Monday, October 5, 2015

"The Detective Story Is Looking Up": Reviews from THE BOOKMAN I

"Diplomat's Delight - Detective and Mystery Stories, Good and Bad, Passed in Review."
By Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) (Wikipedia HERE).
From The Bookman, September 1927.
Online HERE.
. . . It is my fixed belief that the best detective stories are the best written detective stories, but this is a proposition that does not go into reverse. The fact that a detective or mystery novel is well written is no proof of its value; but it happens that most of the very good ones are pretty well written.  . . .
Unlike many critics of his day (and ours, too, come to think of it), according to Wikipedia Gilbert Seldes didn't look down his nose at detective fiction, believing that art—whether it was high-, middle-, or low-brow—had universal value and could be appreciated by every-body. Brief excerpts:

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930):
. . . Sir Arthur is obviously weary of his detective and weary of writing; almost all the stories are pretty bad, largely because there is hardly a trace of detecting in them . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

The Eye in Attendance by Valentine Williams (1883–1946):
. . . he [Williams] is sparing of those long chapters which most writers put in to give atmosphere; he carries his story along and he plays fair with the reader. The murderer is in plain view all the time, has an adequate, but not over-powering motive, and even if you guess who he is you still can wonder a little about the how and the why.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

The Sixth Commandment by Carolyn Wells (1862-1942):
. . . seems to me very badly written indeed  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

The Murder at Manson's by R. E. Young:
. . .  it is so choked with color and attempts at humor in the early pages that one despairs even of finding out what the mystery is — it may be a good one.  . . .
Vanishing Men by G. McLeod Winsor:
. . . The solution of this excellent mystery requires the intervention of a scientific discovery still unknown to man.  . . .
Pretty Sinister Books review HERE

The Man in the Sandhills by Antony Marsden:
. . . we follow not the detective, but the supposed criminal . . .
The Man They Couldn't Arrest by Austin J. Small (1894-1929):
. . . we are in the confidence of the Master Mind, who is not a criminal, but a private scientific enemy of robbers and murderers and is, reasonably enough, suspected of the very crimes he helps to discover . . .

The Crookshaven Murder by Alexander Morrison (1894-1931):
... a man stages an amateur playlet in which he is supposed to be murdered ...
FictionMags HERE

The Crooks' Game by George Dilnot (1883-1951):
. . . It has some good points and the actual workings of the Yard are carefully brought into the book; but . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE - Mystery*File review HERE

The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957):
. . . one grows a little dizzy following shipments and dates and telephone calls, but it is a weatherproof piece of business . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE

The Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. Cole (1889-1959) and Margaret Cole (1893-1980):
. . . a little silly.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE and HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE and HERE

The Victory Murders by Foster Johns (Gilbert Seldes, 1893-1970):
. . .  solidity of writing and good characterization . . .
FictionMags HERE

The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939):
. . . obviously the Elwell case . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE - Mary Reed's review HERE - ONTOS HERE

The Canary Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939):
. . .  just as obviously the case of Dot King.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - Mary Reed's review HERE

Moreover, Seldes isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to register this complaint about Van Dine (emphasis added):
. . . Another distressing point is that these two novels are identical; the conceal-ed murderer is placed in the same relative position in both, and if you have read one you guess the other one on page twenty, or wherever it is that the villain enters. In good simple English and with a little variety in placing the characters, these would be easily the best detective stories of the year; the method of deduction is fresh and the incidents are exciting. But if a detective is going to be pretentious at all, which is undesirable, he had better be pretentious about detection and nothing else . . .

Category: Detective fiction criticism

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"Bullets Can't Be Fired Around Corners"

"The Gargoyle Speaks."
By Alfred I. Tooke (?-?).
First appearance: Nickel Detective, March 1933.
Short short story (2 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
When Pulpgen calls this one "far-fetched," we heartily agree:
. . . As he gazed at the gargoyles, musing upon the mystery, he became aware that his eyes had focused themselves on a particularly hideous one. Perhaps the horribly sardonic expression had first attracted his subconscious attention, but as his conscious mind became riveted upon it, a startled exclamation left his lips. Then he smiled slowly back at the gargoyle, and nodded.  . . .
- We have no idea who the prolific pulpster "Alfred I. Tooke" was or is, but FictionMags does have a listing for him HERE.

Category: Never trust a gargoyle

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Halfway Across the Room, a Small Automatic in His Hand, Stood a Man"

"Midnight Visit."
By Robert Arthur (1909-69).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, June 17, 1939.
Reprinted in EQMM, March 1948 and The Saint Detective Magazine, December 1954.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online HERE.
The most effective kind of warfare doesn't need guns, just ideas:
"Send them away!" he rasped. "I will wait on the balcony. Send them away or I'll shoot and take my chances!"
- Wikipedia HERE - Biography HERE - FictionMags HERE - ISFDb HERE.

Category: "A dagger of the mind, a false creation"

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"You Know How Circumstances Can Misrepresent the Appearance of a Crime"

"Brianna's Way."
By Barry Ergang.
Short short short story (1 page).
First appearance: Flash Bang Mysteries, Fall 2015.
Online HERE.
Even though they continually step on others to get what they want, some people still manage to slither through life purely on their charm—but what about when it comes to homicide, how useful is charm then?
. . . I know how murders are committed, how to commit them, and how to avoid the mistakes amateurs make.  . . .
- More about Barry Ergang is HERE, his own website is HERE, and one of his legendary "groaners" is HERE.

Category: Flash . . . BANG!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Several classics crossed the reviewer's desk in September 1938:

Midnight Sailing by Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75):
The steamer is Japanese, the detective is a newspaperman sent on board to get an exclusive yarn from a lovely "missing" heiress. There are several murders, a spot of international intrigue, and a fiery conclusion in which all is cleared up. Bang-up in every way.
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

Coffins for Three by Frederick C. Davis (1902-77):
. . . a very slick article. The action is in high gear from the third or fourth page, and runs all the way from a shooting outside of a New York honky-tonk to the penthouse eyrie of a Manhattan carrier-pigeon fancier—and the windup has a gruesome touch that supplies a shiver where, too often, there's a sigh.
Pretty Sinister review HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

The Case Without a Clue by Nigel Morland (1905-86):
Nigel Moreland's tough lady cop, Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard, gets better with each story of her bellicose exploits. The third and newest Pym perpetration is The Case Without a Clue and, while it has the sturdy Elvira shouting and stomping and slamming around as usual, contains more scientific deductive material than its predecessors. Three murders, with a tempestuous mid-channel finale.
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

This Is Mr. Fortune by H. C. Bailey (1878-1961):
Mr. Reginald Fortune returns to our midst in This Is Mr. Fortune and demon-strates neatly the superiority of a series of short stories to the all-too-frequent, overstuffed, full-length affairs. There is at least one murder in most of the stories, and the famous Fortune brand of deducing, plus the familiar manner-isms, is turned on full strength.
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

Clouds of Witness and the Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957):
Those who hone for the happy days before Peter Wimsey saved Harriet Vane from the gallows for the fate of courtship and marriage will rejoice in the knowledge that Clouds of Witnesses [sic] and The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy Sayers (in the last named Robert Eustace collaborated), are now available in a combined edition. Clouds of Witnesses [sic] is Wimsey at his best; the other yarn, although it is told through a series of letters—a device which, for all its classical justification, your correspondent abhors—is top-flight fare for the mystery-story reader with a nose for the scientific; and though the tales are ten and eight years old respectively, they stand the test of time excellently.

Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE

Rope Enough by John Stephen Strange (Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett, 1896-1983):
Barney Gantt, ace newspaper pix-man and camera-eyed amateur detective, gets tangled up in a couple of political murders in Rope Enough, not to speak of a kidnaping and other criminal carryings-on. For some reason or other, killings in a fictitious New York political campaign leave one rather cold, but the most captious reader couldn't complain about any lack of action.
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE - Ramble House HERE

Category: Detective fiction criticism

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Little Girl Who Wasn't There"

"All at Once, No Alice."
By Cornell Woolrich (Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich, 1903-68).
Novelette (29 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, March 2, 1940.
Reprinted in EQMM, November 1951.
Adapted to film as The Return of the Whistler (1948).
Online HERE.
"He stepped out of the warm sunlight into a dark, empty room; he groped in terror, and his hands met only the constricting black void. And no one would believe what he said—about the little girl who wasn't there."
Embarking on a lifetime of wedded bliss should be a joyful event; for our first person narrator, however, it's just the beginning of a nightmare . . . but, so that you first time 
readers of this story can engage the full Woolrich experience, we'll say no more except 
to offer a few excerpts:
. . . "I just thought of something. There's a little bit of a dinky room on the top floor."  . . .
. . . I held the page up toward the light and tried to squint through it, to see whether it showed thinner there, either from rubbing or some other means of eradication. It was all of the same even opacity.  . . .
. . .  something was already trying to make me feel a little cut off from them, a little set apart. As if a shadowy finger had drawn a ring around me where I stood, and mystic vapors were already beginning to rise from it, walling me off from my fellowmen.  . . .
. . ."What're you doing this for? What're you trying to do to me? All of you?". . .
. . . There was a pause, while I fought against this other, lesser kind of death that was creeping over me—this death called strangeness, this snapping of all the customary little threads of cause and effect that are our moorings at other times. Slowly they all drew back from me step by step, until I was left there alone, cut off. . . .
. . . Suddenly I was very passive, unresistant. Because suddenly I had a dread of arrest, confinement. I wanted to preserve my freedom of movement more than all else, to try to find her again. If they threw me in a cell, or put me in a strait-jacket, how could I look for her, how could I ever hope to get at the bottom of this mystery?  . . .
. . . He looked as if he'd seen every rotten thing there was in the world. He looked as if he'd once expected to see other things beside that, but didn't any more.  . . .
. . . Ainslie filled a paper cup with water at the cooler in the corner, strewed it deftly across my face, once each way, as if I were some kind of a potted plant, and one of the other guys picked me up from the floor and put me back on the chair again.  . . .
. . . "What you're doing to me is worse than if you were to kill me. You're locking me up in shadows for the rest of my life. You're taking my mind away from me."  . . .
. . . he stopped and looked me over from head to foot as if I was some kind of a microbe.  . . .
. . . "Those four square inches of linen handkerchief will be wearing pretty thin, if this keeps up . . ."
. . . "This is where I was married to a ghost."  . . .
. . . "If we can get the reason behind it all, the source, we don't have to bother with any of these small fry."  . . .
. . . I went cold all over, but I put down the camp chair I was fiddling with and edged over toward it on arched feet. The taper-flames bent down flat as I approached them, and sort of hissed. Sweat needled out under the roots of my hair.  . . .
. . . Then he turned and I never felt my shoulder grabbed so hard before, or since. His fingers felt like steel claws that went in, and met in the middle. For a minute I didn't know whether he was attacking me or not; and I was too dazed to care.  . . .
. . . he dropped on my curved back like a dead weight and I went down flat under him, pushing my face into the parquet flooring.  . . .
. . . a door opened surreptitiously somewhere close at hand; and a stealthy, frightened tread began to descend toward us . . .
. . . She gave a scream like the noon whistle of a factory.  . . .
- Wikipedia HERE, the IMDb HERE, and FictionMags HERE.
- See HERE for more about the film version; we briefly touched on another movie adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story HERE.

Category: One of us is crazy

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"He Seems Rather a Versatile Sort of Crook"

"Caught Out."
By Fred C. Smale (1865-1917).
First appearance: The All-Story Magazine, March 1914.
Short story (8 pages).
Online at Pulpgen HERE.
A newspaperman with an eidetic memory and an unlikely name is assigned to track down an embezzler who has absconded with nearly four thousand dollars not his own, with the trail leading to a comfortable drawing-room, an edacious servant girl, and a dodgy housekeeper. Several passages:
. . . "There’s a woman in it somewhere, of course."  . . .
. . . Left to himself, he carefully poured the coffee into the pot of a tall palm which adorned one corner of the room.  . . .
. . . "What—what do you mean?" she replied in a voice strangely hoarse and unsteady. "Who are you—a robber?"  . . .
. . . Apparently maddened by the sound of the woman’s voice, the disguised man sprang at his captor and tried to wrest his revolver from him, but Bat Miller’s muscles were like whipcord.  . . .
. . . "Ah!" sighed Bat, "that’s no way to treat a lady; but I suppose you’ll say ladies don’t make meals off policemen’s hands."  . . .
. . . "That’s the way with all these smart crooks that always slip a cog sooner or later, and being something of a good-looker, vanity was his rock."  . . .
- Information about Fred Smale on the Internet is sparse, to say the least; his FictionMags entry is HEREand he's also earned the attention of the ISFDb HERE.

Category: Be careful how you catch a vase