ADAM BLISS – The Camden Ruby Murder

Grosset & Dunlap; hardcover reprint, no date stated. First edition: Barse & Co., hardcover, 1931.

   According to the increasingly indispensable Crime Fiction IV, Adam Bliss was the pseudonym of Robert F. Burkhardt & Eve Burkhardt, husband and wife, as we shall see in a moment. They wrote three books under this pen name, to whit:

Murder Upstairs

      The Camden Ruby Murder, Barse, 1931. Grosset hc reprint.
      Murder Upstairs, Macrae-Smith, 1934. Grosset hc reprint.
      Four Times a Widower, Macrae-Smith, 1936.

   The leading character in each of the last two is someone named Alice Penny, about whom I know nothing at the moment, but since I own one of the two books, present whereabouts unknown, I will tell you more about her, eventually, as soon as I locate the box I know that it is in. And read it. The book, that is, not the box.

   The Burkhardts also wrote books as Rob Eden; there are five entries for them in CFIV under this name. And ordinarily, this is about all you might expect to learn about an obscure pair or writers like these, but no, the Internet does say more. With a judicious use of Google, I discovered a website devoted to events in 1947. What particular connection the Burkhardts have with 1947, I have not yet discerned, but I quote:

    “And at the age of 55, after dozens of novels and countless short stories, he [Robert Burkhardt] died. Not that you’ve heard of him or any of his books – unless you collect potboiler novels of the 1930s.

    “The list of his works is impressive in bulk if nothing else, with titles that tell the entire plot in two or three words: Dancing Feet, In Love With a T-Man, Love or Money, Modern Marriage and my favorite: Short Skirts: A Story of Modern Youth.

    “Robert F. Burkhardt was born in Altoona, Iowa, and after a long apprenticeship as a reporter at a series of newspapers, he began handling publicity in the Hollywood studios: Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. He and his wife, Eve, combined their names to form the pen name Rob Eden, adopting another pseudonym, Adam Bliss, for a series of mysteries.

    “Today, not a single one of his volumes is in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. A Google search turns up very little on him or his widow.”

   The works of Rob Eden, as taken from the website above, are the following. No claim is made (by me) as to completeness. [Those marked with a * are entries in CFIV; one marked with a ** perhaps should be.]

      Always in Her Heart
      Blond Trouble
      Dancing Feet
      The Girl With Red Hair
      Golden Goddess
      Heartbreak Girl
      Her Dream Prince
      Her Fondest Hope
      In Love With a T-Man **   [ Listed for sale elsewhere with this description: “Secretary falls in love with her Treasury Agent boss. Intrigue, romance.” ]
      * Jennifer Hale
      Kathie the First
      * LootStep Child
      Love Blind
      Love Came Late
      * Love Comes Flying
      Love or Money
      Love Wings
      The Lovely Liar
      Lucky Lady
      Men at Her Feet
      Modern Marriage
      Moon Over the Water
      The Mountain Lodge
      * A New Friend
      Pay Check
      Second Choice
      * Short Skirts: A Story of Modern Youth
      This Man Is Yours
      Trapped By Love
      $20 a Week

   One other website indicates that the authors also wrote as Rex Jardin. If so, this may be a case of a missing entry in CFIV, as the one title found under this byline certainly sounds as though it may be crime-related: The Devil’s Mansion, Fiction League, 1931; Jacobsen, 1931?; Paperback Library, pb, 1966, as a gothic romance with the following blurb on the cover: “Janet was forced to escape the eerie old house or become the bride of the Devil himself!”

   As for The Camden Ruby Murder itself, the good news is, to some of us – should I make that “most of us?” – is that this is a locked-room mystery. I’ll get to the (relatively) bad news in a minute. To set the scene first of all, the narrator, Gary Maughan; his host, Van Every, owner of the newly acquired (and priceless) Camden Ruby;and Maughan’s long-time acquaintance (and once his lover) stage star Margalo Younger, are in Van Every’s home, listening to him expound on the curse that has been placed upon the gem. When the story is completed, with its gory details, Margalo, who has apparently fainted, is discovered by the two men instead to be dead. Murdered by means of a poisoned needle found at the base of her brain.

The Camden Ruby Murder

   Mitigating circumstances: The door to the room was open, and a number of household members (and close friends) are eventually learned to have passed by, which seems to make matters less complicated, until (as time goes on) it is also learned that none of them could have committed the crime, more or less. Which is too bad, because none of them really did do it. In the hands of an author like John Dickson Carr, the flummery would have kept pace with the investigation, if not kept tantalizingly out in front instead of lagging behind, as it does here, which to my mind, at least, was a large disappointment, as the flummery itself is top-notch and worthy of, as I suggested above, better hands.

   This book was written back in the day where the mystery, the murder, the crime, the investigation and the questioning were the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story. Not much time is spent on personal matters, unless and until they had a bearing on the case at hand. Maughan quickly gains the confidence of the investigating officer, one Captain Keyes, which (fortunately for the reader) gives Maughan, as the narrator, total and complete access to the entire investigation. He is therefore able to view it from every side and angle and than back inside out again.

   Not that this amounts to more than a hill of peapods later on, at a key juncture of the story when Maughan, tired from slogging across town one time too many in the rain, turns down an opportunity for someone to tell him something important, something so important it would have solved the case then and there – halfway through the book – only for that person offering him the aforesaid opportunity, but denied, to become the second of the killer’s victims. (I am not telling you anything you should not know, for as Maughan himself says, immediately after turning said person away, “I would have given anything if only I … had listened…”)

   Any weaknesses or problematic passages aside, I enjoyed reading this book, and if you are still with me in reading my comments thus far, I am somewhat of the opinion that you would too.

— July 2006

[UPDATE] 07-21-07. Al Hubin has agreed with me about the book by Rob Eden which I suggested be included in CFIV. You will find it under that author’s name in the ongoing online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV.

   As for the book by Rex Jardin mentioned above, Al has informed me that it was included in Crime Fiction II. He removed it from later editions on the advice it was not criminous in nature. Any confirmation or factual information to the contrary would be welcome.

[UPDATE] 07-24-07. Jamie Sturgeon has found two more titles by Rob Eden, and Al Hubin has agreed that both of them warrant inclusion in CFIV. Details can be found in this later blog entry.