A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini & George Kelley:

RUFUS KING – Malice in Wonderland. Doubleday Crime Club, 1958. Queen’s Quorum 117.

RUFUS KING Malice in Wonderland

   Rufus King had two distinct “careers” in crime fiction. The first was as a writer of traditional Golden Age whodunits, beginning in 1927 and continuing until 1951. He produced twenty-two novels during this period, most of which are entertaining despite some stilted prose; they are marked by clever plotting, interesting backgrounds, and touches of gentle humor.

   King’s best work, however, is his short fiction, particularly that written during his second “career” in the 1950s and 1960s when he abandoned novels altogether and concentrated on stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   Malice in Wonderland, the second of King’s four collections, was so highly regarded by the Mssrs. Queen that they included it in their Supplement Number One (1951-59) to the Queen’s Quorum.

   The eight stories here expose the violence and corruption of the fictional town of Halcyon, Florida — after the fashion, if not in the style, of John D. MacDonald. Queen said that in these stories King “pungently, almost maliciously impale[s] … the Gold Coast, that fabulous neon strip between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, with its cross section of natives and tourists, of greedy heirs and retired gangsters (alive and dead).”

   The best story in the collection, “The Body in the Pool,” traces the strange connection between the state of Florida’s electrocution of murderer Saul (“Stripe-Pants”) McSager and the selection of Mrs. Warburton Waverly as the county’s “Most Civic-Minded Woman of the Year.”

   Also excellent are the title story, in which a girl tries to decode a message from a long-dead playmate; and the long novelette “Let Her Kill Herself,” in which an unpleasant woman makes an extremely disturbing discovery.

   Some of King’s early short stories are collected in Diagnosis: Murder (1941). Two other collections of stories about Halcyon and the Florida Gold Coast, both of which rank with Malice in Wonderland, are The Steps to Murder (1960) and The Faces of Danger (1964).

   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.