Sunday, March 31, 2013

Murder Ends the Song (1941), by Alfred Meyers (Part Two)

this jacket doesn't quite do justice to Lucifer's Pride
I asked at the end of Part One of this review whether Alfred Louis Meyers' Murder Ends the Song lives up to the standards of American mystery masters like Ellery Queen?  A high bar, to be sure, but I think Song is a work worthy of the masters.

In Murder Ends the Song the famous though getting-past-it soprano Marina Grazie ends up stranded at the isolated, hulking barn of a mansion known as Lucifer's Pride, built for Madame Grazie in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge many years ago by her "wheat king" millionaire lover, Lucifer Bolliver.

Stranded with Marina is her entourage (her niece, her doctor, her accompanist, her companion-secretary and her chauffeur), Tony Graine, the tenor currently performing with her in her attempted West Coast comeback, Tony's accompanist and bosom buddy, Walter Sands ("Sandy"), and the caricaturish caretaking couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tait.

The much-hated Marina soon is murdered (a knitting needle at the base of the skull*), commencing a twenty-four-hour nightmare for those individuals trapped in Lucifer's Pride (here similarities with the real-life coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini end, by the way, for Tetrazzini seems to have been generally beloved).

*(I recall that an English detective novel published about the same time used this same murder method)

a soprano dies
under decidedly outre circumstances

Two more deaths follow before Tony Graine cracks the case.  Along the way, the reader is provided, for her edification, with three illustrations, a floor plan, a list of documents and, near the end of the tale, a tabulation of clues.  All this is highly Ellery Queenish and quite enjoyable.  Unlike in Gerald Bullett's Odd Woman Out, recently reviewed here, some of the clues appear quite early in the tale, showing that Alfred Meyers was a good sportsman, not afraid to "play the game."

Moreover, Meyers' novel has a surprisingly poignant ending. Essentially with this novel Meyers looks back to the past in devising a classical style puzzle, but also ahead to the future in giving his resolution some emotional resonance.

It's a shame that this fine detective novel has been utterly forgotten, but this neglect shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, given that the book was never reprinted in paperback (despite good notices in the New York Times book Review and the Saturday Review) and that its publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock, was not to my knowledge much associated with the mystery genre.

Alfred Louis Meyers
Despite apparently having only published this one novel, Meyers, according to Jeffrey Marks' Anthony Boucher: A Bibliobiography, in 1947 was elected the first Treasurer of the Northern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (Lenore Glen Offord was elected Secretary and Anthony Boucher Vice President, which raises the question, who the heck was the President?).

The same year Meyers also wrote one of the chapters in the book San Francisco Murders (along with Boucher, Offord and Hildergarde Teilhet).  What Meyers did after this I don't know, though he was still living in San Francisco in 1958, but five years before his untimely death in 1963.

Besides discovering that my eight great grandfather Richard Buffington married Alice Palmer, a sister of Alfred Meyers' six great grandfather John Palmer, way back in 1720 (I'm not descended from this marriage, by the way, Alice Palmer having been Richard Buffington's third wife), I also found out some interesting details about Meyers' more immediate family background.

Meyers maternal ancestors, the Palmers and the Newlins, though originally Chester County, Pennsylvania Quakers, moved out to Oregon from Iowa in the early 1870s and converted to Catholicism.  Meyers' mother, Mildred Lee Newlin (to whom Murder Ends the Song is dedicated), married a Frederic Louis Meyers, a Catholic originally from Toronto, who moved to the small city of La Grande, Oregon some time in the 1890s, after he graduated from the University of Ottawa.  In La Grande he started as an office boy in the La Grande National Bank, eventually becoming Cashier.

La Grande National Bank
where Alfred Meyers' father was the longtime Cashier

In 1922-23, when Frederick's and Mildred's son Alfred was a high school student, the La Grande chapter (klavern) of the militantly anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan mounted a pressure campaign to get Frederick Meyers fired as Cashier of the La Grande National Bank.

This KKK campaign failed, but the La Grande klavern did succeed in getting Evalyn Rohan Newlin, the wife of Mildred Newlin Meyer's brother Chester Peter Newlin, fired from her job as a public schoolteacher, on the grounds that she sent her children to a Catholic school.

All the Meyers children went to this school, Sacred Heart Academy, themselves.  Alfred's sister Margaret (of the Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Marywrote in 1997 that their parents kept these unpleasant details from the children, though she recalled that that for several years in the 1920s the La Grande klavern burned crosses "halfway up Table Mountain, a steep hillside directly above our residential area in La Grande."  She also remembered seeing "Klan members, their identity concealed under full regalia, riding horseback about our streets in broad daylight."

At the University of Notre Dame, where he received BA and MA degrees, Alfred Meyers found a much different environment!  He also was able to indulge his great passion for singing in the prestigious Notre Dame Glee Club.  And it was this passion that gave life to his single detective novel, Murders Ends the Song.  I think this one merits reprinting.


  1. Reynal & Hitchcock published at least three of Van Wyck Mason's Colonel North thrillers that didn't meet the criteria of Doubleday's Crime Club. One of which introduced the short lived "Candid Clue Mystery" imprint that used photographs to illustrate the books.

    I love the character names cited and the name of the house in Meyers' book.

  2. I quite liked this one, John. Maybe more Glee Clubbers should write detective novels!