Thursday, December 3, 2015

"I Like My Detective Stories Pretty Plain—A Mystery, Its Solution, and Its Development": Reviews from THE BOOKMAN III

"An Outline of Mystery."
By Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970).
From The Bookman, September 1928.
Online HERE.

In reviewing mysteries—broadly defined to include what we now genrefy as "horror" and "science fiction"—for The Bookman, in spite of being one of those highfalutin' intellectuals, Gilbert Seldes offers wonderfully commonsensical observations about detective fiction:
. . . In their effort to get away from stock, writers have a choice of methods: a new setting, a new kind of detective, a new trick for murdering, a new stunt in discovery. It seems to me that the best way to get out of the rut of detective stories—and it is a deep rut nowadays—is simply to be more intelligent and more honest, to write straight, to complicate the plot deftly and reasonably—in short to do a better job than most. Some of the books noted below have done this.  . . .
For Seldes, as for all subsequent generations, Van Dine's prescriptions are something of a mixed bag, good in some areas and bad in others (emphasis added):
. . . Between them (or should I say between him?) S. S. Van Dine and Willard Huntington Wright are subjecting the detective story to a lot of excellent criticism. (No one has yet accused him or them or me or Mr. T. S. Eliot of "discovering" this type of fiction, so—although I hardly dare breathe it—perhaps that tedious form of sneering has really had its day.) One or the other has given out a list of fifteen requirements for a good mystery story, of which I have seen only two—maybe they were issued serially and I missed the others. The first is that a murder is absolutely essential (which is nonsense) and the other that there should be no love interest (which is not). There should be no love interest and no philological and no political and no ethical interest and no intellectual or emotional interest of any kind which distracts the reader from the swift coursing of the story. One of the distinctions of "The Bellamy Trial" is that it is, in one way, a love story. The girl reporter and the hard-boiled crime expert carry on a sort of flirtation; there is a real love story at the center of the crime. Oliver Onions's remarkable mystery stories are all tangles of passions; turn the set-screw a little and even Ford Madox Ford's "Marsden Case" would be, what it seems by its name to be, a mystery story with the richness of texture of "No More Parades". I like my detective stories pretty plain—a mystery, its solution, and its development; and lean rather toward Mr. Eliot's strict canonical ban on mystery stories which depend on other elements. But I am convinced that a writer who knew how could involve anything from sexual passion to a passion for higher mathematics in the folds of the story itself—and so long as the story held its own way, there would be no room for protest.  . . .
~ At the House of Dree by Gordon Gardiner (?-?):
. . . his story of thuggee is good, especially at the end.  . . .
~ The Death of a Diplomat by Peter Oldfeld (?-?):
. . . has fights and chases . . .
~ Shadows by the Sea by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955):
. . . has them [fights and chases] on a boat stranded on a reef . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Monk of Hambleton by Armstrong Livingston (1885-?):
. . . The way the actual criminal is disclosed in a single sentence on the last page is remarkable.  . . .
FictionMags HERE

~ The Silent House by John G. Brandon (1879-1941):
. . . perhaps it's good on the stage.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE - Spectator review HERE - Film version at Wikipedia HERE

~ The District Bungalow by Cecil Champain Lowis (1866-1948):
. . . hardly to be classified as straight mystery . . .
Wikisource HERE

~ The Tick of the Clock by Herbert Asbury (1889/1891-1963):
. . . has a general round-up of suspects who sit through a third-degree with a good punch at the end.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - FictionMags HERE - New Yorker article HERE - Book online HERE

~ The Midnight Mystery by Bertram Atkey (1880-1952):
. . . About the boldest thing a writer can do is to attempt to rival Conan Doyle on his own ground.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R. Benson (1864-1945):
. . . an unusual turn of the story after the criminal is caught and begins to confess.  . . .

~ The Old Dark House by J. B. Priestley (1894-1984) [a.k.a. Benighted]:
. . . not strictly a detective story; rather a romantic yarn with a strange house and a dumb servant and madness and a brooding sense of evil and all that sort of rot—but it is well written.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - FictionMags HERE - Film versions HERE and HERE

~ The Smiling Death by Francis D. Grierson (1888-1972):
. . . a neat job, but its murders are the work of a totally unmotivated professional criminal.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - Pretty Sinister Books HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ Green Fire by John Taine (Eric Temple Bell, 1883-1960):
. . . pseudo-scientific semi-mysterious trifling laid in the future . . .
Wikipedia HERE - ISFDb HERE

~ The Marloe Mansions Murder by Adam Gordon MacLeod (1883-1945):
. . . has a fine lot of disappearing bodies . . .
~ The Dawson Pedigree by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) [a.k.a. Unnatural Death]:
. . . a gentle spinster secretary aiding the amateur detective and a well-articulated, perhaps too complex, plot.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Black Cap by Cynthia Asquith (1887-1960):
. . . I recommend [it], with some heartiness . . .

(1) "Shall We Join the Ladies?" by J. M. Barrie
(2) "The Killing-Bottle" by L. P. Hartley
(3) "An Unrecorded Instance" by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes
(4) "A Considerable Murder" by Barry Pain
(5) "The Tarn" by Hugh Walpole
(6) "The Islington Mystery" by Arthur Machen
(7) "Circumstantial Evidence" by Edgar Wallace
(8) "The Prince" by W. B. Maxwell
(9) "The Smile of Karen" by Oliver Onions
(10) "The Lovely Lady" by D. H. Lawrence
(11) "The Hospital Nurse" by Shane Leslie
(12) "Telling" by Elizabeth Bowen
(13) "Footprints in the Jungle" by W. Somerset Maugham
(14) "The Lovely Voice" by Lady Cynthia Asquith

Wikipedia HERE - FictionMags HERE - ISFDb HERE - Book online HERE

~ Queen of Clubs by Hulbert Footner (1879-1944):
. . . tabloid detective fiction except for one thing . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Clock Strikes Two by Henry Kitchell Webster (1875-1932):
. . . the author seems to think that he has made his mystery deeper by proving—after it's all over—that nearly all of the suspicious circumstances are the result of the most innocent intentions on the part of nearly everybody.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Green Shadow by Herman Landon (1882-1960):
. . . holds off the negative response for a time.  . . .
FictionMags HERE

~ The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan (1884-1941):
. . . Here you have the elements dearly loved by the mystery fan—the murderer in plain sight, with all the evidence pointing directly, yet you are blocked by the apparent impossibility—not of your guess, because you don't guess—but of the whole situation.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Bellamy Trial by Frances Noyes Hart (1890-1943):
. . .  an almost perfect mystery, written with wit and delicacy, absorbing and satisfying in every respect . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - Only Detect HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ Behind That Curtain by Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933):
. . . excellent . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Greene Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939):
. . . better than the other two [novels, The Benson Murder Case (1926) and The Canary Murder Case (1927)] . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ Fourteen Great Detective Stories by Vincent Starrett (1886-1974):
. . . [I recommend] Starrett's collection of old detective stories made for The Modern Library.  . . .

(1) "The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe
(2) "The Red-Headed League" by A. Conan Doyle
(3) "The Blue Cross" by G. K. Chesterton
(4) "The Stanway Cameo Mystery" by Arthur Morrison
(5) "The Case of Oscar Brodski" by R. Austin Freeman
(6) "The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage" by Ernest Bramah
(7) "In the Fog" by Richard Harding Davis
(8) "The Age of Miracles" by Melville Davisson Post
(9) "The Absent-Minded Coterie" by Robert Barr
(10) "The Fenchurch Street Mystery" by Baroness Orczy
(11) "The Problem of Cell 13" by Jacques Futrelle
(12) "The One Best Bet" by Samuel Hopkins Adams
(13) "The Private Bank Puzzle" by Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg
(14) "One Hundred in the Dark" by Owen Johnson

Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE.

- We last visited Mr. Seldes HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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