Saturday, June 30, 2018

Going Stagge: The Jonathan Stagge Mysteries, Introduction

It probably won't surprise readers of this blog to learn that I have been busy with several projects concerning Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, "two brilliant young men who write as one" as the publicity material immodestly put it (It was probably written by Rickie Webb himself, he fancying himself to be something of a marketing whiz); and this has been taking me away from the blog for a bit.  But in the coming months I will be blogging about, well, more or less everything Rickie and Hugh wrote under their pseudonyms Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge, so prepare yourselves for the onslaught! 

Happily many of their novels are being reprinted this summer by Mysterious Press/Open Road, and by next year most all of their work may be out in print in English, a first for these authors, who in fact were two of the most important figures in the mystery field over a period of  three decades. 

I'm certainly not the only person to blog about Jonathan Stagge.  You can find other pieces at Mystery*File, Pretty Sinister Books, Death Can Read and Tipping My Fedora, for example.  This devotion is especially remarkable in that Jonathan Stagge has been out of print since the 1950s.  Patrick Quentin, the best known of the Webb-Wheeler pseudonyms, was reprinted in English in the 1980s and 1990s and Q. Patrick's name was kept alive by The Grindle Nightmare (see John Norris' great review here and mine here; I also wrote about the book extensively in the Edgar-nominated Murder in the Closet, in a chapter about the relationship of Rickie Webb and Hugh Wheeler, which has only been recently recognized for what it was: a longtime companionship.)  However, Jonathan Stagge rather faded, in public memory, though count on the international corps of classic crime fiction bloggers to keep the flames of memory burning!

my battered copy of the
American hardcover edition
of Jonathan Stagge's first
 Dr. Hugh Westlake mystery,
which originally appeared
in a serial in 1935
Jonathan Stagge was the product of of an intensely fertile period of creation which took place after Hugh Wheeler, a recent graduate from University College London, moved to the US in 1933 to live and write with pharmaceutical executive and occasional mystery writer Richard Webb.  Hugh returned to the UK for his brother's wedding but came back to the US in 1934 and by 1935 the collaborative works began cascading from Hugh's typewriter. 

1935 saw not just The Grindle Nightmare, but a serial novel and two novellas, two of which, the novel The Dogs Do Bark and the novella The Frightened Landlady, concerned the adventures of Dr. Hugh Cavendish Westlake (notice the first name and those initials), who in his amateur murder investigations is often aided, however unwittingly, by his rambunctious 10-year-old daughter, Dawn (in the earlier books unsentimentally dubbed "Brat" by Dr. Westlake, which is an accurate enough description for some readers.)

The serial Dr. Westlake mysteries were published under the Q. Patrick pseudonym, though when The Dogs Do Bark (Murder Gone to Earth in the UK) was published, in expanded form, as the first Dr. Westlake hardcover novel in late 1936, it was attributed to the new Jonathan Stagge nom de plume.

Two other serial Westlake novels were published under the Q. Patrick pen name in early 1936, The Scarlet Circle and Murder or Mercy? The latter was published as the second Westlake hardcover novel at the end of 1937 (in the US under the title Murder by Prescription), but The Scarlet Circle was not published as a hardcover novel until 1943, when Rickie and Hugh were going off to war (Rickie to New Guinea, Hugh to, well, Fort Dix, New Jersey), making it the sixth Westlake hardcover novel, even though it was third Westlake adventure actually published.

Why this delay in publishing The Scarlet Circle in hardcover?  It can't be because the quality was deemed doubtful, because it's one of the best of the Stagge books. (See my review here.)  But I have a theory, and it's coming soon, along with a piece on the first three Stagge novels.


  1. Terrific news! Looking forward to a Stagge party.

  2. "So prepare yourselves for the onslaught!" I am ready, Curt, and happy for it.

  3. Looking forward to this.

    One question though: You say that "next year most all of their work" will be available. Am I right in supposing that the two "Files" books will not be among these?

    1. As you know these books present special challenges for reprinting, so I imagine not at this point.

  4. Thanks for the heads-up - I've been keeping a lookout for Stagge's 'Death My Darling Daughters' since John reviewed it. The release of these novels by MysteriousPress is cause for celebration, if not for the fact that MysteriousPress's releases seem to be subject to regional copyright restrictions, and may not be uniformly available across different Amazon Kindle stores. 😞

  5. Exciting news! So long overdue. Will there be a reprint of Wheeler's solo mystery THE CRIPPLED MUSE? It's also very deserving of a reissue. I thought that book very mature, neatly plotted and suitably puzzling, topped off with Wheeler's most insightful and honest writing on sexuality.

    I'm still surprised that THE YELLOW TAXI is almost a complete rewrite of THE DOGS DO BARK, especially since the two seemed to be so original. The climax is completely identical in both books.

    1. John, I don't believe there is any plan for Muse at the moment, I will ask. I certainly think Hugh Wheeler would have liked to see it in print again.

      I must say I agree with your comments about The Stars Spell Death in toto. That was the really disappointing one for me. Of the first three my favorite is definitely Murder or Mercy? There are some repetitious elements with other works, but I thought it very clever indeed.

    2. That's my least favorite of the Dr. Westlake books. THE STARS SPELL DEATH has too many scenes that belong in a girl sleuth book rather than an adult mystery. Dawn driving the car (isn't she only 10 in that book?), the abduction, the villains' overall behavior, the Nazi business... They must've gotten lazy for some reason.