Friday, April 29, 2016

Submarine Sightings: Cape Cod in Fact and in Phoebe Atwood Taylor's Crime Fiction

Give me the city editor quick!...A German submarine is shelling a tug right in front of my cottage. Sure I can see it.  There goes another shell--can't you hear the guns?  The barges are being raked with machine guns.  Boats are pulling away.  Some of the crew are wounded; I must go to help them. Stand by and I'll call you later.

In her review of Phoebe Atwood Taylor's [henceforth PAT] Asey Mayo detective novel The Criminal C. O. D., published a year before American entry into the Second World War, Kate Jackson at Cross Examining Crime mentions that two characters in the novel "apparently pulled a prank on the coast guard about sighting a German submarine." Mention of German subs is made in additional wartime PAT crime novels as well. (I will let readers see for themselves.)

German subs lurking off the coast of Cape Cod? All a figment of the fertile fiction-writing mind of PAT?

Wa-el, as Asey Mayo might say, in fact there is an interesting story here, from PAT's very own family.

During the First World War, on July 21, 1918, PAT's physician father, J. Danforth Taylor--who will be recalled from my previous post--was right on the spot at his summer cottage above Nauset beach in Orleans, Cape Cod when a German U-Boat sent shells harmlessly but frighteningly into the beach. More seriously, the sub, U-156, sank a tug boat and four barges off the coast.  Orleans became the only location in the United States to come under fire during the First World War.

Nauset Beach

In this crisis Dr. Taylor did what any other quick-thinking, red-blooded American surely would have done: he got on the phone to report the event to a newspaper in Boston.  His initial comments are quoted above.  He called back later in the day with more war news:

The tug has listed and is still burning....The barges are drifting and one is sinking.  I can see a man still clinging to the stern.  Capt. Ainsleigh of the barge Lansford was wounded by splinters and I have attended him and the other wounded.  Capt. Ainsleigh has his wife and two children with him.  His eleven-year-old son saved the American flag from the barge and brought it ashore....Wait a minute, I hear more firing.  Say, we can see the sub very plain now.  It has come in closer, between the barges, shooting in every direction.  Lots of the shells are landing in the surf and some in the sand dunes. Wait--yes, siree! here comes a plane.  It must be from the Chatham Air Station.  I am going out to see the Navy sink that sub.

The patriotic Dr. Taylor was overconfident with that last sentiment, however.  The bombs failed and the U-Boat made its escape. No one had been killed in the affray and the nation soon moved on to other, graver war news; but certainly the event was recalled by Cape Codders, including PAT, when, two decades later, German subs again prowled the Atlantic Ocean.  It seems likely that a nine-year-old PAT was present at the Orleans cottage that eventful summer day, though newspaper accounts do not mention her.

The Boston paper that Dr. Taylor phoned that day, the Globe, got a great scoop out of the story, of course, and was duly grateful to the doctor, sending him the very next day a check for $150 and a box of expensive cigars.  No smoker himself, the doctor gave the cigars to the local men who had helped rescue the wounded sailors.  One Cape codger tried one of them for a few seconds, then drawled, just like a crusty character in a PAT novel, "Pretty good cigar, Doc, but I like my 2-for-5-stogies better."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cape Cod Case History: Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Her Parents John Danforth and Josephine (Atwood) Taylor, Sanderstead Court and the Florence Rush Affair

And the last week of the Tuesday Club Bloggers claims three participants this week: me (see below) and Bev Hankins and Kate Jackson, over at, respectively, Cross Examining Crime and My Reader's Block:

Review of The Criminal C.O.D.
Review of Death Lights a Candle

As befits a Cape Cod local color mystery writer, Phoebe Atwood Taylor [henceforth PAT] knew Cape Cod down to the ground. By my calculation, she was was a tenth generation Cape Codder on her mother's paternal side of the family (the Atwoods), an eleventh on her mother's maternal side of the family (the Freemans) and a (mere) eighth on her father's Taylor side. All these lines extended back to Cape Cod in the first half of the seventeenth century.

PAT's migrating Atwood ancestor was John Atwood (1582-1644), of Sanderstead Court, Surrey. Members of the Atwood family resided there for some three centuries (Justice Peter Atte Wood purchased the land back in 1346), but by the time PAT was writing her mysteries the house had been converted to a hotel named Selsdon Court. Occupied by the RAF during the Second World War, the house sadly was gutted by fire in 1944 and almost entirely pulled down in the 1950s.

John Atwood migrated to Plymouth, dying there in 1644.  His distant descendant Ebenezer Tilton Atwood (1835-1900), of Wellfleet, Cape Cod, married Clara Maria Freeman (1842-1911) and with her had three children: Alice Tilton (1872-1942), Josephine (1875-1929) and Freeman Dana (1879-1885).  You will notice that PAT derived her pseudonyms Alice Tilton and Freeman Dana from, respectively, her aunt and long deceased uncle, who died when he was only five.

Alice never married, but Josephine wed John Danforth Taylor (1876-1964), a prominent Boston doctor who had graduated from Harvard Medical School.  Danforth Taylor's family came from Orleans, a town near Wellfleet, where he maintained a summer cottage, and young PAT spent much of her time in Cape Cod.

Sanderstead Court in the early 19th century

Danforth Taylor was a notable freethinker, belonging to the Boston Rationalist Society and contributing articles to the Truth Seeker, a journal modestly devoted to "science, morals, free thought, free discussions, liberalism, sexual equality, labor reform progression, free education, and whatever tends to elevate and emancipate the human race."  Although PAT's crime novels hardly are saturated with weighty political and philosophical sentiment, certainly an irreverent attitude to life finds its way into her books.

Danforth Taylor also was professionally involved in a nine days' wonder criminal case in Boston in 1920, when PAT was eleven years old.

On the Sunday morning of July 18, 1920, a seventeen-year-old girl named Florence Rush, who was employed as a clerk in a jewelry store, departed her house at 62 West Eagle Street, East Boston, having told her mother she was going to church. Instead of church, however, she went with her "chum," sixteen-year-old Gertrude Smith, to spend the day at Revere Beach, five miles north of Boston and the cite of numerous Coney Island style attractions.  Florence, five feet one inch tall and weighing 125 pounds, was clad "a blue dress, pink scarf, black stockings and brown pumps."

July 18, 1920 was *not* a day at the beach

Later that day it started to rain and the two girls began looking for shelter.  Up came an automobile with six young men in it, and the girls promptly asked them for a ride.  After a few minutes in the car, however, things took a troubling turn, according to Gertrude, for "the men began to act in an improper manner."  Gertrude hit one of her assailants in the face, then bit another before jumping from the car and escaping.  Florence, however, remained in the vehicle, which drove off down the street.

Three days later a dazed Florence stumbled into Gertrude's house, babbling incoherently. Having been summoned to the scene, Danforth Taylor concluded that the girl had been drugged with some form of liquid poison and "criminally assaulted."

Phoebe Atwood Taylor's father was
the physician in the case and testified
concerning Florence Rush's condition
Several days later, when Florence was able to talk cogently, she stated that she had become unconscious after having eaten some proffered cake in the car. When she recovered her wits she found herself in a house in Providence, Rhode Island, with three men in an adjoining room discussing what should be done with her.  One man suggested shipping her to Cuba, but the others "had different plans for her."

According to Florence's account, after several hours of wrangling among her captors she was taken by a blonde woman named Alice and her companion named Fred and put aboard a Boston-bound train, where she lapsed into unconsciousness.

Hearing all this, the Boston police declared themselves confident that Florence had been held in the clutches of a nefarious Providence white slavery gang.

After receiving an anonymous letter with information about the affair, police investigators traveled to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where they were able to identify all the men who had been in the car. The men insisted that Florence had willingly gone in the car with them to New Bedford and that "the invitation also had been extended" to Gertrude as well, "but she declined."

What happened to the putative gang of Providence white slavers, the poisoned cake and the enigmatic blonde named Alice?  Was this a "Wonderland" tale on the part of the dazed Florence?  In her crime fiction PAT herself later pooh-poohed the veracity of sensationalist white slavery stories in Boston newspapers.

In the event one of the men in the car, Cornelius Vanderbilt Sweeney (his parents apparently were admirers of the great American business magnate), was in fact arrested and charged with Florence's "enticement" (i.e., persuading a minor to accompany one for the purposes of sexual activity).

Florence Rush
In the next month, August, Cornelius was found guilty on this charge and sentenced to one year's imprisonment, which sentence he appealed.  A few years later he married and with his wife had a daughter. He continued to reside at New Bedford, where he labored as a truck driver in the building trade. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1897, he was 23 when the incident with Florence occurred.

A year after her abduction Florence Rush wed a Boston taxi driver.  The couple raised eleven children together.

Escapades with mysterious blondes and automobiles are known to take place in PAT's mysteries, but I don't believe PAT ever allowed sexual assault into her cozy fictional Cape Cod world.  However, her father had played a role in an important part of Cape Cod history just a couple of years before the Florence Rush affair; and this did make it into PAT's books after the outbreak of the Second World War.  More on this soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Final Fright: The Three Fears (1949), by Jonathan Stagge

The Three Fears, the ninth and final Jonathan Stagge detective novel, appeared in 1949, three years before the two men behind Jonathan Stagge (as well as Patrick Quentin and Q. Patrick), British expatriates Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, stopped writing novels together.

In that three-year interval there appeared three additional collaborative crime novels between the two men--two Patrick Quentins, The Follower (1950) and Black Widow (1952) and the final Q. Patrick, Danger Next Door (1952)--as well as solo novel by Wheeler, The Crippled Muse (1951), dedicated "to Rickie" (see this review by John Norris).

After Rickie Webb retired from the writing partnership and left his and Hugh Wheeler's home in the Massachusetts Berkshires for France (where Webb died in 1966), Wheeler stayed on and wrote some additional mysteries under the Patrick Quentin pseudonym, though he now is best known for his later written work for film and stage. (Among other things he wrote the Tony award winning books for A Little Night Music, Candide and Sweeney Todd--no small achievement!)

So in 1949 Webb and Wheeler were looking ahead to a time of transition, both professional and personal--something reflected, I think, in The Three Fears.

The series characters in the Stagge novels are New England country doctor and occasional amateur sleuth Dr. Hugh Westlake (note a certain resemblance in the name to Hugh Wheeler) and his precocious young daughter, Dawn. While the Stagge novels tend to have eerie trappings somewhat reminiscent of a John Dickson Carr novel (see this review of The Scarlet Circle), Dawn Westlake, who is something of a hellion I must say, brings humor to the series. Typically she manages, quite inadvertently, to help Dr. Westlake solve the bizarre murder problems that cross his path.

However, The Three Fears seems to me to provide evidence of the highly literary Wheeler's waxing influence over the Webb/Wheeler collaborations in this period.  Rather than Carr, say, the novel reminds me of the British Crime Queens and their celebrated "manners" style.  There is an interesting problem to test the reader's mettle, to be sure, but much of the appeal for readers of this novel stems, I think, from the emotional tempests depicted and that biting satire directed at Lucy Milliken and Daphne Winters (aka he Divine Daphne), two eminent stage prima donnas who are "rival queens," in the classic tense of the term. Lucy Milliken also has a cloying family radio program, allowing the authors to jab at mid-century American radio in a fashion that reminded me of Rex Stout's brilliant Nero Wolfe detective novel And Be a Villain.

Additionally Dawn never appears in the novel, having been packed off to camp. Hugh, perhaps relived by her absence, makes only two brief references to the boisterous child over the course of the tale.  He himself has a mild romance of sorts--none too convincingly--with one of Daphne's young aspiring actress disciples, known in aggregate as the "Five Sweet Symphonies."

Lucy Milliken is married to a hunky, younger husband (this reminded me of the marriage of the diva character in Black Widow), while Hugh's psychiatrist friend, Don Lockwood, has a beautiful, substantially younger wife, Tansy.  Age difference in couples and the problems which that can create seems a preoccupation of the novel. I couldn't help but wonder whether this might have reflected events in Hugh Wheeler's own life.

Rickie Webb was eleven years older than Wheeler and a prosperous business executive when in 1933 he became involved--intimately as well as professionally, it appears--with Wheeler, then a 21-year-old recent college graduate of exceptional promise.  By 1949, Wheeler, now 37 to Webb's 48, had become the dominant force in the two men's creative partnership and there may have been something of a personal estrangement between the two, though they remained friends after they parted ways.

In The Three Fears the Divine Daphne, who is "resting" with her entourage at the exclusive coastal New England town of Bittern's Bay, is subjected to a campaign of terror based on the three things which frighten her most: poison, enclosed spaces and fire. When one of Daphne's "Symphonies" dies from poisoning during a recording of Lucy's radio show (Lucy had inveigled Daphne into appearing), this appears to have been a misfired attempt on Daphnes's life. Will the culprit's next killing gambit succeed?

This is a subtle, cleverly clued detective novel with one of the authors' patented twisting denouements. You may think you have figured it out, but don't be too sure of yourself! Rickie and Hugh were quite the tricksy lads.

Also see:

The Grindle Nightmare (1935), by Q. Patrick
Death and Dear Clara (1937), by Q. Patrick
Black Widow (1952), by Patrick Quentin
My Son, the Murderer (1954), by Patrick Quentin

Friday, April 22, 2016

Back in a Big Way, Baby! Vintage Crime Novelist George Bellairs

Later this year the British Library will be reissuing three mystery titles by George Bellairs: The Dead Shall Be Raised (Murder Will Speak in the US), Murder of a Quack and Death of a Busybody.

Earlier on this blog I reviewed, admittedly quite unfavorably, the ninth Bellairs mystery, Death in the Night Watches, but the immediately previous Bellairs title, Calamity at Harwood, is much better and, in fact, most of the earliest (wartime) Bellairs titles were well-praised by contemporary reviewers.

I happen to own most of these books and plan to review some additional titles this year.  Meanwhile, enjoy these dust jackets from earlier American editions that I am posting below.

And listed here are the first 18 Bellairs crime titles.  He published 40 more through 1980, plus 4 under a pen name, Hilary Landon. (His real name was Harold Blundell, by the way.)

62 mysteries in 40 years makes this author quite a prolific producer!  In the US he has been reprinted in eBook form by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

Littlejohn on Leave (1941)
The Four Unfaithful Servants (1942)
Death of a Busybody (1942)
The Dead Shall be Raised (1942)
Turmoil in Zion (1943)
The Murder of a Quack (1943)
He'd Rather Be Dead (1945)
Calamity at Harwood (1945)
Death in the Night Watches (1945)
The Crime at Halfpenny Bridge (1946)
The Case of the Scared Rabbits (1947)
Death on the Last Train (1948)
The Case of the Seven Whistlers (1948)
The Case of the Famished Parson (1949)
Outrage on Gallows Hill (1949)

The Case of the Demented Spiv (1949)
The Case of the Headless Jesuit (1950)
Dead March for Penelope Blow (1951)

Personally, I think you have to give credit to a man who dared to title a mystery The Case of the Demented Spiv.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

More Golden Age Reissues: The Two Pats, Patricia Wentworth and Patrick Quentin

You may know that Patricia Wentworth wrote a lot of mysteries--in fact a slight majority of her output--without her most famous series character, Miss Silver.  Despite the fact that Patricia Wentworth has maintained a loyal following since her death over half-a-century ago, only a few of these Silverless mysteries have ever been reprinted in that time, until now.  Outside of the US these titles are being reissued by Dean Street Press, in three batches.

Follow this link to see the first group. I wrote an introduction about Wentworth and her life expressly and exclusively for the DSP reissues, which I do hope people will find interesting.

I have also written the introduction to Crippen & Landru's reissue of the complete Peter Duluth short fiction by Patrick Quentin, which consists of two novelettes and two short stories.  Three of these pieces were written in collaboration by Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, while the last was written solo by Wheeler, after Webb left their home in the Berkshires and moved to France.

There will be yet more about Webb and Wheeler in an essay by me dealing more with their personal lives, in a forthcoming multi-contributor essay collection on LGBTQ writers of and themes in pre-Stonewall crime fiction.  I also have a blog piece on one of Webb and Wheeler's Jonathan Stagge novels coming soon.

Additionally I will be posting here about some of the Wentworths in the first batch of DSP reissues.  I think this is an exciting development in GA mystery reissues, as Wentworth is one of the major figures from Golden Age mystery and most of these titles have been difficult for fans to locate for many years now.

I do hope that the crime novels by Webb and Wheeler will be reissued to go along with this fine Crippen & Landru volume.  Their omission from the recent wave of vintage mystery reprints has been more unfortunate, their work under the Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge pseudonyms being some of the most notable crime fiction of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gilt-y Parties: The Annulet of Gilt (1938), by Phoebe Atwood Taylor (Tuesday Night Bloggers: Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Week 3)

"The dear quaint Cape," Asey said, "with its dear quaint windmills, and its dear quaint characters and its dear quaint--"

                               Asey Mayo, The Annulet of Gilt (1938), by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

First, the links to our other Club member posts this week:

Accents and Cape Codders (Your Freedom and Ours, Helen Szamuely)

Review of The Six Iron Spiders (Cross Examining Crime, Kate Jackson)

The Devil's in the Details (The Corpse Steps Out, Jeffrey Marks)

And now a consideration of The Annulet of Gilt:

By the time of the appearance of Phoebe Atwood Taylor's twelfth Asey Mayo detective novel, The Annulet of Gilt (1938), Mayo, the Sherlock of Cape Cod, was one of the best known American series detectives, popular in both the United States and the United Kingdom, where Taylor was published, like Agatha Christie, by the Collins Crime Club.

Fans of the Mayo books enjoyed the narrative zip and humor of the tales, as well as, yes, the "quaint" New England local color found in them.  Indeed, coastal New England has remained a popular American mystery setting up to the modern day, the most prominent example of this popularity, I presume, being the Angela Lansbury's hugely successful Murder She Wrote mystery series.

As I recollect, the cheeky Taylor claimed that she wrote her mysteries in about three weeks, getting them to her publisher just before deadline.  (You'll find greater details about Taylor, along with other American women mystery writers of the era, in Jeffrey Marks' book Atomic Renaissance.)

While this assertion may be an exaggeration, Taylor's enjoyable mysteries not only move quickly, they feel like they were, indeed, written quickly.  In them the emphasis is on motion and rapid fire events rather than the deliberate accumulation of clues (or "clews" as the word invariably--and to me a bit preciously--is spelled in Taylor's books).  After the explanation for the murders finally comes, you may still have some questions in your head about plot details, but you likely will have enjoyed your trip.

After Taylor in 1937 started her madcap "Leonidas Witherall" series (under the pen name Alice Tilton), the Asey Mayo series started getting zanier as well--sometimes a bit too much so for me.

Surprisingly, The Annulet of Gilt, despite being stuffed with an enigmatic foreign woman, a conniving businessman, a couple of beautiful blondes, a houseful of green-shirted, dagger-wielding bodyguards, assorted shootings and stranglings and, last but most definitely not least, a missing elephant, is not as chaotic as the immediately preceding Mayo mystery, Octagon House, which should tell you something about Octagon House.

I actually followed the plot of Gilt pretty well and enjoyed the author's colorful convolutions, though Taylor strains pretty hard to make her intriguing book title relevant.

sodas and suspicions
a delicious denouement
Some reviewers at the time complained that the novel did not have enough local color, but I found Gilt a nice change of pace, with its references to world politics at that time. (One always finds interesting sociocultural aspects to Taylor's books.)

We learn that Asey Mayo, who despite his quasi-bumpkin routine became more and more of an all-round Superman as the series progressed, was involved in high-level intelligence in Europe during the First World War; and these events intriguingly resurface to play a role in the present day. Yet incongruously and rather charmingly the climax of this tale of international skullduggery takes place in the penultimate chapter at a sleepy village drugstore (there's little business because it's not "movie night"), as strawberry sodas and banana splits are consumed.

Something you don't see in an Agatha Christie mystery! Now that Sophie Hannah has taken over for the Queen of Crime, however, perhaps Hercule Poirot, a helpless marionette in a bid to make him more "accessible" to modern readers, will start slurping sodas and sundaes rather than delicately sip sirop de cassis.  I mean, how many people have even drunk sirop de cassis, or even know what the heck it is?  So elitist.

See also my earlier review of Banbury Bog, a Mayo mystery also from 1938.  Not quite so outre, but still quite local colorful.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mystery Dates: Three Dates with Death (1947), by Victor Gunn

The Golden Age of British detective fiction--roughly 1920 to 1940 (though some have argued, with some reason, that the latter year should be stretched somewhat to 1945, or even to the early 1950s)-- was also the Golden Age of the classic thriller: exciting tales full of fiendish criminal masterminds, ruthless gangs, seductive adventuresses, conniving foreigners (the type fabulist Donald Trump conjures for his stump speech audiences), assorted dastardly cads and despicable hounds and, arrayed against these powerful forces of sheer nefariousness, those square-jawed, hard-fisted heroes and winsomely plucky "girls."

In the 1920s and 1930s British thriller writers such as Edgar Wallace, "Sapper" and Sax Rohmer actually sold more books than true detective fiction writers, including in softcover even before the paperback revolution of the 1940s.  These naive, escapist thrillers continued to be published well into the 1940s and 1950s and also enjoyed popularity overseas, in the United States and Germany, for example. (Adolf Hitler is said to have been a great Edgar Wallace fan, something later Wallace publishers likely were not anxious to point out.)  When Ian Fleming started the James Bond saga in the 1950s, his books were seen as sophisticated updates of the classic between-the-wars thrillers.

Many of these British thriller writers, despite their once great popularity and terrific productivity, are today remembered mostly, if at all, by genre specialists and collectors. Yet they were undoubtedly a hugely important part of the crime fiction genre in their day. Some of them wrote, in addition to thrillers, more generic "mystery" and even some true detective fiction as well.  (As Agatha Christie fans well know, the Queen of Crime returned the favor, publishing, alongside of her detective novels, a smaller number of thrillers, such as the Tommy and Tuppence tales.  Other Crime Queens who also wrote thrillers were Margery Allingham and Patricia Wentworth; much more on the latter author soon.)

One of the more notable classic thriller writers who also wrote mystery and detective fiction was Edwy Searles Brooks (1889-1965), a close contemporary of one of my favorite Golden Age detective novelists, Cecil John Charles Street (1884-1964). Where Street wrote mostly true detective fiction, however, Gunn was more of the thriller school. Both men were incredibly prolific. Under his two best-known pseudonyms, Berkeley Grey and Victor Gunn, Brooks published nearly 100 novels.  Additionally he also published more then 2000 pieces of short fiction (including Sexton Blake tales), a staggering amount. Not surprisingly, some of the novels are expansions of earlier published short fiction. For more on this author, see this profusely detailed and authoritative website.

The Berkeley Gray novels are straight-up thrillers, while the Victor Gunns are more in the nature of "mystery," though many of them have strong thriller elements in them as well.

Though misleadingly packaged by publisher Collins as a seeming novel, the Victor Gunn book Three Dates with Death (1947) in fact is a novella collection.  All three stories--On the Road to Gallow's CrossBy the Side of the Grave and Within Sight of Eros--detail the investigative adventures of Gunn's series characters, the tough and steadfast Chief Inspector Bill "Ironsides" Cromwell and his young, rather more posh, assistant Johnny Lister (great name, that).

By far the best of this trio of tales, I think, is the first, On the Road to Gallow's Cross.  It opens with a late-night death on a bus making its final round of stops for the evening. "Old Iron" happens to come on the scene and almost immediately he is explaining to the examining police doctor not only that the dead man actually was murdered, but how he was bumped off.

Tough and smart this fellah!

The suspects are the six regular passengers on that leg of the bus's rounds.  (The chorus girl emblazoned on the cover is one of them.)  Gunn does a good job of bringing the bus and its passengers alive (at least while they are alive) and there is some true detection.

Inspector Cromwell decides that the murder must be hushed up for the time being (Old Iron has rather lax notions about legal niceties), so that he and his assistant can ride the bus in disguise the next night to see whether they can pick up any clues.  As they ride the bus another murder is committed, in identical fashion no less, leaving the chief inspector with one less suspect but something approaching egg on his face.

Happily he redeems himself the next night by catching the murderer on one final bus trip. A fun story with narrative zip, though it seemed odd that the murderer didn't realize that with each night's kill on the bus s/he was rather dangerously reducing the pool of suspects.

The next two stories I liked less.  In the second one, By the Side of the Grave, Cromwell must find the killer of a struggling member of the landed gentry (reverently treated by the author).  We know from the start that the murderer is a despicable London crime boss, which for me makes the story less intriguing, but again there is good pace and some social interest.  In crime genre fiction it certainly wasn't only Margery Allingham (in the celebrated The Tiger in the Smoke) who was writing about postwar moral decay in London!

The third tale, the misleadingly (not to mention irrelevantly) titled Within Sight of Eros, was a very far-fetched tale about a murder scheme involving dead cats and a dead cat burglar.  It is more a police tale than fair play detection.

So this one is rather a curate's egg, as they say, but it does leave me interested in looking at some of the Gunn novels, though unfortunately they can be quite hard to find!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cod Corpses and Mirthful Mayhem: Tuesday Night Bloggers, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Week 2

Here are this week's posts on Phoebe Atwood Taylor. I'm working on mine (still!), but we have on board this week the following fine bloggers:

Crime on the Home Front, Your Freedom and Ours, Helen Szamuely

Phoebe Atwood Taylor writing as Alice Tilton, Clothes in Books, Moira Redmond

Mayo and Miss Marple under the Microscope, Cross Examining Crime, Kate Jackson

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Beginning with a Bash! Tuesday Night Bloggers: Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Week 1

In April the Tuesday Night Club Bloggers look at American Golden Age mystery writer Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1909-1976), author, under her own name, of two dozen books (2 novels and 2 novella collections) about Cape Cod amateur sleuth Asey Mayo and, under the pen name Alice Tilton, of an 8 additional mysteries about Boston amateur sleuth Leonidas Witherall. (She also published one standalone mystery, Murder at the New York World's Fair, as Freeman Dana.)

Taylor is notable in the mystery genre both for contributing, with the Asey Mayo tales, to the "local color," or American regional, mystery and, with the Tilton books, to American screwball mystery--  though to be strictly accurate the Asey Mayo books got increasingly screwy as well as the series went along!

Let's just say that in both the Taylor and the Tilton series people tend to get "bashed" and "biffed" a lot.  Taylor's mysteries definitely call for headgear.

Here is an old review I did at my blog of Taylor's novel Banbury Bog.  Next week I will have  a fresh Taylor post.  And here's the new stuff from the rest of the Club:

World's Fair (The Corpse Steps Out, Jeffrey Marks)
The Hollow Chest (My Reader's Block, Bev Hankins)
The Cape Cod Mystery (Clothes in Books, Moira Redmond)
Punch with Care and the Battle of Pen Names (Cross Examining Crime, Kate Jackson)

Hasty Pudding: The Plot Thickens

For chapter one of this classic HIBK tale, as imagined by the Passing Tramp, see here.

Hasty Pudding

Chapter Two

In the vast, old-fashioned kitchen of Brulee Hall, ancestral home to generations of proud and tempestuous Brulee gourmands, Creme sprinkled cinnamon and ginger over the cornmeal and milk mixture that was the base of the Brulee family's hasty pudding, renowned throughout Bayou Brulee--and several adjacent bayous even.

Soon in the still elegant, if admittedly now somewhat dilapidated, dining room of Brulee Hall Creme would present a steaming, mouth-watering pudding to the assembled guests who had gathered to welcome Creme's former fiancee, strapping Boeuf Bourguignon, and his new bride, Creme's very own stepsister, Star (Anise) Bourguignon, on their return home from their honeymoon in the delightful and fascinating Dutch town of Vlaardingen, home of the world's largest herring festival.

As the warm, pungent smell of cinnamon and ginger tickled Creme's delicate, aristocratic nostrils, Creme thought back to that day--could it really just have been a few days ago--when she had returned to Brulee Hall to see the man she had always dearly loved married to the woman she would have dearly loved to shove head first into the hasty pudding she was making.  Well, just a little bit, anyway.

Creme in the event had not been able to attend Boeuf and Star's wedding after all.  Creme's beloved great-aunt, dear old Vicky Soise, for whom Creme served as companion, had come down with yet another one of her sudden, painful attacks of gout, forcing kindhearted Creme to stay with the ailing lady for two weeks, until the worst of the perils had passed.

When she had recovered somewhat, darling Aunt Vicky had insisted, in that endearing imperious way she had, that Creme personally deliver to Boeuf and Star her wedding present of five dozen solid silver herring forks, just the thing for a young couple recently returned from the Vlaardingen Herring Festival.

"You can never have enough herring forks, child!" boomed indomitable Aunt Vicky from the depths of her sickbed.  "Give Boeuf a peck for me, and for goodness' sake, don't go and kill Star!"

Words Star was to remember long after that succession of bloodcurdling horrors at Brulee Hall had culminated in Creme's fearful midnight quest to the Brulee family cemetery, where Creme had discovered, to her uttermost terror, that it really was true: you can't have enough herring forks.

It had been old Gumbo, the loyal Cajun family servant to the Brulees for more years than Creme could remember, who had greeted Creme at the massive double doors of Brulee Hall.

"Oh, Miss Creme, can it really be you?" cried Gumbo.  "Thank heaven you're here!"

"Oh, Gumbo," answered Creme, tears pricking her eyes at the staunch loyalty of this good old retainer, "It is indeed I, your little Creme!  It's good to be back, though I wish...."

"I reckon I knows what you wish, Miss Creme," answered Gumbo, crafty in her unsophisticated yet rustically charming country way, "And I sure does wish it too!  What Master Boeuf, a rare fine man if ever there was one, sees in that Miss Star with all her highfalutin airs and graces, when everybody round these parts knows what her momma was--a shameless hussy and a gold digger to boot--I'm sure I can't say!"

"Hush, Gumbo," chided Creme.  "I know you mean well--and I can't say I really disagree with you--but we mustn't talk of these things.  For Boeuf's sake, if for no other reason."

Muttering that there was a thing or two that she could tell Creme about that Star, you couldn't pull the wool over old Gumbo's eyes, the faithful Gumbo led Creme to Creme's old childhood bedroom, once the precious sanctuary where a young Creme--though admittedly shy, such a lovely and sweet-natured child--had dreamed her fond, adolescent dreams of life happily ever after with Boeuf, though now only a poignant reminder of dreams dashed and hopes hurled down to the floor and stomped with Star's stiletto heels.

"Aren't there other servants?" Creme queried curiously.  "Surely Star can't expect you, an old woman, to manage Brulee Hall all alone, especially when she now has Boeuf's cattle fortune at her beck and call."

"I'd sooner run Brulee Hall all by my lonesome than have to rely on them two no-goods she brought with her back from some of them foreign parts!" spat Gumbo disgustedly.

"Those two who?" queried Creme, wondering in her head whether that sounded quite right and thinking how tiresome it was being the lead genteel character in a Golden Age mystery and thus expected always to speak properly.

"Those two who?" quoted Gumbo, who was thankful not to have to worry about those things, being a rustic local color type.  "I'll tell you who two, Miss Creme!  Why, that nasty, sneaking butler, Bovril--from England I here tell--and that French maid Bernaise--a saucy one she is, always prying and peeping about!  They'll be back soon--don't trust neither of 'em whiles you're here, Miss Creme!"

"I don't expect that I shall be here very long," mused Creme, making  a melancholy moue.  "Star will probably find that too many cooks spoil Boeuf's broth....How is Boeuf, by the by?"

"Oh, Miss Creme!  He's aged but he's handsomer than ever!  To me he don't look too happy, though...with her, that is."

"Hush, Gumbo!  We mustn't speak of such things."

But could it be true, Creme wondered to herself.

But even if it were true, Boeuf now was married to Star.

He was her lawful wedded husband and she was his awful wedded wife.

Boeuf had even honeymooned with Star at the Vlaardingen herring festival.

You couldn't get more married than that!

Resolutely Creme decided that she must not let false hopes rise.  She deftly changed the subject.

"Who else will be staying at the house, Gumbo?"

"Besides you, Miss Creme, there's your Daddy's old law man, Mister Chowder, and Mister Haricot Vert--you remember him, don't you, Miss Creme?"

Haricot Vert!  Of course she remembered handsome Hari Vert!  The Verts were an old, aristocratic family from one of the neighboring bayous, Bayou Vert.

Hari Vert had always looked so dashing in his green jacket when he came to take Creme riding!  People had thought he and young Creme might make a match of it someday, until Hari had inherited his wealthy lifelong bachelor uncle's whisk factory in Chicago and moved away, leaving an open field in which the brash Boeuf had boldly grazed.  It had been years since she had seen Hari--what would he be like today?

And old Clem Chowder, that salty and sagacious Brulee family lawyer and friend.  Originally from New England (of fine stock that went all the way back to the Mayflower), Clem had long ago established a successful practice in New Orleans, where he did a brisk bushiness with people from all the best bayous.  It was Clem's legal expertise, Creme recalled, that had rescued Brulee Hall from the more importunate of the Brulee Hall creditors.  Dear, old Clem Chowder!

"Well, I have things to be seeing to, Miss Creme," said the practical Gumbo, breaking into Creme's reverie.  "You'll be wanting to take a nap, I reckon?"

"No, Gumbo, I find my memories assail me.  I believe I shall take a stroll around the grounds of Brulee Hall.  When will everyone be here?"

"Not for some hours yet, Miss Creme."

Creme contemplatively wandered out to the veranda, thinking of times long ago at Brulee Hall.  Mint juleps on the lawn....All those hasty puddings....Hari Vert in his green riding jacket....And Bouef....

Bouef and Star....

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Stately Homes of Patricia Wentworth

Popular and prolific Golden Age mystery writer Patricia Wentworth (1877-1961; her birth year usually is given as 1878 but appears to be have been 1877) was born in India, daughter to a  prominent military family, but she spent many of her childhood years in England, where for part of the 1880s and 1890s she resided at Lennox House, her grandmother's large home in Blackheath, and attended the recently-founded Blackheath High School for Girls. 

Lennox House (front)

Many years later Wentworth and her second husband, George Turnbull (1877-1970), resided at Camberley, Surrey, from 1936 until Wentworth's death in 1961 making their home at stylish Heatherglade House.

drawing room
master bedroom
dining room
In addition to the room shown above, there was a study, kitchen, breakfast room and garage on the first floor and six additional bedrooms above.  Plus, unlike some of those houses you see on floor plans in Golden Age mysteries, there were bathrooms!  If there had been a ballroom and billiard room you could have staged Cluedo (aka Clue) here.

Here Patricia Wentworth wrote some forty of her sixty-five mystery novels, including all her Miss Silver Detective novels (outside of the first, Grey Mask), including two of my favorites, Miss Silver Comes to Stay (1949) and The Watersplash (1951).