William F. Deeck

CORTLAND FITZSIMMONS & JOHN MULHOLLAND – The Girl in the Cage. Frederick A Stokes, hardcover, 1939; Grosset & Dunlap, reprint hardcover, no date.

   Once again, Cortland Fitzsimmons has taken a sure-fire idea — “the first mystery based on the psychology and deception of the magician’s art” — and turned it into a dud. Referring to the prose style of the ineffable James Corbett, whom it has been claimed I try to emulate, Bill Pronzini has said reading it is “like watching grass grow.”

   Well, reading Fitzsimmons is like watching grease congeal. Furthermore, his narrator; a Roman Catholic priest nearing seventy, could be a twenty-year-old college student the way the author portrays him. The other characters are more like tissue paper than cardboard.

   Putting on a magic show between films at a theater, Peter King enlists the assistance of a frightened and unprepossessing — she’s not the latter, of course, but you already guessed that –young lady, who then volunteers before King’s stooge can do so to disappear from a cage.

   Only later is it discovered that the man sitting in front of her has had a dagger plunged into his neck. Four or five corpses later — tedium caused me to lose count — King spots the multiple murderer through his knowledge of magic.

   Daniel Stashower, author of two books featuring magicians, The Ectoplasmic Man and Elephants in the Distance, tells me that Mulholland, a master magician himself, wrote a nonfiction work on magic that was quite readable. Which leads me to deduce that he had no role in this novel other than the magic, none of which, true to his code, he explains.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 1989.

Bibliographic Data: This collaboration with Fitzsimmons is the only entry for John Mulholland in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. As Bill Deeck pointed out, he was quite well known in the world of magic and magicians. You can find his MagicPedia page here.

   I don’t know how well known Cortland Fitzsimmons (1893-1949) was as a mystery writer, but there are 17 titles to his credit in CFIV between 1930 to 1943. His most famous mystery might be Death on the Diamond (Stokes, 1934), which was also made into a rather bizarre film starring Robert Young as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. (Apparently his teammates keep getting bumped off, one by one.)