Thu 9 Aug 2007
On July 14th I received an email from Al Hubin, author of Crime Fiction IV, about a new discovery that he had made:
“FYI…to my considerable surprise, I found in Philip MacDonald’s CA [Contemporary Authors] entry the listing of The Sword and the Net as by Warren Stuart. I don’t think anyone’s made this observation before…”
Here’s the Warren Stuart entry as it is (or was) in CFIV:
* The Sword and the Net (Morrow, 1941, hc) Joseph, 1942.
There’s nothing remarkable about the entry. There are many, many authors with only a single title included in CFIV, about whom nothing is known, neither the author nor the book.
Al, of course, did the sensible thing. He ordered a copy of the book immediately. As soon as he received it, he read through it and send me a copy of the dust jacket cover and the blurbs that describe the book on the inside flaps of the dust jacket:
Very occasionally a publisher presents a novel with a story so packed with exciting action and dramatic suspense that he hesitates to reveal any significant part of the plot for fear of spoiling the enjoyment of the reader.
By WARREN STUART
is just that kind of book – so thrilling and unexpected that we are deliberately withholding all description beyond the bare essentials.
THE TIME of the story is 1940-41.
THE PLACE – Berlin and Sweden briefly, then New York and California
THE CHIEF CHARACTERS:
OTTO FALKEN: Aristocratic young German, war ace and hero …
CAROLYN VAN TELLER: The rich, beautiful widow of a New York banker …
[continued on back flap]
RUDOLPH ALTINGER: Ostensibly successful head of a large construction firm in San Francisco …
GUNNAR BJORNSTROM: A withered, kindly, cheerful old gentleman originally from Sweden …
WALDEMAR INGOLLS: A German officer in the last war, but for years resident of California and an American citizen in the highest sense of the word …
CLARE, his daughter: A courageous, lovely girl as bitterly anti-Nazi as her father …
Other Characters: Nazi officials and officers, Swedish peasants, secret agents; seamen; Americans of every type; Nazi saboteurs and spies.
A spy story? Well, perhaps; but much more than that, for the author has blended a subtle development of character and the poignant love story of two people into a tale so packed with action that the pages almost turn themselves.
Before getting to Al’s first-glance opinion of the book, I’ll point out the story also appeared in Two Complete Detective Books, Number 15 (Fall, 1942). The lead novel in that issue was Death Turns the Table, by John Dickson Carr, and of course I have a cover image to show you, one found on eBay at some time in the past.
Here’s Al’s initial reaction: “The story is quite unlike anything I recall of MacDonald’s work … slow moving, interesting but not compelling or fully persuasive. If MacDonald actually wrote it (and we have no other candidates), I’m certainly not surprised it was published under a pseudonym — and one which, so far as I know, was not publicly acknowledged during his lifetime.”
Truthfully, though, Al and I have been scooped on this rather unexpected find. In the latest issue of CADS, #52, which arrived just days ago, is a short announcement of the discovery by Tony Medawar, and more, a short synopsis and review of the book by that noted scholar of mystery fiction himself.
Since I can do no more than a few excerpts from his comments, a few excerpts are all you are going to get. Otto Falken, the hero (or rather anti-hero) whose actions the book follows, is selected by Hitler for a secret mission. Eventually he is required to assist a team of saboteurs in this country. From here, I quote:
“… a thriller rather than a detective story, and something of a Hitchcockian thriller at that. […] It is possible that the plot was first conceived for the cinema.
“… the story […] is not unpredictable but […] is compelling and the novel builds to an exciting climax in the hills outside San Francisco. A fascinating addition to the canon of a fascinating writer and well worth the search.”
As the news becomes more widely disseminated, the search is going to be much harder. A word to the wise may already be too late.
PostScript: Tony also mentions in a footnote to his review something else I didn’t know. As “W. J. Stuart,” MacDonald did the novelization of the 1950s science fiction novel, Forbidden Planet (Farrar Straus & Cudahy, hc, 1956; Bantam A1443, pb, 1956).
Also please note: The link to information for CADS is for issue #51,but #52 can be ordered from Geoff Bradley at the same address, but the price has gone up from $11 to $12. Tell him I sent you.
[UPDATE.] 07-28-09. British bookseller Jamie Sturgeon has come across a copy of the first UK edition (Michael Joseph, 1942), and he’s sent me a scan of the dust jacket. He also adds: “Interestingly apart from a ‘puff’ from James Hilton there’s no other blurb or anything else about the plot/author anywhere.”