Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coming Out: Murder in the Closet (2017)

A book I had the privilege of editing and introducing, Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall (McFarland), is now out

The book collects 23 essays by 17 contributors on LGBTQ writers of and themes in crime fiction published before the Stonewall Riots (1969), an epochal moment in LGBTQ history.  By no means were all of the subjects of the essays LGBTQ, but quite a few of them were; and additionally the essays look at "queer" themes in vintage crime fiction by both LGBTQ and non-LGTBQ authors (and some who still remain mysteries in this respect).

In my introduction I argue that the essays collectively reveal that there is more LGBTQ material to be found in vintage crime fiction published before the liberating impact of Stonewall took place than has customarily been recognized.

Fergus Hume
"Locked Doors," the first section of the book, covers authors who established themselves in detective fiction from the 1880s to the 1930s.  Lucy Sussex looks at the "The Queer Story of Fergus Hume," an author made famous by his crime novel The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), though in fact he wrote scores of additional mysteries and other works, never replicating that first great success.

Sussex, who is also the author of Blockbuster: Fergus Hume & The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (2015), highlights quite a few queer threads in the tapestry of the author's life and work.

In the other essay in the book which concerns a pre-WW1 author, "A Redemptive Masquerade," John Norris looks at a fascinating find from the hand of the muckraking journalist and author Samuel Hopkins Adams (best known among mystery fiction fans for his "rival of Sherlock Holmes" short story collection, Average Jones): a rather queer novel called The Secret of Lonesome Cove (1912).

Josephine Tey
The next group of essays get into the Golden Age of detective fiction proper.  A half dozen pieces, by Noah Stewart, John Curran, Michael Moon, Brittain Bright, Jamie Bernthal and Moira Redmond, queerly illuminate crime fiction by perennially popular British Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell and Josephine Tey

The following pair of essays, by Michael Moon and Curtis Evans, look at a couple of trebly-initialed male English mystery writers: CHB Kitchin and GDH Cole, the latter of whom appears prominently in Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder (2015) and my own The Spectrum of English Murder (2015).

Then in "Two Young Men Who Write As One," I take the latest look at the British expatriate couple Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, who wrote some of the finest mid-century American crime fiction, under the pseudonyms Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge. More and more has been trickling out about Webb and Wheeler in the last few years, as can be seen in an essay by Mauro Boncompagni in Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene (2014) and the introduction and afterword by, respectively, me and Joanna Gondris, to Crippen & Landru's Patrick Quentin short story collection, The Puzzles of Peter Duluth (2016).

Todd Downing
The last three essays are devoted to the vintage American mystery writers Todd Downing, Rufus King, Clifford Orr and Mignon Eberhart

Downing, a part-Choctaw Oklahoman whose mystery fiction, once praised, had fallen into neglect. However, his books have recently been rediscovered and reprinted (see numerous posts on this blog and my book Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing, 2013), and they are the subject of "Queering the Investigation," an essay by Charles Rzepka

In "A Bad, Bad Past," I look at the the queer college backgrounds of Rufus King, one of the most important (and unjustly neglected) pre-war American crime writers, and Clifford Orr, who wrote only two detective novels before becoming a columnist at the New Yorker; and I relate these backgrounds to their crime fiction.

Ross Macdonald
In the last essay in section one, "Foppish, Effeminate, or 'a little too handsome'," Rick Cypert looks at one of the most read American mystery writers, Mignon Eberhart (dubbed, more on account of sales than real similarities, America's Agatha Christie).  Specifically, Cypert analyzes how this very popular author treated men and masculinity in her books, particularly those men who are just "a little too handsome."

The second section of the book, "Skeleton Keys," mostly covers writers from the post-WW2 period, though the first two essays--James Doig's on the outre Australian serial killer novel Twisted Clay (1934) and Drewey Wayne Gunn's on the real life WW2-era Canadian-American convicted murderer Wayne Lonergan and his murder scandal's influence on crime fiction--are precursors for the more explicitly LGBTQ fiction of this period.

Gore Vidal
Tom Nolan's "Claude was Doing All Right" analyzes Ross Macdonald's attitude toward homosexuality, in his fiction and his own life. My "Elegant Stuff...Of It's Sort" details the crime fiction career of Edgar Box (aka Gore Vidal).

Going back across the pond to Britain, John Norris' "Adonis in Person" studies the crime fiction of gay British man of letters Beverley Nichols, and Bruce Shaw's "More Than Fiction" the life and writing of iconic lesbian Nancy Spain.

Finishing the book are three essays, by Nick Jones, Josh Lanyon and John Norris, on the writers Patricia Highsmith, Joseph Hansen and George Baxt, whose fiction reflected cultural changes as we moved toward Stonewall.  Mystery fiction certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore, if you will, though in truth it never really quite was.

I'm very proud of this book and I think the essays in it make a significant contribution to LGBTQ history, mystery genre history and cultural history more generally.  I hope mystery fans five it more than a passing glance.

Nancy Spain


  1. Glad you got to this post first, Curt. I have something halfway done but I'm not sure it's worth it anymore. ;^) I keep bragging about my contributions to this book at work and people are very tired of me talking about it. I need to go to the Center on Halsted (Chicago's LGBTQ arts and cultural cneter) and do a reading and just get it all out of my system to an audience who will appreciate it. Hey, there's an idea! Do you want to make a field trip to Chicago and do that?

    1. John, I would love to promote this book with you, let me know. And thanks so much for participating with three essays, all very illuminating ones indeed. Brag away! ;)

  2. A book to have and enjoy, and that's indisputable!

  3. Wonderful! Congratulations, Curtis!

  4. Well done Curtis (and the rest) - hope it does really well.

  5. Good luck with the book -- it sounds tremendous!

  6. Just got to this post and have to say what a brilliant idea for a book. I have recently started running a Queer and Gender reading group on my MA course at university and will definitely suggest this for reading material! (From Dan @

    1. I do hope the book proves useful to you and others in education. I think there's a lot to explore on this subject.

  7. I'm so glad you brought this new publication to my attention! I will certainly get a print copy of the book, and I'm thrilled to see Gladys Mitchell represented, and look forward to reading Brittain Bright's analysis. And I have you to thank (via an earlier post) for introducing me to the Webb and Wheeler - Patrick Quentin collaborations. So glad you have collected these essays and added some of your own. Can't wait to read more --- Jason

    1. Thanks, Jason. I think Brittain's Gladys Mitchell essay is quite illuminating and of course it's always fun to write about the PQ/QP/Stagge combine. I hope after reading that essay of mine on the queer context of these writers people will see The Grindle Nightmare is a new light.

  8. The book is marvellous, and I am very glad and proud to have contributed.