IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman

JOHN STEPHEN STRANGE – The Strangler Fig. Doubleday Doran/Crime Club, hardcover, 1930. Reprinted in paperback as Murder at World’s End: Mystery Novel Classic #59, no date stated, [1944].


   Had I but known what awaited me in John Stephen Strange’s The Strangler Fig, I’d have left this Crime Club mystery for Bill Deeck to review because only he can really do justice to the gems within. How about some of the following H-I-B-K beauties from this book:

    “… his eminently reasonable mind entertained no faintest premonition that in a few hours this smoldering fire was destined to burst Into an uncontrollable conflagration.”


    “Perhaps it was just as well that … he could not see with greater clarity what awaited him — what awaited them all — at the turn of the next corner.”

   Strange’s amateur sleuth is Baltimore attorney Bolivar Brown, who goes to World’s End Island off the Florida coast where there was a disappearance seven years ago, and now a murder. A hurricane occurs, as obligatory in Florida mysteries of the 1930s as drugs are in the 1980s.

   Superstition ascribes the ability to murder to the titular tree, but Bolivar knows better, as he says, “I shall not rest until I am able to call the strangler fig by its human name.”

   The book proceeds for too many pages (295) toward a fairly guessable denouement in which Brown gathers all the suspects together. Before he has made any disclosure, Strange (a pseudonym for Mrs. Dorothy Stockbridge Tillet) gives us more wonderful cliches:

    “Do you really mean that one of us is a murderer?” and “Do you mean to say that you know who committed these murders?”

   This is a quaintly old-fashioned mystery whose plot, characters, and atmosphere are not strong enough to warrant the time spent. However, the unconscious humor made it worthwhile.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1989.

Bibliographic Notes:   Mrs. Tillet wrote a total of 22 mystery novels in her career, the first appearing in 1928, the last, The House on 9th Street, in 1976 when she was 80 years old. All of them were published under Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint. While she used other leading characters more than once, this was the only appearance of Bolivar Brown.