Thursday, January 1, 2015

Often by and Sometimes about Vincent Starrett

[When Conan Doyle visited Chicago] I wanted to talk of Sherlock Holmes, and Sir Arthur stubbornly insisted upon talking spiritualism. Mr. Chesterton was more amenable, and willingly talked Father Brown until he was dragged away.THE BOOKMAN (October 1929)
It would be foolish indeed to attempt to determine who was the greater Sherlockian (or Holmesian), Christopher Morley (1890-1957) or (Charles) Vincent (Emerson) Starrett (1886-1974), and we won't even try it.
Vincent Starrett, a full-time poet but only a part-time detective fiction writer, is justly famous for this poem:

                      221B

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears–
Only those things the heart believes are true.
A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
– Vincent Starrett

What follows is a cursory outline of Starrett's contributions to detective fiction that isn't meant to be comprehensive in any sense; click the links for more information.

THE UNIQUE HAMLET.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Privately printed.
1920. 39 pages.
Online HERE.
COFFINS FOR TWO.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Covici-McGee Co.
1924. 242 pages.
Online HERE.
Collection: 18 stories.
Contents:

1. "The Fugitive"
2. "The Elixir of Death"
3. "Exeunt Omnes"
4. "Four Friends of Mavis
5. "The Head of Cromwell"
6. "The Widow of Maltrata"
7. "The Princess Antimacassar"
8. "Decadence and John Fenderson"
9. "Coffins for Two"
10. "The Truth about Delbridge"
11. "The End of the Story"
12. "The Pleasant Madness of the Faculty"
13. "Thirty Pieces of Silver"
14. "The Episode of the Plugged Dime"
15. "The Man Who Loved Leopards"
16. "Request of the Dying"
17. "Eighteen Steps"
18. "The Artistic Temperament"

MURDER ON 'B' DECK.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Doubleday, Doran.
1929. 279 pages.
The first of three Walter Ghost mysteries:
[Full review] Setting a murder on board the transatlantic liner, Latakia, two days at sea, facilitates a good deal more tension in this mystery than if it had been set on land. The culprit's presence is acutely felt, the characters are captive and forced to mingle, suspensions run rampant. Meanwhile amateur sleuth, Walter Ghost, awaits the delivery of cablegrams and contemplates some obscure (to the reader) clues to the crime. — Almeta, GOODREADS (November 2, 2014)
The other two:

DEAD MAN INSIDE.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Doubleday.
1931. 310 pages.
THE END OF MR. GARMENT.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Doubleday.
1932. 304 pages.
Here's another collection, this one getting no respect from a reviewer:

THE BLUE DOOR.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Doubleday, Doran (Crime Club).
1930. 345 pages. $2.00
Collection: 10 stories.
Contents:

1. "The Blue Door"
2. "Too Many Sleuths"
3. "The Fingernail Clue"
4. "The Woman in Black" [Jimmy Lavender]
5. "The Wrong Stairway"
6. "The Street of Idols"
7. "A Volume of Poe"
8. "The Skylark"
9. "The Ace of Clubs"
10. "Out There in the Dark" [Jimmy Lavender]
[Full review] The Blue Door is a collection of short stories published in various magazines and newspapers during the last four years and now collected in book form. Although they are of average worth, it is difficult to understand why they were rescued from the files—even for a dollar. — William C. Weber, "Murder Will Out," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (December 20, 1930)
Starrett's most famous and reviewed Sherlockian tome (which had very little to do with the movie) is:

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Macmillan.
1933. 214 pages. $2.00

Reviews: HERE, HERE [2 pages], and HERE. GOODREADS also has reviews HERE and HERE.
For background involving the book's production, see Starrett's own articles HERE [7 pages] and HERE [6 pages].
THE GREAT HOTEL MURDER.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Crime Club.
1935. 299 pages. $2.00
Filmed in 1935 (IMDb).
[Full review] Banker in Chi. incog. found poisoned in hotel room. Riley Blackwood, dramatic-critic-detective runs down killer. - Too many threads in plot confuse the unravelling. Good talk and exciting finish about balance scales. - Verdict: 50-50. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (May 25, 1935)
MIDNIGHT AND PERCY JONES.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Covici-Friede.
1938. $2.00
[Full review] Concert singer shot; radio announcer vanishes; another killing—and drama critic Blackwood spots third death before case closes. - Chicago night life, cynically amusing cops, bullet spattered climax, plentiful red herrings, and gruesome solution, expertly blended. - Verdict: Worthwhile. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (February 26, 1938)
221B: STUDIES IN SHERLOCK HOLMES BY VARIOUS HANDS.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974), ed.
Macmilllan.
1940. 247 pages. $2.50
Reviews: HERE [2 pages], HERE [page 118, top right], and HERE.

THE CASE-BOOK OF JIMMY LAVENDER.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Gold Label.
1944. $2.50
Collection: 10 stories.
[Full review] Collected exploits of suave and perspicacious Chicago private operative. - Good omnibus of short stories—all of them well plotted and excellently worked out—with a few humdingers. - Verdict: For the short-story shelf. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (May 20, 1944)
[Full review] Twelve of the well-known detective's best adventures are collected in book form for the first time. Good hunting. — "Check List," THE AMERICAN MERCURY (July 1944)
[Excerpts] Comprising about a fourth of the published cases of Jimmie Lavender, the only sleuth in mystery fiction named for a major-league baseball player, these twelve tales from the Twenties and Thirties are representative examples of the now mostly forgotten detective short stories of Vincent Starrett, better known today as the biographer of Lavender’s inspiration, Sherlock Holmes.
By modern standards, none is of the first rank, but most are well-plotted puzzles cast in the classic mold, with a nice blend of cerebral deduction and physical action, and even fifty years and more later they have their attractions.  . . . — Ellen Nehr, MYSTERY*FILE (14 January 2009)
MURDER IN PEKING.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Lantern Press.
1946. $2.50
[a.k.a. LAUGHING BUDDHA]
[Full review] Cathayan criminal cycle commenced by strangling of Danish beauty in temple near Peking. Mr. Hope Johnson finally stops the massacre. - Competent plotting and interesting Oriental background nearly atone for bunch of sawdusty and generally uninteresting characters. - Verdict: Readable. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 20, 1946)
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD.
By Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
Arkham House.
1965. $65.00 - $100.00 or more.
Collection: 10 stories.
Contents:

1. “The Fugitive”
2. “The Man in the Cask”
3. “The Quick and the Dead”
4. “The Sinless Village”
5. “The Head of Cromwell”
6. “Penelope”
7. “The Elixir of Death”
8. “Coffins for Two”
9. “The Tattooed Man”
10. “Footsteps of Fear”

Resources:
- The FICTIONMAGS INDEX (go HERE) lists many, but not all, of Starrett's short fiction; Jimmy Lavender stories are indexed HERE.
- Mike Grost has much to say about Starrett's writings HERE.
- Background about Starrett is on the GAD Wiki HERE and Wikipedia HERE.
- STUDIES IN STARRETT, an entire website dedicated to our author, is HERE.
- THE BATTERED SILICON DISPATCH BOX offers reissues of Starrett's works HERE and HERE (PDF).
- A previous ONTOS article featured fellow Sherlockian Christopher Morley HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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