Friday, July 21, 2017

Upstairs (1925), by Mrs. Victor Rickard

"There is no real security anywhere.  We pretend that there is.  Things like railway time-tables and regular hours keep up the fiction, but behind that little defence life is waiting in ambush.  Let me tell you this much, Mr. Herrington, I am not afraid of death, but life has moments of stark terror for me."

What sort of woman was Mrs. Chance, he wondered. Did she belong to the type who played elegantly with the dangerous passions of men, and was dismayed when reality insinuated itself into the game, and ended it on the crashing realism of death?

"....he was shown into the big drawing-room, where everything was so quiet, serene and impeccably respectable.  "Crime," he thought to himself, "can happen anywhere, but it is much stranger to think of with this kind of background."

"One reads of  a murder and is told that it was first discovered by the man's wife, but of the real drama and the terrible intensity one realises very little.  Yet these things happen...they actually do happen to people one may have met or seen.  If one reads of them in a book one immediately says 'Melodrama,' but the drama of life goes far beyond anything one has ever read."

All the strange secrecy which surrounds the lives of people living in towns was complete here [in Hamilton Street] as elsewhere in London.   Hardly anyone knew who their next-door neighbours were; they were divided by a gulf as wide as though miles separated them, and to this rule, which included almost everyone in Hamilton Street, there was but one solitary exception.

                                                                          --Upstairs (1925), by Mrs. Victor Rickard

This exception, in Mrs. Victor Rickard's crime novel Upstairs, is Daniel Harrington, a bachelor in his early forties, lately returned, "temporarily crippled," from work on the Gold Coast (then a British African colony, today Ghana). Like Jimmy Stewart's obsessed voyeur character in Rear Window, Daniel spends a lot of his time observing his neighbors, including a beautiful woman who lives across the street, in a house with "outside shutters in which little crescent moons were cut," which "added to the delicate hint of mystery which surrounded her."  Daniel "had seen her several times wearing a close-fitting red hat, which attracted him."

Then there's mysterious Miss Garrett from upstairs:

It tantalised him to feel that he could never see the other people in his own house....The opposite side of the street at least gave the objects of his interest a background.  He could not put a window, a door, a garden, or anything whatever, behind the name of Garrett.

Late one night the voyeuristic Daniel espies a a man letting himself into the house opposite and later yet a man and the sometimes red-hatted woman alighting from a chauffeur-driven car and entering the house, the woman seemingly not desirous of having the man accompany her. Daniel falls asleep before seeing anyone coming out of the building.  Unbeknownst to him, a ship of mystery has been launched, which will engulf the lives of a goodly number of people on Hamilton Street and elsewhere.

In the next chapter we learn that Sir Hector Montague has not returned to his home in Shelton Gardens from his visit to a certain house in Hamilton Street, outside of which he had left his chauffeur spinning his heels in his car. (Eventually tiring of this, the chauffeur in a show of proletarian spirit returned to Sir Hector's abode alone.)  Just what has happened to Sir Hector?

The sense of urban alienation and anomie that Mrs. Victor (aka Jessie Louisa, or "Louie") Rickard captures at times in Upstairs reminds me of the superb crime novels which Ruth Rendell began publishing some half-century later, like A Demon in My View (1976).  What I'm not reminded so much of is detective novels of the 1920s.

For Upstairs is a crime novel too, with a relatively simple mystery but plenty of melodrama, making it more reminiscent not only of modern crime novels but of Victorian mellers.  Emphasis is laid on the characters impacted by murder more than the mechanics of murder investigation, though there is a Scotland Yard inspector and private detective, floridly named Cosmo Rouselle.  Now, there's a name that needed a mystery series to go with it!

In The Golden Age of Murder, Martin Edwards wonders why Ianthe Jerrold and Louie Rickard were admitted to the Detection Club when what he terms "several more gifted and interesting writers," like Philip Macdonald and Josephine Tey, were not.  Of course readers of this blog will know that I think Ianthe Jerrold's detective novels are rather good ones, though, to be sure, there are only a few of them.  Mrs. Rickard presents a knottier problem, however. 

Whatever we may think of the merits of Upstairs as a crime novel, as a detective novel (and detection supposedly was the raison d'etre of the Detection Club in those days), it's simply not remarkable. Was Mrs. Rickard really a distinguished detective writer in any meaningful sense, and, if not, why was she invited to become a charter member of the Detection Club?

I think the cases of both Ianthe Jerrold and Louie Rickard, like those of some other early Detection Club members I might name, such as Helen Simpson and Clemence Dane, offer evidence that even in its natal days, the Detection Club was susceptible to the "Great Writer" lure.  One of the reasons Jerrold and Rickard and Simpson and Dane--successful mainstream writers all--were invited into the Detection Club, I posit, was that they had added prestige to the mystery writing genre simply by taking it up for a time and after a fashion.  Even in 1930, mystery writers were sensitive to the charge that theirs was a lesser literary craft, perhaps not true literature at all!

More on Mrs. Rickard's crime fiction coming soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"That Mysterious Individual Mrs. Victor Rickard": Jessie Louisa Rickard (1876-1963), Crime Writer?

In the summer of 1939, as Europe sped toward a calamitous conflagration, English mystery writer John Street (aka John Rhode, Miles Burton and Cecil Waye) was undergoing an ordeal of his own: editing the Detection Club anthology known as Detection Medley. (Street chose this title over such doozies as Detective's Ditty-bag and Detection Pie, phlegmatically writing Dorothy L. Sayers of that last precious pair and some others, like Here's to Jack Ketch,"I can't say that I am personally in love with any of them.")

As editor of the collection, Street was tasked with trying to track down all of the current Detection Club members (nearly forty people), seeking from them contributions to the, erm, ditty-bag.  Street had particular trouble locating several members, including the person he dryly termed "that mysterious individual Mrs. Victor Rickard." Just as Mrs. Rickard was to her fellow Detection Club members in the 1930s, she has remained an elusive presence today within the mystery fiction genre, being far better known for her marriage to Victor Rickard and her Great War fiction than for her crime writing.

Jessie Louisa Moore Rickard
Mrs. Victor Rickard was born Jessie Louisa ("Louie") Moore in Dublin, Ireland, in 1876.  She was the daughter of Reverend Canon Courtenay Moore (1840-1922)--a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, enthusiastic cyclist and amateur archaeologist and, during Jessie's youth, rector of Mitchelstown in County Cork (he later became Canon of Cloyne)--and his wife, the native Scottish Jessie Mona Duff, a granddaughter of Garden Duff, 8th Laird of Hatton and master of Hatton Castle.*

*(Canon Moore was not a fortune hunter, for some time before her marriage Jessie's father, Captain Benjamin Duff of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, had been disinherited by his father, who, in classic terminology, was "dissatisfied with his conduct.")

Hatton Castle was in the news recently when the Duff family put it up for sale after over three centuries of ownership. Some news sources pointedly noted at the time that the family was deeply displeased with the actions of the SNP, or Scottish National Party.

Hatton Castle

Courtenay Moore was, notes John Hayes (in "C. S. Lewis and a Chronicle of the Moores," Irish University Review, 2009), a progressive man for his time in some ways, advocating "change in respect to Irish land tenure...Home Rule, and the fostering of Gaelic, in public lectures and articles."

Moore published two novels, served as vice-president of Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland and edited the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, the Anglican newspaper in Ireland. Rather less progressively, he also opposed his daughter Louie's divorcing of first her husband to marry the Catholic Victor Rickard, and left her out of his will.  (Louie Moore would herself convert to Catholicism in 1925, three years after her father's death.)

The youngest of Courtenay and Jessie Moore's children, Louie Moore had two brothers and a sister (another sister died in infancy), the brothers being Alexander Duff Moore, future Archdeacon of Glendalough, and Courtenay Edward Moore, a civil engineer who married Jane ("Janie") King Askins, daughter of Reverend Canon William James Askins.

CS Lewis
Before their separation in 1907 Edward Moore and his wife Janie had two children, Edward ("Paddy") Francis Courtenay Moore and Maureen ("Daisy") Helen Moore.

Paddy Moore was a roommate of author and theologian C. S. Lewis during the pair's wartime army training at Keble College, Oxford; and at the altogether too young age of 19 he was killed in France during the last year of the Great War.

After the war Lewis lived with Paddy's mother Janie Moore (many Lewis authorities believe Lewis had a sexual relationship with the more than two decades older Janie, who never returned to her husband, Louie Moore's brother, whom she bluntly dubbed as "The Beast") and her daughter, Daisy, a future baronetess (one of only four in British history) through her Duff family lineage.

C. S Lewis, it has been pointed out by scholar John Hayes, shared a markedly similar personal background to the Moores: the Lewises and Moores, he notes, "were Irish, Anglican, markedly clerical, and literary."

Let's move on to the most literary Moore, Jessie Louisa Moore, future crime writer.  In 1901 Louie Moore married Robert Dudley Innes Ackland, but the couple divorced in 1907 (provoking a rift with her father), after Jessie had given birth to a daughter. A lieutenant in the King's Liverpool Regiment in September 1914, Ackland was dismissed, for reasons unknown to me, from the service the next month, rejoining the army as a private in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Whatever his personal faults, he gave his life for his country, becoming one of the last soldiers killed in action at Gallipoli in 1916.

Victor Rickard
Louie Moore next wed Lieutenant-Colonel Victor George Howard Rickard in 1908 and the couple had a son together.  He too would die in action in the First World War, in France in 1915.  Louie married one more time, this time to Tudor Fitzjohn, whom she divorced. In contrast with Louie's first two husbands, he survived the Great War, in which he fought valiantly, passing away a year before Louie at the age of 87.

At his death on May 9, 1915 at the Battle of Aubers Ridge, characterized as an "unmitigated disaster for the British" (in part because of the poor condition of British artillery and ammunition, a fact which precipitated the so-called Shell Crisis of 1915), Lt-Col Victor Rickard was leading an advance out of the trenches by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, which he had commanded since February 6. 

Fifteen paces from the British lines he was killed instantly by a bullet to the spinal column in his neck. Despite 151 deaths of officers and men, the battalion managed to capture German trenches, the only unit to manage this feat on that day, though they soon were forced to withdraw.

The day before the attack Rickard had halted his men at Rue Du Bois, before a roadside shrine (the altar of a war-shattered family chapel), in order to speak to them about the forthcoming battle; afterward the men received absolution from their pastor, the beloved Father Francis Gleeson, a moment commemorated in a famous painting commissioned by Jessie Moore Rickard, "The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois," by Italian artist Fortunino Matania.

Last Absolution of the Munsters
Father Gleeson on horseback in foreground
Lt.-Col.Victor Rickard on horseback in background

Widowed and with a daughter and son to support, Louie Rickard, nearly forty years old, turned to her pen to make her way.  She had actually published two novels before the outbreak of the war: Young Mr. Gibbs (1912), a comedy, and Dregs (1914), described as a "psychological" novel.  In 1915 she published The Story of the Munsters, about her husband's battalion, following it with a trio of popular and critically well-received war novels: The Light above the Crossroads (1916), The Fire of Green Boughs (1918) and The House of Courage (1919).  She became a great friend of Hazel, Lady Lavery, an American-born artist and the second wife of celebrated Irish portraitist Sir John Lavery.

Louie's novel A Fool's Errand (1921), introduced crime and adventure elements into her oeuvre, yet it was not until the mid-Twenties, with Upstairs (1925) and Not Sufficient Evidence (1926), the latter drawn from the real life Charles Bravo case, that Louie Rickard really made a splash in crime fiction.  Other novels by her with definite criminous aspects are The Mystery of Vincent Dane (1929, The Baccarat Club in the US), The Dark Stranger (1930), The Empty Villa (1930) and Murder by Night (1936).

Jessie Moore Rickard published at least 26 novels between 1912 and 1936, roughly one a year.  After the publication of Murder by Night, however, Louie's production declined drastically.

On the strength of her small output of crime fiction (excluding Murder by Night), which probably accounted for less than a fifth of her novels, Louie Rickard was invited to become a charter member of the Detection Club: a testament, surely, to the respect her fellow authors (or at least some of them) had for her reputation as a serious writer. 

The crime novels by her that I have read are works more reminiscent of mature Ruth Rendell than, say, Agatha Christie; and I'll have more to say about them this month.

As John Street's letter indicates, Louie Rickard seems to have had little, if anything, to do with the Detection Club in which she had accepted membership.  Like other older Detection Club members in the 1940s, she suffered from increasing infirmity and in 1948 she returned to her native Ireland, settling in Cork.  She died in 1963 and since then seems to have been almost entirely forgotten by posterity, except as a Great War lady novelist and as, as her official author name suggested, the wife of the fallen hero Victor Rickard.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"Not a Blah": Plot It Yourself (1959), by Rex Stout

"There is something about the idea of a very successful author stealing his material from an unsuccessful author that seems to appeal to ordinary people, and juries are made up of ordinary people."

                                --Thomas Dexter, publishing executive, Plot It Yourself (1959)

"....I can't dismiss the possibility that one or more of the supposed victims is a thief and a liar.  'Most writers steal a good thing when they can' is doubtless an--"
"Blah!" Mortimer Oshin exploded.
Wolfe's brows went up.  "That was in quotation marks, Mr. Oshin.  It was said, or written, more than a century ago by Barry Cornwall, the English poet and dramatist.  He wrote Mirandola, a tragedy performed at Covent Garden with Macready and Kemble.  It is doubtless an exaggeration, but it is not a blah.  If there had been then in England a National Association of Authors and Dramatists, Barry Cornwall would have been a member."

                                --Plot It Yourself (1959)

In Plot It Yourself The National Association of Authors and Dramatists, or NAAD, is in a pickle, and has come to Nero Wolfe, Great Detective, to get them out of it.  Several of their more successful members have been hit with plagiarism allegations and are being sued for heavy damages by their accusers.  NAAD, and the accused individual members, insist the claims are fraudulent, but there is, or seems to be, considerable damning evidence against them, in the form of similar manuscripts that were written by the accusers and submitted to the publishers of the later, successful, works.  Did the authors and publishers shelve and then steal this intellectual property, or are they the victims of a clever criminal enterprise?

The more I read of Rex Stout, the more I'm convinced that of all the writers working within the mystery genre it was he who was the greatest chronicler of elite corporate culture in mid-century America--what we might call "Mad Men culture," though I think Stout can be said to have written, with a few exceptions, his best books before the 60s (at least, surely, before Woodstock).  Perhaps this is why academics and literary critics have tended not to be that interested in him, in contrast with enduring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin fans.  He doesn't write so much of dark mean streets, but of scheming corporate cheats.  And I find it fascinating.

As social history and simply as pure entertainment, I don't rank Plot it Yourself as highly as I do And Be a Villain (1948), Stout's delightful and hilarious take on commercial radio and corporate sponsors, but it's still a satisfyingly solid and engrossing entry into the Wolfe canon.  The first half of the novel moves a bit slowly, but in the second half the bodies begin really to pile up, as a ruthless killer seeks to block every one of Nero Wolfe's gambits by mercilessly sacrificing human pawns on the crime chessboard. It's a bit like Game of Thrones even!

Rex Stout named one of his Wolfe novels Gambit and they really do feel like chess games, as Wolfe from his brownstone fastness shrewdly maneuvers to collar a killer and collect his fee.  I've read commentators dismiss Stout as a plotter, but PIY has a good plot, and it's a fair play plot.

Late in the novel Wolfe's legman, Archie, even essentially offers us what is in effect an Ellery Queenian "challenge to the reader," where he tells us that he, Archie, should have seen the solution as his employer has, because the main clue was presented to him, and he assumes the reader has had the sense to see it. (I hadn't!)  This is the definition of fair play.  Frugally clued fair play, to be sure, but still fair play.

Plagiarism--the use of another's words, ideas and work without attribution--is an interesting subject to me, as I have mentioned previously, and Stout treats it much more authoritatively than Josephine Bell would two decades later.  (Had someone ever tried to accuse him of it?  He was certainly a successful author!) 

I enjoyed seeing Wolfe spotting similarities in author's texts by checking for duplicated usages of phrases and other matters of style.  This was what convinced me a few years ago that Anthony Gilbert was the woman who completed Annie Haynes' The Crystal Beads Murder (1930).  I believe this still, even though I have been challenged by the eminent modern crime fiction writer and critic Martin Edwards.  Gilbert really liked the phrase "flotsam and jetsam," I'm just telling you!  I believe Nero Wolfe would agree, and, as Archie says, he's a genius.

see Keble College, Oxford
In PIY Wolfe reviews at length how the phrase "not for nothing" is used repeatedly in the supposedly plagiarized manuscripts, leading Archie to quip, "Not for nothing did you read the stories."  This is main reason why, in the eyes of most fans, the Wolfe canon has endured: Archie and Nero and their wonderful, witty banter. 

Without that (and Archie's narration) PIY would be a solid enough plotted example of a mid-century American mystery, but it wouldn't be nearly as memorable as a novel, even with the asides about plagiarism.  With Archie and Nero it is memorable indeed. 

There's also a splendid burn Wolfe blasts Inspector Cramer with, but I'll leave you to spot it yourself, if you will (if you haven't read the book already).  As much as I dislike Wolfe's self-centered eccentricities sometimes, the perpetually blustering, stogie-chomping Inspector Cramer is vastly more objectionable and I always enjoy seeing Wolfe (and Archie, though his victim seems more often to be Sergeant Purley) score off him.

Coming soon on the subject of plagiarism, possibly the most egregious example of it in the history of mystery publishing.  And it happened at the height of the Golden Age of detective fiction!  Stay tuned, I shall blog it myself.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring, Part Three

For the previous post on Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche, see here.

Before saying a fond goodbye to the Florabunda--where, you will recall, hateful syndicated columnist Paul Price has been murdered--and coming ashore, let's look at the last two detectives to investigate the case.

Mallory King
Most recent Ellery Queen novel at the time
The Scarlet Letters (1953)

searching for a pattern
The meaning of the scarf and pipe found under Price's body was incontrovertible.  They were symbols--the pipe in a punning way.  The murder was symbolic!

Mallory grinned at him.  "I haven't gone crazy.  At least I don't think so.  I'm just working on the suspects' names anagrammatically.

"I see..."

But Mallory, out of kindness, explained: "I mean, I rearrange the letters....Often names provide vital clues, you know.  They can influence character.  In one of my cases there were two brothers, called Kane and Judah:
their real names were Cain and Judas!

Turning from Spike Bludgeon (Mike Hammer) to Mallory King (Ellery Queen) in Murder in Pastiche is apt to give one whiplash, but it's truly striking, to be sure, how well Marion Mainwaring captures the styles and themes of both authors.

With Spike she gave us a typical Mickey Spillane revenge plot, with the tough guy dick--whose profound sense of disgruntlement with his lot in life and resentment against elites and "others" would have made him a wonderful focus group voter in last year's election--punching his way to a solution (though his paranoia leads him utterly, hilariously astray).

I feel so symbolic....
For his part, Mainwaring's cerebral Mallory King immediately starts searching for obscure symbols and strange patterns in the case. As he explains to the First Officer:

"My cases...always have some underlying pattern; some theme, some motif which unites and gives meaning to details which, on the surface, seem merely arbitrary and fantastic."

The first officer nodded intelligently.

"For instance, in one case the killer used the concept of the chain of evolution, working up from the murder of frogs, and dogs, and so on, to Man.  Another, with an Old Testament complex, used the scheme of the Ten Commandments. This time--"

"Yes?" Mr. Waggish asked eagerly.

"This time--Darn it," Mallory said plaintively.  "I simply don't know."

But Mallory sticks with it, and he begins to see the light, or what he fervidly imagines is light.

Concerning Ellery Queen, the ex-academic Mainwaring has a lot of fun with EQ half Frederic Dannay's obsession with patterns and symbols, so manifest in then-recent EQ fiction, like The Origin of Evil (1951), specifically referenced above by Mainwaring. Recalling another recent EQ novel, Double, Double (1950), the nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell even gets a workout--a very thorough workout!  It's a bravura performance by Mainwaring, even if EQ's brilliance leads him astray. Mainwaring leaves it to another detective to resolve the affair.

Lord Simon Quinsey
Most recent Lord Peter Wimsey novel at the time
Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

the gentleman is cogitatin', don't you know
A fleeting melancholy crossed Quinsey's long face.  "I know.  Et ego in Arcadia, Mr. Waggish."

Lord Peter comes out of a seventeen year retirement (fifteen if one counts the few Lord Peter stories in the collection In the Teeth of the Evidence) in Murder in Pastiche, in the guise of Lord Simon Quinsey, accompanied by his loyal manservant, Bunter--er, I mean Punter.

This is another smart Mainwaring appellation, recalling Simon Peter, of course; and, as for the surname Quinsey: "The crest of the ducal family" is "a domestic cat crouched as to spring" and its motto is "Lest Quinsy take me." Clever woman, that Marion Mainwaring!

Pastiche Artist
Marion Mainwaring
Mainwaring, whom I suspect was a particular Peter Wimsey fan, has the aristocrat put his finger on the essential clue, making the solution of the case possible.  I wonder whether Dorothy L. Sayers ever read Murder in Pastiche?   Lord Peter's creator died three years after the original publication of Mainwaring's second detective novel, never having brought Lord Peter back into print with a new adventure, much to the disappointment of her loyal mystery readers.

However, thanks to Marion Mainwaring's brilliance as a pastiche writer, mid-century detective fiction fans got once again to see Lord Peter--or a close facsimile thereof--in sleuthing action, along with eight other famous British and American detectives who were still active at the time of Pastiche's publication.

Today, over six decades later later, Murder in Pastiche indeed reads like a return to Arcadia, to what many of us see as, if I may borrow the title for a brief moment, the Golden Age of Murder.