Friday, November 22, 2013

Banner Deadlines (2004), by Joseph Commings


Senator Banner shines a light
on a problem
Since 1994 the publisher Crippen & Landru has published over 100 collections of mystery short stories.  One special treat among C&L's large output for impossible crime fans is the collection of Joseph Commings (1913-1992) short stories, Banner Deadlines, about the cases of amateur sleuth Senator Brooks U. Banner.  Fourteen stories appear in the collection (thirteen were published between 1947 and 1984, with a fourteenth appearing for the first time in this collection). 

With Hake Talbot and Clayton Rawson, Joseph Commings was one of the most notable followers of the Maestro of the Impossible himself, John Dickson Carr, though Commings' great metier, like that of  Edward D. Hoch (with whom he co-authored one tale in this collection) was the short story.

Commings began writing his stories while serving in the USAF during WW2.  There were 33 of them in all, the first group appearing between 1947 and 1950 in 10-Story Detective, Ten Detective Aces and Hollywood Detective, the next between 1957 and 1968 in Mystery Digest, The Saint Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and the last, with one exception, between 1979 and 1984 in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.  Commings suffered a severe stroke in 1971, when he was only 58, and never actually authored any new stories after that (the ones published after that year were older stories he had already written but not gotten published, though some of them are quite good).

Oddly, none of these stories, much admired by connoisseurs, ever appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  In his introduction to Banner Deadlines, Robert Adey quotes Commings as saying of his failure to get his stories placed in EQMM, "the editor took a dislike to me."  Hm!  Most mysterious.....

Up until I got this book I had only read Commings' Senator Banner tale "The X Street Murders," which had been anthologized some time ago.  I remembered I liked it and hoped to read more by the author.  So what is the all-Banner collection like?  Put simply, if you like impossible crimes this one's for you!  I should have the full, detailed review up soon.

13 comments:

  1. Commings had one of the most original minds in the field when it came to devising fresh premises and new solutions for an impossible crime. “The X Street Murders” is a good example of this, but I’m also very fond of “Murder Under Glass” and “Bones for Davy Jones.” Looking forward to reading your review!

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    1. I did like Murder Under Glass. Very fairly clued.

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  2. I was introduced to these stories a number of years ago, and I agree, they are fresh and inventive impossible crime stories. I've always wondered why they weren't more available, or more anthologized. I wonder what "the editor took a dislike to me" means? Just one of those things, I guess. I certainly hope C&L collects some more of them, I'd like to read them.

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    1. I was surprised by this too. Some have suggested Dannay might have thought B.U.B. was too much like Carr's H.M. He is, but Commings wrote some of the best mystery stories and they were of the sort Dannay had a special fondness for, so it still seems odd.

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  3. I reviewed this one a few years ago - and I enjoyed the stories very much. But then, I'm a fan of "impossible crime" mysteries, and Commings really was ingenious in coming up with his plots. And I'd have to say that Senator Brooks U. Banner is the only fictional U. S. senator I can think of who is also an amateur detective!

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    1. Oh, I immediately thought of R. B. Dominic (Emma Lathen), but Benton Safford is only a Congressman.

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    2. I find it easier to think of our U. S. senators as criminals. ;)

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  4. Read these several years ago. Many of the stories are very good, some are classics of the subgenre. But as with any collection in which the theme is impossible crime they can get a bit repetitive if read all at once.

    That "dislike" thing sounds like either envy on Dannay's part or Comming's resistence to having the stories rewritten. Dannay was still in charge of the magazine. From what I know he liked to rewrite stories and make suggestions for changes before accepting them, sometimes changes that altered the plot.

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    1. Ed Hoch also notes that John Kahn turned down the Commings story for his All But Impossible anthology. It was the only tale she turned down! Odd. As I write in my review, several of these are clear classics of the subgenre.

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  5. Really looking forward to the review Curt - this volume is very much a prized posession on my shelves!

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    1. He is a great favorite with genre connoisseurs.

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