Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

FREDERICK IRVING ANDERSON – The Purple Flame and Other Stories. Edited by Benjamin F. Fisher. Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2016. Lost Classics Series No. 38. Hardcover/trade paperback. Short story collection (15 stories).

   During his writing career, Frederick Irving Anderson produced dozens of stories, the majority being mysteries, that proved very popular with readers, especially those of The Saturday Evening Post, where most of them appeared over a period of nearly twenty years.

   In accordance with the era, some of Anderson’s characters fit comfortably into the Rogue School of likeable criminals who more often than not work on the side of right, if only sometimes to avoid worse situations; with their help, the cause of justice, and not just the legal system, is served. Two such rogues created by Anderson were the “Infallible” Godahl and Sophie Lang, with only the latter actually making it to the silver screen.

   Equally memorable are his creations Oliver Armiston (“the extinct author”), who fits the Armchair Detective model very nicely, and his constant partner in crime solving, Deputy Inspector Parr (“the famous man hunter”). Their modus operandi ordinarily goes along these lines:

    “. . . Deputy Parr was wont to fetch [to Armiston] those few occasional crime puzzles that resisted his classic nutcracker methods. Mr. Parr was a man of infinite resource; Armiston was a phase of his amazing versatility—one of the most highly prized. Parr’s usual device was to lay before his talented friend the mise en scène of what he was pleased to call a frozen plot, an insoluble crime, and leave it to the hectic imagination of the retired writer to bring to a finish, in the guise of fiction, what the man hunter himself had been unable to complete as fact. The results had been, to say the least, startling. Parr had come to hold his curiously endowed friend in some awe; but Oliver explained the phenomenon naively by pointing that though fact may outrage all the probabilities, fiction—to be salable—must be sound.

    “It was this faculty of logical connotation that had made Oliver Armiston so unexpectedly valuable to the police deputy. Parenthetically, it was this same virtuosity that had been Oliver’s undoing in his career; when a clever thief dramatized one of his lurid tales, in real life, with murder as the sequel, the police stepped in and politely but firmly requested Oliver to cease, in the interests of society. Now the only outlet Armiston had for his fantastic powers of divination came through these occasional frozen plots, served up by his friend and admirer, Parr.”

— From “The Follansbee Imbroglio” (1922)

   Which brings us to the present book; in it Doug Greene at Crippen & Landru has collected fifteen highly entertaining adventures in crime busting, eleven of them featuring the Armiston-Parr duo, with the first one (“The Purple Flame”), using different characters, presumably being the prototype for the series; one with Parr only; and two showcasing the short-lived character Judge Alan Ebbs.

   With Anderson, readers get what you might call a “three-fer”: a capable mystery author, a local colorist, and a sly social critic. The preface by Poe scholar Benjamin F. Fisher is a fine introduction to both Anderson and his series characters. In Fisher’s estimation Anderson possessed that rarest of authorial attributes, originality, and that without following the trend in American crime fiction towards the new hardboiled school which was gaining ascendancy at the beginning of the 20th century, the same period in which Anderson’s popularity soared.

   His ability to add dimension to his characters and their environments and his carefully modulated diction (“Anderson leavens his fiction with abundant colloquial language”) all combined to make Frederick Irving Anderson not only a good detective fiction writer but also an important local color author and a chronicler of the American scene as it existed in the first third of the 20th century.


   You can find The Purple Flame and Other Detective Stories on the Crippen & Landru website here.