Friday, April 19, 2019

The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant (2019), by Q. Patrick (Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler)

I am excited this Easter weekend to announce that another collection of short stories by Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler is due out this year (probably in the summer): The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant.  This volume gathers all 22 of the known Timothy Trant detective tales published by Webb and Wheeler under their Q. Patrick pseudonym. 

cover illustration by Gail Cross
Fans of the novels written by the two men known together as Q. Patrick and Patrick Quentin no doubt will be familiar with grey-eyed Lieutenant Trant, the suave yet steely police detective who features in the long form mysteries Death for Dear Clara (1937), The File on Claudia Cragge (1938), Death and the Maiden (1939), Black Widow (1952), My Son, the Murderer (1954), The Man with Two Wives (1955), Shadow of Guilt (1959) and Family Skeletons (1965)--the last five of these written by Hugh Wheeler alone.  The 22 Trant tales in this new collection originally appeared in print in magazines and newspapers between 1940 and 1955, making them contemporary with most of the Trant novels.  With them we now know that the Trant oeuvre consists of nearly 30 murder investigations.

The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant was originally supposed to appear last year, but with the help of fiction treasure finder Tony Medawar we were able at a late date to identify an additional Trant short story, "Death at the Fair," which seemingly had been previously published only in a British newspaper.  (The majority of these tales appeared as well in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.)  We also located a forgotten novella, "She Wrote Finis," which actually is the first known appearance of Timothy Trant in short fiction.  This set the book publication schedule back some months, but I think fans will find the addition of two more Trant tales worth the wait.

After my introduction, the volume opens with a brief biographical entry on Timothy Trant that was penned by Webb and Wheeler.  Then comes the aforementioned "She Wrote Finis," a cleverly clued novella about the murder of ambitious and unscrupulous aspiring novelist Minna Lucas, which originally was serialized in December 1940 and January 1941. 

White Carnations (Cecil Kennedy)
The next story in the collection, a longish tale called White Carnations (wherein Trant is prevailed upon by lovely Angela Forrest, a lovely Princeton dance partner from nine years earlier, to investigate the dire menace to her family and herself symbolized by birthday gifts of white carnations), was published in Collier's in February 1945, when Webb and Wheeler's service in the Second World War was soon to come to an end. The remaining 20 tales, including the novelette "The Wrong Envelope," a superb exercise in screw-tightening feminine tension of Mignon Eberhart proportions, were published between 1946 and 1955, in the US mostly in EQMM

All of them are genuine detective stories, fairly clued puzzles that were highly praised for their skillful construction by noted American crime fiction critic Anthony Boucher.

Herein the reader will find a delectable box of poisoned chocolates, including, besides the three tales mentioned above, such deliciously deadly delights as:

Hugh Wheeler
partly the model for Trant
The Plaster Cat, wherein Trant investigates the suspicious death of Madeline Winters at the prestigious Ruskin School for Girls

The Corpse in the Closet, which introduces Trant's amusingly overbearing sister Freda (probably named for Webb's own favorite sister)

Who Killed the Mermaid?, wherein a train passenger is strangled with his own hideous necktie

Woman of Ice, another moving case of death in Venice

Death on Saturday Night, in which matinee idol Tyrone Power provides a key to a clue in a murder which takes place in a New Hampshire skiing village where Trant is vacationing

Girl Overboard, an ingenious shipboard mystery with modern-day resonance

This Looks Like Murder, in which a melodious Strauss waltz inspires Trant in his hunt for a killer

Death before Breakfast and Death at the Fair, in which respectively debut Trant's sister Freda's pet dachshund Minnie and her young son Colvin, both of them equally and amusingly demanding of Trant's attentions

Richard Webb
On the Day of the Rose Show and Going, Going, Gone, wherein murder incongruously takes place at, respectively, a stately Connecticut country house and an antiques auction

Lioness versus Panther, the last known published piece of Trant short fiction, which wryly pits a pair of rival acting divas against each other when murder--the real thing--takes place on stage.

And there are seven more tales too!  This is a fine collection indeed of classic crime fiction, one of my personal favorites from publisher Crippen & Landru, masters of vintage mystery in its shorter, but no less deadly, form.  At least one additional volume of Webb and Wheeler tales is in the works as well.


  1. This looks very good... Incidentally, I recall reading somewhere about an unpublished Jonathan Stagge novel that may or may not exist: 'Oh, To Die in England". Do you know anything about that?

    1. I found a reference to the title in papers but never found any manuscript.

    2. I think it may have been a shorter work written by Rickie that was never fleshed out as a novel, though Rickie wanted to do so in the 1950s. Hugh had been the one who expanded the serial pieces into full novels. Likely any manuscript ended up with Rickie, and his fate remains sketchy, aside from the fact that he died in France in 1966. The best hope is if Oh, to Die in England! was actually published earlier in some shorter form, somewhere.

  2. Great work, Curt. Next collection will include some Q. Patrick bovelets, I think (and some of them are wonderful). Did you unearth anything that was unknown?

    1. Probably not to you! The next volume will have the Westlake novella, The Frightened Landlady, as well as the one you introduced us to, plus a couple of others. I'm urging Another Man's Poison, one I know you liked.

    2. Send me an email for more detail, Mauro.