Friday, October 31, 2014

True Crime Roundup IV

The '20s were a time of feverish activity in the fields of the arts, science, sports, politics—and crime.

~ "A Counter-Attack on Crime" (1922):
IF WE ASSUME that the first function of government is the protection of life and property, then government is failing in the United States, particularly in all the big cities, contends the New York World. In New York City, declares this paper, "crime is no longer an occupation; it is an industry, highly organized and directed with extraordinary cunning."  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (March 4, 1922)
~ "Hair As a Detective" (1922):
A MICROSCOPIC STUDY OF HAIR for use in detective work has been made by the police department of Berkeley, Cal.  . . . material of this sort is being used by the Berkeley police, in solving crime mysteries, more extensively than in any other police department in America.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (April 1, 1922)
~ "Foiling Thieves with a Flexible Key" (1922):
A flexible key, one that will go into and work in a tortuous hole, has been developed in Germany. The many robberies that are constantly reported everywhere have created a demand for such a key.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (April 29, 1922)
~ "Conan Doyle's Heaven" (1922):
. . . Heaven is described by Conan Doyle, we read in newspaper reports, as the land of fulfilled ideals, the place where the disharmony and worry of this life are not, where the old resume young manhood and womanhood, and where children grow to maturity. Buildings and towns are there, and all our domestic animals; but everything is on a higher plane, where there is neither unhappi-ness nor wrong. In his creed, there is no such place as hell.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (May 6, 1922)
~ "Criminals on the Causes of Crime" (1922):
. . . "When he [a young man] gets into a life of stealing he finds that there are organized sets or gangs of thieves. He finds that they have their lawyers, that they have professional bondsmen and professional witnesses. He finds that the gang pools its procedure; that when he belongs to the gang that his chances of beating a case are good and he can go on stealing. He observes that the man who works alone easily gets caught and is put away."  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (May 6, 1922)
~ "Ending the Narcotic Menace" (1922):
. . . It is not yet realized, we are told, that drug addiction is also rapidly spreading in this country, and that the habit of taking hypodermic "shots" and "sniffing coke" is becoming wide-spread among all classes of society, while the criminals are said to be finding opium a tonic for their trade.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (June 10, 1922)
~ "Sterner Justice for Criminals" (1922):
. . . "The trouble with the rules of evidence . . . is that the changes which have been made in them have been almost invariably in favor of the defendant."  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (June 24, 1922)
~ "Ireland from a Scotland Yard Notebook" (1922) [12 pages]:
. . . From late September to the week before Christmas, when Archbishop Clune of Australia made his plea for a Truce of God, the rupture was complete. Both sides flooded the press with attacks; attempts were made to bomb the House of Commons; military activity in Ireland was multiplied and magnified.  . . . THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY (April 1922)
~ "Janus-Headed Ireland" (1922) [13 pages]:
. . . The United States was both the thorn and the rose of the Irish problem.  . . . — THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY (June 1922)
~ "America and the Opium Trade" (1922) [8 pages]:
. . . These smuggling gangs are powerful and well organized; and the profits are so enormous that the trade is well worth the risks involved. The conditions that exist in New York could be duplicated in other cities, both in Europe and America. At present, London and Paris papers contain almost daily accounts of raids on these peddlers and smugglers; and the reason that these cities are not as alive to the danger as ourselves is because of matters of public health are of less interest to Europeans than to Americans. The cause of this immense supply of drugs is the immense overproduction of opium, for which Great Britain is chiefly responsible.  . . . — THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY (June 1922)
~ "To Stop Automobile Bandits" (1922):
THE THOMPSON SUBMACHINE-GUN, intended to prevent getaways in motor-cars by gangs of robbers, has now shown its value as an effective weapon for this purpose . . . This weapon . . . is the lightest automatic gun in existence, weighing only 9½ pounds and firing .45-caliber bullets at the rate of 1,000 per minute.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 15, 1922)
~ "Bootlegging Airplanes" (1922):
These people are probably not smuggling rum.
. . . In course of time there must be a State police driving airplanes as well as riding horses. Then suspicious planes will be 'held up' or followed by 'traffic cops' lying along aerial routes connecting such cities as Montreal and New York.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 22, 1922)
~ "Murder by Wholesale" (1922):
. . . "Laws are the product of civilized society. They are made to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. When they fail in doing either one of these two things, they fail society, and society degenerates into savagery. Whenever you find a lax enforcement of law you find crime. Public officials can never have an alibi."  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 22, 1922)
~ "Dime Novels in Lavender" (1922):
Time was when the very term "dime novel" sent a thrill of horror down the spine of many a worthy parent. The agency of dime novels was thought to be responsible for the moral downfall of youth in great numbers. Now that they no longer interest the young, their only place seems to be a museum . . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 29, 1922)
~ "Inkless Finger-Prints" (1922):
. . . police use of finger-prints, while still important, is numerically surpassed by commercial use.  . . . — THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 19, 1922)
- Our last True Crime Roundup is HERE.

Category: True crime

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Who Was Dexter Drake?

The creation of pulp writer Elsa Barker, Dexter Drake appeared in both novels and short stories; his creator, however, preferred spending more time on Western romances and spiritualism (see the Wikipedia article HERE for more).

By Elsa Barker (1869-1954). 
J. H. Sears & Co.
1928. 293 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Somebody busted Mr. Marshbitter over the head with that old prop of the detective-fictioneers—the heavy blunt instrument. Yes, he was sitting in his library, and although the nearby landscape was fairly crawling with friends and relatives, nobody heard a sound or saw a sign of the murderer. Then in came the amateur sleuth—rather dumb, this one; and after that we got sort of mixed up. We guess the plot is all right, but we couldn't seem to get excited about it. We've read so many detective yarns lately that we have to have our suspense drawn pretty taut, and the rubber in this one was weak. Still, it has a map of the scene of the crime that you may like to puzzle over. — Walter R. Brooks, "Picked at Random," THE OUTLOOK (December 5, 1928)
[Full review] DEAD men tell no tales, and so John Marshbitter, having inadvertently found a strange letter that presaged evil, is murdered, leaving his entire family under an apparently impenetrable cloud of suspicion. Dexter Drake, master detective, solves the secret. — THE BOOKMAN (March 1929; Jump To page 126, middle)
[Review excerpt] . . . The outcome is a gratifying and complicated plot, which does a surprisingly competent job at directing attention away from the obvious suspect and dropping clues that played fair with the reader. The only blotch on the solution is that Dexter Drake withheld one piece of information . . . — Tom Cat, BENEATH THE STAINS OF TIME (January 14, 2012)
By Elsa Barker (1869-1954).
J. H. Sears & Co.
1929. 302 pages. $2.00
Collection: 10 stories.
It was unclear how many shorter stories the Drake character appeared in; this review says a dozen, but the FictionMags Index lists only ten (and one of those is questionable). Doug Greene, THE source for all things related to mystery and detective fiction, says FictionMags got it right:
[Full review] THESE twelve episodes of Dexter Drake, international detective, are the reminiscences of his assistant, Paul Howard. He reviews some of the most interesting and prominent cases in which his principal stepped in and succeeded where the police had failed. Those familiar with Drake's solution of the Cobra Candlestick case last year will be keenly interested in his newest exploits. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (December 1929)
The FictionMags listing of the Dexter Drake stories:
   (1) "The Mystery of Cabin 135" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Dec 1925
   (2) "The Stains on the Mantel" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Feb 1926
   (3) "The Sauerkraut Riddle" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Mar 1926
   (4) "The Starbuck Puzzle" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Jun 1926
   (5) "The Seven Threats" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Aug 1926
   (6) "The Jade Earring" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Nov 1926
   (7) "The Key in Michael" (nv?), The Red Book Magazine, Jan 1927 [reprinted in EQMM, May 1942 and AHMM, December 15, 1985]:
"In 1920, Dexter Drake solves a mixed-alphabet monoalphabetic substitution cipher that uses the numbers on a roulette wheel to mix the alphabet. The cipher message uncovers a puzzle in the form of a short poem that leads to a Russian family treasure. The story is very well written and plausible and there is a good discussion of Drake's thought processes as he unravels the mystery." — Cryptology in Fiction
   (8) "The Green Face" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Mar 1927
   (9) "The Manicure Mystery" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, May 1927
   (10) "The Galt Case" (ss), The Red Book Magazine, Jul 1927
- See Curt Evans's THE PASSING TRAMP HERE for more about Elsa Barker.

Category: Detective fiction

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"An Excellent Detective Story, Which Uses All the Tricks of That Trade and Yet Makes Good Fun of Them"

By A. A. Milne (1882-1956). 
E. P. Dutton & Co.
1922. 277 pages. $2.00
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE (audio).
The creator of Winnie the Pooh authors a not half bad mystery story:
. . . The setting is an English country house, where Mark Ablett has been entertaining a house party consisting of a widow and her marriageable daughter, a retired major, a wilful actress, and Bill Beverley, a young man about town. Mark's long-lost brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, arrives from Australia and shortly thereafter is found dead, shot through the head. Mark Ablett has disappeared, so Tony Gillingham, a stranger who has just arrived to call on his friend Bill, decides to investigate. Gillingham plays Sherlock Holmes to his younger counterpart's Doctor Watson; they progress almost playfully through the novel while the clues mount up and the theories abound. — Wikipedia ("The Red House Mystery")
While the novel was generally greeted with approval, not everyone was overjoyed to see it:
The Red House Mystery was immediately popular; Alexander Woollcott called it "one of the three best mystery stories of all time," though Raymond Chandler, in his 1944 essay "The Simple Art of Murdercriticised Woollcott for that claim, referring to him as, "rather a fast man with a superlative." Chandler wrote of Milne's novel, "It is an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks [...] Yet, however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be. If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about." — Wikipedia ("The Red House Mystery")
Other reviews:
[Full review] A murder and detective story by the author of 'Mr. Pim' and 'The Dover Road,' better written than most crime stories, as might be expected from the authorship. Its peculiarity is that the mystery is, not who committed the murder, but what were the cause and the method of the crime. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (July 5, 1922)
[Full review] Humor and humanness are the unusual contributions brought to the detective story by this jack of all literary trades and master of most. Mystery and thrills, of course. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922; Jump To page 629, bottom)
[Full review] An excellent detective story, which uses all the tricks of that trade and yet makes good fun of them. The style is charming, the manner civilized. If Mr. Milne can write as well as this it is perhaps as well that Conan Doyle has lost himself in the glimpses of his particular spooky moon. — "Books in Brief," THE NATION (September 20, 1922)
[Review excerpt] . . . The first thing you need to know about The Red House Mystery is that it’s hilarious – it’s as much a comedy of manners as it is a mystery. The tone of the book reminded me quite a bit of The Moonstone, actually. Milne’s book is not long enough to be quite as immersive a reading experience, but I loved them both immensely for very similar reasons. And though it’s Conan Doyle that the characters explicitly reference, Wilkie Collins’ influence is really just as noticeable.  . . . — THINGS MEAN A LOT (June 24, 2010)
[Review excerpt] . . . The detective, who’s somewhat along the lines of a Lord Peter character, is competent without being annoying and charming without going over-the-top. His Watson isn’t a dunce, thank God, and the pair of them make an entertaining team.  . . . — HERE THERE BE BOOKS (9 July 2012)
[Review excerpt] . . . At the end of the book, I was really wishing that his publishers had allowed Milne to write more mysteries. The wit, sarcasm, and humor that is so prevalent in the Winnie the Pooh books are all on full display with The Red House Mystery.  It was a fun, light romp of a mystery that was pure brain enjoyment. The crime itself is far fetched and the characters are over the top, but the I wouldn't have had it any other way. — Ryan, WORDSMITHONIA (April 17, 2012)
- More reader reviews are at GOODREADS, located HERE.
- Sixteen pages of reviews of the Dover edition of The Red House Mystery begin HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"There Is Enough Plot to Furnish Half a Dozen Books"

By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 315 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The murder of two brothers at the same time. though six hundred miles apart, is only the first of many mysteries surrounding Ravensdene Court. How could the two brothers have been murdered when they were both on a ship that went down with all hands off the coast of China three years earlier? What was the significance of the etching on the tobacco box that disappeared from the inquest? Why was someone looking for the Chinaman Chuh Fen who supposedly went down on the same ship as the two murdered brothers? Find the answers in this tale of intrigue, mystery, and buried treasure within the pages of … Ravensdene Court. — Resurrected Press description
[Full review] Starting with a dual murder, Mr. Fletcher unravels his patchwork quilt with amazing skill, then sews it together again. The best work of this master of detective fiction, with quaint atmosphere, thrills, mystery, and love. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922; go to page 628, top)
[Review excerpt] . . . as in all Mr. J. S. Fletcher's stories, there is enough plot to furnish half a dozen books, for many of the side issues have not even been touched upon in this article. — "Robbing Graves for Treasure," THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 19, 1922)
[Full review] Although a bit formulaic, Fletcher generally comes up with a half decent story which is mostly set in the North of England. This one has the usual country house owned by an eccentric old chap with the obligatory attractive young niece. On the way to the house to catalogue the library our hero bumps into a strange old seafaring man asking questions about local graveyards and looking for a certain name. He, of course, gets bumped off and when the authorities try to get hold of his next of kin, a brother living hundreds of miles away, they find that he was also murdered on the same night. A bit far fetched maybe, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. — John, GOODREADS (April 15, 2013)
[Full review] A classic British mystery complete with a young and handsome amateur sleuth, a young and beautiful woman with pluck, buried treasure, a mysterious murder, a kidnapping, stolen jewels, essentially the works. J. S. Fletcher wrote to a formula, but it is a fun and entertaining formula, and so long as one is not too much of a stickler for believability, it's a treat. — Brenda Mengeling, GOODREADS (June 17, 2011)
- It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about J. S. Fletcher, and SO IT WAS.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"The Ending Was a Let-down"

By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922 [1917 in England]. 303 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
One reader says it's too easy to guess the culprit; your mileage may vary:
When businessman Marshall Allerdyke receives a late night message to meet his cousin in Hull, he makes a late night drive only to find on his arrival that his cousin is dead. Further investigation reveals that he had been carrying a fortune in jewels that has now gone missing. Allerdyke vows to track down the murders at any cost. But to do so he must discover whether the mysterious woman he had met traveling to Hull was the one who left the jeweled buckle in his cousin’s room, and if he can trust his cousin’s American business associate Franklin Fullaway. But most important of all, he must determine what role was played by The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation! — Resurrected Press description
[Review excerpt] . . . most of the detectives, professional and amateur, are requested to be at a certain tea-house in Hyde Park at a certain day and hour when they are assured the mystery will be cleared up and they will witness the arrest of the criminals, for there is more than one. The scene at the tea-house is very good and the dénouement will prove a surprize to most of the readers. — "Murders and Jewels," THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 15, 1922)
I wish I could give this story 3-1/2 stars. It was a great Fletcher mystery—right up to the very end, and then it just seemed to fall apart! I really enjoyed the story almost all along. There were twists and turns, interesting characters, great story-telling. But the ending was a let-down. Threads were left hanging. The obligatory romance popped up with no forewarning. Disappointing ending. — Kathy, GOODREADS (July 13, 2011)
- More GOODREADS reviews are HERE.
- Other ONTOS visits with Fletcher are HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Thoroughly Enjoyable for Followers of Detective Stories"

By Roland Pertwee (1885-1963).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 285 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] THERE is not much to say concerning "Men of Affairs" except that it is original, well told, and thoroughly enjoyable for followers of detective stories. Quite as good as J. S. Fletcher at his best. Its incidents might have taken place in medieval Venice with the threat of a gold cup of poison always off stage.
Yet so skilfully has Roland Pertwee used his rather sparse style and carefully chosen detail, that the thrills of modern business competition, colored to middle ages tint, yet preserve the aspect of reality. The narrative moves unctiously, and the mechanics are ably concealed. — J. F., "The Editor Recommends: A Thriller of Parts," THE BOOKMAN (July 1922; go to page 523, middle right)

Category: Detective fiction

"A Straight Sherlock Holmes Finish"

By Jens Anker (1883-1957).
Translated from the Danish by Frithjof Toksvig.
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 211 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Before Nordic noir there was, you might say, Nordic Holmes:
[Full review] A particulary live detective story with a straight Sherlock Holmes finish. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922)

Category: Detective fiction