AUSTIN J. SMALL – The Crimson Death.

Lead novel in the pulp magazine Detective Classics, March 1930.

   Austin J. Small is not a name well-known in mystery circles today, and all I knew about this story before I started reading it was the typically pulpish lead-in blurb: “Terror stalks at Gairlie” — with all that conjures up about ghosts, haunted castles and the like, but not — as a first impression — as being a “classic.”


   But then the Gairlie Rubies are stolen, from a sealed room under observation at all times, and could it be? A locked room mystery that no one else knows about? Is Small going to play it straight? Can he be trusted to play fair with the reader?

   The investigation goes on, and doubts begin to creep back in. The Crimson Death strikes, and the first victim is a maid, slain in the library by an invisible killer that streaks her dress with red. Detectives from Scotland Yard are called in — but obviously they’re not at all familiar with anything close to resembling standard police procedural techniques. It’s not enough that the wrong questions are asked, but the answers they do get are often not revealed. Hopes fade fast.

   Am I revealing too much, considering the general non-availability of this particular work, to say that Small is more interested in writing science-fiction than an utterly fair detective story? Still, in spite of the frustrating nature of the incompetent investigation, and in spite of the dumb obstacles placed in the way of true love, there is a modicum of quaint naivete to go with the many pulp styled thrills and chills, thus making this sinister mystery not a complete failure.

   It comes close, though.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979       (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 07-08-08. I’ve always assumed that this was the magazine version of one of Austin J. Small’s several crime and mystery novels published in hardcover, sometimes under the pen name of “Seamark,” but now that I have the means of checking into it more thoroughly, this is apparently not so.

   Which also means that in terms of an appropriate cover image, I’m stumped, for the first time in a long time. In its place, I have an inappropriate one, but it is one in my collection by the same author, and it appears to be the same kind of science-fictional overlap with the world of detective fiction. I’ve never read it, so I could be wrong, and don’t hold me to it.

   I no longer even have a copy of the magazine I read this story in. I must have traded it off for something I thought I’d rather have at the time. Little did I know then that I would need it now.