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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"You Fancy Yourself Quite a Toff But I'll Show You I'm Toffer Than You Are"

Warner Brothers.
Video: 7 minutes and 8 seconds.
Online HERE.
"Watkins, in a moment there will come a knock at the door heralding the start of the Mystery of the Shropshire Slasher. Answer it. My pants are caught on a nail."

Category: Sherlock Holmes parody

Monday, October 13, 2014


Summer 2014. Issue #36.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
44 pages (including covers). $6.00

If you like mystery and detective fiction of ANY era, OLD-TIME DETECTION is the perfect choice. Editor Arthur Vidro has done a brilliant job of retrieving "lost" or simply neglected nuggets from the past and bringing them back from undeserved obscurity.

This issue covers a lot of ground: detective fiction from the '20s all the way up to news about the latest reboot of the Poirot series.

- A look at BEFORE THE FACT.
. . . BEFORE THE FACT is not a traditional crime novel. In this psychological suspense novel told from the point of view of the victim, we follow her life for several years.  . . .
- Reviews by Jon L. Breen of books published in 1972, 1976, and 1977.
- Charles Shibuk examines two important works about the genre.
. . . I am, however, less than enchanted by Mr. Symons' casual unmasking of too many villains, and this includes the character who was responsible for the demise of the late Mr. Ackroyd, and his revelation of too many plot devices whose inventors took a great deal of time and effort to keep concealed.  . . .
- Critiques of books by Therese Benson, Goodwin Walsh, Neil Gordon, Harry Kemelman, Frank Gruber [THE MIGHTY BLOCKHEAD], and John Dickson Carr [THE BLACK SPECTACLES = THE PROBLEM OF THE GREEN CAPSULE].
. . . Carr so often proclaimed his adherence to the fair-play rule that it is unexpected when he engages in a bit of misdirection that few readers would consider fair. Carr's plots are puzzling enough without having the additional challenge of trying to discover when to believe the sleuth.  . . .
- A quick look at Ngaio Marsh and James Hadley Chase.
William Everson tells us about THE CRY OF THE CITY.
- Reviews by Charles Shibuk that originally appeared a generation ago [including Christie's PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT and titles by R. L. Goldman and F. J. Whaley].
. . . PATTERN IN BLACK AND RED is an excellent detective novel and a welcome reminder of the Golden Age in America.  . . .
- Ellery Queen solves "The Man Who Wanted to Be Murdered," last published in 1940.
. . . There in the room next to him sat a man who had wagered over a million dollars he would be dead in less than a week, a man who had practically offered four different people a fortune to kill him. And here, pacing up and down the hall outside—waiting—seemingly helpless to prevent whatever crime the old man was bent on, was Ellery Queen.  . . .
- In 1946, young Don Yates set out to meet half of the Ellery Queen team.
. . . What followed—his accepting my manuscript and promising to give it a careful reading, his patient signing and inscribing of all my books, the hours he spent lovingly displaying and describing the treasures in his collection—occurred in a magical dimension out of time. When I left, with a handshake and his good wishes for a safe trip home, evening was settling in over Brooklyn.  . . .
- A look at THE BEST OF ELLERY QUEEN and a look at TEN DAYS' WONDER.
. . . Suddenly he sees the motif, the pattern for all the crimes that have been occurring. He counts the crimes. No, not all the crimes, for one crime is missing. Let's see, which one is it? And then it hits him. The one crime that hasn't happened, but must happen, is murder.  . . .
- Updates in the world of Dame Agatha Christie.

Subscription information:
- Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn.
- Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.
- One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($12.50 for Mensans).
- One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 20 pounds sterling or 25 euros).
- Payment: Checks or cash or U.S. postage stamps.
- Mailing address:
Arthur Vidro, editor
Old-Time Detection
2 Ellery Street
Claremont, New Hampshire 03743
- Web address:

Category: Detective fiction

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"The Reader Will Hurry Breathlessly Through the Twenty-six Chapters"

When shallow critics characterize all Golden Age mysteries as involving "the body in the library," they're wrong of course; you have to wonder, however, if they might not have this particular book in mind as the template upon which they've been basing their stereotype:

By Valentine Williams (1883-1946).
Houghton Mifflin Co.
1922. 341 pages, $1.75
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Other editions listed HERE.
[Review excerpt] IMAGINE a billiard-room of an English country house where Mary Trevert has just refused Robin Greve, the man she loves, announcing at the same time her engagement to their host, Hartley Parrish, a man of unknown antecedents but enormous wealth.
This is a great blow to Robin who abruptly leaves the billiard-room and, passing through the hall where many of the guests are seated, goes past the library into the garden.
Fifteen minutes later a shot is heard from the library where Parrish was busy and, on an entrance being forced, he is found lying on the floor, a pistol in his hand, a bullet in his heart.
The police are summoned, the guests and servants are questioned, the usual procedure followed. Was it murder or suicide? Opinion is divided.
Thus the scene is set for those who enjoy a good detective story, and their name is legion, and to them "The Yellow Streak" by Valentine Williams, can be recommended.  . . . — "A Lover Not a Murderer," THE LITERARY DIGEST (June 10, 1922)
[Full review] When a critic confesses to having neglected many other pressing duties in order to unravel the mystery of a detective story a considerable efficiency in its construction may be argued. The supposed suicide of a millionaire, Hartley Parrish, occurs in the very first pages of the book, and the reader will hurry breathlessly through the twenty-six chapters which lie between him and the unravelling of the mystery. — THE SPECTATOR ARCHIVE (30 June 1922)
[Full review] Good old fashioned country house novel which I quite enjoyed. Sort of locked room, suicide or murder mystery. There is a wealthy industrialist with a mysterious past, poor gentlefolk, etc. A love interest, a will and most of the other necessary components of the genre. Not outstanding but fans of these between the wars crime novels like myself will probably quite like it. — John, GOODREADS (January 26, 2013)
- A previous ONTOS article about Valentine Williams's writing philosophy is HERE.

Category: Thriller fiction

The Hext Files

Most Golden Age aficionados have heard of Eden Phillpotts, but only a few might know that he wrote under another name, "Harrington Hext," something he managed to keep hidden from his contemporaries for a while. Apparently, when Phillpotts wanted to escape the confines of ordinary fiction and let his imagination run wild he used the "Hext" alias.

As the following shows, for reviewers of his time Phillpotts was like the little girl with the curl: When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad . . . .

By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1922. 255 pages. $2.00
[Review excerpts] ON ONE occasion a certain Alexander Skeat was the guest of honor at a certain Club of Friends in London who met together for social relaxation. From time to time they entertained distinguished visitors who addrest them on some subject of interest which was afterwards discust.
The impression made by Skeat was not altogether pleasing, yet the club was horrified to read a week later in the Times, an account of his murder. A policeman in St. James Park heard a cry from one of the paths and hurrying thither found Skeat lying on his face. This policeman declared that close by he saw dimly in the fog a large animal, unlike anything he had ever seen before, with a long neck, narrow head and glowing eyes. He blew his whistle, whereupon the thing, evidently alarmed, hopped twice, spread a large pair of wings, ascended into the air and disappeared.
An examination of Skeat's body revealed only a small red speck under one shoulder-blade, from which proceeded an incision, no larger than a thread, which reached the heart, while a further analysis showed a sudden and unaccountable disintegration of the component parts of the body.
All London is aroused, for it appeared as if Skeat had been killed by a force unknown to science, for the story of the strange animal is hardly considered.
. . . The next startling event is the entire destruction of the Albert Memorial. An event that would doubtless be welcomed by thousands of English.  . . .
. . . Some readers can not enjoy a mystery story unless everything is clearly explained in the end. Of course the explanation is necessarily based upon a hypothesis, which, being granted, is satisfactory. The book is extremely well written and the various discussions held in the Club of Friends enlarge the interest beyond the mere solution of the mystery. — "The Mysterious and Murderous 'Bat'," THE LITERARY DIGEST (May 13, 1922)
[Full review] A pseudo-scientific mystery story that would raise gooseflesh on a billiard ball. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (June 1922; go to page 412, top)
[Excerpt] . . . Phillpotts's first sf [science fiction] novel was a thriller, Number 87 (1922) as by Harrington Hext, which revolves around a powerful new Power Source and an [SPOILER]; other thrillers as by Harrington Hext engage occasionally in the supernatural. — SFE: THE ENCYLCOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION ("Eden Phillpotts")
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1923. 334 pages.
[Full review] A story of fanaticism, dealing with the strange nemesis that pursued an English family. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (December 1923; go to page 454, top left)
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1924. 350 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Why "Cock Robin" for a girl? One is a trifle annoyed with Mr. Hext for having assigned to Diana this meaningless and unexplained masculine nickname, apparently for no other purpose than to provide a catching title.
The first part of the book, in presenting facts preparatory to the later mystery, keeps the reader a little too long in the company of people who are no more than disagreeable and antipathetic until they become enmeshed in actual crime. After that point is reached the remainder is satisfactorily enlivened by the doings of a super-villainess, whose little tricks with arsenic are daring and diabolical. She is interesting, if untrue. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (May 21, 1924)
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1925. 328 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Thriller, by an author who does far better when he writes under his own name. — "Notes on New Books," THE OUTLOOK (June 24, 1925)
[Full review] If only the enigmatic gentleman who writes detective stories under the nom de plume of Harrington Hext—said to be the alias of an author of prominence in another field—had suppleness of manner and were able to make his people talk like everyday human beings instead of handing each other solid chunks of conversational bricks, or even of set speeches, we should have the mystery story raised to an nth degree. For he has not only rare ingenuity in the building of his plots but a constructive imagination.
The stage setting for this one of his tales is particularly good: its centrepiece is an immense, ruinous old warehouse at the edge of a small channel port, a town that has lost its maritime importance with the coming of the railroads but which was once a favorite resort of smugglers. Of course there is an underground passage from the store house to a neighboring farm, and, of course, the assortment of murders takes place in the old building. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 12, 1925)
- The GAD Wiki page for Phillpotts is HERE. ONTOS previously featured him HERE; Curt Evans has an overview of Phillpotts's career HERE.
- The Internet Speculative Database (ISFDb) has listings of Phillpotts's non-detective fiction HERE, while SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has an extensive rundown of his fantasy and science fiction HERE.

Categories: Thriller fiction mixed with Fantasy/Science fiction