by Francis M. Nevins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Francis M. Nevins

   The first series of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels ended with a book titled simply MAIGRET (original U.S. title MAIGRET RETURNS), which was written in 1933 and first published in France a year later. In the English-speaking world it was long believed that Simenon then took a sabbatical of a dozen years or so before resurrecting the titan of the Quai des Orfèvres shortly after World War II.

   Thanks to some meticulously detailed French websites we now know that Maigret’s vacation, if we want to call it that, lasted only two years. The final months of 1936 saw his reappearance in short stories published first in the French weekly magazine Paris-Soir-Dimanche, then in the obviously interconnected weeklies Police-Film, Police-Roman and Police-Film/Police-Roman. The last of them was published late in July 1939, shortly before Hitler launched World War II.

   These and a few more written during the war years, when much of France was under German occupation, were collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944). A few Maigret shorts, translated by Anthony Boucher or Lawrence G. Blochman, appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning in 1949 and were collected in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (Doubleday, 1959), but most of them didn’t see print in EQMM until the late 1960s and ‘70s.

   For reasons we’ll explore below, a couple of them never appeared in the magazine at all, although they were included in the collections MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS (Hamish Hamilton 1976, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977) and MAIGRET’S PIPE (Hamish Hamilton 1977, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977). Simenon wrote too many Maigret short stories to deal with in a single column but I’m sure there’s room for all the truly short ones.


   The first nine were written in a single month, October 1936, and began to appear late that same month in >Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The earliest to be published is “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” (25 October 1936), first collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQU TES DE MAIGRET like all the others discussed here, and included in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Mysterious Affair in the Boulevard Beaumarchais.”

   The entire story takes place in and just outside Maigret’s office and most of it deals with his interrogation of the two suspects in the poisoning death of 26-year-old Louise Voivin: her 37-year-old husband Ferdinand and her 18-year-old sister Nicole, who was having an affair with her brother-in-law. The sexual sordidness, plus the fact that the wormy Ferdinand—how shall I put it?—soils his trousers under Maigret’s questioning, probably explain why Fred Dannay chose not to run this one in EQMM.

   The next five followed in Paris-Soir-Dimanche at the rate of one a week. “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus” (1 November 1936) appeared in EQMM, June 1967, as “Inspector Maigret Thinks” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Two Bodies on a Barge.” The story was republished in EQMM for June 1990. According to my web search a péniche is “a steel motorized inland waterway barge of up to 350 tonnes” but the vessel in the story, on which the bodies of the hanged couple (the “Deux Pendus” of the title) are found, is a much more primitive affair: “It was an old barge without a motor, a ‘stable-boat’ as they call those barges that travel along canals with their horses on board.”

    Like several other Maigret novels and stories, this tale takes place beside one of the locks along the Seine. Old Arthur Aerts, who was reputed to have hoarded away 100,000 francs, and his second and much younger wife Emma are found dead in their cabin while the boat is docked overnight at the lock, Arthur hanged with a dog’s chain and Emma with a sheet.

   Apparently the only suspect is a young tough named Emile Gradut, the stoker on “a small tug from the Upper Seine” that was docked beside the Aerts’ barge, who was sleeping with Emma and ran away into the nearby forest of Rougeau before the crimes were discovered. Maigret exposes the truth by reasoning of sorts but I doubt if any reader could beat him to the solution.

   We are back in Paris for “La Fenêtre Ouverte” (8 November 1936), which can be found in EQMM for June 1977 as “Inspector Maigret Smokes His Pipe” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE under the correct title “The Open Window.”

   An arrest warrant in his pocket, Maigret goes to the office of shady financier Oscar Laget in the rue Montmartre only to find him shot, apparently a suicide. Since these stories run only about a dozen pages apiece, there are just two suspects besides Laget himself: his wife and his office manager. This murderer’s plot is actually a bit ingenious but of course no match for Maigret.

   There’s no need to discuss here the fourth story in the series, “Peine de Mort” (15 November 1936)—which appeared in EQMM, October 1968, as “Inspector Maigret’s War of Nerves” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Death Penalty,” an accurate translation of the French title—because I talked about it at length more than two years ago. If you missed that column, or aren’t blessed with a photographic memory, you can access what I said by clicking here.

   Over the next tale’s French title, “Les Larmes de Bougie” (22 November 1936), I scratched my head for a while, and so must its translators have done. Larmes, from the Latin lacrimae, means tears, and bougieq means candle. The tears of the candle? Small wonder the title as it appeared in Lawrence G. Blochman’s translation for EQMM (June 1956) was “Journey into Time,” changed to “Journey Backward into Time” for its first hardcover appearance in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET. In MAIGRET’S PIPE it’s called “Death of a Woodlander.”

   This is one of the early short cases of Simenon’s protagonist that somewhat resembles a detective story, with Maigret traveling to a tiny village deep in the forest of Orléans to investigate the murder of 62-year-old Marguerite Potru, who had been found in the bedroom she shared with her older sister Amélie “with three stab wounds in her chest; her right cheek and her eye had been savagely slashed.”

   Amélie is alive but has suffered eleven stab wounds, almost all of them on her shoulder and her right side, and either can’t or won’t speak. The women were rumored to have hidden a lot of valuable securities in their grim and ancient house, although none were found when the police searched. The prime suspect is Marguerite’s illegitimate son Marcel, a young tough cut from the same cloth as Emile Gradut in “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus.”

   The French title refers to drips of candle wax found in the Potrus’ coach house, and these are the clues which lead Maigret to the truth and the missing securities.

   In “Rue Pigalle” (29 November 1936), which appeared in EQMM for June 1968 as “Inspector Maigret Investigates” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “In the Rue Pigalle,” we are back in Paris and, for the first time in these short stories, in the underworld milieu familiar from novels like MAIGRET/MAIGRET RETURNS.

   On a cold and gloomy morning Maigret visits a modest bistro in the titular street after receiving an anonymous tip that something violent happened in the place the previous night. He finds no sign of violence except two gangsters who have spent the night sleeping in the joint and a bar mirror damaged by a bullet but in due course he finds a third gangster, the body of a fourth, and the answer to his murder, which isn’t of much interest although Eleanor Sullivan, who succeeded as EQMM editor after Fred Dannay’s death, thought enough of the story to reprint it (May 1985).


   There seems to have been a three weeks’ pause before the next Maigret short appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The first U.S. appearance of “Monsieur Lundi” (20 December 1936) was in EQMM for May 1969 as “Inspector Maigret Hesitates,” which in MAIGRET’S PIPE is called “Mr. Monday.”

   The commissaire visits the house of Dr. Armand Barion, a prosperous physician whose ménage includes a wife, three kids, a man-of-all-work and, until recently, an 18-year-old girl of peasant origins named Olga Boulanger, who was found both dead and more than four months pregnant. An autopsy has revealed that she was killed by a gruesome method unknown in France but common in Malaya and the New Hebrides: she was “induced to swallow a certain number of those slender beards, as sharp as needles, that grow on ears of various cereals, including rye….These beards remain in the bowel, the lining of which they eventually pierce….”

   Both Barion and his factotum had had sex with the girl, “a gawky little thing with a freckled face,” and are therefore prime suspects, but the story is just beginning. It seems that a wandering beggar comes to the Barion house every Monday afternoon and receives a portion of the family lunch, in return for which he offers two cream cakes known as religieuses which he is given earlier every Monday at a neighborhood pâtisserie.

   Dr. Barion has forbidden his kids to eat the cakes, which he’s afraid are stale, and apparently the unlucky Olga gobbled them up. So who put those beards in the cream cakes, and who was the intended target? This tale, my favorite among the ones discussed here, is no longer than any other in the first series of Maigret shorts but somehow seems almost a novel in miniature. In addition to presenting a host of characters, many of them glimpsed or talked about rather than seen or interacted with, Simenon shows us Maigret moving around the neighborhood and absorbing the atmosphere almost as if he had a hundred pages or so to find the truth.


   After another short hiatus came “Une Erreur de Maigret” (3 January 1937), which is translated in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Maigret’s Mistake.” Like “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” this one never appeared in EQMM, for reasons which become clear after one reads the story.

   If nothing else, the tale boasts unity of time and place and only two onstage characters, Maigret himself and Eugène Labri, a fat unctuous toad who owns a pornographic bookshop in the rue Saint-Denis, “between a pork butcher’s and a hairdresser’s….” What brings Maigret to this place with its “revoltingly scented basement” is that Labri’s assistant, Mlle. Emilienne, has been found dead there, apparently from an overdose of sleeping tablets.

   The unremittingly sleazy atmosphere, plus the fact that Maigret socks the slimy Labri at the story’s end (which is no less than he deserves) and that the plot requires a mature woman—a Frenchwoman no less!—to be totally ignorant of the facts of life, seem to me quite enough to explain why Fred Dannay passed on this one for EQMM.


   The ninth and last story to be discussed here is “Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!,” a title which refers to the stop of almost an hour’s length at the French train station just across the border from Belgium. We know from the superlative website that the tale was written in October 1936, the same month as the eight tales covered above. And since it’s also the same length as those eight, most likely it first appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche, perhaps during that mysterious three-week hiatus we saw a few paragraphs ago.

   Along with the other eight, it was first collected in France in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944), but it wasn’t included in either MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS or MAIGRET’S PIPE although it did appear in EQMM (November 1966) and in Bill Pronzini’s anthology MIDNIGHT SPECIALS (Bobbs-Merrill, 1977) as “Inspector Maigret Deduces.”

   The train referred to in the French title is bound from Warsaw to Berlin to Li ge in Belgium (Simenon’s birthplace) to Erquelinnes, which is in Belgium just across from the border, to Jeumont, which is the first stop in France after leaving Belgium. Its final destination is Paris but on this trip a wealthy German banker named Otto Bauer, one of the six passengers in a particular compartment, is found dead in his seat at Jeumont.

   Called in by his railroad-detective nephew, Maigret gets in touch with his Berlin counterparts and learns that Bauer was forced out of the banking business “after the National Socialist revolution, but gave an undertaking of loyalty to the Government, and has never been disturbed….” and also that he’s “[c]ontributed one million marks to party funds.” Despite his name, Bauer was obviously a Jew, and was desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany with whatever money he could salvage. That element is what makes this tale unique in the Maigret canon. At least in translation there’s not a word of sympathy for the victim, not a word of disgust for the regime he was fleeing.

   For Maigret, and for Simenon I fear, it’s just another factor in another case. Does this explain why the story wasn’t included in either of the major Maigret collections? It just might.

by Francis M. Nevins

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Francis M. Nevins

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

by Francis M. Nevins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   There was something damnedably odd— (19)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   His kindly brown eyes were unaccustomably grim. (69)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Francis M. Nevins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Walker Martin

   For two glorious, insane, and busy weeks I’ve been on the trip of a lifetime. The adventure started May 31, 2017, when I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, NY and ended on June 14, 2017, when I stumbled off the airplane at the Newark, NJ airport. At no time did I get more than five hours sleep each night and often not even five hours. But it was worth the trip because everything was free and paid for by a fellow book and pulp collector that I’ve been friends with for almost 50 years.

   What do I mean by free? The entire trip was paid for, free seven day luxury cruise, free hotel rooms in London, free hotel in Hay on Wye, otherwise known as “The Town of Books,” free trains, free airplane tickets. In another words the only thing I had to pay for was my books, beer, and some food (the food was free on the 7 day cruise).

   There were six of us on this trip and the total cost must have been over $20,000, or close to it. The story behind how all this came to pass is fascinating and began over 100 years ago when a young boy named Ollie Pendar decided to start collecting Cracker Jack baseball cards in 1914. He was born in 1905, so he was only nine years old and never dreamed that his card collection would finance a trip of a lifetime 100 years later.

   He put together the baseball card collection by buying and eating boxes of Cracker Jack, each of which had a card as a prize. He obtained the official Cracker Jack Album and pasted the cards in during 1914 and 1915. There were over 100 cards of some of the great early baseball stars. This was back in the era when baseball truly was The National Sport, not like today when people flock to such sports as football and basketball. Shortly after Ollie went away to boarding school, and his mother packed them away in a box where they stayed for almost 100 years.

   Now mothers are known for their dislike of baseball cards, comic books, stamp collections, etc. They usually throw such collections in the trash, meanwhile chuckling with glee and sadistic happiness. That’s why these collectibles are so valuable and rare. Without mothers we would be drowning in piles of comics and baseball cards, all worthless because our moms did not throw them away.

   But Ollie’s mom saved them and there the cards resided in the attic for the teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. I’m sure Ollie and his mother forgot about them and did not realize they were sitting on a future fortune. Ollie lived a long life as an attorney and died at age 96 in 2002. His heirs did not open the box containing the cards until 2014 and before the Internet they probably would have been chucked into the garbage. But nowadays a simple google search on your computer, and you can see the cards are worth a fortune.

   They have even been given a name: The Stockton Find. To make a long story short, the cards were auctioned off one by one and realized over six figures. Some sold for only hundreds each but some sold for thousands. I believe one card had a high bid of $26,000. There were three main heirs, and my friend got a third of the amount realized. I’ve known hundreds of book collectors, and I know what they would have done with such a windfall of money. They would have blown it on their book and pulp collections, spent it on themselves, maybe put it in the bank, or perhaps spent it on their favorite vices such as drugs, booze, or women. Or perhaps the collector’s wife would confiscate the money. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, so I know whereof of speak.

   But my friend did not do any of the above. Instead he decided to spend his share of the money on a book hunting cruise and trip to England and Wales. I think it is now time to identify the generous collector who dreamed up this trip and paid for it: Everard Pendar Digges La Touche. His relatives, neighbors, co-workers know him as Pen, but book and pulp collectors know him as Digges. Since he retired as a Major from the Air Force and one of his favorite literary characters is The Major by L. Patrick Greene, he is often called The Major.

   Behind his back we sometimes refer to him as The Reading Machine, but it is a compliment based on the character The Thinking Machine and the fact that Digges can read a book anywhere and any time except while in the shower. The only reason he doesn’t read in the shower is because the pages get drenched and he can’t read the words.

   I should also introduce the five readers and collectors that Digges invited to go on this trip:

      Nick Certo–Book dealer, art collector, and expert on conspiracy theories.

      Richard Corcoran–Businessman, student of politics, and the youngest member by far of our little group

      Scott Hartshorn–Book seller, art collector, and expert on film noir.

      Ed Hulse–Editor, publisher, author, and the man behind Blood n Thunder magazine and Murania Press.

      Walker Martin–Since I’ve filled up my house with books, pulps, vintage paperbacks, original art, dvds, and jazz cds, I refer to myself as The Collector. But others call me Percy, since I think Percy Helton was one of the greatest character actors ever filmed.

   Unfortunately only three of the above could take the seven day cruise. The other three flew out to England seven days later, and all six of us met in London. I feel I have to say something about the cruise which was an amazing way to start off this grand adventure. I’ve been on a cruise before so I knew what to expect but this was a luxury cruise with everything first class. There were almost 3,000 guests and over 1,000 employees making sure that the guests enjoyed themselves.

   I’ve never eaten such fine and excellent food for seven days. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were superb events where fine food and drink were served. The service was unbelievable. During the day entertainment such as plays, music, and all sorts of events kept us busy. At night there were several jazz clubs on board the ship.

   I ate, drank, and gained ten pounds due to my gluttony. All the food was paid for already but I managed to rack up almost $400 for beer, gin and tonics, and other incidentals. It was a cruise to die for, and I probably would have died if it had been much longer! Also on this heavenly cruise were Digges and Scott Hartshorn.

   When the ship docked, we met the other three collectors at our hotel in London and the six of us spent two days in the big city visiting museums, 221 Baker Street, several bookstores, Charing Cross Road, riding the subway system and eating and drinking in pubs. I loved the pubs, and now I wonder why the USA doesn’t have more of them.

   The six of us in front of 221 Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes in London. From left to right: Digges, Walker Martin, Richard Corcoran, Nick Certo, and Ed Hulse. Scott Hartshorn is peering over the top of Ed.

   Digges and Ed in 221 Baker Street!

   This shows four of us in the cafe of the Richard Booth Bookshop in Hay on Wye. Booth was the self appointed King of Hay On Wye. On the left are Digges and Ed Hulse. On the right are Walker Martin and Richard Corcoran. (Richard is the young guy.)

   Here are Ed Hulse and Digges La Touche strolling between some buildings. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks very small. I was almost run over by a couple of speeding cars. What better way to die while hunting for books?

   This photo shows some of the shops and bookstores. All these buildings are made to last and built of stone, unlike many houses in the US.

   As we visited the bookstores I noticed a serious problem, mainly how the hell was I going to fit all the books in my luggage? Most bookstores in London and Hay on Wye did not want to ship the books to America. So when I saw a book I wanted, I usually made a note of it and figured I could probably buy it a lot cheaper in the US. Certainly that would solve my luggage problem and postage would be a lot cheaper. When I arrived back home I looked up several books on and sure enough they were available at far lower cost.

   But there were still rare books that had to be bought! Most were in Hay on Wye, which is a beautiful little town of about 30 to 40 bookstores and perhaps a pub on every street corner. Our hotel in Hay on Wye was the beautiful Swan Hotel, and I recommend it highly. They had a great breakfast included with the room and two pubs. They also had a nice meeting room for us to hang out in between book buying. The staff was extremely friendly and seemed glad to see us, unlike the hotel in London which was disappointing to say the least.

   Almost all the bookstores in Hay on Wye were of interest. We spent four days there which is ample time to investigate them. Richard Booth’s Bookshop and Cafe was the biggest and Murder and Mayhem the most interesting. But the one I found to be the best and most unusual was The Poetry Bookstore. It was a former ice house, and I spent some time in the basement where it was still chilly and very damp. It is the only bookstore in the UK devoted to books dealing with poetry. The main floor had many books on poetry, and the basement had hundreds of poetry magazines. I collect and read these back issues and have thousands in my own collection, but I still managed to find some back issues I needed.

   About half of our group had no interest in The Poetry Bookstore, of course, but there were plenty of other stores to satisfy our bibliomania. Many detective novels were bought in Murder and Mayhem and Digges found some volumes of P. G. Wodehouse that he still needed. Nick being a book dealer himself, found several books for his own collection and for possible customers, including the exceedingly rare magazine The Outsider, containing poems by Bukowski. The three issues were priced at hundreds of pounds but I’m sure he got a good deal. I don’t collect Blackwood’s Magazine, but I found several volumes reprinting stories from the 1800’s on into the 1920’s and 1930’s.

   There were plenty of books that were not rare, but we bought them to read. I was kept busy scribbling away titles and authors that I intended to look up in the US and order through abebooks. In addition to poetry magazines, I also collect literary or little magazines. I found a few oddball titles and managed to read several stories and articles in my room at the Swan Hotel.

   Here is Ed Hulse again, this time in front of the remains of an old castle which is being restored.

   Speaking of reading, what else did I read during the two weeks? In addition to poems and stories from the literary magazines, I read several tales from Blackwood’s Magazine, a collection of Robert Silverberg stories from his best period of 1970-1972, and a book of Philip Larkin’s poetry chosen by Martin Amis.

   It seemed that this trip was full of funny events, one howler after another. But this is to be expected when a bunch of old friends get together for such a big trip and adventure. Let me pick out a few to give you a taste. They all involve literature in some form or another:

      1. One of our group found what looked like a first edition of 1984 by George Orwell in dust jacket and in great condition. Only six pounds! Rushing up to pay for it, the cashier calmly said with a sneer, “You do realize this is the Dutch edition”. Needless to say none of us can read Dutch.

      2. As readers and book collectors, we all know the power of a good story. No matter what our surroundings, we can lose ourselves in a good novel. This happened to me when my roommate started to brew coffee and almost set the room on fire in our London hotel. I was in bed, under the covers reading and noticed nothing until I heard loud cursing coming from the kitchen area. Looking up I saw a lot of smoke billowing through the room. But there was no sprinkler system or fire alarm! We managed to put out the fire and get a fan to blow out the smoke. A few days later I saw a big tower of apartments go up in flames on TV in London, and I totally understood that the British have different fire codes than we do.

      3. This is a true story. Near the end of our trip as we started to realize that no one was going to ship all our books back to the US, we started to throw away our clothes in order to make more room in the luggage for books. It would be cheaper to buy a new pair of pants or a shirt back home, so we started to think about what clothes to throw away. All of us may have thrown something away to make room for books. I packed so many books in my suitcase that I broke one of the zippers. There still was one zipper that held the suitcase barely closed, and somehow it made it across the Atlantic on the airplane. When I unpacked it at home the zipper finally broke and everything spilled out on the floor. Close call! If it had broken in London or on the plane I would have been doomed.

   There was one major disappointment for me. I used to have a complete set of London Mystery Magazine, 132 issues during 1949-1982. But in a moment of insanity I disposed of it for practically nothing. I checked with several bookstores in Hay on Wye and nobody had copies, in fact many did not even know what I was talking about. If anyone has a set or a large amount of issues, please contact me.

   Peparing to leave the beautiful Swan Hotel in Hay on Wye. From left: Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Richard Corcoran, Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Digges.

   Digges and I on the train back to London from Hay On Wye. During the 3 1/2 hour train ride Digges read the entire trip while I pondered what beer I would order in the next pub.

   And so ended our grand adventure. I’m still exhausted from very little sleep and I have some weight to lose. Also I miss the pubs! But I’d like to thank three people who made this trip possible. First of all my thanks to Ollie Pendar, who as a little boy over a hundred years ago was smart enough to be a collector. I’ve always said collectors are the best people in the world. Second, I want to thank Ollie’s mother. Unlike most mothers, she did not throw away the baseball cards!

   Thanks also to Nick Certo and Richard Corcoran for the use of their photos. But most of all I want to thank my old friend Digges, aka Pen and The Major.

Beautiful skyline of Hay on Wye in Wales.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Recently I became interested in LES INCONNUS DANS LA MAISON (STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE), one of Georges Simenon’s stand-alone crime novels that was published in France and made into a French movie during the Nazi occupation. More recently I got interested in another, which was also first published in occupied France and adapted into an Occupation-era movie. Unlike the vast majority of Simenons, LE VOYAGEUR DE LA TOUSSAINT (1941) has never been published in the U.S.

   My copy, one of the rattiest-looking in my collection, is of Geoffrey Sainsbury’s English translation, STRANGE INHERITANCE, issued by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1950. I read it a number of years ago and recently read it again and for the life of me I still don’t see why American publishers passed on it.

   At 222 closely printed pages it’s almost twice as long as a Maigret and has far more characters, although many of them are onstage briefly if at all. The protagonist is 19-year-old Gilles Mauvoisin, whose parents, a pair of mediocre music-hall performers, died in a common accident in Norway. (The proper name of the city where they died is Trondhjem, sometimes Anglicized as Trondheim, but Sainsbury renders it as Trondjhem.)

   Gilles is smuggled back into the French port of La Rochelle, where his closest relatives make their home, and discovers that his uncle, the wealthy and much-hated Octave Mauvoisin, died a few months earlier. Under Octave’s will Gilles inherits everything provided he live in the same house with Octave’s much younger widow. (This accounts for the English title.)

   It soon develops that the widow had had a long-standing affair with a local doctor whose wife is an invalid. When that woman suddenly dies, the novel just as suddenly morphs into crime fiction as suspicion spreads around La Rochelle that she was poisoned by her husband—and that Octave Mauvoisin was likewise poisoned by his wife. Gilles, married by now to a girl his own age but clearly in love with the new-found aunt who is ten years his senior, sets out to clear her before she’s put on trial.

   Almost in the Maigret manner, Gilles and a police detective he pays to take early retirement and become his personal PI reconstruct a typical day in Octave’s life and thereby, also in the Maigret manner (i.e. without the kind of clues we find in Anglo-American classic whodunits), identify the real murderer. Simenon never convinced me that Gilles is the teen he’s made out to be but I do recommend the book—if you can find a copy!—and hope to see the movie someday.


   More than thirty years ago I discovered by accident that James Atlee Phillips, better known as Philip Atlee the author of the Joe Gall espionage novels, had moved to St. Louis County not far from me. Phillips was known as a curmudgeon who in all the years he’d been writing had never sat down for an interview but, having much more chutzpah in my younger days, I got in touch with him and, for reasons that are still obscure to me (perhaps because he was about to turn 70 and felt it was time to give an account of himself) he agreed to sit down with me and a cassette recorder. Our conversation, first published in Espionage magazine in 1985 and included in my 2010 collection CORNUCOPIA OF CRIME, is the source for almost everything published anywhere about his life.

   It’s easy enough to find good discussions of his Joe Gall novels but not so easy to learn about his first whodunit, written in ten days and published back in 1942 when he was still in his twenties and not reprinted even at the height of the popularity of the Gall series. THE CASE OF THE SHIVERING CHORUS GIRLS sounds from its title like a Perry Mason exploit but you don’t have to read any further than the dust jacket copy to realize that this book’s protagonist is not a Mason clone but a cross between Nero Wolfe and Baynard Kendrick’s then popular blind sleuth Captain Duncan Maclain.

   After losing his eyesight in an auto smashup, the distinguished diplomat Henry Morton Wardlaw decides to devote his life to solving crimes without leaving his lavish Manhattan penthouse, where he even grows flowers, which he can smell but can’t see. Like Wolfe and Maclain he needs a leg man, or we might say eyes and ears, which he obtains by hiring two associates: Emery Landers, a jobless young law graduate of the University of Colorado, and George Caster Patterson, a Mike Mazurki-like hulk with a flair for photography.

   They call each other Emmy and Bopeep and, when not sleuthing for Wardlaw, whom for no particular reason they call Judge, they spend their time bantering and getting plastered. The less said of these characters, if you want to call them that, the better.

   Apparently Wardlaw and his team have carte blanche from the NYPD to investigate any crime that strikes their fancy. In SHIVERING CHORUS GIRLS it’s the sudden death of a juggler while performing in a night club located in the basement of a hotel. To explain how Jim Phillips came to conceive this book I need to quote from our conversation.

    “[I]n 1939 I went to work in New York for Billy Rose…at the World’s Fair, where his Aquacade played to about 14,000,000 people in two years….I was a second-string publicity man….It was our job to get the Rose name and the Rose activities in as many New York newspaper columns every day as we could….I did a lot of submissions to Dorothy Kilgallen, Winchell, Leonard Lyons. We would send five or six items to these columnists and one of them, preferably the most interesting, would have Billy Rose’s name in it, so if we were lucky we got to plug him.

    “My office was in the Paramount Hotel on the mezzanine floor, and we had the whole basement of the hotel for the Diamond Horseshoe night club [which was owned by Rose].

    “I also used to ream out acres of background stuff about newspapers blowing through Times Square around the statue of Father Duffy at midnight.”

   So much for the origin of the club in the hotel basement, and for the source of the countless “background stuff” passages such as this one from the beginning of Chapter Three.

    “The sun was rising when they came out of the Jewel Box and caught a cab. The city was beginning to stir, and although it was not quite six o’clock, people were hurrying down the streets. The subway stations were coughing up a thin stream of humanity, and the streetcars were jangling through Times Square with sleepy-eyed people riding on them.”

   A few of these passages even mention the statue of Father Duffy. The juggler’s death turns out of course to be murder, by a poison needle inserted in one of his clubs. (Shades of the first Nero Wolfe novel! In FER-DE-LANCE, which first appeared in 1934, Wolfe investigates the death of a college president on a golf course and discovers that the handle of one of his clubs had been gimmicked with a poison needle.)

   In due course there’s another poison needle murder, this one committed with a sort of blowgun connected to a clarinet, and then there’s a third, which is more conventional. Emmy and Bopeep also encounter an attempted kidnaping on a night subway and a plethora of other incidents before Wardlaw pieces together the whole farrago, which depends on a coincidence worthy of Harry Stephen Keeler.

   Even if Jim had given us a sorely needed map of the club and its backstage layout, no one would call this book a masterpiece. But it’s routinely readable and in a few spots—principally the brutal police third-degree of a gangster—it’s quite effective. I’m proud to have known the author, especially since during one of our talks he signed my first edition, which I had picked up for 49 cents years before I got to meet him.


   On a long-distance Amtrak trip last month I packed in my carry-on bag THE COUNT OF NINE (1958), one of the dozens of novels starring irascible Bertha Cool and ingenious Donald Lam that Erle Stanley Gardner wrote as A.A. Fair between 1939 and his death in 1970. The C&L detective agency is hired by wealthy big-game hunter Dean Crockett II to protect the items in his valuable collection from being ripped off during a forthcoming dinner party.

   Bertha checks out all the guests but at the end of the festivities both a 4-inch-tall jade Buddha and a 5-foot-long blowgun are found to be missing. Lam tracks down these items in record time and returns the blowgun to Crockett’s penthouse, where it’s apparently used a few hours later to kill him.

   As usual in Fair novels, detection takes a back seat to scam artistry, with Donald encountering a clever tax-evasion scheme and a repulsive photographer with a playbook full of devices to get women to sleep with him. He also encounters some jewel thieves whom he scams into prison cells after they beat him to a pulp. Finally we return to the Crockett killing. Battered but unbowed and thanks to reasoning that leaves much to be desired, Donald exposes a murder weapon almost as bizarre as Phillips’ deadly clarinet.

   Anthony Boucher in the New York Times Book Review (June 15, 1958) said that “[t]he pace of the story is inimitably Gardneresque” and especially admired what he called “the adroitness with which Donald so arranges facts that homicide can reach the right answer for all the wrong reasons.” Either he saw something I missed or he was in an especially generous mood that day.

Part 19: Pulp Art
by Walker Martin

   I’ve talked before about how I love collecting the original pulp and paperback cover art and illustrations. My feeling is that every book and pulp collector should have at least one example of cover art in their library. I’m not recommending that book collectors go to the extreme that I have gone to with scores of pieces, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a pulp, paperback, or dust jacket cover art framed and hanging on your wall with your book collection.

   Recently Steve Lewis was visiting me, and he took over 30 photos, not only of the pulp art but also of other items in my house. This installment should give an example of how one long time collector has dealt with the addiction known as bibliomania. I’ve been at it now since I was a child in 1956. That’s over 60 years!

   This first photo shows me standing next to my most valuable painting, the cover of Black Mask, for February 1933 by Jes Schlaikjer. Normally, I never would have been able to afford this cover painting because it’s from the classic 1930’s period of Black Mask when the covers showed stark, violent scenes with just a few images. But the seller perhaps did not realize it was a Black Mask cover by Schlaikjer. Over my shoulder is a Lyman Anderson painting for an early 1930’s issue of Alibi.

   The second photo is a paperback cover painting by James Avati illustrating a scene from the novel, The Double Door, by Theodora Keogh. Avati was one of the very most influential cover artists in the paperback field, and he was widely imitated. Again, this was a painting that I normally would not be able to afford, but I bought it on credit from an art gallery in NYC.

   I’ve often taken out bank loans, used my credit card, paid on the installment plan, in order to feed my art and bibliomania addiction. I’ve never regretted my decision to buy books or art. What I’ve regretted are the books and art that I did not buy!

   This third photo shows a corner of my mystery paperback room and part of a Dell paperback rack. For decades I hunted for paperback racks from the forties and fifties and finally found five of them at a Windy City show several years ago. They were too fragile to be shipped, and it was two years before the dealer managed to find someone driving across the country in a van to deliver them to my house.

   Here below are three more photos of the mystery paperback room. I have the books shelved by alphabetical order except for my Ace Doubles and Dell Mapbacks. The Dell Mapbacks may be complete or close to it. I even found the crossword paperbacks and I wonder how they ever survived? Also pictured is my Bantam Books paperback rack which is in fine condition. The room is very crowded with books, just the way I like it!

   This next photo shows two of three large western pulp cover paintings that are hanging by the stairs to the second floor. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was possible to buy western, detective and adventure cover art for very low prices. The three paintings were delivered by a long time collector named Chet Woodrow, who risked driving through a terrible New Jersey snow storm to my house.

   Price? A hundred dollars each. Back then I thought such prices were ridiculously low and I still think so. One funny thing about Chet was that he had the worse condition pulp collection that I’ve ever seen. The magazines looked to be in fine condition with nice covers and spines but when you tried to open them the interior pages were very brown and brittle and almost impossible to read.

   The Dime Western painting below is from the 1930’s and the artist is the great Walter Baumhofer. Many years ago at an early Pulpcon, I was talking to artist Norman Saunders, and I saw a car drive into the hotel parking lot. I said excuse me to Norman and ran outside where I asked the driver who was not even out of the car if he had any pulp paintings.

   He said yes and sold me this painting out of the trunk of his car for only $400. I then went back and showed Norman Saunders the painting that I just had bought in the parking lot and he couldn’t believe that I had just bought an excellent Baumhofer painting out of a car trunk.

   We then spent much of the convention in the hotel bar talking about pulp art. I tried to get Norman to sell me some of his paintings, but he was leaving them in his will to his children.

   The two bookcases below show part of my extensive DVD collection. I believe these are mainly film noir movies, another my addictions. The crusader painting is from a 1931 Adventure. I got it from the estate of A. A. Proctor, who was the editor of Adventure in the early 1930’s.

   Above is one of my favorite pieces of art. It’s a bizarre illustration by Howard Wandrei, the brother of Donald Wandrei. Howard died an early death of alcoholism, but he was a writer of pulp fiction and a sort of outsider artist. This piece fascinates me with its complexity and strangeness. Dwayne Olson has written at least three long book articles on Howard Wandrei, but he is an unjustly forgotten, excellent artist.

   The next photo shows me holding the February 1956 issue Galaxy. This is the actual magazine that I bought off the newsstand in Hoscheck’s Deli, and it so impressed me that I became the fiction magazine collector that I am today. It led to my present collection of thousands of pulps, slicks, and digest magazines.

   Above is a corner of my son’s former room. For thirty-five years Joe lived with us and then a couple years ago decided to get his own place and moved out. It did not take me long to move into his room and convert it into a library and art gallery!

   I have over thirty-five pieces of art in the room and eight bookcases. I think I’m now in every room of the house with art and books. All five bedrooms, the garage which I converted into a library and gallery, the basement, living room, family room. Even the bathrooms and kitchen have art. If I had room I would build another house in the back yard. The large painting is from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   This is Paul Herman who has been friends with Steve Lewis and me for quite a while. He’s standing next to a western paperback cover painting.

   Above is a corner of dining room with a western painting by Sam Cherry. I love western art, but many collectors seem prejudiced against westerns. They are colorful, full of action, and not as expensive as science fiction or hero art.

   Below is another Dime Western painting by Walter Baumhofer showing a girl and cowboy blazing away, back to back. Art dealer Steve Kennedy owned it for many years and would never sell it, but one day he needed money, and I managed to talk him into selling it to me. I seem to remember me whining, begging, and crying. Collectors know no shame!

   I’ve told this story before in my article on collecting Western Story Magazine, but the painting below amazingly enough came from my next door neighbor! What’s the odds of a non collector moving next door and having a pulp painting? Took me years to talk him into selling it to me. It’s by Walter Haskell Hinton from Western Storyin the 1930’s.

   Above is a row of cover paintings. The first one is from Street & Smith Detective Story. The second one is a Spider cover which was repainted by Raphael Desoto, the original artist. The third one is by Wittmack from People’s.

   Another western from one of the Popular Publication pulps. I only paid $400 for it. In the background you can see in the laundry room three of the dozen or so preliminary drawings I have framed. The artist would make a preliminary sketch and if approved would then go ahead and paint the cover. Not many of these survived, but I love them and pick them up whenever I see them. Not many art collectors care about them, but I think they are of great interest.

   The next three photos show areas of my basement. The first is an almost complete set of Western Story. Of over 1250 issues, 1919-1949, I need only nine issues.

   The second shows some Ace High magazines and the third photo gives an idea of a corner of the basement. The basement is about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide. I’ve filled the entire area with shelving.

   In 1989 when I moved into this house I hired a contractor to turn the two car garage into a library and art gallery. These photos show some the area which I’ve filled with artwork, books, and pulps. All the neighbors asked me the same thing. “Why am I turning my garage into a library?” My response was why should I park my cars in my house? But who can understand non readers and non collectors?

   More photos of my converted garage taken from different angles. You can see some of the art hanging above the pulps.

   The final photo is of me and Steve Lewis. We have been friends for almost 50 years and I’ve been reading the various incarnations of Mystery*File for almost as long. Over Steve’s shoulder is a large painting from The Saturday Evening Post by Harold Von Schmidt. It’s from 1950 and illustrates a scene from a serial starring series characters Tugboat Annie and Glencannon. It was the only time they met in a story, but it has an interesting background.

   The Glencannon series were comedies and the Post readers found them hilarious. During the 20 year period of 1930-1950 there were over 60 stories written by the author, Guy Gilpatric. I’ve read them all and they are among my favorite stories. They have all been reprinted in omnibus collections and there was even a British TV series back in the 1950’s.

   Unfortunately there was a tragic ending to this comedy series. Gilpatric’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in a fit of depression they decided on a murder suicide pact. He shot his wife and then took his own life. Later there was a rumor or evidence that the doctors had made a mistake and made the wrong diagnosis.

   I obtained the painting from an art gallery by telling the owner that I’d like to get a painting showing my favorite series character, Glencannon. I was stunned when he said he knew where one was, and it turned out to be the best one of them all, the one where Glencannon meets Tugboat Annie. Von Schmidt is a famous western artist, and I’d never be able to afford one of his paintings, but since this was a non-western the price was a lot lower.

   So thanks, Steve, for taking these photos and also thanks to Sai Shanker for twice taking photos that unfortunately did not turn out as well. I love reading about the collections of other collectors and maybe this memoir on my art collection will make you decide to become an addicted, out of control bibliomaniac also! I’ve enjoyed the trip and it’s been a great ride…

by Francis M. Nevins

   Last month I talked about some of the correspondence between Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, and Harry Stephen Keeler, creator of the craziest characters — not to mention the books that housed them! — ever conjured up on land or sea. But I had no space to say anything about the one Keeler book in which ESG is mentioned. THE GALLOWS WAITS, MY LORD! was written in 1953, the year Harry’s last novel to appear in English in his lifetime came out, and was published nowhere, not even in Spain, which continued to put out books of his until shortly before his death in 1967.

   Thanks to that rogue publisher Ramble House, GALLOWS has been available in Keeler’s native tongue — which is not to be confused with English! — since 2003, and it can still be found on the Web. The setting is the mythical banana republic of San do Mar and the plot has to do with the frantic attempts of a Yank who bears the un-Yankish name Kedrick Merijohn to escape hanging, by order of Presidente Doctor Don Carlos Foxardo — whose crack-brained treatise is the required text in every hospital in the country, not to mention its med school! — for the poisoning murder of a stranger while the stranger was trying to poison him. It doesn’t help Merijohn’s case that he inexplicably changed shoes with the corpse after the fatal incident.

   Very late in the book we join British diplomat Sir Clyde Kenwoody in Hollywood where he meets Detective Sergeant Pete O’Swin, who’s wearing a purple derby and a rainbow-hued plaid jacket.

   “Hope you’ll pardon these here sartorical accoutryments, Sir Clyde, but when I got the call from my own chief to report instantly to you here, I’d just finished, over at Metric-Golden-Meier, a walk-on part in one of their new who-done-its — Th’ Case o’ the Dizzy Dipplodoccus by Erle Stanley Gardner, in case you’re int’rusted — yeah, I do a little histrionicals, y’know? — and they not only insisted … on my fetchin’ along a standard dick’s derby — but a purple one! — and bringin’ this screaming mimi of a jacket for a coat. Techn’color ‘twas in, see? And 3-D.”

   This paragraph, which no one else living or dead could have written, not only reveals how HSK made use of ESG — and why whenever I write about our Harry I tend to insert clauses like this one, which invariably end with an exclamation point! — but perhaps will explain to readers who have been spared any acquaintanceship with his immortal works why I call him the wackiest wackadoodle who ever wore out a typewriter ribbon.


   Keeler sometimes played the wack for the game’s sake, sometimes to make a point, and occasionally he did both at once, as witness a passage one chapter later when the same O’Swin expounds on one of Harry’s loony laws while also reminding us that his creator was something of a Socialist.

   “Well, Mr. Larson, in this gre-e-at and glor-i-ous Land of the Free an’ the Home o’ the Brave — this Garden Spot of a Utipio run and opyrated for th’ human Serf and countless serfs yet unborned, by th’ National Amer’can Association of Malefact — skip it—Manufacturers, there is a unwrit pervision ‘at a lug took into custardy gets his rap cut in half later if he’s made a sing to them as took him in. A sing bein’ a squawk. A squawk bein’ a co’fession ….”

   When the issue is raised that perhaps the actions of O’Swin and Sir Clyde are unconstitutional, the diplomat points out that “if you’re taken over there [to the police station], and start to set forth your constitutional rights and prerogatives, you’ll only wake up a few hours later lying on a cold cement floor of an isolated cell, with an aching — more probably broken — jaw….” To which O’Swin adds: “Well … we have evoluted certain interestin’ methods t’ cope with the Bill o’ Rights and the Constitution.” This is precisely how matters stood until a number of years later when the Supreme Court began applying federal Bill of Rights protections to criminal defendants in state courts.


   In another recent column I devoted an item to the strange case of Georges Simenon’s stand-alone crime novel STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE, which was published in Nazi-occupied France in 1940 as LES INCONNUS DANS LA MAISON and made into a French movie of the same name the following year but wasn’t translated into English until after World War II. The translation, by Geoffrey Sainsbury, appeared in England in 1951 and in the U.S. three years later.

   It’s the same translation both times, right? Wrong!!! In the English version as reprinted in 2006 by the New York Review of Books with a new introduction by P.D. James, we find on page 70 a passage where the protagonist Hector Loursat ponders whether there are any similarities between him and any of the strangers in his house. “Yet there was no connection. Not even a resemblance. He hadn’t been poor like Emile Manu or a Jew like Luska….”

   In the American version this becomes: “There was no connection. No resemblance. He hadn’t been poor like Manu, or an Armenian like Luska….” Incidentally, Manu’s first name in the American version is Robert, not Emile. The first alteration is understandable, and exactly what Anthony Boucher had done several years before when translating for EQMM a Simenon story with a Jewish villain. But why the second change? And, if we were to compare the two versions line by line, how many more alterations would we discover?


   It’s not connected with anything else in this column, but I feel compelled to bring up a recent death. Colin Dexter, creator of the immortal Inspector Morse, died on March 21, age 86. I met him once, when he was on a book tour with a St. Louis stop, and was smart enough to bring with me the only Morse novel I then had in first edition, LAST SEEN WEARING (1976), which he signed for me.

   The earliest entries among his thirteen novels didn’t make much of an impression, but once the Morse TV movie series was launched, John Thaw’s superb performance as the brilliant but flawed Oxford sleuth caused Dexter’s sales to climb into the stratosphere. The series lasted for 33 episodes, each approximately two hours long. Ten of them, including my favorites — “The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn” and “Service of All the Dead” — are based on his novels.

   The other three novels — THE RIDDLE OF THE THIRD MILE (1983), THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3 (1986) and THE JEWEL THAT WAS OURS (1991) — were never officially filmed. Three early episodes were based on ideas or other material by Dexter, and when he turned them into the novels above, they were not remade. (The respective telefilm titles for the trio are “The Last Enemy,” “The Secret of Bay 5B” and “The Wolvercote Tongue.”)

   In Dexter’s final novel, THE REMORSEFUL DAY (2000), which was also the source of the last Morse TV movie, the Inspector dies — not at the hands of a murderer but because, as Dexter explained, he drank too much, smoked too much and almost never exercised. Well, he may have died physically, but I strongly suspect he and his creator will live on for many decades to come.

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