December 2012


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


WILLIAM HOPSON – Desperado. Century #118, paperback original, 1948. Reprinted as Long Ride To Abilene: Avon #837, paperback, 1958; MacFadden 40-146, paperback, 1964.

WILLIAM HOBSON Desperado

   I picked up Desperado by William Hopson because of the cover, and stayed with it because of the text. Hopson was apparently a prolific writer for the pulps (and later for Gold Medal) and his work offers that unique fast prose and hard edge that seem to typify both forms at their best.

   The story starts with Jude, a farm boy with wandering feet, who hooks up with a passing cattle drive, makes some friends and helps navigate the outfit to Kansas City. Once there he gets in a shooting scrape on behalf of his employer and when he comes out alive he’s offered a full-time job on the boss’s ranch.

   But things around the spread get dicey fast — which is really want you want in a Western, now isn’t it? Jude discovers someone is coming up behind his boss, not just rustling his stock, but worse: eating away at his good name and influence around those parts.

   When Jude survives a couple more shooting scrapes and his opponents don’t, he gets a reputation as “that hired gun from Kansas City” and the decent folk and ordinary cowhands shun his company as disreputable or just plain unhealthy. Hence the title, I guess.

   Hopson can write. He knows something about ranch life and he can put it across to the reader in a way that conveys all the work and none of the boredom. He handles the action scenes capably, and structures his plot with a pace and economy that’s pretty much lost in these days of mega-books.

   I did wonder a bit at how a sod-buster like his hero got so apt with a gun, and the ending softens what might have been a really powerful finish, but these are the conventions of the Western form, and you can’t really fault the author for sticking to them. By and large, it’s a worthwhile book to spend a couple hours with, and one that stays surprisingly in my memory.

A TV Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“Not the Running Type.” From Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 5, Episode 19. First broadcast: 7 February 1960. Paul Hartman as Milton Potter, Robert Bray as Capt./Lt. Fisher, Bert Freed as Capt. Ellison, Wendell Holmes as Halverson, Herb Ellis as Lt. Hogan, O. Z. Whitehead as Mr. Newton, and Murray Alper as Ship Passenger. Based on a story by Henry Slesar (EQMM, January 1959). Teleplay by Jerry Sohl. Directed by Arthur Hiller.

   Capt. Fisher reminisces in a flashback about an old case he was assigned to as a new lieutenant. Milton Potter, a mild-mannered bank employee and just about the last man on earth anyone would suspect of doing such a thing, embezzled $200,000 from a bank 15 years ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzGLFcPDCMs

   Not long afterwards, Potter turns himself in, freely admitting that he took the money and still has it. What he won’t do, however, is tell the police where it is. Even after Capt. Ellison and Lt. Fisher offer him leniency if he’ll just cough up the boodle, Potter refuses and goes to prison.

   Back in the present, he has just been released — and only now does he tell the authorities where the money is.

   The final scene has Potter enjoying himself immensely aboard a cruise ship headed for the South Seas, where he will no doubt benefit from the nearly $200,000 he did NOT steal.

   All in all, an entertaining Hitchcock episode with zero violence content.

   Henry Slesar (1927-2002) had dozens of his stories adapted for TV and film, including 37 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and 10 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

ALINA ADAMS – Murder On Ice. Berkley, paperback original; 1st printing, Nov 2003.

ALINA ADAMS Figure Skating

   What sport is more open to corruption (in terms of the judging) than figure ice skating? In terms of inside information, there is no one more likely to know than Alina Adams, also known in the real world as figure-skating expert Alina Sivorinovsky.

   Here’s a quote from page 3:

   …in only ten days of competition, they’d already seen eleven hysterical meltdowns, eight formal complaint about biased judging, seven countercomplaints about biased refereeing, five screaming matches, four out-and-out fistfights, two reporters getting their credentials pulled, and one arrest (disturbing the peace; Belgium’s ice skater decided to celebrate his bronze medal by doing a naked Yankee polka on the roof.

   And this was all even before the Italian judge turned up dead.

   Television sports network 24/7 is there to cover the action, and working for 24/7 as a figure-skating researcher is Rebecca “Bex” Levy, in whose lap falls the task of determining whether Silvana Potenza’s death was an accident, or if the fact that she voted with the Eastern European countries against the skater from the U.S. had something to do with it.

   Her investigation is something the skating federation would rather keep under wraps. From page 38, where she is talking to Gil Cahill, her executive producer:

    “But,” Bex offered timidly, “doesn’t the ISU want the ratings to be high? I mean, it’s their world championship we’re promoting. The more people who watch, the more people –“

    “The more people will plant their eyeballs on all that ISU dirty laundry! Are you kidding me? Those droopy pinkies in the ISU are flaking in their sequined panties about the kind of dirt a real investigation could turn up!”

   Politically correct, not. Adams also has a light touch that you could either find very amusing or wince at very easily. From page 114, as Bex’s investigation is starting to gain some headway:

   Bex worried. And not merely because she may have just finished having lunch with with a cold-blooded killer. Or because, earlier, she’d been alone in a hotel room with a cold-blooded killer. Or even because she very possibly had no idea who the cold-blooded killer really was, which, in her well-read opinion, really raised the odds of said cold-blooded killer deciding to practice a bit more of his cold-blooding killing, this time in her direction.

   I’m inclined to go with the former — amusing, that is — until the thought struck me, around page 168, that first time authors really should not write nearly 300 page novels the first time they author a book.

   Humor is a tough commodity to maintain, in other words, and maybe I ought to be careful myself. The process of solving this case is also a matter of detection by gradual elimination, until there’s only one possibility left, and then Adams keeps you wondering because there is still plenty of book left when this crucial point in time occurs.

   Overall, though, this is a better-than-average debut, and I recommend it, leaving open only the question, if this is to be a series (which it is), how many murder investigations in the rather insular world of figure-skating can there be?

— November 2003


       The Figure Skating Mystery series —

1. Murder On Ice (2003)
2. On Thin Ice (2004)

ALINA ADAMS Figure Skating

3. Axel of Evil (2006)
4. Death Drop (2006)
5. Skate Crime (2007)

[UPDATE] 12-16-12.  So the answer is five, which is more than I would have guessed at the time I wrote this review, and all in all, a pretty good run. For more on the author, including her other, non-mystery work, check out her website here.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


G. V. GALWEY The Lift and the Drop

G. V. GALWEY – The Lift and the Drop. Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1948. Penguin Books, UK, paperback reprint, 1951.

   Since his theory of how to catch a murderer is examining the past of the victim, Chief Inspector “Daddy” Bourne has a real dilemma here. For there were six people in the lift at Pleydell House, home of The Voice and other publications, when it plummeted out of control from the sixth floor to the basement. If any of them were meant to die, which one was it? Or was it an act of mindless terrorism, since no murderer could be certain whom he or she might kill?

   A bit too much emphasis on the technical aspects of the murder, a lot too much on the seafaring aspects — I got quite lost as soon as water was approached — a nebulous political scheme, and a murderer with more hubris than I could accept are the weak points here. The strong points are the characters of Bourne and Sergeant Griffiths and their investigation. Well worth reading, and a nimbler mind than mine might find my objections not significant.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 4, Fall 1992.


       The Inspector “Daddy” Bourne series —

Murder on Leave. Lane, 1946.
The Lift and the Drop. Bodley Head, 1948.
Full Fathom Five. Hodder, 1951.

NOTE: These were G. V. Galwey’s only works of mystery fiction. To find out more information about him, check out the Golden Age of Detection wiki here.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


THE MAD DOCTOR. Paramount, 1941. Basil Rathbone, Ellen Drew, John Howard, Barbara Allen (aka Vera Vague), Ralph Morgan, Martin Kosleck, Kitty Kelly. Screenplay by Howard J. Green; cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff; art direction by Hans Dreier & Robert Usher; music score by Victor Young. Director: Tim Whelan. Shown at Cinevent 38, Columbus OH, May 2006.

THE MAD DOCTOR Basil Rathbone

   Paramount was not known for its horror films (Universal pretty much had a lock on that genre in this period) but was obviously attempting to capitalize on their popularity with this rather deceptive title, which probably suggests a rather different film than the one its makers had in mind. (It was released in England under the production title, A Date with Destiny.)

   In this elegantly directed and produced film, with its black and white cinematography gloriously highlighted in the pristine print, Rathbone, a doctor whose wives have a habit of dying under suspicious circumstances, moves to New York after the death of his third wife arouses the suspicions of a local practitioner (Ralph Morgan) and sets up a Park Avenue practice as a psychiatrist. He effects an apparently miraculous cure for troubled heiress Ellen Drew, with whom he becomes infatuated and whom he makes his fourth wife, an unenviable role as it inevitably turns out.

   Rathbone is a smooth, polished villain who is attended by a companion (Martin Kosleck) who is very attentive to his employer’s every need and is clearly more eager to see the quick dispatch of wife number four than Rathbone. Kosleck’s dislike of women is obvious and he dreams of retiring to some foreign country where he and Rathbone can live on the inheritance from Rathbone’s most recent conquest.

   Rathbone’s dramatic control contrasts nicely with Kosleck’s tendency toward scarcely contained hysteria. The net result is a rather curious film that could have benefited from some of the panache of the Universal product but impresses nonetheless with its superior production.

THE MAD DOCTOR Basil Rathbone

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


HI-LIFE. 1998. Campbell Scott, Moira Kelly, Michelle Durning, Eric Stoltz, Peter Rieger, Charles Durning, Katrin Cartlidge, Daryl Hannah. Screenwriter/director: Roger Hedden.

HI-LIFE Campbell Scott

   As we approach the Holidays, I want to recommend a Christmas Movie unlike any other: Hi-Life may not seem overtly Capra-esque, but it offers the kind of sardonic/goofy/cynical romanticism that Frank Capra put out for depression-era audiences of the 1930s — minus the tendency toward Capra-corn that marred his best-known films.

   Campbell Scott stars as a bartender whose sister (a precise, knowing and humorous performance from Moira Kelley) asks him to raise money — quickly — so she can have an abortion. But—

   She’s not really pregnant; her boyfriend (Eric Stoltz) needs the money to pay a gambling debt to his bookie (Charles Durning) But—

   She doesn’t know this because Eric told her he needs the money so his sister (Daryl Hannah) can get an abortion. But—

   It seems Hannah is an ex-girlfriend who dumped Scott several months ago.

   All unaware, Scott wanders Manhattan in one long night a week before Christmas, scouting out old friends who owe him money. He’s followed by Katrin Cartlidge (a fine actress now sadly deceased) as a cute alcoholic who knows his friends will stiff him, but she figures they’ll feel guilty and buy him drinks and if she’s with him she’ll get some.

   Meanwhile, Peter Riegert, one of Durning’s (remember him?) hangers-on, has been ordered to stick with Eric Stoltz till he comes back with the money. But—

   Seeing a chance for easy profit, Riegert has arranged for the teen-age son of his live-in girlfriend to “mug” them once they get the cash.

   Also in the mix are two sub-normal paramedics posing as actors, and the scene where they try to sell the plot of Schindler’s List 2 to Moira Kelley recalls the best of 30s screwball comedy. As does a street fight with an errant boyfriend hiding out disguised as Santa. And the climax, which sees a desperate Eric Stoltz facing his sister and his girlfriend at the same time and trying to convince each that the other one is pregnant. Followed by a sweet ending which sees love and the Christmas Spirit conquer all. With excellent ensemble acting, sharp script and fast direction, Hi-Life may be just the thing to ease those Holiday blues.

TV MYSTERY SERIES: THEMES AND OPENINGS
by MICHAEL SHONK.


The perfect theme and opening sets the mood, places the viewer in a time and place, and acts as a prologue to the series by establishing premise, characters and plot.

The primary purpose of any theme music is to establish mood. Arguably no one has done that better than PETER GUNN (Henry Mancini) and TWIN PEAKS (“Falling” by Angelo Badalamenti). The music from each are strongly identified with and continue to influence the soundtracks of a subgenre of mystery, PETER GUNN – the private eye

and TWIN PEAKS – the odd mystery with strange characters.

This is television not radio and visual images shown with the music matter. For example, THE WILD WILD WEST opening animation by Ken Mindie works perfectly with the music by Richard Markowitz.

RUBICON opening with the distinctive music by Peter Neshel and clue filled opening titles (Karin Fong, Jeremy Cox, Theodore Daley, and Cara McKenney) prepared viewers for the intelligent spy drama to follow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-tvBjh8z7k

Themes can feature lyrics of an established song such as “Who Are You? (Composer: Pete Townsend, performed by The Who) for CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION

or an original song created for the series such as ZORRO (George Bruns)

Some series have a closing theme such as BAT MASTERSON (Bart Corwin and Havens Wray).

This clip

from KING OF DIAMONDS is a trailer for the ZIV syndicated 1961-62 series starring Broderick Crawford. I believe, but can’t confirm, the song with the unforgettable lyrics was for the end credits. The on screen credit for the “Johnny King Theme” is hard to read but I believe it was William Donati. Here is a clip from the beginning of one episode:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rVqj0EK3pc

As for the role of the theme and opening to establish premise, characters, and plot, few did it better than REMINGTON STEELE with Henry Mancini’s music and Stephanie Zimbalist’s narration. (Surprisingly, there is no clip of this on YouTube, but you can watch a full episode for free at Hulu.com. I recommend any episode from Season One). Two other examples of this are PERSON OF INTEREST (JJ Abrams).


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOnQ8CD3v4g

and PHILIP MARLOWE – PRIVATE EYE (“Marlowe’s Theme” by John Cameron and Samuel Matlovsky, performed by Moe Koffman, with Main Title Design by Maurice Binder).

Comedy mysteries openings often reflect the series comedy style such as THE ASSOCIATES (“Wall Street Blues” by A. Brooks, sung by BB King. A. Brooks is reportedly Albert Brooks)

and SIROTA’S COURT (composer: ?).

The theme and opening is an effective way to reflect a change in style or cast such as the following CHARLIE’S ANGELS from Season One:

Season Two:

and the recent remake:

Perhaps the most innovative example of this is the theme for multi-universe SF Cop show, FRINGE. The series combined JJ Abrams’ theme music with a Main Title Design that uses changes in color and picture to indicate the Universe and time each episode takes place.

It is impossible to write about television series themes without mentioning the man who shaped the sound of TV mystery action series during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, Mike Post. Sometimes with Pete Carpenter, the prolific Post wrote the theme for countless TV mystery series including THE ROCKFORD FILES, MAGNUM P.I., A-TEAM, NYPD BLUE, MURDER ONE, LAW & ORDER, STINGRAY, and my favorite of his work, HILL STREET BLUES.

Some of my personal favorites include T.H.E. CAT (Lalo Schifrin) (Part 1 of 3 for full episode, theme appears around 5:38)

ELLERY QUEEN (Elmer Bernstein)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8MLfQRJQ40

COWBOY BEBOP (“Tank” by Yoko Kanno)

and F/X THE SERIES (Christophe Beck, Season Two)

What are your favorite theme and opening from past and present TV series?

SOURCES:

YouTube

Wikipedia

Hulu.com

IMdb.com

Interview with RUBICON Peter Nashel

Review of ZORRO DVD

BAT MASTERSON THEME SONG

PATRICIA McGERR – …Follow, As the Night… Macfadden, paperback reprint, 1968. Previously: Dell #612, paperback, 1952. First published by Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1950.

PATRICIA McGERR

   Patricia McGerr seems to have a split career as a mystery writer, and if I’m wrong on some of these titles and in which category they fall, perhaps somebody reading this can quickly steer me in the right direction.

   Here’s a list of the titles of the first eight books she did, all for Doubleday’s noted Crime Club series:

Pick Your Victim, 1946.
The Seven Deadly Sisters, 1947.
Catch Me If You Can, 1948.
Save the Witness, 1949.
Follow, As the Night, 1950.
Death in a Million Living Rooms, 1951.
Fatal in My Fashion, 1954.

   After a gap of about ten years, the following grouping came along, with the last three published in hardcover by Robert B. Luce, Inc., a firm about which I know nothing, except that its primary mystery output was by McGerr.

Is There a Traitor in the House? 1964. [Selena Mead]
Murder Is Absurd, 1967.
Stranger with My Face, 1968.
For Richer, for Poorer, Till Death, 1969.
Legacy of Danger (collection of short stories fixed up as a novel) 1970. [Selena Mead]

   And then the last grouping consists of two paperback originals:

Daughter of Darkness, Popular Library, 1974.
Dangerous Landing, Dell, 1975.

PATRICIA McGERR

   To take the last two first, this is a guess, but from the titles they appear to be very much akin to the ubiquitous gothic novels which were very popular at the time.

   Working backward, the middle grouping might be characterized by the Selena Mead counterespionage novels, which two of them are. Someone else will have to say for sure what the other three are — spy thrillers, malice domestic, or a mixture of each, called romantic suspense?

   Most of McGerr’s fame today, of which there is not nearly enough, resides in the first grouping, which include some of the strangest and possibly unique detective novels ever written.

   I’ve read Pick Your Victim, and it’s not one I’ll easily forget. We know there has been a murder done, who has committed it, and from only scraps of evidence is the identity of the victim eventually deciphered. A summary I’ve found of The Seven Deadly Sisters suggests that McGerr upped the puzzle twofold: neither the killer nor the victim is known, and the identities of both have to be worked out.

   …Follow, As the Night… (complete with double ellipses, at least in the paperback version) is very much in the same category. In a brief prologue, we learn someone has died, and in Chapter One, we find the killer (identity known) planning a dinner party, with one of those invited being the person he intends to become the victim of a fatal accident.

PATRICIA McGERR

   Invited are Larry Rock’s two ex-wives (one not yet divorced), his mistress, and his current fiancée, who is also — as if this were not enough — pregnant. It makes for quite an evening. In fact that’s all the time it takes for the events of the entire book to transpire; that is, if flashbacks don’t count.

   The detective per se is Rock’s first wife, who arrives early and finds the loose railing on the penthouse balcony. Knowing exactly what he intends to do, her problem, identify the victim — which may be her!

   The bulk of the book is a character study, then, of a cad, a word that I don’t use very often, but it certainly fits both the period (the late 1940s) and the man. Problem: I knew how the book was going to come out as of page 10, and while there was a good chance that I was wrong, I wasn’t.

   The gimmick didn’t work, in other words, or not for me, but the character study did. It’s not enough for an unqualified recommendation, but from the perspective of a clever approach to a detective novel, it’s certainly worth reading.

— November 2003

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


   While working on the last tedious chores in connection with ELLERY QUEEN: THE ART OF DETECTION, which will come out in January, I expected to devote my final column of the year to someone besides EQ. Almost anyone. But back in October Joseph Goodrich — a name you’re familiar with if you read this column regularly — emailed me a long document consisting of a large number of letters from Manny Lee to Fred Dannay that for space and other reasons he hadn’t included in BLOOD RELATIONS, his collection of the correspondence between the cousins whose byline was Ellery Queen.

   Many of these letters were undated, those that had dates were often out of chronological order, typos abounded, but — Wow! For the next few weeks I alternated between slogging away at the ART OF DETECTION index and working on the Lee document: reorganizing, trying to date the letters that were dateless, adding material in brackets to explain (where I could) who or what Manny was talking about, doing pretty much the same things Joe Goodrich himself had done so well in BLOOD RELATIONS.

   One item I discovered I was able to work into the text of my book at the last minute. The earliest letter in the document dates from very late 1940. Fred Dannay had recently been discharged from the hospital after suffering serious injuries in an auto accident. Manny’s letter mentions that among the people who had called asking about Fred was one Laurence Smith, whom he identifies as the ghost writer behind the then recently published novelization based on the movie ELLERY QUEEN, MASTER DETECTIVE (1940).

   Laurence Dwight Smith (1895-1952) has long been forgotten but a few minutes with Google brings him back to life. Under his own name he wrote four or five whodunits, several mystery/adventure books for young adults, and a few nonfiction books like CRYPTOGRAPHY: THE SCIENCE OF SECRET WRITING (1943) and COUNTERFEITING: CRIME AGAINST THE PEOPLE (1944). His short story “Seesaw” was one of the first originals to be published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (July 1942). What else he may have written under other bylines, or even whether he ghosted the other EQ movie novelizations, THE PENTHOUSE MYSTERY (1941) and THE PERFECT CRIME (1942), remains unknown.

***

   It’s long been known that Fred Dannay devised the plots for the Ellery Queen novels, stories and radio dramas and Manny Lee did the actual writing — and also that at a certain point in the nine-year life of the radio series Fred, whose wife had been diagnosed with cancer that eventually (on July 4, 1945) killed her, couldn’t perform his function any longer.

   Exactly when that happened would remain unclear today except for the Lee document. In a letter written on June 30, 1948, shortly after the Queen radio program was cancelled, Manny mentions that he had taken over the series “in January of 1944, when you dropped out of active work.” For most of that year, Manny reminds Fred, he made do by recycling 30-minute scripts from earlier seasons and condensing some of the original 60-minute scripts (1939-40) to half-hour length.

   Eventually, Manny says, he “began doing originals from bought material.” When? In October 1944, at the start of the program’s fifth season. Does this mean that every new weekly episode from then on was based on a plot synopsis by someone other than Fred? Not at all! Manny’s correspondence with Anthony Boucher informs us that Fred was several synopses ahead of schedule at the time he dropped out.

   These Manny squirreled away and fleshed out into scripts over the next two years, the last one (“The Doomed Man”) being broadcast late in August 1946. But most if not all of the new scripts for the fifth season were probably based on “bought material.”

   Bought from whom? For the first several months of the new regime, the plots were devised by a long forgotten scribe named Tom Everitt. Even in the age of the Internet almost nothing is known about this man, but we know a great deal about what Manny thought of him because his letters to Boucher are full of snarky remarks about Everitt’s competence and character. On May 24, 1945, he described himself as “hating [Everitt’s] smug, treacherous guts” and Everitt’s recent plot synopses as “sloppier…even than usual….”

   His letters to Fred Dannay in the Lee document offer more of the same. On November 4, 1947, he called Everitt “a son-of-a-bitch” who at the rate of $400 per synopsis got “tremendously overpaid” even though “the bulk of the creative work was done by me, out of sheer necessity….[Y]ou don’t know the things…that bastard has been saying and is still saying in the advertising business about his ‘part’ in the Queen show. There is no protection against his kind of conscienceless and unscrupulously shrewd self-propaganda….”

   Manny would love to have worked exclusively with Boucher but Tony was unable to come up with complex Ellery Queen plots on a one-a-week basis and Manny had no choice but to continue buying from Everitt until late in the program’s radio life.

   At least 33 of the Queen scripts between January 1945 and September 1947 came from Everitt raw material and are identified as such in my book THE SOUND OF DETECTION (2002). Most of the scripts between October 1944 and mid-June 1945, when the first episode based on a Boucher plot was broadcast, were probably derived from Everitt too. “Cleopatra’s Snake” (October 12 and 14, 1944) finds Ellery as backstage observer at a live production of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA for experimental TV when the genuine poisonous snake being used in the death scene (yeah, right) bites to death the actress playing Cleopatra.

   In “The Glass Sword” (November 30 and December 2, 1944) Ellery tackles the case of the circus sword swallower who died when the sword in his stomach broke while the lights were out. These concepts strike me as way too wacko to have come from the mind of Fred Dannay. Therefore they almost certainly came from Everitt.

   The vast majority of Everitt-based EQ episodes have never been published as scripts and don’t survive on audio. But it now seems quite possible that one of them was mistaken for a Dannay-based episode and published a few years ago — as the title story in the collection THE ADVENTURE OF THE MURDERED MOTHS (Crippen & Landru, 2005). The episode with that title was broadcast on May 9, 1945. The plot is nowhere near as off-the-wall as those of “Cleopatra’s Snake” or “The Glass Sword” and therefore might be one of those Fred completed before he left the series. We just don’t know. Maybe we never will.

THE SERIES CHARACTERS FROM
DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY
by Monte Herridge


        #16. Detective X. Crook, by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

   Detective X. Crook is another of the many series characters in Flynn’s/Detective Fiction Weekly. He appeared in 57 stories from 1925-29, all written by the English detective story novelist J(oseph) Jefferson Farjeon (June 4, 1883-June 6, 1955).

X. CROOK J. Jefferson Farjeon

   Farjeon was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, and was named after his maternal grandfather, Joseph Jefferson, a well-known actor of the time. One of his works, “Number 17”, was originally a stage played that was filmed twice: once in 1928 and the second time in 1932 by Hitchcock. Three other films were also based upon some of his approximately eighty books. He also wrote a novelisation of the thriller movie The Last Journey. This was published in No. 398, July 18, 1936 issue of The Thriller, a weekly fiction magazine published in the UK.

   His sister was Eleanor Farjeon, author of works for children. One brother was Herbert Farjeon, a playwright. Another brother was Harry Farjeon, a musician. Their father was novelist Benjamin Farjeon (1838-1903). It is clear that this was a literary family, and to get an idea of the author’s first twenty years see the book written by sister Eleanor: Portrait of a Family (1936) in the US, A Nursery in the Nineties (1935) in the UK. It gives a good insight into their younger years up to about the age of twenty. As teenagers, Jefferson and his brother Herbert edited and wrote a very small circulation magazine, undoubtedly giving them some experience they would use in later years.

   The X. Crook stories that appeared in Flynn’s/DFW is an average series that seems to have been popular enough to have run into quite a few tales. The mysteries in the stories are often simple and tame, and their solution by X. Crook is mostly a bit too plodding. However, there are some stories that stand out for their exceptions to the above, and many of these are later in the series.

   From what I can determine from very little information, most or all of the stories had previously appeared in the magazines Pictorial Magazine and Pictorial Weekly in Britain. “The Fourth Attempt” appeared in the British magazine Pictorial Magazine, August 28, 1926 issue. It then appeared in the July 9, 1927 issue of Flynn’s.

   The main character is something of a two dimensional personality, and really very little is made known about him throughout the series. In fact, his blandness and personality are such that he tends to blend into the background. From his name, it is clear that he is not using his real name. Crook is a reformed criminal who, upon release from prison for some unnamed offense, changes his name and takes up the profession of private detective. He means to start a new life and cut off ties from the old law-breaking ways.

   In a number of stories he meets up with former acquaintances, but his real name is not mentioned. He has good relations with the police, after proving his true reformation. His viewpoint in his new life is pointed out in one of the stories: “My second duty is to my clients, my first to justice and humanity.” And “Theoretically they are the same,” he answered, “but as we practice them they sometimes differ…” (Elsie Cuts Both Ways).

   Later in the story he tells a criminal he is trying to reform: “. . . and my life’s work is to try and help those who, like myself, are trying to wipe out their old mistakes.” He tends to make optimistic sayings to criminals, trying to convert them. When speaking of time in prison, he states: “There is always hope, when one comes out,” said Crook. “Always.” (The Hotel Hold-Up)

X. CROOK J. Jefferson Farjeon

   This new life means new ways of thinking and behaving. In one story (Darkness), Crook became involved in trying to prevent a murder, and found himself becoming angry: “Blackguards!” he muttered, and, for a moment, almost saw red. But he stamped out his emotion, for that interfered with clear thought and intelligent action.

   In another informative paragraph there is a bit more about his new attitude in this new life of fighting crime:

   Detective Crook did not often allow himself relaxation. In his endeavors to wipe out a regretted past, he found it difficult to justify the gift of leisure when it came within his grasp, and he drove himself with a relentless conscience. (Death’s Grim Symbol)

   The first story in the series appeared in the June 20, 1925 issue: “Red Eye”. One of the regulars in the early stories was Edgar Jones, Scotland Yard detective. He worked in Crook’s household as a butler under the name William Thomas. He was certain that Crook was still a criminal, and determined to get the evidence.

   It is very similar situation to the one in the Lester Leith series written by Erle Stanley Gardner, which also appeared in this same magazine later. And like that series, the employer (Crook) knows that the servant is a detective but does not let him know that.

   In the first group of stories from 1925, X. Crook is still developing his reputation and proving to the police that he is really a reformed person. This came to a climax with the story “Thomas Doubts No Longer”. In this story some criminals and former associates of Crook give him an ultimatum, demanding that he give up trying to be honest and come back to their gang. He refuses, causing the criminals to try to frame him. He resolves that to the satisfaction of the police, who doubt him no longer. The fake butler becomes Crook’s assistant, but soon disappears from the series.

   In the story “Elsie Cuts Both Ways”, Crook finds himself the victim of a plot by criminals to revenge themselves upon him. However, Crook is not easily fooled and the criminals wind up captured by the police and himself. Not a totally satisfying story, and it does not bother to explain on what grounds the criminals are arrested because they actually did nothing criminal.

   Farjeon presents small puzzles in many of the stories, and Crook usually solves these fairly easily, though occasionally one presents a harder solution. These puzzles are not where the clues are given to the reader in the Golden Age of Detection style. Crook takes on cases of many kinds, from searching for missing persons to catching thieves and murderers. He occasionally becomes involved in crimes by accident, such as in “The Hotel Hold-up”. This is a very short story which shows Crook at his best, outwitting a criminal with ease. Though he is now a great believer in honesty, Crook does admire cleverness in his opponents and notes this here.

X. CROOK J. Jefferson Farjeon

   Unlike many other crime solvers of this period, Crook does not work on cases for only the well off and higher classes (for example, see the Dr. Eustace Hailey series). He will take cases from lower class shopkeepers and ordinary workers. A good example of this kind of case is “The Absconding Treasurer” (July 23, 1927), where the Christmas fund of a number of people is missing. The amount involved is less than one hundred pounds, so this shows Crook does not let this low amount influence his decision to take the case. He doesn’t mention a fee in this case, so he might have done it for a nominal or no fee at all.

   He mentions in one story that he “never ate heavily when engaged on a case” (The New Baronet). There is little or no violence in most of the cases he works on, like many other stories in Flynn’s at this time. That degree of violence in the magazine gradually changed over a period of time, until by the early 1930s there was plenty of violence, like many other detective pulps.

    However, to show that the Crook stories didn’t need to be violent to be effective, see the September 3, 1927 story, “The Man Who Forgot”. While in Dulverley on a case, Crook is sitting on a seashore bench. Another man also on the bench strikes up a conversation with Crook, revealing that he is an amnesiac. The conversation between the two, steered by Crook’s questions, gradually reveals information about the man. The two leave the bench and backtrack the amnesiac’s trail in an effort to learn the truth about him. They uncover the truth and discover a crime, but Crook’s optimism about people gives the story a kind of upbeat ending.

   Some of the stories are excellent, without any of the faults noted. “The Stolen Hand Bag” in the March 19, 1927 issue, is an example. Crook overhears a restaurant conversation about a woman’s handbag theft, and shortly afterwards comes the news of the suicide of a baronet nearby. He sees a connection between the two events, and his investigation proves it.

   This investigation involves Crook working with the police investigator on the case. In a number of cases, showing his standing and reputation with the police, Crook was called in or called himself in to work on a police case. Crook also worked with the police on a case of apparent suicide in “No Motive Apparent”, another of the better stories. In this story, it was noted:

   There were police officials who, jealous of Detective Crook’s successes, declared that he was apt to be slow; but behind all his leisurely questions his brain was always acting fast, and when he had made up his mind no man could be quicker.

X. CROOK J. Jefferson Farjeon

   The characters and stories are nothing like Farjeon’s novels. Having read Greenmask and The 5:18 Mystery, the difference is clearly seen. The lead characters in both novels are young men who accidentally happen into mysteries, and also into romantic entanglements. They are caught up in mysterious affairs out of their control, similar to the plots of a number of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.

   Farjeon is noted in one source as “one of the first detective writers to mingle romance with crime.” This may be true of his novels, but not in the Detective X. Crook series. No romance ever creeps into Crook’s life. He seems to have come to terms with the way the world is and has devoted his life to criminology. Sounds like some of the other manhunters of the pulp era.

   Other novels were not as the two described above. One of his later novels was Aunt Sunday Takes Command (1940), involving three elderly women taking a trip to visit their niece and inadvertently becoming involved in crime. A rather low-key story, unlike the other two described.

   The mystery writer Dorothy Sayers considered Farjeon one of her favorite writers (Crime Time, “Reviewing The Reviewer: Dorothy L Sayers as crime critic 1933 – 1935”, by Mike Ripley). However, nowadays he seems to be a forgotten writer, and the Crook stories seem rather dated in comparison to some of his novels. Not having access to all of his books, it is not known as to whether the stories were ever gathered in collection form, though it would take more than one book to do so. However, Farjeon has quite a long list of published books so one of them may contain some of these stories.

       The Detective X. Crook series by J. Jefferson Farjeon:

Red Eye June 20, 1925
The Bilton Safe June 27, 1925
The Way to Death July 4, 1925
Thomas Doubts No Longer July 11, 1925
Fisherman’s Luck July 18, 1925
Where the Treasure Is August 1, 1925
The Hidden Death August 8, 1925
Nine Hours to Live August 22, 1925
Elsie Cuts Both Ways August 29, 1925
Crook’s Code December 19, 1925
Percy the Pickpocket December 26, 1925
A Race for Life January 2, 1926
Seeing’s Believing January 9, 1926
The Deserted Inn January 23, 1926
Death’s Grim Symbol February 6, 1926
Crook Goes Back to Prison April 10, 1926
Who Killed James Fyne April 17, 1926
Caleb Comes Back April 24, 1926
The Vanished Gift May 1, 1926
The Death That Beckoned May 15, 1926
Footprints in the Snow July 17, 1926
The Shadow July 24, 1926
Cats Are Evil August 14, 1926
The Silent House August 28, 1926
The Kleptomaniac September 18, 1926
The Knife October 23, 1926
The Hotel Hold-up November 20, 1926
The Silent Client November 27, 1926
Darkness December 11, 1926
It Pays To Be Honest December 18, 1926
Kidnaped December 25, 1926
Whose Hand? January 8, 1927
The Datchett Diamond January 29, 1927
Vanishing Gems February 5, 1927
The Murder Club February 26, 1927
LQ585 March 5, 1927
The Stolen Hand Bag March 19, 1927
Prescription 93b March 26, 1927
The Thing in the Room May 7, 1927
In the Diamond Line May 28, 1927
The New Baronet June 4, 1927
The Fourth Attempt July 9, 1927
The Absconding Treasurer July 23, 1927
The Man Who Forgot September 3, 1927
No Motive Apparent September 24, 1927
The Cleverness of Crockett October 29, 1927
August 13th September 8, 1928
The Photograph September 15, 1928
Between Calais and Dover September 22, 1928
The Bloodstained Handkerchief October 6, 1928
Wanted October 13, 1928
The Third Act December 29, 1928
The Secret of the Snow February 9, 1929
Open Warfare February 16, 1929
The Photographic Touch March 9, 1929
The “Times” Advertisement March 30, 1929
The Golden Idol April 13, 1929

    Previously in this series:

1. SHAMUS MAGUIRE, by Stanley Day.
2. HAPPY McGONIGLE, by Paul Allenby.
3. ARTY BEELE, by Ruth & Alexander Wilson.
4. COLIN HAIG, by H. Bedford-Jones.
5. SECRET AGENT GEORGE DEVRITE, by Tom Curry.
6. BATTLE McKIM, by Edward Parrish Ware.
7. TUG NORTON by Edward Parrish Ware.
8. CANDID JONES by Richard Sale.
9. THE PATENT LEATHER KID, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
10. OSCAR VAN DUYVEN & PIERRE LEMASSE, by Robert Brennan.
11. INSPECTOR FRAYNE, by Harold de Polo.
12. INDIAN JOHN SEATTLE, by Charles Alexander.
13. HUGO OAKES, LAWYER-DETECTIVE, by J. Lane Linklater.
14. HANIGAN & IRVING, by Roger Torrey.
15. SENOR ARNAZ DE LOBO, by Erle Stanley Gardner.

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