Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"The Flavour, Noise, Colour and Drama of the London Street Scene"

Sherlock Holmes and a multitude of his rivals prowled the streets of the world's most cosmopolitan city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While Robert Machray's book gives mystery fans a good feel for that time and place, he does caution us:
. . . This book is not by way of being a complete record of the Night Side of London, though it is perhaps as complete as there is any object in making it.
Two or three of the more familiar phases of London by night have not been reproduced or touched upon; there is nothing, for instance, said about St. Martin's le Grand at midnight, or about a newspaper-office at two or three o'clock in the morning, or about the Chinese opium-dens in the East End.
Nor is there a chapter on the River by Night; application was made to the Commissioner of Police for permission to accompany one of the river police-boats on its "rounds," but it was refused.
And for obvious reasons nothing is said about the worst and most devilish features of the Night Side of London. For those who wish to become acquainted with these hideous things, are there not guides to be found lurking near the entrances of some of the great hotels of London—just as is the case in Paris? — The Night Side of London, pages v-vi
THE NIGHT SIDE OF LONDON.
By Robert Machray (1857-1946).
J. B. Lippincott.
1902. 300 pages.
Nonfiction.
With copious illustrations by Tom Browne.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Edwardian London at play recorded during the first two years of the 20th century (1902-3). The artist, illustrator Tom Browne and author Robert Machray worked together, visiting places along the famous River Thames. From Piccadilly Circus at midnight, Jimmy's at 12.30 a.m., a coffee stall at Hyde Park Corner and another in New Oxford Street at 2 a.m., people standing in little groups, a burglar, singing in the street, shouting shrill abuse, down goes the drunken man flat on his back, the American girl, the restaurant dinner, a crowd on the great staircase—these are just some of the names of Browne's marvellous pen and ink sketches or paintings which capture the flavour, noise, colour and drama of the London street scene. — Bibliophile Books description
Resource:
- We have encountered Robert Machray previously in his capacity as mystery author HERE.

Category: Nonfiction

Monday, August 25, 2014

By the Numbers

In case you were wondering (and we know you weren't), the most popular posts strictly in terms of page views on ONTOS break down as follows (with the top one listed first):
(1) "A Book Remarkable for Completeness, Accuracy, and Infallible Soundness of Judgment" - HERE

(2) Julian Symons Reviews Robert Barnard's A TALENT TO DECEIVE - HERE

(3) "A Strange Medley of Stage Realism, Fantasy, Farce, and Tragedy" - HERE

(4) Sherlock's First Theatrical Outing - HERE

(5) "A Suspension of Disbelief Is Required" - HERE

(6) Not Quite So Idiosyncratic - HERE

(7) "The Author Outdoes Himself in the Number of People Upon Whom He Brings Suspicion" - HERE

(8) THE HOUND Again - HERE

(9) Detective Fiction — Private Detective vs. Private Eye - HERE

We're happy to have all of you reading ONTOS and hope you'll continue to find our weblog useful.

Category: Audience appreciation

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"It Is Not So Much the Search As the Seekers Who Are Its Interest"

In this one A. E. W. Mason seems to be trying to straddle the divide that separates mystery from mainstream fiction.

THE SAPPHIRE.
By A. E. W. Mason (1865-1948). 
Hodder & Stoughton.
1933. 320 pages. 7s. 6d.
When Martin Legatt decides to take a holiday on an old Irrawaddy steamer captained by the shadowy Michael Crowther, it's not long before the Captain confides in his young passenger. From his small talk an incredible story emerges involving a silk bag of wonders containing a host of treasures. There is a filigree bracelet, a silver necklet, nadoungs of gold and a jade pendant. But what startles Legatt is the appearance of an incredible jewel the colour of tropical seas.
Legatt becomes horrified when he finds out that the sapphire belongs to Captain Crowther's Burmese wife, Ma Shwe At, and that the Captain has stolen the gem. The challenge is set to return the gemstone to its rightful owner. What ensues is a fraught quest full of twists, turns and high jinx that sends the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the Burmese jungle. — House of Stratus description
The work of Mr. A. E. W. Mason is never derivative. Having said that one can, without risk of misunderstanding, say of his latest story, 'The Sapphire,' that it is like some cordial compounded with skill and betraying a touch of Conrad, a touch of the Wallace who used to write of the jungle, a smack of Dornford Yates and a reminiscence of the early Kipling who wrote 'Letters of Marque.'
The body of the liquor is Mason, but these other flavours are there. The tale concerns a sapphire which was given to Captain Michael Crowther by the Burmese wife he was deserting. For a chapter or two it seems that Crowther is to rival the hero of 'The Moon and Sixpence' in selfishness-with-a-purpose, but he changes.
Having deserted his Burmese wife and child, he returns to find them again. They are alive, but out of his reach. He becomes a Buddhist monk, and the sapphire, with certain other ornaments, adorn a temple, from whence they are stolen by two escaped convicts in monkish masquerade.
It is the search for the stolen stone which is the thread of the story, but it is not so much the search as the seekers who are its interest. The tale is told in the first person by the narrator, Legatt, and carries a conviction that is necessary to justify some of the coincidences whereby the narrator twice and thrice encounters Crowther and is twice concerned with the sapphire, which is more than once stolen.
The pace of the story is free from that crowded hustle which mars many modern mystery and adventure tales, and whether the scene is in Burma or in London, the psychological atmosphere of its main protagonists is maintained with all Mr. Mason's habitual skill.
Michael Crowther is an unusual character, and his transition from the old personality to the new gives him a complexity during the search for the jewel which adds an interest to the tale by no means dependent upon the excitements of the chase. — C. B., "An Original Jewel Robbery," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1933)
Resource:
- Mason was responsible for At the Villa Rose (1910), upon which ONTOS recently touched HERE.

Category: Adventure fiction

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"There Is Even a Twist at the End, As If There Were Anything Left to Twist"

Here are reviews of most of the works of one of the most enigmatic figures in the detective fiction genre, A. Fielding (for more background information about this author, see the MYSTERY*FILE and Curt Evans articles in "Resources," below). The general critical consensus: Fielding could run hot, lukewarm, or cold, but usually it was the last two.

THE EAMES-ERSKINE CASE.
By A. Fielding.
W. Collins & Son & A. L. Burt.
1924 (US: 1925). 277 pages (US: 244 pages).
Online HERE.
[Review excerpts] . . . Although Fielding doesn't depend on a Crofts specialty–detailed alibis, often involving train timetables—there is much painstaking investigation by her policemen, in the Crofts manner.
The author has constructed in this novel a complex and cleverly plotted problem, with many red herrings and surprising twists and turns. There's even some subsidiary love interest, quite acceptably done, as well as a couple trips to France (Paris and the Riviera). Crofts mysteries often saw sleuths traveling to Continental Europe, especially in the 1920s. — Curt Evans, THE PASSING TRAMP (January 30, 2014)
THE CHARTERIS MYSTERY: A POINTER PROBLEM.
By A. Fielding.
Alfred A. Knopf.
1925. 285 pages.

[Full review] Pointer of the Yard is called in when beautiful Rose Charteris is found dead. Her uncle's friend Thornton, who rents a nearby cottage, isn't sure that it's the accident it seems to be. Rose wanted to break her engagement to a volatile Italian count, her former lover is on the scene, she's quarreled with her cousin ... but Pointer is sure that a motive beyond jealousy must be at the root of the crime. It's most peculiar that Rose's father, a noted professor, has not returned from Italy in response to his daughter's death. Pointer must go to Italy to track him down, with surprising results. Unfortunately, some of the political attitudes of the 1920's spoiled my enjoyment of this classic. — Susan, GOODREADS (July 1, 2014)
THE FOOTSTEPS THAT STOPPED.
By A. Fielding.
Alfred A. Knopf.
1926. 306 pages. $2.00 (UK: 7s. 6d.)
Online HERE.
[Full review] Here is a detective story in the grand manner, with a Great Detective sprinkling yellow powder about and looking for finger-prints, twelve or thirteen characters who can't explain any of their actions, a beautiful girl who just won't believe her Philip is guilty, and a villain willing to go to any amount of trouble and expense to murder people.
For two hundred pages the intricacies of the plot are very ingenious indeed; and, since two hundred pages are about as long as we should expect any one to be rational, the climax is as unexpected and as silly as these things generally are. Mr. Knopf has devised a bright pink-and-orange wrapper that would look very well against the green of a Pullman seat—probably the best place to read this book. — "Current Books," THE OUTLOOK (November 17, 1926)
[Full review] Those who wish for a sound night's rest should not begin Mr. A. Fielding's 'The Footsteps That Stopped' in the evening, for they assuredly will sit up until day-break to learn the truth concerning Mrs. Tangye's death. Chief Inspector Pointer pieces apparently trifling scraps of evidence together after the fashion of a mosaicist, until he brings into being a truthful picture of what really happened in the morning-room. And the reality is far from what the most suspicious reader will conjecture, although he may—and most certainly will—conjecture a round dozen of times.
The tale is admirably related, the characters strongly and clearly drawn, the incidents convincingly set forth; and the denouement, brought out dramatically—or melodramatically—is an overwhelming surprise. Certainly the "long arm of coincidence" is stretched a little too often, but the end of the story justifies the means. Mr. Fielding has provided a sleepless but thrilling and interesting night's entertainment. — Fergus Hume, "Dreams to Sell," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (November 1926)
THE CLIFFORD AFFAIR.
By A. Fielding.
Knopf.
1927. 300 pages.
Online HERE.
[Full review] Having recently read something featuring decapitated bodies, I felt a certain deja vu when Pointer is called to a service flat only to find--you guessed it! The foreign office expert thinks that either the killer or the corpse is a dangerous Spanish anarchist, but (fortunately) the case is more complex than that, and the mystery element will keep you guessing. Heck, even the romantic interest will keep you guessing! — Susan, GOODREADS (July 23, 2014)
THE CLUNY PROBLEM.
By A. Fielding.
Knopf.
1928. 321 pages. $2.00
Online HERE.
[Full review] After a ball at a villa on the outskirts of the sleepy town of Cluny, famous for its monastic ruins, two English guests, one of them a famous financier, are found, locked in one room, dead, with pistols beside them.
The swarm of detectives, English and French, official and private, who descend upon the scene, are soon forced to reject the obvious conclusion of a duel; but though they unearth many strange goings-on at the Villa Porte Bonheur, and much of the secret past of the principals in the tragedy, it is not until Inspector Pointer of Scotland Yard sums up in the last chapter that the pieces in the puzzle fall together.
From the outset, the author convinces us that he has seen Cluny, and knows something of the French police at work (and incidentally that he can write very much better than one had come to expect), but it is only upon reflection, after the last page has been turned, that one perceives how cleverly he has woven his plot. The device is neat, intricate, finished; there are no major improbabilities or irritating loose ends; even what looked like auctorial clumsiness turns out to be one of the most skilful and subtly offered clues. Perhaps this very smoothness in the management of complicated situations and multiplied false scents may baffle the more easily bored and puzzled attention: for the full enjoyment of that intellectual pleasure of problem solving which is the chief reward of reading a good detective story, The Cluny Problem demands an unusual alertness. It is easily worth the effort. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 20, 1929Jump To page 936, middle column at bottom)
THE NET AROUND JOAN INGILBY.
By A. Fielding.
Knopf.
1928. 306 pages. $2.00
[Review excerpts] . . . There may be a “first” involved here. Can you think of any other story in which an accused murderer comes back into the story disguised as her older sister in order to help in the investigation?  . . . Not so great, though, were the many lapses in story-telling continuity.  . . . There are parts of this tale, however, which concern matters mysterical and are equally amazing, and once explained, may very well take your breath away. It did mine, and for more reasons than one – one being pure audacity, and another – well, you’ll have to read this one for yourself. — Steve Lewis, MYSTERY*FILE (3 February 2014)
[Full review] Inspector Pointer of the C.I.D. once more solves a mystery, with the assistance of the suspected murderess, and baffles his colleagues. Again the author has endowed his Inspector with an astonishing power of deduction. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (December 1928; Jump To page 364, bottom left)
THE MYSTERIOUS PARTNER.
By A. Fielding.
Knopf.
1929. 286 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Farthing was one of the oldest houses in England. And under its roof were Edgard Danford, the owner; his wife, his brother and his stepdaughter; his estate agent, Rivers; his business partner and a number of other less important people—when there rang through the drawing-room the ghastly, ghostly laugh the third repetition of which always shortly preceded the death of a member of the family.
Knowing this, it will not startle you to find the unfortunate Danford dead, strangled in his bed, a few mornings later. Whereupon our old friend Inspector Pointer, gets busy and untangles a very complicated mystery.
A little long, but otherwise excellent, and credible everywhere but on page 246 where the heroine strokes the scorched cheek of a gentleman who has just been rescued from a burning house. True, he loved her, but we believe he'd have yelled just the same.
And we do object to the excessive use of the apostrophe, as in "her's" and "your's." This is a liberty with the rules of grammar which even in these modern days we have not hitherto noted. — Walter R. Brooks, "The Week's Reading," THE OUTLOOK (September 11, 1929; Jump To page 74, third column middle)
[Full review] WHEREIN Inspector Pointer explains the ghostly laugh of Dame Anne, and rounds up the murderer of Edgar Danforth of Farthing Hall. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (October 1929Jump To page 234, middle right)
THE UPFOLD FARM MYSTERY.
By A. Fielding.
W. Collins & Son.
1931. 252 pages.
[Excerpts] Other reviewers have reflected on Fielding's love of complicated plots, replete with red herrings and misdirection and this, the twelfth book to feature her detective Chief Inspector Pointer, certainly goes some way to fitting the bill.  . . . The sleuths go about their task methodically, without any real flashes of brilliance, and despite the clues afforded by another murder they find themselves unable to find any provable solution to the crimes. Therefore, as a last resort – and very late in the book – they appeal to Pointer for guidance. He is able to immediately deduce a possible solution and sets about attempting to uncover the evidence required to prove it.  . . . — R. E. Faust, GAD Wiki

[Excerpts] . . . This is by far the best Fielding I have read.  . . . I wish I could say other Fieldings measured up to this one, but I haven't found any that have. The early ones, praised by Van Dine, seem very subpar Crofts, while the middle and later ones seem mostly very subpar Christie.  . . . — Curt Evans, GAD Wiki
[Full review] The new A. Fielding story is much better than his recent Death of John Tait [see next], although the clever Inspector Pointer doesn't appear until the last eighth of the book and then solves the mystery of two baffling murders with a few magic passes. The characters are artists, musicians, writers—so you know what wicked work to expect. — William C. Weber, "Murder Will Out," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 24, 1932; Jump To page 133, left middle)
DEATH OF JOHN TAIT.
By A. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1932. 336 pages.
[Excerpts] The Queen of Red Herrings is back, elaborating what seems at first like a simple domestic dispute into an elaborate story of betrayal, toxicology, blackmail, impersonation, abduction and sinister foreigners.  . . . There is even a twist at the end, as if there were anything left to twist.  . . . — Jon Jermey, GAD Wiki
THE WESTWOOD MYSTERY.
By A. Fielding.
Crime Club.
1932. 281 pages.
[Full review] A rather turgid, slow-moving thriller in which a prominent member of the bar is murdered and Pointer of Scotland Yard investigates.
Little excitement and very little action make it somewhat a dull read. — Gerry, GOODREADS (August 21, 2011)
THE TALL HOUSE MYSTERY.
By A. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1933. 252 pages. $2.00
Online HERE.
[Full review] Killing of "Ghost" at house-party brings in Inspector Pointer who follows clues to Monte Carlo and back to amazing climax. - Extra good characterizations, ingenious mixture of cryptograms and "systems," and above-average detective work. - Verdict: Class-A. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 16, 1933)
[Excerpt] . . . Things will get even more complex in the best tradition of the puzzle mystery, but in the end, Inspector Pointer solves the crime and finds the murderer even though he spends a lot of time on a big red herring. — Linda Bertland, PHILLY READER (July 13, 2014)
[Excerpts] . . . The clues take the clever Inspector Pointer to various London locations and eventually to a casino on the continent, but it is a small out-of-the-way cottage that reveals another corpse and an exciting finish, where Pointer must knock out a disguised murderer before a third life is lost.  . . .
. . . as I progressed through the pages, I found myself quite charmed by the writing. I like to read mysteries of this vintage as much for their explication of the social background of their period as for the puzzle, and I found myself interested in both. The puzzle aspects are frequent and enigmatic.  . . .
. . . Other commentators have remarked that Fielding is a sloppy writer who will sacrifice a lot of believability for the sake of a tricky and surprising ending. I have to say that although I have noticed sloppy writing in a couple of other Fielding novels that I’ve read recently, courtesy of Hathi Trust, this one didn’t especially annoy me at any particular point.  . . .
. . . I was certainly surprised by the ending, and that is not an experience I have often with detective fiction … the identity of the murderer was actually a surprise to me, and I felt instinctively a rather fair one.  . . .
. . . I think you might enjoy this novel if you’re an experienced reader of detective fiction; paradoxically, I think you won’t manage to enjoy it as much if you are a newbie, although you’ll definitely be fooled by the ending.  . . . — Noah Stewart, NOAH'S ARCHIVES (August 4, 2014)
THE CAUTLEY MYSTERY.
By A. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1934. 274 pages.
[a.k.a. THE CAUTLEY CONUNDRUM]
[Full review] Inspector Pointer of the Yard aids local cops when shotgun and poison do dirty work near London. - Not-so-good solution caps tale of assorted Cautley cousins, complicated by vanishing pearls and tricky will. - Verdict: Fairish. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 7, 1934)
[Full review] The four Cautley cousins are very dissimilar. The only thing they have in common, really, is a streak of ruthlessness that shows even in easy-going Jack. When the oldest and richest dies in a shooting accident, neither his family or the local police believe that such a skilled hunter could die like that. Naturally, his heir Lionel was the main suspect. Then there are the two Upjohn half-sisters. They don't have much in common, either, except for the fact that they've both been engaged to the youngest Cautley. But beautiful Daphne threw Jack over and is now engaged to Lionel. There are the famous Cautley family pearls in play, too. — Susan, GOODREADS (August 10, 2014)
THE PAPER CHASE.
By A. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1934. 252 pages.
[a.k.a. THE PAPER-CHASE MYSTERY]
[Full review] Counterfeiters, stopping at nothing, murder 3 in Switzerland and London, and Inspector Pointer just saves No. 4 - Actions runs quickly enough with required measure of thrills, but casual nature of whole thing is disappointing. - Verdict: Only fair. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (March 9, 1935)
TRAGEDY AT BEECHCROFT.
By A. Fielding.
Crime Club.
1935. 252 pages.
Online HERE.
[Excerpts] . . . Tragedy at Beechcroft is a monument to misdirection. Red herrings pile up in crateloads until the reader is no longer sure whether murder was actually done at all. Luckily Inspector Pointer—a dogged investigator—is there to sort things out.  . . . Despite it all, Tragedy at Beechcroft is surprisingly readable. The characters fill out their impossible roles with vigour and charm, and Inspector Pointer joins in like a holiday-camp supervisor running a jolly game of charades. The book stands as a monument to one style of detective fiction, taken to its wildest extreme, but more or less carried off.  . . . — Jon Jermey, GAD Wiki
THE CASE OF THE MISSING DIARY.
By A. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1935. 252 pages.
[Excerpts] A. Fielding's The Case of the Missing Diary is a Golden Age mystery that is comprised of the routine, the coincidental and the downright silly.  . . .  I don't admire Fielding's plotting. Her technique is apparently to dispose of as much plot as quickly as possible without really developing any individual scenes or atmosphere and the resulting effect is one of casualness (or carelessness).  . . . Overall, mystery lovers won't find much to celebrate . . . . — Harry Vincent, GAD Wiki
THE CASE OF THE TWO PEARL NECKLACES.
By A. E. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1936. 252 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Bride of wealthy British weakling is slain and her poils vanish. Insp. Pointer gravely follows tiny clues. - Notable mainly for its amazing picture of how nasty the British upper clawsses can be. Solution surprising. - Verdict: Run-of-mill. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (October 24, 1936)
[Full review] A wealthy young man, against his father's wishes, marries a woman who is not of the right class. As a wedding gift he gives her two pearl necklaces said to have been owned by Queen Charlotte and thought to be unlucky. Shortly after they return from their honeymoon she is murdered.
The Scotland Yard detective in charge of the case allows both the young woman's husband and the private agent he hired to be quite involved in the case.
A quite interesting puzzle—all clues are given to the reader but they are not easy to spot! — Tamara, GOODREADS (May 2, 2014)
Too many situations and red herrings. Instead of trying to solve the mystery, it was spent on covering up. This would have been a better short story. Still worth a read. — Judy Harper, GOODREADS (July 4, 2014)
MYSTERY AT THE RECTORY.
By A. E. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1937. 282 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Rural English philanderer's "accidental" death is followed by rector's poisoning and other sinister happenings which keep Insp. Pointer stepping. - Toadstool poisoning, jewel robberies, feminine jealousy, and scandalous family secrets dished up in customarily competent English fashion. - Verdict: Average. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 3, 1937)
[Full review] I really enjoyed this one—and a new to me author, too. The upright, much-loved rector of a country parish is murdered not long after delivering perhaps the finest sermon of his life. By chance a Scotland Yard detective is staying with the Chief Constable and finds himself called upon to investigate the murder. The detective is something of a cipher and rather too good to be true—he is intelligent, well-read, enjoys active pursuits such as rock climbing, knows about art, in short a fairly typical detective of the time (which is definitely sometime in the 30's).
The characters are fairly standard for the time—a wealthy young man (or two), a scheming woman (or three), the vicar's spinster sister, various well-trained servants, a local police superintendent (not too bright but not too stupid), and a Chief Constable who is rather involved in the investigation.
It's enjoyable for what it is—a mystery of the golden age. If you like a dark mystery this isn't for you. Well-drawn characters are your thing? Then this isn't for you. But if you like a puzzle then this one is for you. — Tamara, GOODREADS (April 25, 2014)
SCARECROW.
By A. E. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1937. 284 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Over-trustful bachelor returns to England from Provence and is slain. Insp. Pointer goes to Mentone for final clutch. - Intricate plot well handled, although pace is slightly pedestrian. Colorful background and passel of slippery customers. - Verdict: Average. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (August 28, 1937)
BLACK CATS ARE LUCKY.
By A. E. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1938. $2.00
[Full review] Wealthy British bachelor poisoned and pet cat bludgeoned at family gathering. Insp. Pointer collects loose ends and spots clever killer. - Typical English house-party affair with avaricious relatives and missing will to complicate matters. Plot well developed but at leisurely pace. - Verdict: Bit wearisome. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (March 26, 1938)
MURDER IN SUFFOLK.
By A. E. Fielding.
Kinsey.
1938. 252 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Violent deaths of Scotland Yard operative and Arab in sandy wastes of Suffolk solved by Hugh Duncan, private investigator. - Slightly muddled but richly adventurous yarn of fabulous treasure and final discomfiture of desprit adventurer in search of it. - Verdict: So-so. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (August 13, 1938)
Other books by A. Fielding:

Deep Currents (1924)

Murder at the Nook (1929)
The Craig Poisoning Mystery (1930)
The Wedding-Chest Mystery (1930)
Pointer to a Crime (1944)
Resources:
- The GAD Wiki page about Fielding is HERE, while a comprehensively researched page about this author is HERE.
- Curt Evans's overview of Fielding's works is HERE.
- Jon Jermey has still more HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"What Good Is a Mystery Yarn If in Retrospect It Is Illogical and Silly?"

Austin J. Small was best known to British readers as "Seamark"; sadly, he chose to end his career as a suicide. A persistent producer of thriller-dillers, science fiction, and adventures very much in the Jack London vein, Small sometimes attracted critical comments from his contemporaries, some of which, unfortunately, were not favorable:

THE SILENT SIX.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
A. L. Burt & George H. Doran.
1924 [1926 in U.S.]. 292 pages.
[Full review] Revenge is the controlling note in this melodramatic tales of how a martyred member of the safe-cracking "Silent Six" took fatal toll of the five who wronged him.
Damon Grey, with unswerving loyalty to his confederates, serves alone a prison sentence of eighteen years for a crime of which each one of the band had been guilty. He emerges from servitude middle-aged, but hopeful and unbroken, to seek reunion with the wife from whom confinement had parted him.
When he learns that his old colleagues have betrayed him by allowing his loved one to die of want, he determines to kill all five by a singularly ingenious and undetectable means.
Preparatory to doing so, he summons them to conference, discloses what is to occur to each of them, and the next evening bags his first victim in the presence of the affrighted others.
Of course the surviving four men adopt desperate protective measures to save themselves from this vengeful monster, but relentlessly, one by one, he drops them into eternity, and when the last is gone, he [SPOILER].
There is no attempt made in the story to mystify or mislead the reader, this all-cards-on-table method adding greatly to, rather than impairing, the interest and suspense with which the tale abounds. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 31, 1926; page 12, left column, middle)
[Full review] Mystery and grotesque adventure swiftly told. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1926; page 703, top right)
THE MAN THEY COULDN'T ARREST.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
George H. Doran.
1925. 292 pages.
. . . a mystery novel incorporating unusual devices and Inventions into the plot. — SFE
[Full review] A galloping mystery story in which radio is the hero. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (July 1927; page 580, bottom right)
PEARLS OF DESIRE.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Houghton Mifflin.
1925. 300 pages. $2.00
[Full review] This tale deals with the South Sea adventures of Laynard, a professional gentleman adventurer who has had a university education and displays it by talking as no human being, save perhaps a thoroughly drunken professor of philology, could ever talk.
The story has a few patches of diverting local color. But not even the characters of romance should speak in such a way as to render any illusion of their own reality absurd. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (August 29, 1925; page 90, 2nd column, bottom)
THE DEATH MAKER.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
George H. Doran.
1926. 309 pages.
[a.k.a. MASTER VORST]
Reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, April 1952, online HERE.
. . . In Master Vorst (1926; a.k.a. The Death Maker) the London Secret Society's insane plan to kill off the human race by germ warfare is thwarted in the nick of time. — SFE
THE MASTER MYSTERY.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1928. 341 pages.
[a.k.a. THE CRIMSON DEATH]
DOWN RIVER.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Hodder and Stoughton.
1929. 320 pages.
Online HERE.
THE NEEDLE'S KISS.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1929. 312 pages. $2.00
[Full review] This tale opens very nicely with a stabbed and poisoned corpse dragged from the Thames, but thereafter the excitement is kept pretty low by inexpert use of such familiar trappings as concealed apartments aboard a Chinese ship, an apparently deserted warehouse devoted to dark traffic, daggers with Chinese proverbs engraved on their blades, and a trapdoor leading to the river. A rather neat light-gun with good possibilities is wasted here.
The problem is: how are the police to prove that the Eurasian Grosman was responsible for the murder, as well as for London's being flooded with cocaine?
Everybody eavesdrops a great deal, the commissioner's daughter gets herself abducted, and finally the surviving villains are [SPOILER]. All the English characters talk Americanese. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 7, 1929; page 116, 4th column, near top)
[Full review] THE water-front in London, with police dragnets, cocaine peddlers, doubtful night clubs, a Chinese mandarin in the Limehouse section, and the abduction of a wealthy girl. The C.I.D. comes out top-hole after eight long chapters of keen sleuthing, which reek of horrors and murders. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (October 1929; Jump To page 234, top left)

THE WEB OF MURDER.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1929. 283 pages. $2.00
[Full review] This story seems to be just another murder mystery. Mr. Small is either careless or unskilful, for when we begin to check up on the solution, we find that the narrative is full of inconsistencies and false starts. Of course, these bother us chiefly after we have closed the book, because while we read, Mr. Small is usually able to hold our attention. But what good is a mystery yarn if in retrospect it is illogical and silly?
The plot is not unconventional: drug and jewelry smuggling in London; a house in lonely suburban grounds, with a good red murder in the library; a bright young man as innocent bystander, and a girl as a half-incriminated accomplice.
Probably Mr. Small hoped that if he merely went through the motions of the commonplace murder novel, he could get away with a great deal of plain foolishness. A little more perspiration would have been helpful. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 20, 1929; Jump To page 935, 2nd column at top)
THE AVENGING RAY.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1930. 287 pages.
. . . The Avenging Ray (1930) as by Seamark, features a Mad Scientist intent upon destroying the world, his Weapon in this case being a Death Ray comprised of two elements, an Anti-Coherer which dissolves matter, and a Degravitisor, which scatters the residue into the universe. The idea is vivid, the seven-foot-tall, immensely powerful scientist broods with almost Melmothian intensity, but the tale – published after its author's suicide – is desperately scatty. — SFE
[Review excerpt] . . . Am I revealing too much, considering the general non-availability of this particular work, to say that Small is more interested in writing science-fiction than an utterly fair detective story? Still, in spite of the frustrating nature of the incompetent investigation, and in spite of the dumb obstacles placed in the way of true love, there is a modicum of quaint naivete to go with the many pulp styled thrills and chills, thus making this sinister mystery not a complete failure.  . . . — Steve Lewis, THE MYSTERY*FILE BLOG (8 July 2008) [Note: See Comment #3 concerning Small's work habits.]
THE MYSTERY MAKER.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1930. 348 pages.
THE VANTINE DIAMONDS.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Crime Club.
1930. 304 pages.
THE SEAMARK OMNIBUS OF THRILLS.
Austin J[ames] Small (a.k.a. Seamark, 1894-1929).
Hodder & Stoughton.
1937. 512 pages.
Contents:
(1) DOWN RIVER (1929)
(2) THE MYSTERY MAKER (1930)
(3) THE MASTER MYSTERY (1928)
(4) THE SILENT SIX (1924)

The FictionMags Index tells us that Small had at least one criminous short story published: "The Perfect Crime," in The Strand, September 1923, which was reprinted in The Evening Standard Book of Best Short Stories (1933).

Resources:
- The French edition of Wikipedia has an article about Small HERE.
- The ISFDB entry for Small is HERE.

Categories: Science fiction, Thriller fiction

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Something of an Exposure of Detective Stories"

THE WOMAN IN BLACK.
By E. C. Bentley (1875-1956).
The Century Company.
1913. 298 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Filmed several times: 1920 (IMDb), 1929 (IMDb), and 1952 (IMDb).
[a.k.a. TRENT'S LAST CASE]
BETWEEN what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely? When the scheming, indomitable brain of Sigsbee Manderson was scattered by a shot from an unknown hand, that world lost nothing worth a single tear . . .
Seminal, influential, and innovative, The Woman in Black has enjoyed almost universal admiration for the past one hundred years:
[Article excerpt] . . . One of the seminal novels of the mystery genre was Trent's Last Case, written by E. C. Bentley in 1913. 
Bentley was a lawyer, journalist and literary critic whose fame rests on a very slender output. After Trent's Last Case came Trent's Own Case (written in collaboration with H. Warner Allen) in 1936 and then Elephant's Work in 1950.
He also wrote short stories, some of which were collected in Trent Intervenes in 1938. Each of these 12 stories involves puzzles and very little action. Often the crimes have little to do with reality. A man is murdered by an explosive charge in his golf club. Or there may be a poisoned lipstick. As often as not, Trent, who is interested in the game for its own sake, lets the killer off because of extenuating circumstances. It is all an elaborate hocus-pocus, and a lot of fun.  . . .  — Newgate Callendar, NEW YORK TIMES (May 3, 1981)
[Full review] Although he just fails of making Philip Trent a personality, Mr. E. C. Bentley, in The Woman in Black, has constructed a detective story of unusual originality and ingenuity. An American multi-millionaire, a power in the world's finance, is murdered on his estate on the south coast of England.
Half a dozen persons are presented to the reader as possible objects of suspicion—the dead man's young wife, the 'Woman in Black,' his American secretary, his English secretary, an elderly Englishman with whom he has had a violent quarrel, his butler, and a French maid.
Trent, a painter, who on several previous occasions has shown decided talent in solving criminal mysteries, is sent to the scene of the crime by a great London newspaper.
There is the inevitable foil in the person of Inspector Murch, of the official police, whose years of experience in the practical service of Scotland Yard avail him but little when pitted against the superior imagination of the brilliant amateur.
Trent finds the key to a greater part of the mystery in a pair of worn patent leather shoes that had belonged to the dead American multi-millionaire, and in certain finger prints.
But the story of the affair that he writes out but does not send to his newspaper lacks accuracy in one or two important points, the explanation that seems to cover everything when the book has run less than two-thirds its course is not quite complete, and it is not until the final chapter is reached that the reader is in possession of the full account of the events surrounding the death of Sigsbee Manderson.
In his use of Americanisms, Mr. Bentley is rather better than most English writers, which is not saying a great deal. — "New Books by New Writers," THE BOOKMAN (May 1913)
E. C. Bentley was a British newspaperman. He only wrote four mystery books, but he was immensely influential and prestigious in his time. His reputation peaked around 1940, when first Dorothy L. Sayers, and then Howard Haycraft, identified his Trent's Last Case as the start of the modern mystery novel.
Haycraft was particularly impressed with Bentley's naturalism, a low key approach that excluded melodrama. Sayers admired the many cultural references in Bentley, and what she regarded as his fine writing. Both critics were also impressed with Bentley's characterization. They felt Bentley brought new realism, craftsmanship and believability to the detective novel, which they asserted had been largely dominated by melodrama and purple prose before Bentley's time. — Mike Grost, GAD Wiki
[Review excerpt] . . . With its unique detective figure and complex plot, Trent’s Last Case stands the test of time--and may even change the way existing fans of Golden Age classics view their favorite novels.  . . . — Stefanie Pintoff, THE RAPSHEET BLOG (June 26, 2009)
[Excerpt] . . . Bentley wrote the book as something of an exposure of detective stories, a reaction against the artificial plots and sterile characters of his predecessors. But despite Trent’s fallibility, his detective work is skillful. The ending, with its surprise twists, is eminently satisfying.  . . . — Edward D. Hoch, MYSTERY*FILE BLOG (April 20, 2009)
[Excerpt] . . . As Edward Hoch noted in his review of Trent's Last Case, opinions on Bentley's book have been somewhat mixed, with Ellery Queen and G. K. Chesterton among those shouting hosannas to the heavens and many later reviewers not nearly so enthusiastic. I guess I'd put myself somewhere in the middle of the pack. Early on, I found myself thinking that this was one of the most readable and entertaining books I'd read for quite some time. I'm sorry to say that the center did not hold, although things did pick up again near the end.  . . . —  William I. Lengeman III, TRADITIONAL MYSTERIES (February 4, 2012)
[Excerpt] . . . As for the mystery itself, obviously I can’t tell you all that much, but I will say that it’s a good one. It’s a little convoluted and impossible for readers to guess on their own, but it’s satisfying all the same. The whodunit is supposedly solved halfway through the book, and it’s then that things get truly interesting. There are twists, turns, yet more twists, and always more to the truth that you suppose: you don’t get the full story until the very end. Best of all, Trent’s Last Case is very much a psychological mystery. More than the details of the crime, what keeps you reading is being eager to find out what motivated this or that person to do such and such – and that’s my favourite kind of crime story.  . . . — Ana S., THINGS MEAN A LOT (August 30, 2010)
Resources:
- ONTOS took a look at ELEPHANT'S WORK in a post HERE and TRENT INTERVENES HERE; cover blurbs for two of Bentley's books are HERE.

Category: Detective fiction