Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who Kept the File on Claudia Cragge?

Reviewed last week here was the File on Claudia Cragge (1938), the second contribution by Q. Patrick to the Crimefiles series of murder dossiers (books collecting purported documents and exhibits in a fictional murder case for readers to solve).  Over the rest of the year I hope to write about QP's first dossier, File on Fenton and Farr, as well as the one done by the American crime writer Helen Reilly, File on Rufus Ray.

In the comments to my last post, I had a discussion with Sergio of Tipping My Fedora about the late crime writer and critic Julian Symons and his dismissive attitudes to the dossiers, which Symons concluded made dull reading, if it could even be called reading at all (Symons was referring specifically to the English series authored by Dennis Wheatley and J. G. Links, though his remarks seem generalized to include any kind of dossier).  I, on the other hand, actually enjoyed the one I read and I think other fans of puzzle-oriented mysteries would as well.

Porter Hartwell Adams
(1894-1945)
The Crimefiles actually seem to have been quite popular in the United States and Great Britain for a few years in the late 1930s.  But just who actually read them (besides mystery reviewers)?  My copy of File on Claudia Cragge seems to include some clues to its owner (though see John Norris' alternative theory below).

Colonel Porter Hartwell Adams (1894-1945) enjoyed a distinguished public career.  A direct descendant of American presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Adams graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was one of the first students to study aeronautical engineering.

After leaving M.I.T. Adams was planning the first world flight with former classmate Donald Douglas (1892-1981), founder of Douglas Aircraft Company (now McDonnell Douglas Corporation).  The outbreak of World War One necessarily disrupted this scheme, and when the United States entered to conflict, Adams, like John Street's "Miles Burton" detective Desmond Merrion joined Naval Intelligence (though in the U.S., of course, rather than England), overseeing the communication system on the coast of Maine.

After the war Adams helped organize the National Aeronautics Association, serving as NAA President from 1926 to 1928.  Under Adams' leadership, the NAA supported Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight from New York City to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis (1927).

Adams retired as NAA President in 1928, on account of ill health that was to plague him for the rest of his life.  After a year spent in Arizona, he moved to his family home in Thetford, Vermont, where he maintained a laboratory, conducting aerodynamic studies.  At his second marriage, in 1931, his bride's matron of honor was a certain Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam.

In 1934 Adams became President of Norwich University, a private military college in Northfield, Vermont.  He served in the office for four years, until his ill health prompted his resignation in 1938 ("Throughout the four years that he was president," noted the Norwich University Record, "frequent fluctuations in the condition of his health induced almost constant doubt as to how long he would live").  Adams died only seven years later, at the age of 51.

the front endpaper inscription (note the label
in the lower left corner of Boston's hallowed
Old Corner Book Store)
Does one see evidence of Adams' poor health and the understandable frustration it caused him on the front endpaper of File on Claudia Cragge (a book that was published the same year that Adams resigned as President of Norwich University)?

The book is inscribed

PORTER ADAMS,
Chief of Defectives
Northfield - Vermont
(+ WHAT an Honor)

The there is a representation of what is called a SOLID GOLD BADGE beneath the inscription.

Active intellectuals and professionals often defended the detective novel as respectable recreational or convalescent reading; such seems to have been the case with Porter Hartwell Adams (in the comments, however, John Norris suggests this might have done by a sarcastic college student and the book might not have been owned by Adams at all!  Still a mystery?...).

Coming soon, a novel by Helen Reilly, then one by another woman author, mostly forgotten.  TPT

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff Curt - well done on the impressive scholarly research mate!

    ReplyDelete
  2. How do you know that this was owned by the same Porter Adams? Poor health? How do you get that? The writing and drawing look like something a teenager would do. Even the humor is very juvenile. Maybe it was written ABOUT Adams by someone completely different. One of the students at the college perhaps.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi John,

    I wonder how many Porter Adamses there might have been in Northfield? It's a small town! I think the college student theory is interesting, though characteristically one puts an inscription on that page I would think.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There John, edited with your "irate doodle" theory in mind!

    Sergio, thanks as ever!

    ReplyDelete