Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Just Whose Bloody Fingerprints Are on The Murder Weapon? Who Wrote What in the Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge Corpus of Crime Fiction

The question of the authorship of the 37 crime novels of Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge has long been one of the most vexing questions for fans of classic mystery.  I personally became involved with looking at this question way back in 2010, not long before book Masters of the Humdrum Mystery was published.  This was over at the old Golden Age Detection website at Yahoo (partially preserved at the GADetection Wiki), along with Mauro Boncompagni, Xavier Lechard and others.  Truly interest in these writers is international!

Now that I am near completing a joint biography and critical study of Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, the prime movers behind the trio of pseudonyms, I am prepared to propose a list of authorship for the novels.  Some of this still remains conjectural, though as much as possible I have tried to verify assumptions with primary material.  So here goes!  (You will notice I include the two Crimefiles books as novels; I consider them such.)

Q. Patrick (12 novels)
Cottage Sinister (1931) (Richard Wilson Webb and Martha Mott Kelley)
Murder at the Women's City Club (1932) (Webb and Kelley)
Murder at Cambridge (1933) (Webb)
S. S. Murder (1933) (Webb and Mary Louise White, aka Mary Louise Aswell)
The Grindle Nightmare (1935) (Webb)
Death Goes to School (1936) (Webb)
Death for Dear Clara (1937) (Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler)
The File on Fenton and Farr (1937) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler)
The File on Claudia Cragge (1938) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death and the Maiden (1939) (Webb and Wheeler)
Return to the Scene (1941) (Webb and Wheeler)
Danger Next Door (1951) (Webb)

Jonathan Stagge (9 novels)
The Dogs Do Bark (1936) (Webb and Wheeler)
Murder or Mercy? (1937) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Stars Spell Death (1939) (Webb and Wheeler)
Turn of the Table (1940) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Yellow Taxi (1942) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Scarlet Circle (1943) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death and the Dear Girls (1945) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death's Old Sweet Song (1946) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Three Fears (1949) (Wheeler)

Patrick Quentin (16 novels)
A Puzzle for Fools (1936) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Players (1938) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Puppets (1944) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Wantons (1945) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Fiends (1946) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Pilgrims (1947) (Webb and Wheeler)
Run to Death (1948) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Follower (1950) (Wheeler)
Black Widow (1952) (Wheeler)
My Son, the Murderer (1954) (Wheeler)
The Man with Two Wives (1955) (Wheeler)
The Man in the Net (1956) (Wheeler)
Suspicious Circumstances (1957) (Wheeler)
Shadow of Guilt (1959) (Wheeler)
The Green-Eyed Monster (1960) (Wheeler)
Family Skeletons (1965) (Wheeler)

Basically, these books fall into three periods, in terms of authorship. 

There is, first, 1931-1935, when "Q. Patrick" published five mysteries, all written by Richard "Rickie" Webb, either collaboratively or solo.  Actually, the Q. Patrick novel Death Goes to School, which was published in February 1936, really belongs to this period too.  It, along with The Grindle Nightmare and Murder at Cambridge were written by Rickie alone, while Cottage Sinister and Murder at the Women's City Club were written by Rickie with Martha "Patsy" Mott Kelley and S. S. Murder was written with Mary Lou White/Aswell. 

Murder at Cambridge
was written by Webb after he lost Patsy as a writing partner (she moved to England and married) but before he gained Aswell. 

After meeting Hugh Wheeler in the summer of 1933, in between the publications of Murder at Cambridge and S. S. Murder, Rickie's fate was sealed: he had met his perfect writing partner in the prodigiously talented Hugh and the two would work together for the next 15 years, until their personal relationship broke down irretrievably in the late 1940s.

As Mauro Boncompagni has indicated, Aswell did not contribute to The Grindle Nightmare, as is often stated, but it seems likely that Hugh Wheeler influenced the novel, as I have discussed in an essay in Murder in the Closet.  However, at this time Rickie was still the master and Hugh, only in his mid-20s, the apprentice and Hugh did not make his official debut as novelist with the 1936 novels The Dogs Do Bark and A Puzzle for Fools, by "Jonathan Stagge" and "Patrick Quentin" respectively, and the 1937 Q. Patrick novel Death for Dear Clara.  These three novels launched Rickie and Hugh's three famous series sleuths: respectively Dr. Hugh Westlake, Peter Duluth and Lt. Timothy Trant.  Rickie explicitly was the creator of Duluth and Trant; perhaps Hugh, who shares initials with Hugh Westlake, created him. 

This launches the second period, 1936-1948, though during this period we see Hugh become the dominant writing partner, particularly by the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The period of America's (and Rickie and Hugh's) active involvement in World War Two saw only a few novels written.  Q. Patrick was sidelined, while both of the WW2 Stagges actually had their inceptions before Pearl Harbor, as did the Patrick Quentin, Puzzle for Puppets.  Essentially Rickie and Hugh's novel writing during most of the American war years consisted of expanding Jonathan Stagge's The Scarlet Circle and Patrick Quentin's Puzzle for Puppets from novelettes into novels, which Hugh was able to accomplish in about a week of typing apiece.  However, Hugh did spend much of 1945 working on the excellent Jonathan Stagge Death and the Dear Girls, which he and Rickie discussed in correspondence.  It was published at the end of that year.

Rickie, who was anxious to get back to work, likely also was involved, after he returned home from the Pacific, in the Stagge Death's Old Sweet Song and the Patrick Quentins Puzzle for Wantons, Puzzle for Fiends, Puzzle for Pilgrims and Run to Death, which absorbed most of Hugh's interest in these years.  However, Rickie's physical and emotional problems and the alienation of Hugh's affections led to a breakdown of both the two men's personal and working relationship. 

Hugh himself entirely wrote the last Jonathan Stagge, The Three Fears, and the Patrick Quentins The Follower and Black Widow over 1948-51, as well as a novel with criminous elements under his own name. 

A single Q. Patrick appeared, after a decade's lapse, called Danger Next Door, but this is a very short novel indeed that is based on an old novella from the Thirties, which I suspect had little, if any input from Hugh.

After Rickie left America for France in 1952, Hugh Wheeler handed off the Q. Patrick name to his old partner for future use (unfortunately Rickie didn't make too much use of it) and dropped Jonathan Stagge for good (sadly for me), but he wrote an additional seven Patrick Quentin novels, a few of them with Timothy Trant, the series sleuth who had figured in three earlier novels as well as nearly two dozen works of short fiction, which are being published for the first time in book form this summer by Crippen & Landru, an exciting event in vintage mystery fiction publishing.

I'll have more to sat about Rickie and Hugh's true crime and short fiction in a future post.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), by Q. Patrick

The [Desborough Women's Club] building itself was rather small and old-fashioned, situated in an eminently respectable part of the business section of Desborough, in amorous propinquity to the Junior Athletic Club.  The resident members were few in number but strong in usefulness and moral support of the club and all it stood for.  They were, for the most part, working women, banded together to avoid loneliness and to keep in contact with the rush of modern life as embodied in other working women like themselves....

....Transient members had the privilege of obtaining room and bath together with protection of their virtue and respectability at the rate of $2.00 a night--sponsored guests fifty cents extra....

--Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), by Q. Patrick (Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb and Martha "Patsy" Kelley)

Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night (1935) and Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes (1946) are celebrated early examples of detective novels set at women's educational institutions, where the main players in all the mysterious goings-on are female (Sayers' sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, absent for much of Gaudy Night, partially excepted).  An even earlier example of a detective novel which takes place at a women's institutional setting, however, originated across the pond from the United Kingdom in the good old U. S. of A.  This is Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), the second novel by Q. Patrick (Rickie Webb and Patsy Kelley), which is set in the American city of Philadelphia (called Desborough in the novel).  To me it's a remarkable collaboration between two friends, a man and a woman, working in full artistic synchronization.

New Century Guild, Philadelphia
at 1307 Locust Street, near the
Racquet Club of Philadelphia
and about a mile from
Rickie Webb's digs
at 2105 Locust Street
Philadelphia is popularly known as the City of Brotherly Love, but this appellation seems belied in the novel by the murder spree which takes place at the genteel (if not gentle) club.  Are women really the deadlier sex?  Perhaps when it comes to murder in the modern era the sisters are doing it for themselves.  Just as a woman might well prove to be the murderer (or perhaps not), it's also a woman, happily, who finally solves the case.

Not known, to be sure, for mayhem in real life, women's clubs had been, when Murder at the Women's City Club was published in 1932, an important part of Philadelphia society for over half a century.  The New Century Club traces its origins in the city to the Women's Pavilion at the Centennial Exposition held at Philadelphia in 1876; the actual club was founded the next year.  Founders included former abolitionist and current suffragist Eliza Sproat Turner, city journalist Sarah Catherine Fraley Hallowell, and Clara Marshall, physician and later dean of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania

A few years later Eliza Sproat Turner, assisted by Patsy Kelley's prominent aunt, Florence Kelley, and artist Gabrielle Clements, founded the New Century Guild, which had as its goal succoring working women.  In 1906 the guild relocated to a building at 1307 Locust Street, formerly a doctor's elegant Italianate rowhouse. 

The new premises, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, included a lending library (the doctor's former library), a second floor auditorium for programs and classes advancing a female viewpoint, a dining hall providing luncheons and, on the third and fourth floor (where family and servants' bedrooms had been located), rooms where members could stay overnight, for up to three nights.

Other women's clubs founded included the Acorn Club, in 1889, and the Cosmopolitan Club, in 1928, but the one with premises that seem most to resemble the Desborough Women's City Club of the Q. Patrick novel are those of the New Century Guild.  The building was located near the Racket Club and about a mile from where Rickie Webb lived in downtown Philadelphia (the center city) during the early Thirties.

The action in the novel takes place almost exclusively at the club and the suspects in the crimes which take place there are mostly female. 

Moreover, while the police sleuth is male--indeed, rather obnoxiously so--the novel's amateur sleuth is a woman.  And, like Billie Jean King at her 1973 "Battles of the Sexes" match against opportunistic male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs, it is the female sleuth who gets the better of her male rival in Murder at the Women's City Club [MATWCC].  What a delightful and uncharacteristic Golden Age detective novel this is.

For the most part the murderees and suspects in MATWCC, which is precisely set in October 1930, a year after the Wall Street Stock Market Crash, harbinger of the Great Depression, are resident members of the club.  Comparatively few in number, these are:
  • Miss Deborah Entwhistle, genteel daughter of a judge, who had been obliged by a bad cold "to spend the night at the club some fifteen years previously, and having once settled in...had stayed...."  After emerging as one of the police inspector's main suspects in the murders, she decides to investigate matters for herself.
  • Mrs. Mabel Mulvaney, overbearing club president
  • Dr. Diana Saffron, ex-Dean of the Desborough Women's Medical College and current Professor of Internal Medicine there
  • Dr. Freda Carter, Dr. Saffron's "brilliant young satellite," who plans to wed, much to the dismay of the ardently feminist Dr. Saffron
  • Miss Constance Hoplinger, aka popular detective novelist Gerald Strong, who sees the murders as material for future books
  • Miss Amy Riddle, "ardent social service worker"
  • Miss Millicent Trimmer, who receives "her room and board (plus thirty odd dollars a week) in recognition of her services as secretary, treasurer and official receiver of complaints."

More on these ladies soon.  But in the meantime, fear not, my good mystery loving bros, there are a few significant male characters in the novel, these being, respectively, a sleuth and two suspects:

  • Inspector Manfred Boot of the Desborough Police Force.  He's unprepossessing and obnoxious, yet not an utter fool either, though unimaginative, FACTS being his one and only guiding light: "Nature had given him a receding chin and a lack-lustre eye, and he had assisted nature to carry out her intentions by a tendency to let his lower lip sag and his eyelids droop.  But this show of indifference masked a burning, though so far unsatisfied, ambition to figure in some bizarre, spectacular murder case....Of course, playful gangsters potted each other in busy streets, and picked off an occasional innocent bystander on the way.  But Desborough suffered no more in this respect than many other [American] cities of equal size and importance, and the very monotony and crudeness of gang depredations may serve to account for Inspector Boot's almost habitual boredom and for his still unshaken reliance on the obvious but frequently misleading Fact."
  • Sebastian Thurlow, accountant and fiancee of Freda Carter, a "tall, muscular young man of perhaps thirty-two or thirty-three, with blonde hair, blue eyes that were thoughtful rather than solemn, and a capacity for doing the unexpected.  Some people suffer trials and embarrassments though the possession of this capacity, but not so Sebastian.  In fact, so adequate were his safeguards of poise and assurance, that he generally left those about him with the feeling that everyone except himself must be out of step."  Although Sebastian is somewhat physically unlike Rickie Webb, in that when the novel was published Rickie was a short, muscular young man of thirty-one, with dark hair and eyes, the second attribute described--that of a confident and independent-minded attitude--seems rather similar to that of Rickie.  More on these two below.
  • Rudy, the club's live-in "colored" janitor, supposed husband of the club's live-in "colored" maid, Cornelia.  And, since the vexed matter of race in the Golden Age detective novel has hereby raised itself, I will go ahead and quote the full passage from the book where these two characters are first discussed.
....Rudy lived in one of the attics with Cornelia, the unappreciative but not unimaginative chambermaid.  Ostensibly she was his wife.  At least, the fact of their mutual dislike and continued partnership argued some sort of legal bondage.  Despite his romantic name, Rudy was a most unsatisfactory husband.  Nor was Cornelia fashioned after the pattern of Griselda.  But they both had the virtue of being always around when they were wanted and often when they were not.  Some are born faithful, but these two had their faithfulness thrust upon them.  Other servants came and went--in the causal manner which is supposed to be peculiar to the colored race.  But Rudy and Cornelia stayed on, condemned to a lifetime of incompatibility in the service of the club.

former lending library at the New Century Guild (see Hidden City Philadelphia)

Yes, Rudy and Cornelia are comic servants, but the authors actually take more time to develop this pair as characters than is customary in the Golden Age detective novel.  (Granted, it's setting a low bar.)  And there are hints--in the suggestion that a "casual manner" was only "supposed to be peculiar to the colored race" and that the pair are not exactly content with their stations in life--of a different attitude from the norm on the part of the authors.

We learn that Cornelia, with her "dark, really beautiful eyes," is attached to only one woman at the club.  That person is Miss Deborah Entwhistle, who, we are informed, "was one of the few [white] persons who really understood colored folk."  Indeed, we learn that "many an unusual confidence had been imparted to [Deborah by Cornelia]" over "clandestine" cups of tea in early-morning tete-a-tetes in Deborah's room. When another member of the club accuses Rudy and Cornelia of being behind the murders, Deborah comes vigrously to their defense, albeit in somewhat patronizing tones:

"Those two are as innocent as the babe unborn.  Oh, yes, it's quite true I could imagine either of them whipping out a knife with intent to kill in a sudden quarrel.  They're primitive and uncontrolled, if you like.  But as for a brutal, premeditated murder, it's unthinkable.  There isn't enough malice in them to carry out such a thing."

When Inspector Boot asks, "with exaggerated politeness," "Are they friends of yours?" Deborah answers simply, "Yes...very dear friends."

former bedroom at the New Century Guild (see Hidden City Philadelphia)

Inspector Boot (as in Give him the boot, one suspects) heartily dislikes all the women at the club, on account of their disinclination to submit to his bullying (so unladylike!), but he dislikes Deborah most of all, as she begins to emerge as a rival sleuth.  Deborah was a particular friend of Dr. Diana Saffron, the first person to die (suspicious coal gas poisoning in her room), as well as a great friend to Dr. Freda Carter and her fiancee Sebastian Thurlow, whom she first brought together. 

Of the seemingly orthodox Sebastian, we learn that he

had plenty of other, less stereotyped friends, whom he never mixed with his more conventionally social connections.  Among these was Miss Deborah Entwhistle for whom he always displayed an affectionate regard since chance had thrown them together in an amateur theatrical performance where Deborah had been successfully impersonating an aunt of Pocahontas.  

Rickie wrote MATWCC with Patsy Kelley in 1931, when he was lodging in an elegant row house on Locust Street in downtown Philadelphia with his close friend Robert Elson Turner and an older woman, Miss Frances Bartholomew, a co-founder of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP who had been the longtime head resident of Philadelphia's Eighth Ward Settlement House, founded to aid the black population of that part of the city.  Like the fictional Deborah, Frances was known for her empathetic attitude and indeed devotion to black Philadelphians.

Locust Street locale where Rickie lodged with Robert Turner and Frances Bartholomew
(building with blue treatments in center)

It seems not a stretch to conclude that the Rickie-Frances friendship has been fictionalized as that between Sebastian and Deborah in MATWCC, though there was no Freda Carter in Rickie's life.  "Freda," however, was the name of Rickie's sister and Rickie more than once in his fiction gave the name to strong women characters. 

Additionally, just as the fictional Deborah brought Sebastian and Freda Carter together, so might the real-life Frances have done the same for Rickie and Patsy.  (Both Frances and Patsy came of genteel Quaker backgrounds, and Patsy's aunt, Florence Kelley, was a prominent Progressive reformer who died the year MATWCC was published.)  However, Rickie's and Patsy's partnership, in contrast with the one in the book, was strictly professional. 

Indeed. the year after the MATWCC was published, Patsy would marry an Englishman and move to England, while Rickie on an overseas sojourn would meet his own English prince, a handsome and prodigiously talented young man named Hugh Wheeler, who would come to America to live with Rickie in Philadelphia, where he would take Patsy's original place as Rickie's writing partner.

The fictional Deborah in MATWCC is the daughter of a judge, while the real-life Frances was the daughter of a prominent criminal lawyer.  The greatest difference between the two, however, is that Deborah, in contrast with Frances, is not a social worker.  (Indeed, Deborah has no salaried occupation at all.) 

The actual social worker character in the novel, Amy Riddle, is portrayed comically as a earnest, humorless ideologue, constantly denouncing public utilities and traditional phallocentric social institutions and preaching in favor of "free gas, free electricity, five-month marriages and a feminine oligarchy with an executive Comrade Amy at the helm."  In Amy Riddle, the more militant reformers of Frances' and Florence's generation come in for considerable spoofing.

Dr. Clara Marshall (1847-1931), Dean of the
Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania
On the other hand, there is the similarly tough-minded though physically ailing Dr. Diana Saffron, who is sympathetically, even tragically presented, when she becomes the first person at the club to die suspiciously.  Dr. Saffron recalls pioneering woman physician Clara Marshall, who died at the age of eighty-three in Philadelphia the year MATWCC was published.  After her retirement Dr. Marshall unflaggingly continued to practice medicine nearly up to the time she died.

A more frivolous, though highly amusing, character is Constance Hoplinger, who churns out baroque detective novels under the masculine nom de plume Gerald Strong, all of them with a different color in the title:

Terror in Jade
, The Purple Alibi, The Amethyst StainThe Black Serpent

Inspector Boot reads the latter Gerald Strong novel and reluctantly concludes that "if Miss Constance Hoplinger had conceived all these crimes in her own peroxide head, then she was certainly a woman with a fertile imagination, a prolific pen and a pregnant fancy.  In short, she possessed what, in a writer of mystery stories, passes for a brain."  Ouch! 

Miss Hoplinger hopes to make use of the murders as material for her next novel.  Waste not, want not, right?  Oh, those mystery writers!  So mercenary.

Included in the MATWCC, in something of a tour de force, is a five page plot summary of The Black Serpent.  It's an obvious parody of bestselling American detective novelist S. S. Van Dine, with a fancy pants Philo Vance clone named Lorenzo as Great Detective, that I suspect was composed by Rickie:

The amateur sleuth is an effeminate creature with marcelled hair, mauve shirts and a passion for Sudanese cigarettes which he imports in enormous quantities weekly from Timbuctu.  When using the mighty brain to its full capacity, Lorenzo subsists on nothing but clams and grapefruit juice.  Symphony concerts and chess problems are his main source of inspiration and spiritual pabulum.  He dashes off to them--between deductions, as it were.

The blondes all conspire to vamp and vex him.  (They become blonder and more exquisite as the tale proceeds.)  But he imperviously flicks them from his heart just as he flicks the Sudanese tobacco ash from the sleeve of his velvet smoking jacket.  When begged by the district attorney for explanations of his cryptic and apparently irrelevant utterances, he waxes encylopaedic on Sapphic Odes, Etruscan pottery, the symbolism of Picasso and the binomial theorem--anything, in fact, except the point at issue.

But he always gives his harassed friend to understand that he knows exactly who did it--how--when--where--and why, and that he will disclose his certainties when the appropriate moment arrives for a dazzling display of his omniscience.  He laughs to scorn all the clues that the Inspector thinks are important and lays much stress on unimportant details which nobody else notices.  He sets special store by the finger nails, ear lobes and what he calls the "metaphysical makeup" of the people concerned.  (See his monographs on these subjects in the British Museum.)"

the dilettante sleuth at work
Basil Rathbone as Great Detective (and Total Twit) Philo Vance

This whole witty and amusing novel anticipates the mystery novel of manners most associated with Crime Queens Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, which fully began to gel in the mid- to late- Thirties.  Like famed American mystery writer Rex Stout, Rickie Webb was a great admirer of Jane Austen and declared that his favorite novel was Austen's Emma, so the wry and wise comedy found in this tale of murder should not necessarily come as a surprise, though Rickie Webb wrote nothing quite like it again.  His follow-up novel, Murder at Cambridge, written solo, is not nearly as good as MATWCC, in my opinion.  So I presume Patsy Kelley deserves a great deal of the credit too.  If so, as I think it is, it's a shame that she evidently retired completely from writing after her marriage, at the very young age (for a writer) of twenty-six.  She seems to have had rather a knack for malice domestic.

See here and here for laudatory reviews of MATWCC by Jason Half and John Norris.  Unfortunately, this novel is one of the few Q. Patrick books which has not been reprinted by Mysterious Press/Open Road, though in my view it's one one of the top three or four QP's.  Having been published by very minor presses in the US and UK and never been reprinted since in either country, it's a very hard book to find, perhaps even for Otto Penzler.  The single English language copy on the internet is priced at about $250--and that's without the dust jacket.

The detective's on the case!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Philadelphia Freedom: The Genesis of Q. Patrick's Murder at the Women's City Club (1932)

Acorn Club, Philadelphia
located about a half mile from
where Richard Webb once lived
Murder at the Women's City Club, Q. Patrick's second crime novel, was a product of Richard Wilson Webb's early, pre-Hugh Wheeler years in Philadelphia (1926-1932), when he established himself in double careers as a pharmaceutical executive and a mystery writer and made a host of friends from a rich variety of backgrounds.  In the City of Brotherly Love, Rickie, as he was known to these friends, finally had the freedom, both economic and social, to begin being the man he really wanted to be. 

Murder at the Women's City Club
, co-written with Martha Mott Kelley, stands as Rickie's Philadelphia crime novel, even though the city is never in fact named in the novel.  More particularly it's a tribute to a remarkable generation of Philadelphia women, like Rickie's friend Frances Ritter Bartholomew.

Frances Ritter Bartholomew (1873-1939), the daughter and granddaughter of prominent criminal attorneys from Pottsville, Pennsylvania seems to have grown up rather a solitary person.  Her slightly elder sister, Helen, died as an infant the year before Frances was born, while her father, Lindsay "Lin" Coates Bartholomew died when Frances was six.  A year after remarrying, Frances' mother passed away when Frances was fifteen, leaving her in the care of her new stepfather, John Beale Howard Gittings, a prominent "Main Line" Philadelphia doctor and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.  He survived until Frances was thirty-one.

In her adult life Frances Bartholomew followed the examples of her father and and stepfather, who in life had devoted themselves to defending the despised and the downtrodden.  Lin Bartholomew had done his best to defend alleged members of the notorious Irish secret society "the Molly Maguires" at murder trials where the decks had been iniquitously stacked against them, while Dr. Gittings for many years served as a visiting physician at Philadelphia's Hospital of the Good Shepherd, which had been founded by the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in the wealthy Main Line to provide medical care to indigent children. 

Like her father Frances Bartholomew took on the mantle of social justice, and like her stepfather she devoted herself to caring for children in need.  Between 1870 and 1920 Philadelphia's population doubled as streams of migrants, many of them Europeans but many as well African-Americans who had fled the Jim Crow South, poured into the City.  Many of these newcomers, notes Rosina McAvoy Ryan in "Settlement Houses" in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

lived in crowded, ventilated row homes where toxic smells and putrid streets were inescapable.  Open drains with raw sewage seeped from back alleys into the streets.  Flies and mosquitoes, along with the horse manure festering in the cobble-stoned streets, were summer health hazards.  

Settlement houses were first started in the 1890s by so-called Progressives (a dirty word in some quarters today) to ameliorate myriad social ills that national, state and local governments had failed to address effectively.  Residents, as they were called, settled in local houses in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, where they conducted programs of education, vocation, sanitation and the like to alleviate the sufferings of the local populations. 

Many of the settlement houses, notes Ryan, were staffed by so-called "new women" of the 1890s, who had "revolted against the prevailing values of domesticity by gaining independence outside the family and finding personal satisfaction through 'municipal housekeeping,' improving conditions outside the home."  Many of these women were influenced by the doctrine of the Social Gospel, "which emphasized Christian responsibility for addressing urban problems."

The first two settlement houses in the United States (the movement began in the United Kingdom) were founded in New York in 1886 and 1889, followed by the most famous such institution in the US, Jane Addams' Hull House, also in 1889.  Philadelphia's first settlement house was founded three years later.  Famed black civil rights activist WEB Du Bois resided at a Philadelphia settlement house in 1896-97 when he was compiling research for his sociological study The Philadelphia Negro.

Frances Bartholomew would convert to Quakerism and go to work at the Eighth Ward Settlement House at 928 Locust Street, founded in Philadelphia in 1895 "for sanitary, industrial, educational and social work among Negroes."  The House maintained on its premises a kindergarten, playground, public baths, laundry, savings fund, women's club and dancing class, as well as a three-story gray fieldstone house at nearby Newtown, known as the Paper Mill House (this had originally housed three families who worked at a paper mill, along with a general store). At this latter location the House maintained an establishment dubbed "Happyland": a children's holiday camp with an open air dance hall.

Paper Mill House, once home to "Happyland"

In 1900 Frances at the age of twenty-seven became Head Resident at the House, when her predecessor married.  Three years later her report on the House chided the city for ignoring the Eight Ward's festering social problems, with tart references to "static virtue" and "dynamic vice":

Our problem--once removed--is, of course, the immorality of the neighborhood.  Actually it is the far famed inertness of respectable Philadelphia.  For more than a generation static virtue has carefully avoided us, even though we murder, rape, and steal under its very nose; so dynamic vice goes cheerfully on its way, undisturbed, and politically encouraged and protected.

Despite this pessimistic note, Frances persevered as head resident for decades and became a beloved personage by many in the city, as someone known for taking up cudgels, metaphorically speaking, on behalf of the underprivileged black population.  Concerning her work at the Eighth Street Settlement House, Frances in 1906 wrote in the Philadelphia Public Ledger (in tones which sound somewhat patronizing to many modern ears) that

For eight years we have lived and worked in one of the worst Negro sections in Philadelphia, where we have seen and studied the Negro in his most degraded state, and we are glad to give as testimony to his better nature that during all the years never once have we been subjected to any annoyance, much less any insult.

That the race has its faults we agree.  So has the white man--with infinitely less excuse.  For our experience has taught us that the faults of the Negro are easily traceable to two hundred years of slavery and an exceedingly doubtful example set in some of the virtues by our own people.

Florence Kelley, a more famous
contemporary of Frances Bartholomew
and an aunt of Martha Mott Kelley
A laudatory 1907 article in the AME Church Review described Frances, who in two years would co-found the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as "a sweet-faced Quakeress...unconscious of color differences in estimating the value of men.

In the 1950s Louis Martin, an African-American who had been raised at the House after the death of his mother in 1899, when he was but ten years old, warmly recalled "Ma Thol," as the children knew her, as a kindly, genteel lady who took her young charges to the opera and on fresh-air summer excursions to "Happyland," taught them to waltz and two-step, and had in her head myriad notions about education and social equality that were deemed scandalous in her day.

In 1930 Frances, who remained single all her life, resided in Philadelphia at an attractive row house near Rittenhouse Square at 2105 Locust Street, about a mile from the old Eight Ward Settlement House.  Her fellow lodgers at the house (two doctors and their families resided on either side of them) were Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb and his close friend Robert Elson Turner, an associate professor of French Language and Literature at Bryn Mawr whom Rickie had met when both young men resided in Paris at the fizzing height of Roaring Twenties. 

"Do not be deceived by his coy smile and innocent looks"
Rickie's friend Robert Elson Turner, before his expulsion from Hamilton College (for bootlegging)
Despite sexist assurances at right in his college annual that "the women"
had rescued Robert from becoming "the college aesthete" ("aesthete" often was code for gay)
Robert Turner in fact was in a relationship with Rickie Webb for several years
before Rickie met Hugh Wheeler in 1933

Rickie, who had become research manager for Smith, Kline and French Laboratories, a Philadelphia pharmaceutical company, had hired Robert as an assistant researcher.  (Robert had double majored, however improbably, in French and chemistry and even been arrested and expelled from Hamilton College for indulging in a bit of bootlegging.) 

Soon Robert would be displaced in Rickie's life by a young man from England named Hugh Wheeler, though Robert and Rickie remained lifelong friends (with ups and downs) and Robert served as a co-executor of Rickie's will.

It was not to Robert or Frances Ritter Bartholomew whom Rickie turned to in 1930, however, when he was seeking a collaborator in writing mysteries.  For Cottage Sinister (1931), reviewed here, he found a writing partner in Martha Mott Kelley, a young Radcliffe College graduate and book reviewer who recently had published a short story in Scribner's Magazine.  A descendant of famed Quaker abolitionist and feminist Lucretia Mott and a niece of prominent Progressive social reformer Florence Kelley (1859-1932), "Patsy," as Martha was nicknamed (the Q. Patrick surname was derived by combining "Pat" with "Rick" and adding a "Q." for misdirection), had a wealth of social background upon which to draw in writing a novel.

Cottage Sinister, set in a rather synthetically portrayed "bookish" England (in Rickie's native county of Somerset), did not take advantage of this rich American material, but the second and final Pat and Rick collaboration, Murder at the Women's City Club did.  Boy, did it--or girl, did it, I should perhaps say.  A marvelous tribute to women of Philadelphia, women like Frances Ritter Bartholomew and Florence Kelley, the novel will be discussed in the next post.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Ice Storm: Melora (1959), by Mignon Eberhart

Mid-20th-century American Crime Queen Mignon Eberhart published Melora, her 35th crime novel, in 1959, thirty years after her first published crime novel, The Patient in Room 18Mary Roberts Rinehart, Eberhart's predecessor and greatest rival in the field of emotive romantic mystery, had died the previous year at the age of 82, having not published a full-length mystery novel since 1952.  Eberhart, who turned 60 in 1959, would go on to published another 24 crime novels, however, concluding with Three Days for Emeralds, which was published three decades after Melora in 1988, when Eberhart was nearly 90 years old.  With 59 mystery novels published over nearly 60 years, Mignon Eberhart enjoyed a successful and highly lucrative crime writing career of remarkable longevity.

With her novel Melora, Eberhart had merely reached mid-stream, as it were, in her long life's journey as a professional author.  But she had been around long enough to see herself being overtaken after World War Two by new freshets of subgenres, like hard-boiled/noir and psychological suspense.  The latter subgenre, practiced by such authors as Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong and Ursula Curtiss, often is termed "domestic suspense," as its protagonists typically are young(ish) wives and its purview the home, but in fact Mignon Eberhart, like Mary Roberts Rinehart, had been practicing their own form of "domestic suspense" back in the Thirties.

Back then its detractors derisively termed "domestic suspense" HIBK (Had I But Known) mystery, on account of its foreboding, first person domestic narrative style, which supposedly ran something like this:

Had I but known that my failure to refill the sugar bowl that fateful Tuesday afternoon would unleash a fatal chain of malevolent, bloodthirsty horror that would cost the lives of five innocent people and nearly kill my cat, I would personally have smashed my piggy bank right then and there and run as fast as my feet could take me to the corner store, without giving it even a second thought, even though that new lipstick shade turned out to be all wrong for me and my hair was simply a fright....

Anthony Boucher, the dean of mid-century crime fiction critics, disdained HIBK, though he loved postwar "domestic suspense."  Why the difference in attitudes?  I think in addition to domestic suspense being more obviously "psychological" than old-fashioned HIBK, a lot of this had to do with character and milieu. 

Although both Rinehart and Eberhart in a small number of their mysteries had series characters who were independent, middle-aged, professional nurses (invariably called "peppery"), their protagonists customarily were panic-stricken women in wealthy circumstances.  In postwar domestic suspense, though the protagonists are often wives (and panic-stricken ones at that), they usually are, I think, less privileged then the EberRinehart women and they may at some point have had acquaintance with the world of work outside the home.  That gives them more of a semblance of real life, I think, for many readers today; though of course it must be recalled that back in 1950 only 34% of women worked outside the home.

Also, Eberhart's protagonists, the vast majority of them, have not aged well, largely being seen today as dismayingly passive--wet noodles in female form. 

Almost invariably in an Eberhart novel lacking her series character Nurse Sarah Keate, the protagonist will be a young woman who has recently married (or is about to marry) and is indecisive and unsure of herself.  Her parents are usually dead or far away, though there might be some kindly matronly relative in the background, usually a financially independent spinster aunt.  Invariably there will be some sort of female rival for our heroine to compete against, a somewhat older though very attractive and sophisticated women and an absolute bitch on wheels who seems to live to trample our heroine in the dirt.

The heroine knows very little about her new privileged life, being the classic literary ingenue, and she feels lost in her wealthy surroundings.  (Her new husband is usually a rich urban businessman or attorney.)  Then murder strikes and our heroine usually manages to get herself suspected by picking up the murder weapon or losing an earring at the scene of the crime or the like.

In EberRinehart crime novels, emoting tends to take the place of actual detecting.  There often is mystery, indeed plenty of it, but the heroines are more interested in analyzing their feelings of dread and impending doom than those nasty bloodstains on the Oriental rug.  Despite the lack of rigorous and systematic criminal investigation, these novels are often very lengthy as well, as Eberhart and Rinehart made a lot of money from serializing their novels in glossy women's magazines, giving them every incentive to drag out the stories.  Classic mid-century domestic suspense was, to the contrary, much more concise.  Many of the classics from the postwar period run from only about forty to sixty thousand words.  At that length, the authors had to pare some of the emotional excrescences of HIBK that had so irritated critics like Anthony Boucher.

In Eberhart's Melora, however, I actually can see the influence of the post war domestic suspense school and even hard-boiled/noir, despite the fact that the book at around 100, 000 words is quite long for the period. This may be why Anthony Boucher, no great Eberhart fan, gave the novel a good review, though with qualifications. 

"Length seems excessive and motives are hard to credit," Boucher carped, but he added that "plausibly nasty female interrelations, clever variations on the First Wife theme and one or two whopping surprises make this the best Eberhart in five years or more."

Eberhart had actually slowed down her rate of production in the Fifties.  After the war she had published eight novels between 1946 and 1953 but only three between 1954 and 1959.  Probably the previous "best" novel Boucher was referring was The Unknown Quantity (1953), which I hope to review here soon.  I any event, I would say that Boucher's assessment of Melora is a judicious one.

Nearly the first 40% of Melora (about 40,000 words, or the length of some mid-century crime novels)  reads like classic mid-century suspense.  In this fear-fraught space the novel's timid protagonist, Anne, bride of merely a few months to wealthy Manhattan attorney Brent Wystan, is most effectively plunged into a maelstrom of terror by the author, an old hand at this sort of thing who could still teach her "daughters" a thing or two about fashioning fear from marriage.

We learn very little of young Anne's pre-marital background.  We never even learn her maiden name.  We do find out, however, that she is the daughter of parents from a small Midwestern university town, who since her marriage have moved halfway around the world. 

Anne seemingly came to New York to get a job of some sort, but she ended up, as is the wont of Eberhart heroines, almost immediately wedding Brent, who had been divorced by his previous wife, the eponymous Melora.  (We never learn her maiden name either.)  Life, we gather, had little meaning for Anne before her marriage, but now she finds herself in the fight of her life for a chance at happiness.

Anne has never met Melora, but a constant irksome presence in her life is the beautiful and sophisticated Cassie Wystan, widow of Brent's late brother, who was killed in the war (WW2, not Korea), leaving Cassie with their twin children Tod and Daphne (now fifteen), whom everyone insists on calling "Daff."  No fool she, Cassie after her husband's demise ensconced herself with her children in Brent's opulent New York townhouse, running his household for him, and she successively resented both Wife #1, Melora, and Wife #2, Anne, though she disguises her venom with honeyed sweetness.  I must say, in Mignon Eberhart's extensive gallery of nasty, hateful, ever-scheming bitches, Cassie stands out as something extra.

Anne seemingly has made no friends in New York (Eberhart heroines are always so isolated), but she has one ally, seemingly, in Brent's matronly Aunt Lucy, though Lucy maintains her own abode, complete with Mignon's own favorite breed of dog, poodles.  Also connected to the Brent Wystan household, though they don't live in, are longtime butler Cadwallader, familiar enough with the family to be known to them as "Caddy," and the new maid Daisy, who is, as new maids so often seem to be in books, somewhat flighty.

Then there's family friend Gary Molloy, a middle-aged lawyer and still something of a ladies man (he flatters himself), who drops in on the Wystans from time to time. And of course there's Melora, whose presence still hangs over the house like the baneful first Mrs. de Winter.

Anne is left alone in the house in the novel's opening pages, with Brent departing for a flight to France (where he has legal business concerning an inheritance case), Cassie visiting friends in Litchfield, Connecticut and Tod and Daff going back to school after their winter holiday. Then Anne's serenity is shattered when finds a note left for her in her little study, reading I am going to kill you.

Well, that's scary, though possibly just a childish prank, right? After all, Daff is at the awkward age and she was angry about having to go back to school.  But then another identically-worded message appears, and a sudden paralyzing snowfall enshrouds the house, trapping Anne inside with her fears--and possibly a lurking killer!

This part of the book is really well done and reminded me quite a bit of Ursula Curtiss' Hours to Kill (1962), reviewed here.  But where Curtiss' book stops after a time, Eberhart's goes on, and on.  After 100 pages or so it settles down into the usual Eberhart formula of multiple murders and seemingly endless speculations by the characters about just what is going on around them.  It's a little long-winded and circuitous, as Eberhart so often is, but the characters are done well (it was nice to see some teenagers in an Eberhart and Cadwallader the butler, who imagines himself a Great Detective, is a treat) and the plot--there's a lot of it--is engaging and unexpectedly devious.  Nor does the romance ever get really soppy, as it often can, for me, with Eberhart.

Then at the climax of the novel, things become rather, well, noir, as if Eberhart had ripped a gritty page out of Raymond Chandler or David Goodis.  I can't recall an Eberhart getting quite this nasty.  With a more assertive heroine and some tightening of the narrative, this might have ranked as one of my favorite mid-century mysteries.  As it is I quite enjoyed it. 

Unfortunately, after Melora, Eberhart took another, in my view less interesting, path with her next two mystery novels: rather bland historical romance.  Actually the later mystery which reminds me most of Melora (though key plot details differ) is not anything by Eberhart but rather the film Midnight Lace, starring the late Doris Day as the imperiled wife.  It came out a year after the publication of Melora and will be reviewed here shortly.  One might also speculate than the title Melora was chosen to recall Vera Casparay's Laura--that echo couldn't have been quite accidental, could it?

A Mystery Writer Makes War: Q. Patrick on Mass Murder, Hitler and Buying War Bonds

By Q. Patrick
Author of "S. S. Murder," "Death for Dear Clara," and many other mystery novels

I have killed about 47 men!  I have murdered about 39 women!  I have foully done away with about 7 children!  And I did it all ruthlessly and in cold blood.  But I did it with my pen; that is my only excuse.

Hitler has murdered many thousands, nay millions of men, women and children.  And he didn't do it with his pen either.  He did it actually, ruthlessly and in the cold blood of fanatical hatred.

Stop him?  How can we here at home stop him?

There is one way.  For some of is, there is only one way.  Buy War Bonds.  And, yes, then buy more War Bonds.  buy until every available nickel is being used to build up the instruments of war to destroy this beast.

Incidentally, my profits from this book are going into--you guessed it--WAR BONDS.  Thank you.

Q. Patrick was, especially in his earlier writing, a rather bloodthirsty mystery writer.  Not for him one mere austere murder.  But his killings indeed were nothing compared to the real ones of the Second World War.

Q Patrick's patriotic appeal to Americans to buy War Bonds was published in 1943 on the back of the Popular Library edition of Q. Patrick's S. S. Murder.  Richard Webb, 41, and Hugh Wheeler, 30, the two native British authors behind Q. Patrick, became American citizens in January and April 1943, respectively, and were called to service in defense of their new country. 

Hugh, who suffered from diplopia ("double vision"), was stationed with the Army Medical Corps at Fort Dix, New Jersey, while Rickie went the extra mile--actually he went thousands of extra miles.  He joined the Red Cross and was stationed with American troops at Hollandia, New Guinea, where he contracted Japanese Encephalitis.  Rickie longed to return to the home fires, but sadly he would find, like many others of the returned, that those fires provided only dim comfort from the malaise and maladies of the postwar years.  Things would never be the same for him again after Hitler finally was stopped, and for that he blamed the war.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Murder, Mayhem and Molly Maguires: The Bartholomews on the Case in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

Mr. [Lin] Bartholomew is in some respects a most remarkable man.  He is brilliant, witty and eloquent, possessing in a high degree magnetic power of voice and manner; is a good judge of human nature, and understands the motives and hidden springs by which human conduct is governed. As a consequence he selects a jury well, exercises judgment in his offer of testimony, and cross-examines witnesses with prudence.  His strong position is before the jury. 

[Lin Bartholomew was] a rising young lawyer with a tongue as sharp as a razor.

--contemporary accounts of  Lindsay "Lin" Coates Bartholomew (1834-1880), prominent criminal attorney of Pottsville, Pennsylvania and father of Frances Ritter Bartholomew of Phialdelphia (1873-1939), a close friend of crime writer Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb (1901-1966)

"Character!  Character!  What can I say of this despicable wretch, this curse let loose from hell, a confessed murderer, a participant in the most fearful of crimes."

--Lin Bartholomew dramatically impeaching a witness who turned state's evidence against his miner client in one of the Molly Maguires trials conducted in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania in the 1870s

Lindsay "Lin" Coates Bartholomew
father of Frances Ritter Bartholomew
one of the Philadelphia friends of
Richard Wilson Webb
One of the most infamous episodes of the often murderously violent Victorian-era labor-capital struggle in the United States took place in the 1860s and 1870s in the anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania, where miners found themselves pitted, if you will, against mine owners, as embodied, respectively, by the sinister secret organization known as the "Molly Maguires" and its twin nemeses, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, both of which were headed in the 1870s by attorney Franklin B. Gowen, who in my view more than matched the putative Molly Maguires for covert nefariousness.

Determined to break the power of his labor opposition, Gowen in 1873 approached the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and obtained the services of one of their operatives, James McParland

The wily Pinkerton Op was tasked with infiltrating the Molly Maguires, an organization so nebulous that it was claimed by many not even actually to exist in the United States.  (It was also said that the the members of the MM had sneakily hidden behind a supported peaceable front group, the Irish fraternal organization known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.) 

For a period of over two years, James McParland industriously collected evidence of supposed Molly Maguire involvement in more than fifty murders in Schuylkill County that had occurred over the last dozen years. (Good gad!  You would think the United States was a violent country or something.)

Franklin B. Gowen
After Franklin Gowen broke a strike among Schuylkill County miners in 1876, he lodged murder charges against supposed Molly Maguires, with the result that twenty men were executed, hanged on a gallows in Pottsville, the seat of Schuylkill county.  Ten men were hanged on a single day, known ever after to the Irish Catholic mining community as "Black Thursday." 

In an outrageous conflict of interest, the sort of thing that makes one despair for American democracy as anything but a hollow sham, railroad president Franklin Gowen acted as the state's special prosecutor in the trials, with his hired man, Pinkerton spy James McParland, serving as his chief witness. Certainly Gowen showed no lack of zealous ruthlessness in destroying his enemies.

One authority commented acerbically that the whole thing was essentially a private prosecution, with the State of Pennsylvania providing only the courtroom and the inevitable gallows.  Irish Catholics were excluded from the juries, as they presumably would be more sympathetic to the miner defendants, themselves all Irish Catholics.  Whether or not the defendants were really guilty of murders, these trials were most iniquitously conducted. 

The Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories in American History states it well:

a menacing "coffin notice" suppsoedly left by members
of the Molly Maguires to intimidate their enemies
in the management of the mines

The convicted men were members of an alleged secret society called the "Molly Maguires," said to have been imported from the Irish countryside, where a society of the same name was active in the 1840s....Their trials, conducted in the midst of enormously hostile national publicity, were a travesty of justice.  The defendants were arrested by the private police force of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, whose ambitious president, Franklin B. Gowen, had financed the Pinkerton operation.  They were convicted on the evidence of an undercover detective who was accused (somewhat half-heartedly) by the defense of being an agent provocateur, supplemented by the confessions of a series of informers who had turned state's evidence to save their necks.  Irish Catholics were excluded from the juries as a matter of course.  Most of the prosecuting attorneys worked for railroad and mining companies.  Remarkably Franklin B. Gowen himself appeared as the star prosecutor at several trials, with his courtroom speeches rushed into popular print as popular pamphlets....

....Even by nineteenth-century standards the arrests, trials and executions were flagrant in their abuse judicial procedure and their flaunting of corporate power.  Yet only a handful of dissenting voices were heard....

illustration of miners from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Valley of Fear

A decade later, Franklin Gowen was found dead from a shot to the head inside a locked hotel room in Washington, DC.  Some said he committed suicide (supposedly there was a history of insanity in his family), while others boasted that the Molly Maguires must have gotten to him at last.  It would have made a great scenario for a John Dickson Carr detective novel, but Carr, himself a native Pennsylvanian, sadly never spun such a tale. 

The most famous mystery that did come out of the labor-capital conflict in Schuylkill was Arthur Conan Doyle's The Valley of Fear (1915), which draws heavily, forty years after the event, on what were not remarkably impartial accounts of the episode provided by Pinkeron Detective Agency founder Allan Pinkerton and his son, the latter of whom met Doyle during a Trans-Atlantic cruise after the turn of the century. 

Pinkerton Op McParland
who detected in the coal country
a massive criminal conspiracy among
native Irish miners--or so he testified
Doyle might have heard a different story from Lindsay Coates Batholomew, a Civil War veteran, former state legislator and prominent Schuylkill County attorney, who was a key member of the team of defense attorneys at the Molly Maguires trials. 

At the trials "Lin," as he was known, went toe-to-toe with Franklin Gowen, a florid and fearsomely fluent speaker who published his courtroom orations as commercial pamphlets which he sold to his adoring public, to whom in their eyes he was a staunch upholder of public order and the divinely ordained prerogatives of capital.  Gowen, incidentally, had hired substitutes during the Civil War to avoid military service, in contrast with Lin, who after having resigned his post as private secretary to the controversial Secretary of War Simon Cameron, another native Pennsylvanian, had joined the northern army, fighting at the Battle of Antietam.

At one point Lin, who was said to have a tongue as sharp as a razor, damned a witness against his client as a "curse let loose from hell," a character indictment I'm going to have to try out myself sometime! 


Lin was not always on the side of the defense, however.  A few years earlier, in 1872, he had assisted the county attorney in trying a teenager named Joe Brown for a terrible double murder. 

On the morning of Sunday, February 25, 1872, 17-year-old Joe Brown, who lived with his 82-year-old father Daniel, attended Summer Hill Lutheran Church in Washington Township, Schuylkill County.  He had big plans after the service.

Washington Township was an unremarkable community of placid farmers of mostly German heritage, most of whom had come to the New World from the Old in the eighteenth century.  It seemed itself a world away from the strife-ridden coal mining districts, populated as they were with poor, exploited and angry Irish immigrants.  My own maternal German heritage great-grandparents lived about thirty miles west of Washington Township at the time of the murders.

Later in the afternoon, as twilight descended on the township, Joe Brown walked over to the nearby Kremer farm to call on his neighbors.  Before entering the house he stopped to pick up a piece of lumber from the Kremers' woodpile.

Summer Hill Church,
where the murderer worshiped
on the morning of the double murders
62-year-old Daniel Kremer, dubbed in the neighborhood "rich old Kremer, had recently sold some property and was said to have a quantity of gold and silver stashed in the house, as well as several hundred dollars in cash concealed in an "old-fashioned clock."

When Joe Brown entered the farmhouse, Daniel was reclining on a chest in the parlor and his wife, Annetta, a relative of Brown's, was sitting in a chair.  Candles had not yet been lit.  Joe Brown persuaded Daniel to accompany him to the family mill, located only 400 yards away, but they never made it to Brown's Mill.  In the lane halfway to their purported destination, Brown suddenly struck Daniel several times on the head with the piece of wood, leaving the older man prone and unconscious on the ground.

Brown then returned to the farmhouse, where 52-year-old Annetta had begun lighting candles.  He promptly set upon the woman with the makeshift club, beating her on the head and causing her to drop the candle as she fell to the floor.  After pausing to retrieve and relight the candle, Brown rained down yet more blows on Annetta's head.  Then he grabbed an ax and smashed the desk drawer where he believed the gold was kept, absconding with a small bag of it worth about $100 in total.  (He missed about $500, for a total of about $15,000 in modern value.)  Daniel's 93-year-old mother, Magdalena, was upstairs all the while, but she heard nothing.

Heading back down the lane, Brown paused with his club to finish off Daniel, who had not expired.  When he was through Daniel was doubtlessly dead.  Brown then caught the train to Pottsville at Moyer's Station, where he started selling off the gold.  After one of the Kremers' sons found his parents the next day--Annetta was still alive and implicated Brown with her dying words--the authorities were quickly able to round up Brown, who first denied knowledge of the crime, then tried unavailingly to pin it on some of his friends. He later confessed to the murders at the magistrate's office and to another prisoner in jail.

Brown's Mill, near the scene of the murders
Brown was convicted of murder but on appeal the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out Annetta Kremer's dying declaration and ordered a new trial, which commenced in 1873.  Lin Bartholomew dominated the prosecution's closing address, at the completion of which the spectators at Lyceum Hall, where the trial was being held, burst into uproarious applause.  The defense thereupon called for a new trial, arguing that the commotion would influence the jury against their client, but the judge demurred.  He declared that the crowd had merely signaled their aesthetic admiration of Lin's oratory (which undeniably had been of "unusual power"), not that they necessarily agreed with the lawyer's conclusion. 

Despite the judge's decision, it appears that Brown at least received a fairer trial than the supposed Molly Maguires would shortly thereafter.

Joe Brown was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which sentence was carried out on a snowy day on March 21, 1875, three years after the original murders, before a crowd of 4000 people.  (Who says justice was always swift back then?)  In the days leading to his execution, Brown had confessed again, this time to a newspaper man, with the prison warden as a witness.  He had reflected stoically that his impending death was but God's will. 

Certainly it reflected the will of man.  The Pennsylvania governor himself had earlier pronounced: "After waiting 28 years, the outraged majesty of the law was to be avenged and Schuylkill County to be the scene of a second judicial hanging....the wholesome influence of at least one execution was felt to be needed in this county of ours."

10,450 copies of the execution edition of the local newspaper, illustrated with grim wood cuts, sold the next day.  There had not been a public execution in Schuylkill since 1847, so there was considerable novelty value in a hanging--something which would soon be lost with the mass executions of purported Molly Maguires.  

"Jesus have mercy on me.  I am a poor sinner.  My soul I recommend to Jesus.  Jesus, dear Jesus.  Jesus, Lamb of God," intoned Joe Brown in German before he dropped.


Lin Bartholomew would have recalled the previous execution in Schuylkill.  He was 13 years old at the time and his father, Benjamin, has been co-counsel for the defense. 

James Riggs was a black man who had run afoul of a dangerously violent German named Gunder, who himself had earlier served nine years for murder.  (He had been pardoned by the Governor.)  Over a period of time Gunder had made threats against Riggs' life and Riggs, who had unavailingly sought legal redress, upon encountering his enemy shot and killed Gunder.  At his murder trial Riggs plead self-defense, but his attorneys were unable to save him.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death, the judge telling him:

"Your unfortunate situation excited our deepest sympathy and fills us with unutterable anguish, but you were fatally bent on mischief."

Was that sympathy really very deep after all?  I can't help but feeling that in this case Riggs's skin color may have counted decisively against him.  Justice talked, but it was not remotely merciful.

Riggs briefly escaped from prison but was caught and returned to his cell.  He later tried to starve himself and when that failed he drank a mixture of whiskey and blue ink.  After being administered a dose of sulphurate zinc, he vomited the whiskey and ink mixture and lived to see his execution day.  He left a widow and young child.

Pottsville gallows
Frances Ritter Bartholomew, Benjamin's granddaughter and Lin's daughter, barely knew her celebrated father, as she was just six when his promising career was cut short in 1880 by a sudden heart attack at the age of 45.  Frances was an only child, her slightly older sister Helen having died at the age of three months in 1872, before Frances was born.  In 1888 her mother Mary Pomeroy Allen after nearly a decade's widowhood wed again, to a doctor, John Beale Howard Gittings (1837-1905).

Interestingly enough given the fate of the Molly Maguires, Dr. Gittings was a practicing Roman Catholic.  Yet Mary died just a year later at the age of 40, leaving 15-year-old Frances in the care of her new stepfather.  Fortunately he seems to have been a good man. 

Hospital of the Good Shepherd
Dr. Gittings taught medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and was a visiting physician at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd, which had been founded by the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in the wealthy Philadelphia Main Line to care for children, young lambs of God, whose parents could not afford to pay for medical services.  The hospital evinced the kind of charity in which the American legal system often was grievously lacking.

Frances remained single all her life, and she usually seems to have lived alone as an adult, although she, a woman of social consciousness like her forebears, did much good work that kept her most usefully occupied.  She did for a time become friends with crime writers Rickie Webb  and Martha Mott Kelley, however, and in the guise of a fictional character she would figure very prominently in their second detective novel, Murder at the Women's City Club.   More on it soon!                    

Saturday, May 18, 2019

From Cottage to Club: Q. Patrick's Initial Deadly Duo, Cottage Sinister (1931) and Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), Part One

Cottage Sinister is a good try.  It opens well with the death of two ladies' maids on a visit to their mother's country cottage.  Ladies' maids are so rarely murdered, especially at tea.  It has a neat, though unconvincing, explanation.  But it gets rather bothered about love--mother and other--and it appears to treat seriously the notion that a girl about to make a good marriage might poison off her family one by one in order not to hamper her husband's career.  It seems, somehow, such an extreme method; is moving to London so useless?

--an English review of Cottage Sinister, by Q. Patrick

Contrary to this post-WW2 Swedish English-language edition,
Did the "Q." in Q. Patrick really stand for Quentin?
. Patrick also was Patrick Quentin

Sometimes you read about debut mystery writers producing a fine first mystery, taking flight on the wings of some brilliant central idea, unfortunately following it with the product of a "sophomore slump."  In the case of Q. Patrick, however, the slump came first, with the first mystery, Cottage Sinister (1931), being rather a curate's egg, happily followed by an excellent second tale, Murder at the Women's City Club (1932) (Death in the Dovecote in the UK). 

The marked improvement can't be attributed to a change in authors, because these initial Q. Patrick novels both were written collaboratively by the same people, Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb and Martha "Patsy" Mott Kelley.  I chalk it down simply to experience.  The more you write, if you have any hope as a writer at all, the better you get at it.

Of course readers of this blog should know all about Rickie Webb at this point.  Born in England, he graduated from Cambridge University in 1924, spent some time during the Roaring Twenties in Berlin, Paris and South Africa and then finally ended up ensconced in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, where he would take an executive position with the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline and French (makers of Benzedrine inhalers) and reside from the late Twenties throughout the Thirties.

When Martha Mott Kelley, a recent graduate of Radcliffe who had already published short stories and book reviews and was a niece of prominent progressive social reformer Florence Kelley, joined forces with Rickie in 1930 to write detective fiction, they coined their pseudonym by shortening their nicknames "Pat" and "Rick" and adding in front the letter "Q," which they pronounced the most interesting letter of the alphabet.  Really?  "Q" rather than the mysterious "X" or the elusive "Z"?  Well, I have my own theory as to why Rickie, anyway, thought "Q" was so interesting.

Their first mystery, Cottage Sinister, has all the trappings of a classic English village mystery, but something about it just doesn't work like it should, in my view. That notorious mystery-hating scold Edmund Wilson once accused Ngaio Marsh, a New Zealand native who wrote mysteries mostly set in England, of populating one of her novels with a bunch of "tricked-up" English country people; yet while Marsh's country people may or may not be fully accurate representations of the England of her day, her books to me nevertheless at least feel truer to real life than those in Cottage Sinister.

I don't know whether Patsy Kelley, who came from a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family (famed abolitionist, feminist and pacifist Lucretia Mott was a relative), ever had visited England, but Rickie, who was the son of a headmaster, spent the first 23 years of his life there, and Cottage Sinister is even set in the part of England whence he came. 

I think the problem may have been that for whatever reason the pair decided to make their England the deliberately artificial England of books, the England about which they thought the readers, whether in the US or the UK, wanted to read.  JJ Connington did the same thing with his first British mystery, which similarly felt false to me.  So maybe they succeeded in what they were trying to do, but I think trying to do it in the first place was an error of judgment.  It's just too twee really to be.

In Cottage Sinister, explicitly set in 1930, we have murder in the quaint village of Crosby-Stourton, located in a valley in Somerset, Rickie's native county.  But Crosby-Stourton is rather less wide awake than Rickie's Burnham-on-the-Sea:

As it lay somewhat off the main road that runs between Bridgewater and Bristol, it had not yet been discovered by the American tourist or the marauding automobile, and its rustic charm was still unspoilt by the flamboyant road-signs and advertisements which are assiduously defaming the English countryside in their attempt to inflict unwanted goods on an unwanted public.

Harrumph!  In this stodgy, slumberous village, we have, naturally, a local country landlord of ancient family, Sir Howard Crosby, the eleventh baronet, "a good landlord if somewhat severe and unbending."  His son Christopher, however, "the young squire and future baronet," is studying medicine in London, with the aim of practicing as a doctor.  He's such an odd duck, indeed, that, saith the bemused villagers, "he do talk to us poor folk as though he were nobbut a plain village lad and not one of the gentry at all."  Imagine!  Must be one of they Bovrilvikings you hear tell about in that there heathen Russia, I reckon.

And that's another thing I didn't really like about Cottage Sinister: the abundance of dialect speech, whether it that sort of Mummerset above or some excruciatingly heavy cockney speech that the authors manage to drag in.  As I see it the emphasis on "colorful" dialect speech in Golden Age mystery only serves to make unreadable lengthy passages of text spoken by cheeky London cockneys, lofty Scottish lairds, Cape Cod fisherman and black Americans, the latter whether they reside in northern cities or in southern plantation country.  Good writing, in my opinion, doesn't need such crutches.  Step lightly, I say!

Golden Age mystery writers spent a lot of time on this sort of thing, time which would have been better spent plotting better mysteries.  Even the most famous names in the genre, like Dorothy L. Sayers, Michael Innes and Gladys Mitchell, prided themselves on rendering unto their poor readers ostensibly authentic (and nearly unreadable) local dialect.  Although he was not nearly so good a detective novelist as those others, Milward Kennedy, I will say to his credit, hated it.  He was right.

Worse yet, there are malapropisms.  One of Lucy's less educated sisters says "internals" when she means "interns," for example.  The worst offender in this respect is the comic village constable, but naturally, who I was hoping would be one of the murder victims before the tale was over.  This is how he converses:

"I was hambulating 'ome past Lady's Bower on Sunday evening at about six o'clock--while they must 'ave been 'aving tea inside--and the hindivdual was as it were 'anging on the garden gate."

"Did you speak to him?"

"No sir.  But I fixtured 'im with my eye.  Might 'ave been about fifty, say.  'E was a bit dressy, you know, like a gentleman, but you never can tell because sometimes these rapscalliwag poachers....

nothing like this scene
happens in the novel
as I recall
You get the idea.  For me passages like this are as funny as a root canal.  They wouldn't work with me, in any case, because I just want to get on with the clue finding. And I wonder whether anyone really would say "fixtured 'im" rather than simply "fixed 'im"?  But then I suppose we would miss all that hilarity if they got it right.  It's like spell check gone awry.

Anyway, back to nobbut Crosby-Stourton!  There is also a Lady Cynthia Crosby, who has given her loyal old nurse, Mrs. Lubbock (who long had to care for Lady Crosby's crotchety, wealthy invalid mother), a generous pension and the use of Lady's Bower, the loveliest, quaintest cottage in the village.  Additionally Lady Crosby has made a protege of Mrs. Lubbock's youngest daughter, Lucy, giving her "the best of educations, and finally equipping her for the profession of nursing, her chosen field." 

Of course this proficiency makes Lucy suspect number one when the poisonings at Lady's bower commence.  There are also poison pen letters, did I mention?  Verily, this is the English village mystery that has everything, barring some silver--Miss Silver I mean.

Lucy is now a lovely and highly competent nurse in the Village Hospital, where naturally she is resented by all the locals, who of course feel that Lucy has been "educated above her station" (that phrase gets used numerous times), upsetting the social system of this reeking feudal section of England, where a small segment of the population is entitled to own and the much larger segment required to serve.  Just how we like it in our Golden Age English mystery!

I knew a girl in middle school who liked reading mysteries, but she always felt cheated unless there were two murders, preferably three (or more).  Well, she would have loved Cottage Sinister, where there are four deaths.  All poisonings too, as indicated above.  Rickie, a pharmaceutical executive as I mentioned, did know how to ingeniously poison people, to be sure.

And for that matter the basic mystery plot is rather nice, although the motive which the investigating man from Scotland Yard, Archibald Inge (known as the Archdeacon because of his resemblance to a higher churchman), attributes to his #1 suspect, the beleaguered Lucy Lubbock, is beyond absurd, literally nonsensical.  He, "no socialist but a devout believer in the divine right of the landed gentry," deserved to fall flat on his face in the end, nobbut else can I say. 

I will give Rickie and Patsy props for recalling, with the name Archibald Inge, England's famed churchman Dean Inge (1860-1954), who was criticized for being a medievalist in his social philosophy.  Also, it's possible that Rickie in Cottage Sinister had the bizarre--and still unsolved-- 1928 Croydon Poisonings in mind.

In short, Cottage Sinister seems to me a case of a novel of promise, had the authors gotten the trimmings right.  As it stands, it's only "good in spots."  Happily, there followed Murder at the Women's City Club, which is set not in Merrie Olde England but in America's City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia (though the it goes under another a name in the book).  Both authors knew this setting well, Patsy Kelley having grown up there and Rickie having lived there for the last five years, and it shows.  In future most of Rickie Webb's novels would be set in the US, and they are none the worse for it.

But then on Amazon the new Open Road edition of Cottage Sinister has two reviews, both of them for five stars, so Rickie and Patsy may have been on to something.  What do critics know, anyway, right?  Cheeky buggers they be!

Coming soon, Murder at the Women's City Club.  It's been favorably reviewed by some percipient bloggers, to whom I will provide links, but I think I have some new things to say about it.