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AN APPRECIATION OF MELVILLE DAVISSON POST
Submitted by Mike Tooney


   Author and editor Grant Overton (1887-1930) thought it something of an injustice that Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930) had not received due recognition for his short story writing skills.

MELVILLE DAVISSON POST

   In an article in The Bookman (June 1924), Overton sought to rectify that oversight.

   Long-time mystery readers should readily recognize Post’s name in regard to his two most famous creations: the righteous Uncle Abner (a stern but wise judge of human fallibility) and the deplorable Randolph Mason (morally the polar opposite of both Abner and another lawyer who would bear the name of Mason, yet just as clever).

   Overton spends a great deal of time discussing Post’s most famous short story, “The Doomdorf Mystery” (1918), his intention being to show how Post took the mystery tale and refined it into something more meaningful than a mere conundrum (and, mirabile dictu, without giving away the full solution to the locked room problem).

   While it would be best if you read Overton’s article yourself, here are a few statements that caught my attention:

    “Mr. Post is one of the few who believe the plot’s the thing… [He] takes his stand thus definitely against what is probably the prevailing literary opinion.”

    “…there is a creed, cardinal with many if not most of the best living writers, which says that the best art springs from characterization and not from a series of organized incidents, the plot; which says, further, that if the characters of a story be chosen with care and presented with conviction, they will make all the plot that is necessary or desirable by their interaction on each other.”

    “Mr. Post had, initially, two difficulties to overcome. The first was fiction’s rule of plausibility. The second was art’s demand for emotional significance, a more-than-meets-the-eye, a meaning.”

    “In fiction, there is no plausibility of cause and effect outside human behavior. The implausible (because unmeaning) manner of Doomdorf’s death is superbly supported by two flanks, the behavior of the evangelist and the behavior of a terrified, superstitious, and altogether childlike woman.”

    “In other particulars ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ exemplifies the artistry of the author. If I have not emphasized them, it is because they are cunning of hand and brain, craftsmanship, things to be learned, technical excellences which embellish but do not disclose the secret of inspiring art. The story is compactly told; tension is established at once and is drawn more tightly with every sentence; and the element of drama is much enhanced by the forward movement.”

    “The prose style, by its brevity and by a somewhat Biblical diction, does its part to induce in the reader a sense of impending justice, of a divine retribution upon the evildoer.”

    “We commonly call one type of story a detective story simply because the solution of the mystery is assigned to some one person. He may be amateur or professional; from the standpoint of fictional plausibility he had, in most cases, better be a professional.”

    “As a noticeable refinement upon this discovery Melville Davisson Post has invented the type of mystery or detective-mystery tale in which the mysteriousness and the solution are developed together. Not suitable for the novel, which must have action, this formula of Mr. Post’s is admirable for the short story, in which there is no room for a race with crime but only for a few moments of breathlessness before a denouement.”


Resources:

“Melville Davisson Post and the Use of Plot” (1924)
– Grant Overton (1887-1930)
– THE BOOKMAN
– June 1924
– Pages 423-430
http://www.unz.org/Pub/Bookman-1924jun-00423

OUR SHORT STORY WRITERS (1920)
– Blanche Colton Williams
– Chapter XVII: “Melville Davisson Post”
– Pages 293-308
– SPOILER ALERTS
http://www.unz.org/Pub/WilliamsBlanche-1920?View=ReadIt3

Wikipedia:
– “Melville Davisson Post”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melville_Davisson_Post

A Randolph Mason story:
– “The Corpus Delicti”
http://www.unz.org/Pub/HawthorneJulian-1909v08-00065

   Melville Davisson Post was born in 1869 and died in 1930, and is considered by some to be Americas Greatest Mystery Writer. He is best known for his primary series character, Virginia backwoodsman Uncle Abner, who with great religious and moral rectitude solved crimes during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

   Lesser known are two other characters, Randolph Mason, a lawyer in the 1890s who advises his clients on how to commit crimes and avoid punishment; and the detective of note in the book reviewed below, Sir Henry Marquis. “In the far corners of the earth and in the most intimately known places the reader travels. In delightful suspense he follows the destinies of singers, hoboes, mock priests, beautiful creoles, sinister hunchbacks, and German officers to their inevitable climax.”

   And with that brief introduction, Mary Reed will take it from here.

Steve



MELVILLE DAVISSON POST – The Sleuth of St. Jamess Square

D. Appleton & Co., New York & London, hardcover, 1920.

   The sleuth who lives in a large house in St. Jamess Square, London, is Sir Henry Marquis, head of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. He also owns a country mansion and a villa on the French Riviera and internal evidence suggests he was educated at Rugby’s famous public school and Oxford University. He previously ran the English secret service in the India-Burma border area and had also been busy in unspecified places in Asia, although there is reason to suppose he is familiar with Mongolia. Sir Henry belongs to the Empire Club in Piccadilly and apparently goes to the opera now and then.

   He is enthusiastic about scientific methods for solving crimes, mentioning dactyloscopic (fingerprint) bureaus and photographie mitrique in particular, but also laments lack of “intuitive impulse” in the men under his command. However, not all the cases in this collection of short stories are solved by deduction or even intuitive impulse, and indeed one or two end in triumph for those on the wrong side of the law. Oddly enough, although Sir Henry is the titular sleuth, in some stories he is not directly involved and in a couple he is referred to only in passing.

   Shall we begin?

Sleuth of St. James's Square

   The Thing On The Hearth is blamed for the death of Mr Rodman, a scientist who invented a process to make precious gems. He is found dead in a locked room guarded by an Oriental servant and his death involves what appears to be a visitor from … somewhere else. Sir Henry visit Rodmans New England mansion to investigate the matter.

   In the next tale, Sir Henry has been looking over the memoirs of Captain Walker, head of the US Secret Service. In their ensuing discussion Walker tells him the tale of an inebriate hobo, who, when everyone else had failed, was instrumental in locating a number of stolen plates for war bonds, thus earning The Reward.

   The following adventure involves a large sum of money Madame Barras is foolishly carrying on an unaccompanied two mile journey through the forest lying between the home of an old school friend and the village hotel in which madame is staying. Sir Henry is also a hotel guest and helps search for The Lost Lady.

   The titled parents of a young man fighting at the front in France are extremely distressed. His fiancee has been staying out half the night motoring all over the landscape with Mr Meadows, and even admits to having deliberately picked him up! But when Mr Meadows obligingly gives a lift to Sir Henry, who is on his way to investigate a murder, footprints from The Cambered Foot, not to mention other clews, turn out to be not at all what they seem.

   In the next story, an Englishman, an American, and an Italian are *not* sitting in a bar but rather are chatting about the justice systems of their respective countries at Sir Henrys villa. The Italian count relates how it was legally possible for The Man In The Green Hat, proved without a shadow of doubt to have been guilty of premeditated murder, to escape the death penalty.

   Sir Henry owns a diary kept by the daughter of his ancestor Mr Pendleton, a justice of the peace in colonial Virginia. The diary describes cases in which Pendleton was involved and this one concerns dissolute Lucian Morrows wish to buy a beautiful Hispanic girl from Mr Zindorf, whose ownership of her is dubious to say the least. However The Wrong Sign turns out to be right for saving the innocent.

   Another Pendleton story follows. Peyton Marshalls will favouring Englishman Anthony Gosford has gone missing, and it transpires Marshalls son has hidden it for what appears to be good reason. But can the lads unsupported claims be proved, allowing him to inherit what his father promised him? The Fortune Teller will reveal the answer.

   The next tale relates a third case involving Sir Henrys ancestor. Pendleton meets a girl wandering about in despair. This is not surprising given her uncle, with whom she had been living, has just kicked her out of his house after informing her that her father was a rogue who robbed him and absconded. The Hole In The Mahogany Panel bears mute witness to the truth.

   After the war is over, the traitoress Lady Muriel is in desperate financial straits as she can no longer sell British secrets. She overhears a conversation that ultimately leads to her to commit murder in order to steal an explorers watercolour of, and map showing the route to, a lake in the French Congo where treasure lies at The End Of The Road.

   In The Last Adventure explorer Charlie Taylor has been trying to find the ancient route of gold-bearing caravans crossing Mongolia in order to salvage the precious metal from those that foundered. After he returns to America with only a few months to live, his friend Barclay undertakes to sell Taylors map to the location of a heap o gold to Nute Hardman, a man who had previously cheated Taylor.

   Continuing onward, jewel dealer Douglas Hargrave meets Sir Henry at their London club. Sir Henry is puzzling over an advertisement run in papers in three European capitals, trying to deduce what The American Horses represent in an obviously coded message. Then Hargrave meets a lady who wants to buy a large lot of valuable gems from a Rumanian who demands payment in cash….

   Lisa Lewis, American Ambassadoress, relates next a curious tale at a dinner party at Sir Henrys house. The Dominion Railroad Company has experienced a number of terrible accidents and fears numerous reports alleging negligence will lead to its bankruptcy. Yet despite all possible precautions the Montreal Express derails because of The Spread Rails. Lisas friend Marion Warfield, who has revised a highly praised textbook on circumstantial evidence, solves the mystery.

   At the same dinner party Sir Henry describes the case of the hardhearted lawyer who demands more money to represent a butler on trial for murdering his employer. The money cannot be found and the accuseds wife wanders the streets in despair. A wealthy opera singer takes pity on her, treats her to a meal, and listens to her story. Is she a fairy godmother in the modern equivalent of The Pumpkin Coach, and can she help the man on trial?

   In the case following, Miss Carstair is having doubts about her marriage to diplomat Lord Eckhart despite her fiances gift of a stunning ruby necklace, for she is extremely troubled by gossip he is the worst neer do well in London. While she is pondering the matter Dr Tsan-Sgam, who has been dining with Sir Henry, arrives with news of the death of her father in the Gobi Desert, ultimately learning of its connection to The Yellow Flower.

   Up next, a post-war story narrated next by a weekend guest at Sir Henrys country house. Sir Henry reveals the true story of an incident on a hospital ship boarded by Prussian submarine commander Plutonberg. Wounded St Alban defies him with the fighting words Dont threaten, fire if you like!, becoming an instant hero to the British. But theres a lot more to it than that, and a situation as bitter as the rolling waves is revealed in A Satire of the Sea.

   In the final yarn, the uncle of narrator Robin tries to put him off visiting him, but the envelope in which the letter arrives has a hastily scrawled appeal to ignore the contents and come to The House By The Loch. Will his uncles labours to cast a perfect Buddha ever be successful? Who is the highlander sitting knitting while talking about the Ten Commandments and taking a great deal of interest in the movements of Robins uncle?

   My verdict: A first rate collection with several stories having a O. Henryesque twist or two and catching the reader by surprise. My favourites were The Last Adventure, a wonderful biter-bit yarn, and A Satire of the Sea, with its psychological underpinnings. An authors note for The Man In The Green Hat cites a specific case and readers may like to know it was heard by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1913.

    Etext: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/

         Mary R

http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/



Original story appearances [taken from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin] —

* American Horses ss The Saturday Evening Post Dec 23 1916
* The Cambered Foot [The Man from America] ss Ladies Home Journal Nov 1916
* The End of the Road ss Hearsts Magazine Nov 1921
* The Fortune Teller ss Red Book Magazine Aug 1918
* The Hole in the Mahogany Panel ss Ladies Home Journal Apr 1916
* The House by the Loch ss Hearsts Magazine May 1920
* The Last Adventure ss Hearsts Magazine Sep 1921
* The Lost Lady ss McCalls Jun 1920
* The Man in the Green Hat ss The Saturday Evening Post Feb 27 1915
* The Pumpkin Coach ss Hearsts Magazine Oct 1916
* The Reward [Five Thousand Dollars Reward] ss The Saturday Evening Post Feb 15 1919
* A Satire of the Sea ss Hearsts Magazine Feb 1918
* The Spread Rails ss Hearsts Magazine Jan 1916
* The Thing on the Hearth ss Red Book Magazine May 1919
* The Wrong Sign [The Witness of the Earth] ss Hearsts Magazine Apr 1916; with added material.
* The Yellow Flower ss Pictorial Review Oct 1919

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


   Everyone has heard of the rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Hugh Greene (Graham’s brother) is best known for having compiled some anthologies of “Rivals” stories that later became the basis of a popular British TV series. Very few would disagree that the most eminent and durable of Holmes’ rivals is Nero Wolfe: the brilliant detective, the Watson, the unforgettable place where sleuth and narrator live, and so on. But are there any rivals of Nero Wolfe? Every so often one finds a character, usually obese and irascible, whose first name comes from Roman history and his last from an animal: Trajan Beare, say, or Tullius Dogge. But if that sort of name were necessary, Wolfe would have few rivals indeed.

   Back in the Thirties and Forties Robert George Dean wrote a series about Tony Hunter, a PI working for an agency at whose head sits one Imperator Schmidt. What makes this series distinctive is that Tony does both the legwork and the brainwork and Schmidt is never seen, at least not in the few Hunter novels I’ve read.

   Then there’s a pulp series by D.L. Champion about an acerbic and sardonic investigator named Rex Sackler. This character is not fat and intellectual like Wolfe but pathologically thin and a compulsive pennypincher. He spends money “with all the ease of a bantam hen laying a duck’s egg” and is addicted to maneuvering his legman Joey Graham (whose narrative style is vaguely Archie-esque) into poker games at which he wins back most of the poor schnook’s salary.

   But for my money the most notable of the Wolfe-and-Goodwin rivals is the duo created by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair: the team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, whose debut dates from 1939, five years after Wolfe’s debut in Fer-de-Lance.

   Bertha is certainly obese and irascible enough for a Wolfe rival, but she’s also foul-mouthed and money-mad and not at all brilliant but dependent on her legman and later partner for brainwork. Donald Lam is certainly no match for Archie Goodwin when it comes to brisk crisp narration but the way he tells his stories is far livelier than the relentless business English of Gardner’s Perry Mason novels.

   One rarely finds law as a central element in a Nero Wolfe novel (although 1959’s Plot It Yourself has a lot to do with copyright law and reflects Stout’s years of work with the Authors’ Guild), but it’s a rare Cool & Lam novel which doesn’t revolve around law in one way or another.

   Gardner was no expert on the history of the kind of fiction he wrote but he clearly knew Melville Davisson Post’s “The Corpus Delicti” (1896), which introduced criminal lawyer Randolph Mason. The heart of that classic story was the attorney’s ability and willingness to advise a client how to commit a cold-blooded murder, admit the deed in open court and walk away free. Gardner developed the core of Post’s story into The Bigger They Come (1939), first and perhaps finest of the C&L novels. Here’s the crucial conversation between Lam and his new employer.

   Cool: “Donald,…I know all about your trouble. You were disbarred for violating professional ethics.”

   Lam: “I wasn’t disbarred and I didn’t violate professional ethics.”

   Cool: “The grievance committee reported that you did.”

   Lam: “The grievance committee were a lot of stuffed shirts. I talked too much, that’s all.”

   Cool: “What about, Donald?”

   Lam: “I did some work for a client. We got to talking about the law. I told him a man could break any law and get away with it if he went about it right.”

   Cool: “That’s nothing. Anyone knows that.” [Can you imagine such cynicism in a Perry Mason novel?]

   Lam: “The trouble is I didn’t stop there. I don’t figure knowledge is any good unless you can apply it. I’d studied out a lot of legal tricks. I knew how to apply them.”

   Cool: “Go on from there. What happened?”

   Lam: “I told this man it would be possible to commit a murder so there was nothing anyone could do about it. He said I was wrong. I got mad and offered to bet him five hundred dollars I was right, and could prove it. He said he was ready to put up the money any time I’d put up my five hundred bucks. I told him to come back the next day. That night he was arrested. He turned out to be a small-time gangster….[He told the police] that I had agreed to tell him how to commit a murder and get off scot-free. That he was to pay me five hundred dollars for the information, and then if it looked good to him, he had planned to bump off a rival gangster.”

   Cool: “What happened?”

   Lam: “The grievance committee…revoked my license for a year. They thought I was some sort of a shyster. I told them it was an argument and a bet. Under the circumstances, they didn’t believe me. And, naturally, they took the other side of the question — that a man couldn’t commit deliberate murder and go unpunished.”

   Cool: “Could he, Donald?”

   Lam: “Yes.”

   Cool: And you know how?”

   Lam: “Yes….”

   Cool: “And locked inside that head of yours is a plan by which I could kill someone and the law couldn’t do a damn thing about it?”

   Lam: “Yes.”

   Cool: “You mean if I was smart enough so I didn’t get caught.”

   Lam: “I don’t mean anything of the sort. You’d have to put yourself in my hands and do just as I told you.”

   Cool: “You don’t mean that old gag about fixing it so they couldn’t find the body?” [Clearly a reference to Post’s “The Corpus Delicti” although not a completely accurate description of Randolph Mason’s plan.]

   Lam: “That is the bunk. I’m talking about a loophole in the law itself, something a man could take advantage of to commit a murder.”

   Cool: “Tell me, Donald.” [Gardner leaves us to imagine the smarmy seductive tone in which she must have said this.]

   Lam [laughing]: “Remember, I’ve been through that once.”

   After such a buildup I’d be a toad if I didn’t explain Lam’s scheme without, I hope, ruining The Bigger They Come for those who have never read it. I commit a murder in California. Then I drive across the state line into Arizona where I proceed to frame myself on a charge of obtaining property under false pretenses, although leaving open a legal escape hatch for myself.

   I then drive back to California, run through the quarantine station at the border, get chased and caught by California cops who lock me up in the border town of El Centro. In due course I am legally extradited to Arizona to face the false pretenses charge. Once I clear myself and that charge is officially dropped, I confess to the California murder. But when California moves to extradite me, I file a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that on these facts I can’t be compelled to return.

   Except that he doesn’t actually commit a murder, this is exactly what Donald Lam does in The Bigger They Come: “The only authority which one state has to take prisoners from another state comes from the organic law which provides that fugitives from justice may be extradited from one sovereign state to another. I am not a fugitive from justice….[A] man is not a fugitive from a state unless he flees from that state. He doesn’t flee from that state unless he does so voluntarily and in order to avoid arrest. I did not flee from California. I was dragged from California. I was taken out under legal process to answer for a crime of which I was innocent. I claimed that I was innocent. I came to Arizona and established my innocence. Any time I get good and ready to go back to California, California can arrest me for murder. Until I get good and ready to go back, I can stay here and no power on earth can make me budge.”

   Is this good law? Gardner’s good friend John H. Wigmore, dean of Northwestern Law School, first scoffed at the argument. Then, after Gardner had literally written a brief for him on the issue, he admitted that the loophole had greater possibilities than he had first supposed. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to try it today. The principal case on which Gardner relied was all but overruled by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a few years before his death.

   Perry Mason was portrayed by many different actors in the movies, on radio and of course on TV. As far as I can determine, Cool and Lam have appeared in the media only three times. The second novel in the series, Turn on the Heat (1940), was the basis for an episode of ABC Radio’s U. S. Steel Hour, June 23, 1946. Who played big Bertha remains unknown but Donald was portrayed by, of all unlikely people, Frank Sinatra.

   During the golden age of live TV, The Bigger They Come was adapted for the 60-minute CBS anthology series Climax! with Art Carney as Donald and Jane Darwell as Bertha. The date was January 6, 1955, my twelfth birthday. I don’t remember if I was drinking coffee at that age but if I had been, I’m sure it would have come pouring out my nose like the waters of Niagara at sight of Ed Norton from The Honeymooners playing a PI.

   Finally, in 1958 Gardner’s own company, Paisano Productions, produced a 30-minute pilot for a projected C&L TV series, directed by Jacques Tourneur, with ex-jockey Billy Pearson as Lam and Benay Venuta as Cool. Gardner himself introduced the characters from the Perry Mason office set but the pilot failed to attract any sponsors, although it can be seen today on YouTube.

   Personally, I regret that the role of Donald was never offered to the young Steve McQueen. He wasn’t pint-sized like Billy Pearson but short enough, and judging from his role as Western bounty hunter Josh Randall in Wanted — Dead or Alive he would have been great at projecting Donald’s cockiness and insolence. Any dissenting opinions?

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


   Usually this column deals with work by others: novels, stories, movies, whatever. This month, for starters anyway, it deals with me, or more precisely my latest book. Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law is a hefty tome that brings together various pieces I’ve written over the past quarter century on law-related fiction, films and TV.

   I admit up front that a few of the book’s chapters, for example the one on “Telejuriscinema, Frontier Style,” have nothing to do with the detective-crime genre, unless you include in that genre all sorts of TV Western series from The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid to Kung Fu.

   But many of the pre-Production Code movies that get picked apart in “When Celluloid Lawyers Started to Speak” belong to the genre in one way or another — even if I eccentrically insist on calling them juriscinema — and there are long individual chapters on Melville Davisson Post, Arthur Train and Erle Stanley Gardner, the lawyer storytellers who dominated what I eccentrically insist on calling jurisfiction from the tail end of the 19th century until Gardner’s death in 1970.

   There’s also a chapter on the three versions of the Cape Fear story, beginning with John D. MacDonald’s 1958 novel The Executioners and proceeding through the two vastly different movies called Cape Fear: the 1962 picture with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake with Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro.

   Also included are my takes on the fascinating if almost completely unknown court-martial film Man in the Middle (1964), with Mitchum playing a sort of Philip Marlowe in khaki, and on the equally obscure The Penalty Phase (1986), one of the last films directed by Tony Richardson, with Peter Strauss starring as a liberal judge faced with the nightmare of having to release a psychopath who raped and murdered seventeen young girls.

   The publisher of this volume is Perfect Crime Books, which also put out my Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection (2013), and I see on the Web that it’s been submitted for Edgar consideration to MWA.

***

   Did anyone notice? In the previous paragraph I referred to Arthur Train (1875-1945) as a lawyer storyteller but not as an author of crime or detective stories. Why? Because Train himself insisted that he didn’t write in that genre and had little interest in it. But many of his stories about attorney Ephraim Tutt and his entourage have to do with trials for murder or other serious crimes, and at least a few of them seem to me, and not just to me, to deserve a place in the genre we love.

   The earliest of these is “The Hand Is Quicker Than the Eye,” the fifth tale in the Mr. Tutt series, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post for August 30, 1919, and collected in Tutt and Mr. Tutt (Scribner, 1920). Ephraim also operates as both lawyer and sleuth in a number of other tales first published in the Post and later included in one or another Scribner collection, for example “The Acid Test” (June 12, 1926; Page Mr. Tutt, 1926) and “The King’s Whiskers” (December 30, 1939; Mr. Tutt Comes Home, 1941).

   My own favorite among the Mr. Tutt stories that include significant detection is “With His Boots On” (September 12, 1942; Mr. Tutt Finds a Way, 1945). That’s the one I chose a number of years ago when Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine editor Cathleen Jordan asked me to select and introduce a story about Ephraim for its Mystery Classic reprint series.

   Ms. Jordan thought the tale was seriously flawed — although she died before she could explain her reasons to me — and instead we settled on “‘And Lesser Breeds Without the Law’,” which struck me as only marginally crime fiction. This is one of a very few tales in the series that the Saturday Evening Post rejected. Why? In the 1920s another magazine owned by the same publisher had serialized a Zane Grey novel that was not only sympathetic to what were then called American Indians but ended with the Navajo hero marrying the white woman he loved.

   So many benighted readers were so outraged that the publisher adopted a new policy: NO MORE POSITIVELY PORTRAYED REDSKINS! EVER!!! That policy was still in force when Train submitted his story, which was set on New Mexico’s Cocas Pueblo reservation and anticipates the treatment of Native Americans that we tend to identify with Tony Hillerman. The tale appeared as an original in the Train collection Mr. Tutt Comes Home (1941) and never came out in a magazine until AHMM for February 2002.

***

   Not quite that long ago, when I was commissioned to write an essay on the poetry-crime fiction interface for the Poetry Foundation website, I decided that this column was the ideal place for material (of which there was a bunch) that wound up on the electronic cutting room floor.

   In recent years I haven’t run across any items that would justify reviving the old Poetry Corner feature, but now I have. Remember the world-famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)? One of his classic early poems was “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” a work consisting of twelve lines divided into three stanzas, written in 1888 and first published two years later.

      Rex Stout, who needs no introduction here, considered Yeats “the greatest poet of the century.” (I assume he meant the 20th century.) In August 1943, a few years after Yeats’ death, Stout wrote “Booby Trap,” fifth of the Nero Wolfe novelets, which appeared in American Magazine for August 1944 and was included in the Farrar & Rinehart collection Not Quite Dead Enough not long afterwards.

   It’s one of the very few tales in the saga where Wolfe is working without pay as a civilian consultant to Army Intelligence and Archie Goodwin has become a major in the same branch of service. The hijacking of industrial trade secrets shared with the military for war purposes leads to the murder of a captain and a colonel, the latter taken out by a powerful hand grenade right in G2’s New York headquarters.

   The tale like so many of Stout’s is hopelessly unfair to the reader, with Wolfe fingering the culprit by the lazy old expedient of setting a trap and seeing who springs it, but for sheer readability it still holds up nicely after almost 75 years.

   All well and good, you may be saying, but where’s Yeats? Good question! In Chapter 4 Archie finds a sheet of paper containing a typed copy of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which for no earthly reason whatsoever is printed in the text. Its only plot significance is that both Wolfe and Archie immediately notice that it was typed on the same typewriter that produced an anonymous letter earlier in the story.

   Sharing that information with the reader didn’t require printing a line of Yeats’ poem, let alone the complete work. We know from John McAleer’s Rex Stout: A Biography (1977) — which misleadingly states that Stout quoted only the first “three stanzas” —that Yeats’ U.S. publisher raised a stink when the story appeared in print. Here’s how Stout explained to his Farrar & Rinehart editor.

   “I am an ass. When I was writing ‘Booby Trap,’ out in the country, I phoned somebody at Macmillan to ask if it would all right to quote that poem … and was told that it would be. But I made no record of the conversation, I don’t know the date that it took place, and I don’t know whom I talked to. Beat that for carelessness if you can, and let me know which jail I go to.”

   McAleer doesn’t tell us how the matter was resolved, but most likely Stout had to pay Macmillan some money. The poem must still have been protected by copyright in 1944, but it’s been in the public domain for decades and can be found online in a few seconds. On YouTube you can even hear Yeats reading it.

***

   The city of Ferguson is about 15 miles and 20 minutes’ drive from my home in St. Louis’ Central West End. While I was working on this column, Ferguson exploded. Hundreds of thousands of words have already been written about the events and I see no reason to add to them except to quote a passage from Ellery Queen’s non-series novel The Glass Village (1954) where the protagonist reflects “that man was a chaos without rhyme or reason; that he blundered about like a maddened animal in the delicate balance of the world, smashing and disrupting, eager only for his own destruction.”

***

   If Thanksgiving week was a sad time for reason and common sense, Thanksgiving Day was especially sad for our genre. P.D. James, one of the last great English detective novelists, died peacefully at her Oxford home. She was 94 and still thinking about writing one more novel. Peace be upon her.

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


   I could have sworn I’d read all of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels decades ago, but when I recently pulled out The Case of the Singing Skirt (1959) from my shelves nothing in it struck me as familiar.

MIKE NEVINS

   Club singer Ellen Robb is framed for theft and fired after refusing to help casino owner George Anclitas and his partner Slim Marcus trim wealthy Helman Ellis in a crooked poker game. Mason visits the casino and threatens Anclitas with a recent appellate decision holding that in a community property state like California a gambler’s spouse can recover any money the gambler lost.

   Later Ellen finds a Smith & Wesson .38 in her suitcase and, fearing that Anclitas is out to frame her for something more serious than theft, goes to Mason again. In her presence, Mason happens to have a phone conversation with another lawyer in which he cites several cases holding that if a person is shot by two different people and could have died from either wound, only the one who fired the second shot is guilty of murder.

   Without telling Ellen, Mason switches the gun she found in her bag for another of the same make and model that he happens to have in his safe. That evening he and Della Street secretly hide the gun he took from Ellen in the casino. Then Ellis’s wife Nadine is found shot to death — twice — aboard the couple’s yacht.

   The police find the switched gun in Ellen’s possession and arrest her. Ballistics tests prove what seems impossible on its face: that the switched gun fired at least one of the fatal shots. In the courtroom scene, which takes up almost half the book, a third gun enters the picture and Mason eventually exposes some stupendous weapon-juggling.

MIKE NEVINS

   Anthony Boucher in his review for the New York Times (September 27, 1959) called Singing Skirt “one of the most elaborate problems of Perry Mason’s career, with switchings and counterswitchings of guns that baffle even the maestro… This is as chastely classic a detective story as you’re apt to find in these degenerate days.”

   True enough. After finishing the book I whipped up a document which traces the wanderings of all three .38s and, unless I messed up somewhere, seems to establish that all the weapon-switching rhymes. (This document gives away so much of the plot that I won’t include it here, but if you’re interested, follow this link to a separate webpage.)

   But if Ellen had told Mason all she knew, the truth would have been obvious before the preliminary hearing even began. Why didn’t she? She had promised the real murderer she wouldn’t! Gardner’s need to camouflage this silliness explains why he jumps into court almost immediately after Ellen’s arrest, leaving out any subsequent conversations between Mason and his client.

   And if that aspect of the plot isn’t silly enough, how about the woman, never seen before, who marches unbidden into the courtroom at the end of Chapter Fourteen and confirms Mason’s solution?

   Gardner once said: “[E]very mystery story ever written has some loose threads… After all, on a trotting horse who is going to see the difference? The main thing is to keep the horse trotting and the pace fast and furious.”

   Well, I’m not sure that every mystery ever written has plot holes, but far too many of Gardner’s do. Nevertheless he remains a giant of the genre and one of the most important lawyer storytellers of the 20th century. Which is why he gets a chapter to himself in my next book.

***

   It’s called Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law: Essays on Jurisfiction and Juriscinema and will be published later this year by Perfect Crime Books. At least six of its ten chapters deal with matters that should interest readers of this column: three on major American lawyer fiction writers (Melville Davisson Post, Arthur Train and, of course, Gardner) and another three on a trio of notable law-related movies (Cape Fear, Man in the Middle, The Penalty Phase).

   The longest chapter in the book is called “When Celluloid Lawyers Started to Speak” and covers law-related movies from the first years of talking pictures, many of which have a crime or mystery element.

   If you happen to groove on Westerns as well as whodunits, there are also chapters on law-related shoot-em-ups from the 1930s but after Hollywood began strictly enforcing its Motion Picture Production Code (July 1, 1934) and on what I like to call Telejuriscinema, which means law-related episodes of TV Western series from the Fifties and Sixties.

   I expect this gargantua to run close to 600 pages, the sort of book Harry Stephen Keeler once described as perfectly designed to jack up a truck with. As more information becomes available I’ll report it in future columns.

***

   Since one of the dozens of movies I discuss in the Celluloid Lawyers chapter may have played a role in Gardner’s work, I may as well close this column with a page or so from my book, as a sort of sneak preview of things to come.

MIKE NEVINS

   In the early Perry Mason novels, which were heavily influenced by Hammett and especially by The Maltese Falcon, we are allowed to see only what happens in Mason’s presence. But soon after the Saturday Evening Post began serializing the Masons prior to their book publication, scenes with other characters taking place before Perry enters the picture became commonplace.

   Where did Gardner get this notion? Quite possibly from a fascinating but little-known movie dating from the early years of talkies. The Trial of Vivienne Ware (Fox, 1932) was directed by William K. Howard from a screenplay based on Kenneth M. Ellis’ 1931 novel of the same name.

   It opens with the title character (Joan Bennett) and her fiancé, architect Damon Fenwick (Jameson Thomas) going to the Silver Bowl nightclub where Vivienne is insulted by Fenwick’s former lover, singer Dolores Divine (Lilian Bond).

   After taking Vivienne home, Fenwick returns to the club to pick up Dolores. The next day Vivienne sends Fenwick a letter she comes to regret. Several hours later the police arrest her for his murder. Representing her is attorney John Sutherland (Donald Cook), who is also in love with her — an element we never find in a Perry Mason novel.

   The trial, perhaps the most swift-paced in any movie, begins with a mountain of evidence against Vivienne. One: On the morning after the nightclub scene she visited Fenwick’s house, walked in on Dolores in sexy pajamas eating breakfast with him, and stalked out furious. Two: Immediately afterwards she sent Fenwick a letter which might be construed as threatening.

   Three: Her handkerchief was found near Fenwick’s body. Four: A neighbor claims to have seen her entering Fenwick’s house that night. Vivienne denies being anywhere near the house at the time of the murder but Sutherland doesn’t believe her. Nevertheless he puts her on the stand and she testifies as follows.

MIKE NEVINS

   One: Her letter to Fenwick was meant to break their engagement, not to threaten him. Two: She must have dropped her handkerchief during her breakfast visit to Fenwick’s house. Three: At the time of the murder she was at a hockey game which she left early because she felt ill.

   The district attorney (Alan Dinehart) cross-examines her so ruthlessly that she breaks down and sobs that even her own lawyer doesn’t believe her. At this point we find ourselves in the juristic Cloud Cuckoo Land that most Hollywood law films sooner or later enter: the prosecutor calls the defense lawyer as a witness! (How many times has Hamilton Burger pulled the same stunt with Mason?)

   Changing Vivienne’s plea from not guilty to self-defense, Sutherland testifies that he attended the hockey match with her and, when she left early, followed her to Fenwick’s house. On the next day of trial Sutherland proceeds as if he were still pleading his client not guilty. First he calls witnesses who put Dolores Divine at Fenwick’s house at the time of the murder.

   Then he calls Dolores herself, who testifies — as dozens of characters in Mason novels would do after her — that she found the body and said nothing about it but isn’t the murderer. (The film isn’t clear about this but apparently Vivienne, like so many of Mason’s clients, had done the same.)

   I won’t delve any further into the plot but at the end of the picture spectators are roaring, flashbulbs blazing, lawyer and client embracing, and the jury returning a verdict of — well, can’t you guess? All this in less than 60 minutes!

   We’ll never know if Gardner saw this movie, or perhaps read the novel it was based on, but the resemblance between the pattern here and that of so many middle-period Masons is remarkable.

ONLY IF YOU LIKE IT (THE GOLDEN AGE) ROUGH:
A REVIEW OF THE ROUGH GUIDE TO CRIME FICTION
by Curt J. Evans


BARRY FORSHAW – The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction. Rough Guides, softcover, July 2007.

ROUGH GUIDE TO CRIME FICTION

   The Penguin Group’s Rough Guides to literature is a smartly-presented series of pocket-sized guidebooks chock full of easily digested information on various literary genres. Barry Forshaw, who edits the Crime Time website, produced The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction [RGTCF], the series’ take on the mystery genre.

   While this particular guide definitely has its virtues and can be recommended, the helpful reviewer (especially at a website like Mystery*File) must include a considerable caveat: the coverage of the Golden Age leaves quite a bit to be desired. Dare I say, it’s a bit rough?

   The back of the RGTCF notes that “this insider’s book recommends over 200 classic crime novels and mystery authors.” By my count, 248 crime novels are independently listed, along with 21 authors who are specially highlighted. The first book listed was published in 1899, the last in 2007. Thus the 248 books are drawn from a time span of nearly 110 years. Here is how the nearly eleven full decades are represented:

      1899-1909     3 books
      1910-1919     3 books
      1920-1929     4 books
      1930-1939     12 books
      1940-1949     14 books
      1950-1959     11 books
      1960-1969     10 books
      1970-1979     9 books
      1980-1989     16 books
      1990-1999     25 books
      2000-2007     141 books

   Notice anything slightly out of balance here? Perhaps that 57% of the books listed come from the last decade? Or that two-thirds (67%) of the books were published after 1989? Or that 4% of the books come from the first thirty years, 1899-1929?

    Barry Forshaw writes in his preface that his Rough Guide “aims to be a truly comprehensive survey, covering every major writer….It covers everything from the genre’s origins and the Golden Age to the current bestselling authors, although a larger emphasis is placed on contemporary writers.” This is a bit of an understatement, perhaps.

   I would have no objection to this selective coverage, but for the fact that the book is offered as a “truly comprehensive survey” of this 109 year period. Let’s look at how the earlier decades, particularly those of the Golden Age, are covered, shall we?

   First it should be noted that the listed books are divided into fifteen sections. It’s a mite confusing, since some are chronological, more or less, and some go by subject:

       1. Origins
       2. Golden Age
       3. Hardboiled and Pulp
       4. Private Eyes
       5. Cops
       6. Professionals
       7. Amateurs
       8. Psychological
       9. Serial Killers
       10. Criminal Protagonists
       11. Gangsters
       12. Class/Race/Politics
       13. Espionage
       14. Historicals
       15. “Foreign”

   You can see immediately how there is potential for overlap—and there often is (Hardboiled/Private Eyes). Then there are places where there isn’t any such overlap, though one would have expected it — Golden Age and Amateurs, for example.

   The Golden Age was the Age of the Amateur, surely, yet the Amateurs chapter lists twenty books, only one from before 1957 (G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown) and, indeed, only three (including Innocence) from before 1992.

   Similarly, one might have thought that in the Historicals chapter there might have been room for Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End (set in ancient Egypt), John Dickson Carr’s The Devil in Velvet (set in Jacobean England), Josephine Tey’s investigative The Daughter of Time (concerning Richard III and the murder of the princes in the Tower) or one of the collections of Lilian de la Torre’s Dr. Samuel Johnson short stories; yet, no, of the 22 listed books, only three come from before 1990, and these are all between 1978 and 1985 (Ellis Peter’s A Morbid Taste for Bones, Peter Lovesey’s The False Inspector Dew and Julian Rathbone’s Lying in State).

   It comes to appear that the later chapters mostly exist to provide more opportunities for listing more current authors. Indeed, one could rightly wonder, after reading this book, why the decades of the 1920s and 1930s are considered a “Golden Age” at all. The real Golden Age would seem to have dawned with the new millennium in 2000.

   Only thirteen books are listed for the Golden Age:

       Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke
       Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die
       Christianna Brand, Green for Danger
       John Dickson Carr, The Three Coffins
       Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
       Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding
       Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Turning Tide
       Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
       Geoffrey Household, Rogue Male
       Francis Iles, Malice Aforethought
       Ngaio Marsh, Surfeit of Lampreys
       Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night
       Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair

   Again there is confusion. Is the Golden Age a period or a style? If a style, what are Hangover Square and Rogue Male doing there (couldn’t the one go in psychology, say, and the other espionage)? If a period, why do three of the books come from after the end of World War Two? Does Forshaw view the Golden Age as having lasted into the early 1950s — if so, why? It would have been nice to have some more depth here.

   But, more important, Forshaw’s collection of Golden Age book listings seems ever so paltry. It will be recalled that fully 200 of the 248 listed books in RGTCF come from after the 1950s. Where are British writers like R. Austin Freeman (he’s not in Origins either), Freeman Wills Crofts, H. C. Bailey, Michael Innes, Cyril Hare and Gladys Mitchell?

    And, damn it, where in hell are the bloody Americans?! It’s rather eccentric to find (if we discount John Dickson Carr) only one American, Erle Stanley Gardner — and this not for a Perry Mason but rather a 1941 Gramps Wiggins tale. In this book you will not find listings for Melville Davisson Post, Earl Derr Biggers, S.S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Mary Roberts Rinehart or Mignon Eberhart.

   One might almost conclude that the United States did not exist in the 1920s and 1930s, but for the presence of a slew of hardboiled novels by the usual suspects (Chandler, Hammett, James M. Cain, W. R. Burnett, etc.).

   In a moment I found quite regrettable indeed, Forshaw writes: “The superficial ease of churning out potboilers attracted many hacks, such as the prolific but now little read Ellery Queen.” I am utterly baffled by this statement. How anyone who has read “Ellery Queen” in his best period, from the thirties to the fifties, can deem him a “hack” is beyond me (events after 1960, when the Ellery Queen name was loaned out, admittedly are more problematic).

   If Forshaw thinks writing books like The Greek Coffin Mystery and Cat of Many Tails was easy, he should turn his hand to mystery writing immediately, because he must surely be a creative genius of the first order.

   It’s emblematic of the low standing to which Ellery Queen has fallen that “he” could be treated in such a way. Not only were the cousins behind Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee) great genre writers, they were most generous men who did much to promote mystery writing and genre scholarship. To me it seems rather a shame for a writer following in their footsteps to dismiss them in such a cavalier manner.

   There are other omissions of which one could complain. No mention is made of Edgar Wallace and Sax Rohmer — hugely important figures in the history of the English thriller (they were even “bestsellers,” just like John Grisham, who is included here). They could easily have been fitted into the Criminal Protagonist or Gangster chapters.

   Philip MacDonald is omitted, even though his brilliant Murder Gone Mad most certainly belongs among the Serial Killer tales.

   Margaret Millar and Celia Fremlin are omitted in the Psychology chapter (and everywhere else, for that matter). To be sure, they are not as well-known today as Patricia Highsmith (listed for Strangers on a Train and with a separate info-box for her Ripley series), but they did fine work that influenced other writers in the 1950s though the 1970s and merited inclusion in a collection of nearly 250 books.

   Julian Symons, the important and influential mid- to late-20th century crime novelist and mystery critic, is omitted as well; as are Symons’ excellent contemporaries, Michael Gilbert and Andrew Garve.

   In the Origins chapter, Forshaw gives brief nods to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but ignores Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mrs. Henry Wood and Anna Katharine Green. These three women are in my view inferior to the three men, but they certainly should have been mentioned at least. (They have been subjects of quite a lot of academic scholarship of late.)

   Many (though not all) of the omissions I suspect can be explained by the fact that the omitted authors were out of print when Forshaw was writing his Rough Guide. And that’s perfectly fine, really, but I think this point should have been conceded up front for the benefit of the less experienced readers who presumably are the Rough Guide’s target demographic, for such innocent neophytes may be considerably misled, with potentially baneful results, in that they will not learn of many good writers or not see good writers at their best.

   Ruth Rendell, for example, gets three listings, all for three novels published after 2000. I have read two of them, The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler, and in my view they are in no way anywhere comparable to the author’s best work from, say, 1975 to 1995. Where in the world, for example, is A Dark-Adapted Eye or A Demon in My View or A Fatal Inversion?

   Similarly, P. D. James gets a listing for The Murder Room and H. R. F. Keating for Breaking and Entering, both post-1999 novels and simply not their best work. (In a separate entry for P. D. James, Forshaw lists “the top five Dalgleish books” — confusingly this list omits the one James book with a full entry, The Murder Room, while including Innocent Blood, a suspense novel in which Dalgleish never appears.)

   I have probably sounded quite rough on this Rough Guide, but it does have its rough patches. Nevertheless, the book has merit, especially for people mainly interested in recent crime fiction (especially that published between 2000 and 2007), for whom I think it can be recommended without qualification. There the coverage truly does appear to be “truly comprehensive.”

   I also should mention that I particularly enjoyed the Espionage chapter and that I thought Forshaw’s treatment of Hardboiled books superior to that which he gave the Golden Age detective novel. Perhaps the Golden Age needs a Rough Guide all its own!

The Murder of Mystery Genre History:
A Review of The Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction
by Curt J. Evans


Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction

   On the back cover of The Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2010; Catherine Ross Nickerson, editor), the blurb tells us that the fourteen essays contained therein represent the “very best in contemporary scholarship.” If so, this should be a matter of grave concern to people interested in the history of the American mystery genre before World War Two.

   As the Companion is a skimpy book of less than 200 pages and it has fourteen essays, potential readers should be immediately clued in to the fact that the essays tend to be rather cursory. A listing of the essays further reveals that the book’s coverage is esoteric, leaving noticeable gaps:

Introduction (4 pages)
Early American Crime Writing (10 pages, excluding footnotes)
Poe and the Origins of Detective Fiction (8 pages)
Women Writers Before 1960 (12 pages)
The Hard-Boiled Novel (15 pages)
American Roman Noir (12 pages)
Teenage Detective and Teenage Delinquents (13 pages)
American Spy Fiction (9 pages)
The Police Procedural on Literature and on Television (13 pages)
Mafia Stories and the American Gangster (10 pages)
True Crime (12 pages)
Race and American Crime Fiction (12 pages)
Feminist Crime Fiction (14 pages)
Crime in Postmodernist Fiction (12 pages)

   Further evidence of highly selective coverage can be found in the “American Crime Fiction Chronology” at the beginning of the book. Here are its milestones in crime fiction from 1841 to 1939:

1841 Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
1866 Metta Fuller Victor, The Dead Letter
1878 Anna Katharine Green, The Leavenworth Case
1908 Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Circular Staircase
1923 Carroll John Daly, “Three Gun Terry”
1925 Earl Derr Biggers, The House Without a Key
1927 S. S. Van Dine, The Benson Murder Case
1927 Franklin Dixon, The Tower Treasure
1929 Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
1929 Mignon Eberhart, The Patient in Room 18
1930 Carolyn Keene, The Secret of the Old Clock
1934 James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
1934 Leslie Ford, The Strangled Witness
1938 Mabel Seeley, The Listening House
1939 Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

   A pretty obvious pattern can be constructed from these fifteen fictional milestones:

The Distant Founder: Poe
The Women: Victor, Green, Rinehart, Eberhart, Ford, Seeley
The Hardboiled Men: Daly, Hammett, Cain, Chandler
The Non-hardboiled Men: Biggers, Van Dine
The Children’s Authors: “Dixon” and “Keene”

   One would conclude from this list that American men donated practically nothing to the detective fiction genre after 1841 (Poe), outside of the hardboiled variant and juvenile mystery (the authors of the Hardy Boys tales). Apparently the only significant male producers in the nearly 100 years between Poe’s first story and Chandler’s first novel were the creators of Philo Vance and Charlie Chan.

   But it gets even worse when we look at the actual text. S. S. Van Dine gets four mentions, all cursory, some problematic:

   On page 1 his rules for writing detective fiction are mentioned, dismissively.

   On page 29, he is dismissed as an imitator of Agatha Christie.

   On page 43, he is called an imitator of Arthur Conan Doyle and used as the usual hardboiled punching bag for not writing about “reality” (though he interestingly is deemed “the era’s most popular writer”).

   On page 136, it is claimed that The Benson Murder Case is “widely acknowledged as the first American clue-puzzle mystery”

   Earl Derr Biggers gets one line, solely for having created an ethnic detective (see “Race and American Crime Fiction”).

   At least these non-hardboiled make writers are mentioned! The hugely popular and admired genre author Rex Stout is another lucky lad. Though he missed the list of milestones, Stout nevertheless in mentioned in the text:

   On page 47 he is noted for having merged hardboiled and classic styles.

   On page 136, he is criticized, along with Van Dine, for ignoring race and gesturing “more toward Europe than actual American cities” and writing about rich white bankers, stockbrokers and attorneys (yup, “Race and American Crime Fiction” again).

   On the other hand, if you are looking for anything on Melville Davisson Post, Arthur B. Reeve or Ellery Queen, forget it! They did not exist apparently; we only imagined them all these years.

   Meanwhile, Anna Katharine Green gets two pages, Mary Roberts Rinehart three and Mignon Eberhart, Leslie Ford and Mabel Seeley together as a trio another two. (Heck, even the lovably loopy Carolyn Wells gets a line in this book.)

   The editor of the Companion, Catherine Ross Nickerson (author of The Web of Iniquity — a book, you may not be surprised to learn, about Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart — and, in the Companion, of “Women Writers Before 1960”) lectures in her Introduction that:

    “It is only fairly recently that the multiple genres of crime writing have been taken up as subjects of academic study; before that, they were entirely in the hands of connoisseurs and collectors, with their endless taxonomies, lists and value judgments. What Chandler opened up was a new way of looking at crime narratives, or rather looking through them, as lenses on the culture and history of the United States.”

   This is an interesting idea indeed, but unfortunately Professor Nickerson’s own selective coverage gives us an inaccurate view of the genre and, thereby, surely, of American cultural history.

   According to Nickerson, there were two indigenous creative strains in American mystery: the female domestic novel/female Gothic (the Brontes and Mary Elizabeth Braddon are admitted as influences here but not Wilkie Collins or Sheridan Le Fanu); and the hardboiled.

   It seems that despite the existence of Poe, what we think of as the Golden Age detective novel was an artificially transplanted English import, about as American as scones and crumpets. Nickerson dismissively notes these “Golden Age” works for their “tightly woven puzzles and country houses full of amusing guests” and declares that they were “presided over by Agatha Christie and imitated by Americans like S. S. Van Dine.”

   So if you were an American male writing mysteries that emphasized puzzles and had upper middle class/wealthy milieus, you were part of a British tradition and thus not worthy of inclusion in a historical survey of American mystery fiction. But if you were an American woman writing mysteries with puzzles and upper middle class/wealthy milieus, you were part of the American female domestic novel/Female Gothic tradition (even though some of this tradition is British and male) and you make it into the genre survey.

   Make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. Personally I think Professor Nickerson should take another look at those “connoisseurs and collectors, with their endless taxonomies, lists and value judgments” who she dismisses so casually. There are still things that an academic scholar writing about the mystery genre can learn from them.

   Granted, they often were men who tended to be overly dismissive of women’s mystery fiction — or at least the suspense strain in it that they mockingly termed “HIBK” (Had I But Known) — but writing important men out of the history of the genre is no way to redress the balance.

   Crime literature may be about violence, but scholars of crime literature should not practice “an eye for an eye.” Doing so does not make for good scholarship.

A Review by MIKE TOONEY:


HAL WHITE – The Mysteries of Reverend Dean. Lighthouse Christian Publishing; trade paperback; story collection; 2008.

HAL WHITE Mysteries of Reverend Dean.

    There is a long and illustrious list of clerical detectives in mystery fiction. The first one to come to mind is usually G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown; indeed, like Brown, most of the memorable clerical sleuths have been British.

    In America there have been fewer men (and women) of the cloth who involve themselves in criminal investigations: Melville Davisson Post’s Uncle Abner is the outstanding example of one who did on this side of the Pond.

    On occasion Abner would tackle what is commonly called today “impossible crime” (or, more specifically, “locked-room”) problems of the kind that sometimes bedeviled Father Brown. Neither Brown nor Abner, however, spent more than a fraction of their time on such conundrums.

    But now we come to one clerical sleuth who EXCLUSIVELY devotes his time to solving locked-room crimes: Hal White’s Reverend Dean. This clergyman never actively seeks out such perplexing problems; his principal concern is always in saving souls. Yet somehow Reverend Dean becomes embroiled in these things with amazing regularity.

    Patience is counted as a Christian virtue, and the reverend has it in abundance; indeed, without patience he couldn’t solve any of the problems with which he is confronted.

HAL WHITE Mysteries of Reverend Dean.

    Strictly speaking, intelligence may not be exclusively another Christian virtue, but Dean also has it in abundance: You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but this modest, self-effacing man’s “little grey cells” are constantly working ratiocinative miracles inside his skull.

    Take, for instance, how he solves the conundrum of a woman stabbed to death in a room with locked windows, a triply-locked door, protected by a guard dog, and under observation by three witnesses.

    Or consider the woman who, if the evidence is to be believed, can walk through solid walls and shoot at someone while suspended in space. Or how about … but you should really read The Mysteries of Reverend Dean yourself.

    You won’t be disappointed.

         ______

    A website devoted to other clerical detectives is at:

         http://homepage.ntlworld.com/philipg/detectives/contents.html

   Hal White’s webpage, which focuses on his book ‘The Mysteries of Reverend Dean’ and other locked-room mystery anthologies, can be found at:

         www.halwhitebooks.com

   Although I’ve yet to hold a copy in my hands myself, Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller have theirs, and so it’s safe to say that it’s ready for purchase. Ordering information at the bottom of this page.

   Originally published in hardcover by Arbor House in 1986, 1001 Midnights by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller, one of the finest reference texts ever published in the field of mystery fiction, quickly went out of print, but it has been in high demand in the used book market ever since.

1001 Midnights

   Here’s the blurb on the dust jacket of the original edition, including the list of names on the back cover:

   1001 Midnights is the essential reference and reading book for all aficionados of mystery, detective, and suspense fiction. It is comprised of 1001 plot summaries, author biographies, and critical evaluations of classic and important crime and espionage novels, as well as short story collections seminal to the genre. It is an indispensable volume of information and criticism.

   Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller, well known for their mystery novels and anthologies, bring their inside, practitioners knowledge of the form as well as their enthusiasm as fans to these trenchant and engaging summaries, biographies, and critical judgments. Other experts in the field, most notably Francis M. Nevins, also contribute entries on authors in their areas of expertise.

   All the major writers are represented, from Edgar Allan Poe to Elmore Leonard. Their careers and works are described, analyzed, and assessed sometimes to surprising, irreverent, and unorthodox conclusions. Some highly touted practitioners of the mystery genre have their critical reputations debunked, while others currently out of favor are extolled.

   But in addition to the famous names there are numerous obscure writers, and 1001 Midnights is unique and rich as a result of their inclusion. Jim Thompson, Leigh Brackett, Thomas B. Dewey, William Campbell Gault, Helen Reilly, and dozens of others are all resurrected from undeserved obscurity and restored to their rightful place in the crime literature pantheon. In the process, the reader is apprised of great writers he or she may not have heard of but who are well worth seeking out.

   Whether you prefer hardboiled or classic, Golden Age or contemporary, pure detection or action/adventure, espionage or private eye, 1001 Midnights will afford hundreds of hours of reading pleasure. It is a book to refer to again and again for its practical information, facts, and bibliographies; its memory-jogging plot summaries; its enlightening critical insights; and its gold mine of newly unearthed crime literature treasures. 1001 Midnights is essential to the library of every mystery buff.

   Some of the mystery and suspense writers whose careers and works are included in 1001 Midnights:

Margery Allingham
Eric Ambler
John Franklin Bardin
Earl Der Biggers
Robert Bloch
Lawrence Block
Fredric Brown
James M. Cain
Paul Cain
John Dickson Carr
Raymond Chandler
G .K. Chesterton
Agatha Christie
Mary Higgins Clark
Wilkie Collins
K.C. Constantine
George Harmon Coxe
John Creasey
Carroll John Daly
Len Deighton
Thomas B. Dewey
Arthur Conan Doyle
Daphne DuMaurier
Ken Follett
Frederick Forsyth
Dick Francis
R. Austin Freeman
Jacques Futrelle
Erie Stanley Gardner
William Campbell Gault
Graham Greene
Frank Gruber
Dashiell Hammett
George V. Higgins
Patricia Highsmith
Tonv Hillerman
Evan Hunter
William Irish
P. D. James
M. M. Kaye
Emma Lathen
Jonathan Latimer
John Le Carr
Elmore Leonard
Gaston Leroux
Robert Ludlum
Ed McBain
Horace McCoy
John D. MacDonald
Philip MacDonald
Ross Macdonald
Gregory Mcdonald
William P. McGivern
Charlotte Macleod
Ngaio Marsh
Margaret Millar
A. A. Milne
Frederick Nebel
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Baroness Orczy
Robert B. Parker
Gerald Petievich
Edgar Allan Poe
Melville Davisson Post
Ellery Queen
Ruth Rendell
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Sax Rohmer
Lawrence Sanders
Dorothy L. Sayers
Georges Simenon
Maj Sjwall and Per Wahl
Mickey Spillane
Richard Stark
Rex Stout
Julian Symons
Ross Thomas
Jim Thompson
Dorothy Uhnak
S. S. Van Dine
Robert Van Gulik
Edgar Wallace
Thomas Walsh
Joseph Wambaugh.
Donald E. Westlake
Raoul Whitfield
Phyllis A. Whitney
Cornell Woolrich

   And many many others, as they always say.

1001 Midnights

   Published by George Vanderburgh and his Battered Silicon Dispatch Box press, the book is a softcover, folio size, 8-1/2 x 11, with 471 pages. The list price is $45.00. ISBN: 978-1-55246-750-3

   The book does not appear on George’s website, but his contact information is there. Otherwise your local specialty mystery bookshop should be able to order it for you.

   Highly recommended!

   The following pair of posts came from the FictionMags Yahoo group. Thanks to Bill Contento and Mike Ashley for allowing me to reprint them here. First, a short introduction from Bill:


   Mike Ashley recently asked me for a list of mystery anthology publishers. As part of the process in generating that list, counts of the authors and stories in 2,244 anthologies were also produced.

   This was based on the latest edition of the Mystery Short Fiction Miscellany CD (available from Locus Press), excluding stories reprinted in single-author collections, round-robin novels, and magazines.

                Bill C.

    Authors with 40 or more stories that have appeared in mystery anthologies:

40 Collins, Max Allan
40 Crider, Bill
41 Fish, Robert L.
41 Highsmith, Patricia
42 Sayers, Dorothy L.
43 Allingham, Margery
43 Bankier, William
43 Barnard, Robert
43 Chesterton, G. K.
43 Ellin, Stanley
43 Oates, Joyce Carol
44 Asimov, Isaac
44 Blochman, Lawrence G.
44 Brown, Fredric
46 Boucher, Anthony
46 Gilford, C. B.
46 Howard, Clark
46 MacDonald, John D.
47 Breen, Jon L.
48 Estleman, Loren D.
48 Wallace, Edgar
48 Westlake, Donald E.
49 Simenon, Georges
51 Charteris, Leslie
52 Stout, Rex
53 Holding, James
54 Deming, Richard
57 Bloch, Robert
58 Gorman, Ed
58 Symons, Julian
62 Treat, Lawrence
63 Lovesey, Peter
66 Keating, H. R. F.
67 Rendell, Ruth
69 Pentecost, Hugh
81 Block, Lawrence
81 Doyle, Arthur Conan
87 Woolrich, Cornell
88 Ritchie, Jack
89 Slesar, Henry
102 Lutz, John
103 Pronzini, Bill
115 Christie, Agatha
119 Queen, Ellery
131 Gilbert, Michael
273 Hoch, Edward D.

   Stories that have appeared in mystery anthologies 10 or more times:

10 Block, Lawrence By the Dawn’s Early Light nv 1984 {Playboy}
10 Buck, Pearl S. Ransom nv 1938 {Cosmopolitan}
10 Carr, John Dickson Guest in the House ss 1940 {The Strand}
10 Chesterton, G. K. Queer Feet nv 1910 {The Storyteller}
10 Christie, Agatha Witness for the Prosecution [ “Traitor’s Hands”] nv 1925 {Flynn’s}
10 Crawford, F. Marion Upper Berth nv 1886 *The Broken Shaft: Unwin’s Christmas Annual*, ed. Sir Henry Norman, London: Fisher Unwin
10 Dickens, Charles Signalman ss 1866 {All the Year Round}
10 Dickson, Carter Clue in the Snow ss 1940 {The Strand}
10 Doyle, Arthur Conan Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans nv 1908 {The Strand}
10 Ellin, Stanley Question My Son Asked ss 1962 {EQMM}
10 Gilbert, Michael Amateur in Violence ss 1949 {John Bull}
10 Gilbert, Michael Mr. Portway’s Practice ss 1957 {Lilliput}
10 Hardy, Thomas Three Strangers nv 1883 {Longman’s}
10 Harte, Bret Stolen Cigar-Case ss 1900 {Pearson’s Magazine}
10 Hemingway, Ernest Killers ss 1927 {Scribner’s}
10 Howard, Clark Horn Man ss 1980 {EQMM}
10 Rawson, Clayton From Another World nv 1948 {EQMM}
10 Rendell, Ruth New Girl Friend ss 1983 {EQMM}
10 Saki Sredni Vashtar ss 1910 {The Westminster Gazette}
10 Steinbeck, John Murder ss 1934 {North American Review}
10 Wells, H. G.Cone ss 1895 {Unicorn}
11 Barnes, Linda J. Lucky Penny ss 1985 *The New Black Mask No.3*, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli & Richard Layman, HBJ
11 Bentley, E. C. Inoffensive Captain ss 1914 {Metropolitan Magazine}
11 Bentley, E. C. Sweet Shot ss 1937 {The Strand}
11 Bloch, Robert Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper ss 1943 {Weird Tales}
11 Chesterton, G. K.Oracle of the Dog nv 1923 {Nash’s Magazine}
11 Cole, G. D. H. & Margaret In a Telephone Cabinet nv 1923
11 Collier, John Back for Christmas ss 1939 {New Yorker}
11 James, P. D. Victim nv 1973 , ed. Virginia Whitaker, London: Macmillan
11 Kipling, Rudyard Return of Imray [ “The Recrudescence of Imray”] ss 1891 *Life’s Handicap*, Macmillan
11 McCloy, Helen Chinoiserie nv 1946 {EQMM}
11 Macdonald, Ross Guilt-Edged Blonde [as by John Ross Macdonald] ss 1954 {Manhunt}
11 Macdonald, Ross Midnight Blue nv 1960 {Ed McBain’s Mystery Book}
11 Marsh, Ngaio I Can Find My Way Out ss 1946 {EQMM}
11 Pentecost, Hugh Day the Children Vanished nv 1958 {This Week}
11 Poe, Edgar Allan Black Cat ss 1843 {Philadelphia United States Saturday Post}
11 Poe, Edgar Allan Mystery of Marie Roget nv 1842 {Snowden’s Lady’s Companion}
11 Queen, Ellery Adventure of the President’s Half Disme nv 1947 {EQMM}
11 Queen, Ellery As Simple as ABC nv 1951 {EQMM}
11 Stoker, Bram Squaw ss 1893 {Holly Leaves}
11 Westlake, Donald E. Never Shake a Family Tree ss 1961 {AHMM}
12 Armstrong, Charlotte Enemy nv 1951 {EQMM}
12 Charteris, Leslie Arrow of God nv 1949 {EQMM}
12 Crofts, Freeman Wills Mystery of the Sleeping-Car Express nv 1921 {The Premier Magazine}
12 Doyle, Arthur Conan Silver Blaze nv 1892 {The Strand}
12 Gores, Joe Goodbye, Pops ss 1969 {EQMM}
12 Jacobs, W. W. Interruption ss 1925 {The Strand}
12 Jacobs, W. W. Monkey’s Paw ss 1902 {Harper’s Monthly}
12 Quentin, Patrick Puzzle for Poppy ss 1946 {EQMM}
12 Rice, Craig His Heart Could Break nv 1943 {EQMM}
12 Sayers, Dorothy L. Inspiration of Mr. Budd ss 1926 {Pearson’s Magazine}
12 Vickers, Roy Rubber Trumpet ss 1934 {Pearson’s Magazine}
13 Dahl, Roald Lamb to the Slaughter ss 1953 {Harper’s}
13 Dickens, Charles Hunted Down” nv 1859 {New York Ledger}
13 Doyle, Arthur Conan Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle ss 1892 {The Strand}
13 Forester, C. S. Turn of the Tide ss 1934 {The Story-Teller}
13 Knox, Ronald A. Solved by Inspection ss 1925
13 Patrick, Q. Love Comes to Miss Lucy ss 1947 {EQMM}
13 Stevenson, Robert Louis Markheim ss 1886 *The Broken Shaft: Unwin’s Christmas Annual*, ed. Sir Henry Norman, London: Fisher Unwin
13 Wynne, Anthony Cyprian Bees ss 1926 {Flynn’s Detective Fiction}
14 Bramah, Ernest Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage nv 1913 {News of the World}
14 Chesterton, G. K. Hammer of God ss 1910 {The Storyteller}
14 Collins, Wilkie Terribly Strange Bed ss 1852 {Household Words}
14 Doyle, Arthur Conan Scandal in Bohemia ss 1891 {The Strand}
14 Eustace, Robert & Jepson, Edgar Tea-Leaf nv 1925 {The Strand}
14 Glaspell, Susan Keating Jury of Her Peers nv 1917 {Every Week}
14 Huxley, Aldous Gioconda Smile nv 1921 {The English Review}
14 James, P. D. Great-Aunt Allie’s Flypapers nv 1969
14 Poe, Edgar Allan Cask of Amontillado ss 1846 {Godey’s Lady’s Book}
15 MacDonald, John D. Homesick Buick ss 1950 {EQMM}
15 Post, Melville Davisson Doomdorf Mystery ss 1914 {The Saturday Evening Post}
15 Queen, Ellery Adventure of Abraham Lincoln’s Clue [ “Abraham Lincoln’s Clue] ss 1965 {MD}
15 Sayers, Dorothy L. Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba nv 1928 *Lord Peter Views the Body*, London: Gollancz
15 Sayers, Dorothy L. Man Who Knew How ss 1932 {Harper’s Bazaar}
16 Christie, Agatha Accident ss 1929 {The Daily Express}
16 Millar, Margaret Couple Next Door ss 1954 {EQMM}
16 Sayers, Dorothy L. Suspicion ss 1933 {Mystery League}
16 Wallace, Edgar Treasure Hunt ss 1924 {The Grand Magazine}
17 Barr, Robert Absent-Minded Coterie nv 1905 {The Saturday Evening Post}
17 Carr, John Dickson Gentleman from Paris nv 1950 {EQMM}
17 Kemelman, Harry Nine Mile Walk ss 1947 {EQMM}
18 Ellin, Stanley Specialty of the House nv 1948 {EQMM}
19 Chesterton, G. K. Invisible Man ss 1911 {Cassell’s}
19 Poe, Edgar Allan Gold-Bug nv 1843 {Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper}
20 Collins, Wilkie Biter Bit [ “Who Is the Thief?”] nv 1858 {Atlantic Monthly}
20 Dickens, Charles To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt [ “Trial for Murder”] ss 1865 {All the Year Round}
21 Gardner, Erle Stanley Case of the Irate Witness ss 1953 {Colliers}
21 Twain, Mark Stolen White Elephant nv 1882 *The Stolen White Elephant*, Webster
22 Doyle, Arthur Conan Adventure of the Speckled Band nv 1892 {The Strand}
22 Doyle, Arthur Conan Red-Headed League nv 1891 {The Strand}
22 Dunsany, Lord Two Bottles of Relish ss 1932 {Time & Tide}
25 Burke, Thomas Hands of Mr. Ottermole nv 1929 {The Story-Teller}
26 Berkeley, Anthony Avenging Chance ss 1929 {Pearson’s Magazine}
26 Poe, Edgar Allan Murders in the Rue Morgue nv 1841 {Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine}
27 Futrelle, Jacques Problem of Cell 13 nv 1905 {Boston American}
53 Poe, Edgar Allan Purloined Letter nv 1844 *The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1845*, 1844






   Mike’s reply:


  Bill,

   Thanks for generating those two lists.

   Hats off to Ed Hoch for topping the list as most anthologised — but then as the most prolific still active writer of short stories, maybe he ought to be up the top there somewhere. Still, it shows his work is sufficiently memorable, though clearly no single story stands out as he’s not in the second list.

   Conversely, Poe, Futrelle and Berkeley top the second list but don’t appear in the first. So we have a distinction here between writers who produce few major short stories but clearly a handful that hit the bullseye and those who produce many worthy stories but no individual one that stands out.

   Once we get to Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie, though, they hit both lists and evidently these are writers who can produce both quantity and quality.

   I think the first story that surprises me in the second list is Gardner’s “The Case of the Irate Witness”. It’s certainly not one that would have come instantly to mind and though I’m sure I’ve read it, I can’t bring it to mind at all! Intriguing to see Harry Kemelman’s “Nine Mile Walk” up there, too.

   I previously put forward the argument that many of those that will top the list will be because their work is out of copyright, but though this may be a factor in why Poe and Futrelle top list 2, it certainly doesn’t apply to most of the stories and clearly not the authors in list 1. I’m rather glad about that. Quality shines through rather than being able to use a story on the cheap.

               Mike A.