Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Authors Encountered on the Passing Tramp's Recent Trip

The Tramp recently passed through three interesting places on a research trip for his newest book project, a broad study of the transition of the mystery tale from detective story to crime novel (yes, Julian Symons has done this already, but my take on the subject is rather different).

Among the authors I researched are:

Arguably Oklahoma's greatest mystery writer (yes, there are several).

 Highly prolific English writer, active in the mystery field from the 1930s through the 1970s.

More famous for genre writing in another field, she is the subject of a recent biography.

 Do you know recognize these people?  More on them--and Part Five of the Edmund Crispin article--coming soon!


  1. Well, I suppose I might as well chuck out my draft of the exact same project. ;)

    I'm quite ashamed to say I don't recognize anyone, but I swear I know the third person's name... It's eluding me but I know I've seen it before!

  2. I'm not sure who's in the second picture, but I assume it's Rupert Croft-Cooke/Leo Bruce. The first snapshot is of Todd Downing (author of the unremarkable The Cat Screams) and the third one depicts a young Geogette Heyer.

    Yes, I totally cheated! ;)

  3. My guess for the man in the middle was Nigel Morland until I read TomCat's answers. He nailed them all...with the help of Google and his bookshelf.

    The only other mystery writer from Oklahoma I know is Carolyn Hart, but she's a contemporary writer still very much alive. There are others from the vintage period?

  4. Patrick, there's always room for another, I'm sure. This new book project was originally going to be the intro to my Humdrums book, but when it ran past 150 pages, I finally realized I had another book.

    TomCat, excellent. The Cat Screams got raves in its day. I think it's very good on atmosphere, more so than plot. Stay tuned for more on Downing. I saw his hometown on this trip, it was rather interesting.

    John, there are at least two other vintage mystery writers with Oklahoma connections.

    Anyone want to try for those?

  5. The other members of the Oklahoma gang: Dorothy Cameron Disney and Newton Gayle?

    By the way, I absolutely loved Disney's Death in the Back Seat and The Strawstack Murders and will hunt down more of her mysteries in the year ahead of us.

    On Downing's The Cat Screams, I remember the story was unable to sustain a gripping atmosphere when it failed to capitalize on the situation of the quarantined hotel, a soaring body count and the titular cat – whose screams foretell death.

    The characters were completely unresponsive to their precarious situation, especially over the fact that a young man was dying in an upstairs room of an unidentified (and perhaps contagious) disease and the sudden, violent deaths of their fellow guests is met with almost complete indifference. Only towards the end of the story do they start showing a strained nerve or two.

    I've read my fair share of atmospheric mysteries, but this was not one of them. It was a mundane and sluggish book to get through with unremarkable plot.

  6. Yes, Tomcat, you got it again!

    Your comments about The Cat Screams are interesting. This book made a pretty big positive impression on reviewers at the time. My favorite Downing so far, however, is Vultures in the Sky, a train mystery. I think you'd find a pretty high state of tension in that one.

    Here's Bill Pronzini from 1001 Midnights:

    "Todd Downing lived in Mexico for many years and his work reflects not only intimate knowledge of the country but a deep love and respect for it and its people. Anyone who likes his mystery plot enlivened by frequent glimpses of another culture both old and new is certain to fins Downing's work enjoyable.

    All but one of his nine whodunits are set in Mexico...and all are well worth investigating. Among the best of the other six featuring Huge Rennert are The cat Screams (1934), which deals with a tide of eerie suicides in the American colony at Taxco...."

    Downing was a big admirer of John Dickson Carr, by the way.

  7. Well, I guess I have to disagree with the experts on this one.

    Downing might have furnished the plot of The Cat Screams with all the trappings needed to create a suspenseful, atmospheric situation for his characters, but when they just shrug it off the effect is quickly lost – at least it was on me.

    The glimpses into the cultural past of Mexico was interesting, but hardly enough to safe the story and Clyde Clason did this type of cultural detective stories a lot better (e.g. The Man from Tibet).

    However, I will keep an eye out for Vultures in the Sky, which, I think, also received praise from Anthony Boucher.

  8. Tomcat, of course "experts" aren't always the final word (if they were I never would have gotten started challenging traditional views), but Bill Pronzini is a warm admirer of Downing's work and I know you like his work.

    When I was in Downing's home town I had the chance to photograph his home and I will be posting some of the photos, along with a more detailed piece on him.