Wed 23 Jul 2008
WILL CREED – Death Wears a Green Hat.
Five Star Mystery #42; digest-sized paperback original; 1st printing, 1946.
Not too much is known about Will Creed, except that his real name was William Long (1922- ) and besides the two paperback originals he wrote for Five Star in 1946, he also wrote four more as by Peter Yates for Vulcan and Five Star in 1945. Vulcan was a publisher similar to Five Star Mysteries, so similar in fact, that I’ve compiled provisional checklists for both outfits and made them available online here. [Note: See also the UPDATE below.]
I do like the both the title and the cover of this one, and yes, a green hat figures prominently in the mystery, and I’ll get to it in a minute. Telling the story is a Manhattan-based advertising agency executive named Hal Boyd. Dead is his apartment mate and his best friend, Adrian Clay, a gossip columnist well-known around town.
Where things get interesting is that Boyd’s hat, a midnight-blue homburg is evidently a clue, because it is missing and nowhere to be found until it turns up mysteriously later in his bedroom, but green instead of blue!
Forgive the exclamation point, but that’s purely reflective of Will Creed’s style of writing. Pulp authors often wrote in the same vein, supplying artificial suspense or amazement when they couldn’t take the time (or weren’t able) to manufacture it on their own. I’ll have more to say about this later, and what it meant to me while I was reading the story, but at the moment, let’s reflect a little bit about hats, and what they mean in today’s world, as opposed to the mid-1940s… Who knows today the difference, say, between a fedora and a homburg? Derbies, OK, and panama hats, sure, but mention the names of any other styles, and you may as well be speaking Martian.
Inspector Day, whom Hal Boyd becomes friendly with (at least to a certain degree) and who allows Boyd to confer with him about large segments of his investigations — thinks hats are important too. Allow me to quote the inspector from his conversation with Boyd on page 34:
He looked at me sternly for a minute, his dark eyes questioning. “My dear Mr. Boyd,” came that soft easy voice, “it isn’t the hatness of the hat I’m wanting. It is anything out of place; anything the killer needed badly enough to risk calling it to my attention! It may mean nothing at all, your disappearing hat … but I cannot believe so. When a criminal keys himself to the point where he can do away with a human life, he knows that from that instant his own life lies in abject peril — that there is no choice once murder is done. It is a one-way street, Mr. Boyd. Therefore, anything that falls by the wayside, that disturbs the ordinary course of living, is important … to the murderer and to me. For instance, did the killer need your hat for something? It is far too labyrinthine to permit even the smallest piece of information to escape the eyes in this department, you see? That hat may mean nothing, but I dare not take chances. I am hunting a desperate person, Mr. Boyd, and I must be thorough indeed.”
Boyd thinks of the inspector as rather an intelligent fuddy-duddy, but the inveterate mystery reader knows better. The hat is important, essential, crucial and/or all of the above. The mistake I made, reference above, is underestimating Will Creed as a mystery writer.
He may have had a pulpish, somewhat clumsy, gee-whiz style that lacks the push, the elan and/or the drive it needs to survive on its own, but he also had exactly the right instincts, Agatha Christie-like, to make the plot swivel and turn on a nickel and four pennies — or in other words, wow, I didn’t see that coming! — but without the knack of pulling it off with Christie’s ease and confidence that I really, really wish that Creed had had at his command.
Or maybe he did and I’m just yapping because he fooled the socks off me, no lie. I’m going to have to go back and read it again — and if that isn’t a sure sign of a magician at work, no matter what level of expertise, I sure as shinola don’t know what is.
BIBLIOGRAPHIC DATA. Expanded from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:
CREED, WILL. Pseudonym of William Long, (1922- ); other pseudonym: Peter Yates.
Death Comes Grinning. Five Star #47, US, digest pb, 1946.
Death Wears a Green Hat. Five Star #42, US, digest pb, 1946.
YATES, PETER Pseudonym of William Long, (1922- ); other pseudonym: Will Creed.
Curtain Call for Murder. Vulcan #6, US, digest pb, 1945. SC: Thatcher family.
Death Comes to Dinner. Five Star #4, US, digest pb, 1945. SC: Thatcher family.
Death in the Hands of Talent. Five Star #7, US, digest pb, 1945. SC: Sandy Blunt.
The Dress Circle Murders. Five Star #1, digest pb, 1945. SC: Sandy Blunt.
[UPDATE] 07-23-08. I never did finish that article on Vulcan and Five Star Mysteries, although Victor Berch and I did manage to accumulate a lot of information and material toward doing so.
It took Ken Johnson to carry on independently and without me, and it’s his Vintage Digests website that you should be checking out, not mine. Follow the link in the line before, and scroll down to either Five Star or Vulcan.