September 2013

ANNA KATHARINE GREEN – Initials Only. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1911. Hardcover reprint: A. L. Burt Co.


   Mrs. Rohlfs’s latest story [see FOOTNOTE] is distinguished by the small number of people involved and by the consequent narrowing and intensifying of interest upon the criminal and the detective, the latter being our old friend [Caleb] Sweetwater, acting under the aid of our older friend [Ebenezer] Gryce.

   Outside of her skill in weaving a plot Mrs. Rohlfs has few of the novelist’s virtues, and her attempt in the first part of this book to narrate events at second-hand through the mouth of a woman who has nothing to do with the plot is extremely awkward. However, this useless device is soon dropped, and the rest of the story proceeds naturally to its ruthless end.

   In no other of her stories has she presented a stronger character than [SPOILER DELETED], who is hounded by the relentless Sweetwater, and his character is not extraneous to the plot but essentially involved.

   There is a bit of unfairness in the climax which does not come — as it should come in the legitimate detective story — from the direct game of pursuit and evasion.

– Unsigned
– “Current Fiction”
– October 5, 1911
– [Scroll down to page 316, left bottom]

Also online here:
– Color frontispiece

FOOTNOTE: From Wikipedia: “On November 25, 1884, Green married the actor and stove designer, and later noted furniture maker, Charles Rohlfs, who was seven years her junior.”

   Thanks once again to to Mike Tooney, who first uncovered this review and posted it to Yahoo’s Golden Age of Detection group.

CLYDE B. CLASON – Murder Gone Minoan. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2003. Original hardcover: Doubleday Crime Club, 1939. Pulp magazine reprint: Two Complete Detective Novels, Winter 1939-1940 (with The Cat Saw Murder, by D. B. Olsen). Hardcover reprint: Sun Dial Press, 1940.

   Checking on just a few minutes ago, I found only one copy of the Crime Club edition for sale: Near Fine in a Near Fine jacket. Price: a mere $250.00. Further searching revealed a few other copies on other venues, one being a former library copy with no jacket. Price: a much more reasonable $35.00.

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

   But if $14.95 is all you want to spend, this handsome trade paperback will do very nicely. This is but one of many classic mystery reprints coming from Tom & Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press, and they should be commended for a job well done, and for jobs yet to be done. (At the moment, the only other Clason title they’re published is The Man from Tibet, but perhaps others are on their way. Only sales will tell, I imagine.)

   Only one thing is lacking, before I continue, and that is the original cover art, which as I recall was by Boris Artzybasheff. That gentleman no longer being available (or affordable) a fine piece of work by Rob Pudim was used in his stead. To my eye it’s a bit cluttered, but it Does Catch the Eye.

   Clason’s series detective is an eminent Roman historian named Theocritus Lucius Westborough — Westborough for short — who also has earned a well-deserved reputation as a private investigator on the side. If this book is an example — which from my point of view it has to be, at least for the moment, since if I ever read an earlier book in the series, it was long ago and long forgotten — Westborough’s adventures are copiously filled with well-researched lore of ancient times, interspersed with mini-lectures on the same.

   I’m jumping the gun here, but it’s Westborough’s knowledge of ancient history that helps crack a killer’s alibi — which is not quite fair to the reader not recently tutored in such matters — such as myself, I have to admit — but it’s a sizable step above nabbing a villain who reveals himself because he’s not aware that buildings do not have thirteenth floors, for example.

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

   Just in passing: There is a deliberate misstatement on my part that is not quite correct in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, but if I were to speak more clearly, I would be revealing more of what Clason had up his sleeve than I should.

   This, the seventh of ten cases Westborough is on record as having solved, takes place on an isolated island off the southern California shore, where first a valuable artifact is stolen — and Westborough called in — and then murder, when a missing butler is later found dead.

   The owner of the island, a rich Greek businessman named Paphlagloss, is fascinated with the ancient Minoan culture, pre-historic Cretans whose civilization arose and fell even before the ancient Greeks, and his mansion is filled with valuable relics, artwork and jewels. Just the right place for skullduggery to be done, and with only a handful of suspects, one of whom is responsible for doing the dugging, it’s a perfect setting for a mystery.

   Clason’s strength is in his characters and their dialogue. To my ears, the lengthy reports of letters and verbatim interviews of suspects are close to perfect. Other parts of the tale are excellent, while others, contrarily, are pure fuddle-muddle.

   I like the following quote, for some reason, taken from pages 160-161. Paphlagloss’s daughter is having a private conversation with Westborough:

CLYDE B. CLASON Murder Gone Minoan

    She shivered and drew the wrap closely to her slim body. “Why do things have to be in such a perfect devil of a mess?”

    His mild eyes peered distressfully through his gold-rimmed spectacles. “The question, I should conjecture, has been propounded rather frequently during the four thousand years of recorded history. However, I am unable to recall a single instance where it was answered satisfactorily.”

    “You are very wise!” she exclaimed.

    He shrugged deprecatorily. “My wisdom is confined to a single fact. I have lived long enough to learn that most of my fellow creatures — and myself, as well — must of necessity be a little foolish.”

    “What would you advise me to do?”

    “I dare not advise you, my dear. The situation is too delicate. As delicate,” he added thoughtfully, “as the ripples of a Chinese nocturne.”

   While it’s great to have this small gem of the Golden Age of Mysteries back again in print, I also have to suggest that it didn’t then, and it doesn’t now, have the staying power of one by a Queen, Christie, or a John Dickson Carr. Even so, and within its limitations, it is a gem in its own right, and no, they don’t write them like this anymore.

— January 2004

[UPDATE] 09-05-13. Checking on abebooks again just now, I found nine copies of the Crime Club edition for sale, ranging in price from $25 (bumped and frayed) to $300 (almost fine in jacket). Rue Morgue Press has a long informative profile of Clyde Clason, the author, and seven books in the Westborough series are now available from them. See below.

    CLYDE B(urt) CLASON, 1903-1987.

The Death Angel (n.) Doubleday 1936.    RM = Rue Morgue Press.
The Fifth Tumbler (n.) Doubleday 1936.
Blind Drifts (n.) Doubleday 1937.    RM
The Purple Parrot (n.) Doubleday 1937.    RM
The Man from Tibet (n.) Doubleday 1938.
The Whispering Ear (n.) Doubleday 1938.
Dragon’s Cave (n.) Doubleday 1939.    RM
Murder Gone Minoan (n.) Doubleday 1939.    RM
Poison Jasmine (n.) Doubleday 1940.    RM
Green Shiver (n.) Doubleday 1941.    RM



VIOLENT SATURDAY. 20th Century Fox, 1955. Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin, Margaret Hayes, J. Carrol Naish, Sylvia Sidney, Ernest Borgnine. Based on the novel by William L. Heath. Director: Richard Fleischer.

   It took me a long time to catch up with Violent Saturday, which I saw on local TV in the 60s, pretty badly cut up. At the time I thought it a compact little gem of a film, but seeing it again recently at last, I find it’s the kind of film that needs to be badly cut up.

   There’s a fine little Heist Movie at the heart of it, and when three exemplary Heavies like Stephen McNally, J. Carroll Naish and Lee Marvin finally square off against Victor Mature, the film snaps, crackles and pops with excitement. Unfortunately, it takes about eighty minutes of Nothing Very Much to get around to it.

   I recommend the book, by the way, a nifty little novel by W. L. Heath (Harper, 1955; reprinted by Black Lizard, 1985) that brings life to small-town characters reduced to Soap Opera status in the film.

William F. Deeck

ANNA MARY WELLS – Murderer’s Choice. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1943. Dell #126, paperback, mapback edition, no date [1946]. Perennial Library, paperback, 1981.

ANNA MARIE WELLS Murderer's Choice

   Charles Osgood, famous mystery writer and creator of Silas Smith, bucolic detective, is one of those, it is to be hoped, rare mystery writers who are nasty characters in their own right, and maybe write.

   Charles tells his cousin, Felix Osgood, whom he obviously dos not like, that he, Charles, is ging to commit suicide in such a way that the death will seem like murder. Charles also says he will leave clues pointing to Frank.

   He adds that be is leaving everything to Frank in his will and has made him the beneficiary of a large insurance policy so that everyone will know who gains by the death. Frank, Charles tells him, will be charged with homicide and executed.

   Charles does indeed die, but the death is considered natural. Frank, who has waited nervously for the ax to fall and the evidence to make its appearance, can wait no longer. He hires the Keene Detective agency to look into his cousin’s death, and the agency assigns Grace Pomeroy, a new employee and a former nurse, to the case.

   Well written but requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1990.

      BIBLIOGRAPHY —     [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

ANNA MARY WELLS [aka Anna Mary Wells Smits, at one time an associate professor of English at Douglass College], 1906-2003.

   A Talent for Murder (n.) Knopf 1942 [Dr. Hillis Owen; Grace Pomeroy]
   Murderer’s Choice (n.) Knopf 1943 [Grace Pomeroy]
   Sin of Angels (n.) Simon & Schuster 1948 [Dr. Hillis Owen; Grace Pomeroy]
   Fear of Death (n.) Wingate 1951
   The Night of May Third (n.) Doubleday 1956

Editor’s Note: John F. Norris reviewed this same book over on his blog a couple of years ago. Check it out here.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Hello again! I won’t attempt to describe the health problems that forced me to abandon this column and just about everything else these past few months, but they seem to be behind me now and I’m ready to take up where I left off. Care to join me?


   Not long before I put the column on hiatus, I learned from Fred Dannay’s son Richard that I’d made a mistake in Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection, and I can’t think of a better place to correct it than here.

   On page 241 of the book I state that the 1968 Queen novel The House of Brass was written by Avram Davidson from an outline by Fred. It’s true that Davidson was commissioned to and did expand Fred’s outline to book length, but that’s only a small part of the story, which is told in full in the Dannay papers, archived at Columbia University.


   Among the House of Brass documents are: (1) two different drafts of Fred’s synopsis, one running 74 pages, the other 61; (2) Davidson’s expansion of the synopsis, which runs 181 pages; (3) two copies of the 266-page version of the novel written by Manny Lee after the Davidson version was rejected; (4) two copies of the final draft of the novel, which runs 275 typed pages. These facts are indisputable, and I thank Richard Dannay for sharing them with me.

   As I documented in my February column, we know from Manny’s letter to Fred dated November 3, 1958 that he was at work turning a Dannay synopsis into a new novel but had been put behind schedule by health problems. (Whether these included the onset of writer’s block remains unknown.)

   We also know that the book in question was not The Finishing Stroke, which had been published much earlier in 1958 and was the last novel in what I’ve called Queen’s third period. So what happened to the book Manny was working on near the end of the year?

   I can envision three possibilities. (1) Fred gave up on it completely. (2) He gave up on it as a novel and he or another writer turned it into the novelet “The Death of Don Juan” (Argosy, May 1962; collected in Queens Full, 1965). (3) Manny went back to the project after recovering from writer’s block and it was published as Face to Face (1967).

   My own guess, which is speculative but (I hope!) informed, is the third possibility. With that as my premise, I offer the following timeline.

   Late 1958 or early 1959 — Manny develops writer’s block and is unable to continue expanding the latest Dannay synopsis into a novel.

   1961 or 1962 — A decision is made to bring in other writers to perform Manny’s traditional function.

   1963 — Publication of The Player on the Other Side, written by Theodore Sturgeon from Fred’s synopsis.

   1964 — Publication of And on the Eighth Day, written by Avram Davidson from Fred’s synopsis.

   1965 — Publication of The Fourth Side of the Triangle, written by Davidson from Fred’s synopsis.

   1966? — Davidson expands Fred’s synopsis into The House of Brass, but Fred and Manny reject his version and the project is shelved.

   1966 or 1967 — Manny recovers from writer’s block and finishes his work on the project that was left incomplete back in the late Fifties. This book is published as Face to Face (1967).

   1967 or 1968 — Manny completely rewrites the rejected Davidson version of The House of Brass, which is published under that title in 1968.

   The final Queen hardcover novels — Cop Out (1969), The Last Woman in His Life (1970), and A Fine and Private Place (1971), whose publication Manny did not live to see — were written by the cousins without input from outsiders, Fred preparing the plot synopses as usual and Manny expanding them to book length.


   As editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fred had reprinted dozens of the pulp stories of Dashiell Hammett but just one tale by Raymond Chandler and that only after his death. Of course the vast majority of Chandler’s short fiction was too long for EQMM’s requirements, but from Fred’s point of view the most serious problem with the creator of Philip Marlowe was that, unlike Hammett, he had a pervasive tendency to get lost in his own plot labyrinths. In fact he once said that plot didn’t matter to him, only the individual scenes did.


   This tendency can be seen as far back as his first published story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (Black Mask, December 1933; collected in Red Wind, World 1946, and in Stories and Early Novels, Library of America 1995).

   Trying to make sense of this story is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. One of the main characters is Landrey, a gambler and racketeer who earlier in his life had tried to launch a Hollywood career. In those days he had had an affair with Rhonda Farr, a young beauty who had become a major star. Apparently wanting to rekindle the romance, Landrey pretends that Rhonda’s love letters to him had been stolen and has his underworld buddies demand blackmail money from her. Then he hires the story’s protagonist, a PI named Mallory, to thwart the blackmailers and recover the letters.

   All these events have taken place before the story begins. Chandler opens with a nightclub scene where Mallory pretends to have the letters himself and, hoping to force the blackmailers to go after him, demands $5,000 from Rhonda. (What would he have done if she had said “Show me you have them”?) Chandler never makes up his mind whether Rhonda had asked Landrey to help get her letters back.

   At pages 71 and 106 of the Red Wind collection and pages 7 and 37 of the Library of America volume it seems she did, at pages 111 and 42 respectively it seems she didn’t. If she didn’t, how could Landrey have known she was being blackmailed unless he was behind it himself?

   At no point does Chandler provide any details about how the letters were stolen. In fact at pages 104-105 and 36-37 respectively it’s hinted that Landrey had returned the letters long ago and that they’d been stolen not from him but from her. To make matters even more chaotic, he for no earthly reason is carrying the letters in his own pocket on the night of the action!

   Simultaneously with the fake blackmail plot, Landrey has arranged for Rhonda to be kidnaped and held for ransom so that he can rescue her and earn her eternal gratitude. Apparently none of his underlings are ever privy to his overall plan, but a remark of Mallory’s — “When the decoy worked I knew it was fixed” (pp. 112 and 43 respectively) — suggests that in some mystic manner our sleuth knew the truth almost from the get-go.

   Somehow, although again Chandler spares us any details, Landrey’s partner Mardonne is involved in the master scheme, and Mallory miraculously discovers this aspect of the plot too (pp. 115 and 46 respectively). Small wonder that Mardonne (on pp. 112 and 43 respectively) remarks “A bit loose in places.”

   Parsing other Chandler stories will have to be done by someone else. Life’s too short.


   How better to celebrate one’s recovery from serious illness than with one of the immortal works of Michael Avallone? The Flower-Covered Corpse (1969) is rife with the scrambled sentences that are his unique claim to fame but I’ll limit myself to a handful. The “I” in these quotations is New York PI Ed Moon, who is to detectives what Ed Wood was to directors.


   I had never heard of Louis La Rosa. Didn’t know him from Robert J. Kennedy.

   Blood played tag in my little grey cells.

   â€œ….Hep you may be but you are unitiate….”

   The mad evening had come to its final, inexorable totem pole of weird unreality.

   More marbles scattered across the floor of what was left of my brain.

   Right after War Two, he had plunged into the Police Academy bag and come up with an apple pie in each hand.

   I didn’t have a client except myself and my own neck.

   He tried to smile, still huddling his lovely fortune cookie.

   Femininity and Melissa Mercer are blood sisters.

   The .22 spit like a sneeze.

   I said a handful and a hand has five fingers so I guess I should have stopped halfway through my list. But there’s something about Avalloneisms that almost forces me to say — again and again and again — “Just one more.” I hope you didn’t mind too much.

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