Friday, May 29, 2015


Spring 2015. Issue #38.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
40 pages (including covers). $6.00

Once again Arthur Vidro has produced a publication well worth your time—we're assuming here you're a detective fiction/mystery fan, but even if you aren't you'll still enjoy it. This edition is full of savvy book reviews, information about a film from the roaring '30s, a nicely detailed rundown of a very obscure TV series, and a full short story.



I can't believe seven years have flown by since we lost short-story specialist Ed Hoch.  . . .
A review by Michael Dirda of Crippen & Landru's latest collection of Ed Hoch's "miracle problems," NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: FURTHER PROBLEMS OF DR. SAM HAWTHORNE:
. . . Reading Hoch, you need to pay attention to the details, recognizing that every element, even the most trivial—especially the most trivial—is there for a reason: You can shake any of his stories and nothing extraneous will fall out.  
. . . 30-PLUS YEARS AGO:
Reviews by Jon L. Breen of books published from 1980 to 1982.
Reviews by Charles Shibuk that originally appeared a generation ago.
William Brittain's "The Man Who Read G. K. Chesterton" (EQMM, April 1973):
"Oh, don't play the innocent with me. You want to pretend you're that Father Brown chap. The priest who plays detective. Isn't that it?"
William Everson tells us about the 1938 flick PERSONS IN HIDING.
. . . Still, after thirty years, the author's imagination, flair, and hard-boiled wisdom make for a fresh, lively, and thrilling reading experience.
John Curran discusses live theater adaptations of Agatha Christie's plays:
. . . I still see a major distinction between a creator taking liberties with her own work and later "adapters" seeing themselves as more inventive and therefore somehow entitled to change the best plotting of the Queen of Crime.
James E. Keirans does a fine job of researching and synopsizing the 26-episode series from the '50s based on John Dickson Carr's character, only a handful of which were adaptations of original stories:
. . . Neither John Rhode [upon whom Carr based his central character] nor Colonel March in the Carter Dickson short stories ever wore an eye patch. But Boris Karloff's left eye is always covered in one.  . . .
47 years ago, Charles Shibuk took a close look at available paperbacks.


Subscription information:
- Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn.
- Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.
- One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($12.50 for Mensans).
- One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 20 pounds sterling or 25 euros).
- Payment: Checks or cash or U.S. postage stamps.
- Mailing address:
Arthur Vidro, editor
Old-Time Detection
2 Ellery Street
Claremont, New Hampshire 03743
- Web address:

- See the following for off-site information relating to some of the items covered in this issue:
A brief GAD Wiki listing for Raymond Leslie Goldman is HERE and the same for James Ronald is HERE.
Kenneth Millar was better known as Ross Macdonald, as it says HERE.
Alice Tilton also had another name; her book COLD STEAL is reviewed HERE.
A bibliography for John Bude is HERE, while Les Blatt's podcast review of THE CORNISH COAST MURDER is HERE.
Considerably less information about the COLONEL MARCH series than that turned up by James Keirans is HERE.
- ONTOS detailed Issue #37 of OLD-TIME DETECTION HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

“People Do Get Away with Murder, Diana”

By Melodie Johnson Howe (b. 1943).
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2011. 167 pages: 9 stories.
For sale HERE.
In the character of Diana Poole, Melodie Johnson Howe has created a sharp instrument that penetrates the razzle dazzle facade of the New Hollywood to expose the not-so-admirable innards of Tinseltown, especially bringing to light the desperation of all those creative (and some dismally uncreative) people in the community to succeed at all costs.

Diana Poole is not by any means a sleuth in the traditional sense. She does not seek out the criminal situations in which she constantly becomes embroiled. Just by knowing somebody or trying to earn a living as an actress is sometimes enough to get her into a bind. Watching her come upon the truth — for she is fearfully honest — constitutes the bulk of each of these stories.

In all good mysteries, the truth does come out eventually. For Diana, however, finding the truth seldom brings comfort — and never joy.

Fred Allen famously said, “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.” Be that as it may, the people Diana encounters have sincerity aplenty, being sincere enough about their personal ambitions to stop at nothing, not even murder.

Regular readers of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (EQMM) might be familiar with Diana Poole’s adventures, but it’s good to have them collected in one place.

Parental warning: This book contains strong language and adult situations.



Introduction by Melodie Johnson Howe.

(1) “Dirty Blonde” (SISTERS IN CRIME 4, 1991):
I knew one thing. Gordon would never kill himself. He wasn’t that thoughtful.
Long ago Diana quit her Hollywood career for the married life. Now, twenty years later, her husband has died, leaving Diana in a financial lurch and forcing her to return to the only career she knows: acting. Forty-something actresses, however, aren’t in great demand in Tinseltown, and she has to settle for anything that comes along, such as the small part in a new production being offered by an old acquaintance, a womanizing producer who has lusted after her for years. Further complicating matters are the producer’s jealous wife and his pliant mistress. Almost predictably, the peccant husband gets himself murdered, and Diana winds up on the short list of prime suspects.

(2) “Another Tented Evening” (EQMM, March 1996):
“He said it was an uneasy laughter. That if I sang I would remind my guests of how untalented they really are. And how much money they earn for being so untalented. I grabbed the candelabra, turned, and swung it at his head.”
Somewhere inside everyone there must be a snapping point, a place where reason and tolerance are abandoned and replaced with cold fury. At an elaborate and expensive Hollywood party celebrating a producer’s wife’s birthday, Diana will be a reluctant witness to such a moment.

(3) “Killing the Sixties” (EQMM, June 1999):
“Someone wants me dead,” he said flatly, reaching into his pocket for a crumbled piece of paper.
He handed it to me. Large letters, cut from a glossy magazine, were glued to the paper forming the sentence: "YOU TOOK MY LIFE."
Back in her teen years, the sixties, Diana had served as the inspiration for a hit song. Now nearly three decades later, the man credited with that tune, a former boyfriend, wants back into Diana’s life. As a survivor of a liver transplant, he thinks he can recapture the lost glory of the past, but only with Diana at his side. What he fails to remember, however, is that he stole something all those years ago, a theft that will pose a threat potentially fatal to both his self-conceit and his life.

(4) “Facing Up” (EQMM, July 2004):
“I can’t see my reflection in her face.”
An aging film actress asks Diana for help. She is feeling alienated from her daughter and blames her son-in-law, a plastic surgeon, for it — and she also thinks he may be intending to kill her (the mother). When the elderly actress is found dead, apparently of an accidental fall downstairs, Diana finds herself mixed up in a situation replete with enough simmering passions, conflicting desires, and emotional entanglements to fill an entire season of your average soap opera.

(5) “Tiffany Blue” (EQMM, March 2002):
She wore a quilted blue bathrobe and stared at the gun in her hand as if she’d picked up the wrong evening bag.
“He lost his touch,” she said.
Finding a pair of expensive Tiffany earrings in a snow bank wouldn’t necessarily portend anything ominous; but when one of Diana’s co-stars discovers the lost sparklers, she unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that will culminate in murder.

(6) “The Talking Dead” (EQMM, June 2003):
“If TV saps your soul, what does murder do to it?”
“TV is worse. Trust me.”
Sometimes creative people can feel neglected despite their brilliance, but especially so in Hollywood. Diana’s friend and neighbor, a television writer, is having an affair with the married star of her show, and everyone knows it, even the man’s wife. But which one of these people will feel offended enough to commit murder?

(7) “The Good Daughter” (EQMM, August 2007):
“You’re a detective. Doesn’t it bother you that she could get away with this?”
“People do get away with murder, Diana.”
To keep their positions of power and influence some individuals will stop at nothing. A ruthless talent agent of Diana’s acquaintance and her defiant daughter have a bitter quarrel, but it is a young actor who winds up dead on the carpet. Diana, sympathizing with the daughter, tries but fails to be of help to her — or to prevent another killing.

(8) “What’s It Worth?” (EQMM, December 2008):
“Why are you holding that Oscar by its head?”
“I’m solving a murder. And you’re in the way.”
When Diana lands a part in a new movie after another actress has been fired by the temperamental director, she dares hope her struggling career has taken a turn for the better — but when that discharged actress is murdered, Diana suddenly finds herself a suspect. Figuring there’s one fairly sure way of clearing it all up, Diana sets a trap for the killer, not anticipating there could be more than one . . .

(9) “A Hollywood Ending” (EQMM, July 2009):
She had the sweet oval face of the girl-next-door. But with the gun and the bad bleach job she looked like a young woman in a Norman Rockwell illustration gone horribly wrong.
Diana encounters her past in the form of a young woman with whom she once worked years ago. Bizarrely, this person insists that she is Diana’s daughter, even brandishing a gun to prove it. After this harrowing experience, Diana will have good reason to hope she hasn’t had a frightening glimpse of her own future.

- Melodie Johnson Howe's website is HERE, and her filmography is HERE.

Category: Crime fiction (Tinseltown division)

"Whatever It Takes to Make a Really Good Suspense Writer She Had in Abundance"

By Charlotte Armstrong (1905-69).
Edited by Rick Cypert and Kirby McCauley.
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2014. 318 pages: 13 short stories + 2 novelettes.
For sale HERE.
Charlotte Armstrong is most often associated with the HIBK ("Had-I-But-Known") school of Gothic suspense writing, but her work cannot be so easily categorized; as Night Call proves, whatever it takes to make a really good suspense writer she had in abundance.

Our editors Cypert and McCauley inform us that after trying her hand at more conventional mysteries, Armstrong took an editor's advice and started producing one-off stories about people under stress who, if circumstances don't change, will face ruin or injury or worse. Armstrong characterized suspense writing as "juggling hope, time, and fear," and the stories in this volume amply illustrate what she meant.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that "the good detective story is in its nature a good domestic story," and the same can be said of Charlotte Armstrong's tales of suspense. The common, ordinary, human-scale world is the stage upon which some of the most disturbing and harrowing events occur in her stories, making the reader, if even for just a moment, reflect that there but for the grace of God . . . .

As Curt Evans has noted (see "Resources" below), it's a mistake to lump Armstrong's tales in with what is neologistically termed "suburban noir," since true "noir" is hopeless, fatalistic; for Armstrong's characters, however, there is always hope and often, despite all odds, a happy ending.

Night Call is Crippen & Landru's 35th volume in their Lost Classics series, and a fine example of book publishing it is, including a scholarly bibliography and a personal memoir of Charlotte Armstrong, with only a very small number of typos.


The stories:


(1) "Mink Coat, Very Cheap" (EQMM [Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine], 1964) - Young and innocent Anabel Simpson innocently answers a want ad but finds herself under suspicion of being a thief and gets embroiled in a criminal conspiracy that results in murder.

(2) "From Out of the Garden" (EQMM, 1968) - Journalist Maude Seton is determined to get the full scoop on what really happened fifteen years ago at the residence of famous stage actress Elizabeth Rose, who has been missing since that fateful night when her daughter was nearly killed; little does Maude suspect, however, what a large part she will play in the final act of the tragedy.

(3) "Protector of Travelers" (EQMM, 1965) - Toby and Ann Hartman are enjoying a stay on one of Mexico's sunny beaches with a business associate when he suddenly dies; not sure what to do, Toby and Ann cross back into the United States with the body, only to have their car stolen along with the corpse. Unless they figure out something soon, they're in for a world of trouble with the authorities.

(4) "The Other Shoe" (EQMM, 1962) - Jenny Olcutt and Blair Meaghan are attending a house party held by Jenny's rich but detestable step-sister Celia when Blair and Celia, business partners, have a bitter public quarrel. What's worse, Jenny and Blair later find Celia strangled, and neither one has an alibi; foolishly, they conspire to invent one, which leads to even greater complications, especially for Jenny, who unexpectedly assumes the role of Cinderella in the murder of her wicked step-sister.

(5) "A Matter of Timing" (EQMM, 1966) - Jane has finished her shopping and is about to get into her car when a man with a knife tries to kidnap her, but nothing — not even this — is going to keep her from a very important appointment.


(6) "The Splintered Monday" (EQMM, 1966) - Sarah Brady's sister Alice had enjoyed poor health most of her life; it was her way of controlling her world, by manipulating those close to her. But now Alice is dead, and Sarah senses something is very wrong with the surviving family members, something Sarah can't quite pin down, something that insistently points to murder.

(7) "The Case for Miss Peacock" (EQMM, 1965) - Miss Mary Peacock, librarian, retired, has only recently moved to California for her health; she's minding her own business when two policemen escort her to the scene of a crime where the victim swears up and down that Miss Peacock tied her up and robbed her. In the investigation that follows, the fact that Miss Peacock is so ordinary will cause no end of frustration for the detective looking into the lifestyle of our retired librarian.

(8) "The Cool Ones" (EQMM, 1967) - It looks like curtains for Mrs. Finney, age 75, when she is kidnaped by two thugs who, as she well knows, don't intend to let her live once they get the ransom money; but the criminals have seriously underestimated how clever an apparently helpless grandmother with an interest in puzzles can be.


(9) "Night Call" (EQMM, 1969) - In the wee hours of the morning Dr. David Blair receives a phone call from a woman he'd had a thing for years ago begging him for help, but when he arrives at the isolated farmhouse he discovers that he has walked into a dangerous situation involving a criminal plot to assassinate someone. Blair must use all his wits if he is to save his patient, prevent the assassination, and not get killed in the process.

(10) "More Than One Kind of Luck" (EQMM, 1967) - Charles Castle has grand plans for self-enrichment: wine and dine a rich old lady, kill her quickly (because he knows he can't go through with his original scheme of marrying her and her $2 million), and make off with her diamonds. Castle's plan runs smoothly until a careless snip by a barber's scissors changes everything.

(11) "St. Patrick's Day in the Morning" (EQMM, 1960) - Struggling playwright Mitch Brown does the Good Samaritan thing by helping a drunken woman from passing out on the midnight streets of L.A. and thinks no more of it. Weeks later, however, Mitch will see how closely he has come to a charge of being a blackmailer, not to mention his involvement in murder.

(12) "The Light Next Door" (EQMM, 1969) - Sometimes next door neighbors can be a royal pain; for Howard and Stella Lamboys this is certainly the case as conflicts become more frequent and contentious with the folks on the other side of the fence — but, then, Howard and Stella don't have the slightest inkling of what their neighbors are hiding upstairs.

(13) "The Vise" (previously unpublished) - To know the future in every personal detail could be appealing to some, but to others such as Roger Dewey it is a curse leading to a madness that even death itself cannot cancel. [Very Lovecraftian, this one.]


(14) "The Second Commandment" (EQMM, 1967) - On a dark, foggy night newlyweds Reverend Hugh Macroy and his wife Sarah stop their car briefly on a hillside to answer nature's call, but tragically Sarah falls to her death. While the local police suspect foul play, the inquest rules it an accident. For Hugh, however, it all proves emotionally devastating, causing him to lose faith in himself as a minister and to seek peace in an asylum. He would have to wait years for it, but one day someone will come forward who knows exactly what happened that night in the dark, in the fog.

(15) "Man in the Road" (previously unpublished) - It's a cold February midnight and Hallie White, now living in New York, is returning to her small desert hometown when from out of nowhere a man jumps into her path and she hits him; in the dark beside the road, the wounded man urges her to push on to town for help, which she does . . . but when it arrives, the victim is dead. Hallie's spirits take a beating, of course, but things are made even worse when some of the locals start treating her like a pariah. It will take the policeman's instincts of an old flame to change this tragic "accident" into something far more sinister.

- Curt Evans has a review of Night Call HERE.
- The Golden Age of Detection [GAD] Wiki entry for Armstrong is HERE, and the Wikipedia page for her is HERE.
- Hollywood didn't ignore Charlotte Armstrong; see HERE for more.

Category: Crime fiction

"She Had a Marvellous Talent for Weaving Elegant Mysteries Around Middle-class Characters in a Traditional English Setting"

By E. X. Ferrars (1907-95).
Edited by John Cooper.
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2012. 194 pages: 17 stories.
For sale HERE.
Morna Doris MacTaggart (1907-95) devoted her writing career to detective fiction. For some as yet unexplained reason, she was known as Elizabeth Ferrars in the United Kingdom and E. X. Ferrars on the American side of the Atlantic.

From 1940 until her death, she produced 71 detective novels and 30 short stories. Once again, Douglas Greene's Crippen & Landru Publishers have done mystery fans a great service by putting together the 17 stories that have never before been collected. The results are well worth your time and money.

In one story, Ferrars has a character who is basically a stand-in for her say: "I know I bring in a murder now and then, just to keep things going, but I make it happen among nice people, living in the suburbs, nice, cultivated people with nice comfortable incomes, the sort of people, actually, who in real life practically never take to violence." As editor John Cooper remarks: "This exactly sums up the type of detective novel that Ferrars herself usually wrote."

Understandably, then, it's the rare character in a Ferrars story who isn't compromised in some way — quite a few of them are surprised at themselves when they do evil without being schooled in it. In Ferrars's fiction, the world exists in many shades of gray. But while a villain might seem to get away with it sometimes, Ferrars frequently hints that somewhere, some time down the road, ineluctable justice will be meted out.

Roughly half of the stories in Casebook can be classified as whodunits, withholding solutions until near the end. The six tales featuring Jonas P. Jonas, a professional investigator, fall into this category, as do several others with amateur (and unsuspecting and occasionally unwilling) sleuths. The rest of the stories fit into generic crime fiction, where the emphasis is primarily on the criminal and his/her psychology and less on the crime itself.



The Jonas P. Jonas Stories — Whodunits:

(1) "The Case of the Two Questions" (1958):

Uncle Jonas, a garrulous old gentleman now retired, pesters his niece, a writer, to record his adventures as an investigator, convinced that they are worth memorializing.

Jonas's first case involves the murder of a wealthy man. The entire problem centers on how someone of middle age and in poor health could have covered a hundred yards in less than five minutes without breathing hard after shooting the victim, and how this same person could have driven a car through shallow water without getting the tires wet. If that seems impossible to you, Uncle Jonas has a far simpler solution.

(2) "The Case of the Blue Bowl" (1958):

Uncle Jonas reminisces to his reluctant niece about the murder of Emily Toombs, an elderly woman who lived alone. All of the neighbors are convinced Emily's nephew, an antiques dealer, did her in, but several things make Jonas doubtful, including the fact that Emily had cancelled her milk delivery but not her mail; the discovery of a milk bottle and the handle of a cheap teacup; and the discordant fact that she had apparently used an expensive bowl to secure a note to the milkman. The supreme irony of it all, though, is that the killer had slashed her mattress in a frantic but fruitless search for hidden loot, never suspecting that Emily's wealth was everywhere but in the bedding.

(3) "The Case of the Auction Catalogue" (1958):

Uncle Jonas's eccentric reading habits help him clear an innocent man of suspicion of murder aboard a train. After a woman is found dead, everyone suspects that extremely agitated man who had left the train just before the crime was discovered. 

Jonas, however, works from seemingly inconsequential facts — such as that bag in the "wrong" place, misplaced cigarette butts, and the shifting angle of the sun — to eliminate the obvious suspect and finger the real culprit.

(4) "The Case of the Left Hand" (1958):

Uncle Jonas recalls the difficult time he had trailing an escaped criminal. His main problem is having to decide which of two equally likely men is the escapee, since this individual is a master of disguises. The solution ultimately boils down to a half-eaten roll on a plate.

(5) "Invitation to Murder - On the Party Line" (1958):

When a dotty old lady insists that she has been overhearing phone conversations plotting a murder, everyone, including Uncle Jonas, concludes she's just barmy. Nevertheless, on the off chance there might be something to it, Jonas stakes out the place — and discovers that a crime really is in the making. "You know," Jonas tells his niece, "that was one of the fastest bits of thinking I ever did in my life. It was suddenly seeing the way all the bits fit together."

(6) "A Lipstick Smear Points to the Killer" (1958):

Sometimes, without meaning to, people interfere with the normal course of justice. Uncle Jonas remembers a case of murder — barbituate poisoning — and the three prime suspects: a housekeeper, a grandson, and a niece of a wealthy elderly gentleman. 

One of them is guilty, while one of them, literally in the dark, tampers with forensic evidence that would inculpate the murderer.

Other Stories:

(7) "Custody" (1990) — Crime Fiction:
Ray Bagstock did not murder Mrs. Moira Crane. The crime that he had in mind was something quite different.
(8) "The Trap" (1961) — Crime Fiction:
"She said she thought she'd done the only thing there was to do."
"She can't have meant murder!"
"Then who else did it? You? Me?"
(9) "Stop Thief!" (1992) — Crime Fiction:
Lunging across the kitchen, he seized her round the neck as she stood at the telephone and shook her and shook her until he knew that her neck was broken. She had replaced the receiver: there was no one to hear her screams.
(10) "The Long Way Round" (1972) — Crime Fiction:
The sight of death did not frighten him, for he had seen enough of it to be hardened during the war. But as he heard the angry bark of the gun in his hand, he felt the first real fear. But the echo died and silence followed. Somewhere not far away a hen cackled loudly . . . .
(11) "Fly, Said the Spy" (1983) — Espionage Fiction:
They had promised that he had nothing to fear, that they would arrange his getaway. They had promised to look after him to start a new life. But he had never quite trusted them to do these things.
(12) "Instrument of Justice" (1981) — Crime Fiction:
In its silence she first began to feel the real horror of the situation. Here she was with food and wine in her hands for a woman who lay in a room downstairs with her body cooling and her head battered in.
(13) "Suicide?" (1963) — Whodunit:
"Well, why would a murderer go and leave the lights on?" Buller asked. "You'd think it's the last thing he'd do."
(14) "Look for Trouble" (1964) — Whodunit:
"So there's trouble again, is there? Same sort of trouble?"
The foreign accent had quite disappeared from his voice.
"Worse, Mr. Jones," said Inspector Fryer flatly. "It isn't burglary this time, it's murder."
(15) "Justice in My Own Hands" (1988) — Whodunit:
A revolver, or an automatic pistol, or whatever it was, was lying on the floor just beside the bed and one of her hands hung down over the edge of the bed, almost touching the gun. Marion was in the middle of the room, shrieking.
(16) "The Handbag" (1960) — Whodunit:
She walked straight on, holding out one hand.
"Give it to me," she repeated.
The man in the doorway seemed suddenly petrified, watching her come. Then the gun pointed straight at her.
(17) "Sequence of Events" (1977) — Whodunit Spoof:
His death had seemed a pure waste, a brutal and senseless tragedy. He had been on his way, late one summer evening, to post some letters in a letter-box near his cottage, when he had been set upon by some person or persons unknown and battered to death.
A. Sources

B. Appendix 1: Novels (with series sleuths) and Short Stories by E. X. Ferrars

C. Appendix 2: Critics' Comments

- Curt Evans has a review of the Casebook HERE, and Les Blatt's podcast review is HERE.
- The GAD Wiki page for E. X. Ferrars is HERE.

Categories: Detective and crime fiction

Monday, May 25, 2015

When Crime and Fantasy Collide

By Vincent Cornier (1898-1976).
Edited by Mike Ashley.
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2011. 163 pages: 11 stories.
For sale HERE.
Vincent Cornier (real name: Vincent Corner) was a British newspaperman and mystery writer who could, on occasion, produce stories with the complexity and atmospherics usually associated with John Dickson Carr.

Doug Greene at Crippen & Landru has collected most of the known stories featuring Cornier's series sleuth Barnabas Hildreth and his "Watson", newspaper editor Geoffrey Ingram, with indefatigable researcher Mike Ashley acting as able editor.

If it weren't for Frederic Dannay, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM), Cornier's fiction might never have come to the attention of American readers. Dannay reprinted the stories in the immediate post-World War II period, after having Cornier revise them — and/or changing them himself. (Note: It would be interesting to compare the original stories with their EQMM "revisions" to see how many changes, if any, Dannay wrought on them — he was known for making editorial alterations at will. One story in particular, "The Monster", reads a lot like an Ellery Queen production.)

Regardless of that, you can expect to be entertained by all of the stories in The Duel of Shadows. The writing is smooth, even if the ideas are baffling to the point of being outrageous.



Introduction by Mike Ashley.

(1) "The Stone Ear" (1933):

Newspaperman Ingram's first encounter with Barnabas Hildreth (a.k.a. "The Black Monk") occurs when Ingram is employed to help a close relative of Hildreth's record his memoirs as a magistrate. Although it seems impossible, the retired judge dies only a few moments after a rare and valuable chalice simply vanishes from the dying man's hand. Since the deceased had been taking digitalin for some time, the coroner's inquest concludes it was a heart attack, but the Black Monk is convinced it's murder, and sets out to prove it. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 81.)

(2) "The Brother of Heaven" (1933):

It's a long way from the opulent courts of Mandarin China to a decrepit warehouse on the Thames, but a tong enforcer has managed to make it that far, only to be found dead, impossibly stabbed in the back, with an expression of bliss on his face. Barnabas Hildreth's sponge-like mind will serve him well as he unravels the threads of a case of theft, and flight, and murder centering on exquisite, but fatal, fleurs de  mal. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 106.)

(3) "The Silver Quarrel" (1933):

A treasure, thought to be long-lost and forever inaccessible, prompts an avaricious physician to enlist the Black Monk's assistance in trying to find it. Somewhere in one of England's stately homes lurks what must be something worth all the mumbo jumbo and jiggery-pokery surrounding it, bringing to mind the ancient Musgrave ritual — and, in like fashion, a murderous deadfall awaits anyone foolish enough to try to penetrate its secret. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 121.)

(4) "The Throat of Green Jasper" (1934):

Legends abound concerning the looting of Egyptian burial chambers by Anglo-American expeditions intent on fame — and sometimes, fortune. Legends also reference curses which such tamperings entail, like the ones associated with the excavations of the tombs of Prince Setephra and his faithful wife Nefer-Teratha, and of the abnormally large number of deaths among the expedition's members. For Ingram, however, most memorable of all will be his encounter with the most beautiful — and dangerous — woman he's ever laid eyes on.

(5) "The Duel of Shadows" (1934; revised 1947 as "The Shot That Waited"):

Mr. Henry Westmacott of Derbyshire has just settled down in his comfy chair when he is shot — with absolutely no one in the room with him or in any possible line of sight. A most unusual projectile is the bullet that strikes him and ricochets into his wireless set: Not only does it look remarkably like a miniature of the planet Saturn when photographed, but, as Barnabas Hildreth will discover, it was fired 222 years, 2 months, 1 week, 5 days, 12 hours, and 47 minutes before Mr. Westmacott mistakenly thought it safe to kick back and enjoy a radio concert. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 115.)

(6) "The Catastrophe in Clay" (1935; revised 1946 as "The Smell That Killed"):

The discovery of a dead body wouldn't normally call for Secret Service involvement, but this particular corpse isn't merely unusual, it's unique; hence the attendance of Barnabas Hildreth, with his good friend Ingram in tow. Although he has no inkling of it at the time, Hildreth's panoptic grasp of arcane knowledge will prove essential in frustrating an insane plot to destroy the world. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 88.)

(7) "The Mantle That Laughed" (1935; revised 1947 as "The Cloak That Laughed"):

An irascible sea captain has fallen on hard times and, to forestall imminent starvation, is forced to sell off a marvel of handicraft that he obtained years before in an expedition to the untamed wilds of Mexico: a cloak with the uncanny ability to laugh and sing and thunder menacingly. The old duffer doesn't realize it, but he is attempting to unload something with the power to maim, and kill, and keep on killing. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 114.)

(8) "The Tabasheeran Pearls" (1937):

The suicide of a wealthy Japanese pearl merchant would ordinarily be a tragedy of limited scope, but — when coupled with certain financial "arrangements" with the daughter-in-law of a highly-placed Whitehall official — his death has implications for the government at large. It's only after a painstaking investigation conducted by Barnabas Hildreth that a secret process is discovered, a process which could wreck the world's economy and almost certainly lead to war.

(9) "The Gilt Lily" (1938):

Within the innermost sanctums of Whitehall, maximum security measures are at their most stringent and the possibility of penetrating them virtually nil. Nevertheless, someone has managed to do it, resulting in a potentially devastating security leak. Barnabas Hildreth is tasked with not only determining who did it but also how it was done, employing his encyclopedic knowledge of plant life and the assistance of a charming young lineal descendant of the infamous Medicis.

(10) "The Monster" (1951):

A hideous "Thing" — as Barnabas Hildreth calls it — has long prowled the Westmorland heath, terrorizing the inhabitants and, on occasion, committing murder. Now, decades after its birth, it will finally come under the close scrutiny of the authorities. Only there's a catch: No matter how many crimes the Thing might commit, it will always be beyond the Law's reach — because, due to the Thing's very nature, the Law cannot in good conscience punish the innocent. (Online at The Luminist Archives HERE; go to text page 65.)

(11) "Oh Time, In Your Flight" (1935; revised 1951):

A good friend of Barnabas Hildreth is cold bloodedly murdered for 27,000 pounds' worth of jewels, but Hildreth's best suspect has an airtight alibi, with many witnesses honestly attesting to his whereabouts at the time of the shooting. Thanks to Hildreth's knowledge of horology and his dead friend's cultural background, however, he's able to break the killer's alibi in, shall we say, a timely manner.

- Mike Grost's A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection has more discussion about Vincent Cornier HERE, as does Francis M. Nevins on the Mystery*File weblog HERE.

Category: Crime and fantasy fiction

"Just Us, the Cameras, and Those Wonderful People Out There in the Dark"

By Loren D. Estleman (b. 1952).
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2011. 210 pages: 14 stories.
For sale HERE.
He dreamed he was riding in a beer truck with a pistol under his arm. The cases in the back contained reels of film, not beer. He was bootlegging them across the border between the past and the present, and Father Time was waiting for him at a roadblock with a tommygun that ticked like a clock when he squeezed the trigger.
Valentino is a die-hard classic movie fanatic who through no coincidence works at UCLA's Film Preservation Department searching for, compiling, and restoring old films. Occasionally a movie thought to be "lost" turns up (possibly as many as 90 percent of all motion pictures made before nitrate film was phased out are considered irretrievably lost); when that happens, Valentino soars into the stratosphere (both literally and figuratively) in his worldwide hunt for rare films.

But sometimes his elation is checked by having to deal with the owners of these "lost" treasures, and that's when it gets really interesting. ("Interesting" as in the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times.") In fact, on rare occasions it can get downright dangerous. At such times the words on Valentino's business card ("Film detective") take 
on a whole new meaning.

Loren D. Estleman's smooth prose truly enhances these stories. Every aspiring writer would benefit from studying and emulating it.

For mystery fans a note: These stories are not classical fair play whodunits, but they are fine examples of crime fiction.



Preface: Author Estleman reminisces about his childhood love affair with old movies and how his character, Valentino, came to be.

(1) "Dark Lady Down" (1998):

Valentino makes an appointment with an actress whose star has long since faded. She has what are perhaps the only surviving prints of one of her movies, and as a film historian Valentino is anxious not to let an old classic film fade into oblivion. When he gets to her expensive villa, however, he learns she is dead of an apparent drug overdose—but there are several incongruous details that make Valentino suspect murder . . . .

(2) "The Frankenstein Footage" (1998):

Valentino receives an unwelcome phone call from a washed-up actor-friend-turned-pest who's constantly bumming money off him. Valentino cuts him off, unaware that his bothersome friend will soon be murdered, Mob-style, and he himself will become embroiled in a devious plot involving a quarter-million dollars, screen test footage for the original Frankenstein film, a damsel in distress hanging Saturday cliffhanger-style from the ceiling by her ankles, and two plug-uglies straight out of Central Casting.

(3) "Director's Cut" (1998):

According to the auteur theory, the earliest directorial efforts by established film directors can offer insights into their development as artists. When Valentino contacts a retired motion picture director hoping to purchase the man's student film for preservation by UCLA, he's brusquely rebuffed. Soon thereafter, the director's yacht—or the remaining splinters of it—is found off the coast of Australia, his body never being recovered. Years later, however, that student film resurfaces, so to speak, putting Valentino squarely in the sights of a narcotraficante kingpin who enjoys giving helicopter rides to people with the door open—and no seatbelts.

(4) "The Man in the White Hat" (1999):

An over-the-hill Western movie star engages Valentino to track down a stag film featuring his wife and popular co-star of dozens of oaters. She's dying of cancer; he tells Valentino about how harmful it would be to his charitable efforts should the stag feature be released. But the more Valentino digs into this case, the less he likes it . . . .

(5) "Picture Palace" (2000):

Valentino is in Florence trying to persuade a legendary Italian film director to donate a copy of his masterpiece to the UCLA collection, but he meets with stern disapproval from the man's over-protective wife, who flatly refuses Valentino an interview. The celebrated director's grown-up daughter confides to Valentino her suspicions that something sinister is going on in that household; even though she and her father have been estranged from each other for years, she's concerned there may have been foul play. Valentino is skeptical—until he reviews a videotaped interview with the director . . . .

(6) "The Day Hollywood Stood Still" (2001):

Valentino has been negotiating with a young hack director about the rights to a classic sci-fi movie which his studio has green-lighted for a remake, when the schlockmeister is found dead, beaten to a pulp. This puts Valentino front and center as the prime suspect. His knowledge of film lore will be put to the test as he tries to escape the baleful notice of a young and anything-but-dumb police detective.

(7) "Greed" (2002):

Valentino is looking for a new place to live, and what could be better for a film buff than a movie theater? He eyes an old run-down movie house that's for sale but almost passes it up, until he finds a delightful surprise in the film vault: missing nitrate reels from an old von Stroheim classic. A little later, however, another surprise is discovered in the dilapidated movie palace, and it's far from delightful: a human skeleton, all that remains of a man murdered nearly half a century ago.

(8) "Bombshell" (2003):

Valentino is hoping to acquire a print of one of Elizabeth Taylor's old—and bad—films from a retired actress who had quit the movies due in part to being superstitious about the Hollywood "curse" on beautiful blonde actresses, like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, who mysteriously died prematurely. Valentino arrives at his retired friend's place, only to find her dead under circumstances nearly identical to those surrounding La Monroe's demise. But she's only the first victim of a serial killer whose apparently insane aim is to replicate the deaths of as many Tinsel Town blonde bombshells as possible.

(9) "Shooting Big Ed" (2005):

After seventy-five years in limbo, a never-released classic gangster film unexpectedly emerges; Valentino jumps at the chance to view this casualty of the Hays Office, but is even more delighted at the prospect of actually purchasing it for the UCLA archives collection. However, this particular movie has a baffling and somewhat sordid history connected with it: The man playing the mob boss was, as it turned out, in real life one of Scarface Al Capone's "proteges" from Chicago who just happened to land the plum role in a Hollywood feature, thereby rupturing his connections with the syndicate. Big Al was never known for his patience with insubordinate subordinates, so when our leading man suddenly went missing just before the film's release (along with thirty grand in cash) foul play was naturally suspected. Now, eight decades later, Valentino stumbles over a cold case involving a leading lady's rapid fade into obscurity and an actor's finest performance, not just on film, but of a lifetime.

(10) "Garbo Writes" (2007):

The famous Swedish actress Greta Garbo was an inveterate letter writer. One of her confidantes was married to the owner of a chain of department stores who failed to adjust to the disruptive economic impact of the new shopping malls. She has died, apparently of a heart attack, leaving numerous letters in Garbo's handwriting, as well as a short, believed-lost promotional film featuring Garbo in her very first appearance before a camera. It is the latter—Garbo's first film ever—that attracts Valentino's attention, as he tries to persuade the widower to donate it to the UCLA collection; but it's the former—Garbo's highly personal letters—that will trigger a double murder.

(11) "The Profane Angel" (2007):

The very first appearance of a famous Hollywood starlet (see "Garbo Writes") would be of special interest to any film buff, and Valentino is no exception. A silent feature with a youthful Carole Lombard previously not known to exist draws Valentino to the home of a sickly cigarette addict who not only claims she has the missing film but also—contrary to what history has recorded—that she is Carole Lombard.

(12) "Wild Walls" (2007):

Valentino wings it to Ireland in search of some Depression-era comedies that have miraculously managed to escape the cruel scissors of heartless film editors worldwide. The principal star of those comedies is now a wizened, almost humorless old man whose personal problems—acquisitive heirs and alimony payments to multiple ex-wives—have left him strapped for cash. However, before Valentino can clinch the deal there's a murder, and the former child star becomes the prime suspect.

(13) "Preminger's Gold" (2009):

Half a century ago a Hollywood movie production descended on Michigan's Upper Peninsula to cinematize a best-selling novel, Anatomy of a Murder. The director of the film, Otto Preminger, was infamous for being crude, lewd, and rude—yet brilliant in his own way. While the film was shooting in a small town on the U.P., a young indigene took a couple of hundred feet of home movies of the cast and crew. Now, fifty years later, the prospect of adding this background material to UCLA's Film Preservation collection has brought Valentino to Michigan to negotiate with the amateur photographer, who is now old enough for Social Security but clearly not content with his meager government pension. Soon enough, Valentino will become embroiled in a strange, apparently crack-brained scheme to recover nearly a million dollars in gold that legend says was looted from a local bank by none other than the Depression Era's public enemy number one.

(14) "The List" (2010):

Valentino is in Tijuana trying to purchase a collection of old—and not very good—gangster films produced in Mexico by an expatriate American director who had been driven from Hollywood because of his association with Communist front groups in the '30s and '40s. To his shock and dismay, Valentino learns the director is dead; among his few remaining effects Valentino discovers a faded old notebook written entirely in indecipherable code. Valentino doesn't realize at the time that he possesses something that could not only rewrite Hollywood history but also ruin the lives of many still working there.

- FictionMags has an Estleman bibliography HERE.

Category: Film detection

"We're Going to Murder Him Again"

By Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970).
Edited and introduction by Bill Pronzini.
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2010. 268 pages: 13 stories.
For sale HERE.
When most people hear the name Erle Stanley Gardner, they immediately think of his most famous character creation, Perry Mason, but he was also an incredibly prolific pulp fiction writer.

Kevin Burton Smith tells us:
The fact is, before he'd even written a single novel, Gardner was one of America's most successful writers. He was truly the king of the pulps, writing millions and millions of words, cranking out a steady barrage of characters in everything from Black Mask to Argosy. Most of his stories dealt with one side or the other of the law (and often, both). A contemporary of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett, Gardner had the longest run of any author in Black Mask, and wrote more stories for the magazine (more than a few under pseudonyms) than any other author. In fact, he probably created more characters, particularly continuing characters, for the magazine than any one else. Asked once why he wrote, Gardner confessed that "I write to make money, and I write to give the reader sheer fun." He succeeded on both counts. He favoured action and dialogue over characterization or overly-complicated plots, and tended to stress "speed, situation and suspense." It was just what the pulps wanted. . . . [Consequently h]e created at least three dozen characters for the pulps alone.
 . . . The last year that he wrote exclusively for the pulps, 1932, saw Gardner earning around 20,000 bucks, and that's at a few cents a word! Maybe not a fortune these days, but this was the Depression. To put it in perspective, those are Stephen King-like numbers.
In his pulp days, Gardner was notorious for killing off the final heavies with the last bullet in the hero's gun, which led to some editors teasing him about how all his good guys seemed to be such bad shots. Gardner's alleged explanation? "At three cents a word, every time I say 'Bang' in the story I get three cents. If you think I'm going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents' worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you're nuts."
One of the characters Gardner created for the pulps was The Patent Leather Kid, an unoriginal amalgamation of Zorro, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Gardner's principal contribution to this style of hero—the effete, indolent society fop he pretends to be while his alter ego tirelessly fights criminals and the official authorities when necessary—was to infuse his stories with the hardboiled sensibilities of Depression Era America. Even so, Gardner never let his Patent Leather Kid's exploits veer into sadism: The Kid was always on the side of right, and the reader knew it.

Thanks to Doug Greene at Crippen & Landru for bringing back The Patent Leather Kid and other pulp heroes from their undeserved oblivion.

Parental caution: Mild profanity and violence.

(1) "The Kid Stacks a Deck" (1932):
The touring car vomited a belching hail of death. Little tongues of stabbing flame darted from the cracks in the side curtains of the car.
Then a police bullet found the left rear tire as the car was midway in the turn.
It faltered, swung.
The driver flung his weight against the wheel. A shotgun bellowed, and the driver went limp. The car swung, toppled at the curb, skidded up and over, went sideways across the strip of sidewalk.
Plate glass crashed. Woodwork splintered. Metal screamed as it was wrenched apart.
A local criminal gang really has it in for The Patent Leather Kid and sets up an ambush. The Kid, meanwhile, sets out to prove that robbing a jewelry store equipped with the most up-to-date alarm systems isn't, as the store's owner boasts, "impossible" after all.

(2) "The Kid Passes the Sugar" (1932):
There was the roar of a gun. The Patent Leather Kid pressed the two wire ends together. The naked wires, making a contact, gave forth a blue spark of flame, and then, as the fuse burned out, every light in the place was extinguished.
The sub-machine gun rattled into action. Bullets sang through the store, crashing glass, smashing plaster, ripping long wood splinters.
Someone's gunning for The Kid but kills the wrong person. The Kid sets a trap with a shiny platinum watch as bait and an abused wife as a means of bringing the killer to justice.

(3) "The Kid Wins a Wager" (1932):
"It's the danger of a loss of police prestige that bothers me. This man keeps the underworld on the front page of the newspapers. He's always into something, and he always contrives to create an impression of having laughed at the police just the same as he laughs at the gang leaders.
"That's a dangerous bit of psychology. It won't be long until other people think they can run circles around the police department with that same casual ease. It makes us ridiculous. Why, dammit, here this man goes and gets the police to do his killings!"
The Patent Leather Kid sets out to help a woman in trouble with her boss, only to come up against another burglar who's quite capable of framing The Kid for his own crimes. If he's clever enough, The Kid might be able to escape the frame—and collect a large bet in the bargain.

(4) "The Kid Throws a Stone" (1932):
Then The Kid did a strange thing. He rummaged around the store until he found an unused storage drawer in a wrapping counter. There were bits of paper and string in this drawer, but the dust, the general mustiness, proclaimed that it had been long unused.
The Kid dumped the contents of the gem trays into this drawer. They made a glittering assortment of scintillating jewels, stacked in the dingy interior of an unused, dust-covered, cobwebby drawer.
Somebody's running around pretending to be The Patent Leather Kid, pulling off robberies in fancy Chryslers and making no effort to be subtle about it. The Kid must lay a trap for his doppelganger that, if successful, will not only clear him with the police but also aid a distressed damsel he's never met.

(5) "The Kid Makes a Bid" (1933):
There was the burly detective sitting in a swivel chair, his arms thrust under the arms of the chair, the wrists handcuffed behind him. The position was uncomfortable in the extreme, but effective insofar as it kept the man from moving. On the floor, lying on his back with his wrists lashed to the legs of a desk, his ankles tied to the wheels which were on the corner of a big, old-fashioned safe, lay Fancher Middleton, a man of sixty-three years of age, hard and solid, his glittering, greedy eyes staring malevolent hatred.
After several attempts at robbing a jewelry store, a thief apparently succeeds, taking some stones and cash with him and leaving two of the store's assistants hog-tied with ropes and handcuffs. The Kid's suspicions are aroused by the way the crime was committed, and he performs a rough "experiment" on an unscrupulous businessman, thereby thwarting two crimes simultaneously.

(6) "The Kid Muscles In" (1933):
The night was calm and peaceful.
Of a sudden, the frogs by the side of the road ceased their interrupted chirping. The distance snarled with the sound of tires and the roar of an open exhaust.
"The police," said The Patent Leather Kid, and lit another cigarette.
Two police cars flashed past the intersection, traveling at high speed. The Patent Leather Kid pressed his foot on the starter.
"Well," he said, "we might as well start for home."
The car purred into motion, slid smoothly to the intersection, turned back on the boulevard. The Kid pushed the throttle well down to the floorboards.
From behind them came the sound of gunfire. First an isolated shot or two—then the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun, interspersed with the boom of riot guns.
"Sounds like a Fourth of July celebration," said The Kid.
A doctor is murdered, and the prime suspect—a young man in love with the victim's niece—can't explain away his presence at the crime scene or his fingerprints on the murder weapon. It falls to The Patent Leather Kid to exonerate the falsely-accused in the way he knows best, breaking and entering with intent to catch the real bad guys.

(7) "The Kid Takes a Cut" (1933):
Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the underworld, he was reputed to know more of the inside than any living man. Not that other men hadn't amassed an equal amount of knowledge. They simply hadn't continued to live. Elsewhere, knowledge may be power. But in the underworld, knowledge is a dangerous thing.
An ex-con gets the blame for a jewel robbery he didn't commit. His alibi—that a woman gave him the stones as a reward for a good deed—is, let's be frank, flimsy at best. Only the ex-con's wife can corroborate his story, but the police won't believe a word of it. The Kid must contrive an elaborate scheme involving matching train schedules to prove the man innocent, for otherwise the real thieves will soon be on their merry way.

(8) "The Kid Beats the Gun" (1933):
"You perhaps have forgotten," said J. Barclay McGann, in a tone of voice which would have graced a stage detective exposing the culprit just before the final curtain, "that a sailor ties knots in a distinctive manner. Some of the ropes which tied Mrs. Stanberry were cut free when she was liberated, so that the knots remained in their original condition. You were at one time, Pelton, a sailor. That, in itself, is sufficient to direct suspicion to you, after studying the knots, and the manner in which they were tied. Moreover, in the gag which was used, you doubtless thought you were leaving no clew, but it happens there was a laundry mark upon that gag. I have traced the laundry mark, and find that it was a laundry mark which was placed upon one of your handkerchiefs when you stayed in a hotel in San Francisco eight months ago. I think, therefore, you had better make a clean breast of the whole affair."
A famous—and vastly overrated—criminologist fingers the butler of a rich couple as the one who stole valuable jewels from them. The butler finally confesses, not to the theft, but simply to following orders. The Patent Leather Kid must intervene to prevent a miscarriage of justice and experiences the triple satisfaction of exposing a fraud, deflating an egomaniac's pomposity, and seeing an innocent man cleared.

(9) "The Kid Covers a Kill" (1933):
The night was cold, with just a hint of frost in the air. The stars were blazing steadily downward with frosty brilliance.
Over to the left, the business district of the city was sending a glare of light which was reflected from the impurities in the atmosphere which hung over the skyscrapers. Tall buildings loomed tier on tier of brilliant light. Out in the subdivision, the silence of the autumn night descended as a blanket upon the dark blotches which marked the unsold lots of the subdivision.
The dying woman lay in The Kid's arms and gave her story in whispers which were disconnected, whispers which, at best, were barely audible and which, at times, were interrupted by the noise of the bloody bubbles which came to her lips and broke with a peculiar rattling sound.
The face of The Patent Leather Kid was distorted with sympathy. His fingers stroked the forehead of the dying woman.
Over to one side, standing with bowed, bare head, Bill Brakey, an automatic dangling from either hand, listened attentively and in an attitude of silent reverence.
The man often referred to as The King of the Underworld operates almost entirely with impunity, unhindered by the police. To him, the lives of his victims don't mean very much. But when he brutally murders the sister of one of his underlings, The Patent Leather Kid gets involved—and for The King of the Underworld, that's a very unhealthy development.

(10) "The Kid Clears a Crook" (1934):
"Sometimes," said Heimer, "ice is pretty dangerous to handle, you might get your fingers burnt—that is, if it's hot."
The Patent Leather Kid pulled a chamois-skin bag from his pocket.
"If ice," he said, "didn't get hot at times, no one could make a profit out of it."
A small businessman with a criminal record tries to go straight but runs afoul of organized crime; they get him framed for a jewelry theft—enough of an injustice to attract The Kid's indignant notice. Before it's all over, The Kid will have fenced some hot ice, dodged numerous submachine gun bullets, and tickled a butler.

(11) "The Kid Clips a Coupon" (1934):
They moved as silently as shadows down the side street to the corner, waited until they heard the sound of a car, then peered out at the headlights that showed first as two gleaming eyes of white fire, then purred past, giving them a glimpse of the big sedan as it slid smoothly to a halt . . . . A man emerged from the car as automobile headlights came in sight down the street. The man paused to adjust a mask about the upper part of his face. From the interior of the big sedan came the sound of a woman's scream, a scream that was promptly suppressed.
A wealthy elderly woman has been murdered—by a tramp, according to the police—but The Kid doesn't think so. The whole thing smacks of an inside job—a case of discovered embezzlement—and The Kid must be proactive to head off another murder, even if it means kidnapping someone himself.

(12) "The Kid Cooks a Goose" (1934):
"What's the idea, Kid?" Brakey asked.
"We're going to commit a murder," The Kid told him.
"Who are we going to murder?"
"Sam Ashcroft."
"But he's already dead."
"We're going to murder him again," The Kid said grimly.
The underworld and the police have a common nemesis—and common cause to rid themselves of him—namely The Patent Leather Kid. The cops have let it be known—through unofficial channels, sub rosa, you understand—that if the criminal class terminates The Kid, they're willing to cut the crooks some slack. When The Kid receives news of this ad hoc arrangement to bump him off, it's without joyful enthusiasm. His characteristic response is to devise an impromptu plan that will not only clear him of a murder frame, neutralize several underworld kingpins, and save a woman's life, but also give a guinea pig his big chance to be a crime buster.

(13) "The Kid Steals a Star" (1934):
They ran back through the alley. Suddenly The Kid, in the lead, paused, gave a low whistle. The three flattened themselves into a doorway.
A car slid to a stop. Grim, purposeful men debouched from the car, came down through the alley on a run. The car drove for another half block, came to a stop.
"We'd better wait here," The Kid said, "until the shooting starts, and then we can be interested spectators."
During the course of a robbery at a jewelry store, a policeman is killed and the night watchman gets the blame. It gets worse for him when he foolishly tries to skip town; actually, he's been perfectly framed by the clever boss of a criminal gang. In order to clear the watchman and catch the crime boss in the act of swindling a jeweler, The Kid, with the able assistance of his bodyguard and an admiring telephone operator, must concoct a three-act "play" starring gangsters, gemstones, guns, and—if everything goes according to plan—a happy ending.

Random notes:

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, The Kid does see it as his duty to correct the deficiencies of the official police. — All of the members of the gentlemen's club are stereotypes. — Gardner always uses the word "conservative" with negative connotations. — These stories aren't mysteries in the traditional sense: The fun is watching The Kid improvising his way out of tight situations. — There's a lot of 1930s gangster slang. — The reader shouldn't try to read more than one story at a time: Gardner was clearly writing to a formula. Read one every few days to avoid tedium.

- Kevin Burton Smith's The Thrilling Detective webpage on Erle Stanley Gardner is HERE.
- There's a (presumably complete) Gardner bibliography HERE.
- The Wikipedia Gardner article is HERE.
- And Monte Herridge's Mystery*File article about the Kid is HERE.

Category: Crime fiction

"A Diffusion of Darkness"

By Philip Wylie (1902-71).
Edited by Bill Pronzini.
Crippen & Landru Publishers.
2010. 258 pages: 6 long stories.
Philip Wylie had a long and varied career as a professional writer, as Bill Pronzini explains in the book's introduction:
A writer's writer, a renaissance man of letters, a hugely prolific author of limitless versatility and imagination, one of the most popular and influential writers of his time, a profoundly original thinker, an unflinching critic of American morals and mores; controversial, provocative, iconoclastic—these are just a few of the many laudatory descriptions of Philip Wylie by critics, scholars, and aficionados of his work.
Wylie tried his hand at all kinds of writing:
The list of his literary endeavors is as richly varied as his interests and his personal resume. Astonishingly prolific (he once dictated a 100,000 word novel in nine days while on a ship crossing the Atlantic), he produced, by his own estimation, forty-eight million words of fiction and nonfiction over a period of more than forty years and saw a third of that number in print.
When it comes to mysteries, says Pronzini, "Wylie's ingenuity and grasp of the elements of successful detective fiction are evident."

Which is why Ten Thousand Blunt Instruments will be a welcome addition to any mystery reader's collection. It collects six of Wylie's long short stories (call them novellas or novelettes if you wish), each averaging roughly forty-three pages, culled mostly from Collier's and American Magazine, two high-circulation "slicks" of the era. (In addition to being widely published, Wylie also managed to get top dollar for his work.)

Kudos to Crippen & Landru for saving these fine works from obscurity.

(1) "Murder at Galleon Key" (1935):
At this particular moment, a hundred detectives, policemen, reporters, newsreel cameramen, and others are after me. I've evaded them as long as possible. And I want to have a statement prepared for the first of them that overtakes me. So here is my side of what just happened at Galleon Key.
Douglas Lee is a man to be reckoned with, ruthless in his business dealings and never one to back down. When Lee's secretary, James Martin, falls in love with Lee's daughter, Diana, and tries to elope with her, Lee stops it cold. But Martin isn't one to back down, either, and several months later tries it again, this time at a Florida fishing resort.

Unfortunately for Martin, Lee gets himself murdered under circumstances that defy the laws of physics. Fortunately for Martin, however, he isn't the only suspect; there's more than one camper present with a good motive to do Lee in—and to see Martin hang for it.

(2) "In a Hole" (1931):
The newspaper-reading public never learned the details of the Manhattan Commercial Bank and Trust Company robbery. The story was made a secret for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the humiliating part played in it by the police.
In missing the inside story of this robbery, the public also missed a glimpse of one of the strangest persons living in Manhattan. The brilliant sleuth and silent avenger of the bank disaster was himself a former bank clerk. His name was Willis Perkins. There are a great many people like Willis Perkins, but few of them, because of their very nature, attain to a parallel success.
For twenty years Willis Perkins worked as a bank clerk; for longer than that he nursed an ambition to be a private detective. Now that he is retired, he tries to fulfill his dream—without, however, initial success.

With the scornful laughter of one of his clerking friends still in his ears, Perkins is about to call it quits when a robbery of monumental proportions occurs. Three million four hundred thousand dollars ensconced in a bank's inner vault have disappeared—with the vault!—and the police are predictably frantic.

Is it barely possible that as he tamps shag tobacco into his meerschaum pipe, fixes his gaze on his nearby fore-and-after tweed cap, and lapses into a half hour of concentrated ratiocination that Willis Perkins could divine not only how the crime was committed but also where the boodle went? Although, to be fair, he does acknowledge his indebtedness to a story by a genius named Poe.

(3) "It Couldn't Be Murder" (1939):
When the police are confronted with that ugly evidence which is proof positive of premeditated murder they do not first "cherchez la femme." They look immediately, rather, for any persons who might profit by the evil deed. Lust, envy, spite—all these yield place to greed in forming the mental flaw which sets one being cogitating on how to destroy another.
And the horror which accompanies those patient, relentless, often imaginative steps toward homicide is sometimes accentuated by improper setting. For not all sinister human behavior is cloaked in darkness. Not all hellish footsteps echo through murky corridors, empty garrets, abandoned buildings, crypts, caverns, and the tree tunnels of lonely lanes.
Sometimes the roaring city, the dazzling street, and white sunlight form the incongruous background for slinking assassins as terrible as any on a storm-swept castle roof or a fog-wrapped moor . . .
It was hot.
Young Jerry Jenks is a struggling Greenwich Village magazine illustrator who occasionally collaborates with Holly Barker, a fellow artist and sometime model. Jerry has fallen in love with Betty Stanton, the potential heir to twenty million dollars, and she feels the same. Her three snobbish brothers beg to differ, however, opposing with varying degrees of severity any betrothal between the two.

In the middle of a New York heat wave, one of Betty's brothers collapses and dies in Grand Central Station, and Jerry is there. Natural causes, say the doctors. Jerry is there when another brother, while in the middle of a political speech, also collapses and dies. No obvious foul play, says the doctor. But when the third brother dies in a dentist's chair, the suspicions of the police, needless to say, are aroused and personified by a smart Irish cop; and although Jerry wasn't there, he's now a prime suspect.

Think about it—three barriers standing between him and twenty million simoleons and a beautiful heiress have been conveniently removed, and the attractive legatee shouldn't constitute much of a remaining barrier to that huge pile of moolah.

Being an artist, Jerry isn't accustomed to ratiocinative logical thought; so if he's going to get out of this jam, he'll need to play to his strengths and get the picture—fast!

(4) "The Paradise Canyon Mystery" (1936):
It was three-twenty a.m. Jim heaved his battered suitcases from beneath the day coach seats and walked past sleeping passengers to the vestibule. A solitary red light slid through the blackness, and the train stopped.
"Paradise Canyon!" a distant voice shouted.
Jim Preston is new in town. Although he's an engineer, he's also an Olympic swimmer, which is why he has been hired as a swim coach at an up-scale desert hotel in Paradise Canyon. But even before he can get settled in, he narrowly misses being shot in what could be dismissed as an accident. Not only that, but later that same day Jim comes across a riderless horse roaming through the desert with a broken and bloody saddle. It isn't long before two murders have been discovered and, despite being the new guy, Jim falls under police suspicion, mainly because one of the victims was stabbed with a knife that has Jim's fingerprints all over it.

Despite all this hurly burly, however, Jim still somehow finds the time to fall in love with Frankie Bailey, the step-daughter of one of the hotel's affluent guests. But Frankie has a fiancé, a young man who, in Jim's initial estimation, just might be insane.

And speaking of insanity, could that explain why, for several years in a row, a few of the wealthy guests have been seen riding out into the empty desert, lying down in the sand, and putting their ears to the ground, as if expecting the earth to whisper something to them? As Jim will discover, though, there's method in their madness.

(5) "Death Whispers" (1944):
Chief Watson read the letter, polished his bald head with the heel of his hand and muttered, "Crank!"
Lieutenant Quag, who was sitting nearby, failed to hear. "What'd you say, Chief?"
The bald man held up a typewritten script—seventy pages of it—and yawned. "Some dope thinks he solved a murder, I guess. He's written the cops a love-letter about it. Imagine!"
Then he began to read. For a few minutes his expression was one of sour amusement. Presently it ebbed line by line and was replaced by deep concentration. He leaned over his desk on his elbows and wet his thumb to turn the pages.
Such a normal family, the people across the terrace, in every respect as unremarkable and "All-American" as one could wish. Yet now they eye each other with suspicion, communicate in reserved tones, and behave circumspectly in one another's presence. One of them has apparently died accidentally of mushroom poisoning, but the realization has gradually crept in that it might not have been an accident after all.

Newspaperman Ralph Walker is temporarily blind after an operation and staying in a friend's apartment until he can recover. Without his sight, Ralph has concentrated on sharpening his hearing skills to compensate. It's only in retrospect that he comes to realize that among the many and diverse sounds that have drifted from the terrace through the sultry air and into his bedroom were the sinister preparations by someone planning to commit murder.

But how can Ralph present such insubstantial proof of his suspicions to the police when even he is unsure that a crime has been committed, when he can just barely get out of his bed? The killer—yes, there has been a murder—has a different problem: This person can't afford to leave any loose ends and is counting on Ralph's nearly total helplessness to ensure that nothing will be left to chance . . . .

(6) "Ten Thousand Blunt Instruments" (1944):
Because she had no patience with what she regarded as a weakness in herself, she went into the big room. A tolerance for weakness - for - timidity, especially - should be reserved for other people, Gail thought. There wasn't anything new about her phobia. She'd felt it when she was a kid—on her first trip to a museum. She'd felt it in college when her geology class went to Belvidere Hall to inspect the fossils. She felt it now.
Outside, the early winter afternoon was dim with foreknowledge of night. There was light, ample in its way, in the gigantic chambers of the American Museum of Natural History. But the electricity threw shadows. And the windows let in a diffusion of darkness, a murk that emphasized the wrong things and made the reassuring ones indefinite.
In the dead of winter, inside the dim corridors of New York's Museum of Natural History, in the service of the war effort researcher Gail Vincent is collaborating with Professor Horace Jordan on possible sites in Africa that would be suitable for constructing airfields, which could prove decisive in defeating Hitler's war machine. As if to confirm her deep-seated fears of the dark and cavernous museum, an unexpected and gruesome event occurs: The body of one of the museum's senior scientists is found in a large tank of preservative, his skull crushed by a blunt instrument of some kind.

The inevitable questions arise: who, when, and why? Did he know too much? Too much about what? As for the murder weapon, it could be one of a myriad of objects housed almost anywhere in the museum's twenty-three acres—and that's assuming it hasn't already been carried away.

Although the police are doing their best, Gail and Prof. Jordan see how the cops are out of their depth, so the two of them institute their own unofficial investigation, during which they turn up several good bits of evidence, but nothing that would decisively break the case open.

As it turns out, by piecing together facts that seem oh so innocent in isolation, Gail arrives at the solution. Unfortunately, someone with a gun knows she knows . . . .

- Bibliographies of Philip Wylie's huge output are HERE and HERE.
- Articles about Wylie are HERE and HERE.

Category: Mystery and crime fiction