Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Daring Thought: What if the Library of America Went Screwball?

I've been publicly airing ideas of late--wildly, even madly, ambitious, I know--for hypothetical Library of America volumes that might include what we might term "classical" mystery fiction from the Golden Age (roughly 1918-1939). With my previous list of 30 detective novels I've received some suggestions for alternate titles and some for additional writers.  Only one person so far has criticized the inclusion of a specific writer.

No one mentioned Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies (1932),which I would have included, but for the fact that it has already been taken for LOA's writers of the Harlem Rennaissance series.  I did add a couple of authors, however, taking the total up to thirty, and switched a couple of titles (the added authors were Virginia Rath and Hugh Austin).


Jeffrey Marks, biographer of Craig Rice (Who Was That Lady?), has mentioned her exclusion from the list, but before 1940 she had published only one mystery novel, 8 Face at 3 (1939), not at the level of her best in my view.  I think ideally she should be represented in a two-volume series called American Screwball Mystery: Eight Novels from the 1930s and 1940s.  What say you to these choices as possible selections?

The Blind Barber (1934), by John Dickson Carr 
Headed for a Hearse (1935), by Jonathan Latimer
The Annulet of Gilt (1938), by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
The Cut Direct (1938), by Alice Tilton






Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre (1940), by Elliot Paul
The Case of the Kippered Corpse (1941), by Margaret Scherf
Trial by Fury (1942), by Craig Rice

The Mouse in the Mountain (1943), by Norbert Davis



The trick here is that Phoebe Atwood Taylor was also Alice Tilton, so she shows up twice, in the same year.  She was quite the prolific crime writer in the 1930s and 1940s, and one of the preeminent American representatives of both screwball and local color fiction fiction.  She was a true American original, a Grandma Moses of murder (except, well, a heckuva lot younger).

The cause of Margaret Scherf has been taken up by Rue Morgue Press, a great advocate for the zany mystery. John Dickson Carr was better known for his frights than his chuckles, but any Carr fan will tell you that there is plenteous humor in Carr's books.  The Blind Barber has long been considered a classic of mirthful mystery.  Jonathan Latimer and Norbert Davis (and to some extent Craig Rice) represent the more hard-boiled side of screwball.

There's probably another set that could be devoted to "Couples" mystery, what do you think?  Of course The Thin Man is already in the Dashiell Hammett set, but there are other notable examples.

There also should be, ideally, a 1940s set of detective novels, because the classical tradition was still strong in that decade.  Represented here should be authors like Elizabeth Daly, as Dean James mentioned on the previous post, Hake Talbot (1944), whose Rim of the Pit is widely-loved by locked room mystery fans; and Craig Rice yet again, for her wonderful Home Sweet Homicide (1944).

At least we now have LOA a-twitter!  I've known that someone connected to LOA, in addition to Sarah Weinman, reads this blog, because my discussion of Dashiell Hammett's short stories is sited here.

15 comments:

  1. I read Headed for a Hearse not too long ago. Very amusing and very entertaining.

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    1. t's got some sensibility issues, but then so do the Chandler and Hammett books LOA reprinted!

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  2. While I have not read all of these particular books [actually have only read Blind Barber], all of the authors are terrific. And, yes, a set of "couples" novels would definitely be in order.

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    1. We can hope! Maybe something will happen someday.

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  3. Glad to see Norbert Davis made the list. Doan and Carstairs make a fine couple - Doan the PI generally taking second place to Carstairs, the enormous Great Dane. Been a while since I read "Mouse," but I do remember reviewing it and noting that Doan will tell you quite honestly that Carstairs is, by far, the more intelligent partner in their enterprise. The books are hard-boiled, but VERY funny.

    This blogging system refuses to let me in via TypePad. Even after forcing me out of Google, it insists I be "anonymous." I hate Blogspot. Sorry, Curt.

    Les Blatt

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    1. Totally agree about Davis. Les, you are showing up as "Les Blatt" on my computer. I'm sorry you are having trouble with the posting.

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  4. Except for the Margaret Scherf I have read these and once again you have a terrific selection. Taylor, writing as Tilton is one of a kind. She epitomizes the screwball mystery while giving a fascinating look at the home front during WWII, (in her books from that era) dealing with rationing, scrap drives, blackouts etc. You mentioned her local colour and indeed that is one of her strongest capabilities. I personally rank her behind only Carr as a favourite of mine.

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    1. Glad you liked it. Yeah, I actually was thinking of choosing one of PAT's Forties books for the reasons you mention. She was in her own way a tremendously popular and influential writer.

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  5. For couples mysteries, you might take a look at DETECTIVE DUOS edited by Bill Pronzini.

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  6. Always good to see latimer getting some love - very chucklesome list Curtis - and screwball coupling sounds like an excellent idea (ahem)

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    1. Well, we could start suggestions here! By the way, I need to add some review links to the above books.

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  7. I would include the Little Sisters in any list of screwball mysteries. My personal favorite is Great Black Kanba.

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    1. Thanks, Dean. I had been trying to decide between them and the Scherf.

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  8. Dear Mr. Evans,
    I really enjoyed this post--and it's made me think that it would be fun to interview you about the genre for the new crime and mystery site The Life Sentence. If you'd be up for answering a few questions via e-mail, drop me a note: levistahl@gmail.com.

    Thanks!
    Levi

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