Tuesday, March 22, 2016


By S. S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright, 1888-1939).
In Scribner's, January 1939.
Online at UNZ HERE.
Showing the acumen he never doubted he possessed, the redoubtable Wright/Van Dine has a go at detective fiction book reviewing, and posterity has, by and large, vindicated his views. The full article follows.

Out of the current crop of mysteries, these six stand out:

~ Trent Intervenes by E. C. Bentley (1875-1956):
All lovers of literary crime may be grateful for the fact that when that splendid novel, Trent's Last Case, appeared, Mr. Bentley didn't say positively. Here in Trent Intervenes, Mr. Bentley has done something valuable for detective fiction. He has been at once episodic and exciting, at once casual and satisfying. Suavity and melodrama, leisureliness and suspense, go hand in hand. The twelve stories are far above the ruck, with never so much as a veiled insult to the reader's intelligence.
"The Genuine Tabard" — "The Sweet Shot" — "The Clever Cockatoo" — "The Vanishing Lawyer" — "The Inoffensive Captain" — "Trent and the Fool-proof Lift" — "The Old-fashioned Apache" — "Trent and the Bad Dog" — "The Public Benefactor" — "The Little Mystery" — "The Unknown Peer" — "The Ordinary Hairpins".
   More information: HERE, HERE (see Mike Grost's comments), and HERE.
~ Murder Will Speak by J. J. Connington (1880-1947):
An epidemic of poison-pen letters leads to the murder which Sir Clinton Driffield is called upon to solve in this excellent example of English detective fiction. Both glandular disturbances and radio are mixed up in it, and it's rather unsavory at times; but the way the letter writer is exposed, and the method by which the culprit is at last identified, make first-class reading for those who enjoy a good puzzle intricately worked out.
   More info: HERE and HERE.
~ The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr (1906-77):
This is undoubtedly Mr. Carr's best book and, indeed, shares laurels with the best detective stories of the past year. Dr. Fell, Chestertonian detective of other Carr stories, corners the murderer.
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
~ Death Sends a Cable by Margaret Tayler Yates (Margaret Polk Yates Herkheimer, 1915-2009):
Most books about the FBI special agent have accentuated the bloodier aspects of his profession. But here he comes into his own, in a well-devised and brightly written story of strange deaths at Guantanomo Bay. Agent Bill Duncan is helped no end by Mrs. Hugh McLean—the nurse "Davvie" of Mrs. Yates' earlier stories—and the international gang is, for once outside of Oppenheim, composed of credible people.
   More: HERE.
~ Three Bright Pebbles by Leslie Ford (Zenith Jones Brown, 1898-1983):
An arrow extinguishes the life of Rick Winthrop on one of those Maryland estates that are filled with lovely ladies—all with slim, lithe bodies—and handsome men. A number of impeccably groomed and ancestored folks come under suspicion, but grave Dr. Birdsong and his dog finally make it too hot for the murderer. Well worked out and remarkably pleasant reading—but lacking both in the chill of earlier Ford Stories and a detective as interesting as John Primrose.
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
~ Challenge to the Reader by Ellery Queen (1905-71, 1905-82):
A comprehensive and good anthology of 25 detective stories ranging from Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammett—chosen with care and an alert understanding of mystery material. In fact, it's so good an anthology that I could easily dispense with the dubious "game" idea of having the protagonists bear substituted names to test the reader's wit. But once you have made your own index and pasted it in on the flyleaf, you will possess a satisfying and up-to-date collection—interspersed with several unfamiliar yet authentic inclusions.
"Challenge to the Reader" — "The Long Dinner" — "The Case of Mr. Foggatt" — "The Magic Flame" — "The Adopted Daughter" — "The Honour of Israel Gow" — "Walker's Holiday" — "The Superfluous Finger" — "Double Vision" — "Scrambled Yeggs" — "The Vanished Crown" — "Bullets" — "Footsteps" — "The Poetical Policeman" — "The Survivor" — "A Man Called Knott" — "The Edinburgh Mystery" — "Triangle at Rhodes" — "The Stolen Shakes-peare" — "Twelve Little Nigger Boys" — "The Riddle of the 5.28" — "The Border-line Case" — The Poisoned Pen" — "The Soul of the Schoolboy" — "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" — "The Hanging Acrobat".
   More: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- There's plenty to be found about S. S. Van Dine HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- ONTOS previously communed with our critic HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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