Friday, April 3, 2015

A Carolyn Wells Addendum

"Introduction to The Technique of the Mystery Story."
By Jon L. Breen (born 1943).
Ramble House Books website.
Online HERE.

You know the old saying - Those who can, do; those who can't, teach:
. . . [Carolyn] Wells’s commitment to formal detection, including a special fondness for locked rooms and impossible crimes, won her some prominent defenders. Ellery Queen (the Frederic Dannay half) once reported that John Dickson Carr, who had much admired her work in his youth, had ordered a complete set of her books to be shipped to his home in England. And there’s no doubt of her credentials as a devotee and student of the form. When she edited two early 1930s anthologies of best American mystery stories, apparently not thin-skinned about negative reviews, she included Dashiell Hammett in both, though the creator of the Continental Op and Sam Spade was hardly writing her kind of mystery.
Hardboiled Hammett wasn't above roughing up Wells - in print, anyway.
Wells’s greatest contribution to the genre was indisputably The Technique of the Mystery Story. Pronzini in 1001 Midnights (1986) deems it “far more readable today than her novels.” Barzun and Taylor pay a less backhanded compli­ment, finding her “extremely tough-minded and superbly critical.”
The book gives a remarkable picture of the state of detective fiction several years before the post-World War I dawn of the Golden Age with its rules of fair play to the reader. Wells discusses misuses of evidence like threads and footprints, remarks on the considerate and obliging weather that accompanies fictional murder, and catalogues those devices (e.g. the stopped watch and the missing will) that, while already considered hackneyed in 1913, still turn up occasionally today.  . . .
- A brief bio of Jon L. Breen is HERE. For more about The Technique of the Mystery Story, go HERE; the 1929 hardcover edition is for sale HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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