Richard Wilson Webb (1901-1966)
Martha Mott Kelley
Mary Louise White Aswell
Hugh Callingham Wheeler (1912-1987)
The two women, Kelley and Aswell, participated in four of the first five Q. Patrick books (Kelley in the first two, Aswell in the next two), both of them with Richard Webb: Cottage Sinister (1931), Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), S. S. Murder (1933) and The Grindle Nightmare (1935). Richard Webb authored Murder at Cambridge (1933) solo.
|It seems that Dear Clara|
was not such a dear
Webb and Wheeler (described by their publisher Simon & Schuster in 1937 as "two very brilliant young men who write as one") went on to author four more Q. Patrick novels after Death Goes to School: the book under review here, Death for Dear Clara (1937), Death and the Maiden (1939), Return to the Scene (1941) and Danger Next Door (1952), as well as two 1938 crime file type books (not novels, but collection of documents laying out a murder mystery puzzle), The File on Fenton and Farr and The File on Claudia Cragge.
It gets even more complicated, however, because Webb and Wheeler began writing another series of mysteries, under the name Patrick Quentin (who knows how they came up with that one).
Between 1936 and 1952, the two "brilliant young men" (okay, Webb wasn't so young by 1952), published nine PQ mysteries, to go along with the five QP mysteries (and the two crime file books). After 1952, Webb dropped out of the partnership and Wheeler went on to write seven more PQ crime novels, from 1954 to 1965 (did he deliberately retire the series when Webb died, one wonders).
But, wait, it gets more complicated yet, because Webb and Wheeler started yet another mystery series in 1936, under yet another pen name, Jonathan Stagge. The pair published nine Stagge detective novels between 1936 and 1949.
So Webb and Wheeler proved quite a prolific team, under three pseudonyms together producing 21 novels and 2 crime file books, all in the years from 1936 to 1952. Connoisseurs of Golden Age mystery fiction consider their work to be some of the best from their time, yet all their books are out of print and have been so since the 1990s, when some Patrick Quentins were reprinted by the late lamented IPL (International Polygonics, Limited).
You want mysteries, now there's a mystery! Making this neglect even queerer is the fact that Hugh Wheeler went on to become even more prominent after 1965. Wheeler won Tony Awards in the 1970s for his books for the musicals A Little Night Music, Candide and Sweeney Todd. You may have heard of those little shows!
Back to Death for Dear Clara, however. This is a fine example of a Golden Age detective novel, with a sophisticated milieu, some amusing writing and an impressively twisty ending. QP has the skill of the greatest detective novelists--Christie, Carr, Queen--of keeping readers guessing. Yet as with Christe, Carr and Queen, the problem also is fairly clued. I would say Death for Dear Clara is a model of the more sophisticated 1930s Golden Age detective novel. In a sensible world, this book would have remained in print.
Timothy Trant, the police detective introduced by QP to solve the murder of dear Clara, is a pleasing character. An amiable, attractive graduate of Kent School, Connecticut and Princeton, he gets all those high society murders that would, of course, flummox your typical flatfoot cop (or so runs the thinking in much of Golden Age mystery, in both the United States and England).
QP dubs Trant "the force's professional amateur," signaling to readers that they are in for a hybrid detective, on the order of Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn (a professional police detective who behaves something like a gentleman amateur).
My favorite passage from the book is one describing his "bachelor apartment" abode. QP goes out of the way to distinguish Trant from your classic eccentric detectives, your Wimseys, Wolfes, Holmeses, Queens and Vances.
|unlike this smart guy|
Tim Trant is no orchid fancier
Now, I know that the last line quoted above used a term that is objectionable today, but I have to agree with the implied barb about the ostensible "story value" of Ellery Queen's Romany (?) houseboy, Djuna. By the way, here's an interesting piece by Margot Kinberg on the subject of insensitive language in Golden Age detective novels: You Can't Say That!! Ellery Queen and Djuna are mentioned.
Another good character is the mercurial Princess Patricia Walonska (nee Cheney). Once "the debutante to end all debutantes" ("Her wild escapades had run neck and neck on the front pages with the downward careening of stock pices"), then a liberal do-gooder--"the champion and the terror of Manhattan's unemployed"--the one-time madcap heiress, having married a Russian aristocrat, is now a royalist with "a regal bearing worthy of Marie Antoinette and an imminent guillotine."
Fans of Golden Age detective novels should definitely like this one. If you're lucky you just may find a hardcover copy floating around somewhere for under $100.