Columns


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


   No sooner did I send off my November column than I learned of another death in October. Norman Sherry, who devoted almost thirty years of his life to researching and writing a 3-volume, 2250-page biography of Graham Greene, died on October 19 at age 91. For Volume One (1989) he received an Edgar from MWA. The New York Review of Books chose Volume Two (1994) as one of the eleven best books of its year. If I have a special fondness for Volume Three (2004), perhaps it’s because I contributed to it a little.

   The story of how he came to be Greene’s biographer has been often told. In 1974, the year he turned 70, the man who was perhaps the finest English novelist of the 20th century — and certainly one of the finest crime and espionage novelists ever — was in the market for a biographer and became interested in Sherry, whose previous life of Joseph Conrad Greene had much admired.

   The two met for lunch at London’s Savile Club but apparently nothing was decided. They met again and, walking across a busy street, Greene was knocked down by a taxi. “You almost lost your subject,” he said to Sherry. “Not half so bad as losing your biographer,” Sherry replied. That bit of quick wit got him the job. It was the beginning of a decades-long hunt with Sherry the literary detective tracking Greene through Mexico, Cuba, Liberia, Vietnam, Haiti, most if not all of the Third World places in which his quarry had set novels.

   The quest was ruinous to Sherry’s health — dysentery, gangrene that cost him fifteen feet of his intestines, the list seems endless — but he carried on. After Greene’s death in 1991 he found himself at odds with his subject’s closest relations, many of whom despise his three volumes. You can find what Greene’s son Francis thought of the books by googling “Graham Greene Norman Sherry,” such as this article from the New York Times, and there are similar critiques elsewhere on the Web.

   But there are also extravagant, near-idolatrous comments by others. My own view is that if you want to understand, or at least come as close as humanly possible to understanding, the brilliant, profoundly devious, sex-obsessed alcoholic who wrote like a dark angel and gave us THIS GUN FOR HIRE, BRIGHTON ROCK, THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT, THE MINISTRY OF FEAR and so many other novels that have nothing to do with crime or espionage, you can’t do without Sherry’s epic biography.

   But perhaps I’m biased since, as I said above, I contributed a morsel to Volume Three. After such a buildup I’d be a toad if I didn’t share that morsel here with those who haven’t read the biography, so here goes. Back in 1984 and purely by accident I discovered that James Atlee Phillips, better known as Philip Atlee, author of the Joe Gall espionage novels, had moved to St. Louis County where I lived. Jim was reputed to be an interview-shunning curmudgeon but I took a chance, called him and, to my flabbergastment, was invited to come out to his place for dinner.

   After the meal we adjourned to his basement office, and I taped an hour-long conversation with him which was published in Espionage magazine (November 1985). That interview went so well that arrangements were made for me to follow up by interviewing Jim’s younger brother, David Atlee Phillips.

   David, who lived in Bethesda, Maryland, had written a novel and one or two nonfiction books but until his retirement a few years before our meeting most of his time had been spent working for the Central Intelligence Agency in Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Venezuela, rising through the ranks to become one of the foremost practitioners of what is euphemistically called covert action.

   The next time I was on the East Coast I took the Amtrak Metroliner from New York to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station where David met me. We had an excellent lunch at La Mirabelle, a restaurant in McLean, Virginia that was favored by people in the CIA. Over our meal he told me a story which was so good, I insisted on his repeating it when we got to his house and I had my cassette recorder running.

   In the late 1950s, soon after Cuba had become a Communist country under Fidel Castro, David was sent to Havana in deep cover. He was there when Graham Greene came to work with director Carol Reed on the movie OUR MAN IN HAVANA, starring Alec Guinness and based on Greene’s novel of the same name. Much of the picture was shot on the streets of Havana, with David shadowing Greene as they filmed.

   “And at one point Greene said to the director, ‘All right, we should change this line and have him say the following.’ And Alec Guinness said: ‘Fine.’ But then a comandante, a man with a star on his shoulder, a military censor, walked up and said: ‘No, you can’t change that line.’ I’ll never forget the look on Graham Greene’s face when he realized for the first time that there might be some flaws in the new Cuban society,…when his work was suddenly subject to censorship.”

   My interview with David was also published in Espionage (July 1987) and, like my conversation with his brother, can be found in my book CORNUCOPIA OF CRIME (2010), but you won’t find the anecdote I just quoted in the magazine version. Not wanting to see that incident permanently on the cutting room floor, I shared it with Norman Sherry, who included it in Volume Three of the Greene biography. That’s the tidbit I contributed to Norman’s massive project. I still think it was worth saving.

***

   I haven’t read Peter Ackroyd’s ALFRED HITCHCOCK: A BRIEF LIFE but recently read a review in the Times with a passage I particularly liked: “[T]he world of menace [Hitchcock] conjured embodies our deepest, most existential fears. Fears (especially resonant today) that the universe is irrational, that evil lives around the corner, that ordinary life can be ripped apart at any moment by some random unforeseen event.”

    Let’s play Jeopardy! for a minute, shall we? Answer: The author whose work and world are described by those words equally as well as Hitchcock’s. Question: Who is Cornell Woolrich? Second answer: Same as the first but with “composer” substituted for “author.” Question: Who is Bernard Herrmann?

   Hitchcock, Woolrich, Herrmann, so much like Jules and Jim and Catherine in Truffaut’s film: round and round, together bound. When I first started calling Woolrich the Hitchcock of the written word, that was a moment of inspiration if I ever had one.

***

   I received an interesting email recently from a man who had been reading some of the early Woolrich stories collected in my DARKNESS AT DAWN (1985) and had a question about one of them, the 1934 “Walls That Hear You.” That tale, in case you’ve forgotten it, is about a man who discovers that his younger brother has been found with all ten fingers cut off and his tongue severed at the roots.

   Later, in the hospital, we are told that he “shook hands hard” with his brother. How is this possible, my reader asked, when the younger brother’s fingers have been cut off? Could Woolrich have been writing at such white heat that he forgot this? The best reply I could come up with was that we’re supposed to imagine the narrator embracing his kid brother’s fingerless and bandaged hands between his own. Can anyone reading this column come up with anything better?

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 18:
The Importance of Friends
by Walker Martin


   This series has been stressing the joy of collecting pulps and books, but also of great importance is surrounding yourself with like-minded friends. I cannot overstress the importance of this factor in collecting.

   The simple fact is that the great majority of the people that we come in contact with are not collectors at all and don’t really have any understanding or sympathy with our love of collecting books and pulps. They are non-collectors pure and simple, and when they see our collections, they may say that the collection is great or of interest, but usually what they are thinking is along the lines of why don’t you sell the books; why don’t you clean up this clutter; why don’t you see a therapist to address this problem of hoarding…

   Since they are non-collectors, they just about have to think these things and thus be unsympathetic to your collecting interests. So it is of great importance to have friends that collect also in order to preserve your sanity and keep enjoying your collection. And I’m not talking about just long distance friends that live far away in another city. I’m talking about friends that visit you and talk about book and pulp collecting. I’m just recovering from five days of intense interaction with such friends. The excuse for us gathering together was the Pulp Adventurecon pulp convention which was held in Bordentown NJ on November 5, 2016. This was the 17th year that this annual one-day show was held and I’ve attended all of them. Following is a summary of what happened each of the 5 days as the book collecting friends visited me in Trenton, NJ:

Wednesday, November 2 — Matt Moring of Altus Press and the owner of the rights to Popular Publications and Munsey drove down from the Boston area and spent all five days discussing future plans, pulps, original artwork, and his Altus Press pulp reprints which have now passed the 200 book mark. Several more collections in his Dime Detective Library have just been released and are available at the Altus Press website, Mike Chomko Books, and amazon.com. But the big news was about the second volume of the Race Williams BLACK MASK stories. Titled THE SNARL OF THE BEAST, it will be available at the end of November. It is a big book and looks like a black tombstone which is sort of suitable for a Carrol John Daly hard boiled book.

   While having dinner with long time friend and pulp collector Digges La Touche (hereafter referred to as The Major since he retired as a Major in the Air Force and his favorite pulp series is The Major by L. Patrick Greene) Matt showed us an amazing sight, one I never thought I’d see ever again. He is publishing three of the best pulp magazine titles, picking up the volume number where it was when the magazines ceased publication. The titles are BLACK MASK, ARGOSY, and FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES. They are slightly larger than the pulp format and each issue has a new story in addition to reprints. Plans are for later issues to also have articles and interviews. And here I thought the pulps were dead!

Thursday, November 3 — An area collector has decided to reward his long time friends by inviting them to his storage areas (he has several) and letting them take their choice of books, no charge, subject to his final approval since there are some titles he cannot bear to let go. No pulps are included but many hardback and paperback books are available. This is by invitation only and only for his good friends. Sai Shanker, who is one of the very few pulp collectors from India joined Matt and me and we carried out several boxes of books. Now that is what I mean about the importance of friends!

   We all had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together while talking about books, pulps, movies, and artwork. I can’t name the non-collectors that I’d want to eat all three meals with during the day. But the passion of collecting books is a great feeling and one you want to share with other collectors. So I ate and drank too much but it was like being at an all day party. But a party unlike the usual parties because everyone was talking about books!

Friday, November 4 — The celebration continued as I hosted a pulp luncheon for around a dozen of my book collecting friends. Fellow collectors started to arrive at 11:00 am and the only non-collector present was my wife. After a few hours of hearing us talk about books, she had to leave because non-collectors can only take so much. Books, books, books…

   Among those present were Jack Seabrook, expert on Fred Brown and the TV show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS; Jack Irwin, long time pulp collector who actually bought the magazines off the newsstands; Ed Hulse, publisher of BLOOD n THUNDER magazine; Paul Herman, art and BLACK MASK collector; Nick Certo, long time pulp dealer and art collector; Scott Hartshorn, another long time collector; and of course Matt Moring, Sai Shanker, and The Major.

   After several hours we then went to dinner at an Irish pub where we continued to talk about pulps and books. To a collector, this is like heaven, being with like minded book lovers, talking about that great subject, collecting books. Hell, we even read the things!

Saturday, November 5 — The Major picked me up at 7:30 am and by 8:00 am we were at the Bordentown convention which always is held at a Ramada Inn on route 206. The official opening time is 10:00, but dealers started to set up at 7:00 am. I had a table next to my good friends Scott Hartshorn and Mike Chomko. Sai, Matt, and The Major did not have tables but they were always nearby and ready to discuss literary subjects. Also close by with tables were Ed Hulse, Paul Herman, and Nick Certo.

   There were almost 50 dealers’ tables crammed into the room and all sorts of books and magazines were represented. Each Pulp Adventurecon gets better and better and this 17th edition was the largest yet. Well over 100 attendees and the room was busy until 4:00 when we started to pack up. I price things to sell and I sold several SF pulps which were all priced at only $5.00 each. Same with some DVDs, many still in shrink wrap. I also had nine SHADOW digests which I priced at only $10 each, maybe the bargain of the show. I sold seven of them, and then someone wanted a discount on the final two, like the 2 for $15 I guess. I told him they were priced at rock bottom and he walked away. Collectors!

   I found some bargains: 22 issues of my favorite SF fanzine, FANTASY COMMENTATOR. Price around $3.00 each. I have many of them already but at that price I might as well get them all. The same thing with SCREAM FACTORY, a great magazine which I have some copies of, but I don’t remember which ones. I bought a stack of them for $3.00 each. I also found a big bound copy of CHUMS, the British boy’s magazine. Unreadable crap of course, but the artwork was interesting and the price even more interesting at only $5.00.

   After the show closed, we all drove to the near-by Mastoris Diner, which is a famous landmark restaurant known for its large portions and baked pastry. About a dozen of us devoured as much as we could, but even then they give you so much it is difficult to finish.

   As usual I noticed I was the only one drinking. Only beer, true, but I’m a firm believer in the Mediterranean diet which consists of plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, and not much meat. Also wine and beer each day. So far it’s working for me…

Sunday, November 6 — The fifth and final day. Several of us were invited back to the free book storage area, and we met for breakfast before devouring more books. Food may finally kill your appetite but my appetite for books never ends.

   So ends five intense days of friends discussing all sorts of bookish topics. Now I have to catch up on my reading!

A SPECIAL NOTE OF THANKS to Sai Shankar for the use of the photos you see above.

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


   As I was beginning to think about how to open this month’s column, I opened the morning paper and found the answer handed to me. Ed Gorman had died. The date was Friday, October 14, a few weeks short of his 75th birthday. The cause was cancer, with which he’d first been diagnosed 14 years ago.

   He was something of a recluse among writers, leaving his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa almost never, once reportedly turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, but managed to stay in touch with countless colleagues thanks to email and the telephone.

   Ed Gorman was one of the most prolific and compelling crime fiction writers of our generation, the author of dozens of novels and short stories under his own name and several others, plus Westerns and horror novels, plus anthologies, plus material for the Web on other writers, the list goes on and on. He was also one of the founders of Mystery Scene magazine, in whose latest issue there’s a moving tribute to him by editor Kate Stine. In so many ways, including his enthusiasm for everything he was involved in and the generosity with which he advised, mentored and supported writers younger than himself, he was the Anthony Boucher of our generation.

   Of course he never wrote science fiction as Boucher did, but then Boucher never wrote Westerns. I wish I were one of the tiny handful of writers who knew him well.

***

   Ever heard of The Digest Enthusiast? I hadn’t either, until one of its contributors, a man named Steve Carper, recently sent me a copy of the third issue (January 2016). It’s digest sized — what else would you expect? — and deals with all sorts of digest sized publications like magazines and paperback books and you-name-it.

   The subject of Carper’s contribution is the collections of short fiction by Dashiell Hammett that were assembled and edited by Ellery Queen — that is, by the Fred Dannay half of the Queen duo — mainly in the 1940s, and were published as digest-sized paperback originals under the Mercury, Bestseller and Jonathan Press imprints of Lawrence E. Spivak, the original publisher of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   As veteran readers of this column are aware, now and then I’ve compared a few of Hammett’s stories as they originally appeared in Black Mask and other pulps with the versions published twenty or more years later in EQMM and those digest-sized collections. Fred told me many times that every story ever written was too long. True to that belief, he had a habit of changing — usually in the form of cutting — the stories he reprinted. Even Hammett’s.

   Now I learn from Carper’s article that a man named Terry Zobeck has been systematically comparing the Hammett stories as reprinted in EQMM with the versions published in Black Mask and elsewhere decades earlier. The article offers a few examples from Zobeck’s research. One sentence in the Continental Op tale “Who Killed Bob Teal?” (True Detective Stories, November 1924) reads: “Finally she shrugged, her face cleared, and she looked up at us.” Reprinting the story in EQMM (July 1947) and in the collection Dead Yellow Women (1947), Fred put a period after “cleared” and dropped the last six words.

   Another sentence as originally published reads: “Dean and I rode down in the elevator in silence, and walked out into Gough Street.” Under Fred’s editorial blue pencil the sentence ends with “elevator”. Anyone who wants to explore this subject in exhaustive detail needs to read the long series of Zobeck’s posts on Don Herron’s “Up and Down These Mean Streets” blog .

***

   “Who Killed Bob Teal?” is one of the lesser exploits of Hammett’s nameless Continental Op, but it’s of considerable historical interest, for reasons I can’t explain without [Warning] giving away the plot. Teal, a youthful detective for the Continental agency, had appeared in a few earlier tales in the series and in “Slippery Fingers” (Black Mask, 15 October 1923) was described by the Op as “a youngster who will be a world-beater some day.”

   According to the Op in the present story, he “had come to the agency fresh from college two years before; and if ever a man had the makings of a crack detective in him, this slender, broad-shouldered lad had….[W]ith his quick eye, cool nerve, balanced head, and whole-hearted interest in the work, [he] was already well along the way to expertness.” As the head of the San Francisco branch of the agency describes Teal’s murder to the Op:

   “He was shot with a .32, twice, through the heart. He was shot behind a row of signboards on the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Hyde and Eddy Streets, at about ten last night….I would say that there was no struggle, and that he was shot where he was found….He was lying behind the signboards, about thirty feet from the sidewalk, and his hands were empty. The gun was held close enough to him to singe the breast of his coat….”

   The case he’d been working on for the past few days had been brought to the agency by a farm-development engineer named Ogburn, who suspected that his business partner, Herbert Whitacre, had been embezzling money from the firm and was about to disappear. “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the agency head tells the Op. It doesn’t take our sleuth long to conclude that the murderer of Bob Teal was Ogburn.

   “Bob wasn’t a boob! He might possibly have let a man he was trailing lure him behind a row of billboards on a dark night, but he would have gone prepared for trouble. He wouldn’t have died with empty hands, from a gun that was close enough to scorch his coat. The murderer had to be somebody Bob trusted, so it couldn’t be Whitacre…. There was only one man who could have persuaded him to drop Whitacre for a while, and that one man was the one he was working for — Ogburn.”

   Why this story is of historical importance should be clear to anyone who remembers how Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon immediately knew who had killed his partner Archer.

   “Miles hadn’t many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years’ experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance….But he’d’ve gone up there with you, angel….You were his client, so he would have had no reason for not dropping the shadow on your say-so….He’d’ve looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear—and then you could’ve stood as close to him as you liked and put a hole through him….”

   There’s just one thing arguably wrong with the way Hammett handled the situation in the Bob Teal story. The plot requires that Teal must know and trust the client Ogburn, but little if anything in the story tells us that they even knew each other!

   “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the Old Man tells the Op. We can’t infer from that that the two men had met. But, reviewing the two reports Teal had filed before his death, the Op tells us that “Ogburn had given Bob a description of Mrs. Whitacre….”

   This means that the two had met and had at least one conversation. It would have been easy for Hammett to be more specific about this matter, for example by having the Old Man tell the Op that he had introduced Teal to Ogburn and that the two had had lunch or a drink together, but for some reason he chose not to. The result, whether Hammett intended it or not, may well be one of the most subtly clued fair-play stories in the annals of short detective fiction.

***

   The fact that no one ranks “Who Killed Bob Teal?” among Hammett’s better tales probably explains why it wasn’t included in the Library of America volume of Hammett’s Crime Stories and Other Writings (2001). If we confine ourselves to material that has appeared in print, then we can read this and the other stories omitted from that volume only as Fred Dannay edited them for EQMM seventy or more years ago.

   Fortunately we live in the age of the Web, and thanks to Terry Zobeck’s Herculean labors we can read or at least reconstruct the original versions of most if not all of Hammett’s lesser stories. Thank you Mr. Zobeck!

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


   Everyone has heard of the rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Hugh Greene (Graham’s brother) is best known for having compiled some anthologies of “Rivals” stories that later became the basis of a popular British TV series. Very few would disagree that the most eminent and durable of Holmes’ rivals is Nero Wolfe: the brilliant detective, the Watson, the unforgettable place where sleuth and narrator live, and so on. But are there any rivals of Nero Wolfe? Every so often one finds a character, usually obese and irascible, whose first name comes from Roman history and his last from an animal: Trajan Beare, say, or Tullius Dogge. But if that sort of name were necessary, Wolfe would have few rivals indeed.

   Back in the Thirties and Forties Robert George Dean wrote a series about Tony Hunter, a PI working for an agency at whose head sits one Imperator Schmidt. What makes this series distinctive is that Tony does both the legwork and the brainwork and Schmidt is never seen, at least not in the few Hunter novels I’ve read.

   Then there’s a pulp series by D.L. Champion about an acerbic and sardonic investigator named Rex Sackler. This character is not fat and intellectual like Wolfe but pathologically thin and a compulsive pennypincher. He spends money “with all the ease of a bantam hen laying a duck’s egg” and is addicted to maneuvering his legman Joey Graham (whose narrative style is vaguely Archie-esque) into poker games at which he wins back most of the poor schnook’s salary.

   But for my money the most notable of the Wolfe-and-Goodwin rivals is the duo created by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair: the team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, whose debut dates from 1939, five years after Wolfe’s debut in Fer-de-Lance.

   Bertha is certainly obese and irascible enough for a Wolfe rival, but she’s also foul-mouthed and money-mad and not at all brilliant but dependent on her legman and later partner for brainwork. Donald Lam is certainly no match for Archie Goodwin when it comes to brisk crisp narration but the way he tells his stories is far livelier than the relentless business English of Gardner’s Perry Mason novels.

   One rarely finds law as a central element in a Nero Wolfe novel (although 1959’s Plot It Yourself has a lot to do with copyright law and reflects Stout’s years of work with the Authors’ Guild), but it’s a rare Cool & Lam novel which doesn’t revolve around law in one way or another.

   Gardner was no expert on the history of the kind of fiction he wrote but he clearly knew Melville Davisson Post’s “The Corpus Delicti” (1896), which introduced criminal lawyer Randolph Mason. The heart of that classic story was the attorney’s ability and willingness to advise a client how to commit a cold-blooded murder, admit the deed in open court and walk away free. Gardner developed the core of Post’s story into The Bigger They Come (1939), first and perhaps finest of the C&L novels. Here’s the crucial conversation between Lam and his new employer.

   Cool: “Donald,…I know all about your trouble. You were disbarred for violating professional ethics.”

   Lam: “I wasn’t disbarred and I didn’t violate professional ethics.”

   Cool: “The grievance committee reported that you did.”

   Lam: “The grievance committee were a lot of stuffed shirts. I talked too much, that’s all.”

   Cool: “What about, Donald?”

   Lam: “I did some work for a client. We got to talking about the law. I told him a man could break any law and get away with it if he went about it right.”

   Cool: “That’s nothing. Anyone knows that.” [Can you imagine such cynicism in a Perry Mason novel?]

   Lam: “The trouble is I didn’t stop there. I don’t figure knowledge is any good unless you can apply it. I’d studied out a lot of legal tricks. I knew how to apply them.”

   Cool: “Go on from there. What happened?”

   Lam: “I told this man it would be possible to commit a murder so there was nothing anyone could do about it. He said I was wrong. I got mad and offered to bet him five hundred dollars I was right, and could prove it. He said he was ready to put up the money any time I’d put up my five hundred bucks. I told him to come back the next day. That night he was arrested. He turned out to be a small-time gangster….[He told the police] that I had agreed to tell him how to commit a murder and get off scot-free. That he was to pay me five hundred dollars for the information, and then if it looked good to him, he had planned to bump off a rival gangster.”

   Cool: “What happened?”

   Lam: “The grievance committee…revoked my license for a year. They thought I was some sort of a shyster. I told them it was an argument and a bet. Under the circumstances, they didn’t believe me. And, naturally, they took the other side of the question — that a man couldn’t commit deliberate murder and go unpunished.”

   Cool: “Could he, Donald?”

   Lam: “Yes.”

   Cool: And you know how?”

   Lam: “Yes….”

   Cool: “And locked inside that head of yours is a plan by which I could kill someone and the law couldn’t do a damn thing about it?”

   Lam: “Yes.”

   Cool: “You mean if I was smart enough so I didn’t get caught.”

   Lam: “I don’t mean anything of the sort. You’d have to put yourself in my hands and do just as I told you.”

   Cool: “You don’t mean that old gag about fixing it so they couldn’t find the body?” [Clearly a reference to Post’s “The Corpus Delicti” although not a completely accurate description of Randolph Mason’s plan.]

   Lam: “That is the bunk. I’m talking about a loophole in the law itself, something a man could take advantage of to commit a murder.”

   Cool: “Tell me, Donald.” [Gardner leaves us to imagine the smarmy seductive tone in which she must have said this.]

   Lam [laughing]: “Remember, I’ve been through that once.”

   After such a buildup I’d be a toad if I didn’t explain Lam’s scheme without, I hope, ruining The Bigger They Come for those who have never read it. I commit a murder in California. Then I drive across the state line into Arizona where I proceed to frame myself on a charge of obtaining property under false pretenses, although leaving open a legal escape hatch for myself.

   I then drive back to California, run through the quarantine station at the border, get chased and caught by California cops who lock me up in the border town of El Centro. In due course I am legally extradited to Arizona to face the false pretenses charge. Once I clear myself and that charge is officially dropped, I confess to the California murder. But when California moves to extradite me, I file a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that on these facts I can’t be compelled to return.

   Except that he doesn’t actually commit a murder, this is exactly what Donald Lam does in The Bigger They Come: “The only authority which one state has to take prisoners from another state comes from the organic law which provides that fugitives from justice may be extradited from one sovereign state to another. I am not a fugitive from justice….[A] man is not a fugitive from a state unless he flees from that state. He doesn’t flee from that state unless he does so voluntarily and in order to avoid arrest. I did not flee from California. I was dragged from California. I was taken out under legal process to answer for a crime of which I was innocent. I claimed that I was innocent. I came to Arizona and established my innocence. Any time I get good and ready to go back to California, California can arrest me for murder. Until I get good and ready to go back, I can stay here and no power on earth can make me budge.”

   Is this good law? Gardner’s good friend John H. Wigmore, dean of Northwestern Law School, first scoffed at the argument. Then, after Gardner had literally written a brief for him on the issue, he admitted that the loophole had greater possibilities than he had first supposed. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to try it today. The principal case on which Gardner relied was all but overruled by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a few years before his death.

   Perry Mason was portrayed by many different actors in the movies, on radio and of course on TV. As far as I can determine, Cool and Lam have appeared in the media only three times. The second novel in the series, Turn on the Heat (1940), was the basis for an episode of ABC Radio’s U. S. Steel Hour, June 23, 1946. Who played big Bertha remains unknown but Donald was portrayed by, of all unlikely people, Frank Sinatra.

   During the golden age of live TV, The Bigger They Come was adapted for the 60-minute CBS anthology series Climax! with Art Carney as Donald and Jane Darwell as Bertha. The date was January 6, 1955, my twelfth birthday. I don’t remember if I was drinking coffee at that age but if I had been, I’m sure it would have come pouring out my nose like the waters of Niagara at sight of Ed Norton from The Honeymooners playing a PI.

   Finally, in 1958 Gardner’s own company, Paisano Productions, produced a 30-minute pilot for a projected C&L TV series, directed by Jacques Tourneur, with ex-jockey Billy Pearson as Lam and Benay Venuta as Cool. Gardner himself introduced the characters from the Perry Mason office set but the pilot failed to attract any sponsors, although it can be seen today on YouTube.

   Personally, I regret that the role of Donald was never offered to the young Steve McQueen. He wasn’t pint-sized like Billy Pearson but short enough, and judging from his role as Western bounty hunter Josh Randall in Wanted — Dead or Alive he would have been great at projecting Donald’s cockiness and insolence. Any dissenting opinions?

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


   Perhaps the first few items in this month’s column should have gone into the one for last month, which dealt with Georges Simenon, but that one was getting longish and I decided to save a few bits and pieces for a while. First I was going to say a few words about the careless proofreading, most unusual for a Crippen & Landru book, that I discovered in the recent Simenon collection The 13 Culprits. The funniest typo I found is when the name of the juge d’instruction Monsieur Froget is rendered as M. Forget.

***

   If you’re familiar with the original French titles of various Maigret novels, you probably noticed the similarity between a few of those titles and a few of the short stories about other characters that I discussed last month, and may have wondered whether the novels were expanded versions of those short stories.

   In one case I can answer with a definite No (or should I say Non?) because the short story in question has been translated into English. “Les Flamands” from Les 13 Coupables has no relation to the Maigret novel Chez Les Flamands (1932; first translated as The Flemish Shop) beyond the fact that they both deal with Flemish characters.

   The other title similarities come from collections not translated into English. Are there any connections beyond the titles between “L’écluse no. 14″ from Les 13 Mystéres and the novel L’écluse No. 1 (1933; first translated as The Lock at Charenton), or between “Le chien jaune” (“The Yellow Dog”) from Les 13 Enigmes and the Maigret novel of the same title (1931; first translated as A Face for a Clue)? It’s anyone’s guess but I suspect the answers here are also Non and Non. If any Simenonophile out there knows for sure, please say something.

***

   I had read A Face for a Clue years ago but happened to pick it up again recently and found that among other things it offers us a credibility sandwich (or should I say a credibility croissant?) that would daunt a Dagwood. The yellow dog of the original title belongs to a Frenchman who was tricked into smuggling dope into the U.S. on his boat and then betrayed to the authorities by his companions in crime and sentenced to a long term in Sing Sing. Would you believe that he got to keep the mutt throughout his time in the slammer? The dog is still with him when he’s released and comes back to France for revenge on his former partners. Yeah, right.

***

   And yet another “yeah, right” to, of all people, Fred Dannay. In an introduction to the Simenon story he ran in the August 1948 EQMM he tells us that Georges Simenon is a pseudonym and that the author’s real name is Georges Sim! How did Fred come to make this mistake?

   I suspect it dates back to his first meeting with Simenon, which took place in late 1945 or early ‘46, soon after the creator of Maigret left Europe for Montreal and later for the U.S., and is described briefly in the intro to another Simenon story (July 1946). Since Fred spoke very little French and Simenon very little English, the meeting was moderated, as it were, by Simenon’s then agent, who was apparently bilingual. “Your editor’s head swung back and forth between M. Simenon and the interpreter as if we were watching a tennis match at Forest Hills.” Under these conditions any kind of misunderstanding can happen. Remember the telephone game?

***

   During the years when Fred was first publishing Simenon in translation, he was also running a number of stories by Gerald Kersh (1911-1968), who claimed to have been born in Russia although his actual birthplace was Teddington-on-Thames.

   The protagonist of all the tales Fred ran during the Forties was Karmesin, a huge old East European with a thick Nietzsche mustache who, as Kersh never tires of telling us, is either the world’s greatest criminal or its greatest liar. In each story Karmesin tells Kersh about a super-masterful crime he brought off years before.

   Recently I re-read some of these for the first time in years and discovered that Karmesin often drops various contemptuous East European epithets. One of these is “Ptoo!” Another, which interested me more, is “Pfui!” That of course is also a favorite word of crime fiction’s premier character of East European descent: Nero Wolfe.

   I began wondering which of these two was first with the word and, checking my back issues of EQMM, discovered that Karmesin began using the P word in his very first exploit, published simply as “Karmesin” in the London Evening Standard for May 19, 1936 and reprinted in EQMM for April 1948 as “Karmesin, Bank Robber.”

   Did Nero Wolfe use the word earlier than 1936? Rex Stout wrote only two Wolfe novels that preceded Karmesin’s debut: Fer-de-Lance (1934) and The League of Frightened Men (1935). If anyone cares to go through those titles on a Pfui hunt, please let us know. Either way it’s most likely that neither author knew of the other at the time the Pfuis began pflying, but I’m still curious.

***

   Veteran readers of this column will remember my long-standing interest in that useful and sweet-singing little amphibian known to biologists as bufo bufo and to the rest of us as the toad. For no rational reason, the toad has long been the most hated animal in literature, and mystery writers have not been immune to anti-bufonism.

   In five separate and distinct novels written fairly close together, Robert B. Parker had his PI Spenser describe someone as looking like a — yeah, you guessed it. Re-reading Gerald Kersh’s Karmesin stories, I discovered that in one of them, first published as “Karmesin and the Big Flea” (Courier, Winter 1938-39) and reprinted in EQMM for July 1949 as “Karmesin, Blackmailer,” our master criminal’s adversary is a certain Captain Crapaud. Anyone know what crapaud means in English? You guessed it again. Pfui!

   In Chapter 14 of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949) Philip Marlowe encounters a character named Joseph P. Toad, who looks like Sydney Greenstreet but converses in toughguyspeak. Parker may hold the prize for insulting toads most often but Kersh and Chandler seem to be the only crime writers who actually gave that name to a character. Double Pfui! And a hearty Ptoo! for good measure.

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


   Shortly before he created the immortal Maigret, and while he earned his vin rouge and calvados cranking out pulp novels at the rate of one every few days, Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote three series of short stories, thirteen tales apiece, which first appeared, under the pseudonym Georges Sim, in the weekly magazine Détective, each in two parts, with the problem laid out in one issue and the solution, along with a new problem, two weeks later.

   In 1932, with the hugely successful Maigrets being published by the house of Arthéme Fayard at the rate of one a month, Fayard offered the three series from Détective in book form: LES 13 MYSTÉRES, LES 13 ENIGMES, and LES 13 COUPABLES. Thanks to some meticulously detailed French websites, exact data as to all 39 stories are not far to seek.

         LES 13 MYSTÉRES

L’affaire Lefrançois 21 Mar & 4 Apr 1929
Le coffre-fort de la SSS 28 Mar & 11 Apr
Le dossier no. 16 4 Apr & 11 Apr
Le mort invraisemblable 11 Apr & 25 Apr
Le vol du lycée du B… 18 Apr & 2 May
Le dénommé Popaul 25 Apr & 9 May
Le pavillon de la Croix-Rousse 2 May & 16 May
La cheminée du Lorraine 9 May & 23 May
Les trois Rembrandt 16 May & 30 May
L’ écluse no. 14 23 May & 6 Jun
Les deux ingénieurs 30 May & 13 Jun
La bombe de l’Astoria 6 Jun & 20 Jun
Le tabatiére en or 13 Jun & 27 Jun

   The protagonist of these thirteen was Joseph Leborgne, a relatively colorless character who solves cases solely by reading newspaper clippings. Those of us who aren’t fluent in French can judge the series only by the three tales that were translated by Anthony Boucher and published in early issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “The Three Rembrandts” (September 1943), “The Safe of the S.S.S.” (October 1946), and “The Little House at Croix-Rousse” (November 1947).

   After a summer hiatus of about two and a half months, Détective launched a second 13-story series, this one featuring a Paris police official known only as G.7, who apparently has jurisdiction over crime puzzles anywhere in France.

         LES 13 ENIGMES

G.7 12 Sep & 26 Sep 1929
Le naufrage de Catherine 19 Sep & 3 Oct
L’esprit démenageur 26 Sep & 10 Oct
L’homme tatoué 3 Oct & 17 Oct
Le corps disparu 10 Oct & 24 Oct
Hans Peter 17 Oct & 31 Oct
Le chien jaune 24 Oct & 7 Nov
L’incendie du parc Monceau 31 Oct & 14 Nov
Le mas Costefigues 7 Nov & 21 Nov
Le ch teau des disparus 14 Nov & 28 Nov
Le secret de fort Bayard 21 Nov 7 5 Dec
Le drame du Dunkerque 28 Nov & 12 Dec
L’inconnue de l’Étretat 5 Dec & 19 Dec

   This collection too can be judged by Frenchless readers only on the basis of the three stories from it that Boucher translated and Fred Dannay published in EQMM: “The Secret of Fort Bayard” (November 1943), “The Tracy Enigma” (May 1947), and “The Chateau of Missing Men” (August 1948).

   The original French titles of two of these three are easy to figure out but “The Tracy Enigma” is impossible — unless you read Boucher’s version, as I did recently, and discover that it’s about the body of a drowned girl that disappears from the shed where it was being kept; in French, a corps disparu.

   The third and final series began running in Détective after a break of almost three months.

         LES 13 COUPABLES

Ziliouk 13 Mar & 27 Mar 1930
Monsieur Rodrigues 20 Mar & 3 Apr
Madame Smitt 27 Mar & 10 Apr
Les “Flamands” 3 Apr & 17 Apr
Nouchi 10 Apr & 24 Apr
Arnold Schuttringer 17 Apr & 1 May
Waldemar Strvecki 24 Apr & 8 May
Philippe 1 May & 15 May
Nicolas 8 May & 22 May
Les Timmermans 15 May & 29 May
Le Pacha 22 May & 5 Jun
Otto Müller 29 May & 12 Jun
Bus 5 Jun & 19 Jun

   This one introduces M. Froget, a Paris juge d’instruction, or examining magistrate, who questions a prisoner before him in each tale. Boucher translated and Fred published four of the stories: “The Case of Arnold Schuttringer” (November 1942), “Affaire Ziliouk” (May 1944), “The Case of the Three Bicyclists” (July 1946), and “Nouchi” (December 1948). In French the third tale is “Les Timmermans”; the original titles of the others are obvious.

   With COUPABLES we are not dependent on ancient issues of EQMM. In 2002 the entire collection was published by Crippen & Landru, in a translation by Peter Schulman, as THE 13 CULPRITS. Schulman describes Boucher’s translations as “very creative, but sometimes [they] took liberties with Simenon’s writing. I have stuck quite loyally to the text, and tried to preserve Simenon’s elegant, sometimes labyrinthine, formal sentence structures….”

   After reading this comment I was struck with the urge to compare Schulman’s translations with Boucher’s. The first thing I found could certainly be classified as taking a liberty with Simenon’s prose. Boucher’s version of the Arnold Schuttringer story begins with a description of Froget supposedly penned by Simenon himself. “I have been a guest in his home on the Champ du Mars, and I should like to attempt a personal impression. No man has ever more thoroughly crushed me, more completely undermined my opinion of myself, than M. Froget.”

   Turning to the Crippen & Landru book, we find that there is no such passage in “Arnold Schuttringer.” Did Boucher have the chutzpah to write it himself? No, he simply borrowed it from the first story in the book, “Ziliouk,” which he translated for EQMM a little later. Since “Schuttringer” was the first Simenon short story to appear anywhere in English, Boucher obviously felt that its protagonist should be introduced by this passage from the first story to appear in French.

   In most respects the translations differ only slightly. Boucher: “Arnold Schuttringer never took his large bulging eyes off the magistrate. They inspired dislike, those eyes, even a strange revulsion.” Schulman: “Arnold Schuttringer did not take his big goggle eyes off him. His eyes inspired a certain amount of ill will, even a strange kind of revulsion.”

   One could spend many hours and pages comparing translations this way if the game were worth the candle. But at the very end of the story there’s one difference too intriguing to pass over. Simenon or whoever the narrator is supposed to be tells us, in Boucher’s translation: “Across these lines [in Froget’s case file] I have read a note written later in red ink: ‘Died at Salpetri re Hospital of general paresis, a year after acquittal for lack of criminal responsibility.’”

   In Schulman’s: “I have read a little note that was later inserted between the lines in red ink: ‘Death at the Salpetri re old age home, of a general paralysis a year after having been acquitted for lack of criminal responsibility.’” This makes no sense. Schuttringer is not an old man; in fact we’re told early in the story that he’s thirty. Even worse, Schulman inserts a footnote that the Salpetri re “housed aged women, and also served as a mental institution for women.” Certainly Arnold Schuttringer was not a woman! Could the subject of Froget’s jotting have been Schuttringer’s female accomplice? But why would monsieur le juge put a sentence about her in a file concerning Schuttringer?

   This dilemma forced me to turn for help to mon vieux ami Jean-Pierre Google. The Salpêtriére hospital — named for saltpeter, an ingredient of gunpowder—was founded in 1656 by King Louis XIV on the site of an old gunpowder factory. It served mainly as a prison for prostitutes and a holding place for the mentally disabled, the criminally insane, and epileptics.

   By the time of the French Revolution it had become the world’s largest hospital. Its original inmates were exclusively women, but during the 20th century Prince Rainier of Monaco was treated there and philosopher Michel Foucault died there. Among the women who died there are singer Josephine Baker, who was one of Simenon’s legion of lovers, and Princess Diana. Exactly when the hospital opened its doors to men I haven’t been able to determine.

   The first of the 13 coupables to appear before M. Froget is Ziliouk, who in Schulman’s translation is described as “a Hungarian (or Polish, or Lithuanian, or Latvian, nobody knew exactly) Jew who…had already been expelled from five or six countries in Europe.”

   No doubt this is a close translation of what Simenon had written. But if we look at Boucher’s rendition from the May 1944 EQMM, we find that a single word has been omitted. “He was a Hungarian…or Polish, or Lithuanian, or Latvian. No one knew precisely;…he had already been deported from five or six countries.”

   Another liberty with Simenon’s text? Yes indeed. But, knowing that Boucher detested and despised anti-Semitism, and that he was translating the story at a time when Jews were being slaughtered by the millions in the Holocaust, wasn’t the liberty justified? In his shoes, what would you have done?

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


   Not long ago I felt the urge to read another novel by that king of the humdrums, John Rhode (1884-1964) and, from the specimens on my shelves, chose THE CLAVERTON AFFAIR (1933). Judging by Rhode’s foremost admirers, it was an excellent choice. “A fine example of good early Priestley,” say Barzun & Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME. “The puzzle is sound, the atmosphere menacing in a splendidly gloomy way, and the treatment of spiritualistic seances above reproach….[This is] a book to hang onto.” I found it somewhat less impressive.

   As in almost every one of the Rhode novels, the protagonist is curmudgeonly Dr. Priestley, whose rarely seen first name is Lancelot and who is not a doctor, at least not a physician. Paying a visit to his old friend Sir John Claverton, Priestley discovers newly ensconced on the premises Sir John’s estranged sister, who’s a psychic medium, and her daughter, who is nursing him through some gastric problems.

   His physician Dr. Oldland, soon to become a regular character in the series, tells Priestley in confidence that the cause of Sir John’s most serious attack was arsenic. A few days later Sir John dies. Priestley naturally enough suspects another dose of arsenic but medical tests rule out that poison conclusively. Sir John had recently changed his will, replacing what had been a simple testament with an exceedingly strange one. After two seances, the second rigged by Priestley, our sleuth solves the puzzle and the murderer obligingly confesses the whole plot.

   For the most part THE CLAVERTON AFFAIR is on a par with the dozens of other Rhodes. One aspect that makes it unusual is that there are only three suspects, hardly enough for a book that runs more than 270 pages. Another is that the soporific prose is marred by some grammatical lapses of the sort one rarely encounters in the humdrums. “I should like, if possible, to see this Doctor Oldland, whom you say was attending Sir John.” “But that wasn’t the worse.”

   What surprised me more than the moments of bad grammar was some unusual dialogue. Here speaking to Priestley is a man who left his wife for a wealthy younger woman. “I honestly believe that an impartial deity would count her [i.e. the wife’s] petty suffering a very small thing to put against our surpassing happiness.”

   And here is a married woman who had an affair and a child with another man while her husband was overseas in World War I. “…I’m proud of every moment that we spent together. I wouldn’t give up a single one of my memories to save myself from eternal damnation….To me, he was the most wonderful lover that ever lived!” Sentiments like these are rare to say the least in a detective novel more than 80 years old. Is it possible that a stodgy Brit like Rhode was host to an inner swinger?

   There is no Rhode biography and it’s hard to believe that someone who wrote so many books actually had a life, but apparently he did. One of his closest friends among crime novelists was John Dickson Carr, who said of Rhode that he “once boasted of being the Detection Club’s heaviest member, always excepting G.K. Chesterton. I have watched him polish off ten pints of beer before lunch, and more than that after dinner.” I gather from the Web that for many years he lived with a woman whom he married only after his first wife’s death. Swinger indeed!

***

   In a letter from decades ago, novelist and playwright Ira Levin (1929-2007) described Rhode to me as “still my favorite narcotic and traveling companion.” For me he doesn’t fit well in that slot. Why? Because you can’t read Rhode without keeping your mind engaged to a certain extent. At bedtime and on the road I prefer Peter Cheyney (1896-1951), at least when he’s writing about that rootin’ tootin’ two-gun shootin’ G-man Lemmy Caution.

   Cheyney was blessed with the un-British gift of chutzpah: knowing nothing about the U.S. or the American language, he cranked out a whole series of novels with an allegedly Yank narrator who not only writes in first person but in present tense in what his creator fondly imagined to be the manner of Damon Runyon. I’ve found that the best way to read a Lemmy Caution exploit is to start with the first couple of chapters and then skip around, on the prowl for the Cheyneyisms with which the books are strewn.

   Recently I pulled down my tattered copy of the second Cautionary tale, POISON IVY (1937), which seems never to have been published on this side of the pond. With superhuman restraint I’ll limit myself to quoting seven splendiferous sentences.

      “It sounds to me like a pipe dream from a police nose.”

      “Too many guys have had to use hair restorer over goin’ out and meeting a whole lot of grief before it got there.”

      “I reckon that they think I’m the cat’s lingerie.”

      “Lemmy Caution without a Luger under his arm is about as much use as a lump of pickled pork to a rabbi.”

      “He is a big guy with a derby hat an’ he is smilin’ and lookin’ as happy as a sandboy.”

      “If you start anything I reckon I’m goin’ to fill you so full of holes that you’ll think you was a nutmeg grater.”

      “Well, sweetheart, if you’re a lady then I’m the King of Siam gettin’ himself elected President of Cuba in a snowstorm.”

   Take that, Raul Castro! And the next time you meet a sandboy, toss him a lump of pickled pork.

***

   I quoted John Dickson Carr a few pages ago so it’s only fair that I close this column with him too. THE THIRD BULLET is of an unusual length that Carr had never attempted before or since, much shorter than any of his novels but considerably longer than, say, most of the Nero Wolfe novelets.

   It was first published under his Carter Dickson byline in 1937, the same year as Cheyney’s POISON IVY, in a short-lived series of Hodder & Stoughton paperback originals advertised as “new at ninepence.” The only other title in the series likely to be familiar to mystery fans was Margery Allingham’s THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG.

   The detective in Allingham’s contribution was the well-established Albert Campion but Carr’s sleuth was a newcomer, Colonel Marquis, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and something of a rough sketch for the better known Colonel March of Dickson’s later Department of Queer Complaints stories.

   A retired judge is found shot to death in the pavilion behind his Hampstead house. The room is locked — how could it be anything else in a Carr story? — and its only other occupant is a man whom a few years earlier the judge had sentenced to be flogged with a cat-o’-nine-tails and who’s found carrying a pistol with one shot fired. He claims that the shot from his pistol had missed and that a third person had fired the fatal bullet with a second gun, which is discovered in the room. There’s a bullet hole in the judge and another, from a different weapon, in one wall of the pavilion.

   But medical evidence establishes that the fatal bullet was fired from yet a third weapon, which is nowhere to be found. Colonel Marquis solves the puzzle neatly, although I doubt that one reader in a million could anticipate his solution and it’s hard to imagine anyone except a Carr character devising a scheme like the one at the center of this story.

   The tale never appeared in the U.S. until after World War II, when Fred Dannay published a heavily edited version in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for January 1948 — edited, I should add, with Carr’s approval. “[D]on’t you think you had better do a lot of cutting?” he wrote Fred. “I remember being uncomfortably verbose in those days.”

   By that time Carr had apparently lost all copies of the Hodder & Stoughton version, which means that Fred must have edited from a carbon of the typescript. It was the Dannay condensation that was used when the tale appeared as the lead item in the Carr collection THE THIRD BULLET AND OTHER STORIES (Harper, 1954) and in all subsequent reprints until Douglas G. Greene included the full original version in FELL AND FOUL PLAY (International Polygonics, 1991).

   Anthony Boucher in the New York Times Book Review (May 30, 1954) described the condensed version as “a somewhat conventional but admirably detailed and intricate locked-room puzzle, ranking as good Grade B Carr.” Barzun & Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME said: “It is ingenious but told without vim.” By that I assume they meant that it lacks the Poesque atmospheric touches that distinguish so many of Carr’s early novels, as indeed it does, although there’s a tad more atmosphere in the uncut version that only became available after these comments were written.

   THE THIRD BULLET may not be in the same league with Carr classics like THE THREE COFFINS (1935) or THE CROOKED HINGE (1938), but it’s a smooth specimen of the kind of story that will still be linked with JDC when our great-grandkids are reading him on their wristwatch computers as they rocket their way to other galaxies.

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


   If I had gone to New York for this year’s Edgars dinner, I would have known a few weeks sooner. As it was, I read the news in the program booklet, which reached me in the mail a few days ago. Among the MWA members who died in 2015 was one I knew. His name was Charles Runyon. To friends he was Chuck.

   He was born in rural Missouri in 1928 and died last June, a few hours short of his 87th birthday. He was well-known in the science-fiction field and also as a writer of paperback crime-suspense novels like THE PRETTIEST GIRL I EVER KILLED (1965) and the Edgar-nominated POWER KILL (1972). My first contact with him was more than three decades ago, probably in the year that will be forever linked with George Orwell. His first story for Manhunt had been adapted into an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and I wanted to include it in my anthology HITCHCOCK IN PRIME TIME (1985), which brought together twenty tales that had served as episodes for that long-running series, with each author who was alive and willing being offered a bonus if he or she would write an afterword for the book. (For those who were unwilling or dead I did the honors.) Chuck was both alive and willing and contributed by far the longest afterword of the twenty.

   A few years later, on my way back from a gig somewhere west of St. Louis, Chuck invited my late wife and me to stop off in the small Missouri town where he was then living and visit with him. We did. I remember it was a Sunday morning. While I was using the facilities, Patty started asking Chuck about his work, and when I came back to the conversation she told me excitedly that Chuck had just told her he’d ghosted three of the paperback originals published in the Sixties as by Ellery Queen.

   For me this was tremendous news. I had been trying to track down the authors of all those faux-EQ paperbacks but was still missing some. Suddenly out of the blue, three more pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place. Patty: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

***

   The Queen paperback originals had come about during the years when Manny Lee, whose function in the partnership had been to expand his cousin Fred Dannay’s lengthy synopses into novels, was suffering from writer’s block. At the same time the literary agency representing the cousins was looking for ways to expand the Queen readership beyond the confines of formal detective fiction. The result was an arrangement whereby other clients of the agency would be paid a flat fee per book to write paperback novels — standalones, without Ellery or the other Queen series characters — to be edited by Manny and published as by Queen.

   It was a terrible idea, which Fred Dannay strongly opposed, but in view of Manny’s situation and the large family he had to support, there seemed no alternative but to agree. Between 1961 and 1972 a total of 28 books ghosted by nine authors were published under this arrangement. In order of their assumption of the Queen byline, the authors were Stephen Marlowe (1), Richard Deming (9), Talmage Powell (6), Henry Kane (1), Fletcher Flora (3), Jack Vance (3), Chuck Runyon (3), Walt Sheldon (1), and Edward D. Hoch (1). Jack Vance (1916-2014) was the longest-lived of the nine but Runyon was the last man standing.

***

   He had authored a few paperback original crime novels for Fawcett Gold Medal and some hardboiled stories for Manhunt when he took on the Queen mantle, debuting with THE LAST SCORE (Pocket Books pb #50486, 1964), which Anthony Boucher in the Times Book Review (January 24, 1965) rightly called “a straight-out adventure thriller.” Tough tourist guide Reid Rance is hired to chaperon a wealthy teen-age sexpot on a journey through Mexico, a country with which Runyon was intimately acquainted. When the girl is kidnapped and held for ransom, our macho protagonist doesn’t bother to notify the authorities but launches a one-man war against the abductors. The background is vividly evoked, the descriptions of a marijuana “high” ring true, and despite some implausibilities in the slender storyline this is a model of men’s-magazine adventure fiction. “Good violent excitement,” said Boucher, “tightly told.” But — an Ellery Queen novel???

   Runyon brought another macho action yarn under the EQ umbrella in THE KILLER TOUCH (Pocket Books pb #50494, 1965). A tough Florida cop, tormented by a wound and his guilt at killing a teen-ager in line of duty, comes to a tropical island resort where a gang of thieves headed by a doom-haunted sadistic intellectual has just moved in after pulling off a diamond robbery.

   The writing is vivid, the incidents lurid, the climax rushed, and Runyon crams in enough torture scenes, sex teasing and carnage to satisfy the most rabid. Was Boucher turned off by all the bloodletting? For whatever reason he chose not to review this one.

   Roughly four years passed before Runyon sailed under the EQ flag for the last time. KISS AND KILL (Dell pb #4567, 1969) is a tornado-paced novel of pursuit and menace complete with sex, sadism, machismo and a psychopathic creep. When a young Chicago housewife vanishes after returning from a tour of — here we go again! — Mexico, her distraught husband and a local PI take up the trail and soon discover that everyone else on that tour has either disappeared or suffered a violent death.

   About halfway through the book the action shifts to south of the border and the two urban male protagonists, joined by a woman photographer from St. Louis, become instant experts at guerrilla warfare against professional killers. But neither this implausible development nor the recycling of tough-guy fiction’s most overused climactic “surprise” diminishes the pure headlong storytelling drive that makes Runyon’s ultimate men’s-mag adventure unputdownable. Boucher didn’t review this one either but not by choice: he had died the year before it came out.

***

   From the Runyon file in one of my cabinets I discovered something that thanks to old age I had totally forgotten: Chuck and his wife had actually stayed with Patty and me around Christmastime one year, and we had hosted a little party to introduce him to some other St. Louis-area mystery writers. Several of his novels are on my shelves, a few of them inscribed to me, probably during his visit. If those who are interested in the books he wrote under his own name follow this link to Steve’s primary Mystery*File website for an interview conducted several years ago by Ed Gorman. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Chuck’s life and work. I only wish I had known him better.

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


   Anyone remember a Cornell Woolrich story called “The Fatal Footlights”? It first appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly for June 14, 1941 and finally found a hardcover home when I included it in my Woolrich collection NIGHT & FEAR (2004). The setting is a cheap burlesque house on New York’s 42nd Street and the plot kicks off when the featured dancer, who performs with her body painted gold all over, collapses on the runway during a show and dies.

   We soon learn that it was the gold paint that killed her, and that someone had stolen the paint remover from her dressing room precisely in order to cause her death without laying a finger on her. Of course, what death by gilding conjures up for most of us is not this obscure Woolrich story but the James Bond movie GOLDFINGER (1964) and Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel of the same name. Fred Dannay had reprinted Woolrich’s story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for June 1955 under the new title “Death at the Burlesque,” and if the tale came to Fleming’s attention it was probably by this route.

***

   For the media the megadeath of April 2016 was that of pop icon Prince. But just one day earlier, on the 20th of the month, death claimed the director of GOLDFINGER — and of several other Bond films. Guy Hamilton was born in Paris of English parents in 1922 and entered the British film industry after service in World War II. In 1952, having put in a few years as an assistant director, he made his first film, THE RINGER, based on something — whether a novel, a story, a play or just the character is unclear — by Edgar Wallace.

   It wasn’t until his involvement with Sean Connery and GOLDFINGER that he came to prominence, and in later years he directed three other Bond films: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971), again with Connery, and LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), both starring Roger Moore. He also contributed to the more serious type of espionage film as director of FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966), based on the novel by Len Deighton and starring Michael Caine.

   Near the end of his career he helmed two pictures based on Agatha Christie novels and filmed in the manner of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, with a huge budget and tons of guest stars. THE MIRROR CRACK’D (1980) starred Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, with guest stars including Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor, while Peter Ustinov took the lead as Hercule Poirot in EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982), with Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, James Mason and Diana Rigg among the guest stars.

***

   The actress in GOLDFINGER who met her death by gilding was Shirley Eaton (1937- ). As chance would have it, I met Ms. Eaton twenty-odd years ago, at the Memphis Film Festival. We both happened to pick the same time to have lunch in the convention hotel restaurant and out of the blue she asked if she could sit with me, saying she didn’t like eating alone.

   Was I a hot dude in those days or what? No, I didn’t make a pass at her, nor she at me, but in her middle fifties she was still quite lovely. I was interested in Guy Hamilton, GOLDFINGER’s director, and asked if she knew how I could get in touch with him. She told me that she understood he’d retired and moved to Majorca. With no more to go on than that, I wasn’t able to track him down. Now he’s gone for good. Obituaries indicate that Majorca was indeed his final home.

***

   So why was I interested in Hamilton? Not because of GOLDFINGER, or any other Bond film, and not because of the Christie-based pictures either. Just before GOLDFINGER, Hamilton had directed a picture that fascinated me: a commercial failure, not even mentioned in the New York Times obituary, but one that I was using in my Law and Film seminar at St. Louis University and wanted to write about. Odds are that no reader of this column has seen or heard of it.

   The literary source of the film was the 1959 novel THE WINSTON AFFAIR by Howard Fast (1914-2003), a super-prolific author who was a Communist and, back in the Red Menace era, served a prison term for contempt of Congress. Among general readers he’s best known as the author of SPARTACUS (1951), source of the blockbuster movie with Kirk Douglas; among mystery fans he’s remembered for the whodunits he wrote as E.V. Cunningham.

   No one would call THE WINSTON AFFAIR a mystery but it might be considered a legal thriller. The time is late in World War II and the place is India, which Fast knew well from his work as a war correspondent. Large numbers of British and American troops are serving in the area side by side and tension between the two armies is running high.

   Barney Adams, a West Point graduate and wounded combat veteran, is assigned as defense counsel at a court martial. The defendant, Lieutenant Charles Winston, is a middle-aged misfit who at a military outpost in the boondocks cold-bloodedly shot to death a British sergeant in full view of several witnesses.

   In order to restore unity with their British allies, the American commanders are determined that Winston be tried promptly and hanged. But since Winston happens to have a Congressman as his brother-in-law, the court-martial must be conducted not in the drumhead style but with the facade of due process preserved. It’s made clear to Adams, however, that he is not to raise the only defense available: insanity.

   Everyone with professional expertise admits privately to Adams that Winston was and still is insane but a “lunacy board” with no psychiatric experience has ruled to the contrary. At a press conference before the trial, Adams responds to an Indian journalist’s question with the statement that might does not make right and justice can only exist apart from power. Once the court-martial begins, he jumps the reservation and goes all out to establish an insanity defense, clearly destroying his own military career in the process.

   The biggest problem with THE WINSTON AFFAIR is that, like so much “socially conscious” fiction, it’s heavy on earnest rhetoric and light on drama. In MAN IN THE MIDDLE (1963), the movie based on Fast’s novel, the Debate on Great Issues tone is either scrapped or, where kept, is made subordinate to story and character.

   Let’s compare the first few paragraphs of WINSTON and the first minute or so of the movie. Fast begins with a banal exchange of dialogue between the area’s commanding general and his sergeant. Guy Hamilton opens the movie with a stunning pre-credits sequence as we watch Winston (Keenan Wynn) stride from his quarters to the tent barracks, walk into the British sergeant’s canvas cubicle, take out a pistol and pump four bullets into him. In the novel we never see the murder.

   Barney Adams is the protagonist of both works but his biography differs sharply from one to the other. Fast’s character is a captain, 28 years old, six years out of West Point and an honors graduate of Harvard Law School. The Adams of the movie looks to be in his mid-forties, as Robert Mitchum was when he played the role, and accordingly holds the higher rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

   This version of the character knows next to nothing about military law and certainly never went to a civilian law school. He’s invested much more of himself in his career as a soldier than has Fast’s Adams, and if he sacrifices that career trying to save his pathetic and disgusting client, the stakes are much higher than they are for his novelistic counterpart.

   The ultimate evil in Fast’s novel is anti-Semitism. Winston is a paranoiac who believes he’s being plotted against by “international Jewry, the Elders of Zion, the whole kit and kaboodle of Nazi filth.” A Jewish officer calls him “a decaying cesspool of every vile chauvinism and hatred ever invented…, who spat in my face and called me a kike and a sheeny….”

   Guy Hamilton and his collaborators drop the anti-Semitism theme, a decision which displeased Fast mightily, and anachronistically replace it with what in the early 1960s was much more timely. You guessed it. Racism. The British sergeant he killed, Wynn tells Mitchum, “was altogether an evil man. He’d sit and spout democracy, then he’d go out….Up into the hills, one of these native villages. He had women up there. Black women. I saw him!….I used to follow him up that hill and watch him with those black witches up there. He was defiling the race, Colonel….He wasn’t fit to live in a white man’s world.”

   As Mitchum is leaving the guardhouse, Wynn is taken out for his daily exercise. Guy Hamilton places us with Mitchum, looking down into the sunken prison yard, watching Wynn pace back and forth in an enclosed stone cube that is a perfect visual correlative for his racism.

   I could go on for many more pages — and did just that in a chapter on the movie and Fast’s novel that was first published in the University of San Francisco Law Review and is included in my Edgar-nominated JUDGES AND JUSTICE AND LAWYERS AND LAW (2014) — but space compels me to cut to the bottom line.

   The key to understanding the differences between novel and film is that, during the four years between them, two monumental events occurred: the publication of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960) and the release of the classic film version (1962) with Gregory Peck. Hamilton’s movie does what Fast’s novel couldn’t have done.

   Robert Mitchum’s version of Barney Adams creates a new type of Atticus Finch figure: tough and laconic, almost a Philip Marlowe in khaki, where Atticus was loving and compassionate; representing not a sympathetic and clearly innocent black man in the South of the 1930s but a guilty white racist of the worst sort. “It’s easy to fight for the innocent,” Mitchum says, perhaps referring subtly to Atticus. “But when you fight for the sick, for the warped, for the lost, then you’ve got justice.”

   His (and Guy Hamilton’s) Barney Adams doesn’t have a license to practice law but, as I see it, offers a more challenging and less reassuring incarnation of the lawyerly ethos that is permanently linked in the public mind with the years of the Supreme Court under Earl Warren.

***

   We’ve come a long way from Cornell Woolrich and death by gilding and it would be hard to end this column neatly by going back. Since many readers of this column are movie buffs, I’ll close by quoting a letter about MAN IN THE MIDDLE sent to me by Howard Fast early in 1996.

   Most of the shooting, he said, took place “on Lord Somethingorother’s estate about ten miles out of London. I was in London with my family and I watched a good bit of the filming. Bob Mitchum was wonderful. For me he was the best film actor of his time. Each day he sat quietly on the set, putting away a quart of whisky. When his scene came he never flubbed a word, while the British actors were flubbing all over the place. They never had to do a second take because of Mitchum… I was awed by the ability of the British film makers to reproduce an Indian setting there near London.”

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


   I can’t claim to have read all 70-odd Maigret novels, but I’ve been reading them off-and-on since my teens and I still find many of them fascinating, especially the ones from the Thirties. Unfortunately my French isn’t good enough to allow me to read them as Simenon wrote them, but over the years I’ve sometimes wound up with two different translations of the same book, and a number of them are now being translated yet a third time. Reading two translations side by side is a heady experience, especially if you put on your detective cap and try to figure out what is and what isn’t in the original.

   There were characters a bit like Maigret and characters actually going by that name in a few of the more than 200 pulp novels Simenon wrote under a dozen or so pseudonyms in the 1920s, but the first genuine Maigret was PIETR-LE-LETTON, which was written in 1929 and published by A. Fayard et cie two years later as either the third or the fifth in the monthly Maigret series. In the States, as THE STRANGE CASE OF PETER THE LETT (1933), it was the fourth of six early Maigrets published by the Covici Friede firm.

   I am lucky enough to have a copy of that edition. No translator is credited but various sources in print and online claim that Simenon’s French was first rendered into English by Anthony Abbot. As all lovers of detection know, Abbot was the name under which best-selling novelist Fulton Oursler (1893-1952), following the lead of S. S. Van Dine, both signed and narrated the cases of New York City police commissioner Thatcher Colt, published originally by Covici Friede.

   Many decades ago I read all the Abbot novels and wrote an essay about them which in its final form can be found in my CORNUCOPIA OF CRIME (2010). I had heard the rumor that Oursler had translated the early Maigrets but, since he had died when I was a child, I couldn’t ask him. I did however write his son Will Oursler (1913-1985), who was also a part-time mystery writer both under his own name and as Gale Gallagher and Nick Marino.

   In a letter dated January 4, 1970 — My God! More than 46 years ago! — he replied as follows: “[M]y father did not make the actual translation as he simply was not that fluent in French. It is more probable that most of his effort was in the area of editing and polishing after the translation was done. It is certain that he would not have been capable of translating six Maigret novels.”

   The second translation of PIETR-LE-LETTON, retitled MAIGRET AND THE ENIGMATIC LETT, was by Daphne Woodward, published in 1963 as a Penguin paperback and sold in the U.S. for 65 cents. According to Steve Trussel’s priceless Maigret website, the Woodward version “is much closer to Simenon’s French text, the first being wayward at times.”

   Even without the French text at hand, I’ve found indications that Trussel is right. The novel features an American millionaire staying in the posh Hotel Majestic who is strangely connected with Pietr. The 1933 translation gives his name as Mortimer Livingston, which seems perfectly proper for the character. Daphne Woodward renders the name as Mortimer-Levingston, which is silly but consistent with the young Simenon’s ignorance of all things American.

   This character has a secretary, staying in London but never seen or spoken to. His name in the 1933 translation is Stone, which sounds fine. In Woodward’s rendition he’s called Stones, which is dreadful but again consistent with Simenon’s ignorance. It seems clear that the anonymous original translator went out of his or her way to Americanize various details in the novel that Simenon flubbed. Or was that part of the polishing job by Fulton Oursler?

   Written before Maigret and his world had crystallized in Simenon’s creative mind, PIETR-LE-LETTON is significantly different from almost all the later novels in the series. For one thing, it’s much more violent, with a total of four murders (the work of three different murderers) plus a suicide, committed in Maigret’s presence and with his gun.

   There’s also a great deal more physical action, with Maigret racing from Paris to the Normandy fishing port of F camp and out over the rocks along the muddy seacoast after his chief adversary despite being half-frozen and having been shot in the chest! But there’s a genuine battle of nerves between Maigret and his quarry, more intense and existential than their counterparts in many later books in the series, and the evocation of atmosphere which was Simenon’s trademark is as powerful as in the finest films noir. In either translation this debut novel is a gem.

***

   In 2014 Penguin Classics released yet another translation, this one by David Bellos and bearing the title PETER THE LATVIAN. Did some political correctness guru decide that Lett was a demeaning term like Polack? And what did Bellos make of passages like the beginning of Chapter 13? In Woodward’s version: “Every race has its own smell, loathed by other races…. In Anna Gorskin’s room you could cut it with a knife…. Flaccid sausages of a repulsive shade of pink, thickly speckled with garlic. A plate with some fried fish floating in a sour liquid.”

   There’s nothing like that first sentence in the 1933 rendition, perhaps because Fulton Oursler cut it out, but we do get to see and smell the “horrible pink sausages, flabby to the touch and filled with garlic” and “a platter containing the remains of a fried fish swimming in a sour-smelling sauce….” Need I mention that this scene takes place in the rue du Roi-de-Sicile, in Paris’s Jewish ghetto?

***

   While fine-tuning this month’s column I discovered that there really was, or at least might have been, a Latvian criminal named Pietr. He was known as Peter the Painter and his real name may have been Pietr Piatkow, or perhaps Gederts Eliass or Janis Zhaklis. He seems to have emigrated from East Europe to London where he joined an ethnic gang that stole in order to fund their radical political activities.

   He is believed to have taken part in the infamous Siege of Sidney Street which inspired the climax of Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), although a brief sketch in England’s Dictionary of National Biography warns us that “None of the … biographical ‘facts’ about him … is altogether reliable.”

   Whether Simenon had ever heard of this man remains unknown, but in any event the fictional Pietr the Lett is not a leftist radical, does not commit crimes of violence and turns out not even to be Latvian. Which raises another mystery: Why did Simenon call the guy Pietr the Lett? Pietr the Estonian — or the Esty? — would have sounded ridiculous even in French, but there’s absolutely no reason in the novel why he couldn’t have been a genuine Latvian. Ah well, c’est la vie.

***

   Train murders were something of a Simenon specialty. Of course, when such a crime takes place in a Maigret, it’s bound to lose intensity and vividness simply because we can’t be there to witness it. This is certainly true of the first murder in PIETR-LE-LETTON, and it’s also true of a Maigret short story dating from about seven years later.

   We learn from Steve Trussel’s website that “Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!” was written in October 1936 and, along with more than a dozen other shorts from the same period, was first collected in France as LES NOUVELLES ENQU TES DE MAIGRET (1944). It was never included in any collection of Maigret shorts published in English but did appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1966, as “Inspector Maigret Deduces,” with no translator credit and with an unaccountable 1961 copyright date.

   (The FictionMags Index explains the date — the story’s first appearance in English was in the UK edition of Argosy for October 1961—and identifies the translator as one J.E. Malcolm.)

   As in PIETR-LE-LETTON, Maigret tackles a murder on a train, this one bound from Warsaw to Berlin to Liège in Belgium (Simenon’s birthplace) to Erquelinnes (on the Belgian side of the border with France) to Jeumont (just across the line on the French side) and on to Paris, except that one of the six passengers in a particular compartment is found dead in his seat at Jeumont. The dead man is a wealthy German banker named Otto Bauer.

   Called in by his railroad-detective nephew, Maigret gets in touch with his Berlin counterparts and learns that Bauer was forced out of the banking business “after the National Socialist revolution, but gave an undertaking of loyalty to the Government, and has never been disturbed….” and also that he’s “[c]ontributed one million marks to party funds.”

   Clearly, despite his name, Bauer was a Jew, and was desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany with whatever money he could salvage. That element is what makes this tale unique among the Maigret stories of the late Thirties. At least in translation there’s not a word of sympathy for the victim, not a word of disgust for the regime he was fleeing. For Maigret, and for Simenon I fear, it’s just another factor in another case. The murder weapon, by the way, turns out to be a needle, which was also one of the murder weapons in PIETR-LE-LETTON although not the one used in the train killing.

***

   I wouldn’t venture to guess how many train murders can be found in Simenon’s stand-alone novels, but the most vivid and intense that I can recall takes place in Chapter 2 of LE LOCATAIRE (1934; translated by Stuart Gilbert as THE LODGER in the two-in-one volume ESCAPE IN VAIN, 1943). Elie Nagear, a desperate young Turkish Jew, bludgeons to death a wealthy Dutch entrepreneur with whom he’s sharing a couchette on the night train from Brussels to Paris after it crosses the French border. (In European trains of the Thirties a couchette was a small chamber used as sleeping quarters by two and sometimes four total strangers.) On the run from the police, he takes a train back to Belgium and holes up in a boarding house for foreign students in the city of Charleroi.

   In Chapter 9 there’s a brief conversation between Elie and a fellow roomer. “They were talking in the papers of the difference between French and Belgian law. Well, suppose someone who’s being proceeded against in Belgium by the French police commits a crime in Brussels, or some other Belgian town…. What I mean is, that a man who’s liable to the death penalty in France might happen to commit a crime in Belgium. In that case, it seems to follow that he should first be tried in Belgium, if it’s in that country he’s arrested. And it also follows, doesn’t it, that he should serve his sentence in that country?”

   What Simenon assumes his readers know is that France at this time still had the death penalty while Belgium had abolished it. On May 10, 1933, in Boullay-les-Trous, a village south of Paris, an obese pornographer named Hyacinthe Danse, who was known to Simenon, murdered both his mother and his mistress. Fearing that he’d be caught and guillotined, Danse took the train to Liège in Belgium, where on May 12 he murdered his childhood confessor (and also Simenon’s), a Jesuit priest named Hault, and then turned himself in.

   This case was apparently still pending in Belgium when Simenon wrote LE LOCATAIRE. Sure enough, in December 1934 Danse was convicted of Hault’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, meaning that he couldn’t be extradited to France and stand trial for the other murders until he was dead. Less than two years later, Simenon turned the Danse story into a short Maigret, included as “Death Penalty” in the collection MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977) and discussed in my column for September 2015.

   Which is enough journey to France for one month. Or, as they say on the left bank of the Seine: basta.

Next Page »