Columns


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


   Three months ago, while writing the column in which I said farewell to my old friend Don Yates, I hinted that one of these days I hoped to devote some attention to H.C. Branson, who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan and befriended Don when he was growing up in that city. The time has come to realize that hope.

   Henry Clay Branson (1904-1981) was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. He read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy, was educated at Princeton and the University of Michigan, and spent a few years in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, reading Philo Vance novels and trying without success to become an expatriate literary figure, before he settled in Ann Arbor.

   According to Don’s entry on him in 20th CENTURY CRIME AND MYSTERY WRITERS (3rd ed. 1991), he “was one of the most familiar of card-holders at the Ann Arbor Public Library, where he withdrew and consumed hundreds of mystery stories.” Whether he was independently wealthy or had a day job I haven’t been able to determine. Once a highly regarded and fairly prominent detective novelist, he’s remembered today, if at all, for having also befriended a young academic born Kenneth Millar but best known as Ross Macdonald.

   According to Tom Nolan’s 1999 biography, Macdonald and Branson remained in touch and exchanged letters regularly until Branson’s death, two years before Macdonald’s own. Our concern here however is not with Macdonald, who’s been the subject of a number of books, but with Branson’s seven detective novels, published between 1941 and 1953 and featuring a bearded, sophisticated former physician and free-lance criminal investigator named John Bent.

   The character never made it to the movies but if he had, for my money the ideal actor to play him would have been Vincent Price—not as he looked in the Forties and early Fifties when the novels first came out but the more mature Price, before he descended into hamminess and schlock horror pictures.

   As we’ll see shortly, Anthony Boucher reviewed most of Branson’s whodunits, first for the San Francisco Chronicle and later for the New York Times, and always praised them to the skies. On whether they’re worth reading and reviving today, opinions differ. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor in A CATALOGUE OF CRIME (2nd ed. 1989) have positive things to say about all seven. William Deeck concurs in his reviews of several Branson titles for Mystery*File. But Bill Pronzini in 1001 MIDNIGHTS (1986) is nowhere near so enthusiastic, saying: “Branson wrote literate, meticulously plotted (but flawed) novels in which the emphasis is on deep-seated conflicts that have their roots in the dark past.”

   Might the later Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald, whom Branson had befriended when both men lived in Ann Arbor, owe their emphasis on the same kinds of conflicts to Branson’s books of the Forties? Perhaps, says Pronzini, but he leaves no doubt about which of the two authors is superior. “There’s a good deal of passion among the characters [but] Bent is a virtual cipher….The writing, while well crafted, is so detached and emotionless that the reader tends to lose interest….Had Branson…been able to make Bent more human and sympathetic, had he injected some passion and vividness into his work, he might have become an important figure in the mystery field.”

   Branson had no desire to explore a different setting in every novel, but on the other hand he couldn’t allow his master criminologist to keep returning to the same part of Michigan in every case. That, said Don Yates, is why “[o]ne is never precisely sure where the action [in a particular novel] is taking place. In his mind, Branson sees all of his stories laid out in and around Battle Creek, Jackson, and Kalamazoo, Michigan.” Sometimes however, as we’ll see, he unintentionally indicates a setting that can’t possibly be the area around Ann Arbor.

   The Branson septet contains certain family resemblances which some might call gaffes and others quirks. The off-trail clues we might have expected from reading early Ellery Queen and writers like Anthony Boucher who were strongly influenced by Queen are conspicuous by their absence, replaced by lengthy speculations about possibilities. The word “perfectly” recurs almost as often as does “replied” in the novels of John Rhode/Miles Burton.

   A host of other characters, sometimes two in the same book, happen to share Bent’s first name. Bent and virtually every other character except the occasional child consume huge quantities of liquor and tobacco. They also smile incessantly, and shrug their shoulders. (That latter phrase always irritated Fred Dannay. “What else can they shrug?” he’d demand to know.) Any music played in the course of a Branson novel is invariably classical chamber music — Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, most of the household names — and there are some nice incidental scenes involving the 78 rpm sets on which such music was bought and played in people’s homes 70-odd years ago.

   The murderer almost invariably escapes facing a judge and jury, either because he (or she) commits suicide, dies accidentally, or is killed in turn. Each of these resemblances pops up several times as we make our way through the seven novels.

***

   The first pages of I’LL EAT YOU LAST (1941) find Bent driving around the shore of beautiful Lake Badenoch on his way to the area’s Toad Hall, the home of former Senator James Maitland, who is a toad of the first water, having amassed in his decades in the seats of power a fortune of between 50 and 55 million dollars. (In today’s money that would probably make him a billionaire.)

   Maitland has sent for the great investigator because several of his closest relatives — first his sister and her entire family, then his brother, most recently his much younger and promiscuous wife — have suffered apparently accidental deaths within a few months of each other. The old senator has come to be afraid that at least some of the deaths may be part of an elaborate scheme to channel his fortune in certain directions, and that he’s next on the death list.

   Events prove him a true prophet: on the evening of Bent’s arrival, Maitland is fatally shot by a slug from a .22 rifle fired through the window of his lordly library. Bent is a total outsider, but thanks to his reputation as a criminologist he immediately becomes unofficial head of the police team assigned to the murder; another family resemblance in Branson’s novels.

   Among the suspects are Maitland’s few surviving relatives — his intellectual nephew, his distant cousin and factotum, the daughter of a predeceased cousin — and various non-relatives like the odious college president and the members of a fanatical religious cult whose Vatican City is adjacent to the Maitland property. Bent spends most of his time drinking, smoking, and teasing out various possibilities without benefit of substantive clues. Unfortunately the labyrinthine plot he exposes at the climax is vitiated by a radical mistake of law which any interested reader who doesn’t mind my revealing who done it can learn about by clicking here.

***

   At the end of the first chapter of THE PRICKING THUMB (1942) we are told that the date is Monday, November 24. This is irrelevant to the plot but is still significant for two reasons. First, on the reasonable assumption that the year is 1941, we are less than two weeks away from Sunday, December 7, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. You’ll find no hint of that earth-shaking event anywhere in the novel.

   Second, the Thursday following the 24th has to be Thanksgiving Day, although Branson treats it as a day just like any other, with nobody even having a turkey dinner. Late in the afternoon of the 24th Bent in his home city receives a visit from old friend Marina Holland, whose much older husband Gouvion has been suffering from some strange illness and has recently had a violent argument with his 20-year-old son by his first marriage.

   The next evening Bent drives from his never identified home base to the town of New Paget and discovers Gouvion shot to death in his study, apparently a suicide. Gouvion’s younger brother arrives at the Holland house and announces that he’s just come from the nearby home of Dr. Brian Calvert, the Holland family physician, with whom according to local gossip Marina was having an affair, and found two more dead bodies: that of Dr. Calvert and Marina herself.

   Apparently Gouvion had shot the other two, then returned to his house and taken his own life. Bent isn’t satisfied and, as is his wont, commandeers the local authorities and takes over the investigation. There are virtually no tangible clues, which is pretty much par for the course in Branson, but by the end of the week Bent has exposed a particularly brutal murderer and scheme. Anthony Boucher left the verb out of the key sentence in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle (20 December 1942) but left no doubt that he was pleased: “Quietly convincing detective and unusually interesting murderer in a solid and rewarding work rare in the American mystery.”

         (To Be Continued)

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir
Part 21: Pulp Art, Part Three
by Walker Martin


   This is the third and last column on one of my favorite subjects: Pulp Art. The two prior installments may be read on Mystery*File as Part 19 and Part 20.

   Often I’m asked where can a collector buy pulp or paperback art? eBay is certainly a source and I have often typed in an artist’s name and looked to see what is available. Or I’ve tried different combinations of words on eBay such as Original Pulp Art, Cover Paintings, Paperback Paintings, etc. Another source that I’ve used are the auction houses such as Heritage Auctions. Or you can visit another art collector. They often have pieces that they would be willing to trade or sell. For instance I’ve bought art from such well known collectors as Bob Lesser, Doug Ellis, and Bob Weinberg. At the recent pulp brunch at my house in November, I bought several Bjorklund drawings from WILD WEST WEEKLY from art collector and dealer, Paul Herman. As I mentioned earlier, Matt Moring and I completed a trade involving 4 pulp paintings at the brunch.

   But one of the best sources for original art are the pulp conventions: Windy City in Chicago, PulpFest in Pittsburgh, and Pulp Adventurecon in Bordentown, NJ. Of the three shows I consider Windy City to be the best source for original pulp and paperback art. The convention lasts three days each year and there are perhaps as many as a dozen dealers with art for sale. Next, comes Pulpfest with two main art dealers: Doug Ellis and Craig Poole. Sometimes other book dealers bring in art: Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Mark Hickman, Ray Walsh, etc. Pulp Adventurecon is usually about the books and magazines but this year Craig Poole had several tables with excellent pulp, digest, paperback and slick art. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

   Frankly, I collect art because I love collecting but if you are thinking of possible investment value, you can’t go wrong with original art as an investment. Of course I’m assuming you pick nice pieces and not poor art. For instance I have a painting from DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY that is just a bloody hand. Another from the same magazine, is just the face of some ugly criminal. It’s possible these paintings will never be worth anything except for a few hundred dollars, but since I collect pulp magazines, I was happy to buy them as examples of the poor cover art occasionally used by the magazines.

   As you may have noticed I have no problem with buying unframed art, art in poor condition, even art with holes in the canvas. I used to frame everything, but now I say the hell with it and hang them up as is. If a piece is falling apart, I have restored it, however. There are art restorers that work on paintings, in fact Matt Moring and I met a restorer at the Bordentown convention and he has emailed us several photos of excellent pulp art that he has worked on.

   An important thing to remember is to be sure and collect original art that you like. If you like SF, there is plenty out there. Hero pulp art is very popular but quite expensive. Same thing with risque or spicy art such as pinup art. Detective and mystery art has increased in value during the past few years. I can remember when you couldn’t get much of anything for a detective pulp painting. Western art still remains fairly inexpensive except for the big names like Nick Eggenhofer or Gayle Hoskins.

   Many collectors make the mistake of ignoring western art which is a big mistake. The cover paintings are full of action, very colorful, and inexpensive compared to SF, hero and detective pulp paintings. So far there is practically no interest in love or sport cover paintings. Not many collectors are interested in the love or sport magazines either. As a result we don’t see many covers at all from these two genres. It’s possible they have mostly been lost or destroyed due to this lack of interest.

   Here are some great examples of inexpensive pulp art. Most collectors don’t seem that interested in preliminary art but they can be quite stunning as these pieces show. Often such prelim work is very sketchy or not that well done but these two pieces by Delano and Baumhofer are almost finished enough to appear as covers. The two magazines show how the finished cover paintings turned out and you can see there is not a lot of difference between the preliminary work and the finished canvas. The Baumhofer one showing the cowboy on the ground is especially impressive as a preliminary sketch.





   Now here is an example of a preliminary by De Soto that is very sketchy and unfinished. There is no way this Spider prelim could be used as a cover as is. But it does give the editor an idea of what the artist planned to do with the large painting on canvas. As far as I know this sketch was never made into a finished painting. By the way, I have two SPIDER preliminaries and they are quite rare. Only a couple of the cover paintings are known to exist.


   This is one of the earliest cover paintings that I have. It’s from 1914 and the artist is Howard Hastings. He painted a lot for OUTDOOR LIFE and that type of magazine so maybe it is from a slick. I bought this from art dealer Steve Kennedy in 1989 for $700. During this period I could spend about $700 each month on art and much later Steve told me that my $700 each month was a life saver for his business at the time. He had just started to deal in pulp cover paintings, and no one except for me was buying from him. Too bad I couldn’t spend more than $700 each month because I lost out on some nice art that Steve sold later to other collectors.


   I got this one from Pulpcon in the eighties for only a couple hundred. I wonder how it got that hole in it? It’s FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES.


   This is one of my very favorite illustrations. It’s a great Nick Eggenhofer interior, probably for a two page spread. It shows two stage coaches passing each other and one looks ready to tip over. By the way, I haven’t located where this is from in case anyone can help me out. It may be WESTERN STORY or one of the western titles published by Popular Publications like DIME WESTERN or STAR WESTERN.


   This is PEOPLES from the early 1920’s and the artist is Wittmack. This is another painting I got from Kennedy when he was selling me one painting a month back in 1989. I never bothered to get it framed. Frankly I find that framing sometimes detracts from the painting. Steve liked to frame his paintings in a gold frame which I did not like much. And of course Bob Lesser habit of framing the pulp magazine inside with the painting, I found to be sacrilege and very annoying! But despite my many complaints over the years Bob continues this practice. As far as I know there is no museum, art gallery or art restorer that would frame the magazine under glass with the painting. After a few decades you would have a pile of pulp chips and a stain on the canvas.


   I love when I get this type of painting. It’s by Norman Saunders and was used on a pulp AND a paperback years later. It was first used on WESTERN ACES magazine in the 1940’s and then reused on the Ace Double titled GUNSMOKE GOLD in the 1950’s. One funny story about me buying this art. When I first saw it the dealer wanted $200 for it as a paperback cover. I stupidly looked closely and muttered that it was signed by Saunders and bang, the price went up right away to $400. Later I discovered it was also a pulp and this makes it worth far more than the $400 I had to pay.


–   Whatever happened to art dealer Tony Dispoto? I bought this from him and it’s a great piece by one of the best of the pulp artists. It’s a Flanagan from BLUE BOOK in the mid-1930’s illustrating a great adventure serial by James Francis Dwyer.


   This is a rare example of Walter Baumhofer’s early work. It’s from ADVENTURE in the mid-twenties and I got it at Windy City for only a couple hundred dollars.


   FIGHT STORIES by Gross. A pulp collecting brain surgeon was once visiting me and was interested in this because boxers often require such surgery.


   I love showing this painting to visitors. It’s 10 STORY WESTERN by De Soto and has over 20 pinholes punched through the canvas. In other words someone used it as a dart board! I’ll never get it restored because it shows just how little respect these paintings used to command back in the day. I’ve heard so many horror stories of cover paintings thrown away, lost, burnt, etc. Back when they were painted they were just about considered worthless.


   Author Ryerson Johnson once told me that he was an editor for a couple years for Popular Publications back in the forties. When he resigned to return to full time writing, he was shown into a large room full of paintings and illustrations and told to take what he wanted because it was all going to be thrown away eventually. He took several paintings and a couple large stacks of interior illustrations. Decades later he sold this art to me and other collectors.


   When I first bought this ADVENTURE cover, it was on a board that was spongy and soft. You could take off pieces of the board with two fingers. I thought it was just about worthless and ready for the garbage. But art restorers can do magical things and this painting was saved. It was somehow transferred to another board without any damage.


   This is another strange story. Collector Al Tonik had the paperback to this cover and decided to commission artist Rudi Nappi to paint it again as a recreation of the original painting. The artist did the recreation which is almost an exact copy for $100. But then later on I discovered the original paperback cover painting. So Al sold me the recreation to go along with the original cover painting. I now have both paintings, the original which was done in the 1950’s and the recreation which was done in the 1990’s or thereabout. Sometimes we think these old paintings are lost but they show up anyway!


   This is from BATTLE STORIES and I bought it from Illustration House in NYC. Notice how the magazine reversed the image. They did this sometimes to make room for the magazine title or cover blurbs.


   This is by the great Frank Paul and is from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, one of my favorite magazines.


   This is FIGHTING ACES by Blakeslee. I got it from Bob Weinberg back in the 1980’s. He was just released from the hospital and needed money to pay his medical bills. He had over a dozen of these aviation paintings which he sold but I only bought two of them. I guess I was broke again!


   I also collect advertising posters which are pulp related. This is a poster advertising Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE.


   I have several paperback racks which I spent decades searching for. This is the first one I found and I had to trade a Clark Ashton Smith first edition to get it back in the 1970’s. Most collectors don’t realize how rare these things are. Someday after we are gone they will be worth a lot of money.


   An unusual night scene which must have happened to many cowboys. They hear a sound and reach for their gun. I got this one a couple years ago at the Bordentown convention and it’s from WESTERN STORY in the thirties. I saw the art dealer come through the door and I immediately ran up and asked the price. It was inexpensive so I bought it. But I had driven in with my old pal Digges and when I went to put it into the car there was absolutely no room. He had filled the entire car up with boxes of pulps. Fortunately my friend, Sai Shanker was visiting me the next day and he delivered it to me at my house. But we were so busy talking that he almost drove off to the airport with it still in his car.


   Well, that’s it, all you need to know about pulp art in three easy installments. Thank you Steve Lewis for publishing this and thank you Sai Shanker for taking the great photos. And finally thank you to all my art collecting friends over the many years. Many of you may no longer be with us, but you are not forgotten. After all we are just the temporary caretakers of our collections. Eventually we leave but the collections continue on!

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


   At the end of last month’s column we saw Simenon becoming a bit uncomfortable with having retired Maigret and deprived him of official status. His next published case, “L’Etoile du Nord” (Police-Film/Police Roman, 30 September 1938), takes place two or three days before he’s due to retire and features, of all people, Sergeant Lucas, who according to “Mademoiselle Berthe et son Amant,” published less than six months earlier, was killed beside him.

   Madame Maigret is already in Meung-sur-Loire, preparing their new home, and the Commissaire has spent the night cleaning out his office in the Quai des Orfèvres. Around dawn he hears the phone ringing in the office next to his, picks up the receiver and quickly finds himself going out in the rain and gloom to investigate a murder in the titular establishment, one of those “drab fourth-rate hotels” to be found near every major train station, in this case the Gare du Nord.

   The victim is Georges Bompard, a fortyish womanizer who rented a room from the hotel’s night porter around 3:30 A.M., two hours before someone entered the room (which apparently wasn’t locked) and stabbed him in the back. Prime suspect is a self-proclaimed prostitute in her late teens who claims to have picked up Bompard in the street and rented her own room in the Etoile du Nord shortly before her customer rented his. Maigret takes her back to Headquarters where there begins a tense confrontational interrogation of the young hooker, complete with seamy sexual stuff—the kid is made to stand naked with other whores picked up during the night—but also with clues of the sort we might expect to find in, say, the cross-examination of a hostile witness by Perry Mason.

   The story never appeared in EQMM—obviously because too many elements, including a botched abortion crucial to the plot, were not to Fred Dannay’s taste—and as far as I know its only appearance in English was in MAIGRET’S PIPE. Too bad. It’s one of the most intellectually challenging of the shorter Maigrets, and one could almost say that Simenon permits the astute reader to figure out the truth by pure reasoning.

***

   With “L’Auberge aux Noyés” (Police-Film/Police-Roman, 11 November 1938) Maigret is back in harness as if he’d never retired, although he’s not at the Quai des Orfèvres but in the town of Nemours on a business visit to the local captain of gendarmerie. A savage storm comes up and he spends the night at the house of Captain Tillemont, who receives a phone call at 6:00 A.M.—another of those damn early-morning phone calls!—and invites the Commissaire to accompany him to the site of a “curious accident” where the highway between Nemours and Montargis parallels the banks of the river Loing.

   There’s a curve in the road 700 meters from the Auberge des Pecheurs, which means the Fishermen’s Inn but is locally known as the Inn of the Drowned (the story’s French title) because of several fatal accidents at the curve. Now there seems to have been another. “A ten-ton lorry, one of those stinking monsters that travel by day and by night along main roads,” has hit a car stalled at the curve with its lights off. The car went over the bank into the swollen Loing but no one knows what happened to the young couple who were apparently inside.

   When the auto is pulled out of the water, somehow the door of the luggage compartment comes open and reveals the body of a middle-aged woman, her throat cut by a razor. With the Auberge aux Noyés as his headquarters Maigret takes an unofficial hand in the investigation and soon finds reason to believe that things aren’t what they seem. That evening, under weather conditions equally miserable, he sets up a reconstruction of the event as only he can.

   It’s an excellent story, perhaps more cerebral than emotional, although there are too many unseen but crucial characters and too much happens too quickly at the climax. I wish Simenon had taken a few thousand extra words for this one, which appeared in EQMM for January 1975 as “The Inn of the Drowned” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Drowned Men’s Inn.”

***

   Perhaps the most popular of the Maigret short stories, at least in this country, is “Stan-le-Tueur” (Police-Roman, 23 December 1938). It’s the earliest short Maigret to appear in English, translated by Anthony Boucher (EQMM, September 1949), and was collected both in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (1959, Boucher’s translation) and in MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977, translated by Jean Stewart). Its title all three times was “Stan the Killer,” a literal translation of the French title.

   Simenon opens with Maigret and his men—including once again the supposedly deceased Sergeant Lucas—having staked out a shabby hotel which is being used as a hideout by between four and eight Polish criminals, a ruthless gang responsible for raids on several farmhouses and the slaughter of everyone inside including children. The gangsters are known only by the colorful nicknames the police have given them—the Beard, One-Eye, Spinach, the Fat Boy—and their leader, known as Stan the Killer, has sent a note to Maigret threatening to shoot down any number of innocent bystanders if an arrest is attempted.

   Into this powder keg steps Michel Ozep, a former Polish army officer with nothing to live for, who comes to Maigret and offers in effect to commit suicide by cop, taking Stan out in order to prevent bloodshed even if it means his own life. At the climax Maigret sends Ozep into the Hôtel Beauséjour to confront the young Polish woman who runs with the gang, and the results are violent and tragic.

   In some respects the two English translations of this story differ wildly, and we must try to account for the differences. In Boucher’s version Maigret from a hotel room across the street from the gang’s hideout observes the young woman “dusting the frame of a bright-colored picture on the wall.” On entering the room he discovers that the picture is a portrait of the woman herself, who’s lying on the floor with her throat cut. He pulls down the picture and finds from the lettering on the back that it’s an illustration accompanying an article entitled “The Pretty Pole and the Terror of Terre Haute” from the American true crime magazine Real Life Detective Cases.

   Except for the woman’s throat being cut, there’s not a word of this in Jean Stewart’s later translation. Did Stewart omit it or did Boucher invent it? I strongly suspect the latter. As we’ve seen in earlier columns, Boucher did have a tendency to translate very freely at times. Besides, the American details suggest Boucher because they seem to ring true—and also to be way beyond Simenon, who in the Thirties knew less than nothing about the U.S., so much so that in the Stewart version (and presumably the French original) Maigret and Lucas “drew aside the [dead] woman’s dress and uncovered white flesh on which was the mark with which, in America, they brand criminal women.”

   From what benighted source did Simenon unearth that tidbit? And should we be surprised that Boucher thought it necessary to get rid of it and substitute his own account of how the French police learned of the woman’s American criminal background?

   Within less than a year of the story’s appearance in EQMM it became the basis of a 60-minute live TV drama (THE TRAP, CBS, 20 May 1950), starring E.G. Marshall and Herbert Berghof, although which actor played Maigret seems to be lost to history. A little more than two years later the story was recycled for CBS’ STUDIO ONE SUMMER THEATER (1 September 1952), this time with Romney Brent and Eli Wallach in the leading roles although once again we don’t know which man played Maigret. Paul Nickell directed from a teleplay by Paul Monash, whose script was likely used also in the version seen on THE TRAP considering that the adaptations were broadcast on the same network so close together. In view of the infant medium’s infantile restrictions I find it hard to believe that either TV version came close to doing justice to Simenon’s story.

***

   In “La Vieille Dame de Bayeux” (Police-Roman, 3 February 1939) we find Maigret transferred to Normandy and based temporarily in Caen, where he’s been assigned to reorganize the Brigade Mobile, the French counterpart of England’s Flying Squad. There he’s visited by 28-year-old Mlle. Cécile Ledru, the paid companion to wealthy widow Joséphine Croizier, with whom Cécile lives in Bayeux, a half-hour from Caen.

   While on a visit to Caen for dental work and staying in the palatial home of her nephew and heir Philippe Deligeard, the older woman suffered a fatal heart attack. More than one doctor has certified the nature of Joséphine’s death but Cécile is convinced that her benefactress was murdered and insists that Maigret investigate. The result is a fascinating but almost completely cerebral story, so arranged that most readers will be able to figure out the gist of the plot but can’t possibly know the details until Simenon reveals them.

   This story too was translated twice, by Boucher for EQMM (August 1952) and the SHORT CASES collection and by Jean Stewart for MAIGRET’S PIPE, the title all three times being “The Old Lady of Bayeux.” Once again there are differences between the translations but they’re not as consequential as those between the two versions of “Stan the Killer.”

   According to Boucher, Cécile tells Maigret: “I was an orphan, and I started out in life, at the age of fifteen, as a maid of all work. I was still wearing pigtails, and I didn’t know how to read or write.” Stewart renders this passage: “I was an orphan, and my first job was as a maid of all work. I was only fifteen, with my hair still down my back, and I couldn’t read or write….”

   Close enough, yes? The other variations are no more important than this one. The strangest detail in the story is common to both translations and therefore almost certainly Simenon’s: Cécile tells Maigret that she knows she takes nothing under Mme. Croizier’s will because “I drew up the will myself….” Neat trick for someone who isn’t a notaire!

   This story too was adapted for live TV in the medium’s infant years. “The Old Lady of Bayeux” (SUSPENSE, CBS, 2 September 1952, 30 minutes) was directed by Robert Stevens from a teleplay by Halsted Welles. This time we know who played Maigret. It was Mexican-born Luis Van Rooten (1906-1973), one of the best known actors of radio’s golden age, who indeed appeared on THE ADVENTURES OF ELLERY QUEEN and was the subject of an encomium by Queen co-creator and radio supervisor Manfred B. Lee.

   In a letter of 1 August 1946 to Tony Boucher, who was collaborating with Manny on Queen scripts while also translating Simenon, Jorge Luis Borges and others for EQMM, Manny called Van Rooten “a little bald-headed guy who for my money is one of the great radio actors….A terrific performer. You simply can’t believe that a voice like that can come from a guy so small.”

   Anyone who’d like to travel back in time and see Van Rooten playing Maigret is in rare luck: this particular episode of SUSPENSE happens to be accessible on YouTube. Featured in the cast are Edgar Stehli (Philippe Deligeard) and Nicole Stéphan (Cécile). There’s more suspense in the SUSPENSE version than in Simenon’s story, but for my money Van Rooten with his bald pate and neat little mustache evokes Poirot rather than the heavy-set titan of the Quai des Orfèvres.

***

   The last Maigret story to be written and published before the outbreak of World War II was “L’Amoureux de Madame Maigret (Police-Roman, 28 July 1939), which appeared in EQMM (“The Stronger Vessel,” January 1952, translated by Boucher) but didn’t show up in a collection until MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977, translated by Jean Stewart).

   Here but to the best of my knowledge in no other novel or story, the Maigrets’ home is an apartment in the Place de Vosges, where Simenon and his first wife in fact lived from 1924 until the early Thirties. Madame Maigret notices a strange old man in a dandified outfit sitting motionless in the park below her window for hours on end and mentions the matter to her husband, who playfully suggests she has an admirer (the amoureux of the title).

   One summer evening Maigret goes down to talk to the old man and finds him shot to death, apparently from a window of the apartment house looking down on the park. It quickly becomes apparent that the “old dandy” was a young man wearing a wig and false mustache, but why he spent hours every day sitting on that park bench remains a mystery.

   Then one of Maigret’s neighbors reports that his maid has vanished, along with his wife’s jewelry. Madame Maigret herself takes something of a hand in the investigation, which establishes that the two matters are of course connected, but the denouement reveals a spy vs. spy intrigue with the countries carefully unspecified, appropriate for the time but not very exciting, and Maigret is ordered to drop the case.

   As Fred Dannay pointed out in his introduction to the EQMM translation, the first English-language title is based on a Biblical verse (“giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel,” 1 Peter iii, 7). Almost certainly the title came from Boucher, who knew his Bible well.

   As with some of the earlier tales in the series, comparison of the two translations yields some interesting results. In Boucher’s version, examination of the murdered man’s clothes reveals “a sizable quantity of very fine flour—not pure, but mixed with traces of bran….” The bran indicates a mill rather than a bakery, but what would the dead man be doing in a mill?

   The question is answered at the end when, in Boucher’s words, we learn that he lived “at Corbeil, near the mills.” Jean Stewart bungles the translation when she locates the man’s home “at Corbeil, near Moulins….” Moulin means mill, but if the French word refers to a place not a physical mill, the flour-and-bran dust in the dead man’s clothes remains unaccounted for.

***

   “L’Amoureux” was the last story in which Maigret appeared for almost three years. He was next seen in MAIGRET REVIENT, a volume consisting of three new novels, published by Gallimard in 1942 but written during the earlier years of war and ocupation: LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC late in 1939, LE MAISON DU JUGE and CÉCILE EST MORTE in 1940. In 1944, still under Nazi occupation, Gallimard published another omnibus of original novels, SIGNÉ PICPUS, which consisted of the title book (written in 1941) plus FÉLICIE EST LA (from May 1942) and L’INSPECTEUR CADAVRE (from March 1943), plus an assortment of non-series short stories dating from 1937-38.

   The same year saw publication by Gallimard of LES NOUVELLES ENQUÊTES DE MAIGRET, which brought together all the short stories discussed here and in earlier columns. Three new Maigret shorts, including one never officially translated into English, also came out during the dark years.

   These works, all of which seem to have embodied Simenon’s “contract with France” to say not a word hinting that the country was under German control, are best discussed in another column at another time. This one is far too long already.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         (To be continued.)

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


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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir
Part 20: Pulp Art, Part Two
by Walker Martin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


      TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 21

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
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.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
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 www.trussel.com 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.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
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.

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