Search Results for 'Frances and Richard Lockridge'

RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – The Old Die Young. Nathan Shapiro #12. Lippincott & Crowell, hardcover, 1980. No paperback edition.

   In recent weeks a couple of old pros in the world of mystery fiction have shown their fans that they’re both alive and well, which is welcome news indeed. [The second book is by Ngaio Marsh, and it will come up for review in a few days.]

   Each has added a creditable entry to the already sizable list of detective novels that have been produced under their names over the past forty years and more. Separately, I hasten to add, and distinctively.

   Taking the male member of this pair of famous writers first – a small change of pace, and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? – Richard Lockridge’s actual collaborator for most of his first fifty-five books was, of course, his first wife, Frances. Together, their most famous creation was the celebrated husband-and-wife sleuthing team, Mr. and Mrs. North. When Frances died in 1963, it meant the end of the Norths as a detective team, alas, but the adventures of some of their other characters have never ceased to appear. This is Richard Lockriddge’s twenty-fifth book as a solo act.

   An aptly chosen word, I think. The Lockridge fictional milieu has always been that of Manhattan and the closer suburban environs, but I think that a closer look would show that very often forming the basis for the immediate story has been the Broadway theatre.

   And so it is here. The mysterious death of a leading man a little too old for the part he’s playing draws Lieutenant (soon to be Captain) Nathan Shapiro into the world of bright lights and theatrical temperaments so synonymous with life along the Great White Way.

   Shapiro I picture as a sad basset hound who, no matter what case he finds himself on, invariably thinks of himself as in over his head. There are no sudden flashes of brilliance that come in the solving of his cases. He does not believe in coincidence. A steady flow of evidence accumulates against the killer.

   For all of its brightly crisp dialogue, always a standard Lockridge trademark, and a brief glimpse or two at modern morality, this is a mystery still very much old-fashioned in tone, with little or no action to speak of, but with a good many speaking parts.

Rating: B minus

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.

Bibliographic Update: This was, alas, Richard Lockridge’s final book. He died in 1982.

FRANCES & RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – Murder Has Its Points. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1961. Pocket, paperback, April 1984. (On the latter the two authors’ names are reversed.)

   This one begins at a cocktail party at a Manhattan hotel and ends with an attempted shooting by a desperate killer in a suburban Connecticut mansion. Of the two settings, I liked the first one best. The party is hosted by book publisher Jerry North and is filled with all kinds of agents, movie reps, authors and literary critics, playwrights and actors. Following Pam North’s thoughts and broken bits of conversation as she tries to make her way across the room is worth the price of admission in itself:

   Jerry wasn’t where he had been. He had been talking to a man who, from that distance, appeared to be Livingston Birdwell (Productions) who was half-giver of the party. He and Jerry, Pam suspected, might be asking each other why the hell? Now Birdwood — if it was Birdwood — was moving somberly toward the bar, and Jerry was not —

   Toward the end of the party, one literary giant of an author comes storming up to another (but one who is more of a poseur), demanding satisfaction for a crushing review written by the latter of the former’s latest book. A short exhibition of fisticuffs breaks out. Before the day is out, the latter author is dead, shot in the head by what appears to be a random sniper, or so assume the police, since a series of similar events has been happening in recent days. It is New York City, after all.

   But such, as it turns out, and not at all surprisingly to the reader, is not the case. It also turns out that the dead man had a entire host of enemies and therefore would-be killers, all of whom seem to have been on the scene or nearby. The ending (see above) is both rather prosaic and muddled — but not so badly as it seems at first — at least in comparison to this brilliantly choreographed opening.

   Captain Bill Weigand of the Manhattan homicide squad is, as ever, on hand to help solve the case, but of course it is Pamela North who is the middle of everything at all times, including the attempted shooting up in suburban Connecticut.

   The title of this novels comes from a bit of random conversation at the cocktail party. It is Pam’s answer to the question, why does her husband publish detective novels?

William F. Deeck

FRANCES & RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – The Judge Is Reversed. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1960. Pocket, paperback, 1983.

   With the period of mourning for Pete, the Norths’ first cat, nearing its end, it was time for Pam to have another cat to talk to. At a cat show she finds a judge being criticized harshly. Attending a tennis tournament later, she and Jerry discover that same judge being criticized harshly.

   Still, despite his flaws as a judge, did someone have to hit him a killing blow in the back of the head, maybe with a cat’s scratching post? Did a cat breeder do it? The foot-faulting tennis player? Or the chairman of the committee against cruelty to animals who tries to kick cats?

   Not a great mystery as such, but Pam North always amazes and amuses, particularly when she is looking for a Siamese whose face doesn’t come to a point.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1990, “Beastly Murders.”

LOCKRIDGES Murder Comes First

  RICHARD & FRANCES LOCKRIDGE – Murder Comes First. Pocket, paperback reprint, July 1982. Originally published by J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1951. Also: Avon #434, paperback, 1952.

   There is simply no mistaking a Mr. & Mrs. North mystery novel, and it is great to have [some of] them back in print again. Why hasn’t anybody thought of it sooner? The warm, comfortable sounds of their adventures together have been sorely missed.

LOCKRIDGES Murder Comes First

   In this one of two just reprinted by Pocket, three of Pam’s maiden aunts from Cleveland have come to the big city for a visit. Disaster strikes when another friend they are calling on mysteriously dies of poison. While Pam’s Aunt Thelma may be as unlikely a murder suspect as you can imagine, that doesn’t stop Deputy Chief Inspector Artemus O’Malley from thinking he can wrap it up quickly.

   The inspector, Bill Wiegand admits to Pam, likes things simple. Sergeant Mullins, of course, knows better. “I should have known,” he says. “It’s begun to go screwy.”

   Part of the screwiness is that the FBI eventually gets involved, for reasons somewhat pertinent to the date of the story. (It was first published in 1951.) Even so, in spite of this worn-out bit of misbehavior at the core, this is still as bright and irresistible a work of entertainment as it ever was. More!

Rating:    B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 2, March-April 1983.

[UPDATE] 07-11-12.   According to my records, which are, I’m afraid, woefully incomplete, Pocket published at least eight of the North’s adventures between 1982 and 1983. There were in total something like 26 of them in all, so they fell way short of doing the complete series. I don’t think many of them, if any, have been in print ever since.

LOCKRIDGES Murder Comes First

by Francis M. Nevins

   On Sunday, September 12, at age 80, Claude Chabrol died. He was one of the most creative French film directors, and one of the most deeply committed to the crime-suspense genre, and the only one I ever met.


   It was in the summer of 1986, at an international festival on Italy’s Adriatic coast where he and I and countless others were guests. We were introduced by another mystery writer, the late Stuart Kaminsky, and over the next several days we were on some tours together — including one to the castle of Cagliostro — and had a number of conversations.

   I can’t claim to have seen all or even most of the dozens of films Chabrol directed in his career of more than half a century behind the cameras, not even all the crime-suspense-noir pictures with which his filmography is studded.

   But among those I knew well were 1969’s Que la bête meure (The Beast Must Die) and, from 1971, La décade prodigieuse (Ten Days’ Wonder), the former very freely based on a classic Nicholas Blake novel and the latter on a classic by Ellery Queen.

   His then most recent film, which was premiered at the festival, was Inspecteur Lavardin. After seeing Lavardin, and connecting what I took to be dots between it and the other two, I saw all three as sharing a common theme: the meaning of being a father.


   Remembering that Ten Days’ Wonder in both novel and film form climaxed with a death-of-God sequence, I ventured to suggest to him that all three films tell us: “There is no God the father, therefore we must be good fathers.” His reply: “Yes, yes, yes!”

   We talked about Cornell Woolrich, a few of whose stories he had adapted and directed for French TV, and after returning to the States I sent him, at his request, a few Woolrich tales that might be adapted into Chabrol features.

   Nothing came of this, but among the many films he made in the quarter century after our meeting was Merci pour le chocolat (2000), based on Charlotte Armstrong’s The Chocolate Cobweb, which is also centrally about fatherhood. Among the other world-class crime novelists whose work he translated to film are Stanley Ellin, Patricia Highsmith and Georges Simenon. Adieu, cher maître.


   In my student years I read just about every one of Frances and Richard Lockridge’s Mr. & Mrs. North mysteries, but I hadn’t revisited any of them in decades. Recently I reread The Norths Meet Murder (1940), first in the long-running series, and found it as charming and enjoyable as I had long ago.


   It’s also a lovely piece of evidence in support of Anthony Boucher’s contention that one of the valuable functions of mysteries is that they show later generations what life was like “back then.”

   The Norths Meet Murder takes place in late October and early November 1939. On September 1 Hitler had launched World War II, and in New York there’s an organized boycott against buying “Nazi goods,” which impacts at least one of the murder suspects.

   The latest consumer novelty is the electric razor. Walking New York’s night streets, you see men working on the new subway line under floodlights. Those who read this novel back in 1940 probably took these verbal snapshots for granted, just as those of us who as kids watched the early TV private-eye series Man Against Crime took for granted the chases all over the New York landmarks of the early 1950s.

   Now in the 21st century they strike me as treasures, and perhaps help explain why, given the choice between a vintage whodunit or a new one, or an episode of a vintage TV series or a new one, I tend to go for the gold in the old.


   I recently attended a convention in suburban Baltimore but arrived before my hotel room was ready. Luckily there was a bookstore with comfortable chairs in the mall across the street, and I killed some time in the mystery section with “Arson Plus,” the first of Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories, originally published in Black Mask for October 1, 1923 and recently reprinted in Otto Penzler’s mammoth Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories.


   For decades this was one of the rarest of Hammett tales, revived only by Fred Dannay (in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, August 1951, and in the Queen-edited paperback collection Woman in the Dark, 1951).

   Today it’s in the Penzler anthology and a major hardcover Hammett collection (Crime Stories and Other Writings, Library of America 2001) and can also be downloaded from the Web in a few seconds.

   The other day I felt an urge to compare the e-text with the EQMM and Library of America versions, and made a discovery that startled but didn’t really surprise me. The Web version I downloaded is identical with Fred’s except for a few changes in punctuation and italicization, but both are quite different from the Library of America text, which uses the version originally published in Black Mask.

   Fred believed that every story ever written was too long and therefore tended to trim the tales he reprinted, even those by masters like Hammett. Some of the bits and pieces he cut were perhaps redundant, but he also axed part of the Continental Op’s explanation at the end of the story.

   Reprinting “Arson Plus” in 1951, he must have felt a need to update some of the price references to reflect post-World War II inflation. At the very beginning of the original version, the Op offers a cigar to the Sacramento County sheriff, who estimates that it cost “fifteen cents straight.” The Op corrects him, giving the price as two for a quarter. Fred raised these figures to “three for a buck” and ”two bits each” respectively.


   He also added a cool ten thousand dollars to the purchase price of a house that in the 1923 version sold for $4,500. Where a Hammett character disposes of $4,000 in Liberty bonds (sold by the government to finance World War I), Fred has him sell $15,000 worth of common or garden variety bonds.

   Whenever Hammett refers to an automobile as a “machine,” Fred changes it to “car.” Where three men in a general store are “talking Hiram Johnson,” Fred has them merely “talking.” (Hiram Johnson, as we learn from a note in the Library of America volume, was governor of California between 1911 and 1917 and later served four terms as senator.)

   He also unaccountably changes the name of a major character from Handerson to Henderson. A quick check of Fred’s versions of a few other Continental Op stories with the original texts yielded similar results and a clear conclusion: to read Hammett’s tales as they were meant to be read, you have to read them in the Library of America collection. This doesn’t help, of course, with the eight Op stories not collected in that volume, but it’s a start.

   In every version of “Arson Plus” the plot is of course the same: a man insures his life for big bucks, assumes another identity, sets fire to the house he bought, and the woman named as beneficiary demands payment.

   Did these people really think any insurance company would be fooled for a minute when there were no human remains in the ashes of the destroyed house? Didn’t Hammett with his experience as a PI realize that this plot was ridiculous? Was Fred ever bothered by its silliness?


   My nonfiction collection Cornucopia of Crime, which I subtly plugged a few columns ago, is now officially available (Ramble House, 2010).

   So too is Night Forms (Perfect Crime Books), a collection of 28 of the short stories I’ve written over the last four decades including my earliest (“Open Letter to Survivors”), my latest (“The Skull of the Stuttering Gunfighter”), and a huge pile of tales that fall between that unmatched pair.

   I’ve completely forgotten where the picture of me on the back cover came from, but whoever took it deserves some kind of award for improving on reality more than any other photographer in history.


LOCKRIDGE Murder Within Murder.

Pocket Books, reprint paperback; 1st printing, July 1982. Hardcover edition: J. B. Lippincott, 1946. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club [3-in-1 edition], February 1946. Other paperback reprints: Dell 229 [mapback], 1948; Pyramid, October 1965. Trade paperback: Perennial, July 1994.

   Based on information obtained from Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction III, this is the 10th of the multi-entertaining series of Mr. & Mrs. North detective novels. There were 26 in all, appearing between 1940 and 1963. When his wife Frances died, Richard Lockridge continued writing for quite a while, but that’s when the curtain fell for the Norths, whose last appearance was Murder by the Book in 1963.

   I’m only guessing, but it always seemed to me that the character of Pamela North, the lady with the charmingly and disconcertingly chaotic thought processes, died when Frances did. She was either Pam’s creator or inspiration, or more than likely both, and when she left us, Mr. and Mrs. North went with her.

   And while I’m digressing, one thing more. Here’s something’s that always puzzled me. The North books were immensely popular, or so it’s my impression, but they never seemed to be very successful in paperback. Compared with the way the Perry Mason books sold, for example, the adventures of the Norths were left in the dust.

LOCKRIDGE Murder Within Murder.

   Even though there was a long-running radio series chronicling their adventures, and later a TV series, many of the books were never published in softcover. If it weren’t for the Dollar Mystery Guild, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to read each and every one when they came out, and I doubt that I was the only one.

   Pressed to describe Pamela North to someone who’s never read one of her excursion in murder and detection, I’d have to say Gracie Allen without the brashness. Assuming that that someone knows who Gracie Allen is. The books themselves are light-hearted without being out-and-out funny. Here’s a quote, from page 143. Lt. Bill Weigand is speaking to Sgt. Mullins, who always thinks the cases in which the Norths get involved become screwy:

LOCKRIDGE Murder Within Murder.

    “We’re having dinner with the Norths, sergeant,” he said. “At Charles.”

    “Swell,” Mullins said, looking as if he thought it was swell.

    “Yes,” Bill Weigand said, gently. “Yes. You see, Mrs. North thinks she has a new suspect for us.”

    “Oh,” Sergeant Mullins said. After he had said it, he left his mouth slightly open.

   The first victim is a middle-aged lady, very righteous in manner, who is doing research on a book of several notorious true crimes for North Books, Inc., and the list of suspects is a long one. She controls the purse strings of her late brother’s estate, and she does not approve of either the behavior of her niece and nephew or their habitual need for money.

   While a member of the faculty of a small college in Indiana, she disapproved of a fellow teacher’s conduct with a female student, and she said so, loudly. And as she was doing the research on the book on unsolved murders, it’s also possible that she uncovered some facts from the past that greatly displeased someone she perhaps shouldn’t have confronted. Hence the title.

LOCKRIDGE Murder Within Murder.

   This is my kind of detective novel. All kinds of theories, possibilities, and configurations of other possibilities. The good stuff.

   Delicious coincidences also abound, which may turn some people off, but I didn’t mind them at all. Wiegand is a very good policeman, even if he lets the Norths hang around a little too much, and his interview with several suspects in Chapter 8 is a small masterpiece.

   Money — or safety — is the root of all murder. I’m paraphrasing from page 68, but it’s true. In retrospect, the solution to the murders is rather obvious. What the Lockridges were able to do more often than not, and they did it again here, is a magician’s trick, to keep what the eyes of the readers are seeing from actually reaching their brains. It’s either that, or I’m awfully thick-headed.

— December 2002

[COMMENT] 01-07-09. When I suggested Gracie Allen as being the ideal person to play Pam North, I think I had completely forgotten the movie in which she actually did
play Pam North. Either that, or I thought my comment “without the brashness” would cover whatever deficiencies in that regard that she might have.

   I might have to watch the movie again, but right now, unh-unh, no I don’t think so. After recently watching some of the early 50s TV shows with Barbara Britton, I’m now not so high on Gracie in the part now when I first wrote this review.

   Regarding the Norths in paperback, I was struck by the fact that this particular book came out quite a few times in paperback, and maybe you caught that, too. I’ll stick to my assertion that overall the North books did comparatively poorly in paperback, and one of these days I’ll do the research I need to back my statement up.

MR. AND MRS. NORTH. MGM, 1942. Gracie Allen, William Post Jr., Paul Kelly, Virginia Grey, Tom Conway, Millard Mitchell, Keye Luke, Jerone Cowan. Based on the stories by Frances & Richard Lockridge. Director: Robert B. Sinclair.


   For starters, you could refer back to my review of The Patient in Room 18 – you know, my comments about Hollywood and detective mysteries. Gracie Allen gets a solo lead billing in Mr. and Mrs. North, and you know what that means. Disaster, in a word.

   As Pamela North, unlike the stories, she is a chattering nitwit, charming but still a nitwit. George Burns at least had the strength of personality that made it seem reasonable that he could survive living with her for more than a week. William Post, Jr., whom I don’t know — I can’t think of another movie that he was in — is, in contrast, rather bland and ineffectual in the role of Jerry, her greatly put-upon husband.

   What the movie’s about is a good question, and it may even be relevant. After both Pam and Jerry have been out of their apartment for a day — he on a business trip, she to visit her mother (or so she says) — they return home to find a corpse in their closet. (They open the door, and out he falls, on his face.)

   They don’t know the man, at least at first, but then it seems that the paths of the dead man and several of the Norths’ closest friends seem to have been intricately tangled. It takes a while to untangle all of the relationships, none of which (unfortunately) are very interesting.

   That Jerry North is, at several points of time, the number one suspect, means that his close relationship with Lt. Weigand has not yet developed, but by movie’s end, you can see that it’s in the works. This is mostly a comedy picture, though, and if you’re not a fan of Gracie’s, you can easily pass it by.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (mildly revised).


[UPDATE] 01-07-09.  A few comments, in no particular order. First of all, nothing that I’ve ever read suggests that this movie was based on any one of the Lockridges’ books, only that it was based on their characters.

   Looking back over this review, I see that I made a big assumption. That the people reading it actually knew who George Burns and Gracie Allen were.

   Maybe it was true in 1991, but even if it was, it has to be even less true now. If you’re more than 10 years younger than I am, follow this link for more information.


   As for William Post, Jr., the all-but-known chap who played Jerry North in this movie, thanks to IMDB, I can now tell you more, but not a lot, since there isn’t a lot to tell.

   Of interest to mystery fans, he appeared in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), Experiment Perilous (1944), The House on 92nd Street (1945), and Call Northside 777 (1948), but I can’t say that I remember putting a name to his face in any of them.

   It wasn’t until TV came along that there was any other attempt to bring the Mr. and Mrs. North to the screen again. Richard Denning and Barbara Britton played the couple for two seasons, starting in 1952, and they were quite good at it.

KELLEY ROOS – Ghost of a Chance. Dell #266, mapback edition, no date [1948]. Originally published by A. A. Wyn, hardcover, 1947. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition.

   When it comes to married couples who solve detective mysteries in crime fiction, if you’re like me, the first ones to come to mind are Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man, 1934), but once I thought about it some more, I decided that Agatha Christie’s Tuppence and Tommy might have come earlier, and I was right: The Secret Adversary (1922).

KELLEY ROOS Ghost of a Chance

   I suspect, as it always happens whenever you try to come up with the first of anything when it comes to mystery fiction, that there were earlier ones, but if there are, I’m willing to wager that they are all obscure. Jeff and Haila Troy, the detective of record in ten entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV (including one collection and one novella published separately), came along much later, starting with Made Up to Kill in 1940, and would probably fit very nicely in the obscure category, if the good folks at Rue Morgue Press hadn’t published a few of them in recent years.

   Contemporaneous with the Troys would be Mr. and Mrs. North, whose adventures were written up by Frances and Richard Lockridge. At the time, the Norths were much better known, but I suspect they’re also falling into obscurity, if they haven’t already, sad to say.

   This is the first of the Troys’ adventures that I’ve read, and while I enjoyed it and will read any others that happen to fall into my hands, as a mystery, it’s tame enough that I can see why the Troys were really never rivals to the Norths in terms of popularity, even at the time.

   I may have been told in Ghost of a Chance what either or both of the Troys do for a living, but if so, I’m sorry to say that I missed it. (And I did. The Dell mapback I have in my hands has a descriptive list of the characters on the very first page. Jeff Troy is a photographer. It does not say what Haila does, but from a quick search on the Internet, it appears that she is an actress, or that she was at one time.)

KELLEY ROOS Ghost of a Chance

   Ghost of a Chance is told in a decidedly breezy style, one that does its best, but doesn’t quite succeed, in disguising the fact that there really isn’t a lot of substance to it, but breezy enough that you don’t quite realize it while you’re reading. Only when you’re done do you (or did I) realize how flimsy the plot really was.

   Which involves Jeff and Haila trying their best to prevent a murder from happening, one that an old man does his best to tell them about before he dies unexpectedly in a gruesome subway accident. Only problem is, while they know when the murder is going to happen, they don’t know who the victim is going to be, nor why. (That the old man’s death is no accident, they assume right away.)

   This is where the detection comes in, which is satisfactory, but the case quickly becomes a thriller more than a puzzle novel, which is where my disappointment if not discontent set in. But the locale — here and there and up and down the island of Manhattan in the middle of a vicious snow storm before adjourning briefly to a small vacation town in upstate New York — is both finely described and highly enjoyable.

   As for current married couples who solve mystery cases together, is Beckett going to say yes to Castle’s proposal in last week’s end of season finale? Tune in next fall and find out.


Part 2.1: Evolution of the TV Genre (US)

   This section might be called The Slicks and The Pulps. It seems that Radio and Cinema have always been at the heart of American entertainment. Well, at least since the late 1920s.

   In the beginning, there were four major US radio networks. Two were owned by NBC (which started broadcasting in 1926), one by CBS (from 1928), and one by MBS (Mutual Broadcasting System; from 1934). Between them, they accounted for an enormous national force.

   When it comes to Old Time Radio (OTR), I am a mere novice. My own copy of John Dunning’s wonderful On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Oxford University Press, N.Y., 1998) is almost in well-thumbed shreds. But I am still on the nursery-slopes here. I very much enjoy listening to OTR programmes rather than collecting them (whereas my ever-growing DVD collection of Cinema and TV is virtually forcing me out of my home!).

   US radio dramatics were in their turn influenced by the exciting era of the Pulp magazines, roughly from about the mid 1920s to the early 1950s. (I imagine that Steve, a true Pulp magazine aficionado, would probably have more to say on the subject.)

   Hollywood, in its early Sound decades, was influenced (to a small degree) by the Pulps; just witness the glorious output of the serial studios like Universal, Columbia (whose 1938 The Spider’s Web remains surely the best serial ever), and Republic.

   Although the more high-class studios (like MGM and Paramount) acquired pre-publishing rights to produce film versions of contemporary “best sellers,” the published works of genre authors like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain were also scooped up.

   It is perhaps through filming these genre works that the Hollywood studios and their filmmakers happened upon the 1940s film style of Film Noir (as termed by French film critics after WWII).

   The first stage, the “experimental,” saw NBC transmit the very first Sherlock Holmes on the small-screen, The Three Garridebs, on 27 November 1937 (with Luis Hector as Holmes and William Podmore as Watson).

   On 17 May 1938, NBC (or rather RCA-NBC) showed The Mysterious Mummy Case, written and directed by Thomas Hutchinson. The 25-minute programme, about some mysterious deaths related to an evil-spreading mummy case, served as an experiment in engineering as an ally of dramatic narrative.

   At the end of 1941, NBC produced Blind Alley, featuring a gang of crooks taking over a psychiatry professor’s household. The TV version was based on James Warwick’s 1938 Broadway play, which was filmed by Columbia in 1939 and then remade as The Dark Past in 1948.

   Closing-down the early “experimental” period was The Item of the Scarlet Ace (NBC, 1941), adapted from the Blue Network radio series The Bishop and the Gargoyle. Crimebuster-and-sidekick, Richard Gordon (as the Bishop) and Ken Lynch (the Gargoyle), continued their radio roles.

   The documentary aspect came with, for example, Bureau of Missing Persons (DuMont, 1943), which demonstrated the activities of the NYC Police Department’s Missing Persons unit. A later example may be the intriguingly-titled Rackets Are My Racket (DuMont, 1948), designed to expose real-life frauds and confidence games.

   On the border between the actual and sheer drama was DuMont’s The Woman Who Was Acquitted (June 1944). The story deals with a psychological exploration into the guilt of an acquitted murderess who had confessed her crime while in a cataleptic trance.

   Crime Quiz (DuMont, 1944) was one of the earliest viewer-participation shows in which the studio audience/home viewer had to solve a routine whodunit. Armchair Detective (not to be confused with the British radio and TV series created by Ernest Dudley) was a 1948-49 CBS series which presented two whodunits within its half-hour and invited the audience to guess the solution.

   You Be the Jury (KLAC-TV, 1949) followed a similar path, this time from the viewpoint of a murder trial. Likewise TV Detective (NBC, 1949), with the camera acting as a private detective; much like the police detective drama The Plainclothesman (DuMont, 1949-54). Your Witness (KECA-TV, 1949) was perhaps the last of the audience-participation shows.

   Appearing around the same time as each other, in October 1945, were two similar crime-buster shows. Diary of Death (CBS) was a TV version of the popular radio series Casey, Crime Photographer (CBS Radio), a 30-minute murder mystery written for the small-screen by Lela Swift (from the radio play by Chuck Holden).

   Photocrime (CBS) started off on local station WCBW in an attempt to dramatize the photo journalism stories appearing in the general-interest Look magazine, before the series was networked by ABC in 1949. For the network series, incidentally, Chuck Webster played police Inspector Hannibal Cobb.

   January 1946 started off with the CBS dramatization of Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number, directed by John Houseman (assisted by Nick Ray), and starring young Mildred Natwick as the seemingly neurotic one.

   One of the pleasures awaiting the genre fan in 1946 was the full-length TV play (some 100 minutes) of Mr. and Mrs. North (NBC, May), adapted from the Broadway production, which in turn was based on the Frances and Richard Lockridge The New Yorker magazine series. According to contemporary reviews, the TV version was awash with “whodunit qualities.” Maxine Stewart was the zany Pam North and John McQuade was the more shrewd Jerry North.

   US Radio, as a primary source in the early days, served up the NBC Radio suspense anthology Lights Out. In 1946 (June to August), NBC produced four TV Lights Out specials, all under producer Fred Coe.

   They involved (for the first time on TV) the effects, for example, of the camera itself as the murderer and then, later, the full use of the television split-screen process. The regular TV series ran on NBC from 1949 to 1952. Inspired later perhaps by radio’s Inner Sanctum Mysteries was Mr. Black (ABC, 1949), a ghostly mystery series supervised by the satanic title character.

   In November 1946, CBS produced Brief Pause for Murder, about a radio announcer obsessed with a plot to strangle his wife. The story was taken from the long-running 1942-55 CBS Radio series The Whistler.

   Another TV example was Lucky Night (WBKB Chicago, June 1948), featuring some atmospheric shots (stormy night, waves dashing against shore) at times pre-dating 1960-62’s Thriller. The script (by Russell Hughes) was lifted directly from The Whistler radio show. Incidentally, the drama was intended to act as a pilot for a TV suspense series to be called Boomerang (produced by MCA).

   The ongoing series’ format was slowly but surely beginning to creep into the TV production process.

   The industrious DuMont produced the half-hour Trouble, Inc. (July 1949), a whodunit pilot starring Earl Hammond and Carol Hill as an adventurous couple who team up in Trouble, Inc., an outfit that will do “anything, anywhere, anytime.”

   Another pilot project from DuMont came in the form of Hands of Murder (August 1949). Featuring Steve Eliot and Charlotte Keane, the story told of a desperate factory worker who was driven to murder his violent loan shark. It was presented as a part of DuMont’s Program Playhouse (June-September 1949). From the latter Playhouse, a little earlier, had come an early version of a based-on-the-files-of drama called Federal Agent (June 1949).

   From now on it was the series (and in some ways, the anthology) that commanded the genre.

   Frank Wood – Private Detective (WBKB Chicago) was a short-run 1947 series starring Joe Bellucci as the title sleuth. The Public Prosecutor (1947) became Crawford Mystery Theatre (DuMont, 1951) and appeared to be a combination of crime drama and quiz. Syndicated series Mystery Is My Hobby (1949) starred Glenn Langan as a police detective.

   Barney Blake, Police Reporter (NBC, 1948), it seemed, was under the thumb of sponsor Lucky Strike cigarettes (The American Tobacco Company). It was of course a live series in which our hero, a Front Page style newspaperman (played by Gene O’Donnell), solved each week’s whodunit mystery between ad breaks of marching cigarettes.

   Frederic Ziv had acquired the rights to the Boston Blackie property and produced a syndicated version starring an unlikely Robert Middleton in 1948. The more familiar series featuring Kent Taylor as Blackie was syndicated from 1951.

   The intriguing crime, mystery and suspense drama Chicagoland Television Mystery Players first appeared over WGN-TV (Chicago) in September 1948. It continued to feature Gordon Urquhart as the crime-busting hero when it was shown via DuMont in 1949-50, retitled Chicagoland Mystery Players.

   The next instalment here will look at the genre’s Adventurers, their often Foreign Settings, and Cold War Espionage. The turbulent period 1951 to 1956. Series will range from China Smith to The Man Called X.

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)

100 Good Detective Novels
by Mike Grost

   These are all real detective stories: tales in which a mystery is solved by a detective. Real detective fiction tends to go invisible in modern society, in which many people prefer crime fiction without mystery.

   The list is in chronological order but unfortunately omits many major short story writers: G. K. Chesterton, Jacques Futrelle, H. C. Bailey, Edward D. Hoch, and other greats.

Émile Gaboriau, Le Crime d’Orcival (1866)
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
Israel Zangwill, The Big Bow Mystery (1891)
Anna Katherine Green, The Circular Study (1900)
Edgar Wallace, The Four Just Men (1905)
Cleveland Moffett, Through the Wall (1909)
John T. McIntyre, Ashton-Kirk, Investigator (1910)
R. Austin Freeman, The Eye of Osiris (1911)
E. C. Bentley, Trent’s Last Case (1913)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear (1914)
Clinton H. Stagg, Silver Sandals (1914)
Johnston McCulley, Who Killed William Drew? (1917)
Octavus Roy Cohen, Six Seconds of Darkness (1918)
Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood, The Bat (1920)
Donald McGibeny, 32 Caliber (1920)
Carolyn Wells, Raspberry Jam (1920)
Freeman Wills Crofts, The Cask (1920)
A. A. Milne, The Red House Mystery (1922)
G. D. H. Cole, The Brooklyn Murders (1923)
Carroll John Daly, The Snarl of the Beast (1927)
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1927)
Horatio Winslow and Leslie Quirk, Into Thin Air (1929)
Samuel Spewack, Murder in the Gilded Cage (1929)
Thomas Kindon, Murder in the Moor (1929)
Mignon G. Eberhart, While the Patient Slept (1930)
Victor L. Whitechurch, Murder at the College / Murder at Exbridge (1932)
Ellery Queen, The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932)
Anthony Abbot, About the Murder of the Circus Queen (1932)
S. S. Van Dine, The Dragon Murder Case (1933)
Helen Reilly, McKee of Centre Street (1933)
Dermot Morrah, The Mummy Case (1933)
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors (1934)
Milton M. Propper, The Divorce Court Murder (1934)
John Dickson Carr, The Three Coffins / The Hollow Man (1935)
Georgette Heyer, Merely Murder / Death in the Stocks (1935)
David Frome, Mr. Pinkerton Has the Clue (1936)
Nigel Morland, The Case of the Rusted Room (1937)
Cyril Hare, Tenant for Death (1937)
Baynard Kendrick, The Whistling Hangman (1937)
Ngaio Marsh, Death in a White Tie (1938)
R. A. J. Walling, The Corpse With the Blue Cravat / The Coroner Doubts
Dorothy Cameron Disney, Strawstacks / The Strawstack Murders (1938-1939)
Rex Stout, Some Buried Caesar (1938-1939)
Rufus King, Murder Masks Miami (1939)
Theodora Du Bois, Death Dines Out (1939)
Erle Stanley Gardner, The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
Agatha Christie, One Two, Buckle My Shoe / An Overdose of Death (1940)
J. J. Connington, The Four Defences (1940)
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
Frank Gruber, The Laughing Fox (1940)
Anthony Boucher, The Case of the Solid Key (1941)
Stuart Palmer, The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941)
Kelley Roos, The Frightened Stiff (1942)
Cornell Woolrich, Phantom Lady (1942)
Frances K. Judd, The Mansion of Secrets (1942)
Helen McCloy, The Goblin Market (1943)
Anne Nash, Said With Flowers (1943)
Mabel Seeley, Eleven Came Back (1943)
Norbert Davis, The Mouse in the Mountain (1943)
Robert Reeves, Cellini Smith: Detective (1943)
Hake Talbot, The Rim of the Pit (1944)
John Rhode, The Shadow on the Cliff / The Four-Ply Yarn (1944)
Allan Vaughan Elston & Maurice Beam, Murder by Mandate (1945)
Walter Gibson, Crime Over Casco (1946)
George Harmon Coxe, The Hollow Needle (1948)
Wade Miller, Fatal Step (1948)
Alan Green, What a Body! (1949)
Hal Clement, Needle (1949)
Bruno Fischer, The Angels Fell (1950)
Jack Iams, What Rhymes With Murder? (1950)
Richard Starnes, The Other Body in Grant’s Tomb (1951)
Richard Ellington, Exit for a Dame (1951)
Lawrence G. Blochman, Recipe For Homicide (1952)
Day Keene, Wake Up to Murder (1952)
Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel (1953)
Henry Winterfeld, Caius ist ein Dummkopf / Detectives in Togas (1953)
Craig Rice, My Kingdom For a Hearse (1956)
Frances and Richard Lockridge, Voyage into Violence (1956)
Harold Q. Masur, Tall, Dark and Deadly (1956)
James Warren, The Disappearing Corpse (1957)
Seicho Matsumoto, Ten to sen (Point and Lines) (1957)
Michael Avallone, The Crazy Mixed-Up Corpse (1957)
Ed Lacy, Shakedown for Murder (1958)
Lenore Glen Offord, Walking Shadow (1959)
Allen Richards, To Market, To Market (1961)
Christopher Bush, The Case of the Good Employer (1966)
Randall Garrett, Too Many Magicians (1967)
Michael Collins, A Dark Power (1968)
Merle Constiner, The Four from Gila Bend (1968)
Bill Pronzini, Undercurrent (1973)
Nicholas Meyer, The West End Horror (1976)
Thomas Chastain, Vital Statistics (1977)
William L. DeAndrea, Killed in the Ratings (1978)
Clifford B. Hicks, Alvin Fernald, TV Anchorman (1980)
Donald J. Sobol, Angie’s First Case (1981)
Kyotaro Nishimura, Misuteri ressha ga kieta (The Mystery Train
Disappears) (1982)
K. K. Beck, Murder in a Mummy Case (1986)
Jon L. Breen, Touch of the Past (1988)
Stephen Paul Cohen, Island of Steel (1988)
Earl W. Emerson, Black Hearts and Slow Dancing (1988)

Editorial Comment: This will do it for today, but I do have one more list to post. David Vineyard sent it to me this morning. It’s a followup to his previous list, consisting of what he calls “100 Important Books From Before the Golden Age.” The cutoff date for these is 1913, which is where his earlier list began. While not all of the books on this new list may be crime fiction, they’re all important to the field. Look for it soon!