Sunday, June 30, 2019

Drawn and Quartered: The Case of the Fourth Detective (1951), by Christopher Bush

“People will do all sorts of things for money.  It’s still the best motive for murder.”
--Christopher Bush, The Case of the Fourth Detective (1951)

          During the nineteenth century canny newspaperman William Henry Smith and his equally canny son, likewise named William Henry Smith, established a remarkable newsstand and bookstall empire--named, appropriately enough, WH Smith & Son--at railway stations across the United Kingdom.  Train commuters avidly devouring detective fiction and thrillers in the form of Hodder & Stoughton yellow jackets and green and white Penguin paperbacks during the twentieth century heyday of classic crime fiction in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties often had purchased their prose treasures at WH Smith & Son bookstalls.  The company remained privately held until 1948, when, upon the death of the third Viscount Hambleden (the original William Henry Smith’s great-great grandson), shares had to be sold publicly in order to cover the costs of the ravaging inheritance tax (aka “death duties”) that had laid waste to the company’s once burgeoning coffers.  This event--much noted at the time, when the tax policies of Britain’s lately-installed Labour government were the subject of contentious debate--inspired Christopher Bush’s 39th Ludovic Travers detective novel, The Case of the Fourth Detective (1951). 
          In previous detective novels that Christopher Bush had published since the Labour Party took power in 1945, the author through his genteel sleuth Ludovic Travers had taken potshots at Labour’s confiscatory tax policies, making withering asides about the depredations of “Comrade” Hugh Dalton and Stafford Cripps, successive Chancellors of the Exchequer in the Labour government during the years 1945-50.  However, in The Case of the Fourth Detective, Bush, like contemporary crime writer and Detection Club member Henry Wade in his detective novel Diplomat’s Folly, likewise published in 1951, put Labour tax policy front and center in his book.  Some writers of classic British crime fiction felt so strongly about the estate tax issue that they continued to elaborate upon the dread theme even after Winston Churchill and the Tories were restored to power in 1951, the modern British welfare state having proved a hungry creature indeed—see, for example, Henry Wade (yet again) in Too Soon to Die, 1953, and Margery Allingham in The Estate of the Beckoning Lady, 1955, whose titles suggest their author’s agendas (as does “Taxman,” the title of a 1966 Beatles song about the 95% supertax introduced by the government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Labour having finally ousted the Conservatives from power again two years earlier).  However, in The Case of the Fourth Detective tax policy feels like more like a key plot point than an occasion for a jeremiad. 
          In the novel Ludovic Travers--now the owner, since the sudden demise from a heart attack of Bill Ellice, of the Broad Street Detective Agency--finds his firm called in by Owen Ramplock, who has succeeded to the chairmanship of Ramplocks, the chain of thirty-four provision shops he has inherited from his late magnate father, old Sam Ramplock.  By the time Ludo arrives at Warbeck Grove, the block of palatial flats where Owen Ramplock resides when in the City, however, Ramplock lease on life has expired.  Ludo finds him on the floor of Flat 5 “as dead as they make them: deader than last year’s hit-song.  At the side of the skull was a bloody gap where the bullet had done its work.  Messy work, but only too efficient.”     Ramplock’s call was taken by the Agency’s manager--Jack Norris, formerly a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard—and he reports that Ramplock’s last words on the phone were Prince!...What the devil are you doing here!  So now Travers, rather than taking on a juicy job with posh Owen Ramplock, is tasked with trying to find Ramplock’s killer, by helping his old friend Superintendent George Wharton and young Sergeant Matthews of Scotland Yard to discover the identity and whereabouts of the mysterious man named Mr. Prince, who left behind him at the scene of the crime a cryptic calling card.  In bold letters on the back of the card is a terse message warning You’ll be Sorry.  
          Certainly there were plenty of people whom Owen Ramplock--a former playboy turned POW in Italy who until recently had never faced up to real work in his civilian life--had antagonized.  There are, for example, his wife Jane, from whom he was estranged (it appears Ramplock may have had a mistress) but with whom he had recently tried to effect a reconciliation, and Jane Ramplock’s uncle, lately returned from Canada, a character with a large stock of (tall?) stories by the name of Solverson.  Then there are various officers and staff at Ramplocks: Henry Dale, managing director; Richard Winter, head of sales; Charles Downe, chief accountant; and Miss Haregood, Ramplock’s highly efficient secretary.  “A schoolmarm to the life was what I thought her,” dismissively comments Ludo of Miss Haregood.  He is rather more taken with company typist Daisy Purkes, whom he deems “cute as a kitten with a black nose,” and he finds opportunity over the course of the case to interview Miss Purkes more than once on the premises of Ramplocks.  It seems that the company’s directors were trying to determine just how to deal with the crushing death duties imposed on the business after the demise of old Sam Ramplock.  Before his untimely demise was Owen Ramplock trying to cut a deal for survival with Herringswoods, a mammoth concern with over one hundred shops in London and the Home Counties?
          Kevin Burton Smith of the Thrilling Detective website, a devotee of the American school of tough crime fiction, has asserted that while Travers’ murder cases “may lean towards ‘hard-boiled’ they don’t lean far enough.”  For murder fiction fans happily steeped in the more genteel traditions of Anglo-American detective fiction of the between-the-wars period, however, Bush may have timed things just right.  Certainly in The Case of the Fourth Detective Ludo seems to have developed something of the more casual attitude about sex which is associated with American hard-boiled detective fiction.  “Ramplock’s morals didn’t interest me beyond their possible connection with his death,” Ludo confides at one point.  “I’ve skidded about a bit myself in my time and in my furtive moments I’ve thought monogamy a harshly Christian virtue.”  Recalling Ludo’s romantic revelations in The Case of the Magic Mirror (1943) and Christopher Bush’s own amorous flings (at least before he settled down with his longtime partner Marjorie Barclay), this seems an honest enough assessment.  Perhaps now we know why Ludo’s wife Bernice appears to spend so much of her married life away visiting friends.
          By this time, indeed, Ludo seems in many ways to have merged with his creator.  In The Case of the Purloined Picture (1949), for example, we are reminded that Ludo’s native ground is found in East Anglia, just like the author’s, and it is claimed that Ludo is “middle class,” putting him closer in social origin to Bush, who was descended from generations of humble Norfolk farming stock (though the claim that Ludo is of middle class origins is belied by earlier novels).  On American book jackets in the 1950s, underneath photos of the author, readers were informed that Bush was, like Ludo, a Cambridge man, though in fact this claim was untrue.  Bush himself admitted in his memoirs that he had missed his chance to go to Cambridge; evidently that lost opportunity long rankled. 
          In having to forego his chance at obtaining an elite English education, Christopher Bush resembled another prolific mystery writer and Detection Club member who created a popular genteel surrogate detective and has been reprinted by Dean Street Press: E. R. Punshon.  With his Newcastle sugar broker father having gone bankrupt and apparently left his family, Punshon at the age of sixteen was forced, he recalled in mid-life, “to work in the accounts office of a railroad….After a year or two my office superiors told me gently that they thought I was not without intelligence but that my intelligence and my work did not seem somehow to coincide. So I thanked them for the hint, gracefully accepted it, and departed to Canada…”  During the waning years of the reign of Queen Victoria, Punshon had a great many larger-than-life adventures in Canada and the American West—including, he claimed, an escape from a ravening pack of wolves—before he returned to England and settled down to a writing career of over a half-century’s duration.  As any good novelist would, Punshon drew on these New World experiences in one of his early novels, Constance West (1905).
          In his later years, ill with a wasting terminal disease, the now elderly Punshon spent some time, in the fall of 1949, recuperating from an operation at Little Horspen, the charming East Sussex Tudor home of Christopher Bush and Marjorie Barclay.  (Later that year Bush succeeded ER Punshon as the Detection Club’s treasurer.)  The next year, when Bush was writing The Case of the Fourth Detective, he amusingly included, in the person of Jane Ramplock’s uncle Matthew Solverson, a character that may well have been partly modeled on Ernest Robertson Punshon:

          “He’s a delightful person but you may find him…well, just a bit original….He was a natural born wanderer.  He tells the most marvelous stories of all the things he did in Canada and the States.”
          “I know,” I said.  “Bar-keep, prospector, hobo, farm-hand—everything.”
          “But how did you know?”
          “I didn’t,” I said.  “But they always do, at least in books.”

        As for the matter of identity of the titular fourth detective, there are Ludo, Wharton, Matthews and….Well, why don't you see for yourself.  The novel has been reprinted by Dean Street Press, along with numbers 31 to 40 in the Christopher Bush series.

Stonewalled: Writing One's Self in an Age of Oppression and an Age of Liberation

This weekend saw nationwide celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (June 28-July 1, 1969), when members of the LGBTQ community of Greenwich Village took to the streets to fight back against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a local LGBTQ-friendly establishment.  The confrontations between police and locals around Stonewall took place on the first two nights/mornings, but altercations continued in the area over the next several days.  As late as July 2 newly energized queer activists threatened the offices of the newspaper The Village Voice, which in describing the riots had written obnoxiously of the "forces of faggotry" and their "Sunday fag follies."  Declared one exasperated queer sympathizer: "The word is out....The fags have had it with oppression."

Crime writer Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb had been dead three years when the Stonewall Riots took place, but his writing partner and longtime companion Hugh Callingham Wheeler was still around and in fact would live for another eighteen years, during which time he attained his greatest fame as a book writer for several Broadway smashes, including Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd

I have no evidence about what Hugh's attitude was to the highly public ructions around the Stonewall Inn in 1969, though I know that like many men and women of his persuasion, he was circumspect about his lifestyle.  It was not something he talked about with his family, up until the time he died.  Both his Seventies stage collaborators Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince knew he was gay, though they knew little else about his personal life.  Conversely, Rickie's sister Freda knew all about his relationship with Hugh, but when last year I attempted contact with Rickie's nonagenarian nephew (the son of another sibling), he freezingly told me: "Thank you for your enquiry about my uncle.  I am not in a position to help you."

Even today, when one is writing about gay writers one encounters this sort of queerly persistent resistance.  Not just from family members who feel they still have shameful secrets to hide about their loved (or perhaps not so loved) ones, but from seemingly unoffending people who blithely pronounce that one's "personal life" is irrelevant to one's writing.

Have you ever noticed that no one ever says this when the person is heterosexual?  No one questions delving into the personal relationship of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, the (straight) cousins who wrote as Ellery Queen, or, presumably, that of Richard and Frances Lockridge, the married couple who between 1936 and 1963 penned 27 Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries.  Yet until recently there was no acknowledgement anywhere that Lockridges contemporaries Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler for nearly two decades were a couple.  Sometimes one feels that for decades the mystery world has been operating under the archaic principle of don't ask, don't tell.

However, just like Dannay and Lee, the two men's personal relationship impacted their writing as Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge.  Indeed, the breakdown of their relationship ultimately put paid to their collaborative writing.  It's often stated that Rickie's "declining health" led to his retirement from the writing partnership.  To the contrary, Hugh's growing personal estrangement from Rickie led to the demise of their collaborations.

Richard Webb around 1931
Certainly Rickie and Hugh, like other gay people of their time, had ample cause for a certain amount of circumspection, both in their lives and in their writing.  In the chilled heart of the Cold War era, during the Fifties and Sixties, gay men and lesbians were considered security risks on account of their "perversion" and could be, and were, fired from their jobs, with no recourse.  J. Edgar Hoover's ever-intrusive Federal Bureau of Investigation kept records on homosexuals (ironically given Hoover's own inclinations), while the US Post Office banned books with queer content (even incredibly mild stuff by today's standards), on the grounds of "obscenity."  The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until the 1970s.

People of the same sex congregating publicly as homosexuals was illegal, as was cross-dressing, while even private homosexual acts between consenting adults were outlawed.  Simply to be identified as gay or lesbian or queer in some way was to put one's livelihood at risk. 

An influential guide to mystery writing published in the 1940s, when shocking gay murder scandals were making newspaper headlines, advised prospective authors to stay away from anything savoring too closely of real life, when it came to sexual matters:

Sexual perversions, other than sadism, are definitely taboo....Homosexuality may be hinted at, but never used as an overt and important factor in the story.  An author may, in other words, get away with describing a character in such fashion that a reader may conclude the character is homosexual, but he should not so label him.  All other perversions are definitely beyond the pale.

He is unmarried and
admits to having an
equable disposition,
and says he is found of fishing
Hugh Wheeler as Patrick Quentin
c. 1937
This is the silly, Miss Grundyish regime LGBTQ mystery writers had to contend with up until the time of Stonewall, though cracks had started appearing in the closet door some years earlier.  Perhaps this is one reason that queer men and women (and indeed any emotionally reticent people) were so attracted to writing mystery fiction in those days (and they were): Classic crime fiction was about hiding personality, not revealing it, with emphasis put on the solving of the puzzle, not on deep explorations of character. 

Yet in fact Rickie and Hugh wrote mysteries that were about as reflective of their authors as they could be, given the times.  They were discreet, but they were not desperately in hiding.  They put their own intriguing personalities into their work, and that work thus makes for compelling reading.

But was it gay enough?  Mystery writer Christopher Fowler seems to think not.  Early last year--a few days before a book I edited, Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues to Crime Fiction Before Stonewall, was nominated for an Edgar--Fowler published an article in which he opines:

[W]riting is best when you can tell the writer is being honest.  Patrick Quinten [sic] wrote the "Puzzle" series of hardboiled detective stories, and I quickly noticed that the author was lying to me. 

When I read "Puzzle for Puppets," in which two lines are spent describing the detective's wife, and half a page is reserved for the descriptions of muscular marines in a San Francisco bathhouse, it was obvious that the author was, quote, not "the marrying kind."

"Authors should not try to hide their natural instincts," Fowler rather loftily lectures in the modern day.  Elsewhere, he pronounces that "gay writers" in the 20th century were "very good at denigrating themselves.  Social pressure created shame and self-hatred that surfaced in writing."

This is all too easy to write in 2018, Christopher!  If only things had been as easy for queer crime writers back then as they are today.  But despite societal pressures, gay and lesbian writers in mid-century America were not invariably (and oh-so stereotypically) ashamed and self-hating. More than a few of them in fact had some reasonable measure of pride

I thought the pugnacious response on Christopher's website of my friend John Norris of the Pretty Sinister blog, a contributor to Murder in the Closet, was generally on point:

I'm sure you know that Patrick Quentin is really two men.  Neither ever hid who they were even in their books.  Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler lived together for much of their life and and it has been proven that they were a couple as well.  Their books are rife with gay allusions and talk of male beauty and physiques.  Saying that they were "lying to you" is actually a lie itself.  The bathhouse sequence in Puzzle for Puppets is the most overt example of their love of discussing male physiques (which happens in every one of their books by the way), but then you try to make it appear they are dishonest because the series is about a married man and woman and they don't spend as much time describing the wife.  Give me a break.  How is that being lied to?  You don't bother to mention that Pete and Iris have a healthy sex life in that same book and it's also discussed and joked about with the same candor as the naked men in the bathhouse.

Just Being Himself: Christopher Fowler
see Cinema Museum
Hear, hear!  Webb and Wheeler had an open-minded and dare I say adult attitude to sex in general. Fowler's view I find depressing because it balkanizes us all into the cages of our respective categories, be they sexual, racial, gender or what have you.  If we take this kind of thinking seriously, gay men could only write about gay men, lesbians about lesbians, blacks about blacks, whites about whites, straight men about straight men, straight women about straight women, etc., etc., etc.  How limiting this attitude is!

Not to mention that Fowler essentially would have cast Rickie and Hugh, talented crime writers both, out of crime writing altogether, along with other able LGTBQ authors like Rufus King, Todd Downing, Milton Propper, George Bellairs, Leo Bruce and Mary Fitt.  (Given his love of cross dressing, incidentally, was Rufus King a transgender crime writer?)

Until after World War Two, almost no one in the United States was writing crime fiction about explicitly identified LGBTQ characters, and when in the postwar years they did these characters were usually negatively portrayed--see the revolting books of Mickey Spillane, for example--or placed decidedly at the periphery of the action.  If Rickie and Hugh had made Peter Duluth gay--Peter Stonewall let us call him--they would not have found a publisher.  But why in the world should they have had to make Peter gay in the first place?

The two men actually wrote quite well about straight people, all the while not betraying their essential selves, as Fowler seems to think they did.  Throughout Rickie and Hugh's books there is, to be sure, evidence of a certain gay sensibility, which was as quickly clear to me and to John, I suspect, as Fowler says it was to him--though admittedly it seems to have gone completely over the heads of many contemporary reviewers.  Let's discuss Rickie and Hugh's crime fiction and their lives honestly, by all means, but at the same time let's try to enjoy it for what it is, not penalize it by imposing some confining, purportedly progressive, ideological agenda upon it. Gay writers can write expansively about the human condition, just like straight writers.  To assert otherwise is to attempt, whether this is one's intention or not, to restrict them to a sort of ghetto.

While I find Hugh and Rickie's work the fascinating and remarkable product of an age of LGBTQ oppression, I believe it can be enjoyed by anyone who likes good vintage crime fiction.  Much worthy writing has been produced under the stresses of adversity.

For more on the subject of LGBTQ writers and themes in crime fiction published before Stonewall, see the 2018 Edgar-nominated Murder in the Closet.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Introducing Dick Callingham: Yet Another Webb-Wheeler Pseudonym

Twisted Minds and a Haunting Voice
Dick Callingham's "Terror Keepers"
aka Patrick Quentin's A Puzzle for Fools
was the March 1936 cover story
in Detective Story Magazine

Like many men and women of similar persuasion in those dangerous pre-Stonewall days, Richard "Rickie" Webb and Hugh Wheeler, aka Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge, had a penchant for concealment.  Certainly this penchant manifested itself in the two men's multiplicity of mystery pseudonyms.  Yet another Webb-Wheeler pen name now has been uncovered: Dick Callingham, for which Rickie and Hugh borrowed Hugh Wheeler's middle name, Callingham (which in turn had been derived from the surname of a great-grandfather of Hugh's, John Callingham, who served as one of the early "bobbies" in London's Metropolitan Police, aka Scotland Yard). 

As "Dick Callingham" Rickie and Hugh published three known pieces in Detective Story Magazine, a pulp magazine that served as one of their most frequent repositories of short fiction. 

These pieces are "Striking Silence" and "Terror Keepers," both from 1936, and "The Frightened Killer," from 1937.  I have been able to see a copy of the March issue of DSM containing "Terror Keepers," and it turns out that it is the first published version of the premier Patrick Quentin novel, A Puzzle for Fools, which was published six months later.

Putting on the Ritz
Ad for Lucky Strikes,
America's favorite cigarette,
on the back cover of DSM
Slimming women were advised
to reach for a Lucky
rather than a sweet
Why did Rickie and Hugh create "Dick Callingham"?  Probably because as Q. Patrick they had over 1935-37 published eight additional pieces in DSM, including the future Jonathan Stagge novels The Dogs Do Bark, The Scarlet Circle and Murder or Mercy? and the future Q. Patrick novel Danger Next Door.  There was, in short, a pulps glut of Q. Patrick, so all parties concerned decided to give this Dick Callingham chap a chance.

After 1937 Rickie and Hugh increasingly focused their attention, when it came to short fiction (including short novels), on the more prestigious (and lucrative) glossy women's magazines, dubbed "slicks."  Their fiction in pulps like DSM was altogether grislier stuff, aimed at a primarily male audience that took their crime writing neat.  A Puzzle for Fools is set at an asylum (albeit a swankier one) and has plenty of outre details.  Later Patrick Quentins would dial down the horror (though not the suspense) and dial up the glamour.

More coming soon, I hope, on the mystery of Webb and Wheeler short fiction, as Crippen and Landru gets set to mail pre-orders of their new Rickie and Hugh short fiction collection, The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy TrantIt's a good 'un!  Getting to work on, among other projects, Moray Dalton, Christopher Bush, Bernice Carey and Rickie and Hugh's Timothy Trant has been a great blessing.

Nix on Parties! Ad from DSM
Even more terrifying than crime
for many pulp fiction readers
was the scourge of pimples, which
threatened to extinguish one's social life

Opening of "Terror Keepers":

It always got worse at nights.  And that particular night was the first time they had left me without any kind of dope to help me sleep.

Opening Sentence of a A Puzzle for Fools:

It always got worse at night.  And that particular night was the first time they had left me without any kind of dope to help me sleep.

Just one change here, from nights to night. However, don't think that Hugh, who did the transfers from magazine publication to published novel, didn't make improvements in the writing.  You can see it, for example, in the novel's final lines--though you don't want me to quote those, surely!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Just Whose Bloody Fingerprints Are on The Murder Weapon? Who Wrote What in the Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge Corpus of Crime Fiction

The question of the authorship of the 37 crime novels of Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge has long been one of the most vexing questions for fans of classic mystery.  I personally became involved with looking at this question way back in 2010, not long before book Masters of the Humdrum Mystery was published.  This was over at the old Golden Age Detection website at Yahoo (partially preserved at the GADetection Wiki), along with Mauro Boncompagni, Xavier Lechard and others.  Truly interest in these writers is international!

Now that I am near completing a joint biography and critical study of Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler, the prime movers behind the trio of pseudonyms, I am prepared to propose a list of authorship for the novels.  Some of this still remains conjectural, though as much as possible I have tried to verify assumptions with primary material.  So here goes!  (You will notice I include the two Crimefiles books as novels; I consider them such.)

Q. Patrick (12 novels)
Cottage Sinister (1931) (Richard Wilson Webb and Martha Mott Kelley)
Murder at the Women's City Club (1932) (Webb and Kelley)
Murder at Cambridge (1933) (Webb)
S. S. Murder (1933) (Webb and Mary Louise White, aka Mary Louise Aswell)
The Grindle Nightmare (1935) (Webb)
Death Goes to School (1936) (Webb)
Death for Dear Clara (1937) (Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler)
The File on Fenton and Farr (1937) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler)
The File on Claudia Cragge (1938) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death and the Maiden (1939) (Webb and Wheeler)
Return to the Scene (1941) (Webb and Wheeler)
Danger Next Door (1951) (Webb)

Jonathan Stagge (9 novels)
The Dogs Do Bark (1936) (Webb and Wheeler)
Murder or Mercy? (1937) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Stars Spell Death (1939) (Webb and Wheeler)
Turn of the Table (1940) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Yellow Taxi (1942) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Scarlet Circle (1943) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death and the Dear Girls (1945) (Webb and Wheeler)
Death's Old Sweet Song (1946) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Three Fears (1949) (Wheeler)

Patrick Quentin (16 novels)
A Puzzle for Fools (1936) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Players (1938) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Puppets (1944) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Wantons (1945) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Fiends (1946) (Webb and Wheeler)
Puzzle for Pilgrims (1947) (Webb and Wheeler)
Run to Death (1948) (Webb and Wheeler)
The Follower (1950) (Wheeler alone?)
Black Widow (1952) (Wheeler)
My Son, the Murderer (1954) (Wheeler)
The Man with Two Wives (1955) (Wheeler)
The Man in the Net (1956) (Wheeler)
Suspicious Circumstances (1957) (Wheeler)
Shadow of Guilt (1959) (Wheeler)
The Green-Eyed Monster (1960) (Wheeler)
Family Skeletons (1965) (Wheeler)

Basically, these books fall into three periods, in terms of authorship. 

There is, first, 1931-1935, when "Q. Patrick" published five mysteries, all written by Richard "Rickie" Webb, either collaboratively or solo.  Actually, the Q. Patrick novel Death Goes to School, which was published in February 1936, really belongs to this period too.  It, along with The Grindle Nightmare and Murder at Cambridge were written by Rickie alone, while Cottage Sinister and Murder at the Women's City Club were written by Rickie with Martha "Patsy" Mott Kelley and S. S. Murder was written with Mary Lou White/Aswell. 

Murder at Cambridge
was written by Webb after he lost Patsy as a writing partner (she moved to England and married) but before he gained Aswell. 

After meeting Hugh Wheeler in the summer of 1933, in between the publications of Murder at Cambridge and S. S. Murder, Rickie's fate was sealed: he had met his perfect writing partner in the prodigiously talented Hugh and the two would work together for the next 15 years, until their personal relationship broke down irretrievably in the late 1940s.

As Mauro Boncompagni has indicated, Aswell did not contribute to The Grindle Nightmare, as is often stated, but it seems likely that Hugh Wheeler influenced the novel, as I have discussed in an essay in Murder in the Closet.  However, at this time Rickie was still the master and Hugh, only in his mid-20s, the apprentice and Hugh did not make his official debut as novelist with the 1936 novels The Dogs Do Bark and A Puzzle for Fools, by "Jonathan Stagge" and "Patrick Quentin" respectively, and the 1937 Q. Patrick novel Death for Dear Clara.  These three novels launched Rickie and Hugh's three famous series sleuths: respectively Dr. Hugh Westlake, Peter Duluth and Lt. Timothy Trant.  Rickie explicitly was the creator of Duluth and Trant; perhaps Hugh, who shares initials with Hugh Westlake, created him. 

This launches the second period, 1936-1948, though during this period we see Hugh become the dominant writing partner, particularly by the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The period of America's (and Rickie and Hugh's) active involvement in World War Two saw only a few novels written.  Q. Patrick was sidelined, while both of the WW2 Stagges actually had their inceptions before Pearl Harbor, as did the Patrick Quentin, Puzzle for Puppets.  Essentially Rickie and Hugh's novel writing during most of the American war years consisted of expanding Jonathan Stagge's The Scarlet Circle and Patrick Quentin's Puzzle for Puppets from novelettes into novels, which Hugh was able to accomplish in about a week of typing apiece.  However, Hugh did spend much of 1945 working on the excellent Jonathan Stagge Death and the Dear Girls, which he and Rickie discussed in correspondence.  It was published at the end of that year.

Rickie, who was anxious to get back to work, likely also was involved, after he returned home from the Pacific, in the Stagge Death's Old Sweet Song and the Patrick Quentins Puzzle for Wantons, Puzzle for Fiends, Puzzle for Pilgrims and Run to Death, which absorbed most of Hugh's interest in these years.  However, Rickie's physical and emotional problems and the alienation of Hugh's affections led to a breakdown of both the two men's personal and working relationship. 

Over 1948-52 Hugh himself entirely wrote the last Jonathan Stagge, The Three Fears, as well as the Patrick Quentin novel Black Widow, a novel with criminous elements under his own name, The Crippled Muse, and possibly the Patrick Quentin novel The Follower.

A single Q. Patrick appeared, after a decade's lapse, called Danger Next Door, but this is a very short novel indeed that is based on an old novella from the Thirties, which I suspect had little, if any input from Hugh.

After Rickie left America for France in 1952, Hugh Wheeler handed off the Q. Patrick name to his old partner for future use (unfortunately Rickie didn't make too much use of it) and dropped Jonathan Stagge for good (sadly for me), but he wrote an additional seven Patrick Quentin novels, a few of them with Timothy Trant, the series sleuth who had figured in three earlier novels as well as nearly two dozen works of short fiction, which are being published for the first time in book form this summer by Crippen & Landru, an exciting event in vintage mystery fiction publishing.

I'll have more to sat about Rickie and Hugh's true crime and short fiction in a future post.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), by Q. Patrick

The [Desborough Women's Club] building itself was rather small and old-fashioned, situated in an eminently respectable part of the business section of Desborough, in amorous propinquity to the Junior Athletic Club.  The resident members were few in number but strong in usefulness and moral support of the club and all it stood for.  They were, for the most part, working women, banded together to avoid loneliness and to keep in contact with the rush of modern life as embodied in other working women like themselves....

....Transient members had the privilege of obtaining room and bath together with protection of their virtue and respectability at the rate of $2.00 a night--sponsored guests fifty cents extra....

--Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), by Q. Patrick (Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb and Martha "Patsy" Kelley)

Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night (1935) and Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes (1946) are celebrated early examples of detective novels set at women's educational institutions, where the main players in all the mysterious goings-on are female (Sayers' sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, absent for much of Gaudy Night, partially excepted).  An even earlier example of a detective novel which takes place at a women's institutional setting, however, originated across the pond from the United Kingdom in the good old U. S. of A.  This is Murder at the Women's City Club (1932), the second novel by Q. Patrick (Rickie Webb and Patsy Kelley), which is set in the American city of Philadelphia (called Desborough in the novel).  To me it's a remarkable collaboration between two friends, a man and a woman, working in full artistic synchronization.

New Century Guild, Philadelphia
at 1307 Locust Street, near the
Racquet Club of Philadelphia
and about a mile from
Rickie Webb's digs
at 2105 Locust Street
Philadelphia is popularly known as the City of Brotherly Love, but this appellation seems belied in the novel by the murder spree which takes place at the genteel (if not gentle) club.  Are women really the deadlier sex?  Perhaps when it comes to murder in the modern era the sisters are doing it for themselves.  Just as a woman might well prove to be the murderer (or perhaps not), it's also a woman, happily, who finally solves the case.

Not known, to be sure, for mayhem in real life, women's clubs had been, when Murder at the Women's City Club was published in 1932, an important part of Philadelphia society for over half a century.  The New Century Club traces its origins in the city to the Women's Pavilion at the Centennial Exposition held at Philadelphia in 1876; the actual club was founded the next year.  Founders included former abolitionist and current suffragist Eliza Sproat Turner, city journalist Sarah Catherine Fraley Hallowell, and Clara Marshall, physician and later dean of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania

A few years later Eliza Sproat Turner, assisted by Patsy Kelley's prominent aunt, Florence Kelley, and artist Gabrielle Clements, founded the New Century Guild, which had as its goal succoring working women.  In 1906 the guild relocated to a building at 1307 Locust Street, formerly a doctor's elegant Italianate rowhouse. 

The new premises, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, included a lending library (the doctor's former library), a second floor auditorium for programs and classes advancing a female viewpoint, a dining hall providing luncheons and, on the third and fourth floor (where family and servants' bedrooms had been located), rooms where members could stay overnight, for up to three nights.

Other women's clubs founded included the Acorn Club, in 1889, and the Cosmopolitan Club, in 1928, but the one with premises that seem most to resemble the Desborough Women's City Club of the Q. Patrick novel are those of the New Century Guild.  The building was located near the Racket Club and about a mile from where Rickie Webb lived in downtown Philadelphia (the center city) during the early Thirties.

The action in the novel takes place almost exclusively at the club and the suspects in the crimes which take place there are mostly female. 

Moreover, while the police sleuth is male--indeed, rather obnoxiously so--the novel's amateur sleuth is a woman.  And, like Billie Jean King at her 1973 "Battles of the Sexes" match against opportunistic male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs, it is the female sleuth who gets the better of her male rival in Murder at the Women's City Club [MATWCC].  What a delightful and uncharacteristic Golden Age detective novel this is.

For the most part the murderees and suspects in MATWCC, which is precisely set in October 1930, a year after the Wall Street Stock Market Crash, harbinger of the Great Depression, are resident members of the club.  Comparatively few in number, these are:
  • Miss Deborah Entwhistle, genteel daughter of a judge, who had been obliged by a bad cold "to spend the night at the club some fifteen years previously, and having once settled in...had stayed...."  After emerging as one of the police inspector's main suspects in the murders, she decides to investigate matters for herself.
  • Mrs. Mabel Mulvaney, overbearing club president
  • Dr. Diana Saffron, ex-Dean of the Desborough Women's Medical College and current Professor of Internal Medicine there
  • Dr. Freda Carter, Dr. Saffron's "brilliant young satellite," who plans to wed, much to the dismay of the ardently feminist Dr. Saffron
  • Miss Constance Hoplinger, aka popular detective novelist Gerald Strong, who sees the murders as material for future books
  • Miss Amy Riddle, "ardent social service worker"
  • Miss Millicent Trimmer, who receives "her room and board (plus thirty odd dollars a week) in recognition of her services as secretary, treasurer and official receiver of complaints."

More on these ladies soon.  But in the meantime, fear not, my good mystery loving bros, there are a few significant male characters in the novel, these being, respectively, a sleuth and two suspects:

  • Inspector Manfred Boot of the Desborough Police Force.  He's unprepossessing and obnoxious, yet not an utter fool either, though unimaginative, FACTS being his one and only guiding light: "Nature had given him a receding chin and a lack-lustre eye, and he had assisted nature to carry out her intentions by a tendency to let his lower lip sag and his eyelids droop.  But this show of indifference masked a burning, though so far unsatisfied, ambition to figure in some bizarre, spectacular murder case....Of course, playful gangsters potted each other in busy streets, and picked off an occasional innocent bystander on the way.  But Desborough suffered no more in this respect than many other [American] cities of equal size and importance, and the very monotony and crudeness of gang depredations may serve to account for Inspector Boot's almost habitual boredom and for his still unshaken reliance on the obvious but frequently misleading Fact."
  • Sebastian Thurlow, accountant and fiancee of Freda Carter, a "tall, muscular young man of perhaps thirty-two or thirty-three, with blonde hair, blue eyes that were thoughtful rather than solemn, and a capacity for doing the unexpected.  Some people suffer trials and embarrassments though the possession of this capacity, but not so Sebastian.  In fact, so adequate were his safeguards of poise and assurance, that he generally left those about him with the feeling that everyone except himself must be out of step."  Although Sebastian is somewhat physically unlike Rickie Webb, in that when the novel was published Rickie was a short, muscular young man of thirty-one, with dark hair and eyes, the second attribute described--that of a confident and independent-minded attitude--seems rather similar to that of Rickie.  More on these two below.
  • Rudy, the club's live-in "colored" janitor, supposed husband of the club's live-in "colored" maid, Cornelia.  And, since the vexed matter of race in the Golden Age detective novel has hereby raised itself, I will go ahead and quote the full passage from the book where these two characters are first discussed.
....Rudy lived in one of the attics with Cornelia, the unappreciative but not unimaginative chambermaid.  Ostensibly she was his wife.  At least, the fact of their mutual dislike and continued partnership argued some sort of legal bondage.  Despite his romantic name, Rudy was a most unsatisfactory husband.  Nor was Cornelia fashioned after the pattern of Griselda.  But they both had the virtue of being always around when they were wanted and often when they were not.  Some are born faithful, but these two had their faithfulness thrust upon them.  Other servants came and went--in the causal manner which is supposed to be peculiar to the colored race.  But Rudy and Cornelia stayed on, condemned to a lifetime of incompatibility in the service of the club.

former lending library at the New Century Guild (see Hidden City Philadelphia)

Yes, Rudy and Cornelia are comic servants, but the authors actually take more time to develop this pair as characters than is customary in the Golden Age detective novel.  (Granted, it's setting a low bar.)  And there are hints--in the suggestion that a "casual manner" was only "supposed to be peculiar to the colored race" and that the pair are not exactly content with their stations in life--of a different attitude from the norm on the part of the authors.

We learn that Cornelia, with her "dark, really beautiful eyes," is attached to only one woman at the club.  That person is Miss Deborah Entwhistle, who, we are informed, "was one of the few [white] persons who really understood colored folk."  Indeed, we learn that "many an unusual confidence had been imparted to [Deborah by Cornelia]" over "clandestine" cups of tea in early-morning tete-a-tetes in Deborah's room. When another member of the club accuses Rudy and Cornelia of being behind the murders, Deborah comes vigorously to their defense, albeit in somewhat patronizing tones:

"Those two are as innocent as the babe unborn.  Oh, yes, it's quite true I could imagine either of them whipping out a knife with intent to kill in a sudden quarrel.  They're primitive and uncontrolled, if you like.  But as for a brutal, premeditated murder, it's unthinkable.  There isn't enough malice in them to carry out such a thing."

When Inspector Boot asks, "with exaggerated politeness," "Are they friends of yours?" Deborah answers simply, "Yes...very dear friends."

former bedroom at the New Century Guild (see Hidden City Philadelphia)

Inspector Boot (as in Give him the boot, one suspects) heartily dislikes all the women at the club, on account of their disinclination to submit to his bullying (so unladylike!), but he dislikes Deborah most of all, as she begins to emerge as a rival sleuth.  Deborah was a particular friend of Dr. Diana Saffron, the first person to die (suspicious coal gas poisoning in her room), as well as a great friend to Dr. Freda Carter and her fiancee Sebastian Thurlow, whom she first brought together. 

Of the seemingly orthodox Sebastian, we learn that he

had plenty of other, less stereotyped friends, whom he never mixed with his more conventionally social connections.  Among these was Miss Deborah Entwhistle for whom he always displayed an affectionate regard since chance had thrown them together in an amateur theatrical performance where Deborah had been successfully impersonating an aunt of Pocahontas.  

Rickie wrote MATWCC with Patsy Kelley in 1931, when he was lodging in an elegant row house on Locust Street in downtown Philadelphia with his close friend Robert Elson Turner and an older woman, Miss Frances Bartholomew, a co-founder of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP who had been the longtime head resident of Philadelphia's Eighth Ward Settlement House, founded to aid the black population of that part of the city.  Like the fictional Deborah, Frances was known for her empathetic attitude and indeed devotion to black Philadelphians.

Locust Street locale where Rickie lodged with Robert Turner and Frances Bartholomew
(building with blue treatments in center)

It seems not a stretch to conclude that the Rickie-Frances friendship has been fictionalized as that between Sebastian and Deborah in MATWCC, though there was no Freda Carter in Rickie's life.  "Freda," however, was the name of Rickie's sister and Rickie more than once in his fiction gave the name to strong women characters. 

Additionally, just as the fictional Deborah brought Sebastian and Freda Carter together, so might the real-life Frances have done the same for Rickie and Patsy.  (Both Frances and Patsy came of genteel Quaker backgrounds, and Patsy's aunt, Florence Kelley, was a prominent Progressive reformer who died the year MATWCC was published.)  However, Rickie's and Patsy's partnership, in contrast with the one in the book, was strictly professional. 

Indeed. the year after the MATWCC was published, Patsy would marry an Englishman and move to England, while Rickie on an overseas sojourn would meet his own English prince, a handsome and prodigiously talented young man named Hugh Wheeler, who would come to America to live with Rickie in Philadelphia, where he would take Patsy's original place as Rickie's writing partner.

The fictional Deborah in MATWCC is the daughter of a judge, while the real-life Frances was the daughter of a prominent criminal lawyer.  The greatest difference between the two, however, is that Deborah, in contrast with Frances, is not a social worker.  (Indeed, Deborah has no salaried occupation at all.) 

The actual social worker character in the novel, Amy Riddle, is portrayed comically as a earnest, humorless ideologue, constantly denouncing public utilities and traditional phallocentric social institutions and preaching in favor of "free gas, free electricity, five-month marriages and a feminine oligarchy with an executive Comrade Amy at the helm."  In Amy Riddle, the more militant reformers of Frances' and Florence's generation come in for considerable spoofing.

Dr. Clara Marshall (1847-1931), Dean of the
Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania
On the other hand, there is the similarly tough-minded though physically ailing Dr. Diana Saffron, who is sympathetically, even tragically presented, when she becomes the first person at the club to die suspiciously.  Dr. Saffron recalls pioneering woman physician Clara Marshall, who died at the age of eighty-three in Philadelphia the year MATWCC was published.  After her retirement Dr. Marshall unflaggingly continued to practice medicine nearly up to the time she died.

A more frivolous, though highly amusing, character is Constance Hoplinger, who churns out baroque detective novels under the masculine nom de plume Gerald Strong, all of them with a different color in the title:

Terror in Jade
, The Purple Alibi, The Amethyst StainThe Black Serpent

Inspector Boot reads the latter Gerald Strong novel and reluctantly concludes that "if Miss Constance Hoplinger had conceived all these crimes in her own peroxide head, then she was certainly a woman with a fertile imagination, a prolific pen and a pregnant fancy.  In short, she possessed what, in a writer of mystery stories, passes for a brain."  Ouch! 

Miss Hoplinger hopes to make use of the murders as material for her next novel.  Waste not, want not, right?  Oh, those mystery writers!  So mercenary.

Included in the MATWCC, in something of a tour de force, is a five page plot summary of The Black Serpent.  It's an obvious parody of bestselling American detective novelist S. S. Van Dine, with a fancy pants Philo Vance clone named Lorenzo as Great Detective, that I suspect was composed by Rickie:

The amateur sleuth is an effeminate creature with marcelled hair, mauve shirts and a passion for Sudanese cigarettes which he imports in enormous quantities weekly from Timbuctu.  When using the mighty brain to its full capacity, Lorenzo subsists on nothing but clams and grapefruit juice.  Symphony concerts and chess problems are his main source of inspiration and spiritual pabulum.  He dashes off to them--between deductions, as it were.

The blondes all conspire to vamp and vex him.  (They become blonder and more exquisite as the tale proceeds.)  But he imperviously flicks them from his heart just as he flicks the Sudanese tobacco ash from the sleeve of his velvet smoking jacket.  When begged by the district attorney for explanations of his cryptic and apparently irrelevant utterances, he waxes encylopaedic on Sapphic Odes, Etruscan pottery, the symbolism of Picasso and the binomial theorem--anything, in fact, except the point at issue.

But he always gives his harassed friend to understand that he knows exactly who did it--how--when--where--and why, and that he will disclose his certainties when the appropriate moment arrives for a dazzling display of his omniscience.  He laughs to scorn all the clues that the Inspector thinks are important and lays much stress on unimportant details which nobody else notices.  He sets special store by the finger nails, ear lobes and what he calls the "metaphysical makeup" of the people concerned.  (See his monographs on these subjects in the British Museum.)"

the dilettante sleuth at work
Basil Rathbone as Great Detective (and Total Twit) Philo Vance

This whole witty and amusing novel anticipates the mystery novel of manners most associated with Crime Queens Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, which fully began to gel in the mid- to late- Thirties.  Like famed American mystery writer Rex Stout, Rickie Webb was a great admirer of Jane Austen and declared that his favorite novel was Austen's Emma, so the wry and wise comedy found in this tale of murder should not necessarily come as a surprise, though Rickie Webb wrote nothing quite like it again.  His follow-up novel, Murder at Cambridge, written solo, is not nearly as good as MATWCC, in my opinion.  So I presume Patsy Kelley deserves a great deal of the credit too.  If so, as I think it is, it's a shame that she evidently retired completely from writing after her marriage, at the very young age (for a writer) of twenty-six.  She seems to have had rather a knack for malice domestic.

See here and here for laudatory reviews of MATWCC by Jason Half and John Norris.  Unfortunately, this novel is one of the few Q. Patrick books which has not been reprinted by Mysterious Press/Open Road, though in my view it's one one of the top three or four QP's.  Having been published by very minor presses in the US and UK and never been reprinted since in either country, it's a very hard book to find, perhaps even for Otto Penzler.  The single English language copy on the internet is priced at about $250--and that's without the dust jacket.

The detective's on the case!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Philadelphia Freedom: The Genesis of Q. Patrick's Murder at the Women's City Club (1932)

Acorn Club, Philadelphia
located about a half mile from
where Richard Webb once lived
Murder at the Women's City Club, Q. Patrick's second crime novel, was a product of Richard Wilson Webb's early, pre-Hugh Wheeler years in Philadelphia (1926-1932), when he established himself in double careers as a pharmaceutical executive and a mystery writer and made a host of friends from a rich variety of backgrounds.  In the City of Brotherly Love, Rickie, as he was known to these friends, finally had the freedom, both economic and social, to begin being the man he really wanted to be. 

Murder at the Women's City Club
, co-written with Martha Mott Kelley, stands as Rickie's Philadelphia crime novel, even though the city is never in fact named in the novel.  More particularly it's a tribute to a remarkable generation of Philadelphia women, like Rickie's friend Frances Ritter Bartholomew.

Frances Ritter Bartholomew (1873-1939), the daughter and granddaughter of prominent criminal attorneys from Pottsville, Pennsylvania seems to have grown up rather a solitary person.  Her slightly elder sister, Helen, died as an infant the year before Frances was born, while her father, Lindsay "Lin" Coates Bartholomew died when Frances was six.  A year after remarrying, Frances' mother passed away when Frances was fifteen, leaving her in the care of her new stepfather, John Beale Howard Gittings, a prominent "Main Line" Philadelphia doctor and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.  He survived until Frances was thirty-one.

In her adult life Frances Bartholomew followed the examples of her father and and stepfather, who in life had devoted themselves to defending the despised and the downtrodden.  Lin Bartholomew had done his best to defend alleged members of the notorious Irish secret society "the Molly Maguires" at murder trials where the decks had been iniquitously stacked against them, while Dr. Gittings for many years served as a visiting physician at Philadelphia's Hospital of the Good Shepherd, which had been founded by the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in the wealthy Main Line to provide medical care to indigent children. 

Like her father Frances Bartholomew took on the mantle of social justice, and like her stepfather she devoted herself to caring for children in need.  Between 1870 and 1920 Philadelphia's population doubled as streams of migrants, many of them Europeans but many as well African-Americans who had fled the Jim Crow South, poured into the City.  Many of these newcomers, notes Rosina McAvoy Ryan in "Settlement Houses" in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

lived in crowded, ventilated row homes where toxic smells and putrid streets were inescapable.  Open drains with raw sewage seeped from back alleys into the streets.  Flies and mosquitoes, along with the horse manure festering in the cobble-stoned streets, were summer health hazards.  

Settlement houses were first started in the 1890s by so-called Progressives (a dirty word in some quarters today) to ameliorate myriad social ills that national, state and local governments had failed to address effectively.  Residents, as they were called, settled in local houses in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, where they conducted programs of education, vocation, sanitation and the like to alleviate the sufferings of the local populations. 

Many of the settlement houses, notes Ryan, were staffed by so-called "new women" of the 1890s, who had "revolted against the prevailing values of domesticity by gaining independence outside the family and finding personal satisfaction through 'municipal housekeeping,' improving conditions outside the home."  Many of these women were influenced by the doctrine of the Social Gospel, "which emphasized Christian responsibility for addressing urban problems."

The first two settlement houses in the United States (the movement began in the United Kingdom) were founded in New York in 1886 and 1889, followed by the most famous such institution in the US, Jane Addams' Hull House, also in 1889.  Philadelphia's first settlement house was founded three years later.  Famed black civil rights activist WEB Du Bois resided at a Philadelphia settlement house in 1896-97 when he was compiling research for his sociological study The Philadelphia Negro.

Frances Bartholomew would convert to Quakerism and go to work at the Eighth Ward Settlement House at 928 Locust Street, founded in Philadelphia in 1895 "for sanitary, industrial, educational and social work among Negroes."  The House maintained on its premises a kindergarten, playground, public baths, laundry, savings fund, women's club and dancing class, as well as a three-story gray fieldstone house at nearby Newtown, known as the Paper Mill House (this had originally housed three families who worked at a paper mill, along with a general store). At this latter location the House maintained an establishment dubbed "Happyland": a children's holiday camp with an open air dance hall.

Paper Mill House, once home to "Happyland"

In 1900 Frances at the age of twenty-seven became Head Resident at the House, when her predecessor married.  Three years later her report on the House chided the city for ignoring the Eight Ward's festering social problems, with tart references to "static virtue" and "dynamic vice":

Our problem--once removed--is, of course, the immorality of the neighborhood.  Actually it is the far famed inertness of respectable Philadelphia.  For more than a generation static virtue has carefully avoided us, even though we murder, rape, and steal under its very nose; so dynamic vice goes cheerfully on its way, undisturbed, and politically encouraged and protected.

Despite this pessimistic note, Frances persevered as head resident for decades and became a beloved personage by many in the city, as someone known for taking up cudgels, metaphorically speaking, on behalf of the underprivileged black population.  Concerning her work at the Eighth Street Settlement House, Frances in 1906 wrote in the Philadelphia Public Ledger (in tones which sound somewhat patronizing to many modern ears) that

For eight years we have lived and worked in one of the worst Negro sections in Philadelphia, where we have seen and studied the Negro in his most degraded state, and we are glad to give as testimony to his better nature that during all the years never once have we been subjected to any annoyance, much less any insult.

That the race has its faults we agree.  So has the white man--with infinitely less excuse.  For our experience has taught us that the faults of the Negro are easily traceable to two hundred years of slavery and an exceedingly doubtful example set in some of the virtues by our own people.

Florence Kelley, a more famous
contemporary of Frances Bartholomew
and an aunt of Martha Mott Kelley
A laudatory 1907 article in the AME Church Review described Frances, who in two years would co-found the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as "a sweet-faced Quakeress...unconscious of color differences in estimating the value of men.

In the 1950s Louis Martin, an African-American who had been raised at the House after the death of his mother in 1899, when he was but ten years old, warmly recalled "Ma Thol," as the children knew her, as a kindly, genteel lady who took her young charges to the opera and on fresh-air summer excursions to "Happyland," taught them to waltz and two-step, and had in her head myriad notions about education and social equality that were deemed scandalous in her day.

In 1930 Frances, who remained single all her life, resided in Philadelphia at an attractive row house near Rittenhouse Square at 2105 Locust Street, about a mile from the old Eight Ward Settlement House.  Her fellow lodgers at the house (two doctors and their families resided on either side of them) were Richard "Rickie" Wilson Webb and his close friend Robert Elson Turner, an associate professor of French Language and Literature at Bryn Mawr whom Rickie had met when both young men resided in Paris at the fizzing height of Roaring Twenties. 

"Do not be deceived by his coy smile and innocent looks"
Rickie's friend Robert Elson Turner, before his expulsion from Hamilton College (for bootlegging)
Despite sexist assurances at right in his college annual that "the women"
had rescued Robert from becoming "the college aesthete" ("aesthete" often was code for gay)
Robert Turner in fact was in a relationship with Rickie Webb for several years
before Rickie met Hugh Wheeler in 1933

Rickie, who had become research manager for Smith, Kline and French Laboratories, a Philadelphia pharmaceutical company, had hired Robert as an assistant researcher.  (Robert had double majored, however improbably, in French and chemistry and even been arrested and expelled from Hamilton College for indulging in a bit of bootlegging.) 

Soon Robert would be displaced in Rickie's life by a young man from England named Hugh Wheeler, though Robert and Rickie remained lifelong friends (with ups and downs) and Robert served as a co-executor of Rickie's will.

It was not to Robert or Frances Ritter Bartholomew whom Rickie turned to in 1930, however, when he was seeking a collaborator in writing mysteries.  For Cottage Sinister (1931), reviewed here, he found a writing partner in Martha Mott Kelley, a young Radcliffe College graduate and book reviewer who recently had published a short story in Scribner's Magazine.  A descendant of famed Quaker abolitionist and feminist Lucretia Mott and a niece of prominent Progressive social reformer Florence Kelley (1859-1932), "Patsy," as Martha was nicknamed (the Q. Patrick surname was derived by combining "Pat" with "Rick" and adding a "Q." for misdirection), had a wealth of social background upon which to draw in writing a novel.

Cottage Sinister, set in a rather synthetically portrayed "bookish" England (in Rickie's native county of Somerset), did not take advantage of this rich American material, but the second and final Pat and Rick collaboration, Murder at the Women's City Club did.  Boy, did it--or girl, did it, I should perhaps say.  A marvelous tribute to women of Philadelphia, women like Frances Ritter Bartholomew and Florence Kelley, the novel will be discussed in the next post.