Case in point: Englishman Don Basil's Golden Age detective novel Cat and Feather, published in 1931 and lifted nearly word-for-word from American Roger Scarlett's The Back Bay Murders, published in the US the previous year. (The five Roger Scarlett detective novels, readers of this blog will recall, has recently been reprinted by Coachwhip).
In his January 1978 column ("The Uneasy Chair") in the landmark fanzine The Armchair Detective, edited by Allen J. Hubin, detective fiction collector Ned Guymon, who had corresponded about the matter a few years earlier with both Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page, the two women who in the 1930s had written detective novels under the name "Roger Scarlett," called Don Basil’s Cat and Feather “probably the most glaring piece of plagiarism ever to exist.”
Guymon explained that the novel did not involve a simple matter of "similarity of character or plot or situation." Rather, it was a "word for word copy"
The English characters have different names, English locale has been substituted for American and there are a very few English words used to clarify American terms. Otherwise this book is a flagrant and larcenous case of plagiarism. You should see it to believe it.
I have seen a copy of Don Basil’s book (which is extremely rare), and, having seen it, I certainly do believe it. Here are two pairs of matched quotations from the novels that illustrate the breadth and brazenness of Basil’s plagiarism:
|the plagiarism was bold and bloodcurdling|
I had known Richard Kirk Storm for many years, but not until some months ago had I been associated with him in one of his cases. On that occasion I had been present, as the family solicitor, at a dinner which had a fatal ending, and had called Storm, my only friend among officials of Scotland Yard, to my assistance and that of the Stafford family.
His spectacular solution of the case widely known as The Bexhill Murder Mystery had put him in the limelight as far as the public was concerned. (Cat and Feather)
|oyster stew, with flocks of oysters serious eats|
I forced a smile. The mention of food gave me no pleasure. “That’s just where you’re wrong,” Kane announced when I explained this to him. “You know,” he looked at me quizzically, “I’d lay a bet that nine out of ten really good murderers lose their appetites right after shooting. And a heavy-eating gumshoe gets them on the hip every time. So forget your troubles.
He ordered for us both. When we were served I fished about in my stew with as good grace as I could muster. (The Back Bay Murders)
|college pudding lost recipes found|
Without a word we sat down at the marble table….
“It’s past lunch-time, and I know it. We’ll have steak and kidney pie, with stacks of chips, and, let’s see—for a climax—“ He debated gravely, and then brought out with gusto, “College pudding.”
I forced a grim smile. The mention of food brought me no pleasure.
“That’s just where you’re wrong,” Storm announced, when I explained to him. “You know,” he looked at me quizzically, “I’d lay a bet that nine out of ten really good murderers lose their appetites after the murder. So forget your troubles.”
He ordered for us both. When we were served I toyed with my food with as good grace as I could muster. (Cat and Feather)
|original drawing by Elena Kolotusha|
copies available at Fine Art America
This really is a remarkable--remarkably egregious--case of plagiarism.
Irony is added, as Ned Guymon noted, by the fact that “Don Basil” (if that truly was the author’s name) dedicated “his” novel as follows, “To Basil Holland, who once said, ‘Uncle, please write a detective story for me’.” To this Ned Guymon witheringly commented: “Basil Holland got his detective story all right but his uncle didn’t write it, he copied it.”
Don Basil's perfidy went undetected in the UK, but in the US, where the novel had been picked up for publication by Henry Holt, Cat and Feather was pulled from circulation and "Don Basil," as far as we know, disappeared from the annals of mystery writing.
So who was the devious Don Basil? Was the name a pseudonym or truly his? If anyone knows any more about this subject I would love to hear about it!