Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Science fiction, Thriller fiction

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