 1930s, was the chronicler of his detective hero, although Bagby is much more vivid than his unheard and invisible counterpart in the Philo Vance novels.

***

   The fourth Schmidt, which is the earliest I have on my shelves, was the first of dozens of Aaron’s novels published over the next near half-century by Doubleday Crime Club. With the income from his early books rather paltry, he prudently kept the day job he’d held since shortly after graduating from Princeton, as a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

   Eventually he became the paper’s radio critic, learned a huge amount about the inner workings of a broadcasting system, and put his knowledge to use in MURDER ON THE NOSE (1938). Schmidty and Bagby are implausibly first on the scene when the report comes in of what might almost be a John Dickson Carr impossible-crime situation: At the end of his signature tune “I Telegraph My Love to You,” and simultaneous with the sound of a clashing cymbal from the small orchestra backing him up, radio crooner Roddy James has been shot to death by an invisible assassin with an invisible gun in a broadcast studio full of people who saw nothing and heard nothing.

   It soon develops that everyone on the scene — the musicians, the announcer, the sound control engineer, the sponsor — had opportunity to commit the murder, but no one seems to have a motive, and the only real mystery besides the obvious one of how-was-it-done concerns why the program’s sponsor, a manufacturer of toothache remedies, insisted on James as the program’s singer when he was unpopular, technically inept, and did nothing to promote the sponsor’s product.

   Eventually there’s a second murder, a poisoning in a jazz club, and then a third, which bears a cousinly resemblance to the first, the victim this time being shut inside the broadcast system’s transmitter and electrocuted. With Schmidt we learn a great deal about the inner workings of 1930s radio before the solution, which is perhaps a bit too technical but indicates that Aaron must have done a prodigious amount of research into the nuts and bolts of broadcasting.

   There are far too many said substitutes, the most overused of the lot being “murmured,” and a few incidental details, like the group of female gospel singers from Harlem who keep turning up at murders, are treated in a manner that might offend some 21st-century political correctness freaks. But I must say I enjoyed the book and am delighted to have had Aaron sign my copy more than forty years ago.

***

   Before his next novel appeared, Aaron started working as a staff writer on Time magazine but he waited a few years to make use of that background. For the sixth Schmidt, THE CORPSE WITH THE PURPLE THIGHS (1939), he tapped into memories of his tenth reunion at Princeton in 1937, which I can’t believe was as chaotic or liquor-soaked as its fictional counterpart.

   Although neither the town of Princeton nor its university is mentioned specifically, Bagby tells us that he is of the class of 1927, which Aaron was too. Having traveled by train to the nameless town from whose nameless university he’d graduated ten years earlier, and wearing the pirate costume that is the uniform for the class of ‘27, George makes for the firehouse that is serving as headquarters for the alumni of his year. (Alumni is precisely the right word here since all the grads are men. Princeton didn’t go co-ed until the late 1960s.)

   After some imbibing and a crap game he leaves the firehouse and, in the alley alongside the building, stumbles in the dark over what he first assumes is a drunk sleeping it off but quickly discovers is a corpse. He calls the local police, then returns to the alley with a fellow member of the class of ‘27 who’s a doctor. Voila! No corpse.

   The Inspector drives down, arriving late that night, and tells Bagby that someone tried to run his car off the road after he’d stopped for directions at a local roadhouse, which happens to be run by a scar-faced mobster. Schmidty immediately takes over the local police department and soon gets to meet several of Bagby’s classmates including that doctor, a football hero known as Stinker, a congenital drunk known as Zipper, and a guy with a movie camera who’s determined to get every member of the class into his film.

   Complications keep piling up during the long Friday night and, thanks to a total of three murders (the same total as in MURDER ON THE NOSE), nobody gets much sleep. Soon after the traditional Saturday morning parade of the various classes of grads, Schmidty pulls the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and, with total unfairness to the reader, collars the killer.

   Bagby’s summary of everything that happened consumes several pages and leaves us wondering why the culprit made such a microscopically detailed confession. Frankly, I found this exploit rather uninvolving. Could Aaron have made a mistake taking Schmidty out of the big city? I didn’t try to count the number of lines of dialogue that the characters murmur but it must be huge.

***

   We’re back in Manhattan with the next Schmidt novel, THE CORPSE WORE A WIG (1940). Like the previous books I’ve discussed here, this one features three murders, a very tight time frame, and countless lines of dialogue that their speakers murmur. (On one page that verb appears three times in ten short paragraphs.)

   We also find what in later years was to become one of Aaron’s trademarks, a host of long long sentences worthy of Hegel or Faulkner. Here’s a typical example from early in Chapter One.

   Just as my long career as Schmidty’s ghost has convinced me I cannot hope to rival his capacity for unraveling the tangled threads of a crime into its logical components and reassembling these into the inevitable web of the crime’s true texture, just so I do flatter myself that I have profited from this association with Schmidty at least to the extent of being able to confront a simple point of evidence with an open mind and read it for what it is worth.

   

   The plot begins when a medical examiner doing a routine autopsy on another doctor, who seems to have died of natural causes, calls in Schmidty upon discovering that, as per the title, the cadaver was wearing a hairpiece — and beneath it a bullet hole which, on its way into the top of his skull, penetrated a perfectly fine head of hair identical to the wig.

   With Bagby in tow as usual, the Inspector visits the dead man’s office and residence, on the ground floor of an East 77th Street apartment building, and soon discovers that the doctor had only seven patients and wanted no more.

   Questioning his nurse and her artist boyfriend reveals that the doctor had taken up the hobby of etching, and that a great deal of the cyanide he’d been using in his hobby is missing. During the Q&A two visitors come knocking, a former criminal turned theatrical wigmaker and a clearly but subtly gay hairdresser who prefers to be called a scalp specialist.

   It soon develops that the doctor derived most of his income from operating a private medical service for injured criminals. Later that day the wigmaker and an employee of the hairdresser are found poisoned, giving us the requisite three bodies. Before midnight Schmidty has solved all three crimes, although Aaron denies us any chance to anticipate the solution and reveals the little-known fact that triggered Schmidt’s suspicions only in the last paragraph.

   Nevertheless I sort of liked the book, mainly because of some interesting situations — would a woman try to create an alibi by tethering herself to a permanent-wave machine that burned her hair and scorched her scalp? — and the glimpses of offtrail environments like the wigmaking and hairdressing emporiums. But purely as a detective novel it’s nothing special.

***

   The eighth in the series, RED IS FOR KILLING (1941), differs from earlier Bagby novels in several respects. There’s only one murder — supplemented by two near-fatal assaults, one of them on Bagby himself — the time span covers two whole days and nights, and Aaron seems to have cured himself of the Faulkner sentence syndrome and murmuritis.

   He also made such use of his stint at Time magazine, which he portrayed (whether fairly or not I have no idea) as a zoo full of screwballs writing their journalism in a wacko parody of normal English, that he would surely have been fired if he hadn’t already resigned to become a professional novelist.

   Schmidt and Bagby visit the offices of the upstart newsmagazine Tidings, on the top three floors of the same skyscraper that houses the Coast to Coast Broadcasting Network from MURDER ON THE NOSE, when the body of its newest employee, the sharp point of a letter spike buried in the back of his neck, is found in one room of the magazine’s offices, a special library devoted to the collapse of an automotive empire.

   His aching feet encased in comfortable slippers, Schmidty comes to suspect that the more he learns about the dead man and why he was hired the more likely he’ll find the murderer, and starts questioning several of the Tidings brass — a can of mixed nuts of the first water — and a few outsiders including an obnoxious gossip columnist, a politically ambitious plutocrat and the widow of one of the men involved in that business collapse.

   Readers are apt to figure out the late Harold Quimby’s real identity sooner than Schmidt does but have no chance of solving the murder puzzle ahead of the Inspector since Aaron as usual has no interest in playing fair. But his vivid if perhaps biased evocation of the newsmagazine environment, foreshadowing his explorations of various Manhattan milieus in later novels, helps make RED IS FOR KILLING one of his better early efforts.

***

   Those efforts consist of nine Bagbys plus the first four whodunits published under his own name, which featured the archaeologist/amateur detective team of Tim Mulligan and Elsie Mae Hunt.

   What put an end to his first period was Pearl Harbor. He joined the Office of War Information and later the Army, in which he served as a cryptographer. On his return to civilian life he went back to writing full-time and continued to do so until his death forty years later.

   It was the novels he wrote in the late Forties and Fifties that led Anthony Boucher to call him the most reliable American practitioner of his genre. In later columns I hope to explore some of them.

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

   

   With very little to occupy my time during the pandemic I started to ask myself a less than burning question: What was the worst TV detective series of your childhood? Well, after a few seconds of thought I concluded that there were three that tie for bottom rung of the ladder.

***

All three date from the same period, the very early 1950s when my parents and millions of other Americans were buying their first sets, so I’ll ignore strict chronology and begin with the one whose roots go back farthest in time. CRAIG KENNEDY, CRIMINOLOGIST was based on the scientific supersleuth character created early in the 20th century by Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936).

   There were several Kennedy movies, the last being a cheapjack 15-chapter cliffhanger serial, THE CLUTCHING HAND (Stage & Screen, 1936), which starred Jack Mulhall and Rex Lease as Kennedy and his newsman sidekick Walter Jameson. Fifteen years after that picture and after Reeve’s death, its producer, Louis Weiss (1890-1963), decided to dip his toes into the waters of TV with an equally cheapjack Kennedy series, starring Donald Woods as the scientific guru and Lewis Wilson, the screen’s first Batman, as Jameson

   The first 13 episodes were apparently shot in late 1950 and ‘51, most if not all of them scripted in whole or with a collaborator by B movie veteran Ande Lamb and directed by Harry Fraser (1889-1974), a bottom-of-the-barrel hack if ever there was one. The entire baker’s dozen featured overlapping casts including such long-forgotten thespians as Bob Curtis, Tom Hubbard, William Justine and Stanley Waxman, supplemented by some actors familiar to watchers of Forties B movies and Fifties TV—Ted Adams, Lane Bradford, Stephen Chase, Milburn Morante, Glenn Strange—plus a few who made their mark in TV later, like Phyllis Coates (the small screen’s first Lois Lane) and Jack Kruschen.

   Featured in several casts was none other than Jack Mulhall (1887-1979), who had played Kennedy in that 1936 serial but at several years over sixty was obviously too old for the part in the TV series. In what was apparently the pilot episode, “The Golden Dagger” (1950), the star of the next in our triad of terrible series, Ralph Byrd, played a character known as —remember that name, B western fans?—Rocky Lane. Most if not all of the second set of 13 episodes were directed by the producer’s son Adrian Weiss (1918-2001) and also scripted by Ande Lamb.

   In England at least nine so-called movies, each consisting of two series episodes, were released theatrically by Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors Ltd. “It is to be hoped,” said the British Film Institute’s monthly bulletin, commenting on a member of the ennead, “that even the least discriminating film-goer has the intuition to avoid seeing films as remarkably badly made as this one.” Those masochistic enough to want to sample the series for themselves may check out a few clips and at least one complete episode, “The Case of Fleming Lewis” (1951), on YouTube.

***

DICK TRACY, the second of our terrible trio, also goes back a long way, specifically to the comic-strip cop created in 1931 by Chester Gould. Ralph Byrd (1909-1952) was best known in Hollywood for having portrayed the square-jawed sleuth in four classic Republic serials (1937-41) and two RKO features dating from 1947.

   Three years later, when the TV series was launched, he was the obvious choice for the part. The role of his comic-strip sidekick Sam Catchem went to Runyonesque character actor Joe Devlin. Several other characters from the strip—Tess Trueheart, Junior, Diet Smith, B.O. Plenty, Gravel Gertie—appeared off and on in various episodes.

   Accurate information about the TV Tracy is hard to come by. A number of websites and even Garyn G. Roberts’ DICK TRACY AND AMERICAN CULTURE: MORALITY AND MYTHOLOGY, TEXT AND CONTEXT (McFarland, 2003) claim that the series consisted of 26 episodes whereas in fact there were 39. The first episodes were broadcast on the ABC network in the fall of 1950 but the series soon switched to a syndicated basis. My best guess is that it began with 26 segments, several of them in two installments, one in four, one in five.

   Most of them were scripted by original series producer P.K. Palmer and directed by either of two men, one a nonentity, the other a Hollywood household name. Willard H. Sheldon (1906-1998) was a career assistant director who aside from his TRACY episodes helmed almost nothing else.

   His major contribution, if that’s the word, was “Dick Tracy and the Brain,” a 5-part story in which Tracy pursues an underworld genius (Lyle Talbot) whose real name, true to Chester Gould’s nomenclatural principles, is B.R. Ayne. On the other hand, B. Reeves Eason (1886-1956) had directed some of the most spectacular action footage in film history: the chariot race in the silent BEN-HUR (1926), the climactic CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936), the Burning of Atlanta sequence in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Even with the rock-bottom budgets and laughable working conditions on TRACY, we might have hoped for more from him. Hard cheese.

   The four-part “Dick Tracy and the Mole,” pitting Byrd against grizzled old B Western sidekick Raymond Hatton in the part of a master criminal who can’t stand light and roosts underground, is next to unwatchable. The two-parter ”Dick Tracy and Flattop,” in which Byrd’s adversary is a hit man hired to kill him by crime kingpin Namgib (another name in the Chester Gould tradition), is no improvement.

   If nothing else, Eason’s TRACY episodes, apparently the only TV work he was ever credited with, confirms the wisdom of Sherlock Holmes’s famous dictum “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

   Later segments including most if not all of the final 13 tended to be complete in 30 minutes. The scripts, written by established pulp crime writers like Robert Leslie Bellem, Dwight Babcock and Todhunter Ballard, included some character names squarely in the Gould tradition, like the murderer Phil Graves in “The Case of the Dangerous Dollars.”

   The directors of these episodes tended to have roots in B Westerns, foremost among them Thomas Carr (1907-1997), who helmed three two-parters and at least five singletons. I got to know Tommy and tape extensively with him when he was in his eighties but I either didn’t know or had forgotten how heavily he’d been involved with TRACY in the dawn years of TV and didn’t ask him to reminisce about the series. (That sound you just heard was a swift kick in the rear, administered to me by me.)

   Watching Tommy’s surviving episodes, I sense him struggling to inject a minim of visual quality under impossible circumstances. “Shaky’s Secret Treasure” is unique in that, thanks to the meticulous records kept by actor Dabbs Greer, who played Shaky, we know precisely when Tommy filmed it: on January 22 and 23, 1952, which means it was one of the final 13 segments. Greer’s salary, in case anyone’s interested, was $75 a day.

   The series ran regularly on various local stations at least through the mid-Fifties, and a number of episodes—the 4-part “Mole,” the 2-part “B.B. Eyes” and at least four stand-alone segments—can be seen on YouTube. Ralph Byrd didn’t last anywhere near that long. While on vacation soon after TRACY wrapped, he died of a heart attack, on 18 August 1952, at age 43. Like Basil Rathbone with Holmes and Bogart with Sam Spade, he’s remembered long after his death for the character he incarnated.

***

   Dating from the same time frame as KENNEDY and TRACY was FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE, a 39-episode series produced by small-screen pioneer Jerry Fairbanks (1904-1995), first broadcast on the short-lived Dumont network in 1951 and rerun times without number on local stations throughout the rest of the Fifties.

   Alone among our trio, this one didn’t have a pedigree. The title came from a pulp true-crime magazine but its protagonist, café-society columnist and amateur detective David Chase—described as a sleuth with “an eye for the ladies, a nose for news, and a sixth sense for danger”—was created especially for TV.

   “Presenting an unusual story of love and mystery!” the unseen announcer would purr in dulcet tones at the start of each episode. His introduction concluded with: “And now for another thrilling adventure as we accompany David Chase and watch him match wits with those who would take the law into their own hands.”

   Starring as Chase was one-time matinee idol Edmund Lowe (1892-1971), a name familiar to moviegoers for a third of a century before his entry into television. During the 1920s he specialized in suave romantic roles complete with waxed mustache, but the biggest boost in his film career came when director Raoul Walsh cast him opposite Victor McLaglen in WHAT PRICE GLORY? (Fox, 1926), first of the Captain Flagg-Sergeant Quirt military comedies.

   His foremost contribution to the detective film came ten years later when he portrayed Philo Vance in THE GARDEN MURDER CASE (MGM, 1936), but he also played a New York plainclothesman of the 1890s opposite Mae West in EVERY DAY’S A HOLIDAY (Paramount, 1938).

   By the early 1950s Lowe had begun to show his age, and in FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE he looked all too convincingly like a man of almost sixty who’s determined to pass himself off as 25 years younger. In many an episode he’d romance the woman in the case, rattle off a few deductions—once he reasoned that a letter supposedly from an Englishwoman was a forgery because the writer used the U.S. spelling “check” rather than the British “cheque”—and then collar the villain personally after a pistol battle or fistfight underscored by Lee Zahler’s background music for Mascot and early Republic serials.

   Supporting Lowe were Paula Drew as Chase’s fashion-designer girlfriend and crusty George Pembroke as the inevitable stupid cop. Appearing in individual episodes were such stalwarts of TV’s pioneer days as Joe Besser, Rand Brooks, Maurice Cass, Jorja Curtright, Jonathan Hale, Frank Jenks and Lyle Talbot.

   As with KENNEDY and TRACY, filming was 99% indoors, on some of the cheapest sets ever seen by the televiewer’s eye except perhaps for those used by the other members of our trio.

   The director of every episode I’ve seen recently was Fairbanks’ production supervisor Arnold Wester (1907-1976), who is not known to have directed anything else afterward. And just as well: apparently his idea of directing was to make sure the camera was pointed at the actors and leave the set.

   Many scripts were by veterans of pulp detective magazines and radio like Robert Leslie Bellem (also, as we’ve seen, a TRACY veteran) and Irvin Ashkenazy, with an occasional contribution by Curt Siodmak, author of the classic horror novel DONOVAN’S BRAIN.

   At least nine episodes of the series are accessible on YouTube. The rest seem to have vanished but their gimmicks can often be deduced from the brief descriptions in crumbling issues of TV Guide.

   In “The Case of the Perfect Secretary” Chase tries to find out why Dr. Owens, the inventor of a synthetic cortisone, didn’t show up for a scheduled lecture. He finds Owens’ laboratory deserted and later discovers that the doctor has been murdered, the letter M imprinted on his forehead. It takes no Charlie Chan to figure out that the M is most likely a W.

   “Honey for Your Tea” finds Chase looking into the claim of a young actress that her fiancé was brutally murdered by her dramatic coach (Maurice Cass), a gnarled and crippled old man whose hobby is beekeeping. Anyone want to bet that this isn’t the old bee-venom poisoning shtick?

   In “The Other Face” Chase investigates the death of a handsome actor who “accidentally” fell from his penthouse terrace shortly after telling his psychiatrist of his desire to fall through space. If the murder victim didn’t turn out to be not the actor but his look-alike understudy, toads fly.

   Other episodes seem to have more intriguing storylines. In “Napoleon’s Obituary” a man named for Bonaparte dies the day after asking Chase to write his death notice, and the trail leads our sleuth to a house whose inhabitants are all named after historic figures.

   In “Ringside Seat for Murder” Chase witnesses a bizarre murder during a wrestling match where one of the athletes (using the term loosely) is stabbed in the back with a poisoned dart while pinned to the mat by his opponent.

   FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE never pretended to be a classic, but for all its clichés and Grade ZZZ production values it was, like KENNEDY and TRACY, a pioneering effort in tele-detection that deserves perhaps a wee bit more than to be totally forgotten.

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

   

   After completing his first three novels as by A.A. Fair about the PI team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam — actually his first four novels, with THE KNIFE SLIPPED remaining unpublished until more than forty years after his death — Erle Stanley Gardner felt the need to reconfigure his odd couple. This is why, between GOLD COMES IN BRICKS (1940) and the next book in the series, Bertha was hit simultaneously with the flu and pneumonia and spent quite a bit of time in a Salt Lake City sanitarium where she lost about 100 pounds, although at between 150 and 160 she’d hardly be mistaken for a sylph.

   At the beginning of SPILL THE JACKPOT! (1941), which takes place and was apparently written shortly after the 1940 presidential election which gave FDR his third term, a not yet reconfigured Donald is about to take her home by plane, with a brief stopover in Las Vegas so that he can confer with the firm’s newest client. Ad agency owner Arthur Whitewell has retained Bertha’s outfit to locate the young woman his son Philip was about to marry, who vanished shortly before the wedding after receiving a mysterious letter from a woman in Vegas named Helen Framley.

   Donald finds Helen’s apartment quickly enough but she isn’t home and he decides to kill a little time at a nearby casino. In something of a Keeler Koinkydink, the woman playing the slot machine next to him is, you guessed it, Helen — and both she and the tough guy on the other side of her have gimmicked their machines so that they produce one jackpot after another. An attendant on the watch for just such trickery accuses the two of them and Donald too.

   The tough guy and Helen manage to escape, but Donald is knocked down and arrested. He clears himself by proving his identity and agrees not to sue the casino in return for some co-operation. The attendant who socked Donald, a punch-drunk ex-boxer who if there had been a movie based on this book would probably have been played by Mike Mazurki, takes a huge liking to the little guy and offers to teach him some tricks of the pugilism trade, an offer which, as we’ll see, opens the door to Donald’s reconfiguration.

   That evening Donald boards the night train to Los Angeles, but in the wee hours he’s hauled out of his sleeping compartment by the police and taken back forcibly to Las Vegas where Helen’s accomplice has been found shot to death in her apartment. Donald was at the railroad station at the time, waiting for his train, but can’t prove it, and soon he and Helen and the ex-pug go on the run.

   The plot this time is less involuted than most of Gardner’s, and suffers here and there from careless plotting; Donald, for example, locates the vanished bride-to-be only because she’s going by a name no rational person in her position would have used. Without slowing the pace, Gardner punctuates the novel with side excursions, in the first of which we learn perhaps more than we want to know about the gimmicking of slot machines.

   But the later excursions are much more rewarding. I especially liked the sequence where Donald and Helen and the ex-pug Louie Hazen, on the run from the police, camp out on the desert as their creator loved to do most of his life. “There has never been anything quite as soul-satisfying, quite as filled with the promise of life, as the smell of coffee out in the open when the fresh air has done its work and you realize that you’re ravenously hungry.”

   I also enjoyed the later scenes where the three hole up in a one-cabin wilderness motel — with how many bedrooms remains murky — and Louie teaches Donald to be a boxer. Gardner, you may remember, fought in a number of unlicensed matches in his salad days. At the climax Donald finds a confession letter from the murderer (who actually killed in self-defense), lets that person go free and frames one of the other characters who is much more of (forgive me, all you critters who bear the noble name of Bufo bufo) a toad, although the frame would fall flat on its kiester unless Donald and the dead guy happen to be of the same blood type. I challenge anyone to find an ending so cynical in a Perry Mason novel.

***

   From its title you might guess that gambling would also figure prominently in DOUBLE OR QUITS (1941). But the first word in the title of the fifth (or, if you count THE KNIFE SLIPPED, the sixth) Cool & Lam exploit actually refers to that old standby of crime fiction, double indemnity — and to the legal difference between accidental death, which doesn’t pay double the face amount of a life insurance policy, and death by accidental means, which does.

   On a fishing excursion Donald and Bertha meet a prosperous doctor who immediately hires the firm to investigate the theft of his wife’s jewels from a wall safe in his study to which he alone knew the combination — or so he thought — and the simultaneous disappearance of his wife’s secretary.

   Donald spends that evening at the doctor’s house meeting his family, which includes a niece and nephew of the wife who are living with their aunt and uncle. Later the doctor goes out to make a couple of house calls, leaving Donald in his study. Close to midnight, during a Santa Ana windstorm, Donald finds him dead in his garage, apparently a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning while tinkering with his car, whose motor is running and whose glove compartment contains a valuable ring belonging to his wife plus the cases for all the stolen jewelry.

   Unfortunately for the widow, who’s the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, if the situation is what it seems his death was accidental but not by accidental means. Result: no double indemnity.

   The complications keep piling up along with suspicious characters like the vanished secretary’s roommate, the niece’s ex-husband and her lawyer, a sinister chauffeur and a suave oil speculator. Eventually Donald sets up a test in the garage, trying to establish that the Santa Ana winds might have slammed down the overhead door, which would constitute accidental means and require the insurance company to pay double.

   But everything goes wrong and Donald winds up in a fistfight with the insurance adjuster in which, thanks to Louie Hazen’s training in SPILL THE JACKPOT!, he acquits himself handily. He also makes out very well in his employment situation, literally quitting the firm in mid-case until Bertha promotes him to full partner.

   Back on the job he finds another body, this one clearly a murder victim, strangled with string from a girdle tightened around the neck by, I am not making this up, a potato masher. DOUBLE OR QUITS earned a rave from Barzun & Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME (2nd ed. 1989): “One of the best of the A.A. Fair stories. It is witty, reasonably simple, and brilliantly told….”

   Personally I found it no more witty or brilliantly narrated than any other book in the long-running series, with a plot not simple but all too complicated, characters with confusingly similar names (would you believe Timken, Timley and Harmley?), and at least one crucial fact — that the two doctors in the cast live within walking distance of each other — kept concealed from us until too late. But it’s readable enough and plays at least partially fair, so let’s give it one thumb up.

***

   Between DOUBLE OR QUITS and the next C&L novel, Pearl Harbor was attacked, the U.S. went to war, and every mystery writer with a male series character below middle age had to face the question Why is my man not in uniform? Gardner didn’t have to worry about Perry Mason, whose age was never given and whom most readers probably thought of as in his forties, but with Donald Lam, who had been established as in his late twenties, it was a different story.

   OWLS DON’T BLINK (1942), which takes place a few months after Pearl Harbor, opens in medias res and in the middle of the night with Donald in New Orleans trying to track down yet another vanished woman, whose apartment in the French Quarter he’s rented for a week.

   In the morning Bertha arrives in town by train along with the firm’s latest client, a New York lawyer who had hired these Los Angeles PIs to find a vanished woman in New Orleans but refuses to explain why he wants to find her. Donald locates the woman easily enough but soon discovers that she was using another woman’s name
and winds up in the middle of a Machiavellian legal maneuver to invalidate a wealthy Californian’s divorce on the ground that it wasn’t his estranged wife but another woman who was served with process.

   Then the lawyer who dreamed up the scheme is shot to death in the present apartment of the woman Donald was looking for, and the trail of the woman she was impersonating leads him first to Shreveport and then back to L.A.

   The plot has a little bit of everything: scams within scams, gun switching, legal issues, a consignment of silk stockings that exists only in Donald’s imagination, ju-jitsu, and a love song to that classic New Orleans dish, oysters Rockefeller. “The shells are placed in rock salt. There’s a little touch of garlic and a special sauce….And then they’re baked, right in their shells.”

   It’s such a rich assortment of ingredients that few will object to the Keeler Koinkydink that everything hinges on the two women in the dead man’s life living across an apartment-house corridor from each other.

   During the middle stretches Donald discovers that Bertha has surreptitiously started a second business and wangled a contract to build military housing, apparently to keep him from being drafted on the ground that he works in a defense industry, and angrily retaliates, after solving the case, by enlisting in the Navy.

   That decision brings the first sequence of C&L adventures to an abrupt end. How Gardner managed to continue the series while his male hero was in Navy whites must be saved till later this year.
   

   

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

   

   In memory of Alex Trebek we begin with a Jeopardy!-style clue. This iconic suspense writer appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine 70-plus times, and now more than half a century after his death he’s in the magazine again. The question of course is: “Who is Cornell Woolrich?”

   Beginning with Volume 1 Number 1 (Fall 1941) he had a total of 75 stories in EQMM (or, depending on whether you count once or twice the tale published in two parts in two consecutive issues, 76). I will add a complete list of his originals and reprints in the magazine at the end of this column. Recently, with the publication of the January-February 2021 issue, the number has risen to 76 (or 77). There’s a story behind how this new story was unearthed, and it falls to me to tell it here.

   Woolrich was a native New Yorker, born in 1903, to parents whose marriage came apart soon after they moved to Mexico where his father lived. He grew up there with his father, Genaro Hopley-Woolrich (1878-1948), but after he reached high-school age and returned to Manhattan to live with his mother and maternal grandfather, he never saw Genaro again.

   His earliest novels and stories, beginning in 1926, were not in our genre but somewhat closer (well, maybe not all that close) to the work of the young literary idol of the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1934 he began a 15-year period of white-hot creativity as the master of suspense, the Hitchcock of the written word. During the middle 1950s, with those years behind him, he set out to return to mainstream fiction with a series of stories about the birth, adolescence, maturity, old age and death of a New York hotel from its opening night in 1896 till the eve of its demolition in 1957.

   Before these tales were published in book form as Hotel Room (Random House, 1958), the editors decided that each chapter in the collection except the first and last, which constitute a framing story, should have some link with an historic event: the end of World War I, the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, the stock-market collapse.

   This decision required the removal of the tales without such a connection. One of these, “The Penny-a-Worder,” was bought by EQMM founding editor Fred Dannay and published in the magazine’s September 1958 issue, the first of a dozen Woolrich originals in the magazine between then and 1970, two years after Woolrich’s death. Were there other such stories? And if so, what happened to them?

   Woolrich’s will left all his literary rights in trust to Columbia University, where he had gone as an undergraduate in the Twenties (although he quit in his junior year when his first novel sold), and Columbia is also the repository of his papers. In March 2019 I was invited to come east and give a talk at the university’s second annual Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival, which was devoted to the many movies based on Woolrich. (You can find my presentation below.)

      

   During the several days of the program, the Columbia library presented an exhibit of Woolrich papers, of which I was treated to a private viewing while I was in New York. Most of what was on display I had seen before, but two manuscripts were new to me.

   As chance would have it, however, I remembered something about one of them. Several years ago Otto Penzler told me that he’d been offered a heretofore unknown Woolrich story, apparently one intended for but excised from Hotel Room. He remembered its first words and quoted them to me: “She came to the hotel alone….” He had not bought the document and didn’t know what had happened to it. Now in 2019 I was staring at the typescript of a story with the exact same first words.

   After returning to St. Louis I asked the professor who had invited me to Columbia if he could possibly arrange for me to be sent a copy of that story. He did, and I liked it very much. And, thanks to the evolution of our genre “from the detective story to the crime novel” over the 60-odd years since Woolrich had written what I now held in my hands.

   I thought it might interest Janet Hutchings, the present editor of EQMM, and emailed her a copy made from mine. Learning that she too liked it very much, I put her in touch with the agent for the Woolrich estate and a deal was made. If you have the first issue of the magazine for this year, you have the story — not under Woolrich’s awkward original title, “The Fiancée Without a Future,” but as “The Dark Oblivion.” Quite an improvement, yes?

   A question may have crossed your mind as you were reading the last paragraph: What about that other Woolrich story in the exhibit? Well, I managed to obtain a copy of that one too, but it was hardly worth the effort. “The Fault-Finder” is not only a poor story — one of many such dating from Woolrich’s last years — but it isn’t crime fiction even in the broadest sense of that term.

   Since no one is ever likely to see this 13-page story, I have no qualms about describing it. The year is 1915, and a husband and wife are in the St. Anselm Hotel, preparing to set out on a vacation cruise across the Atlantic. (Woolrich doesn’t bother to mention that in fact all Europe was at war that year.)

   The woman keeps insulting and belittling her poor henpecked husband. Finally he goes out to a tavern across the street to drown his sorrows and stays there too long so that their ship has already left New York Harbor by the time he returns to the hotel. Furiously she orders him to call up the steamship line and demand their money back. Klutz to the last, the husband can’t remember the name of the ship they were to sail on.

   His wife berates him as an incompetent imbecile and tells him that they were booked on — have you guessed it? — the Lusitania. End of story. It’s perfectly consistent with the central insight of noir — in Hammett’s words, that we live while blind chance spares us — but that doesn’t qualify it as crime fiction or improve it as a story.

   Woolrich may have written these tales a little before the publication of Hotel Room or he may have written them a few years later, in the very early 1960s. What suggests this second possibility is that, along with copies of the stories themselves, Columbia had sent me a sort of cover sheet in Woolrich’s handwriting, the table of contents for a new and expanded version of Hotel Room, with the title of the book changed to Nine Nights in a New York Hotel and each story in the 1958 version re-titled also. The most fascinating aspect of this sheet of paper is at the top: Woolrich writes his own name as the author, just as it was in the 1958 version, then crosses it out and substitutes his well-known pseudonym William Irish! Why did he do that? I think I can explain.

   After the breakup of his marriage to Woolrich’s mother, Genaro Hopley-Woolrich had had liaisons with many women, the last and longest being with Esperanza Piñon Brangas. Their daughter Alma was born in Nogales, Sonora on 17 June 1938 and, as far as I know, is still alive.

   “I learned I had a brother who was a writer when I was fourteen,” Alma said in a telephone interview in Spanish with the Argentine author Juan José Delaney. In 1961 Alma came up from Oaxaca to New Jersey to visit her father’s half-nephew Carlos Burlingham (1925-2004) and his family, staying with them for more than a year.

   Carlos wrote to Woolrich via his publisher, expecting that the son of his Tio Genaro would want to meet the half-sister he’d never seen. He received in reply a telegram from Woolrich’s attorney, of which Carlos gave me a copy. “He flatly refused to accept the fact” that he had a half-sister, Carlos told me, and the attorney insisted that Genaro had remained faithful to Woolrich’s mother throughout his life.

   Once settled in New Jersey, Alma crossed the Hudson to New York in hopes of meeting her famous half-brother. “But he wouldn’t receive me…. I remember that he sent out his secretary saying that he didn’t want to see me.” Woolrich never had a secretary. Juan José Delaney told me that the word Alma had used in their phone interview was secretario.

   It was a man who had turned her away from Woolrich’s door. That man had to have been Woolrich himself. I can’t prove it but I know it. How could anyone have resisted the temptation to sneak a peek at his only living relative without revealing himself? If he had died without a will, his half-sister who speaks little or no English would have inherited all his copyrights by intestate succession.

   To me that explains why on 6 March 1961 he signed a document leaving his rights and everything else he owned in trust to Columbia University. It also explains why, later in 1961, he legally changed his name to William Irish: it was a way of spitting in the face of his long-dead father. The table of contents page for that anticipated new edition of Hotel Room, with its conspicuous name change at the top of the sheet, almost certainly dates from around this time. That new edition of course never materialized, and the tale he called “The Fiancée Without a Future” never saw print until the beginning of this year.

   Now that you know the stories behind that story, I hope that, if you haven’t already read “The Dark Oblivion“ in the January-February EQMM, you soon will.
   
   

CORNELL WOOLRICH Stories in EQMM, along with original appearances:

Fal 1941 Dime a Dance (Black Mask, Feb 1938)
Sep 1943 After-Dinner Story (Black Mask, Jan 1938)
Sep 1944 The Fingernail (”The Customer’s Always Right,” Detective Tales, Jul 1941)
Mar 1945 The Mathematics of Murder (“What the Well Dressed Corpse Will Wear,” Dime Detective, Mar 1944)
May 1945 Leg Man (Dime Detective, Aug 1943)
Feb 1946 The Earring (“The Death Stone,” Detective Fiction Weekly, Feb 1943)
Jul 1946 If the Dead Could Talk (Black Mask, Feb 1943)
Dec 1946 Angel Face (“Face Work,” Black Mask, Oct 1937)
Feb 1947 You Take Ballistics (Double Detective, Jan 1938)
Apr 1947 Steps Going Up (“Men Must Die,” Black Mask, Aug 1939)
Feb 1948 That’s Your Own Funeral (“Your Own Funeral,” Argosy, 19 Jun 1937)
Aug 1948 The Night Reveals (Story, Apr 1936)
Nov 1948 Johnny on the Spot (Detective Fiction Weekly, 2 May 1936)
Dec 1948 The Body in Grant’s Tomb (Dime Detective, Jan 1943)
Mar 1949 Speak to Me of Death (Argosy, 27 Feb 1937)
Apr 1949 Somebody on the Phone (Detective Fiction Weekly, 31 Jul 1937)
May 1949 Momentum (“Murder Always Gathers Momentum,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 14 Dec 1940)
Jul 1949 Collared (Black Mask, Oct 1939)
Oct 1949 Blind Date (“The Corpse and the Kid,” Dime Detective, Sep 1935)
Dec 1949 Mystery in Room 913 (Detective Fiction Weekly, 4 Jun 1938)
Mar 1950 The Humming Bird Comes Home (Pocket Detective, Mar 1937)
Jun 1950 The Night I Died (Detective Fiction Weekly, 8 Aug 1936)
Sep 1950 Cab, Mister? (Black Mask, Nov 1937)
Dec 1950 The Heavy Sugar (Pocket Detective, Jan 1937)
Mar 1951 Through a Dead Man’s Eye (Black Mask, Dec 1939)
Jul 1951 Death in Round Three (Pocket Detective, Apr 1937)
Sep 1951 Charlie Won’t Be Home Tonight (Dime Detective, Jul 1939)
Nov 1951 All at Once, No Alice (Argosy, 2 Mar 1940)
Mar 1953 Goodbye, New York (Story, Oct 1937)
May 1953 Dormant Account (Black Mask, May 1942)
Jul 1953 Cinderella and the Mob (Argosy, 23 Jun 1940)
Sep 1953 The Loophole (“Three Kills for One,” Black Mask, Jul 1942)
Mar 1954 The Last Bus Home (“Of Time and Murder,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 15 Mar 1941)
Jun 1954 Dead Shot (“Picture Frame,” Black Mask, Jul 1944)
Oct 1954 Debt of Honor (“I.O.U.—One Life,” Double Detective, Nov 1938)
Dec 1954 Something That Happened in Our House (“Murder at Mother’s Knee,” Dime Detective, October 1941)
Feb 1955 Meet Me by the Mannequin (Dime Detective, June 1940)
Mar 1955 Invitation to Sudden Death (“Blue Is for Bravery,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 27 Feb 1937)
Jun 1955 Death at the Burlesque (“The Fatal Footlights,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 14 June 1941)
Sep 1955 The Most Exciting Show in Town (“Double Feature,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 16 May 1936)
Dec 1955 One Night To Be Dead Sure Of (“The Living Lie Down with the Dead,” Dime Detective, Apr 1936)
May 1956 The Absent-Minded Murder (“Cool, Calm and Detected,” Black Mask, Apr 1941)
Sep 1956 The Ice Pick Murders (“Death in Duplicate,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 17 Feb 1940)
Jan 1957 Wait for Me Downstairs (“Finger of Doom,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 22 Jun 1940)
Feb 1958 Endicott’s Girl (Detective Fiction Weekly, 19 Feb 1938)
Mar 1958 Don’t Bet on Murder (“You Bet Your Life,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 25 Sep 1937)
Jun 1958 Hurting Much? (“Death Sits in the Dentist’s Chair,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 4 Aug 1934)
Sep 1958 The Penny-a-Worder (original)
Feb 1959 The Inside Story (“Murder Story,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 11 Sep 1937)
Mar 1959 Blonde Beauty Slain (original)
Sep 1959 Dead Roses (“The Death Rose,” Baffling Detective Mysteries, Mar 1943)
Jun 1961 Hot Water (Argosy, 28 Dec 1935)
Oct 1961 The Singing Hat (“The Counterfeit Hat,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 18 Feb 1939)
Jan 1962 Money Talks (original)
Apr 1962 One Drop of Blood (original)
Feb 1963 The Cape Triangular (Detective Fiction Weekly, 16 Apr 1938)
Jul 1963 I’ll Never Play Detective Again (Black Mask, May 1937)
Mar 1964 Working Is for Fools (original; radio-play version of “Dilemma of the Dead Lady,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 4 Jul 1936)
Apr 1964 Steps…Coming Near (original)
Jun 1964 When Love Turns (original)
Oct 1964 Adventures of a Fountain Pen (“Dipped in Blood,” Street & Smith’s Detective Story, Apr 1945)
Dec 1964 Murder After Death (original) Dec 1965 Just Enough to Cover a Thumbnail (“C-Jag,” Black Mask, Oct 1940)
Jul 1966 It Only Takes a Minute to Die (original)
Dec 1966 All It Takes Is Brains (“Crime on St. Catherine Street,” Argosy, 25 Jan 1936)
Apr 1967 The Talking Eyes (“The Case of the Talking Eyes,” Dime Detective, Sep 1939)
Jun 1967 Divorce—New York Style: I (original)
Jul 1967 Divorce—New York Style: II (original)
May 1968 For the Rest of Her Life (original)
Feb 1969 Rear Window (“It Had To Be Murder,” Dime Detective, Feb 1942)
Dec 1970 New York Blues (original)
Apr 1972 Only One Grain More (“The Detective’s Dilemma,” Detective Fiction Weekly, 26 Oct 1940)
Sep 1972 The Lie (Detective Fiction Weekly, 9 Oct 1937)
Jul 1975 Mystery in the Statue of Liberty (“Red Liberty,” Dime Detective, 1 Jul 1935)
Oct 1978 Death Between Dances (Shadow Mystery Magazine, Dec 1947-Jan 1948)
Jun 1983 The Phantom of the Subway (“You Pays Your Nickel,” Argosy, 22 Aug 1936)

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