Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Todd Downing Reviews: February 18, 1934

Todd Downing
I thought you might be interested in seeing what Todd Downing's crime fiction reviews in the Daily Oklahoman were on this date eighty years ago.

Todd Downing, a Choctaw instructor at the University of Oklahoma who has has been mentioned here, oh, a time or two (there's also a great deal about Jim Thompson in that one piece), published nine praised detective novels between 1933 and 1941.

During roughly that time he also reviewed almost 300 mysteries in the Oklahoman. He was not one of those mystery writers who said, oh, I never read anyone else's mysteries, but rather was an avid fan of the stuff himself, some of his favorite writers being Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, H. C. Bailey, Ellery Queen and Rufus King.

On February 18, 1934 he reviewed three mysteries:

The Mysterious Madames, by Simone d'Erigny

Translations of French mystery yarns continue to come...so some of the fans must like them....not to discourage those whose tastes differ, this won last year's Prix du Roman d'Aventures and certainly lacks nothing in the way of mustached detectives, taxicab dashes across Paris and women of mystery who leave behind them anonymous correspondence, whiffs of exotic perfume and other knickknacks....

Though Downing spoke five languages (English, Choctaw, Spanish, French and Italian) and taught foreign languages at OU, he disliked most (though not all) of the French crime novels he reviewed in the 1930s.  Most people today seem to think Georges Simenon was the only French-language mystery writer who was translated into English back then, but in fact there were a number of others, the vogue for French mysteries in the early 1930s being somewhat akin to that for Scandinavian mysteries today.

"Judge Lynch" of the Saturday Review did not like The Mysterious Madames either, declaring that if this novel won a French literary prize, he hoped "nobody publishes the runners-up."  Ouch!

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett

The highbrows have been so enthusiastic about Mr. Hammett's latest hard-boiled melange of dialogue, liquor and murder that we suppose it will be all right if we permit ourselves a few superlatives from the mystery fan angle....

Downing loved classic mystery, yet he also gave favorable (sometimes rave) reviews to hard-boiled/noir authors like Hammett, James M. Cain and Jonathan Latimer.

Miss Temple and Mr. Cobb
Murder Day by Day, by Irvin S. Cobb

The only faults one can find with Mr. Cobb's incursion into the blood and bafflement field are on the score of lack of originality and obvious padding....

Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (1876-1944), originally from Paducah, Kentucky, was an American journalist and author best known in his day for his prolific southern local color and humor stories, but today may be best remembered (among Lovecraftians, anyway) for his horror fiction, which is said to have influenced the great man himself, H. P. Lovecraft.* 

(for confirmation, see leading Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi's A Dreamer and a Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time on Lovecraft and Cobb's stories "The Unbroken Chain" and "Fishhead"; also see here for a great podcast on "Fishhead," which is set about two hours north of where I live)

Cobb also was involved with films, as a writer and an actor, and, incidentally, hosted the 1935 Academy Awards, at which the now recently passed away Shirley Temple (1928-2014) received her famous miniature Oscar.

Murder Day by Day may be reviewed any day at this blog....

For more on the books Todd Downing assessed in his newspaper reviews and on his life and crime fiction too, see my Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing.  His crime fiction has recently been reprinted in very nice editions by Coachwhip Publications and is available on Amazon as well.


  1. From the record, I have Judge Priest Turns Detective in my house somewhere and I have 4 Todd Downing. I definitely will buy another 3 books of Downing in the same series and 2 more books in different series. All 5 have recently been published and that is the reason I keep postponing buying them, knowing that the books are always there for me to buy plus there are no ebooks available where I can just buy and receive instantly!

    I am very glad that more and more Golden Age Detective books have been published for the past couple of years either in ebooks form or physical form.

    I've rarely read physical books since last year. I think ebooks market is blooming. In this competitive online books marketing, publishers should consider to publish their books as ebooks as an option to stay compatible. Coachwhip should consider this very seriously... Even Crippen & Landru has published some of their titles as ebooks! Even though Doug was very reluctant at first!

    You will be surprised that some people around the world love to read GAD! But the shipping costs are notoriously high. Ebook is the solution.

    1. Hi, some people prefer eBooks, others traditional paperbacks. I wish both could be offered all the time!

      On Cobb, yes, the Judge Priest book is one of two other other criminous works of his of which I am aware. More on Cobb soon, I hope!