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.

22 comments:

  1. The Crippen & Landru book has been promised to me by June 21st! The website should allow orders later this week.

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  2. Your reconstruction of who wrote what seems to me unexceptionable, Curt. Just a curiosity: are we sure that The Three Fears and The Follower were solely written by Hugh Wheeler? In fact, they look like two books that are lighter and more linear, less tortuous than Webb's usual plots, but, if I'm well informed, the first book in which copyrights were almost entirely assigned to Wheeler was Black Widow, appeared in 1952, official date of the end of the collaboration according to the same Wheeler.
    What we need now is a book on the two boys that completely explores their lives and work. What about that, Curt?

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    1. Hi, Mauro, I have a record which says explicitly that Rickie only received a token 10% of the royalties on The Three Fears. Though the whole three fears idea seems kind of Rickie-esque. Since The Follower comes in between Fears and Black Widow, that inclines me to think the whole group was written exclusively by Hugh. On Black Widow there are two references to that being written by Hugh alone. Rickie especially resented being cut out of that because all its success. Until 1952, they were doing an informal book-by-book arrangement on the royalties, but in 1952 the arrangement became formal and permanent with their breakup.

      Would be happy to hear more from you in an email. I have some more information on other matters related to Rickie you would be interested in.

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    2. By the way, I think of the postwar books, aside from Danger Next Door the 45 and 46 Stagges and Quentins are the most Rickie-esque, what do you think. I know Rickie corresponded about Death and the Dear Girls and it wasn't published in the UK and US in November and December at the end of the year, well after Rickie returned to the country. But I'm betting there was less involvement in 47 and 48.

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    3. Mauro, from the second paragraph:

      "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...."

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    4. Great news, Curt| This will be the much needed book on one of the most intricate collaborations in the mystery field. And see my separate email, please

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  3. I cant't wait to see it, Jeff, and of course to buy it!

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    1. It's a great collection. Late in the day Tony Medawar sent a list from I was able to identity a story, Death at the Fair, as one we hadn't seen before and then even later I discovered an entire Trant novella, apparently his debut in short fiction. So that pushed back publication, as the volume kept getting bigger!

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  4. I felt when reading 'The Three Fears' that while the writing was pretty Wheeleresque [especially with its Diva figure taking a central role], he was having to accommodate himself to an awkward idea - that of the three fears themselves - which is unlike anything in the books that we know were written by Hugh Wheeler alone.

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    1. I agree with you, perhaps Rickie suggested the kind of cheesy idea (in this context) of the three fears and that was it. But the (sparse) documentation indicates it was viewed as a Hugh book.

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    2. Another reason for thinking of Three Fears as a Hugh book (except for the bookish three fears plot idea) is the fact that though it's a Hugh Westlake is divests Hugh Westlake of all the series trappings. Despite having Westlake it doesn't really feel like a Westlake novel. It feels like a standalone that Hugh got pestered into doing as a Westlake to keep the series going, after a lapse of three years.

      Apparently Rickie actually had written a story called Oh! to Die in England, which he wanted to expand as the next Stagge novel, but Hugh had no interest in doing this and it never was published as far as we know.

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    3. "Despite having Westlake it doesn't really feel like a Westlake novel. It feels like a standalone that Hugh got pestered into doing as a Westlake to keep the series going, after a lapse of three years."
      This description just about nails it, I think. Most likely there was a contract for a Stagge book that Wheeler was honouring? Though is it possible that it was not just "pestering", that Hugh (at least for the moment, not knowing what the future would bring) thought it genuinely worthwhile to try to keep Jonathan Stagge going? He had, after all, been present at the creation (unlike with Q. Patrick).
      Be that as it may, I was interested to see that Oh! To Die in England at least seems to have existed in some form. It would have been interesting to know what the concept was.
      It is ironic, I think, that the title seems to be a paraphrase of Robert Browning, the very same author Rickie had quoted to Hugh some years before, as you described in an earlier post.

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    4. That's an interesting point about Browning, When Rickie and Hugh "broke up" in 1952 Hugh wrote that he didn't want to carry on the other names besides PQ. Rickie is the one who is big on carrying on the other names. Rickie does mention "Oh! To Die in England" as being one of the works he still wants to publish. I get the feeling it existed in manuscript, at least in novella form.

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  5. Excellent! Allow me just to add that concerning "The Follower", I also consider it a Wheeler work, though in the absence of documentation (which you may have uncovered), my reasoning is entirely circumstantial:
    a) Until then, the name Patrick Quentin had only been used on Peter Duluth novels.
    b) Any non-series novels had always been Q. Patrick books.
    c) We know that Webb had been eager to revive Q. Patrick.
    Yet, here we have a non-series novel under the name Patrick Quentin. I think this has to be significant, and that if Webb had been involved (at least in any major way), it would have been issued as a Q. Patrick.

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    1. Lots here, Tore, will respond when I have a few minutes, thanks.

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    2. A Q. Patrick book was contracted in 1941 after Return to the Scene but was never produced. Danger Next Door was contracted on May 29, 1947 with English publisher Cassell, but did not appear until 1951 (with Cassell alone). It suggests Hugh didn't have much interest in reviving Q. Patrick. In fact he stated that he just wanted to do Patrick Quentins and that Rickie could write as Q. Patrick in future. Rickie wanted to keep all three authors going and specifically to revive Q. Patrick, who was like his special child.

      In fact I think that the two post-1952 Q. Patrick stories in Weird Tales were written by Rickie, as well as, I'm guessing, the post-52 true crime pb original The Girl on the Gallows. Earlier Rickie had shown a definite interest in the Borden case, writing about it as "Q. Patrick." Hugh's true crime essays were by "Patrick Quentin." Rickie was photographed as "Q. Patrick," Hugh as "Patrick Quentin."

      All this is by way of saying I agree with your reasoning re: The Follower. Rickie had become a big believer in series sleuths, Hugh was more interested in stand-alones. I think Rickie came back from the war eager to revive everything as it was, but he found things with Hugh had changed in lots of ways. And his own health was suffering both from war-related illness and his own addictions. I'm not surprised in the Patrick Quentins the relationship between Peter and Iris soured. It was like real life for both the authors!

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    3. I'm sure you're right about 'The Follower'. Both it and the preceding Quentin, 'Run to Death', have absolutely superb thriller-style openings, but 'The Follower' sustains that mood more successfully than 'Run to Death' (which I also like very much, however). As I think I've said before, both would have made great Hitchcock movies.

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  6. Have you looked at the novels in Mystery Book Magazine? The titles don't seem to line up with the books. Were they just cut down versions of novels with different titles?

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    1. The boys frequently expanded novellas into novels, Many of the publications in Mystery Book Magazine, though not all, are such.

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  7. Monumental work, Curt. The odd time I have mentioned or blogged on Patrick Quentin I have always refused to go near the question of who exactly is represented by the various names. We don't really 'bookmark' any more, but I will in effect do that, so any future queries can be checked out or referred to your post.

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