Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stock-taking 2: The Humdrums Have Landed and More on Mr. Mechem

Well, my Masters of the 'Humdrum' Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel now is out, from McFarland Press, American publisher of a great deal of mystery genre history.  I actively began this project ten years ago, so it has been a long item coming (I have grown old--well, middle-aged, anyway--in the service of genre history).

It can be purchased directly from McFarland



I also now have a few copies I could sell direct and sign for those who might have difficulty getting it some other way.  There likely are other sellers as well that you can find, if you do an internet search.  It's an expensive book, admittedly, but it's over 300 pages with nearly 40 illustrations.  It's also a larger format book, about 9 by 7 inches. It actually looks more like a coffee table book, though I wish it were hardcover!

I've discussed in previous postings what the book is about, and link to that here:

But let me add a bit.  The book is about three Golden Age British detective novelists--Freeman Wills Crofts, Cecil John Charles Street, who wrote primarily as John Rhode and Miles Burton, and Alfred Walter Stewart, who wrote genre fiction as J. J. Connington--and their relationship with and influence on British detective fiction over a forty year period.  I make the case that each of these writers merits a revival in terms of intrinsic quality. More broadly I also argue that mystery genre studies have become too singularly focused on American male hard-boiled authors on the one side of the pond and British "Crime Queens" on the other.  As any connoisseur of the period knows, things were a bit more complicated than that!

The Introduction and Chapter One, which run to forty pages, provide something of a history of the genre between 1920 and 1960, chronicling how attitudes to detective fiction changed and how many modern critics are getting key matters wrong.

I think Masters is a book all lovers of Golden Age mystery fiction would enjoy, though I do wish more of the books by these authors were readily accessible.  Three Connington books were reprinted by Coachwhip and about five Crofts titles have been reprinted by Langtail (Crofts is still pretty easy to find on the used market as well) and I am trying to make headway getting Street's books reprinted.  Small publishers want to reprint his books, it's just a matter of getting Street's literary agency to go along!

On another front, I received a very interesting communication from author Kirke Mechem's son, the composer Kirke Mechem.  Among other things, I learned from him that his father, author of the Wichita detective novel A Frame for Murder, was Kirke Field Mechem, and that he is Kirke Lewis Mechem, so they are not, properly speaking, Senior and Junior. My error!

Originally meant to be titled The Strawstack Murder Case,
but Doubleday "didn't think strawstacks would sell books"

I also learned that Mechem's desired title for his novel was The Strawstack Murder Case, which, as those of you who read my previous blog post will surmise, certainly makes more sense to me as a title.  Mechem's publisher, according to his son Kirke, "didn't think strawstacks would sell books."  How wrong they were is indicated by the success of Dorothy Cameron Disney's Strawstack just three years later.

I think we may be able to get this novel reprinted, will keep you posted.  It would be lovely to bring back a fine but forgotten Golden Age detective novel back for modern-day readers.

Finally, my book on Native American detective novelist Todd Downing (1902-1974) will be out, I hope, in July (and it will be much cheaper than Masters!).  I think I can promise you some good news soon on reprints as well.  I will be reviewing Downing's first detective novel, the fantastically rare Murder on Tour, next week.  And on Thursday comes a review of a rather fine 1931 crime novel set in...Dallas, Texas. Yes, long before someone shot J.R., there was foul play in Dallas!  See you soon, I hope--The Passing Tramp.


  1. Sincere congratulations on the book coming out Curt. I'm sure it was not easy, to put it mildly!

    Well done.


    1. Before Curtis call Sergio with my name, I tell him my name is Peter not Sergio. Pietro De Palma not Sergio Angelini. Both Italians but not the same person.

  2. Pietro,

    My bad, I know you two are not the same person and have two different blogs! I just typed Sergio out of habit, I surmise, he had been commenting quite a bit on the Faulkner pieces. Please contact me directly about getting the book (my email address is on my about me page, linked lower right at the sign of the Tramp). Mauro has it as well.


    Thanks much. It's been a long time coming!

  3. Let me extend my public congratulations, Curt. You beat me to your own publicity. I just posted something at Pretty Sinister this morning. I was caught up in a book last night and had to finish it so I was off the computer.