A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marvin Lachman

ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING – Net of Cobwebs. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1945. Bantam #26, paperback, 1946 (copies with jackets exist). Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 edition. Ace Double G-530, paperback; published back-to-back with Unfinished Crime. Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2004; published with The Death Wish.

   The psychological mystery, along with its first cousin, the film noir, became extremely popular during the mid-1940s. Elizabeth Sanxay Holding had been writing this type of book since the early 1930s, and Anthony Boucher, one of her biggest boosters, was quick to point out her preeminence in this subgenre. Raymond Chandler paid her extravagant praise indeed, saying, “For my money she’s the top suspense writer of them all.” Net of Cobwebs is one of her best books.

   Most of the Holding mysteries involve close family relationships. This is perhaps a carry-over from her early writing days, prior to 1930, when she primarily wrote romantic fiction. Critics Barzun and Taylor disliked the “family wrangling” in her books, but they are in a distinct minority; most fans and critics thought otherwise. In Net of Cobwebs it is his family that is an apparent refuge for Malcolm Drake, a merchant seaman who is recovering from the effects of having had his ship torpedoed.

   He carries the additional burden of guilt regarding the death of one -member. Plagued with nightmares and inability remember, he suffers the further trauma of being the primary murder suspect when a relative who made him her heir is murdered with his medication.

   Though women were generally her protagonists, Holding shows in this book that she has no difficulty in being equally convincing when writing from a male viewpoint, even that of a war veteran. We can accept and identify with Drake as easily as we can with the heroine of another Holding novel using World War II as its background. In The Blank Wall (1947), Lucia Holley seems to to be a typical middle-aged housewife, concerned with writing to her husband overseas and coping with wartime shortages. When a married man “takes up” with her teenage daughter and then is found murdered, Lucia’s life becomes a nightmare. The book, one of her most popular. was filmed in 1949 by Max Ophuls, with Joan Bennett and James Mason, as The Reckless Moment.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.