Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"A New and Mildly Amusing Detective"

By Bennet Copplestone (Frederick Harcourt Kitchin, 1867-1932).
John Murray and E. P. Dutton & Co.
1917. 293 pages [UK], 286 pages [US]. $1.50
Part I: "William Dawson"
Part II: "Madame Gilbert"
Part III: "To See Is to Believe"
Part IV: "The Captain of Marines"

As Holmes and a few other detectives of the Golden Age learned, the supposedly security-minded personnel of the Navy department seemed to suffer inordinately from butterfingers when it came to holding on to top secret documents:
[Full review] As the title indicates, these short stories tell of the tracing of spies who infested the British naval service. In Dawson, the Scotland Yard spy-hunter, the author has invented a worthy successor to Sherlock Holmes. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (March 6, 1918)
[Full review] The yarns in "The Lost Naval Papers" pretend to be nothing but yarns. They belong openly to the order of mechanical romance—the romance of mystery and detection.
The hero is none other than that favorite butt of Sherlock Holmes, a Scotland Yard inspector—or rather it is Scotland Yard itself, with the inspector as its instrument.
Officer William Dawson has a great conceit of himself, and appears to justify it by a series of marvellous feats in the way of rounding up German spies and strengthening the hands of the British Admiralty at moments of crucial strain. But his chronicler takes special pains to tell us that this is all an illusion. Scotland Yard, he says, is not showy, but its system is irresistible: "Though Dawson was not specially intelligent—in some respects almost stupid—he was dreadfully, terrifyingly efficient, because he was part of the slowly-grinding Scotland Yard machine."
We suppose that our old friend Dr. Watson, if he admitted this, would trace it to the reforms induced by the great Sherlock's exposures.
These tales are admirable contrivances in their kind. They have, of course, little more to do with the war or with any other reality than the fifteen puzzle or the game of pigs in clover. — H. W. Boynton, "Told and Made," THE NATION (April 4, 1918)
[Full review] A new and mildly amusing detective appears in the person of Inspector Dawson, with his combined human vanity and superhuman success. "The Lost Naval Papers" by Bennet Copplestone is the book in which the excellent Dawson has his being. — Brian Hooker, "Concerning Yarns," THE BOOKMAN (May 1919)
[Review excerpts] . . . The Lost Naval Papers is a story about a super-sleuth from Scotland Yard who enlists the help of our fictional author/narrator to foil the espionage attempts of foreign agents. Being an older work the language and styling is a bit stilted and the pacing is rapid-fire in places. I don’t know but it may have been written as a serial. That might explain the number of chapters and twists (new sub-plots/main plot changes).
The detective has several unique characteristics: he’s powerful (he has a decree that gives him power over many aspects of the normal legal system and its agents), he’s well-regarded by his superiors, and he’s addicted to secrecy.
He disguises himself even from his own underlings and cohorts; especially so from the writer that he dragoons into assisting him at the start of the novel. But the narrator has the last laugh. From sheer frustration at being jerked around, he trains himself to observe the smallest details and discovers a unique and undisguised element of the detective that, once he uncovers it, means he never misses penetrating the current disguise. For a control freak like the detective, this is too much to bear and he entreats the author to reveal the method. This is only done at the close of the novel.
Is it good? It certainly was inventive. The fact that the main characters have the sleuth-writer relationship makes it a kind of Holmes pastiche despite that fact that he is clearly of officialdom and obsessed with his given job. No need to cast about listlessly waiting for a client to knock at the door in this story!  . . . — Mike, GOODREADS (June 7, 2014)
- At least one of Copplestone's Chief Inspector Dawson stories was reprinted: "The Butler," Rex Stout Mystery Magazine, February 1946 [Source: The FictionMags Index].
- There was a sequel to THE LOST NAVAL PAPERS entitled MADAME GILBERT'S CANNIBAL (1920; online HERE and HERE), featuring Dawson's assistant from the earlier book.

Category: Spy fiction

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Odds and Ends

Here are some miscellaneous items that basically have nothing in common except that most of them interested us, and we hope at least some of them might do the same for you:

(1) "Our Immortal Nick Carter" (1919) HERE.
(2) "Earth Letter of a Martian" (1907) HERE.
(3) "Ambrose Bierce: An Appraisal" (1911) HERE.
(4) "The Illustration Detectives" (1911) HERE.
(5) "How to Write a Short Story" [1912 reprint of an 1897 piece] HERE.
(6) "The Fate of Edwin Drood" (1913) HERE.
(7) "A Story of a Story" (1913) [Burton E. Stevenson] HERE and his novel HERE.
(8) "Algernon Blackwood" (1914) HERE and "Algernon Blackwood - An Appreciation" (1915) HERE.
(9) "War and Mr. Wells" (1914) HERE.
(10) "The World of H. G. Wells" (1915) HERE.
(11) "Some Spies in Fiction" (1915) HERE.
(12) "Dr. Jekyll Up to Date" (1915) HERE.
(13) "Books . . . and Burglars" (1915) HERE.
(14) "Why Are Manuscripts Rejected? A Symposium" (18 items) HERE.
(15) "H. G. Wells: Novelist and Prophet" (1916) HERE.
(16) "Deadwood Dick Forgotten" (1916) HERE.
(17) "The Mastery of Surprise" (1917) HERE.
(18) "Spiritism in England" (1918) (including Doyle) HERE.

Category: Miscellaneous

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"The Man with the Axe Slew the Novelist"

By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
William Heinemann.
1895. 151 pages.
Filmed several times, including 1960 (IMDb) and 2002 (IMDb).
Online HERE and HERE.
In 1931 Random House reissued H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE, which prompted a brief assessment of its author that many would still agree with:
[Excerpt] Though in the new preface which Mr. Wells has written for this story, he remarks that "it seems a very undergraduate performance to its now mature writer," this reviewer wouldn't trade it for all the heavy and frequently tiresome volumes Mr. Wells has written since he gave up story writing and took to saving the world. For there were two men in Mr. Wells—a good novelist and a very tiresome person with an axe to grind, and the man with the axe slew the novelist. — Walter R. Brooks, "This Week's Reading," THE OUTLOOK (January 6, 1932)
For an assessment of the book's physical production (as distinct from the story itself), go HERE.

Frank N. Magill characterizes THE TIME MACHINE on this wise:
. . . This speculative chronicle of a space-time concept and a picture of life in the world of the future is so exciting, however, that it may be read merely as an adventure story. The book is a mixture of fantasy and pseudo-scientific romance. — Frank N. Magill, "Review: The Time Machine," MASTERPLOTS (1949) (Volume Eleven, page 6542)
Magill adds:
. . . Many nineteenth century people believed more than anything else—with a depth of conviction now unimaginable—in Progress. Wells was himself a devotee of the idea. Ironically, one of the reasons for contemporary skepticism about Progress is the existence of The Time Machine. — Magill, op. cit. (go to page 6544, bottom)
By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
Edward Arnold.
1897. 279 pages.
Filmed in 1933 (IMDb), as well as many other adaptations.
Online HERE and HERE.
When THE INVISIBLE MAN was first published, it's interesting that two admiring reviewers should be moved to very similar philosophical reactions:
[Excerpts] . . . There is little reason to suppose, for example, that Mr. Wells, had he made science his life-work, would have come off better than any one of a dozen smart young men turned out by the Science and Art Department annually. We probably lost a quite indifferent man of science to gain the really able author of "The Time Machine" and "The Invisible Man."  . . . he gives us a fairy tale with a plausible scientific justification. The imagination is everything, the science is nothing . . . [These two books] make capital reading, and one is the complement of the other. 
. . . Mr. Wells's future [in The Time Machine] is a world in which men have harked back to cannibalism and intellectual life is dead. Similar pessimism follows Mr. Wells into his new book [The Invisible Man]. Scientific experiment never makes the world any better or happier.  . . . Scientific research is indeed vanity if we are to accept Mr. Wells as a guide. That is only one interpretation of his book. The important thing to note is that the author has conceived of his creation with a splendid mastery of detail.
But to write all this is perhaps to treat the matter too seriously. The story, which is bound to be popular, has not a suspicion of preaching about it, and in a quite unpretentious way will help to pass an amusing hour or so. I have not been so fascinated by a new book for many a day. — Clement Shorter, "The Invisible Man," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (October 1, 1897)
[Excerpts] I am very glad to see that there is now a chance of Mr. H. G. Wells acquiring the popular vogue and celebrity to which he is entitled. He has for some time been known as a remarkable and ingenious artist . . . In The Invisible Man, and still more in The War of the Worlds, now being published in the Cosmopolitanhe has written books which should be read eagerly and generally.
The Invisible Man is not so good a book as it might have been and ought to have been, but it is decidedly striking and original, and what is rare in such books, it is also provocative of thought.
. . . The story is slight, and might be passed as a curiosity, but it suggests something of the limits of invention.  . . . We seem always to be on the verge of some invention that will really alter the moods and complexions of human life, but an invisible hand seems to stay us, and we remain in the old circle of experiences. — Claudius Clear, "The Fantastic Fiction; or, 'The Invisible Man'," THE BOOKMAN (November 1897)
By H. G. Wells (1866-1946).
William Heinemann & Harper & Bros.
1898. 303 pages [UK]; 290 pages [US].
Filmed several times, including 1953 (IMDb) and 2005 (IMDb).
Online HERE and HERE.
With the publication of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, one critic admitted to yawning in "certain small numbers" of places and faulted Wells for his pessimism, while another felt he went overboard with "one long banquet of horrors":
[Excerpts] . . . That is one of the most striking points about Mr. Wells's work, that he always kindles the imagination. The thief who behind every hedge sees a constable is in a better plight than the average reader of The War of the Worlds, who, in every thunderstorm or convulsion of nature, will, for long years to come, think of those grim and impressive creatures from another world.
. . . Mr. Wells has set our minds agog. I do not say he has done it with that perfection of sanity which so great a subject might have called forth. A war of the worlds, if it really came, would bring us face to face with noble aspects of heroism, with infinite depths of terror, with a mingling of exquisite pathos, and—in spite of the horrors afforded—of grim humour, of a kind which do not come into the ken of Mr. Wells. I do not even deny that in The War of the Worlds there are certain small numbers of pages over which many readers may be excused for yawning, whereas to thoroughly convince us of so dire a catastrophe of nature as is here presented an inferior writer, equipped with some of Mr. Wells's material, would have prevented our interest from waning for a moment.
. . . Mr. Wells, the first novelist to turn to account for purposes of fiction the great revival of science . . . has painted, and continues to paint, developments where life is more full of pitfalls than in our own time, and where great convulsions of nature find us morally not one whit better prepared than the eruption of Vesuvius found the people of Pompeii nearly two thousand years ago. None the less do I count the work of Mr. Wells as one of the most distinctly individual achievements of our time, on a lower literary plane, it may be, but as distinctly an individual achievement as the work of Swift in the eighteenth century, with which it has much in common.  . . . [I wish] to reiterate the conviction that among the younger writers of the day Mr. Wells is the most distinctly original, and the least indebted to predecessors. The War of the Worlds is a very strong and a very powerful book. — Clement Shorter, "Mr. Wells's 'War of the Worlds'," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (March 1898), reprinted in THE BOOKMAN (May 1898)
[SPOILERS IN REVIEW] As is well known, the scientifically gruesome is Mr. Wells's forte. In his 'Thirty Strange Stories' we supped on thirty kinds of horror, each course a brief one. But in the 'War of the Worlds,' which is a novel, we are sated with one long banquet of horrors.
The usual miseries of war are not enough; a hundred new ones are invented to suit the invented inhabitants of another and a more highly civilized world. The men of "vast, cool, and unsympathetic intellects," who are all brain and hand, smiting with heat-rays, and choking out life with tubes of liquid black smoke, make mere powder and shell household pets by comparison.
To read this story of the emptying of London and the wasting of Surrey by the loathsome Martians—for they are repulsive as well as fearful—is to quake by day and sink into nightmare after.
Such tribute as this is certainly not to be denied it. The whole conception is highly ingenious, and the [SPOILER], although a fresh horror in itself, is unexpected cheer [SPOILERS DELETED] [and] is an untying worthy of Mr. Wells's genius. Under his accustomed skill of treatment the whole is entirely convincing, but we acknowledge that we prefer terror in smaller prescriptions. — "More Novels," THE NATION (June 9, 1898; go to page 447, middle)
Magill's judgment of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS reinforces the anonymous NATION reviewer's emphasis on the terror aspects of the book while pointing to the social satire in the novel that THE BOOKMAN's reviewer seems to have completely missed:
. . . The novel contains little character study, and the plot is a bare narrative of a few days of horror.  . . . So concrete was Wells' vision that he wrote a virtual documentary history of the Martian invasion.
. . . But The War of the Worlds is much more than a classic thriller; it develops a disturbing theory about evolution, attacks the complacency of bourgeois civilization, and raises a serious question about the effects of prolonged world peace.
. . . Wells satirizes the inability of Englishmen to grasp the enormity of the disaster. He points to the numbing, softening effects of industrial routine, bureaucracy, and separation from nature.  . . . Further, Wells intimates that combat may be man's natural state, and his narrator welcomes the onset of "the war-fever." — Frank N. Magill, "The War of the Worlds," MASTER-PLOTS (1949) (Volume Twelve, pages 7035 and 7037)

Category: Science fiction

"Although This Is an Eccentric Book, It Has Plenty of Plus Points"

Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes), busy man that he was, published only six mystery/detective fiction novels in his lifetime; see Curt Evans's review of INSOLUBLE below for more about Everton:

By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
London Publishers.
1927. 274 pages.

By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
1928. 311 pages.
[Full review] THE inventor of a new process of making steel is found crushed to death in the jaws of a hydraulic hammer. A solution is manufactured, but Inspector Allport is not led astray. He bides his time, springs his trap, and catches his prey. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (May 1929; go to page xxvi, left bottom)
[Full review] This is a cleverly conceived and well executed mystery story, having for its setting the town of Castlefield in Derbyshire, near which are the engineering works of Coulson Bros., Ltd. The plot turns upon the discovery by Shardlow, a director of the works, of a new process of manufacture, in which rival firms become interested. Shardlow is murdered, and an engaging little Scotland Yard detective follows false scents before a disused mine yields up the successful clue. Mr. Everton has a gift not only for inventiveness, but for atmosphere. — THE SPECTATOR ARCHIVE (17 November 1928)
By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
London Publishers [UK]; Morrow [US].
1930. 271 pages [UK]; 304 pages [US].

By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
London Publishers.
1932. 284 pages.
[Review excerpts] . . . although this is an eccentric book, it has plenty of plus points. For a start, the writing is, although not consistent, at times of a genuinely high standard—much better than you find in many mysteries of the Golden Age. This novel came out in 1932, and it's significant that Arnold Bennett and Dorothy L. Sayers both had a lot of time for Everton's work. Here there is a brilliant, bad-tempered, ugly little cop called Inspector Allport, who is a wonderful and memorable character. And there is plenty of action, along with many unexpected developments.  . . . it contains a good deal of stuff about engineering, the technical aspects of which went right over my head. But he [the author] cleverly integrates his know-how with the plot . . . this book is flawed, in some ways, but it's very interesting indeed.  . . . — Martin Edwards, DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (25 July 2014)
By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
Crime Club.
1934. 253 pages.
[Review excerpt] . . . What seems modern about Insoluble is its emphasis on realistic characters and setting and credible psychology over the mechanics of detection.  In fact, though the novel was published in England by the Collins Crime Club, I'm not altogether certain in my mind how much a true detective novel it is. The police detection, by a local man, Inspector Pratt, is mostly behind the scenes. What progress is made in solving the crime is mostly through the groping intuitions of lay characters. Yet I, something of a detection addict, still found it an engrossing mystery.  . . . — Curt Evans, THE PASSING TRAMP (March 9, 2012)
By Francis Everton (Francis William Stokes, 1883-1956).
London Publishers.
1936. 284 pages.

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, July 25, 2014

Brush Up Your Vigenere

What affected me most profoundly was the realization that the sciences of cryptography and mathematics are very elegant, pure sciences. I found that the ends for which these pure sciences are used are less elegant. — James Sanborn
Knox College computer scientist John F. Dooley has helpfully compiled several pages about "Cryptology in Fiction," viewable (HERE). It should come as no surprise that many of the stories in his annotated bibliographical lists (several hundred all totaled) are of the detective fiction and mystery varieties.
Examples dealing with vintage mysteries:
Chambers, Robert W. 1906. The Tracer of Lost Persons. Hardcover. New York: Appleton and Company. 293 pgs. Mr. Keen, the Tracer of Lost Persons, solves a cipher that consists of rectangular symbols crossed with diagonals. The cipher turns out to be a monoalphabetic substitution where the symbols are crude representations of numbers. The numbers are mapped to letters using 1 = a, 2 = b, etc. to form the cipher system. Mr. Keen's solution allows him to unite two lovers.
Futrelle, Jacques. 1905. The Problem of Cell 13. Boston American, 1905. The Thinking Machine accepts a challenge to break out of a prison cell within a week. The story was originally published in the Boston American newspaper and later (in 1907) in the story collection "The Thinking Machine." The story contains a bit of steganography and a simple transposition cipher.
 -----1909. Elusive Isabel. Hardcover ed. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill. 273 pgs. The American Secret Service tries to break up a spy ring (really a plot by the Italian secret service). The novel contains messages in invisible ink (milk-based) and a cryptogram transmitted in Morse code (but the cryptogram is never deciphered in the novel), and also a mention of a "Secret Service code."
-----1910. Mystery of the Fatal Cipher. Hardcover. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. The famous scientist and detective known as The Thinking Machine unravels the mystery of an inventor's apparent suicide. The suicide note is a cipher where each plaintext word is five words further on than the last. The story takes a couple of surprising twists.
. . . and more recent stories:
Keech, Scott. 1980. Ciphered. Hardcover. New York: Harper & Row. 253 pgs. The young and dedicated chief inspector of police in a university town has his work cut out for him when he finds himself in the middle of a murder case in which four of the five victims were German refugees - and one of them was engaged in secret biological research.
To make matters worse, ciphered messages suggesting spy activities are found near the scene of the crime. The cipher used is a Vigenere that uses an agenda for the key phrases. The plaintext messages were enciphered using the inspirational phrases on each page of the agenda as the key phrase. The ciphertext was then converted into numbers to further hide the meaning of the message.
Hall, Parnell. 2003. With This Puzzle, I Thee Kill. Hardcover. New York: Bantam Books. 322 pgs. A series of cryptograms warn The Puzzle Lady, Cora Felton, not to marry her latest beau. When the fiance is murdered, more messages uncover a drug smuggling ring. The messages are in a mixed alphabet monoalphabetic substitution and in a rectangular transposition cipher.
Kenner, Julie. 2005. The Givenchy Code. paperback. New York: Downtown Press. 351 pgs. Mathematician/historian Melanie Prescott is drawn into a real-live version of the online role-playing game "Play-Survive-Win." She's the target and an assassin, Lynx, is really trying to kill her on the streets of Manhattan. To win the game - and survive - Melanie has to evade Lynx and solve a series of coded messages to reach a final destination before she's killed. The messages include several puzzles, a pigpen cipher, an Enigma message, and a book cipher.

Category: Detective/mystery fiction (codes and ciphers)

"The Pendulum Has Swung the Other Way, and the More Mystery the Better the Book"

It's good when a publisher has had previous writing experience:
William Andrew Johnston was born in 1871 in Pennsylvania. He was a career writer and editor, including being the longtime editor of the New York Sunday World. He was a co-founder with George Delacorte Jr. of Dell Publishing Company in 1921, one of the largest magazine publishers. He died in 1929. — PUBLIC BOOKSHELF
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Bobbs-Merrill Co.
1911. 301 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
[Full review] Mr. Johnston has hit upon a novel method of blackmail, and in both the development and the detection of the crime has shown no little ingenuity. The climax, particularly, in which most detective stories fail, is well conceived and executed. Only one false note is sounded, but that is a note which goes far toward destroying the emotional efficiency of the whole book.
Mr. Johnston has created a villain of the true type, and his baiting in the lonely country house is a bit of real detective invention. But the interest with which we follow the discovery and thwarting of such criminal machinations as are here described depends mainly on the intensity of our feeling of a maleficent and responsible power in the human brain. Mr. Chesterton relied largely on this feeling to create the proper atmosphere about the adventures of his "Father Brown." Mr. Johnston feels it artistically, but deliberately mars the effect by an irrelevant preachment on the relation of crime to disease, and on the desirability of substituting curative measures for punishment.
The result is an ingenious story, which fails to absorb the reader's mind as it should. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (November 16, 1911; scroll down to page 469, left bottom)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
1910. 344 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.

By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Little Brown & Co.
1918. 292 pages. $1.40 net.
Filmed in 1920 (IMDb).
[Full review] The detective story is coming back into its own. For the past few years there has been a hesitancy before buying a detective story on the part of a large class of readers who did not wish to read how a skillful sleuth unravels a baffling mystery. And now the pendulum has swung the other way, and the more mystery the better the book. The reason for this, so the publishers tell us, is that the big thinkers of the country need mental relaxation and the fighting men need a volume that will carry them away from the camp to romance-land.
The House of Whispers is one of the best detective stories of the newer crop. It is from the pen of William Johnston, of 'Limpy' fame, and while the haunted house is familiar, the fact that this home was an apartment lends immediate interest to the volume. The theme of the story is not altogether unusual, nor do the characters stand prominently in the gallery of unique American types. The story has plenty of suspense, however, and the mystery is unsolvable until the very end. — "New Books," THE FORUM (June 1918scroll down to page 752)
[Full review] This story of theft and mystery is by the author of the very popular story entitled "Limpy." Its plot is laid in New York City and its incidents pertain to life in the modern luxurious apartment-house. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (April 24, 1918)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Little, Brown and Company.
1919. 301 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] "The Apartment Next Door" is hardly more than the conventional sort of war-mystery story, dealing with German spies, plots to blow up New York, secret service men, and the like.
But it is less perfunctorily done than is common, and has an excellent surprise-turn at the end for any reader who has not permitted himself to guess too much.
The current method is employed of putting the solution of the mystery into the hands of an innocent bystander, who stumbles upon more evidence than the professional sleuths are able to ferret out with all their machinery of detection. — "Nightmare Stuff," THE NATION (February 15, 1919)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Little, Brown and Company.
1920. 293 pages.
Online HERE.
[Full review] Murder and mystery with international or revolutionary motives behind the crime. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (July 21, 1920)
[Review excerpt] . . . From a simple murder mystery, seemingly solved without difficulty by the police, it becomes an affair of such magnitude that its final clearance discloses a plot with almost endless ramifications. — MYSTERY*FILE (11 December 2013)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Little, Brown and Company.
1922. 269 pages. $1.75
Online HERE.
"The Tragedy at the Beach Club is the best murder mystery story I have read in years. The identity of the murderer puzzled me to the end of the book." — E. Phillips Oppenheim
"The Tragedy at the Beach Club qualifies about one hundred per cent as a satisfactory detective story." — Carolyn Wells — Both quotes from ad in PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY (March 11, 1922)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
Doubleday, Page & Co.
1923. 300 pages.
Socialite, war hero, and bon vivant James Waddington Hurd learns of his ownership of the old family estate in upstate New York on his twenty-fifth birthday. Traveling there he becomes embroiled in working out the terms of his great-grandfather's forty-year-old will, which will disinherit his great-uncles in eight days if they don't reconcile. He also becomes interested in finding the "Waddington jewels," a treasure hidden by his great-grandfather and hinted at in the will, but as yet undiscovered. The cipher in the title is a poem in the will that points to three gold chain-links that give instructions for finding the jewels. — AMAZON.COM description
[Full review] Well, finally the rascally lawyer is exposed, the long lost family jewels are discovered, and sundry other mysteries are unveiled. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (November 1923; go to page 314, right middle)
[On Johnston as a newspaper man: Excerpt] William Johnston, whose new mystery novel, "The Waddington Cipher" (Doubleday, Page & Co.), is the first story that has ever been serialized over the radio, holds a unique newspaper position as suggestion editor or official idea man to the New York World. His work is to anticipate public interest—to guess what will interest newspaper readers, not only today, but tomorrow and next week.  . . . — THE HARVARD CRIMSON (November 2, 1923)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
George H. Doran.
1927. 301 pages. $2.00
[Full review] William Johnston's "The Affair at Duplex 9B" is what might be called standard gauge. Big studio party of a somewhat bohemian nature. Interesting people from all the walks and walkups of life. A diplomat dies dramatically and his death is quickly realized to be murder. — Grant Overton, "The Month on Murray Hill," THE BOOKMAN (March 1927; Jump To page 117, left top)
A scandal, a murder—society awhirl in a rapid mystery. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (April 1927; go to page 211, right middle)
[Full review] "The Affair in Duplex 9B" is—don't stop me just because you've heard this one—about the wealthy rascal who was done in with the quick-acting South American poison, and about the Assistant District Attorney who fell in love with the beautiful young suspect. The present A.D.A. talks like this:
"No, by God," said Chilton earnestly, "I'm going to prove her innocent. I saw Miss Adair, Graham, for only a few minutes, and heard her sing, but I saw enough of her to recognize that she is a sweet, clean girl whose inexperience has gotten her mixed up with a bad crowd. I'm not going to have a young girl who needs a man's protection dragged in the mire of a case like this. Find her for me, Graham, won't you, and help me shield her from this scandal, a scandal she never could live down."
Neither he nor the detectives working with him show any signs of ever having been employed in police affairs before. The simplest code ever devised—its invention followed the typewriter's by about two weeks—stumps them. (The detective who copies the coded message into his notebook is supposed, by the author and in the following chapter, not yet to have heard of it.) Two typewritten letters are taken to a typewriter company for the purpose of having the machine on which they were written traced to its present owner. The company promises to try to trace it by its number. Luck to 'em! The murderer's identity may be suspected half-way through the book, but when you learn his motive you'll be ashamed of having suspected him. It's that sort of a motive. — Dashiell Hammett, "Guessers and Deducers," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 16, 1927)
By William Johnston (1871-1929).
A. L. Burt.
1928. 317 pages.

Category: Spy fiction, Detective fiction

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Mr. MacGrath Writes with Spirit"

You remember Harold, don't you?

By Harold MacGrath (1871-1932).
The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
1914. 340 pages. $1.25
Filmed in 1916 (IMDb and AFI—the latter has SPOILERS).
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] It is something of a relief to turn to a frankly extravagant story of adventure, such as Pidgin Island, by Harold MacGrath.
The island in question lies on the border line between Canada and the United States; and while a good fishing ground, it is a dangerous harbour for a small boat during September gales.
Young Cranford, the hero, is an ardent fisherman, as all the world is free to know; what the world does not know is that he is in the Government secret service for the detection of smugglers, amateur or professional, who attempt to make unlawful entry of foreign jewels into the United States.
What Cranford himself does not know is that Pidgin Island, where he goes when off duty, is a chosen smuggling place of a notorious gang, who have a long standing account to settle with him; and he is equally far from suspecting that Diana Wynne, the clear-eyed, self-reliant young woman with whom he becomes unconventionally acquainted and who can out-row, out-sail and out-fish him, holds the same sort of Government job as himself,—and, what is more, has come to Pidgin Island, not blindly but with her eyes wide open.
If you know Harold MacGrath's methods, you know in advance pretty well the sort of story he can serve up with these elements of adventure and danger and romance. But in any case read the book; you are at least certain not to be bored. — Norman Bryce, "Random Gleanings from Current Novels," THE BOOKMAN (August 1914; go to page 683, left bottom)
A story of fishing and of smuggling. When John Cranford faced the necessity of earning a living, he entered the secret service because it was the only thing that offered, but he learned to hate his work,—he called it a "sneak's business,"—and when it got on his nerves, he went fishing.
But up at the lake resort where he had fished for years, he found that his favorite guide was not at his disposal. Uncle Billy was rowing that season for another fisherman—a girl. And she proved, too, to be as good a fisherman as Cranford himself; and also as clever at catching smugglers: for, as it turns out, she is in the secret service herself, and the two together find a piece of work already cut out for them. — BOOK REVIEW DIGEST (1915)
Elements of 'Pidgin Island' that are good prove that the author has not lost his fundamental art—that of being able to tell an interesting story—but what a pity that he should write so carelessly. — BOSTON TRANSCRIPT (May 13, 1914)
Mr. MacGrath writes with spirit, and will carry with him that large class of readers which asks only to have conjecture held in leash and curiously sustained until the end. — THE NEW YORK TIMES (April 12, 1914)
[AFI film summary] After arresting smuggler Michael Smead, Government Customs Service secret agent John Cranford takes a vacation on Pidgin Island in the Saint Lawrence River. While there, he falls in love with another tourist, Diana Wynne, who is [SPOILER]. Diana, who soon reveals to John that [SPOILER], then discovers that Michael has [SPOILER] and is planning to [SPOILER]. With John's help, she [SPOILER], after which the two secret agents decide to ignore the Customs Service for awhile, and concentrate on [SPOILER]. — AFI
- It was quite recently that we spent some time with Harold HERE.
- AFI has a listing of the 24 films made from MacGrath's stories—with SPOILER summaries—HERE.

Category: Romantic spy fiction


By E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946).
Little, Brown & Co.
1916. 302 pages.
By F[rank] Berkeley Smith (1869-1931).
Doubleday, Page & Co.
1916. 324 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
[Full review] A talent for thievery amounting to positive genius, an urbane exterior, and the most engaging personal qualities constitute the common equipment of the heroes of two otherwise dissimilar novels.
Mr. Smith's Raveau is a Parisian past-master of dishonest arts who falls in love with an innocent country girl, and thereafter, aspiring to become an honest man, is rewarded for his present efforts and his past expertness by employment in the detective service. Shades of Balzac! For its picturesqueness the story depends largely upon contrasting backgrounds—Montmartre and the village of Tourraine. It contains no element of plot, character, or local color that is not already over-familiar.
Mr. Oppenheim relates the exploits of one who enjoyed the reputation of a thief while remaining an honest man. It was an eccentric Western American who enlivened his sojourn in London by the exercise of this questionable skill, and it was an English gentleman of irreproachable respectability who persisted in liking the jovial adventurer, and making love to his charming and equally adventurous daughter.
The humor of being followed around by a detective and searched every little while, to the discredit of the baffled representative of Scotland Yard, never palled upon Mr. Bundercombe, nor upon his dismayed but admiring Mr. Walmsley.
How long this recurring situation will hold a laugh for the reader will depend upon his individual partiality for that classic figure of fun, the triumphant and benevolent joker of farce-comedy. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (April 20, 1916)

Other reviews of AN AMIABLE CHARLATAN:
[SPOILERS IN REVIEW: Excerpts] . . . The chief figures, the people they consort with, their victims and their friends, they are all crazy.  . . . To the people who like Mr. Oppenheim's stories, this latest book of his will appeal with undiminished force. There is "something doing" on every page and always something mysterious. — Philip G. Hubert, Jr., "Some Novels: Light and Otherwise," THE BOOKMAN (July 1916)
[Excerpt] . . . It's a fun caper, with some adventure and romance mixed in. Parker is a winsome character and a little reminiscent of Donald Westlake's comic thief, John Dortmunder . . . — B. V. Lawson, IN REFERENCE TO MURDER (March 7, 2014)
[Full review] Another book by Oppenheim that has lost some freshness because a plot device has become a bit threadbare. But the characters are charming, it retains much of its humour, and there is definitely a twist I didn't see coming! A nice, light read. — Abigail, GOODREADS (August 27, 2013)
[Full review] Great funny forgotten book. Worth the read! Each chapter is about the main character's run in with a father daughter team of charlatans. The book has some good twists. — Aimee, GOODREADS (April 24, 2012)
[Full review] A young English aristocrat falls in with a con artist and his lovely daughter. The con artist is a very amusing character and wait until his wife shows up. Recommended. — Karen, GOODREADS (July 8, 2010)
F. Berkeley Smith

Category: Crime fiction (humorous)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"These Stories Are, Altogether, More Amusing Than Intriguing"

This pretty much explains what you're getting into with the following book:
. . . The reader is confronted with even more lost species, including mammoths in the Canadian glaciers, a group of "cave-ladies" in the Everglades, a gigantic worm burrowing beneath the fields of upstate New York, a school of minnows the size of Pullman cars, etc. — ISFDB
By Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933).
D. Appleton & Co.
1915. 292 pages. $1.30
Collection: 6 stories.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
(1) "The Third Eye" [Hearst's Magazine, February 1915]
(2) "The Immortal" [Hearst's Magazine, August 1915]
(3) "The Ladies of the Lake" [Hearst's Magazine, July 1915]
(4) "One Over" [Hearst's Magazine, September 1915]
(5) "Un Peu d'Amour" [Hearst's Magazine, June 1915]
(6) "The Eggs of the Silver Moon" [Hearst's Magazine, March 1915]
[Full review] The series of extravaganzas that make up the latest volume by Mr. Robert Chambers, with its scarehead title of Police!!!, and its quite unashamed bathing-suit lady on the cover, leaves the impression that the author is sardonically laughing at his characters, his readers and the world at large.
The time was when Mr. Chambers had a peculiar gift for the uncanny; he could send little furtive creeps all the way up your spine and down again; he could distil virgin gold into loathsome, slimy, creeping shapes that would haunt you with the persistence of a delirium; or he could at will convey the charm of elusive, elfin shapes, airy, butterfly beings bridging the chasm of the unknown.
All this he has apparently lost. Whatever he purposed doing in relating the mythical adventures of Professor Smith, of the Bronx Zoological Park, one thing is certain: that they miss fire. He may have meant them as horror stories, but they fail to horrify; he may have meant merely to mystify, but the mystery is ineffective; or perhaps his ambition did not extend beyond farce comedy, but if so, it is too heavy-handed to be really amusing.
Take, for instance, "The Ladies of the Lake": two professors, masquerading as guides, escort an Amazonian band of elderly suffragettes into the wilds of Alaska, and there discover a small lake five miles deep, whose unfathomed waters contain a hitherto undiscovered species of minnow the size of a sperm whale. These giant fish have a habit of rising to the surface at nightfall and leaping high in the air, with a roar like Niagara, to feed on the myriads of bats that flit above the water. Well, one evening when the suffragettes indiscreetly venture out for a row at twilight, a playful flap of a giant tail sends the boat skyward and the ladies [SPOILER]. The whole thing is too overdrawn to hold you; it isn't convincing, it isn't creepy, it isn't even funny.
"Un Peu d'Amour" comes a little nearer to being a success in its own line. The professor discovers, in some remote, unspecified locality, a wonderful crater from which fumes constantly rise; and when he cautiously creeps down the inner slope, he sees that the fumes arise from a ring of flame, half-way down, and that below the ring the bottom of the crater is smooth and sandy, without smoke or fire. Moreover, in the flames, scores of little ferret-like creatures disport themselves, in salamander fashion, and when he succeeds in catching one with his naked hand, he finds it cold, with a glacial coldness that numbs his body. It is all quite elfish and fanciful, and leads you to the point of wishing it might be true,—and then suddenly Mr. Chambers rudely awakens you by weaving in a monstrous yarn about a [SPOILER], that sets the hills and valleys rocking as it [SPOILER], burying [SPOILER] under a vast cataclysm. Like all the other stories in the volume, it leaves you with an exasperated sense of having been hoaxed. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Some Novels of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (January 1916; go to page 602, right bottom)
Disappointing one-joke collection from the master who wrote The King in Yellow. Low levels of imagination and uninspired style, along with sub-sitcom levels of joke predictability sink the thing deep. — David Hambling, GOODREADS (February 10, 2014)
This final fantastical outing by horror great Chambers is amusing, but pale compared to his earlier works. Nestled in-between his once-popular parlor romances, 'Police!' continues the fantastical stories of Dr. Percy, ever searching the world for zoological discoveries and love, and doomed never to find either. Chambers apes Twain more than Bierce in these comical tales, and while he hits some high points, these stories are, altogether, more amusing than intriguing. — Keely, GOODREADS (February 28, 2011)
- More information about Robert W. Chambers is HERE and HERE.

Categories: Science fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Humor

Monday, July 21, 2014

"The Conclusion Is of the Sudden, Unexpected Sort That Is the Bane of the Honest Reader of Detective Yarns"

Arthur Somers Roche is usually remembered these days by movie buffs as the author of the novel that served as the basis for the William Powell/Ginger Rogers film Star of Midnight (1935) (see HERE and HERE). Quite a few of his stories were made into films.

Two critics read the same book and yet come to diametrically opposite conclusions:

By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
The Bobbs-Merrill Co.
1916. 320 pages. $1.25 (+ 12 cents postage)
Online HERE and HERE.
First serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, May-June 1916.
Filmed in 1917 as The Gray Ghost (IMDb).
[Full review] A popular magazine recently finished serially this story which combines the elements of mystery, romance, adventure, melodrama, and the lure of detective skill most cleverly.
That a story wildly exciting to the point of incredibility should absorb the reader without exciting adverse criticism speaks well for the skill of the writer. He has certainly worked out the intricacies of his plot with its wealth of details skilfully.
Slightly reminiscent of "The Master Mind" in that one personality conceives and directs all the exciting incidents of crimes and dramatic occurrences, he makes all coherent. The love element is convincing.
Wade Hildreth came to America to attend a business meeting for his rich client, Brenner Carlow, also to carry a $2,000,000 necklace back to London, but "The Gray Ghost" had heard of the jewels and proceeded to make other plans for the disposition of Hildreth and the necklace—plans which alternately failed and succeeded because of the interference of many absorbing characters in whom we become interested.
Morn Light, a beautiful young actress, is inexplicably involved in all these plots and counterplots.
Excitement is never lacking until Morn and Wade—but what's the use of spoiling a good story? It is a thrilling detective story. — "Some of the Latest Autumn Fiction," THE LITERARY DIGEST (November 18, 1916; go to page 1341, middle)
[Full review] Mr. Roche begins well and ends ill. An English lawyer is sent by an American money-king from London over to New York to fetch a diamond necklace worth a trifle of two million dollars, and to represent him in some railway deal.
The lord of the criminal world in New York learns of the errand, and our lawyer finds himself the object of mysterious plots and happenings.
The reader expects a good treat in the contest of wits between the lawyer and the crime-king, but instead of that the Englishman is kidnapped out of the story, and a young and rather featureless detective is brought in.
A perfectly extravagant account of looting the great jewelry house which has the necklace in safe-keeping gives the story its name.
The conclusion is of the sudden, unexpected sort that is the bane of the honest reader of detective yarns. It is a pity that the author let a good plot slip through his fingers. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (November 23, 1916)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
The Bobbs-Merrill Co.
1917. 322 pages.
Online HERE.
Play version: The Scrap of Paper (1917; 40 performances); film version: Living Lies (1922) (IMDb).
[Full review] A detective story, extremely clever in its tracing of the adventures which befall a scrap of paper signed by three multi-millionaires which blows out of the window.
It is instantly picked up by an audacious master-crook who sees a chance for blackmail of a million dollars, but is arrested fifteen minutes later after he has slipped the paper into the overcoat pocket of an office clerk.
The end of the story is bombastic and absurd in its account of the instant conversion of Masterman, the unprincipled millionaire, to noble citizenship. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (April 18, 1917)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
George H. Doran Co.
1919. 322 pages.
Online HERE.

By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
The Macmillan Co.
1925. 321 pages. $2.00
[Full review] A detective story, staged among the fashionable and rich pleasure-seekers at Palm Beach. The plot of the murder mystery makes one guess half a dozen solutions, no one of which contains the truth. A Scripture-quoting evangelist detective is a novelty—also a bore. — "Current Books," THE OUTLOOK (July 22, 1925)
[Full review] The reviewer whose literary taste is superior to the standard maintained by the current popular periodicals must be of an unusually generous nature not to pronounce "The Pleasure Buyers" a stupid book. Mr. Roche's latest concoction is a murder mystery story intended to entertain the host of readers of "summer fiction." The scene is in Palm Beach, the winter home of "the pleasure buyers."
Crude in construction, careless in style, platitudinous in its moralizing, this book is without literary life. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (August 15, 1925; go to page 52, left bottom)
[Full review] Palm Beach society doings make the envious reader almost forget the murder mystery. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (October 1925; go to page 203, right middle)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
Century Co.
1929. 337 pages. $2.00
First serialized in Collier's Weekly, February-May 1928: PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6 - PART 7 - PART 8 - PART 9 - PART 10 - PART 11 - PART 12 - PART 13 - PART 14.
[Full review] A TALE of the New York underworld in which a gambler of good family reforms in order to protect a charming nouveau-riche girl against an unscrupulous gigolo. Full of thrills, with a careful observance of detail. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (May 1929)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1933. 249 pages.
Serialized in Cosmopolitan, May-September 1933.
Filmed in 1933 (see HERE and HERE) and remade as Society Lawyer in 1939 (see HERE).

By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
Dodd, Mead.
1934. 309 pages. $2.00
Filmed in 1936 (IMDb).
First serialized in Collier's Weekly, March-May 1934: PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6 - PART 7 - PART 8 - PART 9 - PART 10 - PART 11 - PART 12.
Charming Manhattan widow, acquitted of husband's murder, quixotically hires reporter, who swears she's guilty, to clear her name. - Gunmen, chorines, society rotters and other Broadway mobsters career through super-speedy and smoothly-sophisticated tale. - Verdict: Aces. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 22, 1934)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
Dodd, Mead.
1935. 293 pages. $2.00
Filmed in 1935 (see HERE and HERE).
First serialized in Collier's Weekly, October-December 1934: PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6 - PART 7 - PART 8 - PART 9 - PART 10 - PART 11 - PART 12 - PART 13.
Killing of Broadway playboy and his valet involves actresses, cops and Mr. Sim Sturdevant who solves crime - Good formula stuff, very suave and well-groomed and with denouement that surprises but doesn't convince. - Verdict: Readable. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (March 16, 1935)
By Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935).
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1936. 243 pages. $2.00
Posthumous movie tie-in edition.
First serialized in Redbook Magazine, August-December 1934 and January 1935.
See NOAH'S ARCHIVES (December 22, 2013) for more about the movie.
For sale HERE ($500.00 plus $6.50 shipping).
Gossip columnist killed; musical comedy star vanishes. Clay Dalzell, who knows and sees all, fixes everything. - Slick and suave yarn of Metropolitan intrigue and gangsters. Hero a bit too omniscient but action and talk are good. - Verdict: Agreeable. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (February 1, 1936)

Category: Detective fiction