October 2008


   When Ron Goulart came to Gary Lovisi’s paperback show this past Sunday, it was as a guest, and he had with him copies of Cheap Thrills and Good Girl Art available for sale and signing. See my previous post, and in particular Walker Martin’s comment in which he describes each of them more fully. He also praises them both very highly, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.

   I asked Ron if he still had copies, and he says no, but they’re both easily available from Amazon and other Internet dealers as well as the publisher, hermespress.com.

RON GOULART Groucho Marx

   He does have copies of books in his “Groucho Marx, Detective” series, though, which he’ll gladly sell you for $20 each and pictorially autograph in his inimitable style (my words). You can email him if you’re interested, or just to say hello. (Click on the link.)

   None of the Groucho books ever came out in paperback, which is a criminal offense in itself. The only editions were hardcovers from St. Martin’s Press. Here’s a complete list. (You’ll have to ask him which ones he has.)

      Groucho Marx, Master Detective (1998)
      Elementary, My Dear Groucho (1999)
      Groucho Marx, Private Eye (1999)
      Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders (2001)
      Groucho Marx, Secret Agent (2002)
      Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle (2005)

From my copy:

RON GOULART Groucho Marx

BOUCHER ON WOOLRICH:
WHEN TITANS TOUCHED

by Francis M. Nevins

   Previously on this blog:  PART I. THE NOVELS.

PART II. THE STORY COLLECTIONS.

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   The first collection of Woolrich’s shorter work was I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1943, as by William Irish), which includes at least three supreme classics: the title story (1938) plus “Three O’Clock” (1938) and “Nightmare” (1941, as “And So to Death”).

   Boucher inexplicably didn’t review the book but late in December he listed it as the year’s best volume of crime fiction at less than novel length. It was also the only such collection published that year, but clearly Boucher didn’t include it among 1943’s best by default, since a few months later (28 May 1944) he called it one of the 13 finest books of short crime fiction published since 1920.

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   The follow-up volume After-Dinner Story (1944, as by William Irish) brought together six tales of which at least four — the title story (1938), “The Night Reveals” (1936), “Marihuana” (1941) and “Rear Window” (1942, as “It Had To Be Murder”) — are among Woolrich’s most powerful. Boucher found one or two of the half dozen (apparently the ones I didn’t name) “a bit too patly ironic” but called the others “first-rate specimens of that master of the suspense and terror of the commonplace.” (26 November 1944)

   If I Should Die Before I Wake (1945, as by William Irish) was a digest-sized original paperback collection of six tales of which three are pure gems: the title story (1937), “A Death Is Caused” (1943, as “Mind Over Murder”), and “Two Murders, One Crime” (1942, as “Three Kills for One”).

   Boucher, perhaps the only critic broad-minded enough to notice softcover originals, described the 25-cent volume as “various in quality but containing at least two of the finest Woolrich-Irish opuses — which is about as fine as terror-suspense comes currently.” (1 July 1945) When the collection was reissued as a paperback of conventional dimensions a year and a half later, Boucher said that “to watch the Old Master of suspense technique at work is worth anybody’s two bits.” (19 January 1947).

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   Next came The Dancing Detective (1946, as by William Irish), which contained eight stories, four of them top-drawer noir: the title story (1938, as “Dime a Dance”), “Two Fellows in a Furnished Room” (1941, as “He Looked Like Murder”), “The Light in the Window” (1946) and “Silent As the Grave” (1945). Boucher praised the book to the skies: “Nightmares of a…masochistically pleasant nature await the reader who recognizes in [Woolrich] the great living master of what the psalmist calls “the noonday devil” — the infinite terror of prosaic everyday detail.” (14 July 1946)

   The last Woolrich collection Boucher reviewed for the Chronicle was Borrowed Crime (1946, as by William Irish), another digest-sized paperback original costing a quarter then and worth a mint today. This one brought together four short novels, two of them dispensable, the other pair — “Detective William Brown” (1938) and “Chance” (1942, as “Dormant Account”) — displaying Woolrich at his most powerful. Boucher’s review was terse but just: “The excellence of the Woolrich-Irish pulp novelettes is now so widely recognized that the mere announcement of this latest collected volume should send you scurrying to a newsstand.” (9 March 1947).

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   Six more Woolrich collections, all as by William Irish, were published over the next six years. The first two came out when Boucher was off the Chronicle and not yet on the Times, but he praised both in his “Speaking of Crime” column for EQMM:

   Dead Man Blues (1947) brought together seven tales including the classics “Guillotine” (1939, as “Men Must Die”) and “Fire Escape” (1947, as “The Boy Cried Murder”). Boucher called the collected stories “a compelling group….” (February 1949)

   The Blue Ribbon (1949) gathered eight more tales of which by far the finest was the nonstop action thriller “Subway” (1936, as “You Pays Your Nickel”). Boucher described the octad as “a mixed lot ranging from the supernatural to pure sentimental emotionalism. But the five crime stories included bear the authentic Woolrich/Irish stamp so unmistakably that no seeker of suspense can afford to overlook the volume.” (August 1949)

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   He was no longer reviewing for EQMM when the next Woolrich collection was published. Somebody on the Phone (1950) was reviewed in the Times but not by Boucher. The subsequent paperback-original collections Six Nights of Mystery (1950) and Bluebeard’s Seventh Wife (1952) were reviewed by no one.

   But Boucher made it a point to discuss what turned out to be the final collection under the Irish byline. Eyes That Watch You (1952) included seven stories. Its three longer tales — the title story (1939, as “The Case of the Talking Eyes”) plus “Charlie Won’t Be Home Tonight” (1939) and “All at Once, No Alice” (1940) — Boucher praised as “richly representing [Woolrich’s] best work.” The other four, which were much shorter, he dismissed as “minor gimmick stories which any hack could have written” but he advised readers to “overlook them, settle down to the longer stories and revel in the skill of the foremost master of the breathtaking this-could-happen-to-me impact.” (24 August 1952)

   All subsequent Woolrich collections were published under his own name. Nightmare (1956), a volume of six tales including two classics previously collected in I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes, gave the critic a chance to sum up his ambivalence about the author:

    “By sober critical standards there is just about everything wrong with much of Woolrich’s work. This collection of six stories illustrates most of the flaws: the ‘explanation’ that is harder to believe than the original ‘impossibility,’ the banal and over-obvious twist of ‘irony,’ the casual disregard of fact or probability –the Los Angeles Police Department so understaffed that only a single investigator of low rank can be spared to handle the murder of a film star! However, critical sobriety is out of the question so long as this master of terror-in-the-commonplace exerts his spell. It is an oddly chosen collection, representing neither the best nor the least familiar of Woolrich … but it is characteristic, and I do not envy the hard-headed reader who can resist its compulsive black magic.” (2 September 1956).

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   Of the six tales printed in the sequel collection Violence (1958), I would rank three with Woolrich’s best: “Don’t Wait Up for Me Tonight” (1937, as “Goodbye, New York”), “Guillotine” (1939; previously collected in Dead Man Blues, 1947), and “Murder, Obliquely” (a heavily revised version of “Death Escapes the Eye,” 1947). “Guillotine” was the only one of the six that in Boucher’s view “ranks with the best of Woolrich’s unforgettable pulp classics.” But all six, he said, “display, if to a lesser extent, [Woolrich’s] mastery of detail in creating tension and terror out of the commonplace.” (10 August 1958).

   About a month later Woolrich’s Hotel Room came out. The setting is Room 923 of New York’s Hotel St. Anselm and the story of the building’s birth, adolescence, maturity, old age and death is told through the stories of the people who checked into that room at various points in time between 1896 and the late Fifties. The book wasn’t reviewed in the Times at all but Boucher devoted a few lines to it in his monthly column for EQMM, calling it “less a novel than a collection of episodes, many with the impact of [Woolrich’s] crime shorts.” (November 1958) A most generous comment considering that only one episode in the book was even remotely criminous!

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   The next Woolrich collection was the paperback original Beyond the Night (1959), which Boucher covered in the Times at much greater length:

    “Recent Woolrich collections have, I suspect, been selected by the author himself; they seem to consist largely of those stories best loved by their creator because no one else appreciates them. Beyond the Night contains six stories, mostly supernatural, including [in “My Lips Destroy” (1939, as “Vampire’s Honeymoon”] the most tedious arrangement of cliches on the vampire theme ever assembled. There are glints of the old Woolrich magic, especially in a 1935 tale of voodoo [“Music from the Dark,” better known as “Papa Benjamin”] and a 1959 picture of gang callousness [“The Number’s Up”], but there are so many much better Woolrich stories which have yet to appear in book form.” (4 October 1959)

   The following year saw the publication of Woolrich’s last paperback original, The Doom Stone (1960). Boucher described it superbly as “heaven help us, about the diamond stolen from the eye of a Hindu idol in 1757 and the curse it brings on successive owners in Paris during the Terror, in New Orleans under the carpetbag regime and in Tokyo just before Pearl Harbor. Few authors would dare make a straight-faced offer of such triple-distilled corn, but devout Woolrichians (like me) may find it surprisingly potable if hardly intoxicating.” (8 May 1960)

   By then Woolrich was dying by inches and writing very little. Boucher had no occasion to discuss him again until five years later when the final collections of Woolrich’s lifetime appeared roughly three months apart.

CORNELL WOOLRICH

   Of The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich he said: “Much though I admire the work of [Woolrich], I can see little excuse for [this collection]. Eight of the ten stories have appeared in book form before, six of them in earlier gatherings of Mr. Woolrich’s tales. (One indeed is making its third appearance in a Woolrich collection.) The stories, to be sure, range from good to excellent, but this can hardly claim to be a new $3.95 book.” (2 May 1965).

   The Dark Side of Love Boucher described as bringing together “several of [Woolrich’s] lesser recent short stories along with others which seem, for good reasons, not to have appeared in magazines. It’s a collection that stresses this veteran’s weaknesses rather than his virtues, but at least only one of its eight stories has been published in an earlier Woolrich volume. Only the previously unpublished “Too Nice a Day to Die” seems to me to rank with Woolrich’s best.” (25 July 1965)

   Coming soon:

PART III: LETTERS, A CARD AND A MEETING.

REVIEWED BY BOB SCHNEIDER:         


WILLIAM P. McGIVERN Night Extra

  WILLIAM P. McGIVERN – Night Extra.

Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1957. Paperback reprints: Pocket 1193, January 1958; Pyramid V3795, 1975; Berkley 11190, 1988.

   A big city reporter (which McGivern was at one time) investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found in the house of a reform mayoral candidate. It soon becomes clear that the entrenched political machine has engineered a frame-up and appears likely to succeed in destroying a feared political opponent.

   The novel is set in an unnamed East Coast city that suffers from pervasive corruption. Anyone who fights against the corruption places their job, if not their life, in jeopardy. Crusading reporter Sam Terrell spends much of the story trying to convince witnesses to come forward and tell what they know. He also must navigate through the city’s numerous layers of civic, political and bureaucratic corruption in order to find allies who might advance his investigation.

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN Night Extra

   One of the themes that McGivern explores is how ingrained and insidious corruption can become if left unchecked and unchallenged. Many of the enablers of corruption believe themselves to be good people and only realize their complicity after Terrell points it out to them.

   Will enough citizens stand up to the machine and do the right thing? Will Terrell succeed in his quest to save the reform-minded politician? Pick up a copy of this book from an Internet bookseller or at your local used bookstore. Sadly, few if any of this once respected mid-twentieth century crime writer’s books are in print today.

***

         Bibliographic data [Taken from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin] —

McGIVERN, WILLIAM P(eter). 1922-1982; pseudonym: Bill Peters.

But Death Runs Faster (n.) Dodd 1948

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

Heaven Ran Last (n.) Dodd 1949
Very Cold for May (n.) Dodd 1950
Shield for Murder (n.) Dodd 1951
The Crooked Frame (n.) Dodd 1952
The Big Heat (n.) Dodd 1953
Margin of Terror (n.) Dodd 1953
Rogue Cop (n.) Dodd 1954

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

The Darkest Hour (n.) Dodd 1955
The Seven File (n.) Dodd 1956
Night Extra (n.) Dodd 1957
Odds Against Tomorrow (n.) Dodd 1957
Savage Streets (n.) Dodd 1959
Seven Lies South (n.) Dodd 1960
Killer on the Turnpike (co) Pocket Books 1961
The Road to the Snail (n.) Dodd 1961
A Choice of Assassins (n.) Dodd 1963
The Caper of the Golden Bulls (n.) Dodd 1966
Lie Down, I Want to Talk to You (n.) Dodd 1967

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

Caprifoil (n.) Dodd 1972
Reprisal (n.) Dodd 1973
Night of the Juggler (n.) Putnam 1975

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

-The Seeing [with Maureen McGivern] (n.) Tower 1980
Summitt (n.) Arbor 1982
A Matter of Honor (n.) Arbor 1984

PETERS, BILL. Pseudonym of William P. McGivern.

Blondes Die Young (n.) Dodd 1952

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Port of Seven Strangers.

Detective Book Club; hardcover reprint [3-in-1 edition], November 1945. First edition: Doubleday/Crime Club, 1945. Paperback: Armed Services Edition 1123. Reprinted in Two Complete Detective Books, No. 41, November 1946.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT Port of Seven Strangers.

   This one was disappointing. In a span of 25 years, beginning in 1935 and ending in 1960, Knight wrote 30 to 35 mysteries, most under her own name, but there were a handful that appeared under her alternate byline of Alan Amos as well. The ones I remember most featured Elisha Macomber, a rustic Cape Cod selectman who did a lot of crime-solving on the side. It’s been a while, so the details escape me, but I always enjoyed them.

   Not so this one. The ingredients are all there, and it starts out in fine fashion: an all-but-deserted tourist hotel in Vera Cruz during the stormy season, partly filled with an assorted group of vacationers, plus a foursome of stranded wartime American fliers, an invalid old man unable to leave, and a young European woman named Lorel (or perhaps Elise) whose beauty draws men like moths to the proverbial flame. (*)

   The first murder happens right away, but it’s hushed up almost right away. Two are more difficult to manage: a second body is found in the room of Gail Warren from Boston, who until then had been happily sharing an almost-at-first-sight mutual attraction with Lieutenant January (one of the aforementioned fliers). The local constabulary, a stout, dark man named Sanchez, seems convinced of the lady’s guilt, which of course we (the reader) know to be complete nonsense.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT Port of Seven Strangers.

   All the right stuff. Everything’s in place. Sit back and enjoy … but the plot needs some tinkering with. As it is, it just doesn’t work. Gail has the feeling that the murder was committed in the room next door (she heard a strange sound while finding her wrap). No one wonders (too much) why the body is in her room.

   Later, after she is pushed down some dark empty steps, events become even more impossible to follow: why was she abandoned with two people she does not even know, where is her aunt who has been traveling with her, who was it who killed Lorenzo (who turns out to be a parrot), and when Lorel is murdered in turn, it appears to be the last anyone thinks of her.

   It might have all been untangled, but no. Knight has a twist or two up her sleeve, and one of them just doesn’t gibe with how the events were said to have happened in Chapter One. There would be a clever way to have worked around this, one that someone named Christie could pulled off easily, but Knight seems to have missed the mark on this altogether.

   As I say, a disappointment, but given the chance to read another of her books, do you know what? I’d still grab it.

— July 2002

(*) Yes, I know. Clichés are supposed to be avoided like the plague.

GRIF STOCKLEY – Probable Cause.

Ivy, paperback reprint; 1st printing, December 1993. Hardcover edition: Simon & Schuster, October 1992.

Grif Stockley

   According to the information provided inside the back cover of Probable Cause, the second of his two recorded adventures, Grif Stockley was (in 1993) “an attorney for Central Arkansas Legal Services, which was funded by the federal government to provide representation to indigents in civil cases.”

   As an author, his series character is Gideon Page, a middle-aged attorney whose first case after striking out on his own is highly is highly charged with racial overtones. And undertones, too, for that matter. His client is a black psychologist who’s accused of killing a retarded girl he was administering electric shock therapy to with a cattle prod. Why is the case so difficult? The man was having an affair with the wealthy girl’s mother, who is white.

   Large portions of this novel are taken up with detective work, but for the most part what this is an intimate, inside look at how the justice system actually works, with lots of snapshot character studies of the people who either try to make it work, or (in some cases) try to make it work on their behalf.

   Page’s life with his precocious and sensitive high school daughter (Rosa, her mother, is dead) and his platonic love affair with Rainey, a social worker at a local state hospital, are essential parts of the story, more than background matter, although not part of the case itself.

   This is the legal equivalent of a multi-faceted and well-diversified police procedural, in other words, as Page divides his time among his other clients, colleagues and adversaries, told by someone who’s been there. One suspects with some amount of surety that some of Stockley’s own clients, colleagues and adversaries may find more than a little similarities between themselves and some of the people populating this book.

   There’s very little spelled out in black and white, pun intended, including the ending, nor as to what might happen next in Gideon Page’s life. I for one will be looking eagerly for more in the local used book stores. Unaccountably, this is the only one of his adventures that I own.

   Thanks to Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, here are the others:

STOCKLEY, GRIF. 1944- .
      Expert Testimony. Summit Books, 1991.

Grif Stockley

      Probable Cause. Simon & Schuster, 1992.
      Religious Conviction. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
      Illegal Motion. Simon & Schuster, 1995.
      Blind Justice. Simon & Schuster, 1997.

   And if you’re interested, here’s a link for more information on Grif Stockley himself.

   Back from Michigan, that is, where a wonderful time was had by all, as expected, and back from Gary Lovisi’s paperback show in New York City yesterday. Attendance was up slightly and a lot of money seemed to be changing hands, but of course the even greater attraction was seeing and talking to many, many friends I’ve known for a long time.

   I hope none of them will feel slighted if I mention only one of them, writer and pulp historian Ron Goulart, author most recently of Cheap Thrills, a profusely illustrated history of the pulp magazines, and Good Girl Art, also profusely illustrated, and even more so. I recommend both to you very highly.

RON GOULART Cheap Thrills      RON GOULART Good Girl Art

   Recent health problems kept Ron from this year’s Windy City pulp and paperback show, where he was to have been this year’s co-guest of honor. We’ve known each other for well over 30 years, and it was good to see him again.

   Lots of people asked me about the recent absence of posts on this blog. I’m still not sure in what direction I (and it) will be going next, but until I find out, I have a large backlog of reviews that need to be uploaded, and I think you’ll see one here sometime in the next few minutes.

   As I do every year, I’ll be spending Columbus Day weekend in Cadillac, the small town in Michigan where I was born and grew up. My sister and her husband still live there, and my brother and his wife drive over from London, Ontario, where they live. (I fly, and I’ll be leaving mid-afternoon today.)

   In previous years my daughter and her husband have been able to join us on occasion, driving up from Illinois, and even more often my brother’s daughter has come along with them, but this year it doesn’t look as though any of them can make it. We’ll have a good time together anyway. It’s usually the only time we see each other all year long.

   I won’t be back until late on Monday, so of necessity the blog will be quiet until then. There is also a lot happening next week back at home here as well. For some reason (a variation on Murphy’s Law, no doubt) a number of things are taking place over the span of the next few days after I’m back. This current short but scheduled hiatus, in other words, is likely to be followed by a period of scattered and intermittent postings, I’m sorry to say.

   But do, as they also say, stay tuned!

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Bill Pronzini:



MERLE CONSTINER – Hearse of a Different Color. Phoenix Press, hardcover, 1952. Previously serialized in Short Stories magazine as “Death on a Party Line”: July 10, July 25, August 10, Aug 25, 1946.

   In Gun in Cheek (1982), the undersigned reviewer’s humorous study of classically bad crime fiction, an entire chapter is devoted to the lending-library publisher, Phoenix Press. During the Thirties and Forties, Phoenix foisted upon an unsuspecting public some of the most godawful mysteries ever penned – scores of them, in fact.

MERLE CONSTINER Hearse of a Different Color.

   Not all Phoenix mysteries were horrendous, however; every now and then, whether by accident or otherwise, a pretty good one seems to have slipped out. Hearse of a Different Color falls into that rarefied category.

   Arkansas semanticist Paul Saxby comes to the backwoods town of Falksville, Tennessee, for two reasons: to study the picturesque colloquialisms of the area (“Git down and tie up, Brother Saxby; we’uns is shore hellacious proud to have you jubilating with us”), and because of a letter written to him by a local resident, Alicia Poynter, which hints at a “great and terrible crime being planned.”

   Shortly after Saxby’s arrival, at least part of that terrible crime is revealed: He finds Alicia dead of poison that mayor may not have been meant for her. Saxby’s investigation involves him with, among other colorful characters, a tough old lady named Cora Bob Wilkerson; the founder of the Caudry Burial Brotherhood; the owner of an abandoned sawmill (in the vicinity of which are all sorts of strange goings-on); and a dog with the magnificent moniker of Moonrise Blizzard the Second. More homicide – and the local sheriff, Masters – plagues Saxby before he finally arrives at a well-clued solution.

MERLE CONSTINER Death on a Party Line

   You should not get the impression that this is a masterpiece, however; Hearse of Another Color has its flaws (one of them being the title), and in places the story shows its pulp origins (it was originally published as a serial in Short Stories in 1946).

   Still, the unusual background is well depicted (Constiner was a native of southern Ohio and traveled extensively in the Deep South), the plotting is competent, and the writing is above average. Come to think of it, considering the general run of Phoenix mysteries, maybe this is a masterpiece – Phoenix’s, anyway.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

[COMMENTS]   (1) A working bibliography for Merle Constiner by Peter Ruber can be found online at the Pulp Rack website.

(2) Covers for almost all of the Phoenix Press covers can be found online here, beginning with those published in 1936.

Steve,

To mark this week’s Bouchercon mystery writers conference in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun‘s book blog (www.baltimoresun.com/readstreet) will feature guest posts from visiting authors. Today, Austin Camacho will discuss black characters and Charles Todd writes about police procedurals. We will have three or four more author posts each day this week. Thought this might be interesting to Mystery*File‘s readers.

Regards,
Dave

Dave Rosenthal
Sunday Editor
The Baltimore Sun

A REVIEW BY MARY REED:
   

ISRAEL ZANGWILL – The Big Bow Mystery.

Henry, UK, hardcover, 1892. Rand McNally, US, hardcover, 1895. (The latter is shown.) Reprinted often, either alone or in various anthologies, including the following (all shown): W.B. Conkey Company, US, hardcover, 189?   Three Victorian Detective Novels, edited by E. F. Bleiler (Dover, trade pb, 1978).  Great Detectives: A Century of the Best Mysteries, David Willis McCullough, editor (Pantheon, US, hc, 1984).

ISRAEL ZANGWILL The Big Bow Mystery

   The Big Bow Mystery opens on a frigid, foggy December morning as the Dickensian-named Mrs Drabdump, a widow letting out rooms in her home in Bow, east London, cannot get lodger Arthur Constant to open his bedroom door. She becomes so alarmed she goes to ask for help from George Grodman, a retired detective who lives a few doors down the street, and he forces the door open.

   The horrible sight within is described by the coroner as “the deceased lying back in bed with a deep wound in his throat… There was no trace of any instrument by which the cut could have been effected: there was no trace of any person who could have effected the cut. No person could apparently have got in or out.”

   Needless to say the case causes a sensation, the more so as Constant, though wealthy, was devoted to helping the working class.

ISRAEL ZANGWILL The Big Bow Mystery

   Fellow lodger and friend Tom Mortlake, a man of similar mind and “hero of a hundred strikes”, had left early that morning for Devonport Dockyard to help the dockers there. A second sensation is caused when Mortlake is arrested at the Liverpool Docks where he was making enquiries about steamers to America.

   He is released when it is learnt he was in Liverpool to seek news of a friend about whom he was uneasy. His innocence is supported by a cabby who drove him to London’s Euston Station that morning, who confirms he picked up Mortlake at about 4.30 am, well before the estimated time of Constant’s death. Even so, more doubts are raised when Mrs Drabdump reveals at the inquest that Mortlake and Constant had quarrelled the night before the latter’s death.

   The retired detective Grodman and Edward Wimp of Scotland Yard both undertake investigations and so the deciphering of The Big Bow Mystery begins. To add a bit of spice to the teacake, the men detest each other.

   In the course of a lengthy narrative we hear of Denzil Cantercot, a poet with secrets — why he gives money he’s just received to two housemaids before it’s even warm in his pocket for example — and Mortlake’s fiancee, Lucy Brent, who has apparently disappeared.

ISRAEL ZANGWILL The Big Bow Mystery

   There’s some plot padding, which is not to say the story is uneventful: Gladstone appears at an event that ends in a riot and ultimately Mortlake goes on trial for the murder of his friend. But did he really do it and if he did, how it is to be proved?

My verdict: One of the burning questions in The Big Bow Mystery is how the culprit carried out the crime, given the bedroom door was not only locked but also bolted on the inside.

   Various theories are suggested in letters to the press, including a monkey with a razor coming down the chimney, the removal and replacement of a window pane or a door panel, a culprit hiding in the wardrobe who managed to escape unnoticed when the door was broken down, and secret passages and trapdoors!

   As for the missing weapon, was it a candlestick or similar common item of bedroom furniture, fitted with a hidden blade after the fashion of a swordstick — or could the departed have been a suicide and somehow swallowed the weapon before expiring?

ISRAEL ZANGWILL The Big Bow Mystery

   After various red herrings are thrown back into the briny and trips into investigative cul de sacs are reversed, the culprit turns out to be the least likely suspect, who committed the crime for a particularly vile reason.

   The explanation of how a murder could be committed in a locked room is clever, hinging partly on the physical arrangements and partly on a psychological point, the clew to which is given in fair fashion early in the novel.

   If readers don’t mind Zangwill’s somewhat rambling and wordy style The Big Bow Mystery will be of interest. Published in the early 1890s, well before the beginning of the Golden Age, it is also said to be the earliest true example of the locked room mystery.

    http://freeread.com.au/ebooks/c00062.txt

         Mary R

http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/

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