Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Sherlock Holmes Lives in a Peculiarly Definite Sense as Real as D'Artagnan or Cyrano"

"221-B, Baker Street."
By Edwin C. Hill (1884-1957).
Scribner's (November 1936), page 68.
Online HERE.
Unfinished business
After Conan Doyle's demise, there was a scramble to see who would replace The Great Detective in the hearts and minds of the reading public, but as Edwin C. Hill indicates there was still some unfinished business having to do with Sherlock and the good Doctor.

Hill's full article follows:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, gone now to solve in another world the problems of life and death which so concerned him, wearied at the latter end of his career of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and yet, if the creator of the world's most famous detective is in tune with earthly vibrations, he must feel a glow of pride in Doctor Watson's friend and hero. Not a day passes that the Post-office in London does not receive quantities of letters addressed to "Mr. Sherlock Holmes, 221-B, Baker Street." Not a year passes that thousands of such letters — most of them appeals for help — are mailed to a man who never lived and a house that never existed — so real are both.
Conan Doyle was a struggling country doctor when he conceived the idea of a fiction detective with uncanny powers of deduction and the faculty of observa-tion so acutely developed that he could read at a glance the whole life history of a visitor. Conan Doyle modeled Holmes after a remarkable character — Doctor Joseph Bell, who was consulting surgeon to the Royal Infirmary and Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Edinburgh, Scotland, where Conan Doyle received his medical training. Doctor Bell, thin, wiry, dark, with a high-nosed, acute face, penetrating gray eyes, angular shoulders, and a peculiar walk, with a voice high and discordant (Holmes to the life), possessed a knack of personality diagnosis as amazing as his skill as a surgeon.
Sir Arthur died half a dozen years ago without, unhappily, leaving us an account of innumerable mysteries whose solution had reflected glory on the name of Sherlock Holmes. In the stories he wrote, there were frequent references to cases which the great detective had solved, and perhaps sometime Sir Arthur intended to write them down. But he never did, and he died, leaving the world infinitely poorer. I, for one, would have given a lot to know what really took place in "The Singular Tragedy of the Atkinson Brothers at Trincomalee," or to learn more of "The Adventure of the Amateur Mendicant Society," whose members had a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse.  . . . I, for one, would walk miles to get the truth of "The Singular Adventure of the Grice Patersons in the Island of Uffa," of "Colonel Warburton's Madness," of "The Adventure of Ricoletti of the Club Foot and his Abominable Wife." . . . Millions, I am sure, would lie awake of nights to read what really occurred in "The Case of Wilson, the Notorious Canary Trainer," "The Delicate Affair of the Reigning Family of Holland," "The Incredible Mystery of Mr. James Phillimore," who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.
So many more untold tales whose very suggested titles cause us to breathe a bit faster: "The Affair of the Politician, the Lighthouse, and the Trained Cormorant," "The Strange Case of Isador Persano," who was found stark, staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a worm unknown to science.  . . . Conan Doyle is gone, but Sherlock Holmes lives in a peculiarly definite sense as real as D'Artagnan or Cyrano.
Resource:
- Of course other writers have explored these gaps in the Holmes canon, through pastiches and/or parodies; go HERE for a huge database of their works.

Category: Sherlock Holmes's missing adventures

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

SCRIBNER'S Reviews I

Some short mystery fiction reviews that appeared in Scribner's in the '30s are currently available online (for how long we don't know); adjust your book-buying proclivities accordingly. Brief excerpts:

Fast Company by Marco Page:
. . .  Fast Company tears aside the curtain from the last scene in the world where one would expect murder to be rampant—the rare book business.  . . . [See more HERE.]
The Case of the Substitute Face by Erle Stanley Gardner:
. . . There is a zip and zest to the story that place it among Mason's best cases, and the Gardner formula, though not strikingly changed, is here all furbished up till it shines.  . . . [More about Gardner HERE.]
The Dead Don't Care by Jonathan Latimer:
. . . His new one is not his best. Too much Minsky and not enough mystery.  . . . [See HERE for more about the author.]
Cradled in Murder by Rudd Fleming:
. . .  It has a certain horrid fascination, is definitely for those with strong stomachs, and would have been much better had the author scrapped the final scene, a psychopathic orgy that would have made Herr Kraft-Ebing dance for joy.
To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr:
. . . Mr. Carr's uncanny talent for sending tremors racing up and down the vertebrae has never been better displayed, and Dr. Fell booms and blusters in fine style.  . . . [See another review HERE.]
Death Wears a White Coat by Theodora DuBois:
. . .  The tale waxes somewhat heavily scientific at times but not enough to retard the action.  . . . [There's more about Theodora HERE.]
Truth Comes Limping by J. J. Connington:
. . . Mr. Connington is one of the better British practitioners of the mystery story, but in this yarn, not only truth, but the tale itself limps.  . . . [Read more about this "practitioner" HERE.]
If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King:
. . . From this neat beginning the story progresses through two more murders, considerable emoting, and a good trial scene, to a last-minute reprieve in the death house—for a reason the reader is not likely to guess.  . . . [Orson Welles used this book as a starting point for his film The Lady from Shanghai (IMDb).]
Curious Happenings to the Rooke Legatees by E. Phillips Oppenheim:
. . . very slight fare.  . . . [A bibliography of Oppenheim's works is HERE.]
Friday Market by Catherine Meadows:
. . .  In writing it's decidedly a cut above the average.  . . .
Murders Not Quite Solved! by Alvin F. Harlow:
. . . Mr. Harlow has ransacked the annals of American crime—there is only one foreign case—for a dozen murders, famous in their day, that, for one reason or another, have fallen short of a final solution.  . . .
Resource:
- The full reviews which came from the May 1938 issue of Scribner's are HERE (2 pages).

Category: Detective fiction criticism

True Crime Roundup VII

(1) "Our New Rum-Running Treaty" (1924) (1 page):
It's been four years since Prohibition has gone into effect, but the sheer impossibility of trying to keep America "dry" doesn't seem to have dawned on the responsible parties:
RUM ROW, OFF THE JERSEY COAST, will have to row farther out to sea now that Ambassador Geddes for Great Britain and Secretary of State Hughes for the United States have signed a joint treaty calculated to curtail if not entirely suppress rum smuggling. The so-called rumrunning treaty, which must still run the gantlet of ratification in the Senate, permits American Government vessels to search and seize British ships, suspected of carrying contraband liquors, within "one hour's steaming distance of the American shore."
In return for this privilege, the Government permits British ships to bring legitimate alcoholic liquors under seal into American ports, altho several editors remind us that this apparently conflicts with the Supreme Court decision which was supposed to make British and other ships entering our ports absolutely dry.
For brevity, the new treaty is one of the most remarkable international docu-ments on record . . . .
(2) "Washington's Prohibition Tragedy" (1924) (1 page):
Although the movies overdid it, occasionally gun battles between bootleggers and Volstead Act enforcers would happen—and sometimes innocent bystanders would suffer:
THE VICTIM of Washington's recent Prohibition tragedy, Senator Frank L. Greene, of Vermont, struck by a stray bullet in an exchange of shots between Prohibition enforcement agents and bootleggers.  . . .
From Wikipedia:
. . . On the evening of February 15, 1924, Greene was walking with his wife near an alley on Capitol Hill when Prohibition agents were about to arrest several men unloading a still from their car. The bootleggers ran, the agents fired their guns, and Greene was struck in the head by a stray bullet. Greene was in critical condition for several weeks, and never fully recovered. His right arm was para-lyzed, and his legs were severely weakened.  . . .
(3) "Our Share in the Murderer's Guilt" (1924) (2 pages):
Juvenile delinquency isn't a new thing in America, but how to deal with it has always been a subject of controversy:
. . . "The difficulty is that the moment you begin to talk about using scientific methods with criminals [especially those under twenty-five], people who have never looked into the subject at once say it is all nonsense. They say we are coddling the criminal, treating him as diseased, covering him with flowers and encouraging crime. But this is strictly not so.
"What those who believe in those things are advocating is simply that we shall anticipate the crime as far as possible. And, on the other hand, when they have committed crime, this army of predatory cavemen and women shall be kept for the safety of the public under present methods for as long terms of imprison-ment and confinement as possible."  . . .
(4) "Chemistry As a Crime-Detector" (1924) (2 pages):
Speaking of "scientific methods":
. . . This branch of science [chemistry], he [Dr. Henry Leffmann] tells us, early gained recognition as an aid to the detection of many forms of crime, but especially in the identification of poisons. While this is still one of the main objects of the chemist engaged in aiding the police and the courts, other questions of importance have arisen, among which is the detection of blood and the determination of the animal from which it is derived.  . . .
. . . "The modern control of foods and beverages has multiplied greatly the applications of chemistry, and compelled much research and investigation. Crime of all kinds, from murder to petty theft, manifests a good deal of ingenuity and resource, and the work of the public chemist is a sort of a game of hide and seek. A process for detection of a certain poison or adulterant becomes known; those who have criminal intent can frequently find either a substitute which is satisfactory for their purposes, but does not respond to the tests for the original substance, or they can mask the original substance so that the standard test fails. The chemist is constantly discarding processes either because better ones are available or because the ingenuity of law-breakers has changed conditions."  . . .
. . . "The detection of inferior materials is often very important, and chemical and microscopical methods are employed. The several fibers used in paper-making have distinct characteristics and, in addition, ground wood gives distinct colors with certain solutions. The detection of ground wood might serve to show a fraudulent document, since if a deed or other legal document purported to have been drawn at a date previous to the use of such wood was found to contain such material, the fraud would be evident."  . . .
(5) "New Traps for Picture-Fakers" (1924) (2 pages):
The influence of Locard seems to have served as an inspiration to other French forensics scientists:
SHERLOCK HOLMES HIMSELF could hardly surpass in resourcefulness the brilliant French chemist and physicist, Mr. Bayle, who is at the head of the Bureau of Judicial Identity in Paris, and recently addrest the French Academy of Sciences on his new and ingenious methods of detecting fraudulent works of art. He uses not only the microscope and both X-rays and ultra-violet rays, but also an invention of his own, the chromoscope.  . . .
. . . In a case recently tried in which a portrait of a woman painted by Renoir was the subject of litigation, he was able to show the very form of the brush-mark which had been altered from the normal by reason of a stroke of paralysis which the painter had suffered.  . . .
Resource:
- Our latest True Crime entry can be found HERE.

Category: True crime

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"I Do Not Dismiss Logic Because I Have Faith"

THE MYSTERIES OF REVEREND DEAN.
By Hal White.
Lighthouse Christian Publishing.
2008. 252 pages.
Story Collection: Six Stories.
For sale HERE.
Most people, I am delighted to say, are fond of the locked room. But — here's the damned rub — even its friends are often dubious. I cheerfully admit that I frequently am . . . . Why are we dubious when we hear the explanation of the locked room? Not in the least because we are incredulous, but simply because in some vague way we are disappointed. — Dr. Gideon Fell, "The Locked-Room Lecture," The Three Coffins, Chapter 17
So wrote John Dickson Carr, the foremost practitioner of the sealed-chamber mystery. We are certain, however, that you will not be disappointed in Hal White's locked-room mystery collection, The Mysteries of Reverend Dean. In times past a new writer would arrive on the scene and be proclaimed "the next Agatha Christie," which, of course, they turned out not to be. In Hal's case, however, he just might become, not the next Christie, but the next Carr, if his book is any indication.

Hal's central character is in the grand tradition of clerical detectives; he is described this way on Hal's website:
The Reverend Thaddeus Dean has just retired as pastor of a small church at the foot of the Cascade Mountains. He is lonely, poor and desperately misses his wife who died years ago. Fortunately, he has a pastime. He solves murders which are so bizarre as to seem impossible. In each of the stories collected in this volume, Reverend Dean is challenged by a seemingly “impossible” crime . . . . Readers won't just have to guess who the criminals are, they'll have to guess how they committed their crimes. Harking back to the stories of John Dickson Carr, Hal White has created a brilliant yet endearing sleuth who not only investigates crimes which seem insoluble, but crimes which appear impossible. But these are not supernatural stories — they are classic mysteries.
Each story is a first-rate head-scratcher. You'll have fun matching wits with Reverend Dean; we guarantee it.

----------

(1) "Murder at an Island Mansion"
"In Dark Pine I have felt things — and seen things — that are . . . unusual."
 -----
"Footprints will carry me away,
 but no seller of my house
 will see any footprints
 before he dies."
-----
She gazed at Reverend Dean's eyes. Someone was home in there, all right. There was no doubt about that. She almost jumped when the old man finally spoke.
-----
As Reverend Dean joined the frantic girls he looked down at the unfortunate victim — and was met with the vacant stare of Jay. It was vacant because a knife protruded from his heart.
Reverend Dean receives a desperate phone call from a former parishoner. Not only has her father recently died in hospital but there has also been another death in the family, her brother, the oldest heir to the estate — only he has been indisputably murdered, his body found on a stretch of beach completely devoid of footprints. But before Reverend Dean can even get to the family's opulent mansion, the next oldest sibling and heir is discovered stabbed to death just moments after the crime in the corner of a room, surrounded by wet paint on a floor also completely devoid of footprints. While Dean is pondering the complexities of the case, yet another sibling — the next in line to inherit — is found dead on a wet mud flat, with only the footprints of the discoverers of the crime leading up to it. Three impossible crimes — but with one solution. It's up to Reverend Dean to find the common denominator — not a ghost as one character believes, but a flesh-and-blood person with deep-seated insecurities and the ability, on occasion, to fly.

Reverend Dean outdoes not only Father Brown, Mr. Reeder, and Charlie Chan in the areas of modesty, humility, and self-effacement but also Uncle Abner in revealing the intricacies of divine justice.

(2) "Murder on the Fourth Floor"
He stopped in front of the trunk, shielded his eyes from the sun, and looked toward the top of the apartment building standing in the middle of the next block. Apparently intrigued by what he saw, he took a step toward the intersection. That's when the shot rang out.
-----
He was surprised by the caliber, however. A .22 . . . . A .22 rifle was a boy's gun. Or maybe . . . a woman's.
-----
". . . what do you do when the most important person in the world — the person who knows you better than anyone else — decides that you don't deserve to live?"
-----
"What did he see?"
"He says he saw a yellow snake slither past his window."
-----
"Then she can answer the question of the day — how did she get out of a sealed apartment without anyone seeing her?"
-----
"She printed a suicide note, drove to the park near I-90, and shot herself through the eye."
-----
"I know you. If your mind worked any harder, there'd be smoke coming out of your ears."
-----
"We both saw him get shot."
"It was impressive, wasn't it?"
Tim Dearborn and his wife Betty are separated and on the verge of divorce. Tim is about to meet with Reverend Dean and a mutual friend, Detective Mark Small, when a shot is fired and Tim collapses on the street, a bullet having passed through his arm. Sure, there was considerable animosity between us, Tim avers, but would Betty really try to murder me? Mark searches the apartment house across the street from which the shot most likely came; it's no surprise to him when he learns that Betty had a rented room there and that other residents can place her in her apartment at the time of the shooting. But there's an anomaly: No one can confidently testify to seeing her leave. It would seem she just vanished into . . . well, you know. When Betty's body is found later, complete with a typed suicide note, Mark is satisfied — for the most part — that the case is closed. Reverend Dean, however, is far from satisfied and filled with questions that Mark must admit have no easy answers. Without realizing it at the time, Mark and the reverend had been eyewitnesses not merely to an attempt on someone's life but the aftermath of a meticulously planned murder.

It takes Reverend Dean nearly sixteen pages to explain all the details of this crime — but not to worry; it isn't boring.

(3) "Murder on a Caribbean Cruise"
Despite her entertainment value, however, the reverend worried for anyone who might develop feelings for her. A worry, it turned out, that was terribly well founded.
-----
Thinking quickly, Carla grabbed a life preserver, pushed past the man and threw it overboard. But before she could take another step, the beefy man grabbed her hair, jerked her from the railing, and punched the courageous woman in the middle of her face.
-----
"Fifteen minutes ago, she called the bridge and told us that we 'shouldn't blame ourselves' for what she was going to do. Then she barricaded her door, and . . . well, you can see for yourself."
"Indeed I can." The reverend gently turned his friend's head again. "And that's how I know this poor woman did not kill herself. She was murdered."
-----
"You shouldn't have come here, Reverend. If I hurt my friends, what makes you think I won't hurt you?"
-----
The entire procedure, including explanation, had taken less than two minutes. The group was amazed. No one would have guessed the old man had such a nimble — and devious — mind.
An opportunity to take a Caribbean cruise arises, and Reverend Dean simply can't turn it down. Although he fears becoming a fifth wheel among a group of young unmarrieds — the "Surviving Singles" — he is quickly accepted by them. Little does he suspect, however, that one of the group harbors jealousy and conceals rage — enough of both to commit murder — and the cunning to execute a near-perfect locked room crime. Among the clues Reverend Dean must juggle and put in the right order are a pair of sunglasses, a doorknob that smells like mint julep, a dry wristwatch, a tiny smear of oil, a man who is rescued in the wrong place, dental floss, and a missing life preserver.

In this one, the irresistibly delicious shipboard cuisine becomes almost as great a threat to the reverend's well-being as the killer.

(4) "Murder at the Lord's Table"
"For this reason many of you are weak and sick — and some of you have died."
-----
"For this reason many of you are weak and sick — and one of you will die."
-----
The reverend knew his friend didn't look for theological fights, but he didn't back down from them, either. More than once this had created tensions.
-----
"Thus, I do not dismiss logic because I have faith. Rather — due to its unique view of man — logic leads me to my faith."
-----
"Two decades as a subordinate was bad enough. Two decades as the subordinate of someone you didn't respect was intolerable."
-----
The plan was brilliant in an evil kind of way . . . . Who better to impugn a pastor than God?
-----
"I said that you were a murderer . . . not that you were stupid."
-----
"The trick, of course, was to make people think that the poison came from somewhere else."
There are strange doings at Pastor Steve Ragsdale's little church: First an angel dressed all in white appears at one service and, after paraphrasing Scripture, departs; on another occasion Jesus attends the meeting, quotes virtually everything the angel said, and promptly disappears from a locked pastor's office. Pastor Steve is rattled enough to ask his good friend Reverend Dean to attend the next communion service; he does and along with thirty other witnesses sees Steve die in the sanctuary, a victim of poisoning. Rather than suspecting divine punishment being meted out on a man who seems to harbor some secret sin, however, Reverend Dean suspects a more mundane cause for Steve's death: "naked ambition, perhaps mixed with a dollop of theological disgust." Isn't that somewhat akin to the motive behind the first recorded murder, the one involving someone named Cain?

We go into largely ignored territory in this story: of how logic and faith do not necessarily work to their mutual exclusion, and of how they can operate in concert to help solve a murder.

(5) "Murder in a Sealed Loft"
". . . I've got a very peculiar case and I don't know what I'm missing . . . . Actually, I do know what I'm missing: who did it, how he did it and why he did it . . . . Have I left anything out?"
-----
She was found on her back, with a knife sticking out of her at a forty-five degree angle. The handle pointed toward her feet, with the blade sliding under her ribs into her heart.
-----
"So . . . we have what appears to be an impossible crime. Someone stabbed this unfortunate woman, yet the murder was performed while she was behind a door with three locks — two of which could only be locked from the inside — windows which were locked, and a large dog guarding the interior."
"Worse . . . the murder occurred while three witnesses were working around the building, thus insuring that no one could leave the unit unnoticed."
-----
"So the question is: why would a woman — murdered at approximately 1:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon — be covered with blood that she'd previously donated?"
-----
"It was a classic example of misdirection," the detective gloated. "And pretty smart, too, I must admit."
-----
Unaware he had been murdered, Puppadawg turned his ponderous head and licked the hands of his killer.
Reverend Dean is housebound, battling a case of the flu, when his friend Detective Mark Small pays a visit, bearing not gifts but the burden of a difficult case: the murder of a woman inside a locked and closely observed artist's studio. Anomalies abound: What could be the significance of such things as the missing stapler and paperweights, of the dog that correctly barked at the wrong person (or would it be the dog that incorrectly barked at the right person?), of the frozen blood on the corpse, of the triply-locked front door, of the apparently useless cot, and of the kid who often knocks a baseball over the roof of his house? Ignoring these bafflements, Mark soon thinks he has the killer nailed; but Reverend Dean, ill though he may be, sees the situation with more clarity: "Unlike his puzzled friend, he saw no problem with how the murder might have been committed. He knew at least four ways someone could accomplish it." Thanks to a pop fly, the reverend puts the killer out before he can steal home.

Because of the flu, Reverend Dean is forced into the role of armchair detective; he never leaves home, even to visit the scene of the crime.

(6) "Murder at the Fall Festival"
Annoyed with the locked door as well as her husband's disappearance, Tina let herself in the garage.
Ninety seconds later everyone in the house heard her scream.
-----
"My guess is that someone knocked him unconscious with a blunt object, and then suffocated him."
-----
The cleric frowned. He didn't like it. That sort of conspiracy only happened in fiction.
-----
More importantly, why murder someone in the garage in the first place? What was the point?
-----
"Despite what you see on TV, police work is specialized and complicated. I'm sure you're a very good minister, but in a criminal investigation, you're out of your depth. You have to leave this to the professionals."
-----
He knew why the circle was important. But that only solved half the problem. What about — Then the old man remembered the murderer's occupation. It was bizarre, but it fit. It all fit.
-----
"We've been waiting for garbage?"
"It's perfectly legal, Detective."
-----
". . . it was clearly planned on the spur of the moment. The mind that could produce this scheme, in such a limited time, is frightening."
It's almost Halloween and busy preparations are underway for a Fall Festival to be held at a local church; the festivities come to a screeching halt, however, when a woman finds her husband murdered in their garage. To Reverend Dean, several things just don't compute, such as how the killer could have done it in a place where dozens of people are milling about; or how the medical examiner's report doesn't jibe with the way it should have happened; or why, if the motive is properly understood, the murderer delayed so long in executing the crime, among others. Complicating matters further, the reverend must solve this one despite the disdain, scorn, if not quite outright hostility of the senior police detective. The answer to this conundrum can be found in any or all of these items: an unsmoked cigar, its metal tube, pieces of an ironing board cover, a curling iron, oven mittens, a metallic space blanket, a heating coil, a spinning wheel large enough to support a body, and the Eastern notion that time is circular. Concerning that last, however, Reverend Dean offers his own refutation when he puts the killer on a one-way path to a non-recurrent lifetime in prison.

Reverend Dean must get down and dirty in this one — all in the cause of justice, of course.

Resources:
- Hal White's homepage, loaded with plenty of information about locked room mysteries, is HERE.
- You can buy an omnibus edition containing Carr's The Three Coffins and two other novels HERE.

Category: Locked room mysteries (clerical division)

Monday, April 20, 2015

"This Streamlined Deduction Is Enough to Drive a Guy Whacky"

"The Man Who Murdered Himself."
By Duncan Farnsworth.
Fantastic Adventures (May 1941), pages 110-115.
Online HERE.
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Can an accident be murder? Can murder be an accident? As this story shows, it all depends quite literally on one's state of mind.
"Wish I was back five centuries," he mused. "The boys had it easy then, if they'd only known it. Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, Nick Carter, yeah, even Sherlock Holmes—what a snap they had!"
Category: Science fiction detective stories

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Short Note About Victorian Detective Fiction

For nearly a century and a half, the rigors of composing short detective fiction—as with the composition of fiction of any sort—have remained essentially the same:
The short story form has inherent limitations for the writer of detective fiction, but in the most capable hands these can be turned to triumphant effect, with consequent pleasures for the reader that the detective novel, for all its enticements, cannot provide. The establishing of a credible and engaging narrative voice is essential to a successful crime short; flamboyance of invention and a certain leisureliness in the telling must co-exist with economy of style, compression, and a well-paced plot; character must be sketched out swiftly but decisively; every incident must carry its share of relevance to the main idea, which itself needs to be simple and surprising. The art of the short detective story continues to evolve; but all its essential qualities and characteristics were developed in the course of the nineteenth century, particularly in its last two decades. — Michael Cox, Introduction to Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992)
Cox adds:
In this anthology, all the stories are mysteries, but not all are detective stories, either because they lack the central figure of the detective or because no formal process of investigation, deduction, and revelation takes place. But all the stories, in whichever category the purist prefers to place them, are branches of the same tree—the protean genre known in the nineteenth century as sensation fiction, a form of popular literature which, in another of Julian Symons's happy encapsulations, "has produced a few masterpieces, many good books, and an enormous mass of more or less entertaining rubbish."
Resources:
- Either because of—or in spite of—Cox's invoking of Symons, you might want to buy the book, sometimes known as Victorian Detective Stories, on sale HERE.
- And don't miss Doug Greene's fine anthology of mysteries from the same era, Detection by Gaslight, available HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

A Noir Film (or Maybe It Isn't) That Isn't Noir (or Maybe It Is)

FOLLOW ME QUIETLY.
Cast: William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva, Douglas Spencer, Charles D. Brown, Paul Guilfoyle, Edwin Max.
RKO. 1949. 59 mins.
For sale HERE.
Follow Me Quietly is a strange duck of a crime film; most of the time it quacks like what most people would expect from a noir film, and it certainly has feathers like one—deep, dark shadows, pouring rain, at least two desperate characters, and so on. But noir purists may be disappointed. As the reviewer at the Where Danger Lives weblog puts it:
. . . unlike Westerns, for example, which have both period and geography in common; or gangster films, which share specific character and narrative structures, noir films are considerably more ambiguous. There are few common threads that unite them (ambiguity being one of them), and there are certainly no hard and fast rules — as a matter of fact much of the writing about film noir in general endeavors, yet falls short, to establish a working definition. Scholars and historians even seem unable to agree as to whether film noir is a genre, movement, cycle, or style.
Nevertheless, for that reviewer, while Follow Me Quietly
. . . in some ways defies that image of a neat little package, it remains very much a film noir — and in some ways an explicit example.
The serial killer trope was fairly new in 1949 and wasn't overexposed to the extent it now has been. This film exploits that trope to the full, as an obsessed police detective pursues a murderer who could just as well be called The Ghost, rather than The Judge, his own name for himself. What's so maddening for the detective is that this killer manages to stay just one step ahead of his investigation.

There's a memorable scene that takes place on a dark, rainy night when what we've been led to believe is a mannequin suddenly stands up and ambles away—a wonderful moment that fulfills the potential of cinema to heighten experience.
So, is Follow Me Quietly an example of film noir? Watch it and decide for yourself.

Category: Crime films that might or might not be noir