CLYDE B. CLASON – The Purple Parrot. Theocritus Lucius Westbrough #4. The Crime Club, Doubleday Doran & Co., hardcover, 1937. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback,  2011.

   There were a large number .of competent practitioners of the fair play detective novel from the late 1920s to the early 1940s who are often ignored, or only vaguely treated, by reference works, yet whose books are eagerly sought by collectors. Among these nearly forgotten writers are Dornford Yates, A. E. Fielding, Darwin L. Teilhet, Clifford Knight, Milton M. Propper, Timothy Fuller, Max Afford, and Clyde B. Clason.  Indeed, almost all of my correspondents have a favorite unknown writer from the period. Surprisingly little investigation has gone on into many of these authors.

   Mike Nevins rescued Milton Fropper from oblivion in a TAD article, and I’m slowly revising my article on Darwin and Hildegarde Teilhet. But — to get to the point of this review — no one.seems to know much about Clyde B. Clason. Bob Adey, who praises Clason’s “memorable” detective Theocritus Lucius Wesborough in Locked Room Murders, remarks that Clason is “unjustly shrouded in obscurity.”

   I must admit that after reading Clason’ s second book, The Death Angel, I was hot persuaded that the obscurity was µnjustified. The Death Angel is not notable for setting, characterization or cleverness of the mystery — which is solved by a device I hate: [WARNING] having most of the crimes and mysterious events committed by different people acting independently. (Other writers during the Golden Age fell into this trap, most notably Anthony Boucher in The Case of the Seven of Calvary, which is otherwise quite well told.)

   My second try at Clason, The Purple Parrot, has made me revise my opinion of his work. The story has many of the elements of the Golden Age: a narrator in love with the heroine, who is a prime suspect; a cruel grandfather, who is murdered just before signing a new will; a shady butler; hints of mysterious people from the victim’s past; an artifact — in this case, the parrot itself — which seems to have no value, yet is stolen; and slow-witted policemen in awe of the. eccentric detective, a professor of Roman history.

   Having all this together makes for .good reading, especially since Clason also provides some eccentric book collectors whose bibliophilia is a possible motive for the crime. Moreover, Clason shows considerable powers of construction and exposition, carefully and steadily developing the plot.

   The crime turns out to have been committed in a locked — or at least guarded — room, and Clason eventually produces two satisfactory explanations of the apparent impossibility. (Oddly enough the rejected explanation is much more ingenious than the eventual solution.)

   In short, except for one whopping coincidence, The Purple Parrot is a fine example of the 1930s detective novel.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 3 (June 1981).