Friday, February 27, 2015

The Bells and the Bees: Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov Discuss Detective Fiction

American literary critic and author Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) famously (infamously to many) voiced his disdain for detective fiction in a couple of New Yorker essays, "Why Do People Read Detective Stories?" and "Who Care Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"  In these memorably splenetic pieces Wilson dismissed detective fiction fans as desperate junk-lit addicts who should have been embarrassed with themselves for spending time scarfing such trash. Naturally enough, this attitude did not endear the outspoken critic to detective fiction fans, and many of them wrote him letters telling him so.

Are we having fun yet?
Edmund Wilson, aka "Bunny" (derived from plum bun)
flayer of detective, supernatural and fantasy fiction

There were, however, a few people who wrote Wilson agreeable letters on the matter. One of these individuals was the emigre Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). The same month that Edmund Wilson's first essay on detective fiction appeared in the New Yorker, Nabokov, who in 1940 had begun what was to be a correspondence of three decades with Wilson, wrote his friend:

I liked very much your article on detective stories. Of course, Agatha is unreadable--but Sayers, whom you do not mention, writes well.  Try Crimes Advertises [Murder Must Advertise].  Your attitude to detective writing is curiously like my attitude towards Soviet literature, so that you are on the whole absolutely right.

Nabokov then proceeded to quote to "Bunny" (Edmund Wilson's rather unexpected nickname) excerpts of poor writing from tales collected in Eugene Thwing's World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1929). He predicted they would give the sensitive and superior Wilson "slight nausea."

Valdimir Nabokov praised H. F. Heard's
A Taste for Honey as "very nicely written"--
"though the entomological part is of course all wrong"

Unlike Wilson, however, Nabokov himself in fact had a certain partiality toward detective fiction (the well-written ones, of course), as his favorable reference to Dorothy L. Sayers suggests. The previous year, he wrote Wilson that after some excruciating dental surgery

I was lying on my bed groaning...yearning for a good detective story--and at that very moment the Taste for Honey sailed in...Mary [McCarthy, Wilson's then wife, like him a prominent literary critic and author] was right, I enjoyed it hugely--though the entomological part is of course all wrong (in one passage he [the author, H. F. Heard] confuses the Purple Emperor, a butterfly, with the Emperor moth).  But it is very nicely written.  Did Mary see the point of the detective's name at the very end?  I did.

Nabokov may have liked H. F. Heard's beekeeper mystery, still in print today, yet that same year he complained that he "did not think much of" John Dickson Carr's The Judas Window, also still in print today, which Mary McCarthy had read.  The way in which the murder was accomplished he deemed droll after a fashion but unconvincing, and he admonished McCarthy, "you ought to have found something better."

Mary McCarthy
enjoyed detective fiction, no matter what her
persnickety plum bun husband had to say about it
(she panned Sayers' Gaudy Night, however)

For his part Wilson admitted in a 1944 letter to Nabokov that "I have been getting dozens of letters from [detective fiction] addicts protesting against my article and only three so far approving it." Wilson's 1945 follow-up essay in the New Yorker, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?", did tackle the fiction of Dorothy L. Sayers, specifically her bell ringer mystery The Nine Tailors; but Wilson, in contrast with Nabokov, was wholly dismissive of the highest-browed Crime Queen:

I had often heard people say that Dorothy Sayers wrote well, and I felt that my correspondents [concerning his first essay] had been playing her as their literary ace. But, really, she does not write very well: it is simply that she is more consciously literary than most of the other detective story writers and she thus attracts attention in a field which is mostly on a sub-literary level.  In any serious department of fiction, her writing would appear not to have any distinction at all.  

Of The Nine Tailors Wilson declared damningly that he found it "one of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field."  He likened the beloved mystery novel to "an encyclopedia article on campanology."

At least Sayers' fans have the satisfaction of knowing that Vladimir Nabokov was an admirer of Sayers' writing (though not Christie's)--in French translation, anyway!

Note: Letter quotations in this piece are drawn from Simon Karlinsky, ed., Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 (rev. ed., 2001).

Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

A Life of Crime: Sinclair Gluck (1887-1956)

the author of mellodrammers
strikes a most dignified pose
With so much of American Golden Age crime fiction the focus in genre studies is on hard-boiled and noir, with little attention given to what might be termed "traditional" detective novels and thrillers. Those, it seems, are the province of England.

Although some of the work of the between-the-wars genre author Sinclair Gluck was influenced by Dashiell Hammett and other "tough" crime writers, much of Gluck's mystery fiction resembles the work of the more fanciful English thriller writer Edgar Wallace

In her "In the Library" column for the San Jose News, San Jose, California City Librarian Edith Daley (1874-1948) (see here and here for photos of Mrs. Daley) highly praised Gluck's novel The Man Who Never Blundered (1929). 

Under the byline Sheer Melodrama, But Very Exciting a most enthusiastic review followed:

If you want to forget, completely, that bothersome business deal or the troublesome housekeeping, just make yourself comfortable in the old easy chair, adjust the light and open to chapter one....Sheer melodrama--should be spelled "mellodrammer"!  But no end of excitement--cumulative excitement, with thrill following thrill, clear to the end of the last page.  It didn't happen, of course not.  And it just never could happen.  And it isn't literature--not even a forty-second cousin to literature, the kind of literature that William Dean Howells would have tipped his hat to on a busy street corner, with everybody on the old hotel porch looking on.  But, all the same, once in a blue moon, we need to be jostled out of the work-a-day rut into complete forgetfulness of US and our small concerns.  You'll smile at the book while you read it--but just try putting it down unfinished. It's by Sinclair Gluck.

As Daley's delightful review indicates, we are far from mean streets realism in the typical Sincalir Gluck "mellodrammer," but these sorts of thrillers were quite popular in the 1920s and into the 1930s, both in the UK and the US (and, indeed, around the world).  Gluck also wrote at least a couple of books that were more in the nature of actual detective novels: The Last Trap, which was filmed in 1935 as The Dark Hour (see Scott Ratner's recent posting here), and Death Comes to Dinner (The Shadow in the House).  

Gluck also was a prolific writer for the pulps, with works by him appearing in, for example, Argosy, Detective Fiction Weekly, even Black Mask.  At least half of his published novels, including The Man Who Never Blundered, were originally serialized in pulps.

Sinclair Gluck was born Jasper Sinclair Gluck in Buffalo, New York in 1887, the son of James Fraser Gluck (1852-1897), a prominent lawyer, and Effie Dunreath Tyler, the daughter of a distinguished  Congregational minister, Charles Mellen Tyler (1832-1918). Gluck's lawyer father graduated in 1874 from Cornell University, where he was president of his class and received the school's highest undergraduate honor, the Woodford Prize for oratory.  

James Gluck had a great interest in books and amassed a large collection of original literary manuscripts, including Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, which he donated to the Buffalo Library. The matter of the Huckleberry Finn manuscript made national news in the early 1990s, when the first half of it, long thought lost, was discovered by one of Sinclair Gluck's daughters in an attic trunk in Los Angeles, where Gluck settled in the 1910s.  It was thought that James Gluck borrowed the first half of the manuscript and forgot to return it. The elder Gluck died at the age of 45, in 1897, when Sinclair was but ten years old.

Sincalir Gluck's sister, Margel Gluck, was a violinist who studied at the Prague Conservatory with famed teacher Otakar Sevcik and later in St. Petersburg with Leopold Auer. She made a number of acclaimed American and European performance tours, including one where she was accompanist to the great operatic soprano Lusia Tetrazzini.

Sinclair Gluck was educated in New York and London, at Manlius Military Academy and the University of London.  He himself never attended Cornell University, but he had strong connections to the school, for not only did his father graduate from Cornell, but his maternal grandfather, the Congregational minister, was a Professor of Christian Ethics there and his wife, Nancy Lee (1904-2003), whom he married in 1925, was a daughter of Duncan Campbell Lee, a Cornell oratory professor, crusading newspaper owner and lawyer who later moved to London (Nancy Lee grew up in a house in Highgate).

Gluck's mother married again, to London literary agent James Hughes Massie, of Curtis Brown and Massie and later Hughes Massie and Company. After receiving his education at the University of London, Gluck returned to the United States.

Before the US entry into the Great War, Gluck published, as Melrod Danning (quite a moniker), several novelizations of silent films, including a Mary Pickford vehicle, The Foundling. After war service with the British Army in Mesopotamia and later on the Western Front, he edited the automobile trade magazine The Commercial Vehicle, before turning to the writing of crime fiction in 1922. And once he started he didn't stop for two decades. Between 1922 and 1941, Gluck by my count published 18 thrillers and detective novels, which are listed below.  I plan to review a few of these in the weeks to come, starting with The Last Trap, his one book adapted to film.

Crime Novels by Sinclair Gluck
The House of the Missing 1922
The White Streak 1924
Thieves Honor 1924
The Green Blot 1925
The Dragon in Harness 1926
The Four Winds 1926
The Deeper Scar 1927
The Last Trap 1928
The Man Who Never Blundered 1928
Death Comes to Dinner (The Shadow in the House) 1929
The Blind Fury 1930
The Wildcat 1931
Red Emeralds 1932
Minus X 1933
Sea Shroud 1934
The Great London Mystery 1936
A Delicate Case of Murder 1937
Come and Kill Me 1941

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guest Post from The Strolling Player: Twelve Favorite Film Adaptations of Golden Age Detective Novels

The Passing Tramp is proud to introduce to you Scott Ratner, known here as The Strolling Player, author of the Agatha Christie-inspired play Kill a Better Mousetrap (click the link to see the impressive celebrity endorsements from Golden Age Hollywood), with an interesting piece on his dozen favorite film adaptations of Golden Age detective novels. I have blogged every so often about crime and mystery films (including films mentioned below), but I most definitely bow to our Strolling Player's knowledge of Golden Age crime cinema. And now over to Scott Ratner and his list, with some illustrations and captions by me, followed by some comments from me. Scott and I would love to hear the opinions from readers of this blog as well. What do you think?

1) AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945--based on the novel by Agatha Christie)

Yes, it's a total Hollywoodization, but a brilliantly executed one, vastly entertaining, and with a great deal of intelligence employed in its elements of plot deception. So until a truly faithful (and still entertaining) version comes along--and no, the Russian version doesn't really qualify on either of those counts.…

2) GREEN FOR DANGER (1946--based on the novel by Christianna Brand)

In many respects this film is superior to the very fine source novel (though it does leave out a few of my favorite clues). Make sure to see the Criterion version--it makes all the difference. Incidentally, a quickie adaptation of Christiana Brand's first novel Death in High Heels was released the following year (and can be found on video), but it's not very good.

3) THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (1933--based on the novel by S. S. Van Dine)

This one is all it's cracked up to be, in my opinion. Michael Curtiz perfectly captures the brisk world of the American Golden Age Detective novel. William Powell may not be as smug and insufferable as the Philo Vance of the novels--but he's so damn cool to watch!

4) DEATH ON THE NILE (1978--based on the novel by Agatha Christie)

My favorite of the more recent big screen Christie adaptations (well, 37 years ago now). I think Anthony Shaffer did a brilliant job of simplifying Christie's complex plot, keeping the core stuff, and jettisoning the least necessary. Peter Ustinov is not Dame Agatha's Poirot, but he's an amusing presence, and I much prefer his portrayal to Albert Finney's weird, stiff disguise work (see the film Murder on the Orient Express, 1974).

5) THE VERDICT (1946--based on Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery)

Yes, I'm stretching the chronological boundaries of the Golden Age, but Israel Zangwill's novel was undoubtedly a key template for many subsequent Golden Age puzzle plots (it's arguably the first to employ its particular impossible crime solution). Don Seigel, in his feature directorial debut, actually improves upon Zangwill's plot (with the help of his screenwriters, of course). And the starring duo of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre is, as always, wonderful to watch.

6) LOVE LETTERS OF A STAR (1936--based on Rufus King's The Case of the Constant God) 

A very difficult film to find, unfortunately--I was lucky enough to see it at last year's Cinecon. A faithful and exciting adaptation of Rufus King's novel. There was an actual gasp from the crowd at the sudden revelation of the culprit--followed by a brief, welcome explanation of the detective's deductive process.

still from Love Letters of a Star

7) THE NIGHT CLUB LADY (1932--based on Anthony Abbot's About the Murder of the Night Club Lady)

An excellent adaptation of Abbott's novel, capturing its very Philo Vance-ish metropolitan atmosphere, featuring a fine performance by Adolphe Menjou as sleuth Thatcher Colt, and also one of the truly great, "I did it and I'm glad! Glad! Glad!!!" speeches of cinema history.

8) THE DARK HOUR (1936--based on Sinclair Gluck's "The Last Trap")

It's poverty row stuff--Chesterfield Pictures--and hardly dynamic filmmaking, but this is an extremely faithful adaptation of its source novel, with a terrific last five minutes of multiple false solutions.

9) THE NURSEMAID WHO DISAPPEARED (1939--based on the novel by Philip MacDonald)

An very exciting adaptation of Philip McDonald's novel, very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's late '30s British work. Unfortunately, this is another film that is hard to track down (I saw a copy at the British film Institute). Much more faithful--and interesting--than the 1956 American remake, 23 Paces to Baker Street, which is nonetheless a good film.

a gripping film

10) THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935 based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner) 

More dynamic filmmaking from Michael Curtiz.  Erle Stanley Gardner apparently wasn't all that crazy about it, but his plot is left fairly intact, and the Warners stock company gives it more verve and excitement than was ever found in the 1950's Perry Mason series.

Okay, not the bride, but it is Errol Flynn, and from the film!

11) THE NINTH GUEST (1934--based on the novel "The Invisible Host" by Bruce Manning and Gwen Bristow, and its stage adaptation by Owen Davis)

An atmospheric precursor to Christie's And Then There Were None, admittedly lacking Christie's plausibility and ingenuity, but excitingly directed by Roy William Neill, who would later direct the Universal Sherlock Holmes series. Lots of fun.

seven guests

12) MENACE (1934 - based on Philip MacDonald's R.I.P.)The screenwriter changed the identity of the culprit; but then, in this case, the identity of the culprit in the novel wasn't all that satisfying anyway! Actually, neither the novel nor the film has a solution that lives up to the its opening premise--how to identify the revenge-seeking brother of a dead man, whom  no one has ever seen before--but the premise is pretty great, keeping the viewer (reader) wondering all along. One of three films on this list to feature Paul Cavanagh, and he also showed up in several other interesting whodunits--the man certainly left his mark on the genre.

Menace--the film

Unfortunately, several of my favorite whodunit films (Affairs of a GentlemanThe Last of SheilaThe Phantom of CrestwoodCrime on the Hill) don't qualify, because they weren't made based on novels.

Menace--the novel

Thanks Scott!

I've seen the first five of the twelve films our Strolling Player lists, including The Verdict, and, I agree, they are all quite good.  Death on the Nile I recall seeing at the movie theater when I was, I think, twelve years old.

It's not the last of this mousetrap!
I wasn't aware of most of the other films that Scott lists, but they are a fascinating group to me, including two films based on fine novels by Philip MacDonald, one of the most cinematic of crime writers, who left England to work in Hollywood; a Perry Mason before Raymond Burr; another two films based on novels by today insufficiently acknowledged Golden Age American crime writers, Anthony Abbot and Rufus King (there's been quite a bit posted about King on this blog); one film based on the controversial And Then There Were None precursor, The Invisible Host, hilariously mocked by Bill Pronzini in his classic Gun in Cheek but also defended by others over the years; and, lastly, a film based on a novel by Sinclair Gluck,an author forgotten by just about everyone, I suspect, but about whom I shall have more to say this week.  I happen to have a number of novels by Mr. Gluck, including The Last Trap.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Termination at Tancred House: Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1991), by Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell has authored two dozen Inspector Wexford detective novels over a nearly-half-century period stretching from 1964 (From Doon with Death) to 2013 (No Man's Nightingale), Half of these books appeared between 1964 to 1983, when Wexford detective novels predominated in her fictional output.  In those same years of the earlier Wexfords, Rendell authored ten non-Wexfords. Since 1983, however, she has written 12 Wexfords, 18 non-Wexford psychological thrillers (including Dark Corners, to be published later this year) and 14 mysteries under her "Barbara Vine" pseudonym, launched in 1986.

Wexford, in other words, became less and less significant in her output, at least in terms of quantity. I would argue that her later eighties Wexford output is inferior in quality as well. In the period when she produced the psychological thrillers The Killing Doll, the Tree of Hands and Live Flesh and the Vine mysteries A Dark-Adapted Eye, A Fatal Inversion and The House of Stairs, the Wexford novels An Unkindness of Ravens (1985) and The Veiled One (1988) rather pale in comparison. I have previously detailed some of my issues with Raven; I recently looked again at The Veiled One and thought it had much too much of both Wexford's chief assistant, Mike Burden, and his daughter Sheila, who in this one has become a no nukes activist (anti-nuclear activism also comes up, as I recollect, in the contemporaneous PD James novel Devices and Desires).

Happily Rendell's Wexford bounded back with a 1991 novel, Kissing the Gunner's Daughter. While in this one Rendell eschews looking at wider social trends, like she would in what I call her "Murdermarch Trilogy" from the rest of the decade (Simisola, Road Rage and Harm Done), it's nevertheless a fine book, boasting an intricate, clued puzzle and reflecting the author's intensified interest in criminal psychology.

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter opens with an armed robbery by two men at a Kingsmarkham bank that results in the death of a somewhat dim, gung-ho cop, Detective Sergeant Martin. Rendell's opening chapter detailing the bank robbery and Martin's death is more like a modern crime novel than a classic mystery cozy: "Martin fell.  He did not double up, but sank to the floor as his knees buckled under him. Blood came from his mouth...."

More bloodletting follows six months later, in Chapter Three, when there is a massacre at Tancred House, the stately home of renowned anthropologist Davina Flory. Here Rendell only describes the crime scene after the fact, as viewed by the police; but it's a very bloody crime scene indeed, with Davina Flory, her third husband and her daughter from her first marriage all shot to death and her seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Daisy, bleeding profusely from a wound in the shoulder.

Daisy survives and give the police a picture of the massacre, which at first appears to have been a robbery by two men, gone very wrong.  But of course it turns out to be much more complicated than that....

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter seems a bit off the beaten track for a Wexford novel. The emphasis in the beginning on brutal violence reminded me rather of Rendell's non-Wexford novels A Judgment in Stone (1977) and Live Flesh (1985) (in truth, the opening chapter of Daughter is very similar to that of Live Flesh). The emphasis on psychological states shows the influence of her contemporaneous Rendell thrillers and Vine mysteries, I think.  Yet the plot is a good, complex detective novel plot in the classic Wexford manner, with some clever clueing (I even found myself wishing for a frontis map depicting Tancred House and its grounds).

At about 110,000 words, I judge, Daughter is longer than the early Wexfords, but not as long as future Wexfords would become (Harm Done is, I think, over 150,000 words).  In her review of Daughter, blurbed on the back of the recent British paperback edition, Kate Saunders declares that "as usual, there is not one superfluous word."  For myself, I could have survived without some of the copious nature scenery descriptions, but on the whole I think Daughter stands with Rendell's best Wexfords and is a fine example of the post-Golden Age English detective novel.

I should note that in this one Rendell introduces Sergeant Barry Vine, an obvious play on her recently-minted pseudonym.  She also has characters named Anne Lennox and Andy Griffin, names quite close to those of famous people from the entertainment world. Several women cops are introduced here as well, I believe, and they play greater roles in the Wexford saga over the 1990s and beyond.

This time around Wexford is having a go-round with his actress daughter Sheila over her new boyfriend, a grotesquely arrogant critically-esteemed novelist, Augustus Carey, whose work has been short-listed for the Booker prize ("He had already written at least one work of fiction without characters," Rendell wryly informs us).  If Rendell was having some fun with her creation of characters named Barry Vine, Anne Lennox and Andy Griffin, here she obviously is working off some irritation over dismissive attitudes to crime fiction in the literary world (we don't discover what Carey thinks of crime fiction, but we learn he is dismissive of horror writer M. R. James, a favorite of Rendell's--and mine).

Interestingly, Rendell is critical not only of Augustus Carey, but of dead Davina Flory herself.  Wexford reads some of her work and decides

that he didn't much like Davina.  She was a high-toned snob, both social and intellectual; she was bossy, she thought herself superior to most people; she was unkind to her daughter and feudal to her servants.  Although avowedly left-wing, she referred not to a "working class" but to a "lower class. Her books revealed her as that always suspect creature, the rich socialist.

I found this interesting criticism, coming from Rendell, herself a rich socialist.  But that's one of the fun things about reading Ruth Rendell--you can't pigeonhole the author or her work.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tippecanoe and Third Degree Too: The Green Shadow (1935), by James Edward Grant

In The Green Shadow tough sleuth Tip (short for Tippecanoe, don't you know) O'Neil is slapping hoods hard across their mouths on the second page of the book.  A few pages later he is reminiscing with Corinne Harding--the younger of the two daughters (the older one is named Nancy) of his hard-driving, wealthy capitalist friend Paul Harding--about the first couple of times he encountered her. This was a decade ago, when she was twelve, in the course of Tip's doing a job for her father:

"And you came up and asked if anyone would hurt your daddy.  Then you asked me if I knew Sherlock Holmes very well.  The next time I was at your house you came out on the porch with your sister Nancy and she asked me what a pervert was.  You were wearing a blue dress and little white socks.  Your hair was in braids but Nancy's was piled on her head.  Got enough?"

Shades of Sternwood!  It shouldn't be hard for the hard-boiled reader to discern in The Green Shadow a certain resemblance not only to Dashiell Hammett but Raymond Chandler. The Harding girls, like Chandler's Sternwood sisters (see the author's The Big Sleep, 1939), prove to be handfuls not only for their father, but for Tip himself, what with Corinne getting kidnapped and Nancy being, well, a neurotic nymphomaniac (this is the opinion of everyone in the book, including Nancy herself).

A couple times in the novel, which is narrated by Tip O'Neil, needy Nancy tries to perform bedroom pas a deux with Tip--hairy, fat and forty-seven--but he isn't having any of that from the daughter of a client.

Here is some conversation between Nancy and Tip, after the bold young woman barges one night into his bedroom at the Harding mansion:

Bob Hoskins would have made a
great Tip O'Neil on film, I think
She eyed me.  "Lord, you're a hairy gorilla.  You still don't wear underwear, do you?


Nancy nodded.  "When you were staying at our Long Island place [this a decade ago, when Nancy was a teenager] I used to go out on the balcony at night and watch you undress through the window. You never wore socks or underwear."

"You're a prize," I told her.

Nancy is neurotically jealous of her younger, prettier half-sister and is a potential suspect in Corinne's kidnapping, as are a number of other people in the extended Harding household, including:

Gene Leland, Corinne's fiancee; Amelia Glenray, Nancy's cocktail-quaffing, pistol-packing spinster aunt (Miss Marple she ain't: "Her figure didn't show her fifty-two years. She had better legs than either of her nieces"); Jim Glenray, Paul's lawyer and Nancy's uncle; and third chauffeur Frank Lilly, actually one of Tip's operatives from the Acme Detective Agency but recently seen canoodling with Nancy (but then who hasn't been canoodling with Nancy).

And then there's raft of colorful gangsters and hoodlums who just might have snatched Corinne. Tip has his hands full-and not just with Nancy!

In addition to being quite sexually frank for the day, The Green Shadow is about as "politically incorrect" as a hard-boiled crime novel can be.  Tip's observations on women in the chapter entitled "Seductio Ad Absurdum" can quite legitimately be labeled sexist. Aside from the Harding women most of the female characters in the novel seems to be hookers and low rent floozies, and they tend to get slapped around by men (actually Tip slaps Nancy at one point, but this is only after she has "gotten hysterical").  One of the wisecracks in this tale of myriad wisecracks is uttered as a man smacks a sleeping call girl on the back: "Wake up, Cleo. The Elks are in town."

In the course of the novel two black men, Paul Harding's first and second chauffeurs, are murdered; and various objectionable slang terms are used in reference to them by several characters.  Tip doesn't hesitate to beat up anyone from whom he wants information, including Corinne's own fiancee. A former policeman, he has good relations with the cops and they and he all seem to take the pleasing utility of third degree and the rubber hose for granted.

the preferred method for obtaining information
in The Green Shadow

Which isn't to say that Tip doesn't have his good side: as mentioned, he honorably refuses to sleep with his clients' daughters (and wives, one presumes) and at one point insists that a street urchin witness get a good breakfast and reward money. However, though this tough guy averts his eyes when it looks like Paul Harding may start weeping over his kidnapped daughter's potential fate, he is casually indifferent to the sight of bullet-riddled bodies.

In short, the world depicted in The Green Shadow is a hard and tough one; and, although Tip is not the most unlikable character in the book, I didn't like him at all.  His model would seem to have been Hammett's Continental Op and his world seems a lot like that in Red Harvest (1929). What does Tip think of this world?  Here's Tip:

Your old-time desperado was a curly wolf, all right.  But a wolf can be hunted down. These present day gangs consist mainly of rats.  You'll notice that the wolf is pretty nearly extinct, while we still have hordes of rats.

Tip suggests levying a Federal tax for a crime fund that would provide reward money for snitches, but he complains that when "Mr. Harding and the rest of the rugged individualists" hear the word tax "they start to scream in chorus."  Until such a tax is levied, Tip avows, it will take private agencies like his own to really crack down on commercial crimes ("Murder for profit and kidnapping and kindred rackets").

endpaper design in the Hartney Press edition
of The Green Shadow

Though I disliked Tip and his rats-infested world, I have to admit that I found The Green Shadow a smoothly-conducted tale with a good plot that had genuine ratiocination.  In the end, Tip uses his brains as well as his fists to solve the case and that should appeal to those who prefer (intact) grey cells to rubber hoses.

The Green Shadow was filmed, a year after it was published, as Muss 'em Up, starring Preston Foster as Tip (oddly, it seems never to have been reprinted in paperback--"pulped" as academia says these days).  I can't quite see Preston Foster as Tip judging by photos, but maybe people better versed in his career can tell me.  I would love to see the film to find how closely it followed the book. It couldn't have been quite as hard-boiled!

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Out-Hams Hammett"? The Green Shadow (1935), by James Edward Grant

James Edward Grant (1905-1966) is best known today as a Hollywood scriptwriter and member of the inner circle of John Wayne.  He wrote scripts for a dozen Wayne films, including Angel and the Badman (which he also directed), Sands of Iwo Jima, Flying Leathernecks, Big Jim McClain, Hondo, Trouble Along the Way, The Barbarian and the Geisha, The Alamo, The Comancheros, Donovan's Reef, McClintock! and Circus World.

Although now most associated with Westerns and action films, Grant did write some screenplays for crime genre movies, including Miracles for Sale, based on Clayton Rawson's locked room mystery Death from a Top Hat (1939), Johnny Eager (1942), for which Van Heflin won an Oscar, and Ring of Fear, which starred Mickey Spillane as--well, Mickey Spillane (Grant directed that one too). Another crime film, Whipsaw, starring Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, was based on a 1934 Grant short story.  He also was nominated for an Oscar for his script for a Glenn Ford western, The Sheepman.

Far less remembered is what appears to be Grant's solitary crime novel, a very hard-boiled tale called The Green Shadow that was published by The Hartney Press in 1935, the same year the film Whipsaw appeared.  Hartney was a new concern that ambitiously promised to publish four novels monthly, including a mystery, but in the event only seems to have produced, in the mystery line, one additional book, Q. Patrick's excellent, if rather grisly, The Grindle Nightmare (1935), reviewed by John Norris.  An author biography section in The Green Shadow promises readers that Grant was working on a new mystery for Hartney, but it seems never to have appeared (Grant evidently was more interested in working directly in film).

The author bio aimed to assure readers that Grant, like Dashiell Hammett, had an authentic background for writing hard-boiled fiction.  A native Chicagoan and son of a "Chief Investigator for the State Attorney of Illinois," Grant drifted, we are told, "into the newspaper game," where he

became a specialist in rackets and other forms of muscle-and-gun crimes.  He handled the publicity angle of several sensational exposes including the multi-million dollar frauds in the City Sealers Office, and also the trade-union news for a labor magazine during the years that the gangsters were gunning their way into the unions.  His assignments led him into a personal acquaintance with most of Chicago's boom-boom boys.  His syndicated column, "It's a Racket," analyzed some three hundred separate and distinct rackets.  The articles caused such a stir in the Chicago underworld that several prominent mobsters left town.  

The Green Shadow was a success, winning notice--not entirely laudatory--for its extreme hard-boiledness.  The Saturday Review declared that the novel "out-Hams Hammett" and the New York Times avowed of the characters: "Their speech and their actions are completely uninhibited, and the author makes no attempt to tone them down.  If he had, his book could be more warmly and generally recommended."  Despite this admonition, the Times admitted that "James Edward Grant has written a story that will make the other exponents of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction look to their laurels."

The film version of The Green Shadow, Muss 'em Up, appeared the next year.  The film was directed by Charles Vidor and received a rave review from Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times, who interestingly observed:

It is a compliment to James Edward Grant, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, to say that his [sleuth] Tip O'Neil might have been invented by Dashiell Hammett himself.  Tough, witty, eminently practical, Tip (short for Tippecanoe) is a perfect illustration of the modern detective hero. Unless you happen to be a member of the crime trust (fictionally speaking), you may not know that the armchair [sic] detective, best represented by Sherlock Holmes and Philo Vance, has lost his grip. The new generation of mystery story readers wants detectives who can meet criminals on their own ground and plow them under.  Mr. Grant's Tip is not merely willing to meet his opponents on their home ground but to burrow a little.  Which is both unethical and enjoyable.

On the other hand, Bill Pronzini in Gun in Cheek was less enamored with Grant's wisecracking tough guy sleuth Tip O'Neil.  Pronzini deemed the Grant's shamus a typical example of the hard-boiled private eye as mere smart-ass,  "an annoying convention" that lasted for decades.

What did I think of The Green Shadow and Tip O'Neil?  Check in this weekend and see!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"I just tend the bar": The Drop (2014)

Films have been made from Dennis Lehane's novels Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island (the film versions were directed by, respectively, DGA winners Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese--no slouches there). The latest film made from a piece of Dennis Lehane fiction, The Drop, is based on the author's short story "Animal Rescue," with a script by Lehane himself and directed by Michael R. Roskam, director of the critically-acclaimed 2011 Belgian film Rundskop (Bullhead).

Bob (Tom Hardy) with "Rocco"
The title "The Drop" references a Brooklyn "drop bar"--where Chechen mob money gets stashed for short time--run by former owner "Cousin Marv" (the late James Gandolfini). Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), an actual cousin of "Cousin Marv," tends bar.  Early in the film the bar is robbed by two masked hoodlums.  Mob cash is stolen, which puts Marv and Bob on the spot with Chovka (Michael Aronov), the silkily menacing son of the Chechen crime boss, to, as he puts it, "find my money."

Meanwhile, Bob rescues a badly contused pit bull puppy dumped into a garbage can, which leads him into a relationship of sorts with kindhearted waitress Nadia (Noomi Rapace, film's original Lisbeth Salander).

This in turn brings him into conflict with local menacing, screws-loose character Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), reputed to have killed a local man who disappeared ten years earlier. Mild-mannered, church-going Bob tries to stay out of the varied cesspools swirling around him ("I just tend the bar" is his refrain), but the cesspools are getting ever bigger, dragging in everything around him.  What will Bob do?

Nadia (Noomi Rapace)

This is a terse summary of the plot, but in plot description I try to err on the side of stinginess in order to avoid spoilers.  Aside from the fact that the film boasts great performances (Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, who play the most developed characters, stand out, but the other actors named above nailed their roles as well), I loved Lehane's script, which details a plot that should please classic mystery fans. Having watched The Drop a second time now on DVD, I think it one of the best crime films from recent years and I heartily recommend it.

"Cousin Marv" (James Gandolfini)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ruth Rendell's 85th and her 75th

Today is Ruth Rendell's 85th birthday, an occasion I felt deserved recognition from The Passing Tramp.  I'll be reviewing yet another book by Rendell tomorrow (this is turning into the year of Rendell at this blog), but I wanted to take note of her milestone birthday today.

About six weeks ago Ruth Rendell had a stroke and the most recent news reports I have seen, from a month ago, put her in "critical but stable" condition. News accounts also stated that late last year, not long before her stroke, she delivered a novel manuscript to her publisher, so there will definitely be a new Rendell novel this year.  It is to be titled Dark Corners, a most apt title for a Ruth Rendell novel.  This will be her 66th novel. Including this new novel and her separately published novellas and short fiction collections Ruth Rendell has authored, I believe, 75 books of original fiction.

My review of the very hard-boiled The Green Shadow I am delaying until Friday, as that day's forgotten book.  Also I hope on the weekend to post a review of one of my favorite films from last year, a crime film based on the work of one of the most respected modern American crime writers (I believe he's so respected it's even been said he "transcends the genre").  Considering that the Rendell novel I'll be reviewing opens with four shooting murders, it's going to be rather a week of comparative rough stuff at The Passing Tramp--so prepare yourselves!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bearded in the Consulting Room: The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), by Annie Haynes

"Suppose that in the course of a man's professional career he found that a crime had been committed, had never been discovered, never even suspected, what would you say such a man ought to do?"

                                                --The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), by Annie Haynes

suspicious character
Physician John Bastow asks this question in Chapter One of The Man with the Dark Beard and in Chapter Two he is found in his consulting room, shot dead.  A note on his desk reads, "It was the Man with the Dark Beard." It's up to Inspector William Stoddart and his assistant Alfred Harbord to find his killer. Was it the man with the dark beard???

One of Dr. Bastow's acquaintances, research rival Dr. Sanford Morris, did indeed have a dark beard, which he shaved after the murder!  Then there are the various members of the household of dead Dr. Bastow (who, incidentally was a widower): his lovely daughter, Hilary; his son, Felix ("Fee"), who suffers from severe physical disability; his assistant, Basil Wilton, who has an "understanding" with Hilary that Bastow strenuously opposed; his secretary, Iris Houlton; and the parlourmaid, Mary Ann Taylor.

Then there are Sir Felix Skrine, K. C., Bastow's best friend and godfather to Bastow's children, and   Lavinia Priestley, Hilary's and Felix' s peppery spinster aunt. She's the best character in the novel, providing conversation like this:

"The secretary of his has gone home, I suppose?"
"Miss Houlton?  Oh, yes.  She goes home at seven.  But really, Aunt Lavinia, she is a nice quiet girl. Dad likes her."
Miss Lavinia snorted.
"Dare say she does.  As he likes your delightful parlourmaid, I suppose.  In my young days men didn't have girls to wait on them.  They had men secretaries and what not.  But nowadays they have as many women as they can afford.  Believe it would be more respectable to call it a harem at once!"
Hilary laughed.
"Oh, Aunt Lavinia!  The girls and men of the present day aren't like that.  They don't think of such things."
"Nonsense!" Miss Lavinaia snapped her fingers.  "Short skirts and backless frocks haven't altered human nature!"

Inspector Stoddart, who debuts in this novel (replacing Annie Haynes' Inspector Furnival), is described by Annie Haynes as follows:

Neither particularly short nor particularly tall, neither particularly stout nor particularly thin, he seemed to be made up of negatives.  His small, thin, colourless face was the counterpart of many others that might have been seen in London streets, though in reality Stoddart hailed from the pleasant Midlands country.  His eyes were grey, not large.  He had a trick of making them appear smaller by keeping them half closed; yet a look from those same grey eyes had been known to be dreaded by certain criminal classes more than anything on earth.  For it was an acknowledged fact that Detective-Inspector Stoddart had brought more of his cases to a successful conclusion than any other officer in the force.

Inspector Stoddart determines just what the man with the dark beard had to do with Bastow's murder (though not before there are a couple more deaths), and villainy is punished and virtue rewarded, all in the classic manner. He goes on to discover Who Killed Charmian Karslake? and solve The Crime at Tattenham Corner and The Crystal Beads Murder before his career as a fictional crime investigator closed with Annie Haynes' death.  Happily, all these novels are to be republished this year.

Note: My review of the James Edward Grant's very American and very hard-boiled The Green Shadow (1935) will be uploaded tomorrow.  As you will see, it doesn't quite fit the occasion!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Tip on My Next Book Review

Have you seen this man?
I should have a new book review uploaded tomorrow and I know you must be wondering what the reviewed book will be.  Well, here's a tip: the sleuth in the book actually is not this gentleman to the left, though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, when you see the name! Tell me, either here or on my Facebook page, the title and author of this book before I get the review uploaded and I will be happy to send the first person to do so, if you are in the US, a free book: a paperback copy of Christopher's Bush's The Case of the Tudor Queen.*

*(hint: that's not the book I'll be reviewing, nor is the book anything by Christopher Bush).

Good luck!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We Got Annie! More News on Golden Age Mystery Writer Annie Haynes

Efforts are now afoot to reprint Annie Haynes' mysteries, recently blogged about here, and I will keep you posted on developments. Additionally, we are close, I think, to nailing down information on Haynes' earlier years.  In the meantime here's a bit more about Haynes, after she had come to live in Hyde Park, London.

In November 1907 the publisher Hodder & Stoughton announced in newspapers and journals

We are offering prizes for candid opinions.  The authors and publishers of a number of the most popular novels of the day are anxious to know what you think of them.  They don't ask you to review the books in the ordinary way.  In Mrs. Baillie Reynolds' novel, "BROKEN OFF", for instance, they want you to say "What would have happened if the other man had proposed."

Annie Haynes decided she had some good ideas concerning this proposed hypothetical for Mrs. Baillie Reynolds' novel Broken Off (Reynolds, incidentally, also wrote mysteries and thrillers, one of which is discussed by me here). Unfortunately, her answer to the question, "What would have happened if the other man had proposed," did not win one of the three cash prizes (ranging from about 100 to 200 US dollars in modern worth) offered by the publisher--though Haynes was one of the ten "book prize" winners in 1908. Perhaps inspired by this contest, Haynes no more than five years later was publishing serialized novels in newspapers.

In Broken Off 

Thorold Strong, farmer by birth, cultured gentleman by inclination, and enormously rich, falls desperately in love with the Honourable Osmunda Challis, who, under ordinary circumstances, would simply never have looked at him.  He is accepted with open arms, however, by Osmunda's people, and it is represented to her that to save her family from the disgrace of bankruptcy, and her profligate brother Egbert from something worse, it is her duty to effect an alliance with a rich man....

How did Annie Haynes see things playing out for Thorold, Osmunda and the profligate Egbert?  I'd sure love to know!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Books That Sell: The Recent Renaissance of Classic Mystery

I would love to see a far greater variety of GAD [Golden Age Detection] authors in print, but I also know that their sales would remain small.  But Christie and Sayers, along with Allingham and Josephine Tey (whom I forgot to include earlier), are still in print and selling.  Is there any wonder the publishers are interested in the women writers?  They actually sell.

The quotation above was part of a longer response I once received from an individual when I faulted, several years ago, bigger publishers for not reaching out, when reprinting classic mystery, beyond the "usual suspects": the Crime Queens Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh. This individual's rejoinder--that the books of the Crime Queens, in contrast with books by any other classic mystery writers, "actually sell" was meant to suggest, I think, that my vision of a renaissance of renewed popularity for a broader array of Golden Age authors was rather a fond one.

Well, we have learned of late that among the mysteries that are actually selling are titles by John Bude and Jefferson Farjeon, authors long forgotten by all but the merest handful of collectors (three years ago, when I reviewed Farjeon's Mystery in White, since reprinted by the British Library, I was, to my knowledge, the first person on the internet to review a Jefferson Farjeon mystery). Mysteries by these authors now are selling very well, actually.  It seems that there really is a receptive audience for classic mysteries beyond those written by the Crime Queens.

the American hardcover edition of Mystery on White
with raves for the author's Thirteen Guests on the back of the dust jacket

The British Library will soon have out Antidote to Venom and The Hog's Back Mystery, two 1930s detective novels by Freeman Wills Crofts, subject of Chapter Three of my Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery (2012). When I wrote Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery I was fighting against the tide of what seemed a nearly unanimous critical opinion of long duration--Jacques Barzun and his friend Wendell Hertig Taylor being notable exceptions--to the effect that writers like Crofts were "Humdrums" hopelessly obsolete and unworthy of revival. Of course there were always collectors and classic mystery fans (some of them bloggers) who disagreed, but the people with the biggest megaphones--i.e., the biggest publishers--over the decades, like Julian Symons and P. D. James, tended to be quite dismissive of this group of writers (it was Symons who coined the term Humdrum, incidentally).*

*(For more on all this, see The Golden Age in Modern Memory)

If there was strong resistance among publishers--intrepid micro-presses excepted--to reprinting the books of the Humdrums, you can imagine the resistance to publishing a book about the Humdrums!*

*(besides Crofts other once-prominent mystery writers who have been so classified include John Street and J. J. Connington, to whom chapters are devoted as well in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery; I have little doubt as well that Julian Symons would have classified John Bude as a Humdrum, as he did Henry Wade and G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, about whom I have a book coming out, The Spectrum of English Murder).

Throughout 2010 and 2011 I was unable to get a British publisher even to look at Masters.  It was rejected out-of-hand, simply on the grounds of the subject matter.  Who would want to read about these dead, forgotten authors, was what I kept hearing, essentially.  What seemed to be desired was another book about Christie or Sayers--and then of course there were Chandler and Hammett, and Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith.  You know, authors people actually want to read, the ones that actually sell.

It was a very frustrating time for me, because not only did I feel that the Humdrums were worthy of study for their own merit, I believed that they shed additional, important light on the world of Golden Age British mystery. I believed there was a tendency to dismiss the "mere puzzle" mystery and erase its significance in the history of the genre, as well as to treat the Crime Queens as necessarily representative of all other authors of the period on political and social matters. I felt confident that Masters made a contribution of note to the historiography of the mystery genre and that its arguments deserved a hearing.

Fortunately an American publisher, McFarland, agreed to actually look at the manuscript--and they liked it.  Masters made it into print in 2012.  Frankly I wish the book had gotten more attention (there was a very strong review from Jon L. Breen in Mystery Scene, for which I will always be honored, but it was passed over completely by the Edgars and other mystery groups). However, at least I have the classic satisfaction, nearly three years later, of being able to say, "I told you so" to those who had so little faith in the potential appeal of these authors.

It seems that classic mysteries by writers other than the Crime Queens--including even Humdrums--sell.  They actually sell.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lady Daventry Dies: The House in Charlton Crescent (1926), by Annie Haynes

In Annie HaynesThe House in Charlton Crescent (1926), the widowed Lady Anne Daventry summons a private inquiry agent, Bruce Cardyn, to her London home to investigate the matter of just who within her household is trying to kill her.  Afflicted with rheumatism, Lady Anne is mostly confined to her lovely residence, but her mind remains alert and she knows someone has fatal designs upon her life.

Her husband, Squire Daventry (of Daventry Keep) is dead, as are her two sons, Christopher and Frank, both of whom expired in the Great War, but she still has dependents living with her: two nieces, Dorothy and Maureen Fyvert, and her husband's granddaughter, recently arrived in England from Australia, Margaret Balmaine.  Then there is John Daventry, the inheritor of Daventry Keep.  Under Lady Anne's will, her money goes to her nieces, while under her husband's will his money goes, after her death, to John Daventry and Margaret Balmaine, so all these individuals have a financial motive for encompassing the old lady's death. Then there is Lady Anne's recently dismissed private secretary, David Branksome, suspected by Lady Anne of machinations.

Oh, yes, and there's the lady's maid, Pirnie, and the butler, Soames--but butlers never do it in mysteries, right?

Despite Cardyn's efforts, Lady Anne does die--on page 61--and soon gimlet-eyed Inspector Furnival, who solved The Abbey Court Murder (1923) and would go on to illuminate The Crow's Inn Tragedy (1927), is on the case, employing, for some reason, Cardyn as his Watson. What follows is an entertaining investigation of murder--no tricks on par with the best of Agatha Christie, but plenteous secrets and lies, and a smooth narrative with enjoyable characters.

I was particularly interested in one criminous episode in the novel that Hayes seems clearly to have drawn from the real-life affair, discussed in my previous post, of the 1858 jewelry robbery at the Radnor Place, Hyde Park home of Haynes and her companion Ada Heather-Bigg.  My guess would be that the titular house in Charlton Crescent is based on the real-life house in Radnor Place.

Annie Haynes seems to have begun writing fiction during the Great War after having become afflicted around1914 with a debilitating illness (rheumatoid arthritis, I suspect). The first published pieces by her that I have found are serialized novels, all appearing between 1912 and 1921: Lady Carew's Secret, Footprints of Fate, Cicely Vibart's Love, A Pawn of Chance, The Manor Tragedy, Her Convict Mother, Charmian's Lovers, Pamela's Cousins, Lent Lilies, Betrayed by a Woman, The Tale of Lady Hannah, The Governess of the Priory. I'm reminded of the work of Margery Allingham's father, so ably discussed in Julia Jones' book Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory.

Haynes adapted the Bodley Head mysteries The Abbey Court Murder (1923) and The Master of the Priory (1927) from, respectively, the serials Lady Carew's Secret and The Governess of the Priory.  Priory is really a Jazz Age Gothic, if you will, as is an earlier Haynes' mystery, The Secret of Greylands (1924).  The House in Charlton Crescent, on the other hand, reads like Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). If it lacks the amazing ingenuity of that Christie, it is nevertheless quite an enjoyable mystery in the classic British style.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Affair of the Bracelet: Miss Brown and the Robbery at Radnor Place

On April 21, 1858, Constance Brown, a well-dressed woman about forty years of age, appeared at the premises of Hunt & Roskell, the eminent jewelers, announcing that she wished to look at some jewelry on behalf of Lady John Campbell, who desired to purchase jewelry for a marriage trousseau. Hunt & Roskell agreed that evening  to send two men with a quantity of jewelry to Lady Campbell's residence at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park.

On reaching this address one man remained outside the house while the other was admitted by a page to the drawing room.  Miss Brown, having dispatched the page on an errand, entered the drawing room, informing the shop assistant that Lady Campbell was en deshabille, but would be pleased to inspect the jewels, which were valued at 2500 pounds, in her private quarters.  At this the shop assistant demurred, but he consented to part with a bracelet worth 320 pounds (about 28,000 pounds today).

After waiting about a quarter of an hour for Miss Brown's return, he rang the bell to remind others in the house of his presence. No one answering, he tried to open the door of the drawing room and found that it was locked!

an antique  Hunt & Roskell bracelet

The assistant tried the shutters to the house, but found that they were barred and nailed. With increasing desperation he attempted to pry open the shutters, breaking a finger in the process. Then frenziedly he banged at them with his head, succeeding only in injuring himself further. Eventually the man who had stayed outside heard shouts of "Police!" from the drawing room above and the imprisoned man was extricated.  Neither Miss Brown nor Lady Campbell were found in the house. The "outside man" admitted that he earlier had seen both the page and Miss Brown leaving the house, but he had thought nothing of this.

A locked room and a stolen bracelet
Radnor Place, Hyde Park

It seems that "Miss Brown" was not the lady she purported to be.  Six days earlier, on April 15, a woman calling herself Constance Brown, of St. Leonard's-on-the-Sea, and claiming to be a friend of "Sir John and Lady Campbell," took occupancy of the house at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park. To the house agent she submitted as a reference the banking firm Cox and Biddulph of Charing Cross Road, who, when queried, assured the agent that Miss Brown indeed kept an account with them and was a most respectable person. Next Miss Brown hired a carriage, or brougham, and acquired a resplendently liveried page.

After returning to 14 Radnor Place from the jewelers on April 21, Miss Brown engaged in the sort of deceptive charade one finds in the pages of Golden Age mysteries:

"Miss Brown" sent the page out on a trifling errand, and upon his return she told him that in his absence Lady Campbell had arrived, and being fatigued, had gone up to bed, desiring him at the same time to bring up a cup of tea, which he would find ready in the kitchen. Upon carrying out this instruction the page was met at the bedroom door by "Miss Brown," who took the tea from him, and, with the art of the practiced ventriloquist, held an apparent conversation with an elderly lady inside the room, thus impressing the boy with a belief of some fresh arrival in the house....[Having been sent on another errand, during which time "Miss Brown" effected her theft of the bracelet] [t]he page returned shortly after the police had forced an entrance, and upon being questioned he persisted that Lady Campbell was upstairs, so thoroughly had he been deceived by the ventriloquism of his mistress.

case solved
Jack Whicher
It was almost with a pang of disappointment that I found that this ingenious lady thief met her match in Scotland Yard's great Inspector Jack Whicher (1814-1881), of Constance Kent fame.

Whicher apprehended the absconding adventuress in a second-class carriage on the Great Western Railway.  "Miss Brown"--in reality Louise Moutot-- had not only the bracelet in her possession, but a quantity of diamonds, rings and other jewelry, as well as "a man's wig, a pair of false whiskers and moustaches, and a man's travelling cap."  Additionally her dress was liberally outfitted with shoplifter's pockets.

Moutot, who formerly had managed a Parisian hotel and most recently a boarding house in Dawlish, Devonshire, had also been employed as a traveling companion by several people, including a Miss Constance Brown; and while in Miss Brown's employ had derived knowledge about Sir John and Lady Campbell that she soon put to wicked use.

Mystery writer Annie Haynes must have found living in such a house quite interesting (I am assuming the street address number had not changed in the intervening fifty years). Indeed, it seems quite likely that Haynes derived one of the criminous incidents in her mystery novel The House in Charlton Crescent (1926), to be reviewed here tomorrow, from the affair of the bracelet, Louise Moutot and Inspector Whicher.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Annie Haynes Look: The Passing Tramp's Latest Discoveries about a Forgotten Mystery Writer

1920s mystery author Annie Haynes is mostly forgotten today (indeed, outside of myself. Allen Hubin and Carl Woodings I don't know of anyone else who has read her recently), but as I indicated in my previous post Haynes was a well-regarded English Jazz Age crime writer.  Haynes authored twelve mystery novels that were published over just an eight-year period, 1923 through 1930, the last posthumously. Her dozen crime novels are:

The Bungalow Mystery 1923
The Abbey Court Murder 1923
The Secret of Greylands 1924
The Blue Diamond 1925
The Witness on the Roof 1925
The House in Charlton Crescent 1926
The Crow's Inn Tragedy 1927
The Master of the Priory 1927
The Man with the Dark Beard 1928
The Crime at Tattenham Corner 1929
Who Killed Charmian Karslake? 1929
The Crystal Beads Murder 1930

As with the early books by Agatha Christie (those published from 1920 to 1925), all Hanyes' novels were published in England by The Bodley Head.  Only three of her novels ever were published in the US, with the result that she never became much known to American mystery readers.

Although Haynes' mysteries were popular in England, after her death she suffered the fate of all too many once-popular deceased authors: rapidly encroaching obscurity. Personal detail about this writer is sparse indeed. I do know that Annie Haynes, "spinster," died in London on March 30, 1929.  The executors of her estate were Thomas Shenstone Haynes and Paul Nicholas.

Was Thomas Shenstone Haynes a brother?  All I have been able to find out about him is that in the 1910s he was a partner with Archibald Ernest Smith  in an "Ironmongers, Oil, Colour and Builders" firm, Smith and Haynes, located in Yiewsley, Middlesex (Greater London).  He may have earlier been connected to Haynes & Co., ironmongers of Nottingham, but this is conjectural.

courtesy Carl Woodings

Annie Haynes dedicated her first mystery novel "To My Dear Friend Ada Heather-Bigg In Loving Gratitude For Her Constant Help and Guidance."  Haynes' last mystery novel, The Crystal Beads Murder, was published in 1930, a year after Haynes' death, after having been completed by a woman friend who was also a popular mystery writer; and it carried a foreword from Ada Heather-Bigg, which reads in part as follows:

courtesy Carl Woodings
It is not generally known that for the last fifteen years of her life Miss Haynes was in constant pain and writing itself was a considerable effort. Her courage in facing her illness was remarkable, and the fact that she was handicapped not only by the pain but also by the helplessness of her malady greatly enhances the merit of her achievements. 

It was impossible for her to go out into the world for fresh material for her books, her only journeys being from her bedroom to her study. The enforced inaction was the harder to bear in her case, as before her illness she was extremely energetic. Her intense interest in crime and criminal psychology led her into the most varied activities, such as cycling miles to visit the scene of the Luard Murder, pushing her way into the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where the remains of Belle Elmore were discovered, and attending the Crippen trial.

Ada Heather-Bigg commended the friend who completed The Crystal Beads Murder for having in her draft manuscript independently arrived at "Miss Haynes's own solution of the mystery, which was was known only to myself."

Annie on the spot
--the Luard summerhouse, site of one of England's
most notorious unsolved murders (note bicycle in foreground)

Obviously Ada Heather-Bigg and Annie Haynes were quite close friends.  Recently I discovered that at the time of her death Annie Haynes resided at the Heather-Bigg family home at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park and, indeed, had lived there at least since 1908. So, the question arises: who exactly was Ada Heather-Bigg, anyway?

Ada Heather-Bigg was a daughter of Henry Heather-Bigg (1826-1881), the son of Henry Bigg, a partner in a surgical instrument and anatomical machinist business in London. During the Crimean War Henry Heather-Bigg became a notable pioneer in orthopedics and the development of prosthetic limbs.  In 1852 he married a daughter of Dr. Robert James Culverwell (1802-1852) and the couple had three daughters and a son.

The son, Henry Robert Heather-Bigg (1853-1911), was a doctor of the spine as well as an occasional novelist. Of sisters he had three: Mildred Heather-Bigg (1857-1928), an esteemed Victorian/Edwardian era nurse and matron of Charing Cross Hospital; Edith Heather-Bigg (1865-1943), who married Sir John Bland-Sutton (1855-1936), a renowned surgeon made a baronet in 1925; and the aforementioend Ada Heather-Bigg (1855-1944), a noted Victorian/Edwardian feminist reformer and intellectual.

former Charing Cross Hospital

Ada Heather-Bigg attended lectures at the University College London from 1875 to 1879, just a few years after the university ended gender segregation of its lectures (in 1878 UCL became the first British university to admit women on equal terms with men). In 1881 the university awarded Heather-Biggs the Joseph Hume Scholarship in Political Economy--it was noted at the time in both the UK and US that this "clever English girl" had defeated "all the male competitors" for the honor--and she also received the degree of LLA (Lady Literate in Arts) from the University of St. Andrews, which had begun granting this particular degree in 1876.

In the 1880s and 1890s Heather-Bigg published numerous articles on female workers, arguing therein that women were discouraged from entering the wage labor force not out of concern over feminine "delicacy" but rather in order to prevent them from attaining economic independence; and she was active in many political and philanthropic organizations on behalf of women and children.  When she died in 1944 her will left a substantial bequest to UCL, which went to endow the university's Ada Heather-Bigg Prize in Economics.

University College London

After the death of Henry Heather-Bigg in 1881, the year his eldest daughter won the Hume Scholarship, his widow and daughters Ada and Edith eventually moved to a house at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park.  After the death of her mother and the marriage of her sister Edith to Dr. Bland-Sutton in 1899, Ada presumably lived there alone with the servants, until Annie Haynes took up residence at the house as well, in 1908 or earlier.

About Annie Haynes we have much less personal detail, aside from that she died in 1929, that she presumably was afflicted with crippling rheumatism from around 1914 until her death fifteen years later, that she may have had a brother in the ironmongery business and that she may have come from an English Midlands county, perhaps Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire.

From Ada Heather-Bigg's short tribute we know that Haynes was, as befits a mystery writer, interested in "crime and criminal psychology."  Heather-Bigg gives us a short but memorable picture of a once physically active, quite determined woman, bicycling miles to reach Ightham, Kent, in order to visit the summerhouse where Caroline Mary Luard was mysteriously shot and killed in 1908, and "pushing her way into the cellar" of the infamous house at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where the grisly remains of Dr. Crippen's vanished wife, Belle Elmore, were discovered in 1910.

For someone like Annie Haynes surely one of the attractions of the Heather-Biggs house at 14 Radnor Place in Hyde Park was the fact that a half-century or so before she moved there this house itself had figured in a crime, one that involved the great Inspector Whicher of Scotland Yard, who figured so prominently shortly afterward in the notorious Constance Kent murder case.  More on this in the next post.

row houses at Radnor Place, Hyde Park