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Part 5.0: Theatre of Crime (US)

   Taking its cue from 1930s and 1940s radio drama, the U.S. television play format (initially a live presentation) gathered strength during the 1950s. Presented in various anthology series, the form evolved from live performances to filmed episodes (as developments in broadcast technology progressed).

   Unlike contemporary British television (BBC), with its roots in theatre (the stage), American television drew on professional elements from Radio and from Hollywood (when the latter saw fit to work for the small-screen). By the 1960s, some of the on-screen results were simply astounding.

   The Crime and Mystery genre was represented not only by some outstanding individual plays presented in general anthology series (such as Studio One) but also by entire anthology collections dedicated to the theme. Unfortunately, most of these genre-based anthologies tended to feature ordinary television suspense yarns (usually concerning devious murderers or remorseful fugitives).

   I have, therefore, omitted many of these anthologies (such as Hands of Destiny, DuMont, 1950-51; The George Sanders Mystery Theatre, NBC, 1957; Panic!, NBC, 1957) from this overview.

   In the beginning, Studio One (aka Westinghouse Studio One; CBS, 1948-58) appeared to have only one thing going for it, a brutally realistic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s “Glass Key” (May 1949). But then, later in 1949, another Hammett appeared, “Two Sharp Knives”.

   It was the beginning of a Studio One deluge, sweeping in with “The Room Upstairs” (1950), from Mildred Davis, “Shield for Murder” (1951), from William P. McGivern, “Nightfall” (1951), from David Goodis, “Mr. Mummery’s Suspicion” (1951), from Dorothy L. Sayers, and “The King in Yellow” (1951), from Raymond Chandler.

   In 1952 they presented “The Devil in Velvet”, from John Dickson Carr, “They Came to Baghdad”, from Agatha Christie, “Stan, the Killer” and, later, “Black Rain” (1953), from Georges Simenon, “Little Men, Big World”, from W.R. Burnett, and “The Hospital”, from Kenneth Fearing. 1953 saw “Sentence of Death”, from Thomas Walsh. In 1954 came “Let Me Go, Lover”, from Charlotte Armstrong.

   By 1955 this deluge was down to a trickle, with “Donovan’s Brain”, from Curt Siodmak, and, in 1956, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, from Patricia Highsmith. The final drops (genre-wise) were squeezed out with “First Prize for Murder” (1957), from John D. MacDonald, and “A Dead Ringer” (1958), from James Hadley Chase. Along the way, Studio One’s two-part “The Defender” (1957), by Reginald Rose, became the inspiration for the excellent 1961-65 series The Defenders (CBS).

   Taking its title literally, Suspense (CBS, 1949-54) showcased stories by Cornell Woolrich, John Dickson Carr, Craig Rice, Stanley Ellin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Townsley Rogers, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Collier, Geoffrey Household, Georges Simenon, Wilkie Collins, and many others. But before the mouth-watering begins, it should be noted that these plays were broadcast live and therefore less than a third of them survive.

   [Places like The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Museum of Television and Radio in New York and The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles may have viewing copies of some surviving episodes. Then, there’s always the Internet Archive – Moving Images – Television to explore:]

   Recipient of a Special Edgar Award in 1951, The Web (CBS, 1950-54) was a live New York series presenting stories from the works of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Tantalizing in the extreme, especially with so little to go on in terms of detailed episode credits, one can only imagine (fantasize, even) the possible selection of genre stories translated here for television.

   Living up to its name, Danger (CBS, 1950-55) certainly satisfied its viewers with moments like Philip MacDonald’s “The Green and Gold String” (1950), John Dickson Carr’s “Charles Markham, Antique Dealer” (1951), Anthony Boucher’s “Mr. Lupescu” (1951), William L. Stuart’s “Blackmail” (1953) and Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” (1955). At the same time the series also promoted the early careers of directors Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer as well as actor James Dean.

   Another live and prestigious series was Robert Montgomery Presents (NBC, 1950-57) which invested in some noteworthy episodes, particularly during the earlier seasons. Included were presentations based on works by Dorothy B. Hughes, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep”, 1950), Wilkie Collins, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Hemingway (“The Killers, 1955) and Fredric Brown.

   Inner Sanctum (NBC, 1953-54) featured stories based on the popular 1940s radio series, which included Edgar Wallace as story source for “The Lonely One” (1954) and author John Roeburt as a contributor of various teleplays.

   Based also on a popular radio series was the earlier Lights Out (NBC, 1949-52). Similar in atmosphere and theme to Inner Sanctum, it presented stories by Edgar Allan Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”, 1949; “The Masque of the Red Death”, 1951; “The Pit”, 1952), August Derleth (“Rendezvous”, 1950), Dorothy L. Sayers (“The Leopard Lady”, 1950), Ira Levin (“Leda’s Portrait”, 1951), Fredric Brown (“The Pattern”, 1951) and Cornell Woolrich (“Nightmare”, 1952).

   Filmed at Elstree in England for NBC, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents (NBC, 1953-57; ITV/UK from 1955) presented one particular episode which is worth being celebrated by fans of the genre because it represents the only proposal (to my knowledge) for a Bulldog Drummond TV series: the half-hour pilot episode “The Ludlow Affair” (NBC, 1957), with Robert Beatty as our hero and the scene-stealing Michael Ripper as his sidekick.

   Climax! (CBS, 1954-58) got itself off to an enterprising start with Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye”, starring Dick Powell again as Marlowe, and followed it up quickly with Bayard Veiller’s “The Thirteenth Chair”, Fleming’s “Casino Royal” and Lucille Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number”.

   The rest of its TV treasures consisted of works by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Eric Ambler, A.A. Fair [Erle Stanley Gardner], John D. MacDonald, George Hopley [Cornell Woolrich], Patricia Highsmith, Ursula Curtiss, Charlotte Armstrong, Ed McBain [Evan Hunter], and John Dickson Carr.

Warner Brothers Presents (ABC, 1955-57) was the umbrella title for Conflict (ABC, 1956-57), an anthology presenting compositions by Frederick Brady and Thomas Walsh as well as the first pilot (“Anything for Money”, 1957) for the influential 77 Sunset Strip (ABC, 1958-63).

   Lux Video Theatre (CBS, 1950-54; NBC, 1954-57) ran for some seven years, but the NBC seasons were the ones that were of the most interest. During this period the series began featuring teleplay adaptations based on screenplays from some notable Hollywood movies. For instance, there was “Double Indemnity” (1954), “So Evil My Love” (1955), “Shadow of a Doubt” (1955), “My Name is Julia Ross” (1955), “The Suspect” (1955), “Suspicion” (1955), “Ivy” (1956), “Witness to Murder” (1956), “Mildred Pierce” (1956), “The Guilty” (1956) and “The Black Angel” (1957).

   The first genre anthology to be filmed by a major studio (Universal), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (CBS, 1955-60; NBC, 1960-62) has over the decades acquired something of a mystique of its own.

   Utilizing the art and craft of many screenwriters, big-screen actors and like-minded directors, the series’ producers (Joan Harrison and, later, Norman Lloyd) provided a wonderful insight into the workings of the famed Hitchcock (his Shamley Productions produced the series for which he was executive producer). Hitchcock was also savvy enough to explore the work of a vast range of lesser-known genre authors.

   Story sources for Alfred Hitchcock Presents include Lillian de la Torre, C.B. Gilford, Michael Arlen, Norman Daniels, Richard Deming (1915-1983), Henry Slesar, Lawrence Treat, Roy Vickers, Harold Q. Masur, Brett Halliday [Davis Dresser], Margaret Manners, Helen Neilsen, Anthony Gilbert [Lucy Beatrice Malleson], Dorothy Salisbury Davis, and Ed Lacy.

   It may not come as too much of a surprise to many readers that the highly-praised 1960 film Psycho was made at Universal by Hitchcock’s TV team, conspicuous by the striking monochromatic imagery of Shamley’s cinematographer John L. Russell.

   The series was revived by NBC (1985-86) and featured colorized Hitchcock intros of the now-deceased host from the original 1950s show. Befittingly macabre or merely mindless? Then, USA Cable Network continued the title (1987-88) with some additional episodes.

   Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions turned to NBC for Suspicion (NBC, 1957-58), even while Alfred Hitchcock Presents was still running over on CBS. The series consisted half-and-half of filmed (Shamley) and live presentations, including Woolrich’s “Four O’Clock”, Helen McCloy’s “The Other Side of the Curtain”, and the rarely-seen “Voice in the Night” (1958) by William Hope Hodgson. “Eye for an Eye” (1958) was the pilot episode for Ray Milland’s 1959-60 private eye series Markham (CBS).

   Kraft Television Theatre became Kraft Mystery Theatre (NBC) for the summer of 1958. The series presented many fine and unexpected works, most notably Ed McBain’s [billed as Evan Hunter] “Killer’s Choice”, the Larry Cohen-scripted “The Eighty Seventh Precinct” [from the McBain novels] and “Night Cry” [from the 1948 novel by William L. Stuart; filmed in 1950 as Where the Sidewalk Ends]. Kraft Television Theatre was the last of the live shows when it faded in 1958, everybody else having already turned to filmed recordings.

   There is one particularly interesting episode of the anthology Pursuit (CBS, 1958-59): “Epitaph for a Golden Girl” (1959), adapted by Lorenzo Semple Jr. from a short story by Ross MacDonald. The story originated in EQMM in June 1946 as “Find the Woman,” with MacDonald writing as Kenneth Millar. In the Pursuit adaptation, star Michael Rennie’s private detective is now called Rogers (instead of Lew Archer).

   In April 1959, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (CBS, 1958-60) presented writer Paul Monash’s two-part “The Untouchables” which served as a suitably violent introduction to the popular and controversial series The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-63). The series helped launch the action-filled 1959 to 1962 television gangster phase (to be a later Part in this TV history overview).

   A second Part of this “Theatre of Crime (US)” will follow shortly, concluding the US history of the genre anthology from the 1960s onwards.

Note:   The introduction to this series of columns by Tise Vahimagi on TV mysteries and crime shows may be found here, followed by:

Part 1: Basic Characteristics (A Swift Overview)
Part 2.0: Evolution of the TV Genre (UK)
Part 2.1: Evolution of the TV Genre (US)
Part 3.0: Cold War Adventurers (The First Spy Cycle)
Part 3.1: Adventurers (Sleuths Without Portfolio).
Part 4.0: Themes and Strands (1950s Police Dramas).
Part 4.1: Themes and Strands (Durbridge Cliffhangers)

by Curt J. Evans

   This list follows (or precedes) my list of “50 Favorite Golden Age Generation British Detective Novels,” which you may find here. This list consists of more worthy British works of detection, both novels and short story collections, but with the additional restriction that the books that follow all came from the 1920s. One may notice that, once again, men predominate, in this case accounting for 75% of the books.

   The top authors, accounting for 70% of the books, are: Freeman Wills Crofts (5), R. Austin Freeman (4), John Rhode (4), Agatha Christie (3), Dorothy L. Sayers (2), G.D.H and Margaret Cole (2), Gladys Mitchell (2), J.J. Connington (2) and Henry Wade (2).

   Looking overall at the Twenties, 43% of the books come from just two years, 1928 and 1929, suggesting that the genre was improving as the decade wore on and was heading into its most golden years yet, those of the 1930s.

         NOVELS (36)

   Omissions include Herbert Adams, Lynn Brock, A. Fielding, Ronald Knox and Philip Macdonald; but I am not crazy about Brock, I have not read enough Adams, and I believe the other three did much better work in the next decade.

1. Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
   A fine country house mystery that gave the world Hercule Poirot. A bit old-fashioned, but all in all one of the strongest debuts in the literature.

2. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Cask (1920)
   Another significant debut, for its apotheosis of alibi-busting and astonishing devotion to material detail. Over- long, as the author himself admitted, but one that should be read.

3. Eden Phillpotts, The Grey Room (1921)
   Unfairly dismissed by Julian Symons, this tale is an appealing take on the haunted room theme. Though it exhibits the venerable author’s penchant for philosophical digressions (which became even more pronounced as he aged), it is shorter than many of his works — and is none the worse for that.

4. A.A. Milne, The Red House Mystery (1922)
   Infamously dismantled by Raymond Chandler, this charming tale is still enjoyable even if one concedes logical faults in the plot structure.

5. Edgar Wallace, The Crimson Circle (1922)
   A deservedly once-celebrated tale by the British Golden Age King of the Thriller. This one allows scope for deduction by the reader and clearly influenced the genre.

6. R. Austin Freeman, The Cat’s Eye (1923)
   Another thrillerish tale, but still one with plenty of ratiocination by the author’s Great Detective, Dr. Thorndyke.

7. Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
   Another fine debut. Some may find Great Detective Lord Peter Wimsey too facetious, but the tale is very clever, with a memorable culprit.

8. Freeman Wills Crofts, Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924)
   The debut of Inspector French sees the author moving away from dependence on alibis, but still prolific with clever devices of deception. Too much travelogue and dialect speech, but still a good case.

9. A. E. W. Mason, The House of the Arrow (1924)
   A major work by an author who contributed only sparingly to mystery. Beautifully written.

10. G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, The Death of a Millionaire (1925)
   While flawed in some ways, this tale demonstrates that British Golden Age mystery could be used as a vehicle for leftist-tinged satire.

11. R. Austin Freeman, The Shadow of the Wolf (1925)
   Freeman’s most famous inverted mysteries are the tales collected in The Singing Bone and the 1930s novel Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight, but this inverted tale, an expansion of an earlier version, is very good indeed.

12. Anthony Wynne, The Mystery of the Evil Eye (1925)
   The debut of Great Detective Dr. Hailey, who later revealed a marked penchant for locked room problems. No such problem here, but another noteworthy debut.

13. Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
   Brilliant; one of the landmarks of the genre, probably the archetypal twenties detective novel, wrongly or rightly.

14. G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, The Blatchington Tangle (1926)
   A humorous country house tale, but with more detection than we get in, say, Agatha Christie’s similar (and better- known) The Secret of Chimneys (which was published the previous year).

15. John Rhode, Dr. Priestley’s Quest (1926)
   The author’s second Dr. Priestly tale, but more striking than the first in its impressively rigorous application of the principles of logical deduction.

16. J. J. Connington, Murder in the Maze (1927)
   In some ways repellent in attitude, yet inspired in its central notion (multiple slayings in one of those country house garden hedge mazes) and told with verve.

17. Freeman Wills Crofts, Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927)
   One of the great original uses of burned bodies, even if laborious at times in the telling.

18. Dorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death (1927)
   Offers a notably celebrated how? problem and an interesting why? one, plus some amusing writing and a very well-observed spinster.

19. Victor L. Whitechurch, The Crime at Diana’s Pool (1927)
   Archetypal country house, village tale. Drawn mildly, but pleasantly (thanks David!).

20. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Sea Mystery (1928)
   One of the author’s shorter works and none the worse for that. Some very clever devices, and characters less stodgy than usual. It should have been called The Crate, however.

21. Anthony Gilbert, The Murder of Mrs. Davenport (1928)
   One of the early detective novels by a prolific author who was more comfortable, in my opinion, with mystery than true detection. But this is one of her best efforts at true detection.

22. Robert Gore-Browne, Murder of an M. P.! (1928)
   One of two mysteries by a forgotten playwright and mainstream novelist. The second, a thriller, is much inferior in my view. The first, praised in A Catalogue of Crime, is a clever tale with a memorable amateur detective.

23. R. Austin Freeman, As a Thief in the Night (1928)
   An impressive achievment. Though somewhat old-fashioned in tone, the novel boasts good characterization, suspense and fascinating science.

24. John Rhode, The Murders in Praed Street (1928)
   Notable use of a particular plot gambit involving multiple murders (the first?). Good opening setting, some good characters and fiendish murders, though Dr. Priestley, Rhode’s Great Detective, is a bit imperceptive on one matter!

25. Henry Wade, This Missing Partners (1928)
   Second genre effort by one of the major figures of the period. More “Croftsian” than later works, but with interesting and original characterization.

26. Agatha Christie, The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
   The Crime Queen’s take on an Edgar Wallace thriller, but with all the detection of her straight detective novels. Some good humor as well.

27. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Box Office Murders (1929)
   Another thriller with detection. We know who the criminals are, but just what they are up to is an interesting question.

28. J. J. Connington, The Case with Nine Solutions (1929)
   The Case with Nine Possibilities might have been a more accurate title, but this is a strong work, with an interesting situation and even detective case notes at the end!

29. C. H .B. Kitchin, Death of My Aunt (1929)
   Once celebrated (and still fairly well-remembered) detective novel by a mainstream novelist successfully aiming here at a more realistic treatment of character in a genre novel.

30. & 31. Gladys Mitchell
, Speedy Death (1929), The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929)
   An impressive one-two debut punch by a truly unique mystery writer. The first, a country house tale, is original in myriad ways. So is the second, though for many it may be too farcical and bizarre. Both have Mrs. Bradley, one of the great women detectives.

32. E. R. Punshon, The Unexpected Legacy (1928)
   First of five Inspector Carter and Sergeant Bell mysteries by a longtime mainstream novelist who had written mystery before but not really detection. There is detection here, though the author would produce better examples of it later. What appeals most are his two police detectives, who are very original for the period.

33. & 34. John Rhode
, The Davidson Case (1929), The House on Tollard Ridge (1929)
   The first novel boasts one of the most complex plots of the decade, the second pleasingly adult characters, a spooky house and some neat gadgets. Both have the acerbic Dr. Priestley.

35. P[eter] R[edcliffe] Shore, The Bolt (1929)
   A strong village take by an author about whom I know absolutely nothing beyond the name and that he was born in 1892, ostensibly. He published a second mystery, The Death Film, in 1932. Of this later book a review states: “It consists of detection, and more detection, and then some, and it was all needed. Straight investigation of crooked involution can hardly be better done.” Apparently it involves murder at the cinema, but I have never seen a copy of it.

36. Henry Wade, The Duke of York’s Steps (1929)
   Another notable work of detection by this author, with better-than-average characterization and writing.


   Omissions here include collections by Christie, the Coles, and Sayers, as well as one by the Grand Old Man himself, Arthur Conan Doyle. I believe the four collections below are superior, coming from supreme masters of the short form who were still at the top of their games.

37. Ernest Bramah, The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923)

38. H. C. Bailey, Mr. Fortune’s Trials (1925)

39. G. K. Chesterton, The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)

40. R. Austin Freeman, The Magic Casket (1927)

150 Favorite Golden Age British Detective Novels:
A Very Personal Selection, by Curt J. Evans

   Qualifications are the writers had to publish their first true detective novel between 1920 and 1941 (the true Golden Age) and be British or close enough (Carr). So writers like, say, R. Austin Freeman, Michael Gilbert and S. S. Van Dine get excluded.

   I wanted to get outside the box a bit and so I’m sure I made what will strike some as some odd choices. This is a personal list. If I were making a totally representative list John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins, Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker, Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Sayers’ Gaudy Night, etc., would all be there). And lists evolve over time. It’s highly likely, for example, that as I read more of Anthony Wynne and David Hume, for example, they would get more listings.

   Also I excluded great novels like And Then There Were None, The Burning Court and Trial and Error, for example, because I felt like they didn’t fully fit the definition of true detective novels. In any list list I would make of great mysteries, they would be there.

   If people conclude from this list that my five favorite Golden Age generation British detective novelists are Christie, Street, Mitchell, Carr and Bruce, that would be fair enough, though I must add that they were very prolific writers, so more listings shouldn’t be so surprising.

   The 150 novels break down by decade as follows:

       1920s 9 (6%)
       1930s 87 (58%)
       1940s 30 (20%)
       1950s and beyond 24 (16%)

   A pretty graphic indicator of my preference for the 1930s!

   Also, of the 61 writers, I believe 40 are men and 21 women — I hope my count is right! — which challenges the conventional view today that most British detective novels of the Golden Age were produced by women. Of these, 31, or just over half, eventually became members of the Detection Club. I exclude a few of these luminaries, such as Ronald Knox and Victor Whitechurch (am I anti-clerical?!).

The Crooked Hinge (1938)
The Judas Window (1938) (as Carter Dickson)
The Reader Is Warned (1939) (as Carter Dickson)
The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940)
The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941)
The Gilded Man (1942) (as Carter Dickson)
She Died a Lady (1944) (as Carter Dickson)
He Who Whispers (1946)
   â— It’s probably sacrilege not to have The Three Coffins on the list (especially when you have The Gilded Man!), but when I read Coffins I enjoyed it for the horror more than the locked room, which seemed overcomplicated too me (need to reread though).

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd 1926
Murder at the Vicarage 1930
The ABC Murders 1936
Death on the Nile 1937
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe 1940
Five Little Pigs 1942
A Murder Is Announced 1950
The Pale Horse 1961
   â— Haven’t reread The ABC Murders recently; was somewhat disappointed with Murder on the Orient Express when rereading and thus excluded from the list. And Then There Were None regretfully excluded, because I wasn’t sure it really qualifies as a detective story (there’s not really a detective and the solution comes per accidens).

Speedy Death (1929)
The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929)
The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
Death at the Opera (1934)
The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935)
St. Peter’s Finger (1938)
The Rising of the Moon (1944)
Late, Late in the Evening (1976)
   â— A true original, but not to everyone’s taste.

The Davidson Case (1929)
Shot at Dawn (1934)
The Corpse in the Car (1935)
Death on the Board (1937)
The Bloody Tower (1938)
Death at the Helm (1941)
Murder, M.D. (1943) (as Miles Burton)
Vegetable Duck (1944)
   â— The Golden Age master of murder means, underrated in my view.

   LEO BRUCE (8)
Case for Three Detectives (1936)
Case with Ropes and Rings (1940)
Case for Sergeant Beef (1947)
Our Jubilee is Death (1959)
Furious Old Women (1960)
A Bone and a Hank of Hair (1961)
Nothing Like Blood (1962)
Death at Hallows End (1965)
   â— In print but underappreciated, he carried on the Golden Age witty puzzle tradition in a tarnishing era for puzzle lovers.

The Case With Nine Solutions (1929)
The Sweepstake Murders (1935)
The Castleford Conundrum (1932)
The Ha-Ha Case (1934)
In Whose Dim Shadow (1935)
   â— An accomplished, knowledgeable puzzler.

Death of An Author (1935)
Policemen in the Precinct (1949)
Murder of a Martinet (1951)
Murder in the Mill-Race (1952)
The Double Turn (1956) (as Carol Carnac)
   â— Has taken a back seat to the Crime Queens, but was very prolific and often quite good (my favorites, as can be seen, are more from the 1950s, when she became a little less convention bound).

   E. R. PUNSHON (5)
Genius in Murder (1932)
Crossword Mystery (1934)
Mystery of Mr. Jessop (1937)
Ten Star Clues (1941)
Diabolic Candelabra (1942)
   â— Admired by Sayers, this longtime professional writer (he published novels for over half a century) is underservingly out of print.

Death of a Ghost (1934)
The Case of the Late Pig (1937)
Dancers in Mourning (1937)
More Work for the Undertaker (1949)
   â— Her imagination tends to overflow the banks of pure detection, but these are very good, genuine puzzles.

G. D. H. and MARGARET COLE (4)
Burglars in Bucks (1930)
The Brothers Sackville (1936)
Disgrace to the College (1937)
Counterpoint Murder (1940)
   â— Clever tales by husband and wife academics not altogether justly classified as “Humdrums.”

The Sea Mystery (1928)
Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930)
The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933)
Mystery on Southampton Water (1934)
   â— The “Alibi King,” he’s more paid lip service (particularly for genre milestone The Cask) than actually read today, but at his best he is is worth reading for puzzle fans.

Artists in Crime (1938)
Seath in a White Tie (1938)
Surfeit of Lampreys (1940)
Opening Night (1951)
   â— Art, society and theater all appealingly addressed by a very witty writer, with genuine detection included.

Strong Poison (1930)
The Five Red Herrings (1931)
Have His Carcase (1932)
Murder Must Advertise (1933)
   â— As can be guessed I prefer middle period Sayers — less facetious than earlier books, but also less self-important than later ones.

The Dying Alderman (1930)
No Friendly Drop (1931)
Lonely Magdalen (1940)
A Dying Fall (1955)
   â— Very underrated writer — some other good works (Mist on the Saltings, Heir Presumptive) were left out because they are more crime novels.

Murder in Hospital (1937)
From Natural Causes (1939)
Death in Retirement (1956)
   â— Far less known than the Crime Queens, but a worthy if inconsistent author.

A Question of Proof (1935)
Thou Shell of Death (1936)
Minute for Murder (1949)
   â— His most important book in genre history is The Beast Must Die, but I prefer these as puzzles.

Death in High Heels (1941)
Green for Danger (1945)
Tour de Force (1955)
   â— One of the few who can match Christie in the capacity to surprise while playing fair.

They Rang Up the Police (1939)
Murder Included (1950)
And Be a Villain (1958)
   â— Underrated mainstream novelist who dabbled in detection.

The Poisoner’s Mistake (1936)
Quickly Dead (1937)
Like a Guilty Thing (1938)
   â— Almost forgotten, but an enjoyable, humanist detective novelist (B. C. worked in the publishing industry and was the son of novelist Thomas Cobb, who also wrote mysteries)

Thirteen Guests (1938)
The Judge Sums Up (1942)
The Double Crime (1953)
   â— A member of the famous and talented Farjeon family (both his father Benjamin and sister Eleanor were notable writers), he wrote mostly thrillers but produced some more genuine detection.

Give a Corpse a Bad Name (1940)
Neck in a Noose (1942)
Enough to Kill a Horse (1955)
   â— Came in at the tail-end of the Golden Age, like Brand, though she was more prolific (and not as good). She started with an appealing Lord Peter Wimsey knock-off (Toby Dyke), but eventually helped found the more middle class and modern “country cottage” mystery (downsized from the country house).

When the Wind Blows (1949)
An English Murder (1951)
That Yew Trees Shade (1954)
   â— Another one who came in near the end of the Golden Age proper, his best is considered to be Tragedy at Law (see P. D. James), but I like best the tales he produced in postwar years.

The Public School Murder (1932)
A Dagger in Fleet Street (1934)
The Shadow on the Downs (1935)
   â— A surprisingly underrated writer, witty and clever in the the way people like English mystery writers to be (why has no one reprinted him?).

The Bell Is Answered (1934)
Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935)
   â— Another mostly forgotten farceur of detection.

Tidings of Joy (1934)
We Shot an Arrow (1939)
   â— Working together, these two authors (one, Goodchild, a prolific thriller writer) produced some fine detective novels (their best-known works are a pair based on real life trials).

A Blunt Instrument (1938)
Detection Unlimited (1953)
   â— Better known for her Regency romances (still read today), Heyer produced some admired exuberantly humorous (if a bit formulaic) detective novels (plotted by her husband).

Murder on Safari (1938)
Death of an Aryan (1939)
   â— After a decent apprentice genre effort, this fine writer produced two fine detective novels, interestingly set in Africa, with an excellent series detective.

The Daffodil Affair (1942)
What Happened at Hazelwood (1946)
   â— So exuberantly imaginative, he is hard to contain within the banks of true detection, but these are close enough, I think, and I prefer them to his earlier, better-known works.

Death in a Deck Chair (1930)
Corpse in Cold Storage ((1934)
   â— A neglected mainstay of the Detection Club, hardly read today.

   C. H. B. KITCHIN (2)
Death of My Aunt (1929)
Death of His Uncle (1939)
   â— These are fairly well-known attempts at more literate detective fiction, by an accomplished serious novelist.

Rynox (1930)
The Maze (1932)
   â— A writer who often stepped into thriller territory (and produced some classics of that form), he produced with these two books closer efforts at true detection (indeed, the latter is a pure puzzle)

Midsummer Murder (1937)
Measure for Murder (1941)
   â— Clever efforts by an underappreciated author.

He Should Not Have Slipped! (1939)
   â— About the closest I would say that this author (actually two men) came to full dress detection.

Not to be Taken (1938)
   â— A true detective novel and first-rate village poisoning tale by this important figure in the mystery genre, who often tweaked conventional detection.

The Bells of Old Bailey (1947)
   â— Best of this literate lady’s detective novels, her last before her untimely death.

Cut-Throat (1932)
   â— Prolific writer who is not my favorite, but I liked this one, with its clever alibi problem.

The Upfold Farm Mystery (1931)
   â— Uneven, prolific detective novelist, but this one has much to please.

Murder of an M.P.! (1928)
   â— One of my favorite 1920s detective novels, by a mere dabbler in the field.

Expert Evidence (1938)
   â— Surprisingly cerebral effort by a “tough” British thriller writer.

Murder Comes Home (1950)
   â— My favorite books by this author tend to be more suspense than true detection.

Murder at School (1931)
   â— Good foray into detection by well-regarded straight novelist.

The Ghost It Was (1936)
   â— About the closest I would say that this crime novelist came to detection.

Bullets Bite Deep (1932)
   â— Though this series later devolved into beat ’em up thrillers, this first effort has genuine detection (and American gangsters). More reading of this author’s other series may yield additional results.

Dead Man’s Quarry (1930)
   â— One of the two detective novels by a forgotten member of the Detection Club, more a mainstream novelist (though forgotten in that capacity as well).

Body Found Stabbed (1932) (as John Cameron)
   â— Detective novel by writer better known for his satire.

Burial Service (1939)
   â— Mostly forgotten Australian-born writer of detective fiction, mostly set in Britain. This tale, his finest, is not. It one of the most original of the period.

Casual Slaughters (1935)
   â— A very good, virtually unknown village tale.

On the Night of the 18th…. (1936)
   â— More realistic detective novel for the place and period, in terms of its depiction of often unattractive human motivations, by a writer who veered more toward thrillers and crime novels.

   A. A. MILNE
The Red House Mystery (1922)
   â— A well-known classic, mocked by Chandler — but, hey, what a sourpuss he was, what?

The Captain’s Curio (1933)
   â— Counted because his true detection started in the Golden Age. His best work, however, is found in crime novels (and straight novels)

One Man’s Muddle (1937)
   â— A strikingly hardboiled tale by a little-known author who was written of on this website fairly recently.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1939)
   â— Mysterious individual who wrote three acidulous detective novels. This is the first, a classic spa tale.

The Perfect Alibi (1934)
   â— A fine farceur of detection, whose genre talent was purged when he became a humorless Stalinist ideologue (he was killed in action in Spain).

The Missing Moneylender (1931)
   â— Controversial because of comments about Jews (as the title should suggest), yet extremely clever.

The Franchise Affair (1948)
   â— Genuine detection, though veering into crime novel territory (and veering very well, thank you).

The Clue of the Silver Key (1930)
   â— One of the closest attempts at true detection by the famed thriller writer.

She Faded Into Air (1941)
   â— See Edgar Wallace. A classic vanishing case, with some of the author’s patented shuddery moments.

Murder of a Lady (1931)
   â— Fine locked room novel by an author who tended to be too formulaic but could be good (can probably add one or two more as I read him).

Editorial Comment:   Coming up soon (as soon as I can format it for posting) and covering some of the same ground as Curt’s, is a list of “100 Good Detective Novels,” by Mike Grost. The emphasis is also on detective fiction, so obviously some of the authors will be the same as those in Curt’s list, but Mike doesn’t restrict himself to British authors, and the time period is much wider, ranging from 1866 to 1988, and the actual overlap is very small.

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

W. F. MORRIS – The Strange Case of Gunner Rawley. Dodd Mead & Co., hardcover, 1930. British edition: Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1929, as Behind the Lines.

    Tankard, the narrator of the opening chapter of this novel, is a soldier in the British army in the First World War.

W. F. MORRIS The Strange Case of Gunnar Rawley

    He recounts a strange encounter, when, while captured by the Germans, he saw his friend Peter Rawley in civilian clothes about to be executed by the Germans in a chalk quarry near Bapaume:

    I was asked the other day … what was the quaintest thing I saw during the war…Had she asked what was the most extraordinary thing I saw I could have answered … that it was Peter Rawley I saw in that chalk pit near Bapaume …

    One will say I saw him only for a moment and that it was misty at the time, and that even then I did not recognize the features covered as they were by grime and stubble. I admit all that. The circumstantial evidence is not worth a straw.

    Yet I am sure that the taller of the two civilians I saw in the chalk quarry that misty March morning of 1918 was that Lieutenant Peter Rawley, R.F.A., who the official record stated was killed in Arras the previous autumn.

    The novel then picks up a year earlier with Peter Rawley before the events at Arras and recounts his own strange story that began with a fellow officer, Rumbald, a charming but reckless fellow of dubious virtue:

    “The worst of you fellows is that you don’t enjoy life,” went on Rumbald imperturbably… “Why the hell can’t you take what’s coming to you without being ruddy virtuous about it?”

    Rawley has to give Rumbald his point, but when Rumbald later assaults Rawley during a confrontation at a forward post Rawley accidentally kills him, and panicked, deserts, which saves his life when the forward observation post is blown up by a German shell — convincing everyone that Peter Rawley is dead and Rumbald killed by the shell.

W. F. MORRIS The Strange Case of Gunnar Rawley

    The rest of the novel recounts Rawley’s adventures dressed as a civilian behind enemy lines and his encounter with another deserter, Alf Higgins. Morris proves to be a master at depicting the loneliness of the battle zone and its eerie otherworldly quality.

    They set off together in the darkness along the narrow muddy pot holed road. There was no sound accept the distant drumming of the guns and the gentle swish of the rain. The darkness hung like a curtain around them, and only once did Rawley see dimly against the sky the skeleton rafters of some shattered homestead.

    Rawley’s adventures, and his and Alf’s eventual redemption when the German’s break through the British front, form the rest of the novel ending with Alf and Rawley before a firing squad about to be executed:

    That curious feeling of being a spectator clung to Rawley. He heard a shell burst overhead and detonate on the hillside above him, and he noticed with detached interest that it sounded like a British sixty pounder. He also noticed with the same dream like detachment that a party of three British prisoners, including an officer, were being escorted up the road.

    Alf’s face was pale under its covering of dirt, and every few seconds he moistened his lips with his tongue.

    “I ’ope them blokes ’ave got safety catches,” he whispered hoarsely. “Playin’ about with firearms like that.”

    Another shell came whining through the mist: its snoring hum increased rapidly to a savage resonant roar, and it burst on the side of the road with a majestic pillar of spouting earth and vibrant hum of flying metal.

W. F. MORRIS The Strange Case of Gunnar Rawley

    The Strange Case of Gunner Rawley is an entertaining tale with a satisfying resolution, and Morris seemingly had experience in the war which he used to good effect. Though there is no detective interest per se in the book it is clearly marketed as a mystery.

    I don’t know anything about W. F. Morris save that in To Catch a Spy, Eric Ambler said of his novel Bretherton that it was one of the best portraits of a spy working behind the lines in wartime. The dust jacket from this one describes a previous novel, G.B. a Story of the Great War, as realistically weird and this one as “… a mystery story from an entirely new angle.”

    Morris writes well and underplays the obvious melodrama of his story. with the theme of the loss of identity in the confusion of war dating back to The Odyssey, and well handled here. Rawley is portrayed as a human and likable man who finds himself in circumstances beyond his control and how he extricates himself from his dilemma is a well told story of the confusion of war and a “quaint” tale of wartime adventures.

Note: Though this is a novel of wartime adventure, the Dodd Mead edition is marketed as a mystery, as pointed out above, with ads for books by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, R. Austin Freeman, John Rhode, and Anthony Gilbert on the back cover; and the book is referred to as a mystery novel in the inside dust wrapper copy. Al Hubin also includes it in Crime Fiction IV.

Editorial Comment:   Hubin says this about W. F. Morris, 1893-?   Born in Norwich; educated at Cambridge; battalion commander during WWI; was Assistant Master, Priory School. Listed are seven novels published between 1929 and 1939, one marginally. From the titles, several of them also seem to have wartime settings.

[UPDATE] 07-03-10. [1] Earlier today Jamie Sturgeon sent me a link to an article about Morris. Check it out here.

   The essay//review is incomplete online, but it’s still very informative, including as it does the year that Morris died, 1969, a small piece of data that I’ll quickly send to Al Hubin for the next installment of his online Addenda to CFIV. Mostly, though, the piece is about Morris’s book Bretherton, and it goes into considerable detail about it.

[2] Thanks to the website that David has steered me to in the Comment he left, I’ve been able to add two covers images to this review he wrote.

Reviewed by MIKE GROST:

RUFUS KING – Design in Evil. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942. Reprint paperbacks: Thriller Novel Classic #21, 1943; Popular Library #124, paperback, 1948.

   Design in Evil is the first of King’s non-series thrillers, after he abandoned the formal detective novel with Holiday Homicide (1940).

RUFUS KING Design in Evil

   The early chapters (1-13) are well written, with King showing in detail the trap that confronts his heroine. These chapters show King’s feel for sailing material, taking place on a sea going yacht.

   Unfortunately, the book as a whole is flat. Design in Evil is in the tradition of the “innocent young woman forced into a new identity” school. It follows such pioneering works as Helen McCloy’s The Dance of Death (1938), and Anthony Gilbert’s The Woman in Red (1941), the latter being made into a superb film directed by Joseph H. Lewis, My Name is Julia Ross (1945).

   The story is never plausible, unless everyone is in on this bizarre plot; yet King wants only one person to be guilty, and everyone else to be an innocent dupe. The later sections of the book contain a murder mystery. However, there are only two serious suspects, and the mystery is never developed into an interesting or even very elaborate plot.

   King indicates that Joseph Conrad is one of his hero’s favorite authors (Chapter 15). It certainly makes sense that King admires Conrad: both were sailors in real life, and wrote frequently about the sea, and both men wrote rich descriptive prose.

   King is of two minds about psychiatry, then becoming unfortunately fashionable in the media. Psychiatry is treated as a serious science, and yet the older psychiatrist is the book is shown as a completely mistaken dupe. This is at least more skeptical than the religious reverence with which psychiatry was usually held in this era.

— Reprinted from A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection, by Michael E. Grost, with permission.

Editorial Comment: You should go back, of course, and compare and contrast Mike’s review of this book with that of Bill Deeck’s, which I posted here earlier this morning.

   If you follow the link in the paragraph above, you’ll find a long section of Mike’s website devoted to reviews and analysis of Rufus King’s work. At the risk of overdoing a good thing, I’m planning on posting one or two more of those reviews on this blog. Look for them tomorrow, if all goes well.

DAVID FROME – Homicide House. Popular Library; paperback reprint. No date stated, but circa 1969. First edition: Rinehart, 1950. British title: Murder on the Square. Robert Hale, 1951. US hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club (3-in-1 edition), July 1950. Previously serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts between September 24 and November 5, 1949.

   Since the subtitle of the hardcover edition is “Mr. Pinkerton Returns,” I’ll begin by listing all of the Evan Pinkerton books. While David Frome was byline listed on all of the books, you might better know “him” as Leslie Ford, author of the Grace Latham and Colonel John Primrose mysteries. Taken from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

The Hammersmith Murders (n.) Doubleday 1930 [England]
Two Against Scotland Yard (n.) Farrar 1931 [England]

DAVID FROME Homicide House

The Man from Scotland Yard (n.) Farrar 1932 [England]
The Eel Pie Murders (n.) Farrar 1933 [England]
Mr. Pinkerton Finds a Body (n.) Farrar 1934 [Oxford]
Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard (n.) Farrar 1934 [England]

DAVID FROME Homicide House

Mr. Pinkerton Grows a Beard (n.) Farrar 1935 [England]
Mr. Pinkerton Has the Clue (n.) Farrar 1936 [England]
The Black Envelope (n.) Farrar 1937 [Brighton]
Mr. Pinkerton at the Old Angel (n.) Farrar 1939 [England]
Homicide House (n.) Rinehart 1950 [England]

   As you see, there was a gap well over ten years long between this, the last book in the series and the preceding one. There were 10 or 11 Grace Latham books that appeared in the interim. It wasn’t as though the author, whose real name was Zenith Jones Brown, 1898-1983, wasn’t doing any writing in the meantime. As Leslie Ford, her last book appeared in 1962 (Trial by Ambush) a non-series book.

   My review of Ford’s The Woman in Black appeared here on the M*F blog a while back, in case you’d like to go back and take a look.

DAVID FROME Homicide House

   There are a couple of ways I could continue from here, and by flipping a mental coin, I’ll say something first about Mr. Pinkerton, whose adventures in murder mysteries I’ve now read the first I ever have. I’d assumed he was a stalwart sort of fellow, confidently solving crimes by the dozens as a friend and chief confidant of Chief Inspector Bull of Scotland Yard.

   Wrong, all the way around. Evan Pinkerton is the meekest, most afraid-of-his-own shadow detective sleuth there has to be ever been. Now a widower and owner of an small apartment building in Godolphin Square, he is afraid to tell the landlady that he is indeed the owner, disbelieving as he does that he is himself. Perhaps his penny-pinching wife will come back from the grave and take it away from him, he fears. (This is being hen-pecked to the extreme, one thinks, and rightly so.)

   And so he is stuck in a miserable room on the third floor, sharing a bath with the cook, who fortunately enough, is very seldom seen. The crimes he has solved, they must have been more or less by accident, as Bull has forcefully demanded that he quite positively stay away from any futures brushes with murder cases that need looking into.

   Which leaves the current one at hand to tell you about. What struck me most, from the very first page, is that here is a mystery that is centered about a building that has been damaged by the bombing during the war. It’s now a few years after the war, and about all that is standing in the home across the square from Mr. Pinkerton’s are a few walls and the charred remains of a stone staircase. Nerves are often still shattered and decent food is still a problem.

Anthony Gilbert: Death Blackout

   I may be wrong about this, but I am pointing this out because I do not believe that very many British mysteries written during or just after the war actually dwell on how difficult a time it really was for the general population. This is one of the few exceptions I can actually think of at the moment, the other being Anthony Gilbert’s Death in the Blackout (1942). I’m sure there are more, but if there were many, it would seem that the opening scenes of this book would not have struck me as being so unusual.

   What I also found very striking is that how strong a Woolrich-ian sense of the sudden infatuation, coincidence and/or disorientation there is in the first few chapters. On page 7 Mr. Pinkerton meets Daniel McGrath hunting for the house that was damaged, seeking for the girl who had once lived there and whom he had met in a bomb shelter during the war, and here he is, six years later, having just come from America and planning to ask her to marry him, not even knowing her name.

   Of course she now lives in the same building as Mr. Pinkerton, and of course she is not yet married, and of course she recognizes him immediately, but of course she slaps his face when she learns his name, his name being the same as a noted detective she assumes has come to find and arrest her father.

   Whew. This makes for terrific reading, to be sure.

   Here from page 43 is a passage that I hope illustrates exactly what I am saying. It describes their first meeting in six years, from McGrath’s point of view, as she is getting off a train:

    She raised her head and pushed her dark hair from her forehead with a quick nervous gesture before she stooped to gather up her bags. For Dan McGrath standing outside on the damp murky platform it was as vivid an instant as he had ever lived. He was back in the Underground shelter on the dark, chilling stairs, the reek of fear and antiseptics in his nostrils, all hell loose in the invisible world above them, his arms tight around her, feeling her pounding heart against him, her breath in staccato tempo cool against his burning cheek. It was the instant he had lived six years to feel again. It was a sharp renascence, an affirmation of a dream that was no star-dusted illusion but brilliant reality, swelling his heart, melting it with sudden warmth and glowing tenderness. He had had a vision, and he had doubted it. There on the platform in the instant his doubts had been swept away.

DAVID FROME Homicide House

   No mere mystery story could top a passage like this, and while Homicide House tries, it is doomed to failure. True love prevails — is it OK if I tell you that? — but with difficulty, some by purely natural causes, and some by authorial hand only — or if not the latter, then the wonderfully funny fickleness of fate.

   Mary Winship’s father has disappeared, many years before — she now lives with her sickly mother and a truly formidable aunt in Mr. Pinkerton’s building — and vanishing at the same time was a valuable painting. And with Daniel McGrath unwittingly stirring things up, dead bodies begin to accumulate in Mr. Pinkerton’s abode.

   The latter’s not much of a detective, or at least he’s not in this book, but his activities toward that end also initiate worry and concern on the part of a blackmailer and a killer, not (it is eventually discerned) one and the same. It all works out in the end, but the first seven chapters are what I’ll remember from this book, and not the last two (with a connecting bridge of largely filler material in between).

In my recent post on C. B. Dignam, I pointed out that it was not even known whether Dignam was male or female. Going on from there, I asked for a list of female mystery writers who hid their gender by using initials in their byline or by deliberately choosing a “male-sounding” pen name.

Commenting on that post, Bill Crider suggested Paul Kruger as a relatively recent example. On the Golden Age of Detection yahoo group, Nick Fuller posted the following:

E. X. Ferrars is the obvious one; she deliberately went for initials which sounded masculine. Then there’re E. C. R. Lorac, G. M. Mitchell (as the American publishers called the author of Speedy Death), and P. D. James.

Several women authors also used male pseudonyms: Maxwell March (Margery Allingham), Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Malleson), Malcolm Torrie and Stephen Hockaby (Mitchell) and Gordon Daviot (Josephine Tey / Elizabeth Mackintosh). On the other hand, H. R. F. Keating used the ambiguous (and Christie-inspired?) pseudonym of Evelyn Hervey for his historical detective stories about a Victorian governess.

Thanks, Nick. I think you’ve come up with all that I’ve thought of myself, along with a couple more, although I cannot find anything to suggest that Speedy Death was ever published as by G. M. Mitchell. Can you confirm this?

Strangely enough, you failed to mention an author you discussed in an earlier posting on another subject — Guy Cullingford, pseudonym of Constance Lindsay Dowdy, according to one website.

This comes as a surprise to me. I did not know that Cullingford was female until now, or if I did, I’d forgotten it. In Crime Fiction IV, Al Hubin says that Cullingford was a pen name of C. Lindsay Taylor, which upon further investigation is a shortened version of (Alice) C(onstance) LINDSAY TAYLOR (1907-2000). Dowdy must have been her married name?

     [UPDATE 01/03/07. Al Hubin did some investigatory work and discovered that Dowdy was her maiden name. See comment 3 below.]

In any case, she wrote one book as by C. Lindsay Taylor (Murder with Relish, Skeffington, 1948) and ten as by Cullingford between 1952 and 1991. Only five of them seem to have been published in the US.

The question I posed was of female mystery authors writing as men. I confess that vice-versa hadn’t occurred to me. There must be others besides Keating as Hervey, but other than cases involving male authors who wrote gothic romances under female names, as many did in the 1960s and 70s, this is a question I’ll have to think about some more.

The next posting on the same Yahoo group was from Jeffrey Marks, who confirmed exactly what I suspected. There’s a totally obvious candidate for inclusion that hadn’t even occurred to me:

Don’t forget Craig Rice, who actually used part of her real name ((Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig)), but then also used Michael Venning as well.

And assuredly there are more, but have we named all of the obvious ones so far? Probably not.

Getting back to C. B. Dignam briefly, who unknowingly brought this whole matter on, Google is *fast*. The day after my original post, I thought to double-check to see if there was anything on-line about him or her, and the only relevant blog or website that came up was … mine.

[UPDATE] 03-29-10. An email note from Sheila Mitchell, who was married to H. R. F. Keating, is both relevant and interesting. She says:

“This related to pseudonyms that women have used but you also instance that Harry wrote his Miss Unwin Victorian books under the ambiguous pseudonym of Evelyn Hervey and suggested that this may have some connection with Agatha Christie. Should you be interested it has no connection at all with Christie. He chose Hervey because that was a family name and Evelyn as you rightly say because of its ambiguity. Also interesting that publishers refuse to allow established authors their ambiguity and almost always reveal that of course this is so-and-so writing under the pseudonym X.”



PAMELA FRANKAU – Colonel Blessington. [Completed by Diana Raymond.] Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1968. Delacorte, US, hardcover, 1969. Dell 1378, US, paperback, 1970.

   Absurd to feel that he was followed. But the feeling persisted. Standing outside the St. Francis Hotel, while the doorman hailed a Yellow Cab, Harvey Blessington looked over his shoulder, then looked right and left taking in a wide angle from side to side of Union Square. This was the feeling that haunted his dreams. For years he had dreamed intermittently of being back, being followed.

   And well he might. Harvey Blessington is many things to many people. To most he is a war hero, the brave Colonel Blessington, to Anthony Price he is the man who ought to replace the candidate for Parliment they both support, to actress Anita Gilroy he is object of her first love, and to her father Matthew, he is his ex-commando comrade in arms and the object of an obsessive memory a nightmare running “like a dark river underground, until he also becomes the object of fear and a mystery that remains unsolved.”

   Like quicksilver Harvey Blessington seems always changing shape, sometimes a shadow, sometimes bright as the sun, sometimes dark and strangely threatening. At the heart of Harvey Blessington is a mystery, one just beyond belief, at once revealing and impossible to believe.

   One worth men’s lives to keep hidden.

   Colonel Blessington was the final novel by British novelist Pamela Frankau, and her first suspense novel venturing into the kind of duality and uncertainty of a Graham Greene or Patrica Highsmith. Frankau grew ill and died while writing the book and her friend novelist Diana Raymond finished the book from her extensive notebooks. While the novel was recognized in its time and critically praised in both Britain and here, her death perhaps overshadowed the novel which isn’t half as well known as it once was.

   Frankau was the daughter of British literary gadabout Gilbert Frankau, who abandoned her and her mother when she was small. She went on to become a famed and critically praised novelist on her own, her some sixteen novels such as A Wreath for the Enemy, Over the Mountain, and Clothes of a King’s Son, among her better known works.

   As Matthew Gilroy finds himself hunted and hunter going to ground to uncover the enigma of Blessington, the tension ratchets up and the need to solve the mystery of Harvey Blessington a matter of life and death.

   …you came up here prepared to kill me.


   You were the man who killed beside me in the war, all those years ago, But —  to kill me for that? You were so sure you would kill me you boasted of another murder; of a girl that haunted you… Why?

   Blessington is something of a tour-de-force, pulling off a twist worthy of Agatha Christie. It’s one of those books that cleverly lays the groundwork for its key revelation so you can look back and see each clue and misdirection, yet has a solution so shocking that you won’t guess it ahead of time, Blessington’s ultimate flaw “…to take people’s lives and spoil them — a love of power. A common love brought to extremes —”

   I first read Colonel Blessington when it came out back in 1968. It still holds up today, its final revelation still as stunning and chilling as it was then, its quiet shocks coming with a chill to the bone and a recognition of our own prejudices and blindness when we fail to see the obvious right in front of us and recognize the duplicitous Blessingtons in our own lives.


GET MEAN. Italian-American, 1975. Tony Anthony (also wrote the story and produced), Lloyd Battista. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi. (Pther names of those involved are withheld to protect the innocent who were only collecting a paycheck and are otherwise blameless)

   Bad is, of course relative (like your brother-in-law), but when it comes to movies there are different levels of true cinematic incompetence.

   There is the most obvious kind of bad film, the low budget badly made and poorly acted film. Among the most famous of that breed are Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Robot Monster, and the hands down winner Manos: Hands of Fate. They wear their badness as a sort of badge of honor. We made a bad film, yes, but we would have made a better one if we had talent.

   Then there is the “what went wrong” category, when big stars, directors, writers, and even bestselling books somehow get to the screen in a form audiences simply cannot believe turn out so bad. Otto Preminger late in his career seemed to specialize in these with Hurry Sundown and Rosebud, Michael Cimmino made cinematic bad movie history with Heaven’s Gate, millions of dollars and Laurence Olivier couldn’t save Inchon. A book by Alistair MacLean and a cast that included Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, and Franco Nero could not save Force 10 From Navarone. The less said about adaptations of Harold Robbins’ The Adventurers and The Betsy the better, but even they couldn’t come close to the one with Pia Zadora. (I won’t even write the name, there may be curses involved and malign spirits, besides Ms Zadora’s acting).

   But there is another kind of bad film, one so bad, so gonzo stupid and inept that it plays as if you were smoking something funny even when you see it cold sober. Get Mean is that kind of film.

   We begin as a typical Spaghetti Western. Tony Anthony, our hero, is being dragged through the dirt by a galloping horse through some unnamed Southwestern canyon, and to add to the mystery he is being observed by a crystal ball sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

   Let me be clear, Anthony, who starred in a number of Spaghetti Westerns, is largely to blame for this film. He not only stars, but he wrote the original story and produced the film. If there is anyone to blame it is him.

   It’s only a shame the audience and not him who suffers the most from this fact.

   Soon his exhausted horse wanders into a ghost town and promptly drops dead (and never have I seen a hammier performance by a horse). Anthony frees himself, and sees smoke rising in an abandoned building. He follows his nose and inside finds a group of Romany and an old seeress with the crystal ball we saw earlier. They offer him wine and food, and proceed to explain that he is expected.

   They dump ten thousand in gold in front of him and produce the Princess Maria, who he is told he must escort to Spain where she can free her people from the barbarians.

   Our Tony, however, has already been established as an untrustworthy mercenary type and bargains his fee up to $50,000 in gold, which they quickly agree to, when a Viking replete with furs, blonde beard, and horned helmet bursts in with three sailors dressed like escapees from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

   Having dispatched them we are shown a map as Tony and the Princess cross the United States and the Atlantic to Spain. We learn from the map also that there seems to be desert canyons in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior, because that’s where the animated map starts our journey.

   So after a brief sojourn on the shore after they land in Spain we are in the Spanish desert (at least they actually have them there) resting and arguing because Tony is so rude to royalty and thinks she is full of hot air, when we hear many men and horses approaching.

   A great battle is about to be fought between the evil Barbarians (still Vikings, but looking more like Attila’s huns) and the Princess’s allies — the Moorish army — which were driven out of Spain by El Cid around the eighth century, save for some incursions in the South and nice architectural touches.

   The good Moors are soon wiped out thanks to the Barbarians secret weapon, Leonardo’s turret, with multiple cannons that can be rapidly fired, and Tony and the haughty princess are captured by the Barbarian chief, his Valkyrie bodyguard, and his two allies; a rather gay Prince dressed like Hamlet, and the hunchback Richard II. Yup folks, that Richard II, War of the Roses, nephews murdered in their cell, old twisted back himself.

   My kingdom for a … but I’m getting ahead of the plot. That comes later.

   For no real reason the Valkyries tie Tony up and hang him upside down from a pole. then they all ride off happily with the Princess to their castle. Sadly Tony Curtis in not present to say ”Yonda lies the castle of my fadda.” Come to think of it that was a much better film even with Tony’s accent.

   Eventually more Romany types show up and rescue Tony and the wounded leader of the Moorish army. It seems as if it is up to Tony now to rescue the Princess and collect his money, so Tony, after a brief recovery, goes and gets himself captured by the Barbarians by offering his services.

   The Chief and the Prince aren’t to sure of this, but Richard II never saw an ally he couldn’t betray and persuades them that Tony could be useful. After all, the Barbarians aren’t too smart and worship a live horse in gold plated armor known as the Stallion of Rodrigo since they live in El Cid’s castle, and it turns out are desperate to find the treasure of Rodrigo.

   Tony proves to come in handy here and is sent on a mystical quest for the treasure, which involves a strange ceremony in what appears to be a Russian Orthodox church and a semi-mystical quest which ends with him being turned black (“Everywhere,” he assures us after checking his pants), and returning with no treasure but the Scorpion Necklace which curses the bearer to die.

   At this point the Barbarian chief is tired of messing with him and has him trussed up like a pig and put on a spit over a slow fire. At least he’s white again. The Princess, seeing this, grabs a sword, duels Richard II, and is promptly killed when he throws a sword between her shoulder blades.

   Well, that plot point wasn’t going anywhere fast, and now there is a treasure worth more than the reward for delivering the Princess to interest Tony — if he doesn’t cook too soon.

   But the treacherous Prince has other things in mind and frees Tony, who turns the table on him and forces the Prince to swallow the Scorpion Necklace, which the Chief and Richard II have since learned is key to Rodrigo’s treasure.

   Still hanging in there? If not I can hardly blame you.

   The Prince is returned to the castle and force-fed until he returns the missing necklace while Tony invents some sort of four barreled hand held cannon and prepares to challenge the Barbarian horde, but before he can, the Valkyries confront him, and after briefly considering cutting off some important parts of his anatomy, instead decide to make use of them in a gang assault that Tony manages to elude and instead throw the Prince in as a very reluctant substitute.

   There are by now so many things about this film to be offended by, it is hard to focus on just its use of stereotypes and casual prejudice.

   The Prince survives without changing sides, and as Tony assaults the castle, is killed. Tony then puts scorpions down the Chief’s armor and has a chuckle or two as the Viking leader spends more time dying than the ham horse earlier in the film, but just about as boring.

   Now only Richard II and Tony are left to face each other down in a gun fight. Tony’s Colt against Richard’s six barreled revolving cannon all as Richard recites the “My kingdom for a horse” speech from Shakespeare. This film is not kosher; ham is on the menu.

   Unluckily for the viewer Tony wins that one and even finds Rodrigo’s treasure, then we are shown in animation him sailing back to America and riding into the screen, past another mysteriously placed crystal ball …

   I’m am happy to say, though, that this one does not prove accurate in its predictions, and we never have to see Tony or this movie, or anything half as stupid again unless we smoke or ingest something we shouldn’t.

   As bad films go, it is hard to rate this. Ken Russell would have thrown up his hands in despair. Ed Wood would have cried himself to sleep, the movie even has bisexual cross-dressing Valkyries. Andy Warhol would have shredded his soup cans.

   Get Mean is not the worst movie ever made, but it bows to none as the stupidest most gonzo Western in history, and I include Terror in a Tiny Town in that mix.

   If Tony Anthony gets dragged into your town behind my horse, my advice is to aim low and shoot first.

by Michael Shonk

   One of old time radio’s (OTR) characters most fondly remembered is the series host/announcer. Radio programs needed a way to introduce the series and episode to the listener. Limited to just words and sounds radio created the host role.

   Perhaps one of the appeals of listening to radio drama was how often the fourth wall was ignored. It began with the host/announcer who would talk directly to the listener. It gave the program and the listener at home a personal connection, as if the story was being told directly to you.

   There were several basic types of host/announcer. It could be an announcer or famous celebrity or a fictional character. He or she could exist separate from the story or be a fictional character narrating the story or a real celebrity who introduces the story and at times joins the cast and performs as one of the characters in the story, or in rare cases a real announcer could interact with the fictional characters (usually to promote the sponsor).

   One of the earliest radio series to have a fictional character as host was the 1930 CBS anthology DETECTIVE STORY HOUR. The character with the strange eerie voice was The Shadow, a character that has had a long successful career. For those who wish to learn more about the pulp/radio icon I recommend the book SHADOW SCRAPBOOK by the character’s creator Walter B. Gibson (with Anthony Tollin).

   Here is the first episode from the Mutual Network version of THE SHADOW. “Death House Blues” aired September 26, 1937 and introduced him to the Mutual audience. In the story The Shadow played by Orson Welles works to save an innocent man from the electric chair.

   Characters such as Philip Marlowe, Rocky Jordan, and Archie Goodwin for Nero Wolfe would break the fourth wall to talk to the audience, set the mood and begin narrating the story.

   LIVES OF HARRY LIME was a BBC production and syndicated in America, airing various places including Mutual radio network. The series was based on the character from the film THE THIRD MAN, star Orson Welles would return to play Harry Lime in this prequel to the 1949 British film.

THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME “Too Many Crooks” (Mutual, August 3, 1951), It begins when Harry receives a letter asking for his help rob a bank in Budapest. As zither music sets the proper THIRD MAN mood, Harry profits from the plans of some very untrustworthy bank robbers.

   The Shadow’s spooky voice fit radio well for establishing mood. Hosts for series such as LIGHTS OUT began to warn the listeners of the terrors to come. Some of the more entertaining hosts would go beyond the spooky voice to the rantings of an insane lunatic. Among the better ones were GUEST OF DOOM, DARKNESS, WITCH’S TALE, STRANGE DR WEIRD, WEIRD CIRCLE, HERMIT’S CAVE, and BLACK CHAPEL.

   Forgotten BLACK CASTLE remains one of the best examples of the madman host. BLACK CASTLE featured host The Wizard and his pet raven Diablo. Don Douglas not only played the host but he also did all of the voices.

   A warning about the episode “Jungle Adventure,” it was done during WWII and has a un-PC attitude about the Japanese and island natives.

BLACK CASTLE “Jungle Adventure” (Mutual, September 25, 1943). Two American airmen crash on a small Pacific island.

   Some hosts could be downright judgmental towards the fictional characters in the story (THE WHISTLER) or some hosts were notably uncaring to what happened to the people of the story (THE CLOCK, DEVIL’S SCRAPBOOK and THE CROUPIER).

   One who was judgmental and uncaring was Fate in DIARY OF FATE, played by Herbert Lytton.

DIARY OF FATE “The Entry of Tyler White” (ABC, April 6, 1948). Tyler White is about to be executed for a murder he did not commit.

   Not all hosts were scary some were quite friendly such as in WORLD ADVENTURERS CLUB, and THE CASEBOOKS OF GREGORY HOOD.

   The CRIME CLUB host The Librarian (Barry Thomson) was always eager to help us with that book or manuscript we wanted. Many of the stories were adaptations of actual books published by Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint .

CRIME CLUB “Mr. Smith’s Hat” (Mutual, January 22, 1947). Gilbert Shannon calls Inspector McKee to report his own murder. A few moments after he hangs up the Inspector gets a call from Shannon’s daughter who has discovered her father’s dead body. Witty dialog highlights the story based on a book by Helen Reilly and adapted by Stedman Coles.

   Celebrities were popular choices to host drama anthologies, such as radio producer Arch Oboler (LIGHTS OUT), writers such as John Dickson Carr (MURDER BY EXPERTS) and actors such as Peter Lorre (MURDER IN THE AIR).

   CREEPS BY NIGHT aired on the Blue network with Boris Karloff as host and actor. The series was done on the West coast. When the series moved to the East coast with episode #13 “The Walking Dead (May 16, 1944) Karloff stayed behind and the mysterious Dr. X took over as host. The name of the actor who played Dr. X was never revealed.

CREEPS BY NIGHT “The Final Reckoning” (Blue network, May 2, 1944). George Miller is out of prison after serving 20 years for a murder he did not commit. George feels his life has been wasted and is obsessed with revenge against the man who framed him.

   One of the most important roles for the host/announcer was to promote the sponsor. Series such as MYSTERY HOUSE would take a comment made by the characters to remind everyone about the sponsor. INNER SANCTUM Mr. Host enjoyed his creaking door and pun filled introductions but then he would turn to Mary to discuss the perfection and joy the sponsor’s product would bring to the listener’s life.

   But no host/announcer was more interested in the sponsor than the host of a kid’s show, radio serials such as CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, JACK ARMSTRONG ALL AMERICAN BOY, DICK TRACY, and endless others push their promos like maps and code rings and nagged kids to get their Mom or Dad to buy the sponsor’s product.

TOM MIX RALSTON STRAIGHT SHOOTERS “The Green Man” (Mutual, June 30, 1944). A swami arrives and tries to buy Longwind Wilson house that keeps disappearing because of a former cactus now anti-social Green Man. Not the most PC but still fun. In this episode Tom Mix was played by Joe “Curley” Bradley.

   Not all serials were aimed at kids and their parents’ bank account. There would be soap operas for Mom (ROMANCES OF HELEN TRENT and BACKSTAGE WIFE), adventure (ADVENTURES BY MORSE and SHADOWS OF FU MANCHU), mysteries (CHARLIE CHAN and I LOVE A MYSTERY), and spies (ANN OF THE AIRLINES).

   But no matter the type of radio serial all of them needed the host/announcer to keep the audience up to date on the continuing story that usually aired three to five times a week.

   Here is an episode from PERRY MASON, a radio series that would evolve into TV soap opera EDGE OF NIGHT.

PERRY MASON “The Case of the Puzzled Suitor’ (CBS, June 7, 1944). A rich scientist wants Mason to write his will, but a woman had early warned Mason that the scientist was being coerced.

   One of the things the Internet has given us is access to the past unlike ever before. You can listen to OTR at YouTube, Internet Archive ( and various other places on the Internet. Whether you remember when the shows first aired or you are listening for the first time, OTR offers a variety of wonderful entertainment, shows more often than not introduced by a host/announcer.



Press, 1998) by John Dunning