Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Murder Gone Meta, Part 1: The Week-End Mystery (1926), by Robert A. Simon

Through my Buffington ancestors I am related to mystery writer Ada Lingo and (through marriage) Alfred Meyers and Raymond Chandler.  (Yup, that guy.)  In Fall River, Massachusetts, where I spent a few hours last May, a Buffington (by marriage as I recollect) lived a few doors down from the Borden family at the time Lizzie (or someone) took an ax--you know the rest--was in the house soon after the bodies were discovered and testified at the trial.  And there was a Farmer Buffington whose cow allegedly was hexed by one of the supposed witches in Salem at the time of the infamous trials.  Where there be crime and witchery, it seems, there be Buffingtons.

Howard Maxfield Buffington
So I wasn't surprised when it turned out that a Howard Maxfield Buffinton (not a typo, his family had dropped the "g") of Springfield, Massachusetts owned a book by Robert A. Simon, who published a single detective novel, The Week-End Mystery, in 1926 (recently reprinted by Coachwhip).  The book Buffinton owned was not Simon's detective novel, but rather his first, mainstream novel, Our Little Girl, a wry piece about a pampered young woman who has been convinced by her pathologically doting parents that she's a great singer, when she's not.  I don't believe Buffinton and Simon were friends--Buffinton graduated from Dartmouth College and became a Springfield insurance executive and Simon graduated from Columbia University and became a New York music critic--but the former man clearly was a fan of the latter one. 

For one thing, he got Simon to inscribe ("with cordial greetings") the aforementioned book.  For another, slipped into the volume are two notes, one handwritten from someone else and one typed by Buffinton himself, both of which highly praise the novel. 

Buffinton's note reads:

Inscription from author Robert A. Simon
in Howard M. Buffinton's copy of
Simon's novel Our Little Girl
Two review notes were slipped into the book
as well, one of which is quoted at right.

Our Little Girl appeals to me as a rich mine of satire and humor.  Mme. Dorothy Reitz is a joyful scream, and is undoubtedly typical of countless other "prima donnas."  Most delightful, too, are the newspaper reviews of Dorothy's debut concert (pages 182-7); if anyone ever breaths to me the phrase "DeWitt Goldstein [or whoever the DeWitt of the moment may be] was a sympathetic accompanist," I feel sure I shall rock with laughter on the spot.  And as good as an acted drama is Mr. Simon's account of Dorothy's lesson with Soedlich.

The novel seems to me to be exceptionally well-balanced particularly so for a book dealing almost exclusively with musical circle and folk.  At no time did my interest lag; events march from beginning to end.

Our Little Girl deserves to be passed on--she is too good to keep to oneself.

Did Buffinton leave review slips in all the books he read?  If so I would have loved to have seen his library!  If Buffinton read mysteries he probably bought Simon's second novel, The Week-End Mystery.  In it Simon demonstrates the same fine light touch and mastery of wry humor, only this time in service of a murder puzzle.  The only thing that gets murdered in Our Little Girl is music, though that's a crime too!

Much more soon on Robert A. Simon and his mystery.


  1. I'm considering purchasing 'Death Sails the Nile" and "The Week-End Mystery" - but can't find any reviews online. Will you be reviewing either novel soon...? I'd be curious to hear about their strengths and possible weaknesses, and the sort of mystery reader they would appeal to.

    1. Yes, it's coming up shortly. Week-End Mystery is in a deliberately light vein as you will see, by a writer, a first cousin of singer Carly Simon's father, a co-founder of Simon & Schuster. Nile is more the pure detective novel.

      By the way, I hope to be able to talk about a major new release soon from Dean Street Press. Very excited about this one. And there's a new collection of puzzle detective stories by Hugh Wheeler and Richard Webb from Crippen & Landru which I co-edited and introduce. So lots to buy this year! ;)