Sunday, July 9, 2017

"It Is Surprising, Then, That a Scholar of This Type Should Stoop to the Lowly Murder Yarn"

FUNNY THE THINGS you can stumble across while surfing the 'Net; case in point: these two short mystery book reviews that first appeared in Ohio periodicals aimed at engineers. The first one features S. S. Van Dine, the ne plus ultra detective fiction writer of the time (or so he and everyone thought), while the second review introduces us to an obscure Golden Age author who, to judge from the mostly positive responses to her work, deserves a larger-scale reprint revival.
========================================================================= The Ohio State Engineer, October 1928.
"The Book Shelf."
The Greene Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine.
Reviewed by Charles A. Merz (HERE).

   "A current magazine gives a very interesting account of the author of this book. S. S. Van Dine, it appears, is a nom de plume which the author has assumed for fear of compromising his high position in other fields of literature. He claims that he is the author of several books on abstract subjects as well as being a recognized critic of art and literature. By 'recognized' we mean a critic whose opinion is eagerly sought after. A liberal education in this country and abroad is the scholastic background of this mysterious writer.

   "It is surprising, then, that a scholar of this type should stoop to the lowly murder yarn. Mr. Van Dine accounts for this in a convincing manner. During his recovery from a nervous breakdown he was allowed to read only light fiction. He spurned, as do most learned men, the mushy romance. There remained only the mystery story, so he devoured all he could lay hands on. His massive intellect was arrested by the questioning thought of what constituted the underlying principle on which the 'good' murder or mystery story was based. Like a great scholar and investigator he did the job in a scientific manner. He read every mystery story that he and his book dealer could lay hands on. Being a student of foreign languages he imported French and German thrillers. After wading through this gruesome mass of 20,000 mystery stories in three languages, Mr. Van Dine may be readily conceded the honor of having read more crime tales than any man alive.

   "He kept notes while reading these stories and finally evolved his construction of the mystery story. The popularity of his first mystery story, The Canary Murder Case, proved he had the right idea. His second, The Benson Murder Case, was even a better seller. The book being reviewed has surpassed the sales of the first two put together. The author has decided to complete a set of six tales and then retire from the murder business and return to his philosophical and professional critique. The lure of the lucre, it appears, holds this scholar
to the writing of thrillers.

   "Mr. Van Dine has demonstrated that when an educated man turns his interest to some subject and applies his learning, he will turn out a better piece of work than his less educated co-worker. This author has undoubtedly opened up a new era in this type of literature. The reading public is demanding more in their mystery stories — not more thrills but more sense."

Some readers like seeing stories in their original serialized form; if you're one of those, then follow these links to The Greene Murder Case (1928) as originally published in Scribner's:

   Part 1: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 111).
   Part 2: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 245).
   Part 3: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 375).
   Part 4: (HERE) and (HERE; scroll down to page 502).

. . . or, if you're not one of those, you can find it in six formats at FadedPage (HERE).

"The Engineer's Bookshelf."
By Wilson R. Dumble.
February 1936 (HERE).

   "Chills: If you want a good new mystery story, spend the evening with The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers. For the armchair fan it is a splendid brain-twister, a few chills, a clean-cut story, and very well put together. Still another good mystery is The String Glove Mystery by Harriette R. Campbell. It is one of those every-body guilty stories, very complicated and quite exciting. The mysterious murder at a fox hunt is made to look like an accident."

From this brief review you'd never know that the author of The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers (1936) (reviewed HERE) was R. A. J. Walling (1869-1949; GAD Wiki HERE); it's
online at Project Gutenberg Australia (HERE):
Practically no information is out there on the WWW about Harriette R. Campbell, except that she was born in 1883. The GAD Wiki (HERE) can offer very little save that she had a series sleuth named Simon Brade, who stars in The String Glove Mystery (1936; online HERE; Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE). Even S. S. Van Dine thought highly of one of her books. (Note: Resurrected Press did reprintings of three of her books but no longer lists Campbell in their catalog.)

We found another review in a mass circulation magazine:
   "Horsey young gambler with malicious animal magnetism falls on English hunting field. Effeminate Mr. Simon Brade traces the action. Promising characterizations overshadowed

by too intricate plot, and the sleuth will give you a pain, but it has its points. Verdict: Fair."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, January 18, 1936

Other Campbell reviews:

~ THE PORCELAIN FISH MYSTERY (1937) (Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE):
   "Crippled English socialite slain by fireside. San T'sai fish and irritable cairn terrier help Simon Brade solve crime. Well bred and highly cultured opus with much display of huntin' pink, good writing, and clever solution. Verdict: Cerebral."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, June 5, 1937

   "Poisoning of London derelict and violent deaths of peer and secretary in Scotland strangely linked, as detective Simon Brade discovers. Consolidation of clues and
motives by ivory cube device fascinating—also brilliant writing, likable people, and
deeply laid plot. Verdict: For connoisseurs."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, February 18, 1939

   "The chapter headed 'Brade's Bricks' in The Moor Fires Mystery, by Harriette R. Campbell (Harper, $2), is an interesting elucidation of the odd methods of perhaps the most unobtru-sive detective in fiction. But Stephen Brade's deductions are sound, and the solution of the murder of Lord Serbridge and his secretary in the former's Scottish castle, is a well-guarded surprise. As an intellectual exercise this is among the best."
   — S. S. Van Dine, Scribner's, April 1939

   "Scotland Yard, in desperation at inroads of thievish 'Left Shoulder,' calls in Simon Brade who juggles his ivory cubes successfully. Thefts of antiques and Ruritanian murder-intrigue mingled in deftly-written tale that carries Mr. Brade's unique methods to deductive extremes. Verdict: Able but arid."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, June 15, 1940

   "Simon Brade, who hates the very word murder, solves two, one old, t'other new, in lonely house on stormy Scottish loch. Murderer of hapless Graeco-Irish sisters revealed in super-dramatic finish after Chinese ivory cubes clarify strange problem for observant sleuth. Verdict: For deduction-lovers."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, May 31, 1941

   "Suspicious injury of Englishman steeped in occultism provides Simon Brade, and his

ivory cubes, with a shivery case. Brade's original method of detecting plus background
full of black magic, etc., and interesting group of characters make good reading. Verdict: Unusual."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, April 17, 1943

~ CRIME IN CRYSTAL (1946) (Resurrected Press reprint on sale HERE):
   "Lady Vanessa Lorrister bludgeoned in boudoir. Her dressmaker is slain, too. Simon Brade and his ivory cubes solve riddle. Enigmatic girl suspect most interesting person in highly emotional blend of crime, clairvoyance, and canny deduction. Verdict: Adequate."
   — "The Criminal Record," The Saturday Review, January 19, 1946

The bottom line: "On the whole, the reader who does not wish to waste his time will do well not to read melodramatic novels of lower grade than those of Wilkie Collins, or detective stories of smaller merit than those of Conan Doyle."
   — William H. Hills, editor of The Writer, May 1899

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