August 2009


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck

LYON MEARSON – Phantom Fingers. Macaulay, hardcover, 1927. Hutchinson, UK, hc, 1929.

   Damon Knight, I believe it was, once reviewed what he called an “idiot novel,” wherein the hero was an idiot and the heroine was an idiot, but fortunately the villain was a super-idiot. This novel qualifies for that description.

   The Grand Theatre in New York City is about to put on a new play. The management and the two stars receive threatening letters — signed variously “Pro Bono Publico,” “Constant Reader,” and “A Well-Wisher,” affording the only intentional humor in the novel. If the male lead attempts to make love to the female star on the stage, he Is doomed, says the threatener.

   The play takes place, and the male star does indeed die, being strangled and then having his neck broken by some invisible agency in full view of the audience and almost in full view of the detective in the case, Steve Muirhead, who would have seen it from the beginning if he had been paying attention.

   Muirhead is more alert on the second occasion when an understudy takes over the role and begins being choked on stage, again by an invisible hand. With a visible knife Muirhead stabs the invisible hand and saves the understudy’s life.

   Does Muirhead remember his brave and intelligent — his only one — act? No. He puts the knife away somewhere safe and is thus at the mercy of the villain.

   Murder and attempted murder, and Muirhead is the sole policeman involved in the investigation. The rest of the force is directing traffic, one gathers. “A fate worse than death” is mentioned often enough in regard to the heroine to make one suspect that the author was trying to titillate his readers since he couldn’t entertain them.

   The only mysteries worth thinking about here are how Muirhead’s man Briggs becomes Muirhead’s man Grigson a few pages later and how this wretched amalgamation of mystery and science fiction went into a third printing.

   How it got published originally I will let others ponder.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 1988.



   Bibliographic Data:   [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

MEARSON, LYON. 1888-1966. Born in Montreal; educated at New York Law School; art critic for New York Evening Mail.
      Footsteps in the Dark. Macaulay, 1927; Hutchinson, 1928. [Murder mystery revolving around an “oriental” decorated house and a stack of gold.]

LYON MEARSON

      Phantom Fingers. Macaulay, 1927; Hutchinson, 1929.
      The Whisper on the Stair. Macaulay, 1924; Hutchinson, 1924.

DAVID STONE – The Orpheus Deception. Jove, paperback reprint; 1st printing, April 2009. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, March 2008.

DAVID STONE

   This book begins, so far as I can tell, exactly where the previous book in the series leaves off. That book would be The Echelon Vendetta, the first Micah Dalton adventure (which I have not read), and David Stone’s first book. Here’s some information about him, taken directly from his website:

    “DAVID STONE is a cover name for a man born into a military family with a history of combat service going backtoWaterloo.STONE, a military officer himself, has worked with federal intelligence agencies and state-level law enforcement units in North America, Central America, and South East Asia. Retired now, STONE lives in an undisclosed location with his wife, photographer and researcher Catherine Stone.”

   As for Micah Dalton, a covert CIA operative – sort of a “cleaner,” if you will – is now on the outs with his superiors, but in this second book – a long, over-sized 532 page novel – he quickly finds himself quickly enough back in the game, something to do with a pirated oil tanker in the South China Sea, a microbiological lab, nerve gas (or something similar), and without going into details, it’s one heck of a ride and one that’s surprisingly easy to read.

   To explain. Stone’s bold, picturesque style of writing, plus more than a dollop of humor, makes up for the fact that for well over 100 pages the story line in the first book is still being rehashed, with characters still being introduced from that book, and all it takes for a new reader to get into the swing of things. (Me!)

   But readers can’t be held responsible for remembering all of the details of all of the books they’ve read, and unless they read them in order, one after the other, I fear they’re up the same river in the same canoe and without the same paddle as I. But around page 118 – I just went back and looked – the story really begins, and from that point on, it’s in high gear all the way.

   To give you a taste of the souffle – that is to say Stone’s descriptive ability and general overall point of view, though he will surprise you on the latter, or at least several times he did me – here’s a long quote from the beginning of Chapter 13, or for the more precision-minded among us, page 172:

DAVID STONE

    Singapore – in particular, the city itself – is a lunatic blend of Mao Tse-tung and Dale Carnegie; a broad, steaming sandbar, as flat as a sewage spill, on which the tyrannical, puritanical government of Lee Kwan Yew, known inside the Agency as “Uncle Harry,” has brought forth by sheer force of totalitarian will a postmodern powerhouse of shimmering economic cathedrals and, towering spires. These pinnacles rise up out of a hundred little cantonments, teeming with millions upon millions of buzzing little worker bees, all maniacally dedicated to the three First Principles that have always guided the Asiatic mind: never look a cop in the eye; if it slithers you should eat it; and money is the root of all evil only if you don’t have any.

    The brand-new airport at Changi was conceived as a top-of-the-lungs statement about the New Singapore – acres of gleaming glass and marble, concourses large enough to house the Super Bowl, lounges and bars and shops to rival Rodeo Drive, and enough squinty -eyed, flat-faced, cold-assed little soldier-bots slinging MP5s scattered about the premises to keep Al Gore away from a ham sandwich.

    The Terminal 2 concourse was crowded with European and North American backpackers, wearing the trademark uniform of backpackers everywhere: baggy camo shorts; lots of metal bits, sticking out of their lips and eyebrows and noses and chins; butt-stupid, self-inflicted body hair; tattoos; complicated rubber sandals as ugly as cow flaps; and, of course, the inevitable dung-colored hemp T-shirt carrying some vapid political piety — ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), TREES ARE NOT TERRORISTS, FREE TIBET, and Dalton’s favorite, for sheer moronic redundancy, WARS KILL PEOPLE AND OTHER LIVING THINGS.

   Besides the descriptions and the point of views and the dollop of humor, there is just enough violence to keep the less-jaded thriller fans happy, and an ending that even improves on James Bond films, if that could be so, and you’ll have to read the book yourself to tell me if I’m right or not.

THE SPY WHO PARODIED: THREE BRITISH SPY SPOOFS FROM THE SIXTIES, PART I
by David L. Vineyard.


   In the wake of the success of Goldfinger, spy films were everywhere. Some were great, some awful, and some forgettable, but among the best were some well-remembered little films like the three British films to be reviewed here.

WHERE THE SPIES ARE. MGM, 1966. David Niven, Françoise Dorléac, Nigel Davenport, John Le Messurier, Cyril Cussack, Eric Pohlmann. Screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz, Val Guest & James Leasor based on his novel Passport to Oblivion. Directed by Val Guest.

WHERE THE SPIES ARE David Niven

   One of the brightest of the spy spoofs that appeared in the wake of the Bond craze that took off with the success of Goldfinger, this film was based on the first novel in the James Leasor’s Dr. Jason Love series.

   Leasor was a British thriller writer who also wrote historical fiction and popular history (Nemesis, The Sea Wolves, etc).

   In the film version, David Niven (who is a bit older than the character in the books, but otherwise perfect) is Dr. Love, a country GP who once did a bit of intelligence work. He’s approached for a simple mission that should be a holiday and enticed into it because he collects vintage Cords. That’s part of his cover as well.

   What could go wrong?

   Just about everything.

   First some one blows his plane up, then his contact is killed. Love stumbles on a Soviet-backed assassination plot designed to set the Middle East on fire. He’s betrayed by the beautiful Dorléac, damn near killed, and ends up being kidnapped on a Soviet ‘peace mission’ flight and has to arrange a last minute Arctic escape.

   A terrific cast and the personable Niven make this one a pleasure. The script is smart, and for once funny. Add into the mix good location filming and a superior cast, and you have a film that works both as a spy film, a comedy, and a spoof. And it doesn’t hurt that Niven was not only a friend of Ian Fleming, but one of the real life models for James Bond (a role he only played in the disappointing spoof Casino Royale).

   This one is well worth catching. First class all the way.

Coming soon:

   The Liquidator (1965) with Rod Taylor, Trevor Howard and Jill St. John.

SECONDS. Paramount, 1966. Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, Richard Anderson, Frances Reid, Murray Hamilton. Based on the novel by David Ely. Cinematography: James Wong Howe. Director: John Frankenheimer.

SECONDS Rock Hudson

   There are moments in the movie, filmed in glorious black-and-white, that are among the creepiest — not the scariest, per se — but the get-under-your-skin or the into-your-mind-and-can’t-get-it-out kind of nightmares that haven’t been surpassed by any other film that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

   Basic scenario: a secret organization has discovered ways of changing your identity, if you’ve gotten tired and weary of the one have, into another.

   It takes a skilled medical staff, a large support system, and a lot of stuff you really don’t want to ask about — and voila! An aging banker (John Randolph) whose marriage has long ago had all its passion sucked out of it becomes someone who looks a lot like Rock Hudson.

   And if things don’t go well, don’t ask about that either.

SECONDS Rock Hudson

   A lot of the credit for what makes this movie work as well as it does has to go to cinematographer James Wong Howe, who uses innovative lighting, extreme closeups, high angle shots and hand-held camera work to create a world of depressive darkness that’s infinitely capable of causing heartfelt, emotional screaming not so much verbally — although there is that, too — but on the inside, where it really counts.

   It’s what’s in our heads that makes who we are, no matter how well disguise our facades to the world, and the older you get, the more you’re aware of that, and the harder it is to get away from it.

SECONDS Rock Hudson

   It’s not an entirely successful movie, though, and by taking a few days to think it over, I believe I know why, at least in part. Individual scenes are often small gems, but there’s no cohesion, not enough connective tissue between them.

   It’s not that there’s not enough back story, as I thought at first — the actors in this film are utterly perfect in their parts, and we can see from their faces alone who they are and why they are doing what they are doing — and also that they’re wrong, most of them, or evil without knowing that they are and convinced they’re doing good; or in case of others, that they’re making the right decisions, only to find out that perhaps they’re not.

SECONDS Rock Hudson

   Sagging the most is the middle of the movie, the transition from opening scenes to end game that needs the most support and doesn’t quite get it, wherein Arthur Hamilton/Tony Wilson begins to discover, belatedly, that a new body is not enough, not even when he meets a good-looking neighbor on a lonely California beach (Salome Jens).

   A long wine-crushing festival with a commune of naked hippies is followed by an even longer cocktail party literally from hell, but neither packs a wallop as solid as, well, when Tony Wilson does try the impossible: to go home again.

   A foolish attempt, that. It can’t be done.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


The Annual Animation Program. Cinevent 41, Columbus OH, May 2009.

    It’s always a treat to see vintage cartoons (especially the color shorts in eye-popping color) on a decent sized screen. The well-chosen program featured some familiar (and readily available) shorts, along with some that had me shopping in the dealers’ room for decent copies on under-the-counter DVDs.

THE PIED PIPER Walt Disney

    There are always some Disney shorts, but the Disney franchise has been so generous in recent years with their deluxe sets compiled from the company archives that the main pleasure of viewing them is in being reminded how spectacular Disney’s contribution to the art of animation has been.

    “The Pied Piper” (1935) is from the Silly Symphony series and features a score by Leigh Harline whose contribution (he would later win an Oscar for his work on Pinocchio) greatly enhances the charm of this classic cartoon.

    The Disney cartoons of the 1940s continued the tradition of superb animation artistry, but few people would claim they are as consistently funny as the Warner Brothers cartoons of that decade.

    Still, Donald, who had replaced Mickey as the unquestionable star of the Disney stable of characters, could usually be counted on for some expert comic turns and did so again in “Drip Dippy Donald” (1948), where he’s trying to sleep and keeps getting waked up by a dripping faucet that eventually takes on nightmarish proportions.

DRIP DRIPPY DONALD Walt Disney

    There was the familiar Betty Boop black-and-white classic “Mother Goose Land,” a 1933 short that featured a still sexy Betty, a turn that would be ended by the Production Code and would, in effect, precipitate the decline in Betty’s popularity.

    A later Popeye cartoon, “Service with a Guile” (1946), was entertaining, but the continuous flow of inspired animation that distinguished the ’30s Fleischer product was largely missing from this routine effort.

    Two Walter Lantz cartoons, “Under the Spreading Blacksmith Shop” (1942) and “Swing Your Partner” (1943), served to remind me of how little I care for most of the Lantz-produced cartoons.

    A controversial Bugs Bunny short, “All This and Rabbit Stew” (1941), initiated the screening of three politically incorrect shorts, now infrequently shown because of their use of black stereotypes. The Elmer Fudd role as Bugs’ hapless antagonist is here taken by a black hunter, based on the popular but offensive (to many people) comedian Stepin Fetchit.

   The cartoon, not credited to Tex Avery but reputedly one of the last he directed before leaving Warner Brothers for MGM, If not one of his best efforts, still contained elements of the inventive slapstick that betrays the inimitable Avery touch.

TIN PAN ALLEY CATS Walt Disney

   The other two shorts from that category were probably two of the most creative of the morning’s program.

   The racial stereotypes in Avery’s charming and very funny “Half Pint Pygmy” (1948) are much less blatant than those in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, but in Bob Clampett’s “Tin Pan Alley Cats” (1943), a graphically stunning short, they’re in full flower (as it were), as a musician, a recognizable caricature of Fats Waller, finds himself transported into a Surrealist landscape that is mostly lifted from “Porky in Wackyland,” a 1938 release also directed by Clampett.

   The black and white original was redrawn and reshot in dazzling technicolor, with an array of fantastic creatures who seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to some of Boris Artzybasheff’s other-worldly inventions.

   In any event, this was an exhilarating experience that propelled me into the dealers’ room where I found a copy in a set that contains all of the notorious racially and politically incorrect cartoons that you can find on YouTube on a good day.

   More authors’ entries from Part 34 of the online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.

Note: Thanks to Curt Evans in Comment #1 for pointing out the relationship of Thomas Cobb to Belton Cobb. (See the former’s entry below.)

CLARK, ELLERY H(ARDING). 1874-1949. Born in West Roxbury MA. Add: Educated at Harvard University; as an athlete, Clark is the only person to have won both the Olympic high jump and long jump, achieving the feat in 1896 at the first modern Olympics in Athens. Later a lawyer and a Boston city alderman; as an author, Clark has two books included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. Below is his complete entry:

      The Carleton Case. Bobbs, hc, 1910.
      Loaded Dice. Bobbs, hc, 1909. Silent film: Pathe, 1918 (scw: Gilson Willets; dir: Herbert Blache).

        ELLERY CLARK Loaded Dice

CLAUSEN, CARL. 1895-1954. Correction of birth date. Born in Denmark; died in Pennsylvania. Prolific story writer for the pulps and other magazines, circa 1917-1941; the author of two books included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. See below:
      The Gloyne Murder. Dodd, hc, 1930.

                 CARL CLAUSEN The Gloyne Murder

      Jaws of Circumstance. Dodd, hc, 1931; Lane, UK, hc, 1931.

        CARL CLAUSEN Jaws of Circumstance

CLEMENTS, COLIN (CAMPBELL). 1894-1948. Born 25 February 1894 in Omaha, Nebraska. Add: Educated at the University of Washington, Carnegie Institute of Technology and Harvard University. With his wife Florence Ryerson (Clements), 1894-1965, q.v., prolific co-author of over one hundred short stories, plays and screenplays. Included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV are five collaborative mystery novels and three plays of a criminous nature. Series character Jimmy Lane appeared in four of the five mysteries, including the one cited below:

      Blind Man’s Buff. Long & Smith, US, hc, 1933. [Thirteen people stormbound on lonely island are murdered one by one.]

              COLIN CLEMENTS Blind Man's Bluff

CLEMENTS, FLORENCE RYERSON. 1894-1965. Working byline: Florence Ryerson, q.v.

COBB, THOMAS. 1853-1932. Add: Born and lived in London. Father of (Geoffrey) Belton Cobb, 1892-1971, q.v. Prolific author of some 78 novels and perhaps 300 short stories. Of these, over 60 novels are included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, many of them only marginally. Series character Inspector Bedison has a leading role in four of them.

RYERSON, FLORENCE. Maiden name and working byline of Florence Ryerson Clements, 1894-1965. Born in Glendale, California. Add: Educated at Stanford University, Radcliffe College, and Boston University. Contributor to numerous magazines; screenwriter for films in the Fu Manchu and Philo Vance series; most noted for being one of the co-writers of The Wizard of Oz. Included in her entry in the Revised Crime Fiction IV are five collaborative mystery novels and four plays of a criminous nature, most in tandem with her husband, Colin (Campbell) Clements, 1894-1948, q.v., whom she married in 1927.

            FLORENCE RYERSON Wizard of Oz

REVIEWED BY GEOFF BRADLEY:         


NEW TRICKS. BBC. Season Five [eight episodes]: 07 July 2008 to 25 August 2008.

NEW TRICKS BBC

   Last summer we had the fifth series (eight one-hour stories, no adverts) of this very popular programme. It has a nice set-up: a cold case team of three cynical ex-coppers (played by well know veteran actors Alun Armstrong, James Bolan and Denis Waterman) under the supervision of a female superintendent whose career has been sidelined (Amanda Redman).

   The characters are good and the humour and camaraderie are well done, but unfortunately the plots are rather a let down. The humour is obviously paramount to the producers and the logic of the plot seems to be given little thought.

   This is a pity as (as I’ve banged on about before) the pilot of this series was tremendous but, as often happens, the characterisation was sacrificed to promote the humour.

NOTES:   Season Six is currently in progress, 16 July 2009 to 27 August 2009. Season One will be available on DVD next week in the US.

JENNIE BENTLEY – Fatal Fixer-Upper.   Berkley, paperback original; 1st printing, November 2008.

JENNIE BENTLEY Fatal Fixer-Upper

   It wasn’t intentional, but as it happens, this review is timed perfectly for the publication of the second book in this “Do-It-Yourself” mystery series, Spackled and Spooked, which appeared in the nation’s bookstores earlier this month and currently has an Amazon sales raking of #35,440.

   Not that this comes as any surprise. Home repair is as popular an occupation or pastime as quilts, stuffed animals and talking cats when it comes to cozy mysteries, and this first case for Avery Baker, Manhattan textile designer turned indoor Maine renovator, is as good as any I’ve read in quite a while.

   It turns out that Waterfield is Maine’s third oldest towns, and Avery’s great-aunt’s house is an authentic antique in itself. Summoned by her Aunt Inga, a woman in her 90s she barely remembers, to be told some secrets before she dies, Avery arrives too late. Her aunt is dead, having fallen down her staircase only days before Avery’s arrival.

   I suppose I’d be more suspicious myself, but the local townsfolk aren’t, so why should Avery? But when she decides not to sell the house, she begins to get warnings in the mail and a small but luckily not serious accident happens to her as well.

   I also suppose that I ought to warn you myself, that the romance that’s oh-so-slow to build between Avery and Derek, the taciturn fellow she hires to help her in the fixing-up process, is more what makes this book a success with its intended audience than any of the detecting that Avery actually does.

   In fact, when I know who did it in the second chapter (or strongly guessed), you have to know that the mystery part of things is not a book’s strong suit. But to compensate, the tone is lively and spirited, the banter pleasant, the setting finely described, and for a “cozy” mystery, the killer is awfully cold and cruel.

   Prompted by the recent addition to the online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV, I’ve decided to begin annotating the entries again. I’ve been remiss in doing so since last December, in spite of strong admonitions to myself, and I’ve fallen way behind.

   All of the entries below are now online in Part 34. Posting the entries here on the blog means all the more visibility for them, however, and from past experience, the extra exposure never hurts. Comments, additions and/or corrections are not only welcome but strongly encouraged.

CHILD, HAROLD (HANNYNGTON). 1869-1945. Add: biographical information. Born in Gloucester, England; actor; literary and drama contributor to London Times from 1902; drama critic for Observer 1912-1920, with a number of writings on the history of drama. Also a novelist with many stories and articles contributed to newspapers and magazines of the day. Author of one book included marginally in the Revised Crime Fiction IV:

      -Phil of the Heath. Pearson, UK, hc, 1899. Setting: Bristol (UK), 1831. [A romantic tale of the Reform Bill period.]

CHILD, NELLISE. Add: Pseudonym of Lillian Lieberman Gerard Rosenfeld, 1901-1981, q.v. Born Lillian Lieberman, the author’s first husband was Frank Gerard, an automobile saleman; she later married Abner G. Rosenfeld, a Chicago real estate developer. A journalist and playwright, her work includes the Broadway play Weep for the Virgins. Under this pen name, the author of two detective novels included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. SC: Detective Lt. Jeremiah Irish, in each:

      The Diamond Ransom Murders. Knopf, hc, 1935; Collins, UK, hc, 1934.

      Murder Comes Home. Knopf, hc, 1933; Collins, UK, hc, 1933. [After writing a note to the L. A. police department, a collector of Spanish art is found dead in his library.]

            NELLISE CHILD Murder Comes Home

CHILD, RICHARD WASHBURN. 1881-1935. Add: biographical information. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts; educated at Harvard Law School. Ambassador to Italy, 1920-1924; contributor of articles on political and social themes to magazines. The author of two novels (one marginally) and two story collections included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. Of the two collections, the one cited below includes a story which has been the basis for several film adaptations:

      The Velvet Black. Dutton, hc, 1921; Hodder, UK, 1921. Story collection. Silent film, from ss “A Whiff of Heliotrope”: Cosmopolitan, 1920, as Heliotrope. Also: Paramount, 1928, as Forgotten Faces. Also (sound film): Paramount, 1936, as Forgotten Faces. Also: United Artists, 1942, as A Gentleman After Dark. [Synopsis of the 1920 silent film: A prison inmate obtains his release in order to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a blackmailer.]

CHILDERS, JAMES SAXON. 1899-1965. Born in Birmingham, Alabama. Professor of literature, newspaper editor, and publishing executive. Add: Educated at Oberlin College and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Author of two espionage novels included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. See below:

      The Bookshop Mystery. Appleton, US, hc, 1930. Setting: England. “A double appeal will lure the reader of this mystery story on: in the mellow atmosphere of rare books and famous bookshops is played out a tense intrigue between the secret agents of great nations.”

            JAMES SAXON CHILDERS The Bookshop Mystery

      Enemy Outpost. Appleton, US, hc, 1942. Setting: Canada. “An action-packed story of adventure, intrigue, and romance which is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your chair. A story of a desperate attempt by Nazi saboteurs to dynamite American industry.”

CHRISTIE, ROBERT (CLELAND HAMILTON). 1913-1975. Add as a new author. Lived in Montreal and Ottawa, Canada.

      Inherit the Night. Farrar, hardcover, 1949; Hale, UK, hc, 1951. Setting: South America. “An evil stranger destroys the serenity of an Andean village and eventually himself.” [The cover shown is that of the reprint Pyramid paperback, R279.]

            ROBERT CHRISTIE Inherit the Night

A REVIEW BY DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


EUGÈNE SUE – The Mysteries of Paris.  W. Dugdale, UK, hardcover, 1844. Harper & Brothers, US, 1843. Translation of Les Mystères de Paris: Paris, 1843-4.  Silent film: Esclair, 1909 (scw & dir: Victorin Jasset).  Also: SCAGL, 1913.  Also: Cinematographes Phocea, 1922, as Les Mystères de Paris (scw: Charles Burguet, Andre Paul Antoine; dir: Burguet).  Also: Bennett, 1922, as The Secrets of Paris (scw: Dorothy Farnum; dir; Kenneth Webb).  Sound film: Franco-American, 1937, as Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris) (scw & dir: Felix Ganders).  Also: Unidex, 1962, as Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris) (scw: Jean Halain, Pierre Foucault, Diego Fabbri; dir: Andre Hunebelle).

EUGENE SUE Mysteries of Paris

   This feulliton, or French newspaper serial, was one of the most influential novels of the 19th Century. While it is little known today, when it first ran as a weekly serial it outsold Alexandre Dumas pere’s The Count of Monte Cristo, and was praised by no less a critic than Victor Hugo, who called its author, Eugène Sue, the “Dickens of Paris.”

   Despite its title, Mysteries of Paris is neither a mystery nor a detective story in any formal sense, it is however an early example of the crime novel and thriller and helped to establish many of the tropes of popular fiction that still linger today. Heroes from Zorro to the Shadow to Batman owe a debt to Sue’s Prince Rodolphe (in some editions Rudolph), the mysterious man in black haunting the back alleys of crime and poverty ridden Paris.

   Eugène Sue was a minor nobleman with a political bent. He was an avid socialist and critic of the Catholic Church — particularly the Jesuits who feature as the villains of his classic The Wandering Jew. He spent much of his career in semi-exile for his criticisms of Louis Napoleon, like his friend and fellow author Hugo.

   Sue also has an ironic role in history: In one volume of his massive Mysteries of the People, Sue created a fictional document detailing how a Jesuit conspiracy operated and secretly ran the world — when this ‘document’ was plagiarized by a Russian propagandist and the references to the Jesuits changed to Jews the document became the inflammatory and wholly fictional Protocols of Zion; an irony that would have horrified the liberal Sue.

EUGENE SUE Mysteries of Paris

   But Sue’s role in popular literature is secure with his two best known works, The Wandering Jew and Mysteries of Paris, the latter followed by countless imitations, with Mysteries of London, Prague, Berlin, and even New York to follow. Its influence extended well into the early 20th Century (fans of the TV series Friends might recall the “Mysteries of New York” poster on the wall in Joey and Chandler’s apartment).

   Prince Rodolphe of Gerolstein appears in Paris as a mysterious man in black. He is on the trail of Fleur de Mal, a child orphaned by an act of carelessness in his youth.

   As he searches the lowest and vilest of Paris slums he becomes an early model for the justice figure or avenger, seeking both redemption for himself and justice and mercy for the downtrodden but good people he finds driven to crime and degradation by poverty and social injustice, befriending and reforming many of the criminals and semi-criminals he encounters and even forming a sort of ‘thieves court’ with himself as judge which deals out fair but swift justice among a people who have no trust of the corrupt real courts and laws written and administered to oppress them.

   Sue threw himself into the novel with real zeal, and his use of Parisian street argot is a remarkable accomplishment. Any historian wishing to know what life was like in the streets of mid-19th Century Paris would be advised to carefully read Sue’s novel. Like Dickens to whom he was often compared, he had a real affection for the people of the streets of Paris though a realistic eye for detail. In some ways Sue’s modern disciples are writers like W.R. Burnett, Elmore Leonard, Joseph Wambaugh, and George V. Higgins.

EUGENE SUE Mysteries of Paris

   There is, as might be expected, a good deal of melodrama, pathos, bathos, and hokum in the novel. Its serial origins show, and at some 1300 pages in unabridged editions, it is far from a casual read. It gives the term Victorian triple-decker new meaning.

   But it is also filled with exciting scenes, interesting characters, and if Sue lacks Dickens’ more literary qualities, he quite shares his ability to tell a story and to involve the reader in the lives of his creations. Mysteries of Paris is what a friend of mine used to call a “thumping good read.”

   Mysteries of Paris has been filmed and adapted to other media countless times since the silent era in many languages. There are television mini-series and even animated versions, and it was one of the early books adapted by Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated Comics.

   Perhaps the best film is a 1962 Arthur Hunebele production with Jean Marais (Orphee, La Belle et la Bete) as Roldolphe, Dany Robin as Irene, and Jill Haworth as Fleur de Mal. By necessity it is a very abridged version of the story, but told in a lively manner by a director best remembered for his campy Fantomas films with Marais in a double role as the super criminal and his nemesis Juve.

EUGENE SUE Mysteries of Paris

    Mysteries is still widely read in Europe and considered a pop classic. It is less well-known here, in part because there has never been a really good translation of the novel nor an annotated edition, both of which are long overdue.

   But Mysteries is an important book in the development of the mystery genre, taking inspiration from Poe, Dickens, Collins and others, and in turn inspiring many of the works to come.

   Currently there are several editions available and some older reprints are relatively inexpensive to collect. I would suggest you avoid the abridged editions and go for the massive entire book. You might also want to read The Wandering Jew which was recently chosen by Thomas Disch for the 100 Best Horror Novels of all time.

   Sue really is neglected in this country and unjustly so. This is a novel that deserves to be rediscovered.

NOTE: The bibliographic information given at the top of this review was taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, as just now corrected. (The publisher of the first UK edition has been changed to the one you see above.)

[UPDATE] 08-21-09. Based on David’s statement: “Mysteries of Paris has been filmed and adapted to other media countless times since the silent era in many languages…,” and using IMDB as a guide, Al Hubin and I have come up with the following films, etc., which should be added to those listed in the credits above. These will appear in the next installment to the online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV:

? Silent film: Pathe Freres, 1911, as Les Mystères de Paris (dir: Albert Capellani)

? Silent film: Hub Cinemagraph, 1920, as The Mysteries of Paris (scw: Stanley J. Worris; dir: Ed Cornell)

? Silent film: Phocea Film, 1922, as Les Mystères de Paris (scw: Andre-Paul Antoine, Charles Burquet; dir: Burquet)

? Film: DisCina, 1943, as Les Mystères de Paris (scw: Maurice Bessy; dir: Jacques de Baroncelli)

? TV movie: France, 1961, as Les Mystères de Paris (scw: Claude Santelli; dir: Marcel Cravenne)

? TV movie (miniseries): Caravelle International, as Les Mystères de Paris (scw: Mario Benedicto; dir: Andre Michel)

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