Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Odd Assortment from '28

Deep in detective fiction's Golden Age, nineteen twenty-eight saw the publication of many of what are by now almost completely forgotten books, so if you've never heard of them (and, what's worse, might never hear of them again) it's perfectly understandable—that and, we must regretfully add, the poor writing some of them evinced, occasionally provoking the sarcastic wit of a reviewer. (Note: A few of these titles and their authors are so obscure that we could find little or no information concerning them. Also note that the ghost story and science fiction were not yet being thought of as genres separate from the mystery.)

~ The Prisoner in the Opal by A. E. W. Mason (1865-1948):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 (HERE):
   "That very respectable bon vivant, Mr. Julius Ricardo, was a house guest at the Chateau Suvlac for the vintage. Among others at the chateau were Joyce Whipple, the California Cinderella; lovely wicked Mrs. Devenish; Diana Tasborough, their hostess; the Abbe Fauriel, whose linen vestments and cassock had been stolen; and the Vicomte de Mirandol, whose mouth was too small and whose hand was boneless and wet.
   "Between these several people ran undercurrents of feeling that disturbed Mr. Ricardo. Then Miss Whipple and Mrs. Devenish disappeared from their rooms one night, and with the next day came M. Hanaud—the remarkable French detective who so remarkably understood English idioms—to announce that the naked corpse of a young woman whose right hand had been hacked off had been found in a basket, floating on the surface of the Gironde. She was one of the missing guests.
   "There was a purple mask. There were footprints in a flower bed. There were clues that led to the Cave of the Mummies, and to the Widow Chicholl's den. There was also some foolish-ness about a gate which would have been better left out; but that was the only flaw, and a small one, in an otherwise thoroughly satisfactory detective story; one that deserves a place at the top of the list."
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "Another macabre story in which the author's famous detective, M. Hanaud, cleverly solves the mystery at Chateau Suxlac and brings to justice the disciples of Guibourg, infamous abbe of the Black Mass."
   Resources: Project Gutenberg Australia HERE ... Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... Redeeming Qualities HERE ... the IMDb HERE ... Project Gutenberg HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.
~ The Man Who Laughed by Gerard Fairlie (1899-1983):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Outlook, November 14, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Concerns the Octopus, a crook who hid behind curtains and laughed at his pursuers, and the efforts of Jack and Vic, assisted by Scotland Yard, to capture him. Oh, yes, and that brave little woman, Jack's fiancee, Jean. In spite of the huge amounts of sandwiches and beer the sleuths consumed they were able to move about with a good deal of speed and cause a lot of excitement for the reader."
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "Two ex-secret service men, with the assistance of Scotland Yard, foil the plans of the thieving man who laughs."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... the GAD Wiki HERE ... Mystery*File HERE ... and the IMDb HERE.
~ Murder by Evelyn Davies Johnson (?-?) and Gretta Palmer (Gretta Brooker Palmer Clark, 1905-53):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Bookman, December 1928 (HERE):
   "The clews to a series of crimes are given and the reader is to be detective. Lovers of mystery will find this new game intriguing."
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 by William Bolitho (HERE):
   "The strange history of the detective story reaches a trunk-junction this season with the first two books on my list [the other being 'Baffle Book']. The authors of 'Murder' explain in their preface: 'The problems that constitute this book are really nothing more nor less than thirty-two complete detective stories, reduced to the essential facts. There is no padding, and the insipid and irritating love interest that is an integral part of the conventional detective story has in all cases been omitted. Short of having the stories read like excerpts from a dry-goods catalogue, we have presented our cases as tersely as possible.' That is, quite plainly, one line of the evolution of this peculiar literary form has ended in the Puzzle; somewhat the fate of the acrostic in poetry.
   "The authors of 'Murder,' and the 'Baffle Book,' are not to blame; they have honestly recognized a situation which has long existed in fact. From an esthetic point of view, it is a pity; for we have gained a not particularly interesting form of indoor game, doomed probably to develop more and more as thesenaked essays in it show, on the lines of arithmetic rather than psychology. The time of the crime, the role of distance in the alibi; these are the only elements in the clue system which do not tend to become exhausted by repetition, and the inevitable abuse of these leads straight to the dreary problems at the chapter ends of text-books of arithmetic and elementary algebra. Could the suspect have made it in time? How long would it take to fill tank C, given the flow of taps A and B?"
   Resource: FictionMags HERE.

~ The Diamond Rose Mystery by Gertrude Knevels (1881-1962):
   Contemporary review:
   The Outlook, September 12, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "When Lee, the beautiful pearl stringer of Greenwich Village got mixed up with a gang of lady thugs known as the Wildcats, she had quite an awful time. They thought no more of croaking a wench than you or I would of squashing an importunate mosquito. But Lee and her boy friend got the better of them, found the Rose and restored it to the rightful owner in the very teeth of Big Ellen, Kangaroo Kate, the Mouse, Angel Emma, Two-Gun Tillie, Phila-delphia Poll, Nellie the lady human fly—to name a few of these demons in human form. This story consists of action, interspersed with action, and with occasional pauses for more action. Quite breathless, in fact."

~ The Crimson Quest by Dennis Barr (?-?):
   All we could find is a picture of the cover:
~ Blind Circle by Maurice Renard (1875-1939) and Albert Jean (1892-1975):
   Contemporary review:
   The Saturday Review, December 8, 1928 (HERE):
   "There was a sore famine of cadavers in Paris. Dead bodies of the poor and homeless were no longer left unclaimed in hospitals, to be sent to the dissection rooms of medical schools. That great and good man Sir James Burlingham had begun to look after the indigent dead, to see that they were properly buried, so that each would recover his carnal envelope, unhacked by medical students, when the final trumpet should sound on judgment day. The director of the School of Medicine was pretty badly worried.
   "Somebody stole the corpse of Manon Duguet—actress and courtesan, two weeks dead —from its grave, and an attempt was made to asphyxiate a Dane named Menvel on the street. People began to remember the times and customs of Burke and Hare. Then, between midnight and midday of the same day, four newly dead bodies turned up, one at Nogent-sur-Mame, one in Paris, one in Dijon, and one in Pontarlier. There was not the slightest doubt, when they were laid out side by side in the morgue, that each of the four was the complete corpse of one man, and of the same man, Richard Cirugue, a jewelry salesman.
   "Nobody could explain that, not even Rosy, the astrologer with a Ninevite beard and Mephistophelian eyebrows. The authors explain that, as satisfactorily as is necessary, with the help of more or less familiar super-scientific and psychic formulae. All of the book's shudders don't come off, but it is on the whole an adequately gruesome fantasy."
   A much later appraisal:
   "A comedy of manners with a scientific McGuffin—matter duplication of living organisms. The French science fiction writer J. H. Rosny is a minor character. Translated from the French [badly according to Bleiler] by Florence Crewe-Jones."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... French Wikipedia HERE ... FictionMags HERE ... Others HERE and HERE.
~ The Instrument of Destiny by John D. Beresford (1873-1947):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Outlook, October 3, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Gregory Fytton was having one of his periodical dying spells. He had summoned his family to his bedside. But the family was, quite excusably, a little skeptical. They had been summoned before. Nevertheless they went, suppressing the vague hope that this time he might go through with it and by the terms of his will—for he was a rich man—leave them the money which they all so desperately needed. And then one afternoon when the nurse was absent someone popped a cyanide crystal in the old gentleman's mouth and he abruptly and quite against his intention joined his ancestors. Whose hand was the instrument of destiny? There were half a dozen people in the house who had much to gain by his death. It's not an exciting story, but it is well written, and the solution, we believe, will surprise you."
   The Saturday Review, November 17, 1928 (HERE):
   "Mr. Beresford made a mistake when he wrote this detective story. The esteemed English novelist here placed himself (temporarily, we hope) about eighteen rungs below his accus-tomed position on the literary ladder. "The Instrument of Destiny" is not the equal of the average detective novel in conception or in development. The necessary murder comes wearily late in the plot, and its solution is as laborious as it is unsatisfactory. There is considerable doubt whether either Mr. Beresford's friends or the discriminating followers of detective fiction will find any pleasure in these pages."
   Resources: Wikipedia HERE ... the SFE HERE ... and the ISFDb HERE.

~ American Ghost Stories edited by C. Armitage Harper (?-?):
   Contents:
   "The Specter Bridegroom" / W. Irving — "Ligeia" / E. A. Poe — "The Ghost of Dr. Harris" / N. Hawthorne — "What Was It?" / F. O'Brien — "A Ghost Story" / M. Twain — "The Trans-ferred Ghost" / F. R. Stockton — "A Ghost Story" / J. C. Harris — "The Rival Ghosts" / B. Matthews — "The Damned Thing" / A. Bierce — "The Eyes" / E. Wharton — "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" / J. K. Bangs — "The Shadows on the Wall" / M. E. W. Freeman — "The Upper Berth" / F. M. Crawford — 'Dey ain't no ghosts' / E. P. Butler — "The Woman at Seven Brothers" / W. D. Steele — "The Hand" / T. Dreiser.

~ Who Killed Gregory? by Eugene Jones (?-?):
   A non-contemporary review:
   The Study Lamp, 15 February 2012 by Darrell (HERE):
   [Excerpt] "There is much entertainment to be found, and Dr. Stanley makes for a humorous narrator, especially when facetiously casting his housekeeper in the role of least likely suspect. The story only falters with the explanation of the locked room mystery."
~ The Shadow on the Left by Augustus Muir (Charles Augustus Carlow Muir, 1892-1989):
   Contemporary reviews:
   The Saturday Review, October 27, 1928 (HERE):
   "Here is a tale that deals with what happened on and around the Isle of Shennach when the laird's poverty drove him into the clutches of a gang of scoundrels. Most of the things that happened were dark-of-the-moon expeditions among burns, cairns, castles, crags, crypts, dikes, gillies, glens, lochs, moors, and other Scottish appurtenances. There is plenty of excitement in the book, but not all of the excitement is exciting."
   The Outlook, October 17, 1928 by Walter R. Brooks (HERE):
   "Generally speaking, we believe that the best thrillers are those in which the hero, after being warned away from the mystery which he wants to solve by the angry zip of a midnight bullet from the gun of an unknown assailant, decides to go it alone without calling in the police. This eliminates at once the worst feature of nine out of ten detective stories—the detective. You know immediately that the author is going in for hair raising rather than for hair splitting. You know that instead of fingerprints, footprints, chemical analyses, consta-bles, disguises and essential clues, you will have battle, murder and sudden death. You know that you won't have to wade through a hundred or more pages of fiction detective logic in order to reach on page 308 a conclusion that you foresaw on page 26—a process which is about as thrilling as listening to someone else's explanation of how he solved a crossword puzzle.
   "Now this book hasn't a detective in it, and from the moment when Peter and Bobby, on their way to dine with the Glencairns at their lonely house in the Hielans, find a wounded man in the bracken, there's not a page that will give you even time to fill and light a fresh pipe. There are enough villains to stock a jail, enough heroes to man the Argo. And there's the lovely Fiona, who has the good sense not to permit Peter to make love to her until you're within sight of the words 'The End' at the foot of the page. We've read a couple of hogsheads of thrillers in the last few months—this is one of the three best."
   Resource: More about another Muir novel at Crossexamining Crime HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

3 comments:

  1. The Prisoner in the Opal is superb. A detective story with hints of the supernatural. Highly recommended.

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    Replies
    1. Allan - With that encomium you've just ensured that THE PRISONER IN THE OPAL is going into my TBR pile.

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    2. I think you'll enjoy it - it has those slight genre-crossing tendencies that should appeal to you.

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