Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Not-really-Ellery"

The long-running TV series MURDER, SHE WROTE (264 episodes, 1984-96) was, let's face it, essentially a dumbed-down version of ELLERY QUEEN (23 episodes, 1975-76), which at the time was regarded as a failure because of its short run.
Somehow one of the unfilmed scripts from ELLERY QUEEN migrated into the MURDER, SHE WROTE production schedule, the result being "The Grand Old Lady" (1989), an oddball installment for M.S.W.

Nathanael Booth discusses this particular episode at some length, contrasting it with the usual EQ approach. Excerpt:
"The Grand Old Lady" was a script for Ellery Queen that was never produced and only found itself onscreen over a decade later—and exactly a decade after Jim Hutton passed away. While watching it, I couldn't help wishing that the script had been produced for the original series run, since in many ways it's the best episode of the lot. I don't mean that in terms of the final reveal—which is half-hearted, at best—but in terms of complexity; nowhere else do we find a variation on the dying clue this sophisticated. And, beyond that, we're treated to not simply one, but two false solutions. It's a lovely piece of work. — MORE MAN THAN PHILOSOPHER (7th July 2011)
Resources:
- MURDER, SHE WROTE (IMDb).
- ELLERY QUEEN (IMDb).
- "The Grand Old Lady" (IMDb).

Category: Detective fiction

A Highly Regarded Crofts Mystery

THE GROOTE PARK MURDER.
By Freeman Wills Crofts.
T. Seltzer.
1925 [1923 in U.K.]. 299 pages.
No e-book versions currently available.

GAD aficionados seem to agree that this early number by Crofts is superior to most of his work, in a way that's far from "humdrum." Follow the links to more expansive reviews:
Crofts constructs his book in the same way that his detectives conduct their investigations—by a patient accumulation of evidence. That might sound a little dull but his plotting is skillful enough to make it work. — dfordoom, VINTAGE POP FICTIONS (November 2, 2011)
Those who dislike train times may be assured that in The Groote Park Murder the occasional references to them are only incidental, not an essential part of the plot. And there are none of the author’s other specialities. The false alibi tricks in this book are quite simple. — Richard Wells, GAD Wiki
Excellent early Crofts. The first part is set in South Africa, but isn’t Boer-ing; and the second two years later in Scotland. Detection throughout is excellent—lots of detail, particularly of suspects’ movements. — Nick Fuller, GAD Wiki
Resources:
- The GAD Wiki ("Freeman Wills Crofts").
- A Wikipedia article ("Freeman Wills Crofts").

Category: Detective fiction

A Congeries of Carrs

From time to time, Martin Edwards has posted reviews of JDC's works on his weblog DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? Here are some brief excerpts; follow the hot links to fuller reviews:

HAG'S NOOK (1930): ". . . we know what happens to obvious suspects in Golden Age novels, don't we?" (See also the GAD Wiki.)
THE BURNING COURT (1937): "There are two brilliant 'impossible' mysteries. How could an entombed corpse disappear from its coffin? And how could a mysterious woman walk through a solid wall in the room of a dead man?" (Also see the GAD Wiki.)
THE PROBLEM OF THE GREEN CAPSULE (1939): ". . . in Golden Age detective fiction, a tendency to over-elaborate is a fatal characteristic of both murderers and victim alike . . ." (GAD Wiki.)
FATAL DESCENT (1939): ". . . the authors make no attempt to exploit the setting for its atmospheric potential. The impossible crime mystery is everything. And, much as I like sealed room mysteries, this sealed elevator mystery has to rank as a missed opportunity." (GAD Wiki.)
THE CROOKED HINGE (1938): "Dr. Fell propounds an apparently brilliant solution—but it emerges that this is simply a device on his part to expose the principal culprit. I thought this use of the 'alternative solution' type of plot was very well done . . ." (GAD Wiki.)

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, December 30, 2013

It Simply CAN'T Be Her . . . Can It?

ANYBODY BUT ANNE.
By Carolyn Wells.
J. B. Lippincott Co.
1914. 309 pages. $1.25
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE and HERE (includes a diagram).

Whatever else her merits (or lack of them) may have been, Wells was ahead of Christie, et al., in anticipating the Golden Age of Detection:
A wealthy eccentric has conceived the plan—strongly opposed by his young wife and the son and daughter of his first marriage—of putting the bulk of his fortune into a public library. He goes so far as to have the deed of gift drawn up ready for signing—and the next morning is found dead in his study. Apparently he has died by his own hands, for the room is too impregnably barred and bolted on the inside to permit any other explanation than suicide. Yet the ambiguous nature of the wound, the absence of any weapon to account for it, the fact that his wife's pearls are missing from his safe and the deed of gift from his desk, all point another way.
The guests of the house suspect his housekeeper and valet, the neighbors his son, and the servants his wife—by one of whose admirers the investigation of the mystery is prosecuted in the spirit suggested by the title. There is a seemingly inexplicable tangle of incriminating evidence and only one apparent clue—the one that nobody is willing to follow.
The quandary is quite enough to satisfy all lovers of this genre. When the time comes for the solution, this proves rather disappointing on the mechanical side, the preparation in one important particular having been most clumsy. On the psychological side, however, the mystery has been more successfully masked, and the fixing of the guilt comes as a genuine surprise. — Unsigned, THE NATION (April 16, 1914; scroll to page 433, middle bottom)
Anybody but Anne (1913-1914) shares most of the characteristics of Wells' later Faulkner's Folly:
- It is a full, formal mystery novel, of the kind that would later be popular in the Golden Age.
- It is set in a country house, and anticipates the mysteries soon to be popular in such houses.
- The cast of suspects resemble those to be found in many later detective books.
- It is a locked room mystery — but the solution of the locked room is based on ideas that would later be regarded as cheating. Still, the cheat of a solution shows some real ingenuity.
- The book shows the imagination with architecture, that would later be part of the Golden Age. It comes complete with a floor plan. The country house is of the kind that might have later inspired the mystery game known as Clue or Cluedo: there is even a billiard room!
Wells pleasantly includes some subsidiary mysteries, that have nothing to do with the locked room. These too show some mild but pleasing ingenuity. Such subplots are also standard in Golden Age detective novels.
I do not know if Wells invented the above template for formal mystery novels, or whether she derived it from other authors. Anybody but Anne does establish that what we think of as a "typical Golden Age style mystery novel" was in existence before what is often thought of as the official start of the Golden Age in 1920. It is also a fact that Wells was American, and that her book is set in the United States: somewhere in New England. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("Carolyn Wells")
Resources:
- Previous ONTOS articles concerning Wells are HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Spending the End of the World with Professor Challenger

THE POISON BELT.
By Arthur Conan Doyle.
George H. Doran.
1913. 252 pages.
Online HERE.
Available on Kindle.
First serialized in THE STRAND, March-July 1913.
Doyle seems to have liked impulsive Professor Challenger more than his most famous cerebral character, Sherlock Holmes, which this reviewer finds deplorable:
In The Poison Belt, as in The Lost World of a year or so ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has found expression in the singular personality of Professor George Edward Challenger. The name itself is diagnostic. From the beginning the huge beard of the strange violent scientist bristles, and the hoarse bellowing voice booms out. These last two stories have been less telling of tales than the illumination of a character in which the author seems to find particular delight. Yet this character is too artificial, too much builded up of complexities, to be entirely convincing. In the Doyle portrait gallery he is hardly worthy of a place with Sherlock Holmes, with the Brigadier Gerard, with Sir Nigel Loring, or with the delightful Sir CharlesTregellis.
His proper place is behind the counterfeit presentment of the well-meaning but monotonous Dr. Watson. That he is even there is due to the fact that his creator under all conditions is an accomplished literary workman. In less practiced and dexterous hands Challenger would be a rank absurdity. Another point. There was a suggestion of the character in an earlier tale by Conan Doyle. In many ways Challenger is a reincarnation of that singular evil genius who haunted the pages of the Stark-Munro Letters.
The story of The Poison Belt is entertaining but inconsequential. It involves the four characters who made the journey to South America to find The Lost World—Challenger, Summerlee, Lord John Roxton, and the young journalist, Malone. In a letter to the London Times, couched in terms of characistic [sic] insolence, Challenger has called attention to certain cosmic changes which he thinks likely to bring about the immediate dissolution of the world. His prediction is at first ridiculed. But from remote corners of the earth there come items of news threateningly corroborative,— stories of queer illnesses in Sumatra, of light-houses out of action in the Straits of Sunda. Swiftly the menace draws nearer. India and Persia appear to be wiped out. Delirious excitement prevails through the south of France. Symptoms of an unnatural madness are perceptible in Paris and London.
These are the conditions when Summerlee, Roxton, and Malone, carrying their precious tubes of oxygen, take train for the Surrey home of Professor Challenger, there to prolong life in a room hermetically sealed, and to witness the end of the world.
It all depends whether the tale is of a kind that appeals to the reader. If it does he is assured of an authorship which, despite the amazing extent of its popularity, has never received its full meed of serious consideration. — "Sixteen Books of the Month" by Arthur Bartlett Maurice, THE BOOKMAN (November 1913)
About a hundred years later:
Overall this was an interesting story with slightly flat characters, who were by no means wooden, who interacted believably with one another. Suspension of disbelief was not a problem, and while the SF elements were drawn well enough, the catastrophe imagery was absolutely fantastic. I'll always consider the ending a big cheat and a ruin of the premise of the story, but I did enjoy it overall. — Gregory Tidwell, OMPHALOS' SF BOOK REVIEWS (2009)
The Professor Challenger stories:
- THE LOST WORLD (1912)
- THE POISON BELT (1913)
- THE LAND OF MIST (1926)
- "When the World Screamed" (1928)
- "The Disintegration Machine" (1929)

Category: Science fiction

The Case of the Decadent Detective

PRINCE ZALESKI.
By M. P. Shiel.
Roberts Bros.
1895. $1.00
Story collection.
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE.
Allan Griffith recently wrote about Shiel's supremely decadent armchair detective on his VINTAGE POP FICTIONS weblog (December 24, 2013):
Prince Zaleski never leaves his vast, remote and crumbling old house. Consumed by elegant despair and cultured ennui, he smokes hashish and contemplates the beautiful objects with which he has surrounded himself. He shudders at the thought of reading a newspaper. The idea of taking an interest in the world horrifies. From time to time he is visited by his friend Shiel (who narrates the stories). Shiel is interested in crime and knows that from time to time a case arises that is so bizarre that it has the power to rouse Zaleski from his strange dream-world. Zaleski then applies his immense his intellectual gifts to the solving of the puzzle. He is invariably able to solve the crime without having to suffer the ordeal of having to leave his house, or even to stir himself from his divan.
The character dates back to the nineteenth century. Here's the full BOOKMAN review (May 1895):
Prince Zaleski was a glorified Sherlock Holmes. "The victim of a too importunate, too unfortunate love, which the fulgor of the throne could not abash," took to meditation on the past and future of mankind, and when some one brought him the chatter of the daily newspapers, which he scorned to read, he would deign to light up the mysteries of the present with his magnificent mind. If only he could have been wiled from his gloomy palace to watch the sordid wickedness of the world, not one crime would have gone undetected. But he was probably not much interested in the detection of crime; only in the philosophy of the motives, and in the illustration crime affords of the strange workings of the human soul.
We can imagine him saying, with a yawn, to an ordinary baffled Scotland Yard officer, "Oh, there is nothing in that. Show me something more difficult." Indeed, Mr. Sheil [sic] had to invent impossibly difficult puzzles for him, otherwise he would not have dared to approach so magnificent a creature at all.
"He lay back on his couch, volumed in a Turkish beneesh, and listened to me, a little wearily perhaps at first, with woven fingers, and the pale inverted eyes of old anchorites and astrologers, the moony greenish light falling on his always wan features." His mise en scene is magnificent; an open sarcophagus with the mummy of an ancient Memphian, palaeolithic implements, gnostic gems, fretted gold lamps, fumes of cannabis sativa make part of it. Plainly, only crimes of a poetic order could be brought for detection here.
And yet a terrible thing happened. Europe had been convulsed with an epidemic of suicide and murder. The murderers had left, as their mark, a scroll with hieroglyphics on it. These puzzle pictures would have driven any one else mad. Even Zaleski's great mind was severely taxed.
But surely his soul must have revolted when part of the interpretation resolved itself into a pun—a hideous pun, by which a male and a female figure are made to form the word Lacedaemon. We refuse to humiliate our readers by saying how.
The murderers were a high-minded band, whose motives he approved. Yet he did not join them, or endow them with any part of his vast wealth. He said they were "ill-advised," but we have a shrewd guess it was their vile pun that rankled in his solemn soul.
Mr. Shiel's mysteries are very good, if a trifle laboured, and he has put them into literary form. But as he has not quite got us under the mystic spell, we are not able to maintain a constant gravity before his gorgeous prince.
Resources:
- A Wikipedia article ("M. P. Shiel").
- Article: "Dweller in the Tomb of Mausolus: The Return of Prince Zaleski" by Philip Lister.
INFINITY PLUS review.
- Review from THE TIMES (20 April 1895).
- Another Wikipedia article ("Decadent Movement").

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, December 27, 2013

"For the Advanced Student in Literary Detection"

ARROGANT ALIBI.
By C. Daly King.
Appleton-Century.
1939. 275 pages. $2.00

Since its publication, opinion has been divided over King's novel:
Violent deaths in flood-bound Connecticut mansion pit Insp. Lord against numerous impeccable alibis. - Puzzle of the 1st Class, with oceans of erudition for those that like it, and swift action for them as don't. - Verdict: Prize baffler. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (January 28, 1939)
Arrogant Alibi, by C. Daly King attempts the most difficult of all mystery-story devices—namely, the disintegration of the multiple alibi. And it succeeds amazingly well. Though Freeman Wills Crofts is the undisputed dean of the alibi mechanicians, Mr. King is well forward. Furthermore, he has two related crimes to clear up—the murder of a great Egyptologist's widow, Mrs. Timothy, and that of Elisha Spingler, a co-worker of the late Doctor Timothy. When the vorpal blades go snicker-snack Michael Lord, a New York Police Inspector, and his close friend, Doctor Pons, an "integrative psychologist," are luckily present in the musty residence-museum to apprehend the arrogant slayer. It all adds up to an ingenious, carefully planned, and highly literate tale for the advanced student in literary detection. — "Books" by S. S. Van Dine, SCRIBNER'S (March 1939)
However, time hath wrought its changes:
The famous critics and Golden Age fans Barzun and Taylor really liked this book. Since they could be very harsh judges, that's quite something. But I'm afraid I didn't get on with Arrogant Alibi. It's one thing to have all the right ingredients for a whodunit, quite another to make best use of them. And I'm afraid I felt that this is the sort of book that justifies people who don't like Golden Age novels in saying that they are boring. King spends pages, for instance, on explaining a telephone system that is connected to the storyline. I'm afraid this went so far beyond pleasingly authentic detail as to cause me to lose the will to live. — Martin Edwards, DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (27 December 2013)

Category: Detective fiction

Inside Out

THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY.
By Ellery Queen.
Stokes.
1934. $2.00
Available on Kindle.
Herewith a spectrum of opinion concerning EQ's eighth novel:
Fatality and philately (say it fast and you're sober) weirdly mixed but laboriously unscrambled by pair of Queens. - Corp' had his clothes on backwards and everything else was in reverse—including the interest. - Verdict: Not so hot. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (June 23, 1934)
. . . the problem at the heart of each of these books [by Ellery Queen] is recognisably mathematical. There is no obfuscation, no sudden surprises, no facts kept hidden. Ellery describes what he observes and what he thinks, and so the clues are revealed to the reader at the same rate that they are revealed to the sleuth. In theory the opportunity is there to solve it as you solve any problem in mathematics: by separating signal from noise, and by forcing your mind to reflect not only on what is known directly but also on what is known indirectly. They even tell you how to do it, describing the fundamental need for "disembodied concentration." — Karyn Reeves, A PENGUIN A WEEK (28 March 2011)
The Chinese Orange Mystery has one of EQ's most baroque and inventive puzzles. It is none too realistic, and the storytelling sags badly between the murder and its solution, but its finale shows the tremendous imagination of the Golden Age mystery tale. . . . The technique of the book is closely related to the "impossible crime," although EQ does not actually use it to create an impossible crime situation in the novel. Despite this, many historians of the locked room story seem to (falsely) remember it as a "locked room" book . . . — Mike Grost, GAD Wiki
. . . a locked-room murder that is absolutely absurd (everything in the room turned inside-out); this is a highly rated EQ, but I don't see why. Takes place in a private office suite. — Wyatt James
EQ's deductions, though arguable, are a bit difficult to follow, and his reconstruction hard to visualize. Cleverly worked out, though. — ELLERY QUEEN: A WEBSITE ON DEDUCTION
Consider the situation: an unknown man walks into a suite of offices. He is told to wait in the next room. When last seen, he is settling down to read a magazine in that room, all by himself. When the man is next seen, he is dead. All of his clothes apparently have been removed and then replaced front-to-back on his body. All the furniture in that waiting room has been reversed as well. . . . — Les Blatt, CLASSIC MYSTERIES (March 18, 2013)
Resource:
- Filmed (very badly) in 1936 as THE MANDARIN MYSTERY; see IMDb listing.

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"A Strange Medley of Stage Realism, Fantasy, Farce, and Tragedy"

Whenever volcanic personalities like Shaw and Chesterton share the same spotlight, something's bound to happen. Excerpts:
WHEN MR. BERNARD SHAW accepts a secondary position like that of plain juryman in a mock trial, he must of course play Bernard Shaw. So when he recently sat on the jury that decided whether John Jasper was the murderer of Edwin Drood, he interrupted the proceedings at their outset by telling the counsel for the prosecution that "if the learned gentleman thinks a British jury is going to be influenced by evidence, he little knows his country."
One could almost wish it had been a real jury he was sitting on, to see how the dignity of the English bench would have met this sally.
However, it was only a trial organized for the entertainment of the Dickens Fellowship of London, but many distinguished literary men participated. G. K. Chesterton was the judge; his brother, Cecil, was one of the counsel; and in the jury, besides Mr. Shaw, were Sir Edward Russell, W. W. Jacobs, Mr. Pett Ridge, William de Morgan, Coulson Kernahan, and Arthur Morrison.
The trial was an effort to determine how Dickens would have finished "Edwin Drood" if he had lived to do so. — "Tried for the Murder of 'Edwin Drood'," THE LITERARY DIGEST (February 7, 1914)
Click on image to enlarge.
Interestingly enough, Arthur Conan Doyle declined to participate. This same "trial" is described this way:
In January 1914, John Jasper (played by Frederick T. Harry) stood trial for the murder of Edwin Drood in London. The "trial" was organised by the Dickens Fellowship. G. K. Chesterton, best known for the Father Brown mystery stories, was the judge, while George Bernard Shaw was the foreman of the jury, made up of other authors. J. Cuming Walters, author of The Complete Edwin Drood, led the prosecution, while Cecil Chesterton acted for the defence.
Proceedings were very light-hearted with Shaw in particular making wisecracks at the expense of others present. For instance, Shaw claimed that if the prosecution thought that producing evidence would influence the jury then "he little knows his functions."
The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, Shaw stating that it was a compromise on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to convict Jasper but that they did not want to run the risk of being murdered in their beds. Both sides protested and demanded that the jury be discharged. Shaw claimed that the jury would be only too pleased to be discharged. Chesterton ruled that the mystery of Edwin Drood was insoluble and fined everyone, except himself, for contempt of court. — Wikipedia ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood")
Resources:
- A transcript of the "trial" is available HERE.
- In April 1914, a similar "trial" was held in the United States to benefit charity; the full text is HERE.
- Go HERE for a previous ONTOS article concerning DROOD.

Category: Detective fiction

Half and Half

THE WHITE SAPPHIRE.
By Lee Foster Hartman (1879-1914).
Harper & Bros.
1914. 297 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Purloining valuable jewels seems to have been all the rage in detective fiction for years and years. This story tries to add a new wrinkle:
The subtitle, "A Mystery Romance," indicates the dual interest of this story. Half is romantic and half detective.
The story has the merit of an unexpected climax, with still another climax for the final page.
The action takes place in a country house in the Berkshires, and has to do with the theft of a precious ruby which has been abstracted from a safe, evidently by a burglar expert in the use of a steel drill. But that he should have taken twenty dollars and the ruby and left behind fifteen diamonds lying next to the ruby constitutes the mystery.
This is finally solved, to the confusion of an old-time villain, by a guest at the house, a young cosmopolitan American, who, though an amateur at sleuthing, has once confuted Scotland Yard. That he is aided by a knowledge of radioactivity indicates the utter timeliness of the story. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (February 12, 1914; scroll to page 160, middle top)
It is greatly to any author's credit if he can do the unusual thing with his first book. Not that The White Sapphire as a novel is particularly unusual, it is an amiable, well-constructed story written in easy, natural style and it holds the reader's attention pleasantly until the end even if it is hardly likely to keep him sitting up nights.
But while announcing itself as a mystery story it departs from the type in that it gives us no bloodshed, no tragedy of murder, guilt or deception. When the mystery is cleared up, no one has suffered, except possibly one attractive youth who turns out to be not quite as reliable as he should be. But even he is a gainer by his experience in that he has learned his lesson and will do better next time.
A mystery story with a happy ending is a good commercial asset and we can wish this one all luck on its way.
All the pleasant turmoil of mystery hinges about the breaking into a safe in the Winthrop country home, and the theft of a ruby. For a time it brings tears to pretty Evelyn Winthrop and anxiety to some other members of her family. Yet in the end, it fulfils an excellent purpose in that it brings together in mutual love two young persons who seem eminently suited to each other.
Therefore, since the preservation of the race is an all-important matter to this old world, a mystery which serves so good an end cannot be too highly recommended.
The solution of the mysterious disappearances and reappearances of the ruby is a clever bit of modern scientific reasoning. But the reader must find out for himself what happened to the ruby and to the white sapphire, for it would be cruel to him to rob him of a very pleasant hour by revealing the plot here. — "Books by New Authors," THE BOOKMAN (May 1914)

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, December 23, 2013

Poirot's Yuletide Locked Room Problem

HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS.
By Agatha Christie.
Collins Crime Club/Dodd, Mead.
1938/1939. 256 pages. $2.00
[a.k.a. MURDER FOR CHRISTMAS and A HOLIDAY FOR MURDER]
Available on Kindle.

The consensus of opinion is that it's a good, but not great, Christie number:
I'm also no expert on locked room mysteries though I've vowed to read more of them. What I would say about the ones I've read is the word "farfetched" often seems to apply. There's the tiniest bit of that quality to this one but overall I think Christie handles this aspect of the book quite nicely. — William I. Lengeman III, TRADITIONAL MYSTERIES (October 12, 2011)
Uncomfortable English family reunion punctuated by stabbing of partriarch with lurid past. H. Poirot on hand. - Slow start, interesting middle, rather incredible conclusion add up to entertaining but grade B Christie. - Verdict: For Poirot fans. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (February 11, 1939)
In the new Hercule Poirot tale, Murder for Christmas, competent writing, well-ordered action, and deftly limned characters may or may not compensate the reader for a somewhat confused climax and a solution which, among exacting fans, has been taboo since Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery. — "Books" by S. S. Van Dine, SCRIBNER'S (April 1939)
Yet another highly successful intellectual parody of the detective story . . . The solution is brilliant, blame falling upon a character the reader never suspected. — Nick Fuller, GAD Wiki
Resources:
- Filmed in 1994 (IMDb).
- COLLIER'S WEEKLY serialized MURDER FOR CHRISTMAS in ten installments, November 1938 - January 1939:
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
- Part 7
- Part 8
- Part 9
- Part 10
NOTE: To read through each issue, first click on PDF PAGES at the top of the page, then click on NEXT PAGE; to skip over pages, enter page number you wish to get to in small box and click on JUMP TO.

Category: Detective fiction

"Too Clever by Half"

THE LOST GALLOWS.
By John Dickson Carr.
Harper & Brothers.
1931. 344 pages.
In Mike's opinion, JDC had a few faults:
Carr overdoes it plotting and on atmospherics, even as he leaves the story itself somewhat underdone . . . A tendency to mistake antic confusion for dramatic mystification was a besetting flaw . . . . — ONLY DETECT (July 26, 2010)
However, Nick Fuller doesn't think they were fatal:
Even though lurid in parts, the prose is generally excellent, and gives the impression of moving through a nightmare, at once theatrical and melodramatic, but thoroughly entertaining. — GAD Wiki
Resource:
- A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("John Dickson Carr").

Category: Detective fiction

Future Murders

Robert Bloch (1917-94) will be forever identified with Alfred Hitchcock's film PSYCHO (1960), but he also crossed over into science fiction, as here with a STAR TREK episode. Brief excerpt:
. . . when he [Bloch] returned to his tried and true theme of Jack the Ripper preying on contemporary society (“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” Weird Tales, 1943) and projected the character four centuries into the future, he succeeded very well. The Trek production team gave Bloch’s story the proper treatment, with nearly every scene largely drenched in shadows and fog accompanied by an intense, fittingly nerve-jangling musical score—and for the first time viewer, the attempts at misdirection succeed at diverting suspicion away from the real killer. — Mike Gray, "Jack the Ripper in the Twenty-Third and a Halfth Century," THE AMERICAN CULTURE (October 14, 2010)

Categories: Science fiction, Detective fiction

Hoch and Tinseltown

Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008) produced volumes of cinematic stories which Hollywood has almost entirely ignored:
As prolific as Edward D. Hoch was—with over 900 short stories to his credit—the movie and TV media have made virtually no use of his output. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists just 9 films derived from his works (9/900 = 1 percent). No more eloquent testimony against the obtuseness of Hollywood can be adduced. — Mike Tooney, MYSTERY*FILE (4 December 2011)
Another Ellery Queen like feature of Hoch's tales: his ability to make the criminal be someone the reader has never suspected. Hoch has repeatedly surprised me with ingenious choices of murderer, someone in the tale that did not fall under suspicion. Yet these choices are always fair, someone present in the tale, and with clues pointing towards the criminal's identity. This is especially hard to do in the space of a short story. One can bury a murderer far more easily in a 200 page novel than in a 20 page short story. Hoch has also come up with some surprising motives. They too are often far removed from the conspicuous motives discussed in the body of the story; yet also fairly present and clued. — Mike Grost, GAD Wiki
Hoch was a master of the classic detective story, emphasizing mystery and deduction rather than suspense and fast action; EQMM has called him "The King of the Classical Whodunit." His stories are very well written and are usually tightly plotted puzzles, with carefully and fairly presented clues, both physical and psychological. He was particularly partial to "impossible crime" tales, where to all appearances the crime (usually a murder) could not have been committed at all; he invented numerous variants on the locked room mystery popularized by John Dickson Carr and others. — Wikipedia ("Edward D. Hoch")
Resources:
- "Cop of the Year" (1972), IMDb.
- "Freefall to Terror" (1973), IMDb.
- "The Man without a Face" (1974), IMDb.

Category: Detective fiction

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Case of the Falling (Pop) Star

BLACK AURA.
By John Sladek (1937-2000).
Jonathan Cape/Walker.
1974/1979.
Retro-detective Thackeray Phin investigates a levitation that didn't . . . levitate.

Mike at ONLY DETECT (November 26, 2010) reviews this fairly obscure latter-day impossible crime novel. Excerpt:
Like Carr, he [author Sladek] seems to look upon Ye Olde England as a timeless realm of romance and fantasy—the kind of place where two impossible crimes can easily occur, if not before breakfast, then certainly within a 24-hour period. The plot here doesn’t reach the heights of Carrian cleverness or complexity, but it’s one that Carr or any other impossible-crime chronicler of the 1930s might have been proud to fashion. And Sladek, having witnessed the modern spectacle of Portobello Road, writes with a satiric worldliness that departs from the relatively ingenuous tone that earlier mystery writers brought to writing about the everyday miracle that is London.
Jeff Meyerson at MYSTERY*FILE (8 June 2010) reviews BLACK AURA and the only other Thackeray Phin novel, INVISIBLE GREEN:
. . . Sladek handles both problems with a nice bit of misdirection worthy of Carr. The characters are eccentric and well-defined, the atmosphere is suitably Carrian.
Sladek wrote mostly science fiction. He explained why in a 1982 interview:
I think these days an SF connection would be a boost to other books; I'm sure more people have read my two little detective puzzles because of the SF connection. Those two novels suffered mainly from being written about 50 years after the fashion for puzzles of detection. I enjoyed writing them, planning the absurd crimes and clues, but I found I was turning out a product the supermarket didn't need any more—stove polish or yellow cakes of laundry soap. One could starve very quickly writing locked-room mysteries like those. SF has much more glamour and glitter attached to it, in these high-tech days.
Resource:
- A Wikipedia article ("John Thomas Sladek").

Category: Detective fiction

What Was the Question?

THE NINE WRONG ANSWERS.
By John Dickson Carr.
1952.
Harper's. $3.00
In this one, Carr is into mind games—with you, the reader, being his guinea pig.

A contemporary review (THE SATURDAY REVIEW, December 6, 1952):
Penniless Briton, footloose in N.Y., accepts London impersonation job for big dough, almost turns toes up. - Trick yarn, with footnotes to deflect reader from phony solutions; tale much too long. - Verdict: On the fantastic side.
Excerpts from other reviews:
As ever, Carr’s characters are complex and well developed and the plot is sufficiently convoluted to test the wits of the most sophisticated reader. — Richard & Karen LaPorte, MYSTERY*FILE (27 October 2011)
One of the most consistently entertaining late Carrs, reminiscent of classic Hitchcock. — Nick Fuller, GAD Wiki
Where the book comes into its own is in the Wrong Answers. At various points throughout the book, a footnote disabuses the reader of a supposition that they may have made about the events in the story up to that point. On the face of it, they are intended to help the reader move in the right direction in their deductions. In fact, they are a very cunning piece of misdirection. — Puzzle Doctor, IN SEARCH OF THE CLASSIC MYSTERY NOVEL (April 12, 2011)

Category: Detective fiction

Time Off for Good Behavior

ONTOS will not be posting from December 24th (East Coast, USA) until sometime after Christmas Day—when isn't exactly clear.

Thanks again to all of you who have visited ONTOS; we hope you have benefitted from it. Meanwhile, here are your attendance figures; once again, Malaysia tops the list:
PAGEVIEWS BY COUNTRIES (November 22nd - December 21st):
- Malaysia: 1080
- United States: 828
- United Kingdom: 128
- Russia: 96
- Germany: 53
- Spain: 51
- Canada: 49
- Serbia: 44
- Netherlands: 38
- Ireland: 21

Finally we want to wish a "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"The Best Blending of Supernatural and Detective Novel Genres"

HE ARRIVED AT DUSK.
By R. C. Ashby.
Macmillan.
1933. $2.00
Available on Kindle.
R. C. Ashby was really Rubie Constance Ashby:
Murderous ghost of Roman legionary terrorizes Northumberland village and baffles Scotland Yard skeptics. - Well nigh perfect admixture of eerie horror, romance, and good detecting. The writing is excellent and the scenery grand. - Verdict: A 1. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 1, 1933)
Truly a little masterpiece of a book. Reminiscent of Christie at the height of her powers in its brilliant use of misdirection . . . . Really a classic of its kind. One of the best blending of supernatural and detective novel genres written in the 1930s. — J. F. Norris, MYSTERY*FILE (27 November 2010)
A minor masterpiece in the subgenre of the supernatural detective novel it tells the story of an ancient Roman soldier who haunts a Welsh manor and a wicked murderer who exploits the legend for his own personal gain. Ashby's use of multiple narrators and a brilliant use of misdirection and misinterpre-tation is something to be admired for such an early work. — J. F. Norris, The GAD Wiki
Ashby also wrote OUT WENT THE TAPER (1934):
Not as good as 'He Arrived at Dusk', because, although it’s another ghost story (haunted house in Wales, with a splendidly nightmarish journey through underground passages festooned with cobwebs), it’s basically an adventure story, with gangsters. — Nick Fuller, The GAD Wiki
Triple murder, haunted ruin, ditto house, believable ghost, and inquiring young Rhodes scholar in eerie Welsh hills. - Warranted to freeze most torrid vertebrae on hottest night (by author of "It Walks by Night," q.v.) - Verdict: Br-r-r! — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 21, 1934)
A tremendously good ghost story, with a background of eerie Welsh hills, a ruined monastery with a sinister history, a young American hero, a wholesome English heroine, three satisfactorily vicious villains, some shuddery "psychic" passages and no end of spine-tickling situations. And all done in literate, smoothly flowing prose. Not to be missed. — SCRIBNER'S (August 1934)

Category: Detective fiction

The Intentionally Fallible Detective

THE SECOND SHOT.
By Anthony Berkeley.
Crime Club.
1930. $1.00
Available on Kindle.
From THE SATURDAY REVIEW ("Murder Will Out" by William C. Weber, July 18, 1931):
What at this writing is the latest of the dollar Crime Club books is also one of the best. It is "The Second Shot," by Anthony Berkeley. The officiating detective is Roger Sheringham, who likes his beer and an unusual method of discovering criminals.
The story is told by Cyril Pinkerton, also known as "Tapers," a very nice young man who, for his timidity, was chosen to be the murderer of Eric Scott-Davies in a faked crime. But something goes wrong. Instead of a fake corpse there is a very dead one.
Sheringham comes on the scene, consumes copious libations, and finally solves the crime. And then in the last chapter you get the surprise of your life.
From Martin Edwards's DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (12 November 2010):
True, it is really a tricksy whodunit, and the psychological forays are relatively shallow. And the setting, in an English country house (there is a map of the scene on the endpapers) is very much in the classic tradition.
Yet it is a clever piece of work, with Roger Sheringham proving even more fallible than ever in his role of interfering amateur sleuth.
From "Anthony Berkeley" (Martin Edwards):
. . . in 'The Second Shot' (1930), when Sheringham demonstrates, through apparently irrefutable logic, that one particular suspect must have committed the crime and those concerned then agree to shield her. There follows, however, a typically cunning Berkeley twist, with an epilogue in which the real villain of the piece, whom Sheringham has failed to identify, explains why he committed the crime.
Category: Detective fiction

A TV Sherlock You Might Never Have Heard Of

A THREE-PIPE PROBLEM.
By Julian Symons.
Collins Crime Club.
1975.
Now available on Kindle.
Before Cumberbatch and even before Brett, there was Sheridan Haynes:
[TV actor Sheridan] Haynes, in his role of Holmes, becomes gradually more involved in a case known as the Karate Killings, to the consternation of all. He states that Sherlock Holmes could have solved the case, then sets out to do it with the help of a Watson, and some Baker Street Irregulars (actually Traffic Wardens).
Sher Haynes is a sympathetic character and the book, if improbable, is a lot of fun and very well done. Sherlockians should enjoy it. — Jeff Myerson, MYSTERY*FILE (9 November 2010)
However:
This isn't very successful. Symons didn't believe in Great Detectives, and so, although he solves the mystery, it's more by inept bumbling than by reason, and there's none of the grandeur or vitality of Conan Doyle's splendid melodramas. Instead, 1970s London is drab and sordid, full of gangsters, actors, and motor-cars. — Nick Fuller, The GAD Wiki [Note: SPOILERS.]

Category: Detective fiction

Brief Contemporary Reactions to H. C. Bailey's Short Detective Fiction

As we've seen previously, critics seldom had strong objections to Bailey's novels, but what about his short stories? Click on the links for more info:

MR. FORTUNE WONDERS (1933):
-"Very good." — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (December 9, 1933)

MR. FORTUNE OBJECTS (1935):
- "Read it." — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 20, 1935)
A CLUE FOR MR. FORTUNE (1936):
- "Gratifyin'." — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (October 3, 1936)
THIS IS MR. FORTUNE (1938):
- ". . . demonstrates neatly the superiority of a series of short stories . . ." — SCRIBNER'S (September 1938; scroll to page 53)

MR. FORTUNE HERE (1940):
- "Satisfyin'." — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 27, 1940)

MEET MR. FORTUNE (1942):
- "Rewardin'." — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (June 20, 1942)

Category: Detective fiction

A Rake's Progress

HEIR PRESUMPTIVE.
By Henry Wade.
Macmillan.
1935. Reissued: 1953. 209 pages. $2.50
Henry Wade's novel . . .
. . . neatly combines the attractions of the inverted story with those of the detective story proper; and the book finishes with a brilliant and powerful twist ending. — Nick Fuller, The GAD Wiki
Some people will stop at nothing:
Eustace Hendel is alerted by a newspaper item to the fact that he just might be line for an inheritance that will solve all his financial problems. And those problems are pressing; he is running out of cash, and risks losing his lovely but greedy girlfriend as a result. However, he sees a possible route to becoming the next Lord Barradys. Unfortunately, some family members stand in his way—you can guess what rascally Eustace starts to contemplate . . . . — Martin Edwards, DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (5 November 2010)
From THE SATURDAY REVIEW (October 17, 1953):
British wastrel, at end of rope (and family line), plots own enrichment. - Violent terminal switcheroo mars otherwise skilfully-told story. - Verdict: Plus mark, on balance.
From AT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME (August 5, 2011):
. . . 'Heir Presumptive' has got to be one of the greatest mysteries ever written. It’s a successful inverted murder story and told brilliantly through the main character. The characters are complex and you really feel you get to know them. . . . There are suspenseful scenes, and the plot twists and turns so much you feel you’ve been taken on an emotional roller-coaster ride. There is real horror here—the ordeal of the investigations feels exhausting. The finale is just brilliant.
Here is a previous ONTOS article about another Wade novel.

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Who Was Fred White?" You Ask

THE CRIMSON BLIND.
By Fred M. White.
R. F. Fenno & Company.
1905. 378 pages.
Text available HERE and HERE.
According to Wikipedia, Frederick Merrick White (1859-1935) was a prolific author who sometimes produced science fiction, mysteries, and the occasional spy story:
[White] wrote a number of novels and short stories under the name "Fred M. White" including the six 'Doom of London' science-fiction stories, in which various catastrophes beset London. These include "The Four Days' Night" (1903), in which London is beset by a massive killer smog; "The Dust of Death" (1903), in which diphtheria infects the city, spreading from refuse tips and sewers; and "The Four White Days" (1903), in which a sudden and deep winter paralyses the city under snow and ice. These six stories all first appeared in 'Pearson's Magazine', and were illustrated by Warwick Goble.
He was also a pioneer of the spy story, and in 2003, his series 'The Romance of the Secret Service Fund' (written in 1899) was edited by Douglas G. Greene and published by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.
As for THE CRIMSON BLIND:
Over a century after its first publication, 'The Crimson Blind' remains a rattling good story, as well as an interesting example of a transitional phase in mystery writing.
On the one hand, the backstory is unrepentantly mid-Victorian, with dreadful secrets, an aristocratic family estranged from each other, sundered lovers, savage dogs, a decayed country seat, forgeries, royal jewellery and a smiling hypocritical villain who aspires to become—gasp!—a Member of Parliament.
On the other hand, much of the story is set in that most prosaic of places, Brighton on the English south coast; the juvenile lead is a writer of detective stories rather than a missing heir, and—most surprising of all—the three female leads are all enterprising young ladies who take sensible and effective action to solve their predicament, rather than sitting around bemoaning their lot. — Jon, The GAD Wiki
A few other White texts that are available online:
- THE SLAVE OF SILENCE (1904)
- THE CARDINAL MOTH (1905)
- THE WEIGHT OF THE CROWN (1906)
- THE MIDNIGHT GUEST: A DETECTIVE STORY (1907)
- THE MYSTERY OF THE FOUR FINGERS (1908) [More HERE]

Resources:
- White's science fiction is at Project Gutenberg, Australia: The "Doom of London" Series.
- Project Gutenberg's online list - Project Gutenberg, Australia's much more extensive online list.

Categories: Detective fiction, Science fiction