by Francis M. Nevins

   Late August was a disaster for mystery writers and lovers. First we lost Magdalen Nabb, then John Gardner, then one who was a dear friend of mine. Joe L. Hensley � private attorney, member of the Indiana legislature, prosecutor, judge, dealer in rare coins and paper money, writer of science fiction since the early 1950s and more recently of 20-odd mystery novels � died on August 27 at age 81.

Robak's Firm

   For the past several decades his home was Madison, Indiana, a charming town on the Ohio River just across from Kentucky and about 300 miles from St. Louis. Whenever I was driving east he’d invite me to stay over for drinks, dinner, dialogue and the use of his guest bedroom. How he could tell stories! Hoosier politics, the judiciary, colleagues in the SF and mystery fields ranging from Harlan Ellison to Avram Davidson to John D. MacDonald, encounters over the years with everyone from Robert Frost to Bob Hope — the anecdotes poured out of him like the water over Niagara Falls, especially when we’d drive together from Madison to the annual Pulpcon in Dayton, Ohio, where he was guest of honor one year and I the next.

   I reviewed several of his novels for St. Louis newspapers and wrote the entry on him for the reference book that used to be called 20th Century Crime and Mystery Writers and is now for obvious reasons known as the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. His final novel, Snowbird’s Walk, will be published early next year. Driving east will never again be so pleasant for me.


   The Indiana towns I know best are Madison, thanks to Joe, and Bloomington, thanks to Indiana University’s Lilly Library where Anthony Boucher’s papers are archived. On a visit to the Lilly several years ago I came upon Boucher’s correspondence with Cornell Woolrich and his comments on various Woolrich stories. Someday I hope to include this material in an updated edition of First You Dream, Then You Die, but this column offers a fine venue for a sneak preview.

Finger of Doom

   In Tony’s first letter to the master of suspense, dating from the late spring of 1944, he asked permission to reprint a Woolrich tale in his anthology Great American Detective Stories (World, 1945). Replying on June 5, Woolrich recommended that Boucher use “Endicott’s Girl” (Detective Fiction Weekly, February 19, 1938), which he called “my favorite among all the stories I’ve ever written.”

   Boucher didn�t care for that one, as he explained in a July 19 letter to World editor William Targ: �It has in extreme measure the frequent Woolrich flaw � a fine emotional story which ends with loose ends all over the place and nothing really explained.� Instead Boucher opted for �Finger of Doom� (Detective Fiction Weekly, June 22, 1940), which he retitled �I Won�t Take a Minute.� �Endicott�s Girl� remained uncollected until I put it in Night and Fear (2004).

   More gems from the Boucher-Woolrich correspondence are likely to pop up in future columns.


Over My Dead Body

   The first murder in Rex Stout�s Over My Dead Body (1940) takes place in a fencing academy. The weapon is a col de mort, a doohickey that when slipped over the usually blunt end of an epee turns it into a lethal weapon. Whether Stout made up this device out of whole cloth (if I may coin an Avalloneism) or whether it exists in the real world I have no idea and couldn�t care less. What intrigues me is whether among the readers of this Nero Wolfe adventure might have been one J.K. Rowling. Is it coincidence that the king toad of the Harry Potter books is named Lord Voldemort?


   Vincent Cornier (1898-1976) was an English author of French descent who inherited a neat pile of money as a young man and thereafter devoted himself to writing short stories of fantasy and mystery. Very few of them were published in the U.S. until, after World War II, Fred Dannay discovered his work in old British periodicals and began reprinting occasional Cornier stories in Ellery Queen�s Mystery Magazine.

   Eventually Cornier began to send Fred a few originals. Earlier this year I had occasion to re-read most of his stories from EQMM. The one I found most intriguing was the first of those originals, �O Time, In Your Flight� (September 1951).

EQMM Sept 1951

   Why? Because it contains a uniquely beautiful clue to the solution: one that is available only to readers who recognize the title�s poetic source and remember the three words in the poem that come just before the five in the title! The question all but asks itself: Was it Cornier or Fred who put that brilliant title on the story? Their correspondence, which is archived at Columbia University, doesn�t indicate what title was on the tale when Cornier submitted it, but we know that Fred had a penchant for changing the titles of many of the stories he published. Also I find no evidence in Cornier�s other stories that he had any particular interest in poetry, while Fred not only collected rare first editions of poetry but also wrote some of his own. It seems to me far more likely than not that the stroke of genius was Fred�s.

   If further proof is needed, there�s indisputable evidence that Fred knew the poem in question: he used the first three words of the line, the words that provide the clue to Cornier�s story, as the title for another tale by another author that appeared in EQMM a few years later! The author was Dorothy Salisbury Davis, the issue June 1954. After you�ve read �O Time, In Your Flight� in Duels in Shadows, the forthcoming Crippen & Landru collection of Cornier�s best mysteries, Google the title and you�ll quickly find what I�ve been hinting at without, I hope, having given it away. But don�t do it before or you may spoil the story!