Friday, December 4, 2020

Hunt in the Dark and the Puzzles of Peter and Iris Duluth

Hunt in the Dark and Other Fatal Pursuits, the new volume of short fiction by our ever-busy boys Rickie Webb and Hugh Wheeler, aka Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge, will soon be out with Crippen & Landru (probably next month, I'm guessing) and I'll be saying more about it then.  But let me say for now that it will have six pieces of short fiction, as follows:

The Frightened Landlady (1935 novella with Hugh Westlake)

Killed by Time (1935 short story)

The Hated Woman (1936 novelette)

Hunt in the Dark (1942 novella with Peter and Iris Duluth)

The Woman Who Waited (1945 short story)

This Way Out (1947 novelette)

the memorable pulp illustration for Q. Patrick's haunting novelette This Way Out

Excitingly for fans of series heroes Peter and Iris Duluth and Hugh Westlake, this collection includes two rediscovered novellas with these characters, respectively the title tale "Hunt in the Dark" (Peter and Iris) and "The Frightened Landlady" (Hugh Westlake).  Presumably these will be their final recovered adventures.  Neither novella was ever expanded as a novel, so these are genuine rediscoveries.  

"Hunt in the Dark" is more of a mystery adventure story in the style of the couple's previous novelettes "Death Rides the Ski-Tow" and "Murder with Flowers" (republished in 2016 in Crippen & Landru's The Puzzles of Peter Duluth with the Peter and Iris short stories "Puzzle for Poppy" and "Death and the Rising Star").   while "The Frightened Landlady" is a classic detective story, in its exploration of the darker side of human nature bearing some resemblance to the Q. Patrick novel The Grindle Nightmare."  (Hugh Westlake's daughter Dawn is absent from the grim tale, though she is mentioned by her father several times.) 

"Killed by Time" and "The Woman Who Waited" are clever non-series detective short stories, though the latter could easily have starred the authors' other series sleuth, Lieutenant Timothy Trant.  The former reminds me of a certain gruesome John Dickson Carr story.

"The Hated Woman" and "This Way Out" are notable non-series novelettes, the latter especially as one of the authors' finest essays in the noir vein.  All in all, this book represents the pulpier and often darker side of Rickie and Hugh's mystery fiction legacy, with plenty of flawed men and fatal women.  I selected the stories for this volume and wrote an introduction for it, which I revised after the two strange Fifties short crime stories by Rickie Webb, published in Weird Tales, were cut on length grounds. (As it stands now the book will run to 300 pages.)

Meanwhile I have remained at work on my joint critical biography of Rickie Webb and Hugh Wheeler and I am now on the part where I discuss the Patrick Quentin fiction specifically, so expect to hear more about PQ in the coming days.  I thought for today you might be interested in seeing this chronology of the Peter and Iris' adventures, including not only all their novels but their novella, novelettes and short stories as well.  With "Hunt in the Dark," the total number of tales now comes to fourteen, taking place over two decades:

1. A Puzzle for Fools (1936) (novel)

2. Puzzle for Players (1938) (novel)

3. Death Rides the Ski-Tow (1941) (novelette)

4. Murder with Flowers (1941) (novelette)

5. Hunt in the Dark (1942) (novella)

6. Puzzle for Puppets (1944) (novel; expansion and revision of Murder with Flowers)

7. Puzzle for Wantons (1945) (novel)

8. Puzzle for Poppy (1946) (short story)

9. Puzzle for Fiends (1946) (novel)

10. Puzzle for Pilgrims (1947) (novel)

11. Run to Death (1948) (novel)

12. Black Widow (1952) (novel)

13. My Son, the Murderer (1954) (novel)

14. Death and the Rising Star (1955) (short story)

It was quite a run while it lasted for our glamorous if murder-ridden couple!


  1. I am looking forward to this book very much

  2. The collection is quite admirable but the main question for me remains the same – will ever the first six Dr. Westlake’s mysteries be reprinted? The Yellow Taxi seems to be quite a fun ride but, alas, rather unobtainable…

    1. I've talked with the person at Mysterious Press/Open Road and they told me they acquired more Wheeler/Webb titles but they didn't tell me which ones. I will pass your concern along! Hugh Wheeler's literary heir agrees with me that all of the books should be in print.

    2. I don't know whether they might be lacking the physical copies--this is Otto Penzler we are talking about it, so I would have thought not. I will try to find out why there has been a hold-up. Some of the Q. Patricks haven't been reprinted either. I think they have done all the Patrick Quentins. In the US, anyway, I don't believe any of the titles are available in the UK, which is a problem too.

    3. I talked to them and they are now planning to reprint four of the early Stagge titles by next summer, as eBooks.

  3. Thanks for the update. I visited the Crippen + Landru website just 2-3 days ago, and found the lack of any information about the book’s content puzzling and frustrating.

    1. Presumably because it is not ready for sale there is nothing on that page. It does state "out of stock" which makes no sense since it's not yet been released.

    2. Yeah, it can't be out of stock because it's never been in stock. I think it was originally supposed to be out for Christmas, but when it was decided, back in Auust I think, to cut two of the stories, as it was running about about 320 pages, that seems to have set things back.

    3. Will these cut stories appear in one of the forth-coming Patrick/Quentin collections, do you know, Curtis?

    4. Unless they are chapbooks, I think not. They don't really fit in with the remaining two collections I have planned. This was the volume to do it in, in my opinion, as the emphasis here was on the more lurid pulp fiction stuff. But I was overruled. They only saved about twenty pages by cutting them, but it's their decision.

    5. That's a pity, I can't imagine that we who want to buy this book, would have balked at 20 pages more! (I certainly wouldn't).

    6. I think the publisher was concerned about the cost to him as a publisher. It wasn't my decision, I would have much preferred publishing all eight stories together, especially as my introduction had been written with that in mind. I plead for including them but was vetoed.