|James M. Fox (1908-1989)|
aka Johannes Knipscheer
There were nine of these Marshall mysteries, which combine the hard-boiled PI first person narrative with smart mystery couple banter, published between 1947 and 1953. I am currently reading The Gentle Hangman (1950) and should have the full piece up tomorrow.
While not without some irritations characteristic of the period, it so far seems a literate and intelligent detective novel--though I do find myself missing the genius of Raymond Chandler, with whom Fox was a correspondent in the 1950s, as well as the originality of Ross Macdonald. But then that is why Chandler and Macdonald, along with Dashiell Hammett, are the ones who constitute the great hard-boiled triumvirate.
Fox also corresponded with Percival M. Stone, a Massachusetts mystery collector and tremendous R. Austin Freeman enthusiast (Freeman, a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle and creator of the medical sleuth Dr. Thorndyke, was one of the great English detective fiction authors).
Happily, I happen to have one of the letters. Stone had written Fox on January 4, 1954 canvassing Fox's opinions of crime writers. From his Studio City abode (I think the place where he lived has been replaced by a Petco) Fox responded two weeks later, on January 17:
I can find no fault with your credo on the subject of R. A. Freeman, who will probably always rank at the top of the English school, with Dorothy Sayers a close second. I'm somewhat undecided about the stature of Mr. [Freeman Wills] Crofts, whom I have at times suspected of certain deficiencies in plotting and characterization. But my views are not really worth taking into account, since I've always belonged to the American school myself, and more particularly to that branch of it which is forever kicking over the traces or committing outright iconoclasm in some form or other....
Interestingly, as we see, Fox admired R. Austin Freeman, who also had a great fan in Chandler (though Chandler did not enjoy Sayers' work). I share Fox's admiration for both Freeman and Sayers and have to admit that Crofts, of whom I have written at length in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, did have certain deficiencies in characterization (though I greatly enjoy some of his books).
What do I think of Fox's own work? Come see tomorrow.