Thursday, April 30, 2015

Myths of the Golden Age 2:Tough Eggs and Intellectuals

Two other myths of the Golden Age--ones that surfaced in the recent popular studies by Lucy Worsley and the late PD James--are (1) intellectuals had contempt for the Golden Age "classic"--i.e., puzzle-oriented--detective novel (until, arguably, Dorothy L. Sayers lifted it above contempt with Gaudy Night) and (2) American crime fiction in the Golden Age consisted mostly of works by hard-boiled writers, like Raymond Chandler, who also had contempt for British detective fiction. The situation actually is much more complex than these formulations allow, something that I and some other contributors to Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene, discussed last year in the book.

Of course Doug Greene, through his work on John Dickson Carr and other writers, has done much to examine the rich vein of Golden Age American "classic" detective fiction. He also, incidentally, has highlighted the post-WW2 aesthetic feud between Carr and Chandler that arose out of Chandler's famous essay deriding classical detective fiction, "The Simple Art of Murder." This essay, which Chandler acknowledged was deliberately polemical, for decades established the view that Chandler had disdain for all British detective fiction.  "Chandler despised the English school of crime writing," writes PD James, who then quotes Chandler's famous, amusing line that "the English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers."

Hater? Raymond Chandler
However, as I discuss in my Raymond Chandler essay, "The Amateur Detective Just Won't Do: Raymond Chandler and British Detective Fiction," Chandler in fact was an admirer of two British detective novelists who sometimes have been dismissed as dull ("Humdrum" even), Freeman Wills Crofts, a major subject of my book Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery who recently has been reprinted by the British Library, and R. Austin Freeman, whom in Masters I dub the father of the so-called "Humdrums."

The crime writer and once highly influential critic Julian Symons likened reading Austin Freeman, an author I greatly enjoy myself, to chewing straw.  Chandler certainly did not agree and in fact wrote quite fondly of Freeman's fiction. He saw Freeman and Dashiell Hammett as masters of two different sorts of crime writing. Freeman's writing had "immense leisure," Chandler allowed, but "within his literary tradition" Freeman was, insisted Chandler, "a damn good writer."

In addition to Crofts and Freeman, Josephine Tey and Michael Innes were other British crime writers Chandler enjoyed. The view that Chandler despised the "English school of crime writing" just does not hold. To better understand Chandler's more nuanced view of British detective fiction, one must look at more than his "Simple Art" essay.

For starters I would suggest people might take a look at mine. (but naturally!)  In it I argue that what Chandler really disliked about the "English school of crime writing" was the privileged gentleman amateur detective, today most associated with the work of Dorothy L. Sayers.  About the gentleman detective of classic mystery Chandler could get rather scalding.

There was an immensely rich tradition of classical, puzzle-oriented detective fiction in the United States, but as scholarly studies have focused increasingly on the English Crime Queens to the exclusion of everyone else who worked within the classical tradition, these writers seem to have receded in both popular and academic awareness.

The appetite for puzzle-focused detective fiction in fact broke quite a few boundaries.  For a time it was immensely popular with intellectuals, as I and Henrique Valle discuss in Mysteries Unlocked. More on that to come.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pick a Peck of Penguin Punshons

In a writing career lasting over half a century, English mystery writer E. R. Punshon (1872-1956), published over fifty mainstream and mystery novels, but he became best known for his 35 Bobby Owen detective novels, which appeared between 1933 and 1956, the year of Punshon's death. Although they had a spottier publication record in the US, the Bobby Owen series was quite popular in the UK, having been well-launched by a series of laudatory reviews from Dorothy L. Sayers in the Sunday Times.  Like Sayers, Punshon also was an early, and active, member of the Detection Club. (He is one the most featured members in my CADS booklet "Was Corinne's Murder Clued? The Detection Club and Fair Play.")

Five of Punshon's Bobby Owen mysteries were reprinted as Penguin paperbacks, between 1948 and 1955.  After Punshon's death in 1956, however, his books, with the exception of a couple of English library market editions, fell entirely out-of-print until 2009, a year that saw the reappearance of Diabolic Candelabra, a Punshon novel I had included on an internet list of 150 personal favorites by Golden Age authors and which since has been reviewed very favorably on several blogs.  Dean Street Press now plans to reprint the Bobby Owen series, beginning with the first five books in the series, the same five Penguin reprinted sixty and more years ago.

I'll be having more to say about Punshon in the weeks to come, as well as other vintage mystery writers, of course.  I have just about finished the index to my book on the detective fiction of Henry Wade and GDH and Margaret Cole, which along with the introductions, has been taking time away from the blog.  But I expect to be back to it more regularly by next week.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Golden Age and the Modern Reprint Revolution

One thing I find fascinating about the Golden Age of detective fiction--traditionally defined as falling between the First and Second World Wars--is just how diverse the period actually was, though appreciation of much of this diversity has been considerably lost in public awareness today (see the recent book by Lucy Worsley, for example).  I don't mean to say that no one has acknowledged this diversity before the last few years; that is certainly not the case. But despite worthy work being done (in monographs, essays, reviews and blog pieces), we keep hearing so much about the same old Golden Age dichotomy: England, cozy women puzzle writers (and some men who wrote like them); United States, hard-boiled men who eschewed puzzles.  We've seen this show--(Tough) Guys and (Detection) Dolls--so much now!

there's more to it all than a duel between Hammett and Chandler, Christie and Sayers

With the recent, and ongoing, revolution in mystery reprints--getting more attention, now, to be sure, due to the efforts of the British Library--I hope that we will find a wider range of books by Golden Age mystery writers more readily available than at any time since the Golden Age itself.  Then we'll be seeing that while puzzle-oriented mystery fiction--including books authored by the "Humdrums"--continued to thrive throughout the period, on both sides of the Atlantic (and other parts of the world as well), other types of mystery developed (or redeveloped) as well, such as the manners mystery associated with Sayers, Marsh and Allingham but also produced by others in and out of England; humorous/satirical mystery; psychological mystery (something more than the so-called "Iles School" associated with Anthony Berkeley Cox); local color mystery; and even the police procedural.  

And of course the traditional mystery thriller associated with Edgar Wallace, then one of the most popular writers in the world, was still very much a factor in the 1930s.  The Golden Age of detective fiction was also the Golden Age of the traditional thriller.  In truth, it was an exceptionally rich and varied time for crime fiction fans and I very much look forward to seeing more books from this era getting reissued and acknowledged.  Not every one of these new reprints, to be sure, will always be a masterpiece--indeed, some no doubt will be rather more mundane--but many will be well worth while and together they will, I believe, hugely enhance our understanding of the fascinating world of Golden Age crime fiction.

I've been involved personally with reissued American titles by Coachwhip and reissued British titles by Dean Street Press and Orion Books' The Murder Room imprint.  For the latter I wrote a 4000 word introduction to their complete J. J. Connington eBook reprint series, while for Dean Street Press I've written introductions for the reprints of The Studio Crime (1929) and Dead Man's Quarry (1930), the two Golden Age detective novels by Detection Club member Ianthe Jerrold, and have just finished five for the E. R. Punshon series, averaging about 1000 words apiece.  I'm very pleased to be doing the Punshon introductions, for by the end of the process I will have put together what I believe will be a significant study of this undeservedly neglected English mystery writer.

With the British Library series, with which I am not personally involved, I am especially pleased with the Jefferson Farjeon reissues--having, as readers of this blog will know, made pleas on his behalf here over three years ago--and with a reissue of a Christopher St. John Sprigg title (see more on Sprigg here).  It's very pleasing to see Rufus King back in print too, by Wildside Press, though I wish Wildside would put some more effort with their reissues into the purely aesthetic aspect.

More to come soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Myths of the Golden Age I: Aesthetic Change in Mystery Fiction during the Turbulent Thirties

With Martin Edwards' book The Golden Age of Murder coming out in another week and increasing interest in reprinting "forgotten" Golden Age mysteries (besides the British Library, other presses involved in this recovery effort include Arcturus, Bello, Coachwhip, Dean Street Press, Open Road/Mysterious Press, and Thomas & Mercer), it appears the publishing world finally may be more receptive to views of the Golden Age of detective fiction--traditionally understood as the period from roughly 1920 to 1939, when the puzzle-oriented tale of detection ostensibly was the dominant form of crime fiction--that revise the common understanding of the period advanced over the last forty years in the popular works of Julian Symons, Colin Watson, P. D. James, Lucy Worsley.

The truth is, our convenient and tidily framed Golden Age construct has been ripe for challenge.  Just look at some of the most common beliefs about Golden Age detective fiction:

1. Golden Age detective fiction was written primarily by British authors.
2. Golden Age detective fiction was written primarily by women.
3. Throughout the Golden Age detective fiction was hostile to innovation, as typified by the "rules" for the genre laid down by such people as Ronald Knox and S. S. Van Dine.

Neither of the first two beliefs is true, and the third needs considerable revision.  Of the popular studies by Symons, Watson, James and Worsley, Symons' Bloody Murder remains the best, not only because it is the most informed by knowledge of the genre (Watson's book gives over a great deal of space to the thriller, while the James and Worsley books have huge gaps), but because Symons at least recognizes that change was occurring in the 1930s--though he mostly credits change coming not from "classical" detective novelists themselves but the American hard-boiled school (the "American Revolution").  In this construct, reactionary classical detective fiction, ultimately unable to reform itself (despite some efforts), had to be toppled by revolutionary aesthetic insurrectionists opposed to everything for which the classicists stood.

In writing Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 (2012), I looked at the careers of three once-popular "Humdrum" novelists (so dubbed by Julian Symons, because of their focus on puzzle at the expense of literary graces). In the first chapter I charted their rise and fall in popularity and critical esteem, which followed the fortunes of the puzzle-oriented mystery.

I had already concluded that by the 1930s the supremacy of the puzzle in the detective novel was undergoing great challenge from a host of sources, including people who were seen themselves as "traditional" detective novelists.

I discussed this point in a 20,000 word essay, published in 2011, a year before Masters, under the title Was Corinne's Murder Clued: The Detection Club and Fair Play, 1930-1953 (I am planning on republishing this essay as the lead piece in a new book; you can see reviews of the essay by Jon L. Breen and Martin Edwards here and here).  "During this decade [the Thirties]," I write

members of the Detection Club, old and new, devoted and casual, were themselves testing the boundaries of the detective fiction genre, despite the Club's reputation as a bastion of puzzle orthodoxy. To no small extent, the revolution against the primacy of the puzzle in British detective fiction came from within.  Perhaps the most important Detection Club revolutionaries in this regard were, among the original members, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy and Henry Wade and, among later members, E. R. Punshon, Anthony Gilbert, Gladys Mitchell, Margery Allingham and Nicholas Blake.  None of these authors ever totally abandoned the puzzle in their genre writing, but all of them in their works de-emphasized puzzles relative to other, purely literary, elements.

I then scrutinize the Thirties writings of these authors, along with some traditionalists who were changing in some ways as well, like John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and John Street.  "By the time World War Two erupted in 1939," I conclude, the Detection Club "had demonstrated that its membership was not a hopelessly reactionary, backward-looking group determined to maintain the supremacy of the pure puzzle novel at the cost of characterization and literary style."

In short, the literary landscape of mystery fiction saw great change between 1929 and 1939, from numerous sources.  The purportedly halcyon Golden Age was in fact an era of aesthetic flux.  It is exciting that the publishing world may be more broadly recognizing this, and that the Golden Age's iron paradigms finally may be breaking.

More discussion of Golden Age myth-breaking to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fatal Floor Plans: Toper's End (1942), by GDH Cole

My book on the detective fiction of Henry Wade and GDH and Margaret Cole has been delayed by some other projects, but it is in its final, final stage now, indexing.  Should be out next month.

I reviewed GDH Cole's  Toper's End here last year, but have only just now located my English edition, with the frontis floor plan of Excalibur House, where the drunkard Rowland Moggridge is found dead from poison. I've always liked this one because of the three floors.  What are your favorite murder mystery floor plans?

Dear friends are full of horror,
Predict a toper's end for me.
They ask: "How long, O sorrow,
Wilt thou remain wine's devotee?"
--Yehuda Halevi

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Foxy Little Literary Tricks": Sherwood Anderson on Detective Novelists

Last night I spoke in Oakland....I was haunted all night by the newspaperwoman who came to see me at my hotel yesterday and later appeared at my lecture quite drunk.  She is a successful trick writer--detective stories, I think--is clever.  Lately she has had trouble. Her man has left her.

She is sensitive enough to feel dirty about her work. Jesus Christ but the tricksters sure do pay for their foxy little literary tricks, selling out their own imaginations, getting dirty inside.  


Down capitalism.  It has so many little subtle ways of selling people out.

--From Ray Lewis White, ed., Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters (1991)

Sherwood Anderson: no fan of tricksters

On this blog we've heard opinions expressed on detective fiction from various notable writers, including John Updike, Sinclair LewisWilliam Faulkner and Vladimir Nabokov. And now Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) chimes in, not very sympathetically to say the least!

Detective stories, written by "trick writers" at the behest of a spiritually vapid marketplace ("Down capitalism"), constitute a "sell-out" of the imagination that makes one feel dirty inside. Case in point, according to Anderson: the newspaperwoman who appeared drunk at his 1932 Oakland lecture.

Who was this woman?  It was Nancy Barr Mavity (1890-1959), a longtime reporter for the Oakland Tribune.  She was said to be "intrepid, brilliant, whimsical and with a curiosity about and liking for life at all levels. (though evidently she was not brimming with joie de vivre that night she saw Sherwood Anderson--she sounds more like a character from Winesburg, Ohio).

But how good a detective novelist was she?  Find out soon! Or has anyone read any of her mysteries? If so, what did you think?

Fab Freemans: My Ten Favorite Freeman Wills Crofts Detective Novels (Plus Five Alternates)

I thought that since yesterday I discussed the British Library's Freeman Wills Crofts reissues I would continue in this vein a bit and list my ten favorite novels by the author. Again, these are my personal favorites, as opposed to ones I find socially significant for varying reasons (there is not always an overlap there). 

Purely for entertainment I prefer the Crofts novels that focus firmly on puzzle, because I think puzzle construction is where Crofts' strengths as an author lie.  I will follow with five titles I didn't like as much, but that others perhaps might rate more highly (these concentrate more on developing character interest).

1. Inspector French and the Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927)

A complex plot, well-managed.  There's some uninspiring love interest, but it's allowed to fade (the male half of the love interest is named, rather remarkably I thought, Pierce Whymper).

2. The Sea Mystery (1928)

It should have been called The Crate, though that would have too closely resembled the title of Crofts' earlier landmark mystery, The Cask (1920).  Well-paced and plotted.

3. Sir John Magill's Last Journey (1930)

One of Crofts' most highly-regarded mysteries in his day, this one involves trains and much traveling over Britain, in the author's best vein.

4. Mystery in the Channel (1931)

What Journey does for trains, Channel does for boats.

5. The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) (reprinted in 2015 by the British Library)

Another masterpiece of logistical detection.

6. Mystery on Southampton Water (1934)

This is semi-inverted mystery of corporate espionage, rather unique for the period I think.

7. Crime at Guildford (1935)

More corporate shenanigans.  This is the one that Raymond Chandler, a Crofts reader, said got "too fancy"; and there indeed is a point that stretches plausibility, but it's still a well-plotted book.

8. The Loss of the "Jane Vosper" (1936)

This title was recommended by Julian Symons and is Crofts' closest approximation, I think. of a full police procedural.

And two late ones that eschew the rather heavy-handed moral parables of his later works:

9. Enemy Unseen (1945)

An appealing village mystery.

10. Death of a Train (1946)

Espionage involving, yes, a train; Inspector French figures quite heroically.

Some others people might like (especially if you enjoyed Antidote to Venom):

1. Sudden Death (1932)

A country house tale that Crofts also adapted for the local stage.  I find it rather melodramatic, but it does get more into the emotional aspect of murder.

2. Death on the Way (1932)

Lots of a good railway workplace detail, but does the central gambit really work?

3. The 12.30 from Croydon (1934)

Crofts' most famous inverted mystery, weighed down for me by the love element (Crofts never does sexual passion convincingly in my view).

4. Found Floating (1937)

Partially a shipboard mystery, reminiscent of a Christie in milieu, but again the characters are not done as well as those in a Christie.

5. Fatal Venture (1939)

An attack on floating gambling casinos (there's a murder problem too, of course).  In his novels Crofts continually indicts gambling, improvident living and getting into debt.  He would not be pleased with the world today.

And, of course there's his 1920 landmark, The Cask, but you've read that one already--or have you?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Freeman Wills Crofts, The British Library and Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery

Included among the recent reissues of Golden Age detective novels by the British Library are a pair of tales by Freeman Wills Crofts, Antidote to Venom and The Hog's Back Mystery.  In Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery (2012) I provide the longest and most substantive analysis of Crofts' detective fiction to date (the other two "Humdrum" authors I analyze at length are Cecil John Charles Street, aka John Rhode/Miles Burton, and Alfred Walter Stewart, aka JJ Connington), so I am pleased to see his cause taken up by the British Library.

I am a strong admirer of The Hog's Back Mystery (1933), one of the greatest logistical detection Golden Age mysteries, a form of which Crofts was the period's leading practitioner. The thematically ambitious Antidote to Venom (1938), however, is more problematic for me, though it definitely has strong points of interest to a student of the genre.

As I explain in great interpretive detail in Masters, Crofts, like a number of other detective fiction authors in the 1930s, moved away from the pure puzzle mystery toward novels aimed at providing greater emotional engagement for the reader.  Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh deservedly are much celebrated for doing this through the so-called "manners mystery" (although they were not alone in this), while for Crofts the process involved designing detective novels and short stories as religious parables providing moral instruction for his audience (see The Golden Age in Modern Memory for a blog take by me on these matters).

the British first edition
Antidote to Venom, an inverted mystery with an explicitly religious narrative framework, is the premier example of this tendency in Crofts' work, though there are other examples as well, discussed in Masters. I provide a discussion in Masters on Antidote to Venom specifically, wherein I treat the novel as of interest primarily on social history grounds.

I suspect that what may have been a major mover in motivating the British Library to choose to reprint Antidote to Venom was John Norris' eloquent and enthusiastic review of the novel on his fine blog at Pretty Sinister Books. John mounts a detailed case on behalf of the plot of the book and its pull on the reader (he also shows how the original American hardcover edition has a killer endpaper map).

In my view Crofts' ability to depict complex characters is too slight to make this novel work as it should on the emotional level, but, as John's review indicates, others may well differ with me on this matter. Harriet Devine's Blog says of the novel, "modern readers of different [religious] persuasions [from Crofts] may find [the ending] a little jarring." For me, what makes the novel interesting historically does not make it a compelling or convincing novel of character, but, as always, readers will differ in their takes on a book and they should see for themselves what they think.

The Hog's Back Mystery, on the other hand, is one of my favorite Golden Age detective novels, although there might be some who think it overly analytical. Personally, I think it's a beaut of a book (there's an endpaper map too, as well as a clue key). To be sure, it's less thematically ambitious then Antidote to Venom, but it's also a perfect example of the deliberate pure puzzle English mystery at which the "Humdrums" (as Julian Symons termed them) excelled.

One could have paired it, for this reprinting outing, with its twin logistical detection masterpiece, Crofts' railroad mystery Sir John Magill's Last Journey (1930); however, I see that on his blog Martin Edwards, who I believe writes all of the introductions for the series, was not taken with the book (Martin's view of Crofts generally has improved since, however). Then there is Crofts' most famous inverted mystery, The 12.30 from Croydon (1934), which has always had its advocates.

I also have highly praised the boat puzzle tale Mystery in the Channel here.  Readers interested in Crofts are urged to check out Masters of the Humdrum Mystery for my takes on all Crofts' other works (it's rather dear, I know, but there are always the libraries).

I mention my book here on my blog because I think people who read and enjoy Crofts through the British Library series should have some chance to hear about Masters, which in my view is the master source on so-called "Humdrum" British mystery.  Jon L. Breen called Masters "an important book of detective fiction history and criticism, with all the scholarly care and rigor of a first-rate academic study, combined with an enjoyable literary style,"  while Martin Edwards declared, on his blog, "This is a book to which I will, I'm sure, return again and again."  I do hope Martin keeps returning to it, and that perhaps other interested readers may find their way to it for the first time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Daring Thought: What if the Library of America Went Screwball?

I've been publicly airing ideas of late--wildly, even madly, ambitious, I know--for hypothetical Library of America volumes that might include what we might term "classical" mystery fiction from the Golden Age (roughly 1918-1939). With my previous list of 30 detective novels I've received some suggestions for alternate titles and some for additional writers.  Only one person so far has criticized the inclusion of a specific writer.

No one mentioned Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies (1932),which I would have included, but for the fact that it has already been taken for LOA's writers of the Harlem Rennaissance series.  I did add a couple of authors, however, taking the total up to thirty, and switched a couple of titles (the added authors were Virginia Rath and Hugh Austin).

Jeffrey Marks, biographer of Craig Rice (Who Was That Lady?), has mentioned her exclusion from the list, but before 1940 she had published only one mystery novel, 8 Face at 3 (1939), not at the level of her best in my view.  I think ideally she should be represented in a two-volume series called American Screwball Mystery: Eight Novels from the 1930s and 1940s.  What say you to these choices as possible selections?

The Blind Barber (1934), by John Dickson Carr 
Headed for a Hearse (1935), by Jonathan Latimer
The Annulet of Gilt (1938), by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
The Cut Direct (1938), by Alice Tilton

Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre (1940), by Elliot Paul
The Case of the Kippered Corpse (1941), by Margaret Scherf
Trial by Fury (1942), by Craig Rice

The Mouse in the Mountain (1943), by Norbert Davis

The trick here is that Phoebe Atwood Taylor was also Alice Tilton, so she shows up twice, in the same year.  She was quite the prolific crime writer in the 1930s and 1940s, and one of the preeminent American representatives of both screwball and local color fiction fiction.  She was a true American original, a Grandma Moses of murder (except, well, a heckuva lot younger).

The cause of Margaret Scherf has been taken up by Rue Morgue Press, a great advocate for the zany mystery. John Dickson Carr was better known for his frights than his chuckles, but any Carr fan will tell you that there is plenteous humor in Carr's books.  The Blind Barber has long been considered a classic of mirthful mystery.  Jonathan Latimer and Norbert Davis (and to some extent Craig Rice) represent the more hard-boiled side of screwball.

There's probably another set that could be devoted to "Couples" mystery, what do you think?  Of course The Thin Man is already in the Dashiell Hammett set, but there are other notable examples.

There also should be, ideally, a 1940s set of detective novels, because the classical tradition was still strong in that decade.  Represented here should be authors like Elizabeth Daly, as Dean James mentioned on the previous post, Hake Talbot (1944), whose Rim of the Pit is widely-loved by locked room mystery fans; and Craig Rice yet again, for her wonderful Home Sweet Homicide (1944).

At least we now have LOA a-twitter!  I've known that someone connected to LOA, in addition to Sarah Weinman, reads this blog, because my discussion of Dashiell Hammett's short stories is sited here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Elizabeth Fenwick in Pictures: From Detective Writer to Mainstream Novelist

I've gathered some more material on Elizabeth Fenwick (1916-1996), the 1940s-1960s crime writer discussed in some of my recent blog posts.

Here are the jackets to her early detective novels:

All three novels were published by Farrar & Rinehart, between 1943 and 1945. Biographical information is nil, with war messages occupying the entire back covers of the dust jackets:

However, the publisher emphasizes on the jacket flaps Fenwick's merit as a novelist.  With The Inconvenient Corpse we're told that Fenwick's novel "combines lively characterization with clever plotting" and thus "isn't just another mystery."  Murder in Haste "marks the author as a writer with imagination, wit and skill--a first-rater."

After the publication of Two Names for Death, Fenwick abandoned crime fiction for a dozen years. Her next novel, published in 1947, was a "straight" novel called The Long Wing.  On the back there is a great photo of her and some biographical information:

young author at work
Elizabeth Fenwick was born is St. Louis, but left at the age of four and has been moving about ever since.  Her father was an invalid with no business ties and a taste for new cities, so her growing up and schooling were peripatetic, but fun.

After graduating from high school, she spent a year and a half living in three states and learning to be a writer. The results were one novel, burned after its first rejection, and many poems.  After this came business school and two years as a secretary and French translator.  

After her marriage she moved to Ithaca, New York, and began a period of intensive notebook keeping, out of which The Long Wing developed.

It's interesting that Fenwick's biographical blurb failed to acknowledge her three detective novels. Did she view them as 'prentice works, now to be disowned?

We also learn that Fenwick already had already married when she was at Yaddo in 1948, where she met, and became lifelong friends with, Flannery O'Connor, as discussed earlier.

My guess is that Fenwick married Clark Mills McBurney around 1945.  As mentioned in a previous post, McBurney, a poet and Cornell University professor of French, grew up in St. Louis, where Fenwick was born, and was a college friend and mentor of Tennesse Williams.  Note that Fenwick had worked as a French translator.

When Days of Plenty was published in 1956 (another novel, Afterwards, appeared in 1950), this picture of Fenwick (right) was included on the back cover of the dust jacket.

The biographical blurb claimed that Fenwick was born in 1920 and that Days of Plenty was her third novel.

Neither claim was true. Fenwick was born in 1916 (she left St. Louis in 1920), and Days of Plenty was her sixth novel. But then the early trio of detective novels seems to have been officially scrubbed from her biography by this time! Of course she made a big return to crime fiction, as I have discussed, in 1957.  But by then it was labeled "suspense."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Golden Age Mystery: 30 Titles by Notable American Crime Writers

As discussed here recently, the Library of America will be publishing a two-volume set of 1940s/50s suspense novels by women authors.  Previously the LOA had shown, when it comes to crime fiction, a marked partiality toward hard-boiled and noir writers (and, sure enough, their next offering in this area will be a two-volume Ross Macdonald set).  Is there a chance, however, that they may open their door wider, to include classic mystery writers from the Golden Age of detective fiction?  We know now, if there was doubt, that the reading public has a strong interest in classic mystery.

If the LOA did launch a classic mystery series, who would you suggest should be included?  Below is my attempt to represent high points of American Golden Age "classic" mystery fiction.  This could make a seven-volume set (okay, that's not going to happen)!  Some titles are not necessarily my favorites by the given authors, but they were/are so highly-regarded they seemed required to me. But, again, what do you think?  I'd very much like to know.  Make your voices heard!

Note: I attempted to provide links to the books as much as possible. You'll notice several blogs coming up quite a bit.  Thanks Pretty Sinister Books, Tipping My Fedora, Vintage Pop Fictions and everyone else for all your great work the last several years on classic crime fiction.

Classic Golden Age Mystery Fiction by Women, 1918-1939

1. Vicky Van (1918), by Carolyn Wells

2. The Red Lamp (1925), by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Bellamy Trial (1927), by Frances Noyes Hart

4. The Desert Moon Mystery (1928), Kay Cleaver Strahan 

5. Murder Backstairs (1930), Anne Austin

6. From This Dark Stairway (1931), by Mignon Eberhart

7, Death at Dayton's Folly (1935), by Virginia Rath

8. The Crimson Patch (1936), by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

9. The Bell in the Fog (1936), by John Stephen Strange (Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett)

11. Dance of Death (1938), by Helen McCloy

12. Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938), by Zelda Popkin

13. The Listening House (1938), by Mabel Seeley

14. Strawstack (1939), by Dorothy Cameron Disney

Classic Golden Age Mystery Fiction by Men, 1925-1939

1. The House without a Key (1925), by Earl Derr Biggers

2. The Bishop Murder Case (1929), by S. S. Van Dine

3. Murder by Latitude (1930), by Rufus King

4. About the Murder of the Clergyman's Mistress (1931), by Anthony Abbot

5. Murder on the Blackboard (1932), by Stuart Palmer

6. The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932), by Ellery Queen 

7. The Talking Sparrow Murders (1934), by Darwin Teilhet

8. Vultures in the Sky (1935), by Todd Downing

9. Obelists Fly High (1935), by C. Daly King

10. The League of Frightened Men (1935), by Rex Stout

11. The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935), Erle Stanley Gardner

12. Murder of a Matriarch (1936), by Hugh Austin

13. The Burning Court (1937), by John Dickson Carr

14. The Case of the Seven of Calvary (1937), by Anthony Boucher

15. Puzzle for Players (1938), by Patrick Quentin

16. The Man from Tibet (1938), by Clyde B. Clason

17. Death from a Top Hat (1938), by Clayton Rawson