Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Deliver Us from Wolves - Leonard Holton

US 1st edition (Dodd Mead, 1963)
Part of the mystique of foreign travel is the total immersion in a different culture. A true traveler does not wants to be cocooned in the familiarity of fast food restaurants, signs pointing out everything in English. Rather he wants to experience the wealth of difference in food, language, and habits of the new country he's visiting. In Deliver Us from Wolves (1963) Father Bredder, the series detective in Leonard Holton's mystery novels, is lucky to have at least the language skills in hand when he is accepts a free round trip ticket to Portugal won by his housekeeper who cannot go. He plans on visiting the holy shrine of the Virgin at Fatima and also is told by his own bishop in California to pay a call on the Bishop of Leiria. When he arrives he discovers the timing of his visit could not have been more fortuitous. His education in a very different part of Portuguese culture will take him into the realm of superstition and the paranormal.

The title Deliver Us from Wolves is the English translation of the Latin phrase "Libera nos a lupis" which keeps cropping up in the oddest places during Father Bredder's brief but very strange stay in Portugal. He first encounters it on a strange claw shaped stone sold to him in a tourist shop filled with tacky souvenirs depicting the image of the Virgin of Fatima on everything from handkerchiefs to kaleidoscopes. The stone turns out to be a talisman and the shopkeeper tells him of the legend of the werewolf that hangs over their town. When Father Bredder visits the Bishop of Leiria he learns even more about the legend of Pedro da Malveira who seems to have once again risen from his grave.

US paperback (Dell 1887, 1966)
Several dead lambs were found on the surrounding farms and at each site a series of bloody wolf footprints that suddenly turn into human footprints have been discovered. A local man has also disappeared and the fear is that he has also been attacked by the ghost of Pedro da Malveira, a 17th century thief executed for witchcraft. The townspeople have succumbed to the legend again and the talk of wolves and lobishomen, the Portuguese word for werewolf, will not stop. Fear and suspicion are controlling the daily habits population. The Bishop would like Father Bredder to discover who is up to mischief and put an end to the werewolf superstitions so the town can return to normal life.

Our priest detective undergoes a crash course in the Portuguese culture and the reader learns with him a lot about Portuguese history and the odd variations of how the werewolf legend is incorporated into their culture. Father Bredder meets Father Painter, a British priest sent to the local parish, who has not been living up to his calling. Church attendance is down and the English priest is apparently is not well liked by the townspeople. In a series of didactic scenes he lectures Father Bredder on the architecture of Portuguese castles, the history of the trial of Pedro Da Malveira, and the local werewolf superstitions. The most interesting aspect of Portuguese lobishomen is the melding of vampire and zombie lore into the werewolf myth. Some of more bizarre features include: the lobishomen has an enlarged big toe, he must return to his grave by daybreak, and he must seek out a new human form by killing a living human in order to make his transformation complete.

Father Bredder is convinced that someone is taking advantage of the lobishomen legend and the story of Pedro da Malveira to cover up some other type of criminal activity. His personal knowledge of his life as a former Marine and the training of attack dogs in his service come into play and help him as a detective in this "busman's holiday" type of book. The detection, however, is limited as the book takes on more of a superntural/adventure thriller with lots of action sequences taking the place of scenes of detective skills.
Iberian Wolf (photo: Terry Whittaker)
Like many of the other books in the Father Bredder series Holton uses a crime plot to discuss aspects of Catholic religion. Here the story of superstitious minded people makes it all the more easy to bring up discussions about the secular minded person contrasted to the man of faith. In addition to the fearful townspeople the priest encounters an atheistic schoolteacher who will not allow even a simple cross in her schoolroom. She shuns all talk of God and will not teach religion to her students. Her brother is the man who has disappeared and Father Bredder suspects he has been killed and the body disposed of or hidden someone in order that the werewolf legend can flourish. He also suspects that her brother was involved in some sort of criminal scheme that leads him to the castle high above the village of Sao Joaquin da Serra where he meets the imperious Countess of Castelbranco.

Deliver Us from Wolves is the fourth book in a series of eleven adventures with Father Bredder. Most of the books are set in Los Angeles where the priest is the parish leader at a convent school. In some of them he travels outside of California, but I believe it is only in this book where he leaves the United States. I learned an awful lot about werewolves, Portuguese culture and religion, Portuguese fortress building (to already build on what I knew from reading Shelley Smith's This Is the House) and the existence of the Iberian wolf, a species of wolf smaller than the North American gray wolf and geographically confined to Portugal and southern Spain. Reading this very unusual and highly entertaining mystery -- oh yes, there's a murder and several other crimes to solve within its pages -- has been the most immersive learning experience in a foreign culture that I've had this year without ever stepping out of my comfortable couch at home.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

JACKET REQUIRED: The Collector's Curse

I spent yesterday morning putting Brodart archival covers on the latest batch of book DJs and thought I'd take pictures of the lot and post them here. I went through a crazed buying binge in March which was supposed to stop in April, but...  Yes, the collector's curse. Like Lays Potato Chips catchphrase "You can't eat just one" it seems that I can't buy just one.

Lots of Doubleday Crime Clubs in this lot. This batch also includes two rather scarce books (Gallows for the Groom and Mare's Nest) and one extremely rare one (Lost House by Frances Shelley Wees, UK edition) which I had never seen for sale until a few weeks ago when I bought the only copy on-line.

The Lost House DJ is in much better condition than the catalog description.  That it wasn't further damaged is a small miracle. The seller did a horrendous job of packing and did not protect the book by putting it in a plastic wrapper, wrapping it in kraft paper, using bubble wrap or anything.  Just shoved it in the mailer and sent it off. There's a post waiting to be written -- the negligence or indifference of so-called professional booksellers who ship books with no protection.

All of the photos can be clicked to enlarge and get the full effect. Enjoy!










Thursday, April 28, 2016

FFB: Death, My Darling Daughters - Jonathan Stagge

THE STORY: At the behest of Inspector Cobb Dr. Hugh Westlake acts as an undercover detective in the wealthy Hilton household when Nanny dies under suspicious circumstances. Using his role as coroner as an excuse he tries to determine if her death by cyanide poisoning was an accident due to careless use of the silver polish on her antique tea service. Or was she done in by one of her relatives? Nanny had been overheard having an argument with a member of the house in which she accused the other person of planning to murder her grandson. A few days later Dr. George Hilton dies agonizingly in one of the most bizarrely imagined murders of the Golden Age. Now Westlake and Cobb must root out the poisoner before another person dies.

CHARACTERS: There are enough research chemists in Death, My Darling Daughters (1945) to give any policeman a headache. Hilton heads up a research team and is one of those arrogant scientists who wants all the credit for himself making for an acrimonious working relationship with his colleague Dr. Richard Kenton-Oake and especially Dr. Victor Roberts, the hothead hunk (“The young doctor was the best looking man I had ever seen”). Victor is yet another Stagge Adonis whose initial description goes on for an entire paragraph detailing his “too beautiful” looks, impressive physique and “animal virility”. But he’s an embittered beauty. He’s not only angry about having his name left off publications for developing the synthetic rubber esters he made himself, but is ticked off that Hilton disapproves of his womanizing. Victor can’t help himself, of course, setting hearts aflutter of every young woman in the Hilton household including Hilton’s giddy much younger wife Janie. He’s sex on a stick 1945 style, passionate in temperament in more ways than one.

French paperback using a close translation
of the British alternate title (see below)
Rounding out the cast of research scientists is Dr. Lisl Stahl, a toxicologist from Austria who unfortunately has all her dialogue rendered in a phonetic accent. (Annoying!) Her scientific specialty conveniently enough is research on rodenticides, specifically on efficient methods to kill rats. But Dr. Stahl is careless with her lab, none of her chemicals are securely locked away in cabinets and the lab is left open to all. Anyone could’ve made their way into her lab and helped themselves to any amount of the various poisons she worked with.

The Hilton daughters who all sport the names of Shakespearean characters – Perdita, Rosalind and Helena – are not at all like their namesakes. Webb and Wheeler like their characters to be ironically named. Helena is brash and brazen, Rosalind is petulant and ridiculing, Perdita is distant and unloving to her father. All of them are talentless musicians no matter how hard their mother attempts to cultivate them into a classical trio. But they have other hidden talents – like vocal impressions. Rosalind is particularly talented in her various impressions of the men and women in the Hilton household. She imitates her mother and sister to perfection. Is that a clue to events to come? Maybe. Maybe just a clever red herring.

Their imperious controlling mother does her best to maintain her fa├žade of social politeness but is a dragon of the worst sort. There is a scene between Mrs. Lanchester (she is George’s sister) and Dr. Kenton-Oake’s wife that could have been lifted from Clare Booth Luce’s witty play The Women. A verbal cat fight that allows each woman to reveal her true self. It’s a trenchant theatrical touch with bitchy and cruelly witty dialogue that foreshadows Hugh Wheeler’s future career as a playwright.

UK 1st edition (Michael Joseph, 1946)
INNOVATIONS: The method of introducing poison in this book is diabolical. No other way to describe it. Dr. Hilton’s murder comes at the most unexpected time in a manner that was gasp inducing for me. It certainly is a nasty and bizarre way to kill someone. I’ve read a lot of mystery novels and it takes a lot to shock me. This one worked.

THINGS I LEARNED: Back in the day (and maybe still true today) silver polish contained enough quantities of potassium cyanide to cause toxicity if not handled properly. Dr. Stahl quotes from contemporary toxicology textbooks specific cases of fatal poisonings resulting from the accidental ingestion of residual silver polish not properly removed from silverware, pots and platters.

Arrowroot, often used in cooking as a starch substitute, can also have toxic properties in mass quantities. Ironically, the name itself originally came about because the plant was useful in drawing out poison from envenomed arrows.

German edition. Title translates as:
Mrs Hilton's Pretty Daughters
(Gift
is the German word for "poison")
EASY TO FIND? Doesn’t look good as of this writing. Though it was reissued in a 1946 Unicorn Book Club omnibus and reprinted in the 1950s by Bestseller Mystery in digest form there are about ten copies for sale. All of them are the Doubleday Crime Club 1st edition hardcover, some with the unique cavorting skeletons DJ. The chances of buying a UK edition are even more limited. I found only eight copies for sale online under the UK alternate title Death and the Dear Girls (1946). For non-English speakers/readers: my search turned up French, Italian, German and Norwegian editions at the WorldCat.org site. Libraries are always a good option when so few copies are offered for sale.

* * *

This is my second contribution to Rich Westwood's "Crimes of the Century" meme. This month we read books published in the year 1945. The first book I read and reviewed was This Is The House by Shelley Smith. A list of all the 1945 book posts and contributor's blogs can be found on this page at Rich's blog Past Offenses.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

JACKET REQUIRED: I Can Dream Can't I?

I have a built in mechanism that leads me to take screen captures of DJs I admire when I stumble across them on the bookselling websites. Most of the time it's because my brain goes, "Hey I have that book! Cool DJ. I should blog about that sometime soon." **CLICK!** And the photo promptly goes into the huge folder on my MacBook Pro labeled "TBR Scans". I also tend to come across lots of books I wish I could buy and read yet can only take photos of.

So once again here's a sampling from my enormous collection of photographs of DJ artwork from books I wish I could own, but reside only on my hard drive as I lust after them and dream that they were in my library.

This is the 18th "Jacket Required" post.  I hope to have this feature return every Sunday for the rest of the year. I'm planning on a new feature called "Impressive Imprints" tracing the history of the US mystery imprints from their heydey during the 1930s to the mid 1950s. I've previously written about the short-lived Scarlet Thread Mysteries and Doubleday's much more successful Crime Club (here, here and here). There are about twenty more imprints from publishers who helped make mystery and detective fiction popular and I own several examples of DJs from all of them.