Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"If you want a tale that's gory/Let a woman write the story"" More on the Detective Story Club

More on the Detective Story Club, discussed in an earlier post.  For those of you eager to add to your collections, here are the monthly Club Selections I have determined so far:

November 1928
The Cobra Candlestick, by Elsa Barker

January 1929
The Mystery of the Open Window, by Anthony Gilbert

February 1929
Dead Men's Shoes, by Lee Thayer

April 1929
The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young, by Milton M. Propper

June 1929
The Studio Murder Mystery, by A. C. and Carmen Edington

August 1929
Murder at Bratton Grange (The Davidson Case), by John Rhode (Hooray for the Humdrums!)

November 1929
The Secret of 37 Hardy Street, by Robert J. Casey

February 1930
Card 13, by Mark Lee Luther and Lillian C. Ford

It's an interesting glimpse of American detective novel writing in the pivotal years of Dashiell Hammett and the hard-boiled revolution in fictional crime (Hammett's great period of novel publication was 1929-31).  Five women authors and five men, an even distribution, but I believe there are only two Brits (Gilbert and Rhode) to eight Americans. And all these novels are, I believe, examples of "classical" detective fiction.  I have all but the last of these books, but have onyl read a couple of them.

A 1928 Florida newspaper book column had some interesting comments on the Detective Story Club, as well as Elsa Barker's Cobra Candlestick and women crime writers in general.

First the columnist quoted a Walt Mason rhyme:

"If you want a tale that's gory
Let a woman write the story"

"That was when women were going strong for writing mystery stories," continued the columnist:

Something similar may be said of detective fiction: If you want a tale that's creepy and shivery and baffling, let a woman write it.  Such a tale is The Cobra Candlestick....The book has the distinction of having been the first selected by the Detective Story Club, which endeavors to supply its members with the best detective story of the month.  Further proof of the merit of the tale is that is was the choice of a board of selection composed of the following persons of distinction: Carolyn Wells, noted novelist and author of several [SIC!] detective stories of book length; Edmund Pearson, widely known expert on murder cases; William J. Flynn, for years one of the most noted detectives in the world and at the time of his death editor of a well-known detective fiction magazine; Francis H. Wellman, well-known criminal court prosecutor; and Robert H. Davis, for years editor of Munsey's Magazine.

If these five say it's a good detective story, it is.

Watch for reviews of a number of these Detective Story Club Selections over the next month!


  1. Looking forward to all the reviews chum - mind you, the Hammett / hardboiled / Black Mask revolution had already well and truly got underway by the this point, would't you say?

  2. Thinking in terms of the novels being published I think 1929 and 1930 were obviously pivotal years. After The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key, nothing was, or could have been, the same with American crime novels. Of course this isn't meant to deny the importance of the pulp fiction of the 1920s, which gave us Hammett and so many others, but S. S. Van Dine novels were hitting the bestseller lists all through the late 1920s. Greene and Bishop were the talk of the mystery literati.

  3. And speaking of 1920s hard-boiled:

  4. Well, I say don't bother finding or reading the last one. CARD 13 is a one of the worst detective novels I've ever read from this period. Here are notes from my reading journal in my pre-blog days: "Story is very thin and heavily padded with LONG stretches of dialogue most of which is banter. Man is shot at home while hunting for some gin he wanted to use to spike the punch at a Hollywood party. [Spare me!] Only thing interesting in the book is some of the bitchy dialogue between two feuding actresses. The mystery is dull and uninspired with a laughably bad reveal in the final pages. Absurd motivation for even a fictional murder." The only good thing about the original 1st edition is the very cool artwork on the DJ. I had no idea it was reprinted by a book club. I haven't a clue why anyone would think it was worthy.

    1. I guess they liked Bitchy dialogue between feuding actresses! ;) Interestingly, The Studio Murder Mystery was a Hollywood book too; I have started it an it gives a nice picture of the pictures. I'll be reviewing it soon. The Propper book is about the purest Freeman Crofts pastiche I have read. The Rhode and the Gilbert are good English jobs and the Elsa Barker was favorably reviewed by Tomcat. Thayer I am not crazy about, but she around a long time!

      So guess which one was the book I didn't have? Yup, Card 13--had never even heard of it before!

  5. I checked on the publisher of this series and it was Jacobsen. L.W. Currey says that this publisher was a book club publisher. I thought they were a reprint house. They were only around form 1926 - 1933 or so. I wonder if this was turned into their "Modern Reprint" series which included DEATH IN THE DUSK by Victor Markham and THE VIADUCT MURDER by Ronald Knox. Another that might fit is their reprint of THE DEVIL'S MANSION (1931) by Rex Jardin, a book at one time I was very interested in finding and reading. But now most copies are prohibitively expensive.