Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Witchy Woman: Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982), by Gladys Mitchell--A Golden Ager Mystery

The Eighties saw the demise, finally, not of the Golden Age of detective fiction, which had ended long previously, but of almost the entire Golden Age generation itself.  The Golden Agers had long entered their golden years, as it were, and increasingly they were shuffling off their mortal coils.  Erle Stanley Gardner died in 1970, the cousins who comprised Ellery Queen, Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay, in 1971 and 1982, Nicholas Blake in 1972, Christopher Bush and Anthony Gilbert in 1973, Rex Stout in 1975, Agatha Christie in 1976, John Dickson Carr in 1977, Ngaio Marsh in 1982, Gladys Mitchell in 1983, Hugh Wheeler, still a comparative youngster at 75, in 1987 and Michael Innes, belatedly at the age of 88, in 1994.  

The list of genuine Golden Ager mysteries from the 1980s is thin indeed, but would definitely include these titles:


Photo Finish (1980)

Light Thickens (1982)


Uncoffin'd Clay (1980)

The Whispering Knights (1980)

The Death-Cap Dancers (1981)

Lovers, Make Moan (1981)

Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982)

Death of a Burrowing Mole (1982)

The Greenstone Giffins (1983)

Cold, Lone and Still (1983)

No Winding Sheet (1984)

The Crozier Pharaohs (1984)


Going It Alone (1980)

Lord Mullion's Secret (1981)

Sheiks and Adders (1982)

Appleby and Honeybath (1983)

Carson's Conspiracy (1984)

Appleby and the Ospreys (1986)

Michael Innes was no piker here (Marsh's writing stride was ended for good by her death in 1982), producing six books between 1980 and his retirement in 1986 (I believe he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease), but Gladys Mitchell gave us ten volumes between 1980 and 1984!  Indeed, she was so prolific at this time that at her death at the age of 82 on July 27, 1983 she left behind three complete Mrs. Bradley mysteries, which became her final published novels.  The last of these, The Crozier Pharaohs, was received by her English publisher just two weeks before she died.

So it would seem that among the remaining Golden Agers it was Gladys Mitchell who was doing the most to keep the classic detective novel alive. 

Several of Michael Innes' late books, it must be admitted, aren't even really classic-form detective novels at all and would be a disappointment to those expecting such.  But how good are the later Gladys Mitchells, all of them written when the author was between the ages of 79 and 82?  To be honest, it's rather a mixed bag.  I can't abide Lovers, Make Moan (1981), for example.  But one of the high points, in my view, is her novel Here Lies Gloria Mundy, her 61st of 66 Mrs. Bradley detective novels.

Gloria Mundy has a lot of similar features to other late Mitchells, to be sure.  It anachronistically reads, on the whole, like it was written in the 1930s, in terms of character speech and setting.  There is even a rhetorical attempt to pin the crime on a "passing tramp"!  (Hurrah!)

Down at our rendezvous...Three's company too!

The lead character and narrator, Corin Stratford, a freelance writer and novelist (a common lead character type in late Mitchell), talks like someone out of Thirties detective novel, except when he very occasionally throws out some ill-advised Swinging Seventies slang like "pad," referring to the place he lives.  

Were people still saying pad in that sense in 1982, during the early Reagan-Thatcher era?  They sure weren't where I lived.  I don't even think they were saying it on the TV series Three's Company, when the gang trooped down to swing at the Regal Beagle.

So too talk Corin's pals Hardie Keir McMaster, a old public schoolmate egregiously nicknamed "Hara-kiri," and Anthony Wotton, owner of the lovely ancestral country manor Beeches Lawn in the Cotswolds.  

Why, there's even a house party at Beeches Lawn, which is pretty fully staffed with servants--maids in caps, cook, gardener and boy, though a butler is not in evidence--who say mum and master and the like and get agitated and disordered when there's murders and such on the premises.  Really, it does quite take one back to the good old days!

Another characteristically Gladysian feature is that everyone in this novel seemingly loves nothing more in life than tramping about old churches and barrows and whatnot and discussing the intricacies of medieval architecture.  There's more architecture in this book than there is a PD James novel, although in Mitchell it's not so long-windingly described as in James, thankfully.  

I'd also say that with a couple of exceptions Gloria Mundy is a pretty phallocentric novel, in that women, including the title character, are most often seen through male eyes, especially those of the narrator.  The exceptions are a couple of elderly ladies: perennial series sleuth Mrs. Bradley, aka Dame Beatrice, who actually doesn't appear in the novel that much, sadly (her sidekick Laura is in it even less, happily); and a wonderful cracked old woman with a witchcraft obsession, Miss Eglantine Brockworth, the great-aunt of Anthony Wotton's wife Celia.

The novel opens with Corin running into "Hara-kiri" at an old church, naturally enough (at least for a Gladys Mitchell novel).  

McMaster is out collecting gravestone epitaphs (but naturally!), while Corin want to see the sheila-ma-gig.  Um, sheila-me-what?  "She's a rather rude lady who appears on some Irish churches," Corin explains.  "My guess is that she represents something fairly unspeakable from the Book of Revelations.

But wait, this isn't just self-indulgent decorative matter, because, as we shall see, our good Glad is foreshadowing!  In a review article on Gloria Mundy and her creator in which he highly praised "The Great Gladys," English poet Philip Larkin remarked that he enjoyed rereading Mitchell's detective novels purely as novels; and her best work does have something of the quality of good mainstream novels, even when the mysteries go somewhat awry.

In this one the mystery is pretty good, however.  Mitchell's never going to have the supreme clarity of a Christie or Crofts, but it the plot here hangs together fairly well.  (Would the police really have arrested that guy though?)  Still, the most enticing part of the mystery is found in the author's dabbling with the witchcraft theme.  

The title character, Gloria Mundy, is this waif-like creature with parti-colored head of red and black who has a most bewitching effect on the men around her, including both McMaster and Anthony Wotton, with whom she had flings which ended badly.  Gloria actually is descended, apparently, from a former mistress of an ancestor of Anthony's at Beeches Lawn, a strange woman who had the same red and black hair and is said to have been a witch.  

There's a striking nude portrait of this woman from the past hanging in a small house on the grounds of the estate, which the master of Beeches Lawn had built for his mistress.  Is Gloria a reincarnation of this woman?  Is she a witch too?  Great-Aunt Eglantine sure thinks so--and, as she never tires of telling people, she has read the Malleus Maleficarum! She also identifies Dame Beatrice as a white witch, by the by, which I would readily believe.

Not only may Gloria Mundy be a witch, she might be a murderess--or a  murder victim--or even a ghost.  Or perhaps all of the above! 

By all means read the book and see for yourself.  John Dickson Carr fans may be reminded of Carr's novel The Burning Court (1937), one of the classics of the Golden Age of detective fiction.  One might wish that Mitchell had written Gloria Mundy back in the Thirties, when she, like Carr, was at her peak as a writer, but the book still strikes me as quite effective indeed.  One American reviewer called it "bizarre, sexy, unsettling."  Certainly the final chapter of the novel is quite exceptionally eerie and as intriguing as anything in the Mitchell oeuvre.  

As for sexiness, there is, as Philip Larkin noted, actual sex in this novel (apparently), when a virginal good girl canoodles with Corin.  They are planning to get married though, so rest assured censorious readers!  All through the novel Mitchell conveys the sexual appeal of women for men quite convincingly, though not so much the other way round.  

Both sexiness and eeriness are effectively conveyed on the novel's wonderfully weird and sexy dust jacket design, featuring the bare-breasted title character (see first pic above), for which Mitchell actually felt compelled to apologize when she sent an autographed copy to her sister, a nun, explaining abashedly that she didn't choose the cover art!

Gee, thanks, but you really shouldn't have!

Monday, May 16, 2022

Supremely Criminal: There Is No Justice (1971), by R. B. Dominic (Emma Lathen's Other Pen Name)

There has been a lot of hullabaloo, amply merited, about the Supreme Court lately.  But let's go back a half-century and more to the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the United States was undergoing some of the greatest social turmoil in its history (political assassinations, domestic terrorism, riots, shootings of protestors, etc.), though no one at that time ever ransacked the hallowed halls of Congress, admittedly.  Politically, the country saw, during the years 1968-70, the successful senate filibuster of Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson's nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas, followed by the successive defeats of two Supreme Court nominees for associate justice, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, put forth by Johnson's Republican successor in the White House, Richard M. Nixon.

Abe Fortas was a staunch liberal from Memphis, Tennessee and political crony of Lyndon Johnson whom the president with the senate's confirmation had already elevated to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1965 when, three years later, he was nominated by Johnson to succeed retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren.  The nomination was filibustered by a combination of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats, forcing Johnson to withdraw the nomination.  

During the next year, 1969, it emerged that Fortas had accepted, when his friend Johnson was still president, a lifetime $20,000 dollar annual retainer (about $150,000 today), which would go to his wife, a prominent tax attorney at his death, from Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson, who was under investigation for securities violations.  Faced with this ethical scandal, Fortas resigned from the Court in 1969.  

Fortas' seat was destined to remain unfilled for nearly a year, however.  Richard Nixon's first nominee, native South Carolinian federal judge Clement Haynsworth, was voted down in the senate 45-55 on ideological grounds (and to some extent as payback to Republicans for the Fortas filibuster).  

In January 1970, Nixon nominated another conservative southern judge, G. Harrold Carswell of Florida, for the position.  Nixon and his team thought they had hit on a sure thing in the form of the fifty-year-old Carswell, a judgerly-looking family man.  He looked kind of like a better-looking cross between actor Fred Gwynne's iconic Alabama judge from the film My Cousin Vinnie and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, if you can imagine such a thing.  

However, not long after the hearings began, it was discovered that Judge Carswell, when running for the Georgia state legislature in 1948, had made a speech declaring his firm devotion to racial segregation and "white supremacy."  (I suppose this is the sort of thing you aren't supposed to teach schoolchildren about today.)  When questioned by the press, Carswell disavowed those expressed sentiments, but coupled with his high reversal rate, said to have been 40%, this revelation effectively torpedoed the Carswell nomination, which went down in the senate 45-51.  

G. Harrold Carswell gets sworn in as a 
Florida federal district judge in 1958.
He would not make it onto the US
Supreme Court 12 years later, though he
would often make newspaper headlines--
highly embarrassing ones--
during the Swinging Seventies.

Democratic senator George McGovern of South Dakota, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, bitingly declared that Judge Carswell's record was distinguished by two things: "racism and mediocrity."  To the mediocrity charge veteran Republican senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska infamously responded: "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers.  They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?"  

I was born in South Dakota, a state that borders Nebraska, and I recall my Dad telling me about this stupid Republican senator from the Cornhusker state who had pronounced that mediocre people deserve like representation.  Finally President Nixon was able to get a nominee to the seat confirmed, this being Judge Harry Blackmun of Minnesota, a liberal Republican who three years later would author the 7-2 Roe V. Wade abortion decision, about to be overturned by the conservative majority on our current Supreme Court, after having stood for forty-nine years.  

Meanwhile Judge Carswell, who attributed his defeat to "the dark evil winds of liberalism," in 1970 resigned from the judicial bench to run for the Republican nomination for the US senate race in Florida but was decisively beaten in the GOP primary.

Six years later in 1976 Carswell would again make national headlines when he was arrested and charged with battery and attempting "to commit an unnatural and lascivious act" upon a young vice squad policeman in a men's room at a Tallahassee shopping mall.  

Carswell, a husband of nearly three decades who had four now adult children, threatened suicide on his arrest and he was hospitalized for nervousness and depression, later refusing upon his release to discuss the case. Ultimately he pled no contest to the battery charge, the charge of having attempted to commit an "unnatural act" with another man having been dropped; and he was fined $100.  

The next year year it was reported that Tallahassee society had loyally rallied round Carswell and his attractive, photogenic family, feeling that they had been much ill-used by politicians and press of late.  Tallahassee, it was stated, was "behind them 100%."

Unfortunately Tallahassee's tolerance was further tested when, two years later in 1979, Carswell put himself in jeopardy yet again.  During an overnight stay by Carswell at the Omni International Hotel in Atlanta, a bearded, curly-haired young white man, whom Carswell had invited up to his hotel room after the two had met on the street outside the hotel skating rink around 1:30 a.m., badly beat up the former judge, viciously striking him at least four times on the head with a heavy object.  

Police, whom the battered and bleeding Carswell had called to the scene of the crime at 2:08 a.m., after the young man had fled from the scene, allowed that the former judge had not been robbed, but they refused to speculate to a curious Atlanta press as to what the motive for the young man's attack might actually have been.  Nor did they divulge the nature of the retired judge's one-day trip to Atlanta.  Once recovered from the violent attack, Carswell, it seems, managed to avoid further scandalous headlines until his death from cancer in 1992 at the age of 72.  

probably the best of the uninspired
R. B. Dominic dust jackets

When Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, the two rather clever women who comprised both the mystery writers Emma Lathen and the lesser known R. B. Dominic, sat down to write the third Dominic detective novel, There Is No Justice, probably in the fall of 1970, they could not have known about Judge Carswell's queer shenanigans.  (Although the FBI had investigated rumors in Florida concerning Carswell's sexual proclivities, even poking its nose into the murder of a gay high school teacher of one of Carswell's sons two weeks after Carswell's nomination, they had not passed this information along to the White House.) Nevertheless, the Court obviously had been a mainstay in the news of late, what with the filibuster of Abe Fortas, the Fortas resignation under threat of impeachment and the successive defeats of Haynsworth and Carswell.  

Up to that time, it had been four decades since a nominee to the Supreme Court had been turned down by the senate.  But those years 1968-70 were as contentious as any we have seen as far as Supreme Court confirmations were concerned. 

So it's no wonder that "R. B Dominic," whose seven Congressman Benton Safford mysteries take place among politician in Washington, D. C., set his/her third tale around the nomination of a man to the Supreme Court.  Details from the novel indicate that the real life situation that Dominic most had in mind was the Fortas resignation amid corruption allegations.  Under their Emma Lathen guise, of course, Latsis and Hennissart were famous for their portrayals of murders in the business world and they could never resist the lure of depicting intricate forms of economic hanky-panky, along with garden variety adultery.

Abe Fortas' wife,
prominent tax attorney
Carolyn Agger

In Justice the Supreme Court nominee is one Coleman Ives, a highly-respected liberal Republican lawyer and former federal commissioner who looks sure to breeze his way though the confirmation process, despite the Democrats being in a majority in the senate.  However, there is a spoke in the wheel in the form of young, progressive Democrat Gus Dykstra, the junior senator from Connecticut.  (Was he based on newly elected liberal Republican Lowell Weicker?)

Senator Dykstra demands a full investigation into Ives' record as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission and his activities in his private law firm, in which Ives' wife Pauline is also a partner.  When Dykstra is shot and killed while jogging in DC's Rock Creek Park, naturally the police take a look at Ives, but he seemingly has an airtight alibi: he was spending the night at his love nest in New York City with his beautiful, though seemingly utterly vapid, mistress Neva, wife of Emmett Torrance, a young assistant White House press secretary. 

This is a double-edged sword, however, for when news gets out about Neva, there is pressure on Coleman Ives to drop out of consideration for the Court.  Yet the stubborn Ives determinedly presses on, until--well, read it and see for yourself.

I don't believe I have ever read an American mystery set in DC before.  (I never read the mysteries of  Margaret Truman, or whoever it was ghosted the books for her, though oddly enough I did read an Anne Morice mystery set there.)  So Justice was kind of interesting in that respect, with its reference to the Watergate apartments (the Torrances have a small place there) and Rock Creek Park, where intern Chandra Levy was infamously murdered 21 years ago, seemingly implicating (falsely) her older congressman boss and boyfriend, Gary Condit.  Despite how hard crime writers try, truth often remains stranger than fiction.

Abe Fortas and his bud LBJ

Dominic obviously conceived Colman and Pauline Ives as a gentile version of power couple Abe Fortas and his prominent tax attorney wife, Carolyn Agger.  But absent that topical interest, Justice is a good, solid mystery, with a deceptively simple solution (once you know it) in the grand Christie manner--or perhaps I should say the grand Lathan manner!  

Why did the Dominic series--which numbered seven books, published between 1968 and 1983--never take off like the Lathen one?  I have theories!

1. R. B. Dominic as a pen name is BO-ring!  How on earth did the ladies come up with this one--and why?

2. The series characters are pallid compared to those in Emma Lathen. 

Ohio Democratic Congressman Ben Safford, a  likeable middle-aged bachelor who just happens to get involved in murder mysteries, is an obvious stand-in for Emma Lathen's magnificent John Putnam Thatcher, but Thatcher is sui generis.  Nor did any of Safford's supporting cast of politicos stand out like those in the Lathen series.  

3. The business world is more to fun to read about than the political one--we get enough of politics in real life.

4. The jacket designs of the Dominic books are quite exceptionally unattractive, plus the books were only ever reprinted in paperback by the minor Canadian press Paperjacks--poorly made books that you can't read without badly creasing the spines.

Still, I found There Is No Justice a good mystery and I would happily read another one of Dominic's books.  Certainly the title is as topical as ever!  The skeletons in its closets may not rattle quite so disturbingly as the real thing--there's no conservative family man desperately cruising public restrooms and thoroughfares for street trade to scratch his hidden itch--but maybe that's a good thing.  We get enough of real life from real life.

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Complete Short Stories of Leo Bruce (2022), translated by Kobayashi Susumu

This attractive volume, The Complete Short Stories of Leo Bruce, published in Japan recently, was the brainchild of my friend Susumu Kobayashi, who asked me to write an introduction to it after I discovered additional Leo Bruce short crime stories, during the course of my researches a little over a decade ago.  Twenty-eight Leo Bruce short crime stories were collected by Barry Pike in Murder in Miniature: The Short Stories of Leo Bruce, published three decades ago by Academy Chicago back in 1992, but the eleven additional short stories which I found raises the number of known Bruce short fiction opuses by close to a-third, to thirty-nine.  Fourteen of them feature Bruce's first series sleuth Sergeant Beef, a comical, homespun British copper who nevertheless proves a most perspicacious crime investigator.  

So far an English language version of the Japanese volume has not come into being, but in the meantime, English readers may enjoy getting to read my introduction to the Japanese volume.  Leo Bruce, for those of you who do not know, was the mystery writing pen name adopted by the fine English writer and memoirist Rupert-Croft-Cooke (1903-1979), best known today for his detective fiction.  

One bit of news in this introduction is that Bruce contemplated bringing back his retired sleuth Sergeant Beef, shelved in 1952, as late as 1966.  Sadly, his publisher gave him what can only be termed a polite brush-off, regretfully stating that Sixties readers would find Sergeant Beef a "complete anachronism."  Happily retro murders are all the rage today.  

Introduction to The Complete Stories of Leo Bruce 

          As a writer British novelist and memoirist Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979) is best known today for the fine detective fiction that he published between 1936 and 1974 under the pseudonym Leo Bruce. Under this pen name there appeared thirty-one detective novels, eight of them featuring Sergeant Beef, an inelegant but perspicacious village policeman who becomes a London private investigator, and twenty-three featuring Carolus Deene, an independently wealthy schoolmaster and keen amateur sleuth.  The Beef novels appeared between 1936 and 1952 and the Deene novels between 1955 and 1974.  Why no Beef novels appeared after 1952 is not known but arguably this lapse resulted from the fact that in 1953 Rupert Croft-Cooke and his secretary and companion Joseph Susei Mari were scandalously arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms for acts of “gross indecency” allegedly committed upon two navy seamen.  After their release from prison Croft-Cooke and Joseph left England for the city of Tangier, Morocco, where they resided for the next fourteen years.  Safely ensconced there, Croft-Cooke in 1954 wrote The Verdict of You All, a damning indictment of his unjust arrest and imprisonment, and At Death’s Door, his first Carolus Deene mystery, in which one of the murder victims is a British policeman.  It seems fair to conclude that after his shameful mistreatment by British legal authorities Croft-Cooke no longer relished having a cop headline his detective novels as series sleuth. 

          The taste of Beef lingered, however, in Croft-Cooke’s short detective fiction.  The author early on established himself as an able practitioner of fiction’s shorter forms, under his own name in 1926 publishing a sinister short story titled Banquo’s Chair, which later served as the basis for a famous episode of the American television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Beginning in 1950 with “Clue in the Mustard,” “Leo Bruce” began publishing mystery short stories, primarily in the newspaper The Evening Standard, but also in the magazines The Sketch, where the author was concurrently employed as a book reviewer, and Tatler and Bystander.  The bulk of these stories, fourteen of which featured the redoubtable Sergeant Beef, appeared between 1950 and 1953, before Croft-Cooke’s legal troubles commenced, although there were as well a few stragglers, including a major Sergeant Beef tale, “Beef for Christmas,” which popped up later in the decade.  In 1991 twenty-eight Leo Bruce short stories—ten of them with Sergeant Beef and eight of them with a comparatively featureless substitute police sleuth, Sergeant Grebe (a grebe is an aquatic diving bird)--were collected by mystery scholar Barry Pike and published in the United States under the title Murder in Miniature: The Short Stories of Leo Bruce.  It was believed at the time that this was a complete collection of the Leo Bruce short fiction, but this belief proved mistaken.

          Two decades later, when I was doing research at the Harry Ransom center at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011, I discovered, to my surprise and pleasure, a cache of eleven forgotten (or never known) Leo Bruce short stories, ten of them in Joseph Susei Mari’s original typescript.  Two of these stories, “Beef for Christmas” and “The Inverness Cape,” both of which featured Sergeant Beef, had been previously published, the former in Tatler and Bystander in November 1957 and the latter in The Sketch in July 1952.   The other nine stories, however, appeared never actually to have been published.  In February 2013 I wrote about this exciting discovery in “The Lost Short Stories of Leo Bruce,” an article at my blog, The Passing Tramp; and since then “Beef for Christmas” and “The Inverness Cape” have been reprinted, the former in Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, and the latter in Bodies in the Library I, edited by Tony Medawar.  Now these two tales and the nine additional ones which I discovered are appearing for the first time in one volume, The Complete Short Stories of Leo Bruce, along with the original twenty-eight stories from Murder in Miniature, making a full plate indeed (a red plate special, if you will): thirty nine stories, fourteen of them with helpings of Beef and eleven with portions of Grebe—a true feast for carnivorous fans of vintage detective fiction!

          The added Beef stories are the aforementioned “Beef for Christmas” and “The Inverness Cape,” as well as “Rigor Mortis” and “Spontaneous Murder.”  At some 4500 words, “Beef for Christmas” is the most substantial of all the Sergeant Beef short stories.  It is a highly traditional tale of murder at a millionaire’s mansion taking place during a Christmas house party and the investigation into the dastardly holiday slaying which Beef conducts is chronicled by Lionel Townshend, Beef’s snooty “Watson” from the eight novels.  Both “Rigor Mortis” and “Spontaneous Murder” are clever tales in which Beef finds solutions to murder problems brought to him by “young Thackeray,” a former constable of his who is now a Scotland Yard detective.  “Rigor Mortis” concerns the murder of a prosperous “village Lear” with three sets of daughters and sons-in-law and a niece-housekeeper.  When his battered body is discovered under a heap of coke in a boiler room, the question of whodunit tests even Beef’s acumen, not to mention the reader’s.  In “Spontaneous Murder” Mabel Gimmetts’ dead body is found in some woods, half covered in leaves.  She has been brutally beaten to death, but was she really the victim of a purse snatching gone too far, as Thackeray thinks, or was there some other motive behind her murder?  (For some reason Croft-Cooke later recast this tale as a Sergeant Grebe story, “A Case for the Files,” which was included as part of the set of Leo Bruce stories collected in Murder in Miniature.)  In the last added Beef story in this collection, “The Inverness Cape,” ne’er-do-well Richard Luckery seems the all too obvious culprit in the violent murder of his wealthy aunt, but Sergeant Beef, who relates this challenging case retrospectively, finds that the matter prove rather more fiendishly complicated than that.  “My wife said that case would be the death of me,” he recalls.

          The added Sergeant Grebe stories are “A Smell of Gas,” “Behind Bars” and “The Devil We Know.”  To me this trio of clever tales is reminiscent of Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French short stories, in that they turn on small points of error made by the murderer and spotted by gimlet-eyed Grebe.  In “A Smell of Gas,” which is retrospectively related by Grebe, “sour disgruntled” Nora Godalming seemingly committed suicide at her and her frequently absent husband Archie’s “gloomy little bungalow” by putting her head in the oven and turning on the gas, but oddly she left behind no note to explain her fatal action.  Could Archie have had a hand in her death?  Or widowed local farmer John Buck, with whom Nora appears to have been rather more than friends?  “Behind Bars” takes us to a favorite haunt of Rupert Croft-Cooke: the circus.  Here Grebe investigates the death of a certain George Bush (!), lowly assistant to Baron Lukas, the noted Balkan animal trainer.  Bush’s dead body was recovered from the locked lions’ cage, but, as Sergeant Grebe puts it, there is “[n]ot a scratch on him.”  In “The Devil We Know,” Connie Edgett has been receiving anonymous phone calls from a man advising her to prepare herself for her imminent death.  When she is indeed found dead, viciously strangled in her bed, does it mean that this devilish telephonic unknown got to her—or is there some other explanation for her murder?  Sergeant Grebe knows the answer!

          Three of the four remaining added stories—“Name of Beelzebub,” “From Natural Causes,” “Murder Story”--have no sleuths and indeed are not proper detective stories at all.  All are tales of irony, the first concerning the fate of an amateur village card-reader who finds to his fright that in telling his own fortune he keeps drawing the death card, the second concerning a World War Two veteran and petty criminal who reflects on how he once killed a man; and the third concerning an aspiring writer looking for good material who at a bar happens upon a bibulous woman with a story to tell about a murder, if he can only get her to focus on it.  Finally, there is a coda in “The Door in the Library,” a teasing piece of flash fiction which tells how a determinedly inquisitive lady mystery writer, Alicia Glynn-Tasker, “a thin-faced woman with rimless spectacles,” solves the locked room death of the previous Lord Flitton while viewing the late aristocrat’s country home in a tour party led by the current Lord Flitton.  Seemingly neither Sergeant Beef nor Carolus Deene was needed this time.  Or were they?

          Despite his longstanding animus against the British police for their beastly treatment of him in 1953-54, Rupert Croft-Cooke actually contemplated bringing Sergeant Beef back on two occasions, once in 1958 and eight years later in 1966, at the height of Swinging Sixties.  In his short story “Beef for Christmas” Croft-Cooke obviously had the basis of a new Beef novel, but instead he elected to employ some of the ideas from the story in a new Carolus Deene mystery, A Louse for the Hangman (1958).  Eight years later he wrote his editor at his English publisher W. H. Allen & Company, querying whether Allen might be interested in revamping the Sergeant Beef series, allowing him to put Carolus Deene in mothballs for a bit.  With the letter Croft-Cooke sent Allen a copy of his first Sergeant Beef novel, the satirical tour-de-force Case for Three Detectives (1936), in which Croft-Cooke not only constructed an outstandingly ingenious murder mystery but successfully parodied famed fictional sleuths Father Brown, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey.  His editor at Allen praised Case for Three Detectives, which had been out-of-print for three decades, as “marvelously ingenious,” but countered that

….as far as the good Beef is concerned, frankly I think he is too comic a character for the second half of the sixties.  Your characters considered him strange in 1936, and it might be that readers would consider him a complete anachronism in 1966. 

          On the whole, therefore, I recommend that you continue with Carolus Deene—but I would not have missed [Case for Three Detectives] for anything, and I am most grateful to you for having drawn it to my attention.  In view of the fact that it is probably one of your few remaining copies, I am returning it to you under separate cover.

          For all his sleuthing virtues Carolus Deene never featured in a Leo Bruce short story, but happily Sergeant Beef appeared in fourteen short detective tales, all of them collected here for the first time, with two of his tales making their first appearance ever in print.  Additionally there are all eleven Sergeant Grebe tales, three of these, making their first appearance in print; and fourteen additional non-series tales, four of which are making their first appearance in print.  This makes the publication of The Complete Short Stories of Leo Bruce a happy occasion indeed for fans of classic mystery fiction, which in the opinion of this writer will never go out of style.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Third Time's the Charm? Rule of Three (1962), by Agatha Christie

Mystery addicts have often been compared to junkies, desperate to get their fix of fictional murder and malfeasance.  The minute one criminal tale is finished, they are looking for the next.  Nowadays, with vintage mystery stories being constantly reprinted, "supply" is not such a problem, but what do you do if you want some of that really high grade stuff--some more Agatha Christies, in short?  

Well, speaking for myself, I've still got Passenger to Frankfurt sitting out there on the great unread (or actually unfinished) pile, but somehow that prospect of trying to finish it for a third time hasn't been too enticing,  Most of the Christie plays I haven't read are based on detective novels by her which I have read, but there was still something criminous out there that sounded promising: Christie's collection of three one-act plays, Rule of Three, consisting of "Afternoon by the Seaside," "The Rats" and "The Patient."  Samuel French having published Rule of Three a few years ago, I was finally able to read these plays, which premiered on a provincial tour in 1961 and at the West End in 1962 and are still performed occasionally today.

Agatha Christie truly must be indestructible, because she survived notices like this stinker, posted by Philip Hope-Wallace in the Guardian:

These Grand Guignol playets...may be feebly popular....I fear I must call them cheap, coarse, obvious and forced.  

The Rats showed a vengeful pansy trapping adulterers in a high block of flats in Hampstead, with something nasty in the equivalent of a woodshed..  It is pure "Oo-er!" with no redeeming twist of wit or ingenuity.  The second piece is a cat burglar at the seaside....This vulgar, patronising piece is a compendium of badly-observed stock jokes and has no merit at all.  The third is medical squeamery....It is like many a bad Agatha Christie, though mercifully down to one flat, single act.  

Yikes!  Longtime Guardian theater and opera critic Philip Hope-Wallace, who was then fifty years old, certainly lived up to the reputation of theater critics for being snotty here.  When he died, unmarried, nine years later, he was eulogized in the Times as a "critic of the arts as wise and searching as any in his time...."  However, the subjects of his criticism didn't necessarily take it that way.  On account of bitchy reviews like that above and, one suspects, another reason as well, Philip was scornfully nicknamed "Phyllis" and accused of leaving play performances before they were finished.  It sounds like he stuck it out with Rule of Three, but that didn't help the play in his eyes.

My big disappointment with Rule of Three, which I will state more temperately, is that the author recycled two of the plays, "Afternoon by the Seaside" and "The Rats," from short stories.  Let me dish!

Afternoon by the Seaside

"You see a lot of 'uman nature on the beach."

These people need a nice purloined emerald necklace to live things up.

Afternoon by the Seaside is an expansion of Christie's story "The Rajah's Emerald," which goes all the way back to 1926, and in 1934 had been included in the Christie short story collection The Listerdale Mystery.  It also would show up many years later in the US in The Golden Ball, when Christie's American publishers started scraping the bottom of the great lady's barrel.  These are notoriously Christie's most lightweight crime confections, though somehow the superb "Philomel Cottage" and "Accident" ended up in Listerdale.

Philip Hope-Wallace, looking as expected

"The Rajah's Emerald" is not even original in and of itself, because it is basically a rewrite of an earlier 1924 short story, "The Manhood of Edward Robinson," with a different setting; so arguably Agatha was dipping into the well a bit too often here, with meager results.  The most striking thing about "Emerald" is that the protagonist is named James Bond (!).  Don't expect to be either shaken or stirred.

Like "Emerald," "Afternoon by the Seaside" takes place at bathing huts "beside the seaside...."  Poor Phyllis, as seen above, rather hysterically deemed this play cheap, coarse, vulgar and patronizing, to which I say, "Stop clutching your pearls, Phyllis!"  

Personally, I actually found the play mildly entertaining.  It's one of Christie's comparatively rare attempts to put solidly middle and lower-middle class characters at the center of the stage, as it were.  There's a bit of late Fifties class conflict going on, as the prudish middle class snobs (all middle0aged women) look down on the brash lower class and resent the posh, idle rich, who still existed in the UK, even in the early Sixties.  

The rich never actually appear, but there's scornful reference to a certain Lady Beckman ("With her mink coats and her Rolls Royce cars!") from whom a crafty cat burglar may have purloined an emerald necklace, which he may have stowed in one of the beech huts at Little-Slippyng-on-Sea.  Thus there's an inspector snooping around, asking questions of the other characters, who include a mother-dominated young man (one of Christie's favorite situations) and the French bathing beauty with whom the young man becomes enamored, much to his mother's chagrin.  

Apparently prudish Phyllis was scandalized by the sight of a girl in a bikini on the stage, but it takes more than that to shock us today--just she had she "appropriated" a native costume!  There are a few twists, none of them hugely unexpected, and that's that.  Not offensive, but very, very light.  Oddly, this pleasant piffle is easily the longest play of the three.

The Rats

"Exciting, isn't?  Quite like one of those mysteries in books!"

"What a horrible place to be shut up in if you couldn't get out."

"It's a perfectly ordinary modern flat, Alec.  Now don't start thinking up things."

There's a complete change of tone with the second play "The Rats," a would-be nail-biting thriller.  (At least it's the second play in the Samuel French volume, though apparently when Phyllis saw it, it came first?  I would think myself that starting with the lightest, comic play would have made more sense.)  

I wish I had read "The Rats" when I wrote my pieces on Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning's The Invisible Host some months back, because it further removes any doubt on my part that Christie must have been familiar with this American novel/play/film, in which, recall, a group of people are trapped in a high-rise deco apartment and fiendishly killed off one by one.  

In "The Rats," David and Sandra, an adulterous couple, fall into a remorseless trap concocted by a woman-hating homosexual when he locks them in a flat with...well, what exactly?  Can the couple extricate themselves from the grave peril into which this dreadful pansy has placed them?

How do we know Alec the homosexual is queer, you may ask?  Well, just to make sure, the stage directions describe him as "effeminate, very elegant, amusing, inclined to be spiteful."  Case closed!  Clearly Alec falls into the long line of flaming "mystery queens" as I term them who populate British mystery from the works of Christie and Ngaio Marsh right up to through PD James and Ruth Rendell.  Alec hates Sandra because he thinks Sandra killed her first husband, with whom he was in love. "You said he was devoted to your first husband, Barry," observes David dramatically to Sandra.  "You've only got to take one look at Alec to see what kind of devotion that was."

It's not so much this play being derivative of The Invisible Host that I mind (in fact I'm pleased to see further conformation of my thesis that Christie knew about Host), it's the fact that for it Christie obviously drew heavily upon her own "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest," a superb Poirot-Hastings detective short story, originally published in 1932.  Christie expanded this story as "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest," replacing Hastings with Miss Lemon and publishing it in 1960 in the short fiction collection The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.  Apparently around the same time she decided to turn it into a play as well, only a thriller instead of a detective story.  The minute I saw in the stage directions that a "Kuwait Bride Chest" was in the flat, I thought, "I know where this was going!"; and I was right.  The chest may be from Spain, Bagdad or Kuwait, but the result is always the same. 

How much with the chest idea was Christie inspired by the Patrick Hamilton's hit 1929 play Rope, I wonder?  Let's not kid ourselves that she wasn't.  Still, she made lots of hay with it: a short story, novelette and play!

So I might have liked this one better were I not so familiar with the plot already.  As it is, I had a hard time really caring about Queer Alec of the fate of David and Sandra.  There's also another character, Jennifer, who seems to serve little purpose except to advance plot exposition at the beginning of the play.  However, Jennifer does give us the immortal line, "I just came to feed the budgerigar."  I'm going to have to use that sometime!

The Patient

"How dare you!"

After the unoriginality of the first two plays, I was wary of the third, but, lo an behold, it turns out to be something new.  (I think so, anyway.)  

In this one a police inspector and doctor at a nursing home have contrived an experiment to see whether they can prove that a paralyzed woman who survived a fall from a window (albeit with grievous injury) was the victim not of accident or attempted self-destruction but rather attempted murder.  

On the downside the characters are purely stock, but on the other hand there is some adroit clueing and a fine whip-smart twist ending without longueurs.  At this time Christie was still producing relatively good detective novels, like The Pale House, The Mirror Crack'd, The Clocks and A Caribbean Mystery, and "The Patient" could make a very good short story, at the least.  Christie could have even thrown in Poirot or Miss Marple!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Avant le deluge: No Light Came On (1942), by Alice Campbell

On the front flap of its drab wartime jacket, rendered in traffic signal shades of red and yellow, for No Light Came On (1942), Alice Campbell's thirteenth crime novel in fourteen years, the Collins Crime Club stated nostalgically that the crime novel was "set in a Paris that it is pleasant to remember--the happy Paris of fashionable hotels, smart shops and chic well-dressed women."  Before the bloody Nazis came and rampaged, in other words!

Oh, yes, there are also four murders--though Collins didn't think to mention that little spot of unpleasantness to its weary, war-ridden readers.  The Americans who published the book three years later in 1945, during the dying days of the conflagration, sure did mention those murders, however, in the process stressing not the swell sights of Gay peacetime Paree, but rather "excitement, suspense and thrills," "terrifying incident" and a "swift-moving nightmare of terror."  

Oh, those excitable Americans!  Of course Alice Campbell herself was an American by birth, although she lived for the majority of her life in England and even spent a couple of years in Paris herself, where she married, after a whirlwind romance of three months, and gave birth to her first child. (The exact breakdown, for those who are interested, is Atlanta, 1887-1906, New York, 1906-1913, Paris, 1913-1914, various locales in England, 1914-1955.)

Nothing better illustrates the contradictory nature of the so-called vintage "cozy" mystery.  Just what makes these books cozy, ostensibly?  Sure, we know the heroine will survive the tale (nowadays, since the twin terrors of Game of Thrones and Sarah Phelps, you can never be sure of even that), perhaps even herself getting a nice boyfriend along the way.  So there is that, and that's no small thing in life, to be sure.  But let's take a closer look at Alice Campbell's No Light Came On, its beleaguered American heroine, Gay Ripley, and the "nightmare of terror" which she has to endure along the way to her happily ever after ending.

Our heroine, Gay Ripley, spends some time here, at the Palais de Justice complex, when she
 comes under suspicion of the French police in the murder in Paris of her cousin Lou Rentrew.
The Palais would also see the trials, after World War Two, of Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval.

Gay, a buyer for a New York antique firm, arrives on business in prewar Paris, where she encounters her wealthy, fifty-something cousin from the Midwest, Lou Rentrew, who pretentiously prefers to go by the name "Marise."  (Red-haired Gay herself hails originally from Nashville, Tennessee, in case you ever doubted that this character is somewhat based on the blonde native southern author herself.)  

Lou, fairly recently widowed, has been living in Paris for some time now and what do all middle-aged wealthy American widows like to do in Paris?  Why, get themselves tangled up with attractive gigolo types, of course!  Lou's latest pash in this line is Maurice de Chabenil, a handsome young Frenchman who is an heir to a title but no fortune.  AC (Alice Campbell, not Agatha Christie) is quite frank about Raoul's sexual appeal to women, but he's also clearly a rotter, if a charming one.  You can never tell with those impoverished continental European aristocrats!

What else is going on in Lou's life?  Well, she seems to have surrounded herself with a motley lot of servants: keyhole-listening butler/chauffeur Manx, temperamental cook Hortense, and recently sacked maid Alixe.  There's also Lou's enigmatic refugee Hungarian seamstress, Madame Estrella, and the seamstress' questionable doctor brother by the name of Boros, and then there's the American and English lot: Lou's gay--i.e., "not the marrying kind"--antique dealer brother-in-law, Horace Rentrew; Geoffrey Macadam and his wife Catherine, the lead characters from AC's novel Spiderweb, aka Murder in Paris a dozen years earlier); and sullen Miles Dorsey, a young English lawyer in Geoffrey's firm.  You can probably guess the love interest for Gay here, although even his motivations are suspect.  Just who can a gal trust in Paris. anyway?

Gay knows there's a strange man in her room
--but the light won't come on!

The truth is, this is a very seedy lot of characters, by and large, even if there are smart shops and fashionable hotels.  I think Anglo-American authors felt more emboldened to portray people so nastily (or realistically?) when they used French settings--no offense, France--because they knew their readers could tell themselves, thank goodness things aren't like that in the good old US of A or glorious UK, as the case may have been.  It's just those wicked frogs and wogs, don't you know!  Of course Americans and Englishmen/women sure loved to read about these nefarious doings, or even see for themselves what it was like by visiting when they could.  And needless to say their own countries were hardly babes in the wicked world.

Anyway, poor, gigolo-loving Lou soon gets done in at the posh nursing home where she has checked herself in (a heart condition, you see), oddly recalling Ngaio Marsh's much later detective novel Grave  Mistake (1978).  And then Lou's fabulous Marie Antoinette necklace gets stolen!  Gay herself gets chloroformed in her bed and tortured with hot coals while dressed only in her high-heels, brassiere and step ins.  But, Gay, plucky girl, gets back in her clothes and keeps snooping (she narrates the story by the way), until finally the shocking truth comes out.

This is a pretty long story at about 85,000 words by my count, but by no means AC's longest.  There is lots of complication, plots and counterplots, and I found it quite enjoyable.  It definitely feels in the Marie Belloc Lowndes, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon Eberhart vein, though happily, for me anyway, the romance element is quite tamped down compared to Eberhart.  Gay is an enjoyable heroine who stands up for herself, in contrast with Eberhart's frequently fretting wet noodles, although convention requires that Gay be gobsmacked by the final revelations.  No know-all Poirot-style drawing room lectures for Gay, in other words, who manages to get herself near fatally coshed in the penultimate chapter.  Fortunately this gal is more resilient than Philip Marlowe!

I'd say this is what was deemed a "women's mystery, "yet I enjoy Humdrums John Rhode and Freeman Crofts and Hard-Boileds Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and I liked No Light Came On too.  There's actually some clever stuff here involving poisoning (Benzedrine, the pick-me-up drug which Richard Webb of Patrick Quentin fame helped market in his day job as a pharmaceutical executive) and altogether it's harder-hitting than anyone reading and relying on that Collins plot summary (which also stupidly spoils part of the plot) might ever have expected.

This was AC's first Paris/Riviera-set mystery in seven years and also her last.  Of the seven mysteries she published between 1928 and 1935, five were set in France: Juggernaut (1928), Spiderweb (1930), The Click of the Gate (1932, with Tommy Rostetter), Desire to Kill (1934, with Tommy Rostetter) and Keep Away from Water! (1935).  Presumably for these books she drew on her knowledge of France in its prewar days--not pre-WW2 but pre-WW1.  After the horrors of Second World War in France, AC evidently found she couldn't credibly go back there again, even in memory.  The France of her past was irrevocably gone and could not be conjured back again by a crime writer.

Monday, May 9, 2022

My New Facebook Group: Vintage Mysteries

Some of you may be aware that I was a founding member, about a decade back, of a Facebook group called Golden Age Detection, which in turn started as an offshoot of an even older Yahoo (remember them) group by that same name, which goes back two decades now, nearly to the last century.

Because of newly imposed posting guidelines at the GAD group by the administrator there, I am unable to post more than two posts a month of what the administrator deems a "commercial" nature.  This seems a unique problem for me because I write a lot of book introductions (more this year than ever) and apparently the administrator at GAD deems any post I make about a book to which I have written an introduction to be commercial and subject to deletion, even though I personally don't make any money off the book sales. 

Let me illustrate the problem.  Here are the books coming out soon (or have already) to which I have written introductions:

Cat's Paw, Roger Scarlett (Mysterious Press)

The John Rhode reissues (Mysterious Press)

The last Christopher Bush reissues (Dean Street Press)

The Make-Believe Man/A Friend of Mary Rose, Elizabeth Fenwick (Stark House)

The Diehard/My Brother's Keeper, Jean Potts (Stark House)

Death on Herons' Mere, Mary Fitt (Moonstone)

The Edith Howie reissues (Coachwhip)

Death of an Intruder/Twice So Fair, Nedra Tyre (Stark House)

The Beautiful Stranger/The Missing Heiress, Bernice Carey (Stark House)

Death and Mary Dazill, Mary Fitt (Moonstone)

Death Freight, Patrick Quentin (Stark House)

The Alice Campbell reissues (Dean Street Press)

The Complete Short Stories of Leo Bruce (Japan)

And that's just so far this year.  There's a lot more on the way, dear readers!  So as I understand it, I will not be able to post about most of these books at the GAD group, on pain of expulsion, even though I think they are of genuine interest to members of the group.  Thus I decided I would have to form my own group, Vintage Mysteries, which I will administer with a gentler hand.  If anyone wants to join just friend request me on Facebook (if we aren't friends already) and I will let you in.  I hope other people will post there too. 

I certainly enjoy talking about detective fiction, as PD James put it (and crime fiction too); but I listen as well.  I'll still comment at the GAD group as long as I am able to do so, but from now on I am going to be doing most of my Facebook posting at Vintage Mysteries.  If you enjoy my Passing Tramp blog, I hope that you will find your way over there, as you might like Vintage Mysteries too.  But, rest assured in any event, the blog will carry on here as usual.  In fact I expect to be posting here more than I have been been the last few years,

What's in a Name? Meet the Real Life Inspiration for Patrick Quentin's Iris Pattison and Laura Black of "Mrs. B.'s Black Sheep" (1950)

It was a dreadful sight in the skies which earthbound witnesses would never forget.  

On June 26, 1959, a Trans World Airways Super Constellation, on a flight from Athens to Chicago by way of Rome, Milan and Paris, during a violent thunderstorm outside Milan was struck by lightning, caught fire, shook with explosions, lost a wing and plunged precipitously to the ground, scattering wreckage over a five mile area near the town of Olgiate Olona. 

Horrified witnesses insisted that lightning must have caused the crash, yet some Italian authorities balked at this explanation, one of them proclaiming dramatically that the crash "was an impossible accident!  The evidence we have seems to tell us it happened for reasons that are logically impossible by the laws of physics."  However, a 1960 Italian inquiry board faulted the igniting of gasoline vapors by "static electricity discharges."  For more see the Setttanta Vite Immortali website, devoted to memorializing the victims of the crash.

"Mrs. B.'s Black Sheep" is one of 4
Patrick Quentin novelettes included  
in Death Freight, which Stark House
will publish in July

All of the plane's nine crew and sixty-one passengers, over half of the latter of whom were American, perished; just ten positive identifications could be made from the dismembered and charred remains.  Among the dead was Maria Fermi, a sister of famed nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, and a sixty-six-year-old American, Olivia Pattison (Heminway) Kammerer, the woman who inspired the surname for Patrick Quentin's series character Iris Pattison, the charming and talented actress wife of Broadway producer Peter Duluth, and the character of Laura Black in the 1950 Patrick Quentin novelette "Mrs. B.'s Black Sheep."  

Here is some more detail on Olivia Pattison Kammerer from my introduction to Death Freight and Other Murderous Excursions, a collection of four Patrick Quentin novelettes published between 1950 and 1953, including "Mrs. B.'s Black Sheep," which will be published by Stark House in July:

"Mrs. B. herself is based on a real-life friend of Rickie and Hugh’s, the socially prominent Olivia Pattison Heminway Kammerer (1892-1959), an indomitable individual who also likely inspired the maiden name of Iris Pattison Duluth, one of Rickie and Hugh’s most important series characters, the beautiful actress wife of Peter Duluth.  At the time Hugh wrote “Mrs. B.’s Black Sheep,” Olivia had been divorced for almost a decade from her former husband, the late Reverend Doctor Percy Gamble Kammerer (1885-1946), a progressive Episcopal minister who had been Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and later, when Rickie and Hugh had gotten acquainted with him, headmaster of the Old Farm School for Boys in Avon, Connecticut. 

After her 1941 divorce, Olivia, a former educator nearing fifty years of age, threw herself into wartime Red Cross work, taking charge of things at the American naval station at Port Lyautey (today Kenitra), Morocco, for example:

For those who did not want to partake of the meager indigenous pleasures at inflated prices, there was the American Red Cross in the person of Olivia Kammerer….she quickly commandeered a sleazy saloon and turned it into a club, invited the town’s French colonial mothers to tea, and persuaded them to allow their daughters to attend the club’s dances by promising chaperonage and transportation to and from the club in American trucks.

War reminiscences recalled Olivia as “personable” and “one of the best Red Cross workers we had.”  Three years after the war's end, in 1948, Olivia started a new endeavor, chaperoning girls from wealthy American families on educational tours through Europe, incidentally inspiring Hugh’s 1950 novelette. 

Villa Mercede

In 1956 in Florence, Italy, Olivia founded and directed the Villa Mercede, a two-year liberal arts college for girls located in an imposing Renaissance villa on a bluff overlooking the city, which once had been visited by writer Henry James, who used it as a setting in his novel The Portrait of a Lady (1881).  Just three years after she had founded the school at Villa Mercede, Olivia tragically became one of the seventy victims of the infamous Olgiate Olona plane crash, an Italian air disaster “of international relevance.”  Today “Mrs. B.’s Black Sheep” stands as a winsome tribute to this charming and resourceful woman." 


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the Reissued! The First Ten Alice Campbell Reissues

Here are the first ten Alice Campbell reissues by Dean Street Press.  They are going for the deco look for the most part.  Many of them draw on the original jacket art.  Death Framed in Silver looks more pulpy (I forget what pb that came from originally), but there's actually a scene like that in Silver, so why not?  Anyone else think that the woman on Water Weed looks like Cruella de Vil?  Not too far off, in a way!--TPT

Friday, May 6, 2022

Cover Girls: Some Alice Campbell Book Jackets

Anglo-American author Alice Campbell's mysteries had, in my opinion, some of the best jacket art from the Golden Age.  Unfortunately I have very little of it, but it is accessible in facsimile editions, plus Dean Street Press in its new editions is using some of the original art.  

Here are American editions of two of Campbell's first three novels, JuggernautWater Weed and Murder in Paris (Spiderweb in UK), all of which have very attractive designs.  (I could not fit Murder in Paris in here, but it's coming later.) 

The Water Weed jacket, one of my all time favorites, is credited to "Joe Pye," an obscure figure (to me, anyway) who also drew the cover of Clifford Orr's very popular The Dartmouth Murders from the same year.  That book, by the way, was reprinted a few years ago by Coachwhip, with an introduction by me.  

With Water Weed I love the way water is suggested by the circles emanating from the woman's hair, it's like a whirlpool.  Lovely stuff, but sinister too!  Water weed does not let go.

The Dartmouth Murders actually is advertised in the back pages of Water Weed, so Farrar & Rinehart must have commissioned "Joe Pye" originally to do the covers to both of the books.  The name is associated with the plant Joe Pye weed, which supposedly got its name from a Native American herbalist from long ago.  Which makes me wonder if "Joe Pye" the putative dust jacket artist was a really pseudonym, though there actually were people named Pye.  

These American jackets all have the attractive deco feel of the period, as do other Alice Campbell jackets in both the US and UK. 

My two favorites by the Collins Crime Club probably are The Click of the Gate and Keep Away from Water, pictured with their imperiled heroines in facsimile editions below.

Alice Campbell's No Light Came On was published in England in 1942 with a drab, plain Collins jacket, but appeared in the US, after a three year lag for some reason, with Scribner's.  The art is signed by "Falls," who I assume is C. B. Falls, or Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960), an accomplished American illustrator.  

I don't know of his doing any other mystery cover art, although he did do 1939's Our Ernie, a humorous novel by American author Alice Hegan Rice (of Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch fame) that, however improbably, has an espionage subplot.  You can see the resemblance between the styles of Our Ernie and No Came Light On, I think.

The appropriately colorful The Corpse Had Green Hair (1950), Alice Campbell's last book, was published in the UK only, by Campbell's longtime British publisher Collins.  

I cannot read who the artist was, my copy being very worn, but it's a nice jacket and a nice sendoff for the author.  Alice Campbell, who had blonde hair, died five years later, two days short of her sixty-eight birthday, her blonde hair now now white.

CB Falls Great War era poster