Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Kind of Wish

Here's the last ten minutes of "Night of the Meek" a special Christmas episode from The Twilight Zone originally broadcast Dec 23, 1960.

May you all discover your own personal holiday magic within or outside the Twilight Zone.

Merry Christmas to all!


Friday, December 21, 2012

FFB: The Sunday Pigeon Murders - Craig Rice

According to an ad from Simon & Schuster I found in a Saturday Review issue from 1942 Craig Rice "spent a hectic six days in New York" where she "accumulated more information about that town than we had learned in a lifetime of living in it." A bit of advertising hyperbole to be sure, but her activities included hanging out with the men of the Central Park chess clubs, discovering a newsagent who also had a sideline business of placing dime bets on horse races, and most inspiring of all she invited a street photographer home for dinner and got the lowdown on the photo racket.  He must have been a colorful fellow for it led to the creation of her little known duo of Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak who make their debut in The Sunday Pigeon Murders (1942).

Rice also seems to be doing a good impression of Damon Runyon in this book. Bingo and Handsome speak, act, and dress like any of those small time hoods and grifters so well known from Guys and Dolls, Bloodhounds of Broadway and The Lemon Drop Kid. Bingo is the brains of their fly-by-night street photography operation with the grandiose title of The International Foto, Motion Picture and Television Corporation of America. They aren't doing too well with only $7.49 as their operating budget, one camera in a pawnshop, and a developing room in the bathtub, but they do their best with their meager set-up. An added bonus to the business is Handsome's special gift. He has an amazing eidetic memory and can instantly recall any newspaper layout of the past ten years when he worked as a news photographer and quote verbatim from those articles.

When Handsome spots a famous missing man ("The Sunday Pigeon" of the title) thought to have disappeared over seven years ago Bingo's scheming brain goes into overdrive. Thanks, of course, to Handsome's incredible memory Bingo learns of the $500,000 insurance policy Mr. Pigeon took out on himself and is soon to be claimed by his business partner in only few days when Pigeon will be declared legally dead. Bingo will put an end to that. He is going to kidnap Mr. Pigeon and blackmail the partner into handing over half of the $500,000 when they con the insurance company into thinking Pigeon is dead.

Kidnapping is not exactly accurate, though because this is a Craig Rice book. Pigeon is all too obliging as the kidnap victim. He moves in to Handsome & Bingo's tiny apartment and basically becomes a third roommate. Cooking up miracle dishes with the few scraps of food in their one room apartment, cleaning house, and not caring one iota about the fact he is involved in what amounts to insurance fraud. Does he have some ulterior motive for hiding out?

When the two photographers make their way to Pigeon's partner's apartment and find a dead body they think someone must've already caught onto their scheme. Someone who also is after the insurance money. Bingo thinks fast, jumping to many conclusions in the process. He decides to do what nearly everyone in a Craig Rice novel does when they find a corpse. He hides it choosing the refrigerator as the least likely place to look for a body. But soon they have a surprise visitor in the person of a shapely dame and the hide-the-body business turns into all out farce. They will be more people looking for Pigeon, more people turning up dead, more bodies being hidden before Pigeon reveals his secret and everything is resolved in the usual madcap Rice way.

Probably because it is Rice's first book set in New York rather than Chicago she spends a lot of time showing off her newfound knowledge and doing her best to emulate Damon Runyon. The result is a book with more endearing characters, a plot that is more cohesive than usual, and a solution that actually makes sense for a change. I'm looking forward to reading more of Bingo and Handsome in the second book The Thursday Turkey Murders.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

And...She Scores! (and he does, too)

May I have the envelope please? The winner of the "Challenge to the Reader" Second Annual Trivia contest is...

Bev of the blog My Reader's Block with a whopping score of 105 out of a possible 110!

Second prize: Pietro (all the way from Italy!)  who blogs at  Death Can Read with a score 104.

Talk about a close race, my friends. There was no third prize winner. I'll leave that to our clever reading sleuths to figure out.

Kudos to our winners! I might add that each player successfully answered ALL the bonus questions correctly. You are excellent sleuths, the two of you, with some inductive reasoning and superior internet searching skills that are to be commended.

You each will be receiving an email from me with a list of books from which you will be able to choose your prizes. Thanks for taking part!

Answers for all those curious are below.

I. ALTERNATE TITLES (1 point each)

Below are titles of books as published in England and Australia.You must give the renamed title in its American edition.

1. Mr Jelly's Business = Murder Down Under by Arthur W. Upfield
2. Vegetable Duck = Too Many Suspects by John Rhode
3. Surfeit of Lampreys =  Death of a Peer  by Ngaio Marsh
4. The Ten Teacups = The Peacock Feather Murders by Carter Dickson
5. There Came Both Mist and Snow = A Comedy of Terrors  by Michael Innes
6. Why Didn't They Ask Evans? = The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie
7. The Hollow Man = The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr
8. Find Actor Hart = The Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb  by Harry Stephen Keeler
9. The Box Office Murders = The Purple Sickle Murders  by Freeman Wills Crofts
10. Burglars in Bucks = The Berkshire Mystery by GDH & M Coles.

Now do the opposite. Below are the American titles, you supply the British (or Australian) title

1. The Hand of Fu Manchu = The Si-Fan Mysteries  by Sax Rohmer
2. Remembered Death = Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
3. Curse of the Bronze Lamp = Lord of the Sorcerers by Carter Dickson
4. The Crime on the Solent = Mystery on Southhampton Water by Freeman Wills Crofts
5. A Wreath for Rivera = Swing, Brother, Swing  by Ngaio Marsh
6. The Problem of the Green Capsule = The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr
7. The Face of the Man of Saturn = The Crilly Court Mystery by Harry Stephen Keeler
8. Dr. Priestley Lays a Trap = The Motor Rally Mystery by John Rhode
9. No Footprints in the Bush = Bushranger of the Skies  by Arthur W. Upfield
10. Knocked for a Loop = The Double Frame by Craig Rice

II. EVIDENCE (1 point each)
Match the clue to the book in which it appears.

  1. Handpainted door with recent smears C. The Moonstone
  2. Bookshop fronting a pornography operation G. The Big Sleep
  3. Scarab fired from a slingshot (catapult) L. Murder Must Advertise
  4. Decaying corpse found in a deed box K. Smallbone Deceased
  5. A pair of missing boots H. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  6. Doctored pitcher of cocktails N. The Deadly Truth (McCloy)
  7. Recipe for saucisse minuit A. Too Many Cooks
  8. Handkerchief embroidered with an H    J. Murder on the Orient Express
  9. Murder victim's clothes turned backwards E. The Chinese Orange Mystery
10. Decapitated head found in pot of stew O. The Rising of the Moon (Mitchell)
11. An antique automaton M. The Crooked Hinge
12. Cryptic drawing on a slip of paper B. The Case of the Seven of Calvary
13. An astrological chart D. The Stars Spell Death
14. An Egyptian sarcophagus I. The Scarab Murder Case
15. A forgotten shopping list F. Warrant for X

III. DISPATCHED WITH APLOMB (1 point each)
Match the murder method to the book in which it appears.

  1. Victim dragged behind a car H. The Grindle Nightmare
  2. Liquid nitrogen sprayed via a shower head K. The Rose Bath Riddle
  3. Poisoned in a theater dressing room A. Exit Charlie
  4. Strangulation with blue and pink cords  E. Cat of Many Tails
  5. Defenestration M. The Clue in the Air
  6. Victim shot while in a bathtub B. The Case of the Velvet Claws
  7. Natural gas poisoning C. The Three Taps
  8. Crushed to death by a stone bear   D. And Then There Were None 
  9. Bee stings O. A Taste for Honey (Heard)
10. Drowning in a scuttled boat J. Rebecca
11. Bludgeoned with a magnum of champagne N. Vintage Murder (Marsh)
12. Crossbow F. The Judas Window
13. Murdered while being operated on L. Green for Danger 
14. Strangled with a lariat I. Murder on Wheels (Palmer)
15. Bludgeoned with a hunk of frozen meat G. "Lamb to the Slaughter"
     
IV. COMMONALITIES (2 points each)

  1. Todd McKinnon, Charles Latimer, Ariadne Oliver
They are all mystery writers. McKinnon appears in books written by Lenore Glen Offord, Latimer is the creation of Eric Ambler, and Mrs. Oliver, of course, appears with Poirot in several books by Agatha Christie.

  2. Sherlock Holmes, Gideon Fell, Nigel Strangeways
Each detective is based on a real person.  Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, Dr. Fell is based on the physiognomy and blustery manner of G. K. Chesterton, Nigel Strangeways was initially modelled on the poet W.H. Auden. No one got this correct. I didn't think it was the most difficult question in this section, but I guess it wasn't all that apparent.

  3. Irma, Sumuru, Madame Sara
Female master criminals.  Villains was also accepted. Respectively, created by "Sapper" (H. C. MacNiele) in the Bulldog Drummond books, Sax Rohmer, and L.C. Meade & Robert Eustace.

  4. Pharoah Love, Toussaint Moore, Bubber Brown
Black private detectives.  Respectively, they were created by George Baxt (in a series of four books), Ed Lacy (in 2 books), and Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies.

  5. Thatcher Colt, Palmyra Pym, Maigret
They are all Police Commissioners. Created by Anthony Abbot, Nigel Morland and Georges Simenon.

  6. Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Bulldog Drummond
Each character is a veteran of World War 1

  7. Tony Murchison, Daisy Armstrong, Chris Dobie
All characters are kidnapped children.  Respectively, they appear in Nightmare in Manhattan by Thomas Walsh, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, and Time of Terror by Lionel White. 

  8. Saul Panzer, Arnie Walters, Paul Drake
Private detectives in the employ of a series detective. Respectively, they work for Nero Wolfe, Lew Archer (in only two books), and Perry Mason.

  9. Julie Bailey, Virginia Dodge, Linda Goldenberg Arden
Probably the most difficult of the question in this section. Each character is motivated by revenge in the action of the story and each a character lost a loved one to an act of violence. Respectively, they appear in The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich, Killer's Wedge by Ed McBain, and Murder on the Orient Express. Yes, that book showed up a lot in this quiz. Don't ask me why. I must've been haunted by it.

10. Tommy Hambledon, Dr. Palfrey, Colonel Granby
Secret agents. Spies was also accepted. They were created by Manning Coles, John Creasey and Francis Beeding.

In this second part find the commonality in the books named below:

1. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
Animals in captivity play a part in the action. A snake is stolen from a zoo in the first and its venom used to commit murder. A dead body is found in a penguin exhibit at an aquarium in the other book. This was my lame question for the contest. Don't all "Boo" at once.

2. The Scarecrow Murders by Frederick Kummer, Sign of Fear by August Derleth
The detective in each story is a judge.  Amazingly, there is also another commonality that Bev pointed out: slips of paper with Biblical/religious references are found at the scene of the crime. Bizarre and utterly unintended! But I only awarded one point rather than two for discovering that, Bev. The judge similarity was much more obvious.

3. The Shadow of the Wolf  by R Austin Freeman, The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
Inverted detective novels

4. Case of the Green Felt Hat by Christopher Bush, The Secret of Bogey House by
Herbert Adams
Golf plays an important part in the plot of each book.

5. Tour de Force by Christianna Brand, The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen
Multiple solutions to the crime

6. Fatal Step by Wade Miller, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Set in a carnival. Amusement park was also accepted.

7. The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie, Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson
Each book is a short story collection which is the only book length appearance of the series characters. Full points awarded for the entire underlined sentence. One point for only mentioning short story collection.

8. Turn of the Table by Jonathan Stagge, He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
The primary suspect is thought to be a vampire.

9. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning
Each book has an eerie exactness in their plots:  a group of strangers is invited by an unknown host who never appears and they are told by their host via a recording that they will be killed one by one. Bristow & Manning wrote their book nine years before Christie's more famous and better realized version. The Invisible Host was also turned into a movie called The Ninth Guest in 1934.

10. Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham, Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick Quentin
The detective suffers from amnesia for most of the book.

BONUS ROUND - PICTURE PUZZLES (2 points)
Players were asked to identify a book's title and author based solely on a small section of the 1st edition dust jacket. Most of the illustrations had clues to the title. Savvy puzzle solvers could easily figure out seven of the ten without knowing anything about the book's content or recognizing the DJ. The remaining three were rather difficult to figure out based on the illustration. Having a robust knowledge of vintage mystery titles certainly helped in this section.

Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the pictures. The link will open in a separate window.

DJ1: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
DJ2: The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley
DJ3: Death in a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson
DJ4: Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
DJ5: Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr
DJ6: The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler
DJ7: Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh
DJ8: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
DJ9: Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer
DJ10: Poison Jasmine by Clyde B. Clason

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

There & Back Again

The winners of the "Challenge to the Reader" Trivia Contest will be posted later this evening. I was away from Dec 14 - Dec 17 in New York City for my big blast of a birthday bash. We saw five plays in three days including the fabulously fun Mystery of Edwin Drood, ate at three amazing restaurants, avoided Guy Fieri's Times Square tourist trap, saw a musical version of The Silence of the Lambs that was hysterical and filthy, talked with Ed Asner and got his autograph, took Paul Rudd's picture by the stage door of the Cort Theater, and tried our best to avoid the insanity of SantaCon. Go here if you are clueless about that bizarre urban holiday "festivity".  Reviews of the plays I saw will appear in "Stage Blood" posts in the coming days.

The contest was easier this year and I was hoping for an increase in participants. Just the opposite happened. I was disappointed by the very low number of entrants. This will most likely be the second and final trivia contest. More anon...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death on a Ferris Wheel - Aylwin Lee Martin

Here's a pop quiz, class. What do you think is the most overused plot gimmick in the world of vintage detective novels?

A. The secret passageway
B. Oxalic acid as a murder weapon
C. A twin or triplet is revealed to be the murderer
D. Knife throwing in a suspect's past life

Ten points if you answered D. Even though the others show up time after time, knife throwing is easily the most tiresome, the one that will get me rolling my eyes and uttering "Oh please, not again" more than the others. In the past two years alone I have read seven books that include knife throwing in the plot. Three of those books were locked room or impossible crime novels and the solution to the impossibility relied on the murderer's expert handling of kitchen utensils. But I bet not many of you have ever read the prizewinner in all of mysterydom dealing with knife throwing. I award the blue ribbon in knife throwing to Aylwin Lee Martin's Death on a Ferris Wheel (1951). Why? Because there are four – count 'em four! – knife throwing suspects in this book. Two of them are women! That makes for a potentially lethal group of suspects, doesn't it? You don't want to be upsetting these people at a dinner party or in a butcher shop.

The book opens with the discovery of the murder victim descending from his fatal ride in the titular amusement park ride. His throat is gashed terribly and it is determined that the only way he could've been killed was by a knife thrown at him as he was making his way down in the Ferris Wheel. That's some very expert knife throwing if you ask me, but as the sharp witted Captain Homer Aselin notes it wasn’t necessarily the throat that was the target. Anywhere on the body would have served the killer's purpose. Throat, chest, back -- he would've been dead no matter where the knife landed.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that there are so many knife throwers in the book. After all, the setting for the crime is a travelling carnival and two of the suspects happen to be in show business. Or were at one time. As luck would have it both of the women who also at one time tossed a few blades back in the day were also former wives of Floyd Anthony, the murder victim and an ex-vaudeville performer who worked carnivals as a would-be comic, knife thrower and the handsome male half of a dance duo.

One of the highlights of the book is learning a lot of carny slang.
He was tossin' broads when he wasn’t grindin' for a G-String act.
is translated as
He was dealing a three card monte game when he wasn't talking to the crowd about a striptease act.
A "skinned mush" is the cane a barker uses as a prop to draw attention to himself and the acts. "Mitt camp" is a palm reading tent. Classic stuff! I also found out that "fuzz" as slang for a policeman comes from carny lingo. Reading paperback originals is a real crash course in fading aspects of American pop culture.

The 2nd Matt Hughes novel
At first the murder seems to be tied to the apparent theft of a diamond ring valued at $15,000 and Matt Hughes, our lawyer/sleuth, is hired by Arnold Kent to represent his wife who he suspects of aiding in the theft of the ring. But while uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of the ring (which eventually turns up in Anthony's personal effects) Hughes gets in over his head. Anthony turns out to be a former husband of Mrs. Kent who used to be his dancing partner under her stage name of Nola Barrett. And the theft might have been a cover-up for a blackmail payoff. This is all quickly learned within the first three chapters.

But that's only the beginning of the complicated plot. Soon the story becomes an overly involved tale incorporating a crooked casino and drug operation, bigamous marriage, elaborate blackmail schemes, two-timing lovers and murderous revenge. It's all pulp magazine rehash, not badly told, with some pretty good dialog, heavy on incident and with a few colorful characters including one of my favorite period un-PC stereotypes -- the gay pretty boy sadist. Oliver St. Julian is his name. (What else could it be?) He is, of course, often called a fruit, a pansy, or a nance but is always ready to smash someone in the face when called a name. Is he a knife thrower, too? You bet your gleamin' shiv edge he is!

In the end it's all a bit too excessive. The finale is a cumbersome and talky revelation of multiple secrets delivered in the old-fashioned B movie method with Hughes making page length monologues while the various villains throw tantrums punctuated with a healthy dose of swear words or collapse into confessional hysterical outbursts. "Yes, I killed him," says one character. "And I'd do it again and again." Or until there were no knives left to fling.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

IN BRIEF: Burglars in Bucks - G.D.H. & Margaret Cole

Burglars in Bucks (1930) is something of a threefold literary experiment. It is a detective novel without a murder, it has multiple points of view, and it attempts to tell a story in real time. I would also add that it reminded me more than anything of a P.G. Wodehouse novel even to the very Wodehousian title. Superintendent Wilson is on the case again in a raucous adventure subtitled "The Crime and the Poltergeist".

Essentially, the novel is presented as a chronological dossier of the written evidence gathered in the case of a burglary that occurred on Halloween night following a party in Peter Gurney's home. We are given the story through multiple accounts (both first and second hand) in a series of letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings, police memos and reports, plus a few fanciful recreations of phone calls and private conversations. In discussing writing up one of his cases with Wilson Dr. Michael Prendergast proposes the chronology idea. The case would have been solved sooner had Wilson been privy to some information not handed over until after the conclusion of the investigation. Wilson believes that any reader would be bored with a straightforward telling of a police case with only written evidence presented to him as it was received. He also thinks any reader would be able to outguess the police detective long before the solution is discovered. The doctor strongly disagrees.

This mystery without a murder proves to be intriguing. It's not just a simple story of a stolen emerald necklace. The plot will evolve into a multi-layered richness that includes con artists, false identities, black market antique trading, drug addiction, spiritualist trickery, and the looming threat of a murder charge when one of the characters is violently beaten and clings to life in a hospital for most of the book. There is even a message in code that amateur cryptographers might easily be able to break before the police do.

The Cole's surprising sense of humor is the real highlight of the book largely due to the inclusion of the amusing letters from Everard Blatchington, a recurring roguish character in the early Cole detective novels who might have stepped out of the halls of Blandings or Brinkley Manor. Detective novel fans who are also partial to the kind of waggish British wit and antics found in the works of P. G. Wodehouse are sure to get much enjoyment from Burglars in Bucks.

In the US the book was released as The Berkshire Mystery, but it is much scarcer than the UK edition. Though there are few copies of the UK edition I did find one reading copy for $20. It may not be there for long after this review. Better hop to it if you want it! The rest range from $40 to $100, though judging by the descriptions their condition doesn't merit those prices. Burglars in Bucks can also be found in the first Collins Crime Club Omnibus which also includes The Noose by Philip MacDonald, Q. E. D. by Lynn Brock, and Sir John Magill's Last Journey by Freeman Wills Crofts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Invisible Man Murders – Richard Foster

While making a movie about a murderous invisible man called The Man from Nowhere, one of the actors is shot. With the camera still rolling cast and crew stand around trying to figure out from where the gun was fired. They all watch in horror as ghostly bloody footprints materialize on the carpet making it appear that an invisible man is leaving the scene of the crime. The filmed scenes will provide a major clue to the solution. Later another actor is shot on a deserted beach. Again footprints magically appear in the sand leading to the ocean then disappear. Is there really an invisible man killing all these people?

The killer leaves taunting letters signing himself "The Man from Nowhere" and sarcastically adds the parenthetical comment "Title by courtesy of Magna Pictures, Inc". The police uncover a blackmailer who called himself the Hollywood Ghost who had been extorting percentages of movie people's salaries as a kind of "Death Insurance." The police think that the blackmailer has adopted for himself a new nickname and is killing his targeted victims when they refuse to pay up. A private detective is hired by Magna Pictures' producer to find the killer and put a stop to the killings though he seems more worried about the money he is losing with all the delays in the production schedule.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this 1945 book apart from the unusual impossible crime gimmick is the detective himself -- Chin Kwang Kham, mysterydom's only Tibetan-American private detective. He is clearly a rip-off of Charlie Chan, though he speaks perfect English having been born and raised in the US he has the strange habit of "becoming Oriental" and talking in broken English and spouting forth fortune cookie style proverbs. At least Biggers made his aphorisms clever and witty. A cumbersome proverb like this one "The hunter who would trap the tiger must have more patience than the tiger" doesn’t compare to a genuine Chan aphorism: "Alas, mouse cannot cast shadow like elephant." Why bother, right? Foster doesn't have the gift. He comes close sometimes: "A man who continues to murder is like a man walking down a narrow mountain trail. Sooner or later he must dislodge a pebble." But he's too verbose when composing them.

The story is typical of pulp magazine fare – action oriented, heavy on dialogue, lightweight on prose. Just to separate Chin from the typical genteel and sagacious Asian detectives of the 20s and 30s Foster allows some roughhousing. In a gratuitous torture sequence Chin beats a suspect with the handle of a gun and when that doesn't get results he performs the "Death of Thousand Cuts" with a ritual Asian knife. Mike Hammer by way of Sax Rohmer. This all happens in a chapter titled "A Tibetan Warpath."

The mystery is routine. Only the impossibility of the invisible footprints offers any interest. But there is no fair play. The solution comes out of left field and is done through experiments Chin performed offstage without the reader's knowledge. There is also lots of guesswork. The method of making the footprints appear on the beach seemed extremely baroque to me and most likely would never work. Only one clue is given to the reader involving the filmed scene during which the first victim met his fate. Chin made an intelligent observation about how the camera paid close attention to the victim's death when in fact it should have been focused on another actor who was being fired at by a prop machine gun. Spotting this subtlety allowed Chin to ferret out the murderer's accomplice. It is the only piece of real fair play detection in the whole book.

"Richard Foster" is the pseudonym of Kendall Foster Crossen, a prolific pulp writer who used multiple pseudonyms under which he wrote crime and adventure fiction and dabbled in science fiction as well. Among his most notable creation is the Green Lama, a pulp hero who acquires secret powers from having studied in Tibet. His best detective novels are under the pen name "M. E. Chaber" and feature his series detective Milo March.

Magic and magicians are featured in The Invisible Man Murders. Crossen even includes himself (under his real name) and his magician writer friend, Bruce Elliott, in cameo appearances on the magic program that is discussed early in the book. Because of all the talk about magicians and the fact that Chin and another character are magicians and sleight of hand artists, I expected the solution to the mysterious footprints to involve stage illusions. It does not. Disappointing.

There is one other book featuring Chin Kham, The Laughing Buddha Murders (1944), also classified as an impossible crime (if I recall correctly it was about disappearing jewels), but it's really not worth reading either. Just more of the same minus the torture scenes. Both books are very scarce and as such usually offered at high prices when they turn up for sale. To my great surprise I learned that both books are available in digital formats. You can find The Invisible Man Murders as an eBook here and the other here. Considerably cheaper than the original fragile digest paperbacks, yes, but I'd pass if I were you.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

JACKET REQUIRED: Frosty Wind Made Moan

After a few weeks of relatively balmy late fall weather the temperatures are finally plummeting, frigid wind is blowing off Lake Michigan and it's only December 2. We may not be in the bleak midwinter just yet but it sure feels like it in my neck of the woods. Fittingly, today I post a few mystery novel versions of the approaching season of ice and snow and high heating bills.

Click to enlarge each photo for better detail.





Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Enigma of the New McClure's Mystery Contest

Yesterday, I wrote a review about Murder Yet To Come.  I mentioned in passing that the novel won a whopping $7500 prize in a mystery writing contest. If you have a copy of the CAPT 1995 reprint you will find this as part of their introduction to the book:


This will lead you to believe that Ellery Queen was beaten by Myers. Not true. Both writers won the contest - but only Myers won the $7500. Here's the lowdown.

New McClure's Magazine, the original sponsor, of the contest was a reformed, restructured version of the venerable McClure's magazine. Exactly why New McClure's thought they could sponsor an astonishing $7500 writing contest prize baffles me. The magazine was in dire financial straits after its reorganization from the old McClure's. The tail end of the disaster is described in this paragraph taken from a fascinating article I found about the demise of McClure's.
McClure's was never the same after the insurgent staff departed to continue their journalistic crusade elsewhere. To satisfy the terms of the purchase agreement negotiated by Phillips, McClure was forced to place his stock under the control of a board of trustees to whom he was held accountable. The cost of the new Long Island publishing facility, originally estimated at $105,000, increased three-fold, while McClure's Book Company, a subsidiary of the magazine, went heavily into debt. With the arrival of a depression in 1907, McClure's advertising revenues plummeted as manufacturers tightened their belts. From 1906 onward, the magazine never again declared stock dividends. $800,000 in debt, McClure was continuously at the mercy of a string of creditors, to whom the periodical was finally surrendered in the autumn of 1911. Under the management of financiers unsympathetic to muckraking, the magazine's journalistic crusades were squelched. In reality, however, McClure's was the victim of idealistic "explosions" begun more than five years earlier, when the high moral standards of a staff bent upon reforming society were shattered by the man who had created the medium for their expression.
Despite the fact the New McClure's was on shaky financial ground the contest continued with a co-sponsorship from book publisher Frederick A. Stokes. When the winner was declared it wasn't Isabel Briggs Myers. It was a novice writing duo calling themselves Ellery Queen and the novel was The Roman Hat Mystery. Before the prize was fully awarded New McClure's Magazine went bankrupt and folded in March 1929. The magazine was absorbed by Smart Set and they also took over the contest. The new magazine editors decided to re-judge the contest because the original rules stated that the winning manuscript would appear first in serial format in the magazine. Taking into account their mostly female readership they decided to choose a woman writer and awarded the full prize to Myers -- serial magazine rights for $5000, and $2500 for book publication.

Here is more background on the contest taken from Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years (McFarland, 2011) by Gene Blottner:


But the Queen writing duo had their revenge of sorts when Frederick A. Stokes stepped in and saved the day, so to speak, by publishing the winning book. And thanks to some clever work on the author's part The Roman Hat Mystery was released a full year before Murder Yet to Come.

My big clue that led me to digging up the real truth of the writing contest was the copyright info in my copy of Myer's book seen below. I knew something was up.


The clincher is that "Second printing before publication" statement.  This tells us that the publisher's marketing department did a superior job of selling the book. Due to the book's anticipated popularity there were a larger than anticipated number of pre-orders from bookstores and the publisher printed more copies of the book before the actual planned publication date and after the initial run of their first edition.  I am inferring here that it was Stokes' marketing of Murder Yet to Come as a prize-winning novel that led to the larger number of books being printed.

The people at CAPT have no business stating that Myers bested Queen. The contest was judged twice by two different magazine staffs. Essentially, the two authors both won. And while Myers got the money, Dannay and Lee as Ellery Queen got the fame.

Friday, November 30, 2012

FFB: Murder Yet To Come - Isabel Briggs Myers

The first thing that struck me as remarkable about Murder Yet to Come (1930) was the author's gutsy use of The Moonstone and several other Wilkie Collins novels as a framework for her plot. Can it be altogether coincidental that the crux of the story is about a jewel stolen from an ancient Indian idol and later stolen again years later in a different country? Is the shared similarity of a heroine suspected to be the victim of inherited madness (see The Woman in White) yet another coincidence? I think not. I think Isabel Briggs Myers knew her Collins and knew it well. Wisely she cribbed from the best. Murder Yet to Come was her first detective novel and it won her $7500 in a writing contest for new mystery writers. It was a well deserved award, too.

Malachi Trent, eccentric millionaire, is found dead in a locked room. It appears that he has fallen from a ladder while searching for some books on the highest shelf in his bookcase lined library/study. Playwright and amateur detective Peter Jerningham soon points out that Trent has been murdered by a blow to the back of his head and the entire scene is a hastily staged scene to give the illusion of an accident by falling. Out of date textbooks stored on the highest shelf are strewn about the body? Algebra, a foreign language ancient history. Why would Trent need all of them at once and why would he select such out of date books even if he were doing some sort of research? The wound to the head is so powerful it could not have come from an accidental fall. A statue in the room shows trace signs of the victims' hair and blood. Murder has been done. But if so, then how did the murderer escape? The room has two doorways, but the main entrance was bolted shut and was broken down to gain entry. The other door at the rear of the room was nailed shut. And what happened to "The Wrath of Kali" – the huge ruby Trent kept locked away in his safe? It carries with it a curse from the goddess Kali herself who will strike down anyone who dares to defile the idol from where it was taken. Could Malachi Trent have been killed by supernatural means?


The plot thickens when Linda Marshall, Trent's 17 year old ward, is found hiding in the room. Is she the killer? Was she an eyewitness? Or did she enter afterwards? She has absolutely no memory of how she got into the room or why she was there. As the story progresses it is learned that Linda has frequent blackouts and memory losses. She also displays erratic and melodramatic behavior. There is talk of insanity. Only recently has she returned from an asylum where she was under the care of a psychiatrist and Trent had threatened repeatedly to send her back for good.

1995 reprint from CAPT, a publisher
specializing in research on psychology type.
The household has two sinister servants – Mrs. Ketchum who makes cryptic references to black magic and witchcraft and has a habit of laughing wickedly at the most inappropriate times. There is also Ram Singh, a servant who came with Trent from India, who seems to have control over Linda. It is suggested that he is using hypnotic power to manipulate Linda as an instrument of Kali's vengeance. Or is it Mrs. Ketchum who has the mind controlling power? And if so, what is her motive?

The book has some excellent detective work all reminiscent of the Van Dine school. In addition to the quick work done to reveal the staged accident, there is the unraveling of the illusion of the locked room; some clues involving an inkwell, broken eyeglasses, and backward handwriting on a blotter; and an alphabetically coded safe's combination that is solved through deduction and inference. By the midpoint there is an increasing emphasis on psychology and subconscious suggestion. This leads Jerningham and his detective cohorts into a intense discussion of hypnosis focusing on the differences between cheap tricks seen in vaudeville theaters and hypnosis as a therapeutic tool. It is this psychological element in combination with the expert fair play detective work that make for an engrossing, lively and very smart mystery novel.

Isabel Briggs Myers' name may ring a bell. Especially if you are a student of psychology or are in the Human Resources field. Myers, along with her mother Katharine Briggs, developed one of the most widely used personality assessment tools now known as the MBTI, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Elsewhere on the internet in essays about Murder Yet to Come you will find people claiming that the book outlines Myers' theories of personality types inspired by the work of Carl Jung and his archetypes. I found none of that in the book. It is a straightforward detective novel with a love story subplot, very much influenced by S.S. Van Dine and Wilkie Collins. It's an admirable debut novel, but to look for signs of the future MBTI within its pages is a fool's errand. Her real work in the field of personality type didn't emerge until well after the start of World War 2.

Myers wrote one more detective novel, Give Me Death (an extremely rare book in the collector's world) before she completely abandoned the genre. I am sorry she didn't continue with a few more books. Based on this effort alone I think she would've given Ellery Queen and Philo Vance a run for their money.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Singular Case of the Multiple Dead - Mark McShane

It's hard to believe that this utterly silly crime novel of the absurd came from the typewriter of Mark McShane. Better known for his deadly serious thrillers that mix the supernatural with the criminal McShane's early work bears little trace of the outlandish humor on display in The Singular Case of the Multiple Dead (1969). A melange of the surreal humor of Monty Python, Abbot & Costello's punny wordplay routines, classic slapstick and bedroom farce it seems that this book might appeal to everyone's idea of what's funny. Maybe I was hungry for nonsense because I happened to find its cast of lunatics and their kooky antics to be the perfect tonic for my late autumn blues.

Lady Madge Severn has collected a group of misfit wannabe artistes and formed a salon she dubs the Bloomsbury Group Junior. During their latest meeting they discuss a paltry tax of one shilling levied on theater seats. It is the latest in a series of insults upon the British public and serves as the proverbial camel's back breaking straw. Lady Severn is outraged and she hopes to incite her group into action. Something must be done. All nine members have a brainstorming session resulting in three possible schemes to oust the Chancellor of Exchequer, the man responsible for the tax. They will force him to resign through blackmail, create a scandal and get him fired, or -- as a last resort -- assassinate him.

The oddballs in the Bloomsbury Group are:

Tony Zero – a vain pretty boy who does absolutely nothing but pose and stare vacantly while imagining his latest discounted assignations in his failed attempts to be come a gigolo for hire.

Virginius Twyce - the Casper Milquetoast of the group. Twyce is so terrified of being caught when asked to perform a simple task like buying a lock and chain that he imagines exaggerated scenarios in which shopkeepers suspect him of plotting the overthrow of the nation. Understandably, this makes it difficult for him even to set foot in a store let alone make eye contact when handing over his money.

Minerva Droplet – watercolor artist who fantasizes with regularity how the gossip columnists will discuss her latest adventures.

Ace paperback gives the impression
this is a spooky chiller. Wrong!
Sid Fourpenny – a budding poet more interested in bedding down the women in the group than putting pen to paper. His impersonation of the C of E, however, is one of the highlights of the book.

Jean Quin – aspires to be the next Greta Garbo. Jean uses her consummate acting skills and her tempting body to ensnare staff members working in the C of E's office.

Relentable Cease - How's that for a name? A professional musician Cease creates anthems for the group and tends to sit back while everyone else does the dirty work.

Jem Gate – taciturn to the point of one word utterances, to get a full sentence out of Gate would be quite a feat. He's a gravestone carver whose specialty is getting the breasts just right on his inappropriately shapely angels. He is the one member intent on carrying out the assassination plan if only he can find a hitman willing to kill someone. Everyone he encounters will only injure, maim or dismember.

Have you noticed the uncanny similarity of each character's surname? The numeric similarities are a gimmick I thought would be a feature in the plot but it turns out to be yet another indication of McShane's penchant for silliness. I particularly liked when Fourpenny impersonates the C of E at a Swedish war toy convention and insults a food vendor by spitting out the tea cake he is sampling. Lady Severn was sure that this would cause an international incident of scandalous proportions making headlines and lead to the firing of the C of E. Needless to say it backfires monstrously.

This will give you an idea of the loopy fun McShane indulges in:


Amid all the nonsense members of the group are being systematically killed off, hence the strange title. Unbeknownst to the Bloomsbury Group Junior (but disclosed to the reader) is that each victim has been contemplating leaving the group prior to their sudden often bizarre demise. Apparently membership in Bloomsbury Group Junior is for life; resignations will not be tolerated.

The group seems to take the deaths all in stride, a mere side effect of the life of a political activist. Lady Severn sets aside a suitable mourning period of fifteen minutes for each shocking accident and asks that the surviving group members put their gifts and talents to use for the memorial services. Fourpenny provides solemn odes and Cease composes dirges, for example.

The police are conspicuously absent from the farcical proceedings leaving the detective work -- or more accurately the guessing game -- up to the reader alone. But figuring out who is behind the fatal accidents is not really the point in this comedy of errors. In its madcap pointlessness laughter may be all that McShane intended to produce. It worked for me, at least.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Challenge to the Reader Trivia Contest #2

The "So You Think You Know Vintage Mysteries? Trivia Challenge" returns, my fellow detective novel bibliophiles! And I've renamed it "Challenge to the Reader" in honor of the early Ellery Queen novels. As I promised this year is much lighter on obscure authors like Hulbert Footner and John Donavan (aka Nigel Morland) who were never reviewed on my blog (and probably nowhere else either!) I have thoroughly researched these questions and teasers to ensure against possible multiple answers and  blatant errors. I'm knocking on wood that it is trouble free. I'm sure to hear from someone if something slipped by me.

Send your answers via an email to bibliophile61 AT gmail DOT com (and change those capitalized words to the symbols). Make sure the answers use the headings I have labeled each section and are properly numbered within each section. Type TRIVIA CONTEST in the subject area so the email doesn't go to my spam folder. Please also include at least your first name when submitting a contest entry.

Contest closes in three weeks. Make sure to submit your answers no later than midnight (US Central time) on December 16. Prizes for first, second and third place consist of winner's choice from a list of vintage mystery novels taken from the boxes of duplicates and discards in my inventory. No junk books - have no fear. Winners will be notified by email and on this blog on December 18 (or thereabouts).

Feel free to Google to your heart's content, use reference books, this blog and other mystery blogs. I can't stop you anyway. Good luck to all!

UPDATE:  The winners are determined by total number of points. I neglected to point that out.  Point values are now listed in parentheses after each section heading.  Perfect score, therefore, is 110 (including all bonus points).

I. ALTERNATE TITLES (1 point each)

Mystery novels more than any other form of fiction have the curious habit of changing titles as they cross the Atlantic Ocean. Below are titles of books published in England. You must give the renamed title in its American edition.

1. Mr Jelly's Business
2. Vegetable Duck
3. Surfeit of Lampreys
4. The Ten Teacups
5. There Came Both Mist and Snow
6. Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
7. The Hollow Man
8. Find Actor Hart
9. The Box Office Murders
10. Burglars in Bucks

Now do the opposite. Below are the American titles, you supply the British title.

1. The Hand of Fu Manchu
2. Remembered Death
3. Curse of the Bronze Lamp
4. The Crime on the Solent
5. A Wreath for Rivera
6. The Problem of the Green Capsule
7. The Face of the Man of Saturn
8. Dr. Priestley Lays a Trap
9. No Footprints in the Bush
10. Knocked for a Loop

II. EVIDENCE (1 point each)
Match the clue to the book in which it appears.
Answers should take the form of "NUMBER. LETTER" not the other way around.

  1. Handpainted door with recent smears                  A. Too Many Cooks
  2. Bookshop fronting a pornography operation        B. The Case of the Seven of Calvary
  3. Scarab fired from a slingshot (catapult)                C. The Moonstone
  4. Decaying corpse found in a deed box                   D. The Stars Spell Death
  5. A pair of missing boots                                         E. The Chinese Orange Mystery
  6. Doctored pitcher of cocktails                                F. Warrant for X
  7. Recipe for saucisse minuit                                    G. The Big Sleep
  8. Handkerchief embroidered with an H                   H. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  9. Murder victims' clothes turned backwards            I. The Scarab Murder Case
10. Decapitated head found in pot of stew                  J. Murder on the Orient Express
11. An antique automaton                                            K. Smallbone Deceased
12. Cryptic drawing on a slip of paper                         L. Murder Must Advertise
13. An astrological chart                                              M. The Crooked Hinge
14. An Egyptian sarcophagus                                       N. The Deadly Truth (McCloy)
15. A forgotten shopping list                                        O. The Rising of the Moon (Mitchell)

III. DISPATCHED WITH APLOMB (1 point each)
Match the murder method to the book in which it appears. Though there are several obscure titles here a clever sleuth can deduce from the title alone the method employed from the list without ever having read the book. And, of course, you can always read my reviews on this blog.

  1. Victim dragged behind a car                            A. Exit Charlie
  2. Liquid nitrogen sprayed via a shower head     B. The Case of the Velvet Claws
  3. Poisoned in a theater dressing room                C. The Three Taps
  4. Strangulation with blue and pink cords           D. And Then There Were None
  5. Defenestration                                                  E. Cat of Many Tails
  6. Victim shot while in a bathtub                         F. The Judas Window
  7. Natural gas poisoning                                      G. "Lamb to the Slaughter"
  8. Crushed to death by a stone bear                     H. The Grindle Nightmare
  9. Bee stings                                                         I. Murder on Wheels (Palmer)
10. Drowning in a scuttled boat                             J. Rebecca
11. Bludgeoned with a magnum of champagne    K. The Rose Bath Riddle
12. Crossbow                                                     L. Green for Danger
13. Murdered while being operated on                 M. The Clue in the Air
14. Strangled with a lariat                                     N. Vintage Murder (Marsh)
15. Bludgeoned with a hunk of frozen meat         O. A Taste for Honey (Heard)

IV. COMMONALITIES (2 points each)
Aha! And you thought it was easier this year. Once again you are charged with uncovering what each group has in common. First, we have fictional characters.

  1. Todd McKinnon, Charles Latimer, Ariadne Oliver
  2. Sherlock Holmes, Gideon Fell, Nigel Strangeways
  3. Irma, Sumuru, Madame Sara
  4. Pharoah Love, Toussaint Moore, Bubber Brown
  5. Thatcher Colt, Palmyra Pym, Maigret
  6. Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Bulldog Drummond
  7. Tony Murchison, Daisy Armstrong, Chris Dobie
  8. Saul Panzer, Arnie Walters, Paul Drake
  9. Julie Bailey, Virginia Dodge, Linda Goldenberg Arden
10. Tommy Hambledon, Dr. Palfrey, Colonel Granby

In this second part find the commonality in the books named below:

1. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
2. The Scarecrow Murders by Frederick Kummer, Sign of Fear by August Derleth
3. The Shadow of the Wolf by R Austin Freeman, The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
4. Case of the Green Felt Hat by Christopher Bush, The Secret of Bogey House by Herbert Adams
5. Tour de Force by Christianna Brand, The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen
6. Fatal Step by Wade Miller, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
7. The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie, Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson
8. Turn of the Table by Jonathan Stagge, He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
9. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning
10. Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham, Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick Quentin

BONUS ROUND - PICTURE PUZZLES (2 points)

Here's a chance to redeem yourself for any errors made in the preceding four sections.
Below are small sections taken from the front panels of some 1st edition dust jackets. Some are well known, some not so well known. Give me the title and author for each book. You earn two points for each correctly identified book/author.

DJ 1
DJ 2
DJ 3

DJ 4
DJ 5

DJ 6
DJ 7

DJ 8
DJ 9
DJ 10

Sunday, November 18, 2012

LEFT INSIDE: Wisconsin Boating Pamphlet

This is may be the largest item I've ever found in a book. Sorry I can't tell you which book though.  It's a 12 page pamphlet measuring 7 1/4" by 3 1/2", that folds out like a map. The first four pages (no photos show in this post) describe how to get a boat registered, where to place the registration info on the boat, a list of what craft are allowed and during what hours, a list of the types of fire extinguishers, and lifesaving and safety info.  I chose to take photos only of the actual boating laws and rules.  Though not dated I would guess this comes from between 1950 and 1969 based on the design, front illustration and the fonts used.

You'll have to click on each image to enlarge it in order to read anything. Enjoy!






My favorite suggestion for safety -- whether you are a boater or not -- "Keep an alert lookout!"

Friday, November 16, 2012

FFB: The Double Death of Frédéric Belot - Claude Aveline

True 1st US edition (Henry Holt, 1940)
Every now and then a writer not primarily known for his work in crime fiction will try his or her hand at the genre and devise a novel so sublime and so subtle that it outshines the most ingeniously constructed puzzles of the Grand Masters of the trade. Claude Aveline's first attempt at a detective novel, The Double Death of Frédéric Belot (1932), is such a book. Using a typically bizarre double murder, as might be found in any Golden Age whodunit, for the framework of his story Aveline presents a story of deeply human characters and realistic, not melodramatic, motives for the crimes committed. A story that initially comes across as a baffling puzzler of a motiveless murder eventually transforms into one with a truly tragic outcome and a bittersweet poignancy.

Frédéric Belot is a master detective, the genius of his police department, the one to whom all other officers look up and respect. He is even tapped for an important promotion but wants nothing to with a high profile police job that would take him away from real detective work and saddle him with administrative meetings and – the bane of existence – public appearances at important government functions. Scandal hits the police department when his godson, Simon Rivière an inspector in the same department, finds the body of Belot in his recently renovated home on Rue Crimée. He's been shot twice -- once in the chest, again in the head -- and is amazingly still alive. But in the adjoining room Simon and his police team find another shooting victim, this one stone cold dead. The man bears a startling resemblance to Belot from his clothes that are exact duplicates of Belot's to his striking features that make him appear to be his twin. Which man is the real Belot?

Reissue US edition
(Doubleday Crime Club, 1974)
The barely alive Belot is rushed to a hospital while the dead Belot is examined at the scene of the crime. The concierge and her husband are questioned. Simon learns that only two people visited the house recently yet no shots were heard. The police doctor discovers that the corpse is wearing make-up and when it is removed there is only a trace resemblance to Belot. Who then was this man and why was he playing the part of Belot's double?

The title, the reader soon discovers, is a pun. For not only has Belot been murdered twice (his double death) it is his twin, or double, who has been killed alongside him. The play with language and dual meanings is as integral to the story as is the theme of disguise and masquerade.

Aveline also plays with the narrative structure. We begin with an anonymous writer narrating the tale, Simon then takes over telling the story of the shootings and the criminal investigation. At key points in the story the narrative is taken over by M. Regnard, the police chief, with Simon providing a written account of that portion of the story. But within M. Regnard's account there is yet another narrator who takes over in the voice of Andre Féron. It is during this portion of the story it is revealed the true identity of Belot's double and the reason for the masquerade. Minor characters earlier introduced into the story suddenly step from the wings to assume leading roles. Slowly it dawns upon Simon just why Belot had constructed a most bizarre double life. Yet a chance encounter with a lovely woman will alter Belot's carefully controlled dual life. As in real life chance plays an equally important role in the ultimate unraveling of the seemingly puzzling shootings in the apartments on Rue Crimée.


The detective novel aspects of the book are well done and show the kind of bravura performances one expects from the French. Aveline explores the bureaucracy and tedious division of departmental police stations with a insightful look at early police techniques, especially in the Identification department headed by the officious character of Cavaglioni. Interspersed with the police procedure we get the kind of detective work normally seen in puzzle novels as in the scenes where Simon is determined to explain the mystery of how the murderer entered Belot's apartments without being seen. The inclusion of floor plans (four of them!) revealing intriguing architectural features allow the reader to join the detective in uncovering the secret of the house on Rue Crimée. As soon as Simon penetrates the secret of the building he is confronted with even more mysteries and puzzles. Layer upon layer, the book never lets up.


The real draw of the book, however, is the exploration of character and behavior. Aveline's portraits of M. Regnard and all the policemen, Madame Morin and her husband, but especially Féron and Belot show his gift for both complexity and nuance in character. The key to the story lies not so much in the secrets of an oddly renovated building but in the hidden lives of the fascinating characters.  Real people always make for more intriguing mysteries than locked rooms and invisible killers.

French/English edition for use in classrooms
(David McKay, circa 1950s or 1960s)
The final chapters of this book turn the entire story upside down. What appeared to be a cleverly developed murder mystery turns out to be an impassioned and impetuous act of violence. Only upon closing the book does it all truly sink in how subtly powerful Aveline's story is. Easily distracted by the illogical and the seemingly impossible the police in Double Death... overlook the most basic of human emotions. The human heart is the greatest mystery of all and often acts in a fashion that defies logic or sense.

Aveline would go on to write a handful of more detective novels, three of them -- believe it or not -- featuring Belot as the detective. I can only assume that they are cases from his early career. It is the only instance I can think of a crime writer creating a detective, killing him off in his debut, and then writing a series of prequels.

The Double Death of Frédéric Belot was reprinted several times throughout the 1970s when Aveline who had abandoned the genre for over three decades returned with a bestselling book The Passenger on the U (L'Abonné de la Ligne U) (1963) that was a big hit in France. Publishers then went digging for his earlier translated crime novels and reprinted all of them.  It is likely you will be able to find any of them, including Double Death... , for relatively affordable prices in the used book trade. I have also seen copies of the original French book offered for sale.

NOTE:  In researching photos and scans of other editions I learned that this book was a major inspiration for the crime novels of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, my idols in all of French crime fiction.  I can easily see what they were drawn to when reading this book which is truly mesmerizing in its multiple layers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

IN BRIEF: Flight to Darkness - Gil Brewer

Vet noir. I think there's an awful lot of it. And I always seem to stumble upon it. I recently wrote about a Viet Nam vet up to his neck in bad women and murder (The Sexton Women) and here's another book about a hapless vet under the spell of a seductive woman.

As Flight to Darkness (1952) opens Eric Garth is about to leave a V.A. hospital where he has been given a clean bill of health. After returning from the Korean War traumatized and broken he had been under a psychiatrist's care for a disturbing recurring nightmare in which he murders his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Now successfully having completed his treatment he hopes to return to Florida and return to his career as a sculptor. Going along for the ride is Leda Thayer, Dr. Prescott's nurse and assistant. Leda gave Eric more than his fair share of TLC while at the V.A. and now he's hoping to sample more regularly Leda's considerable non-nursing talents. But we know that Eric is doomed, for on the very first page he describes Leda as a "lush tropical flower blooming poisonously through a crack in a stretch of hot cement sidewalk." Not exactly a flattering metaphor, is it?

Leda, a truly fatal femme fatale, and Eric her love-struck mark make for quite a wanton couple. Neither can keep their hands or lips or anything else off each other for very long. These men of noir just don’t know the difference between love and desire. It's always their undoing. With Eric Garth you keep hoping he'll finally see the light. It takes him nearly three times before he starts to catch on.

Click to enlarge
He's framed for a hit and run accident, sent to another psych ward in Alabama, but manages to escape to Florida. There he meets up with his brother and learns that he has married Leda. Uh-oh. Then there are those wooden mallets hanging in the sculpture studio. One of them finds its way to Frank's skull and Eric is framed for the murder. Still, he is under the hypnotic sexual spell of Leda who amazingly does everything but get entangled with that randy Zeus/swan. For all his stupidity and thinking with his crotch you keep rooting for Eric hoping he'll see that his ex-gal pal Norma is the right choice and his savior from the path that leads to hell. He's not a bad guy at all, but you know he will never see the light until it's far too late. When he does he's compelled to exact a cruel revenge typical of Brewer's protagonists. But is there also the rare redemption for this Brewer hero? I'll leave that for you to discover.

BTW - the cover illustration is not accurate. Leda should be wearing a nightgown and Eric should be wearing pajama bottoms only.  But I guess Gold Medal had yet to get really racy with their covers so early in their operation.