REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:         


FLORENCE M. PETTEE – The Exploits of Beau Quicksilver. Altus Press, 2018. Story collection; reprinted from Argosy All-Story Weekly, February 24 through April 7, 1923.

   …“that damned dude dick” to the underworld—was an enigmatical crime chaser—a mercurial mystery master. Like a chimerical will-of-the-wisp, he lunged to the answer in each cryptic case. No wonder they clubbed him Quicksilver. He ran through a fellow’s fingers just like mercury. There had never been another sleuth like him … a spoiled operatic star couldn’t equal him for temperament! The fellow wouldn’t touch a case with the tip of his nobbiest cane if the thing didn’t interest him. They couldn’t beg, hire or steal him to it.

   Before there was Philo Vance there was Beau Quicksilver, who adventured in seven consecutive issues of Argosy under the guiding hand of mystery writer and pulpster Florence M. Pettee, his rare adventures reprinted for the first time by Altus Press.

   We open as Chief Cartman leaps into a car to race to Quicksilver’s home, where his servant Shunta guards his privacy, to hopefully offer him a case he can’t resist, and of course he can’t because there is no story if he does. Still we share in Cartman’s discomfort having heard his description of our sleuth: …a real tiger when in one of his moods. Yet again he would weep at the mere sound of pathetic music. An obtuse riddle, Quicksilver! A regular Sphinx at times, and then affably human. Nobody ever knew where to find him next.

   Yet all Beau has to hear is that Carl Whitney has been found slain at the Whitney mansion and he literally leaps to his feet from his lethargy and responds with boundless energy. Quicksilver temperament indeed. Beau could give Prince Zaleski a run in the languorous department and Sherlock Holmes a cocaine-spiked energy high when he is fully engaged.

   Carl Whitney has been shot while eating his midnight repast and Beau’s attention is drawn to the imprint of a bicuspid in a piece of cheese. There are no shortage of suspects, including a gambler, a jewel thief known as the Falcon and his gluttonous associate Peter Scarlet.

   Alas, Beau doesn’t so much solve the crime as simply know and then provide a more or less ridiculous solution involving a falling out between thieves and a false pair of dentures used to frame a suspect.

   Wilfrid Huntington Wright’s rules of Detection are not in play here, the Detection Club would not be amused, and even Sexton Blake might be taken aback by the rapidity with which Beau leaps to his brilliant conclusions, past both logic and detection and seemingly being personally connected to every criminal extant.

   No lost classics of detective fiction here. Beau Quicksilver may act like Philo Vance, but he detects more like Lamont Cranston or Richard Curtis Van Loan, which is not to say the stories aren’t written in a curious but readable style so breathless you may need oxygen reading them. Come to think of it the Cranston connection isn’t entirely out of place.

   A magnificent fire opal gleamed like a spark of baleful red in the cravat. A duplicate stone was repeated in the setting of a ring worn on the little finger of the left hand. The opal might have stood for the methods of Quicksilver. For he, too, was like a dangerous, baleful eye, forever turned toward the dispersing of darkness and the dissipating of cryptic crime.

   At best Beau Quicksilver is a footnote in both the field of detectives and pulp heroes, but not an uninteresting one, more at home in Gun in Cheek than Haycraft, but not unentertaining for that.

   “The Hand of the Hyena” is the best of the lot for my money:

   “AMUSING little epistle! So gentle and solicitous for my health.” Beau Quicksilver languidly tossed over the letter he had just received by special delivery.

   The characters of the message were set down in ruddy red, of an insidious and exceedingly suggestive hue. The communication ran:

   You damned Dude:

   We are sending this letter in red ink. But we shall soon write in your blood to the gang the glad word that you’ve slipped your wind. We are going to get you, you dirty dick — you little dolled-up excuse of a tailor’s dummy! You can’t shake us! We’ve got Jack Ketch camping on your trail.

   We dare you to set foot outside your diggings this evening. We swear that if you put half a toe toward that carnival thing — you’re a goner.

               The Hyena.

   In the true spirit of the pulps it is hard not to keep reading at that point. Philo Vance never got mail like that.


      The stories:

Tooth For a Tooth. Argosy All-Story Weekly, February 24, 1923
Eye For an Eye. March 3, 1923
Claws of the Weasel. March 10, 1923
The Hand of the Hyena. March 17, 1923
The Green Rajah. March 24, 1923
Blistering Tongues. March 31, 1923
Murder Ingognito. April 7, 1923