|aka "Kurt Steel" (1904-1946)
The son of Charles Claudius and Martha Hornaday Kagey, Rudolf Kagey was born in the small town of Tuscola, Illinois in 1904. He grew to adulthood there and in Flint, Michigan, where his father, a mortgage banker, moved to become secretary and general manager of the city's Guaranty Title and Mortgage Company.
Rudolf's paternal grandfather, John William Kagey, was an Illinois schoolteacher, farmer and Methodist Sunday-School superintendent of German Mennonite descent who came originally from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A Civil War veteran, John Kagey enlisted in the Confederate army on 5 July 1861 and served in numerous battles, including Gettysburg, before deserting two-and-a-half years later and taking the oath of allegiance to the Union. (This latter episode goes unacknowledged in Kagey's entry in the Portrait and Biographical Album of De Witt and Piatt Counties, Illinois, 1891, which portrays Kagey unambiguously as a dyed in the wool Confederate throughout the war.)
|Harry Hornaday (1867-1904)
Kansas educator and uncle of
Rudolf Hornaday Kagey
Rudolf's maternal uncle Harry Hornaday, who the year Rudolf was born died at the age of 36, was memorialized as not only an exceptionally able educator and administrator but a "lover of justice and fair play" who "constantly championed the cause of the weak."
In his school, we are told, Harry "would not tolerate for an instant the ridicule of the poor by those more fortunate." A total abstainer from alcohol himself, "he deprecated the use of intoxicating liquor by others" and "was a close student of the Bible."
Rudolf, who I think rather resembled Harry physically, shared some of the personal qualities of the uncle he never knew, such as vocational zeal, love of knowledge, moral fervor and a passion for fairness. Like his uncle, Rudolf also passed away at much too young an age, being only 41 when he died, after what was reported to be a long illness.
|Rudolf Kagey as a student
at the University of Illinois
In 1930, Rudolf lived with Howard Selsam (1903-1970), a fellow philosophy student from Columbia University who became an instructor and later assistant professor at Brooklyn College. Selsam's association with the Communist Party led to his resignation from Brooklyn College in 1941; he later became director of the Communist Party's Jefferson School of Social Science, which was destined to become an object of opprobrium during the McCarthy era.
Not long after 1930 Rudolf married Gladys Katherine Bleiman (1898-1991), daughter of Isadore Bleiman, a Jewish real estate salesman in Manhattan, and his wife Regina Leofler. Karen, as she was called, had studied philosophy and psychology at Cornell University and had served as president of the Women's Dramatic Club. An enthusiastic performer on stage, Karen in 1917, for example, played the "boy" in The Golden Doom (1910), a one-act play by Lord Dunsany that addressed philosophical questions of religious faith.
Outliving her husband by 45 years, Karen worked as a psychologist with STAR, the Society to Advance the Retarded, for nearly four full decades, from 1944 to 1982. In 1935 she and Rudolf had their only child, a daughter.
|Karen Bleiman Kagey
As the latter point suggests, Rudolf Kagey was a committed supporter of the Labor movement and in his crime novels he gave intelligent expression to this and other liberal-left moral sentiments. This aspect of his fiction lends his books added interest for the social historian, but additionally some of his mysteries are very good indeed, in my view, when judged "simply" as mysteries.
This weekend I plan to discuss a couple of Kagey's detective fiction titles, one which was disappointing, I admit, but the other of which was first-rate.
The Hank Hyer Detective Novels of Kurt Steel
Murder of a Dead Man (1935)
Murder for What? (1936)
Murder Goes to College (1936)
Murder in G-Sharp (1937)
Judas, Incorporated (1939)
The Crooked Shadow (1939)
Dead of Night (1940)
Madman's Buff (1941)
Ambush House (1943)
The Imposter (1942)