Saturday, May 30, 2015

NEWS FLASH! Dead Man's Quarry in paperback again!

I have been checking for the past two weeks to let you know when Dead Man's Quarry would be available for purchase again in paperback.  After some rigamarole with Amazon.com the publisher finally got things sorted out and you can now order a brand new paperback copy free of printing errors. Should've taken only a few days instead of nearly three weeks.

The price is $13.99 which I think is reasonable for a trade paperback. They have only two in stock -- that might explain the delay in making it available again -- so act now. The book is really very good. Worth every penny.

Here's the direct link to the Dead Man's Quarry page to save you time. Click away to your heart's content!

Friday, May 29, 2015

FFB: TCOT Rolling Bones - Erle Stanley Gardner

If The Case of The Rolling Bones (1939) is any indication of how Gardner moved away from the rough and tough Perry Mason in the very first books to a Mason who is a combination of courtroom wizard and clever detective then sign me up for more! This was one heckuva improvement over the hardboiled Mason I first met several years ago in his debut, The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) and the much later Mason of the late 1950s to early 1960s who liked to switch guns and play around with ballistic evidence that left my teenage head spinning in confusion. Granted there may be some dizzying plot twists in ...Rolling Bones having mostly to do with one character who has multiple aliases but for overall I liked this entry in Gardner's long running series very much. Unable to stop reading I whipped through the book in nearly a single day. That's a rarity for me.

It all starts rather innocently as Phyllis Leeds, Emily Milicant and Ned Barkler --all friends of Alden Leeds, a former gold prospector who struck it rich in Alaska back at the turn of the 20th century -- approach Perry Mason to help with what appears to be a blackmail scheme. A check for $20,000 made out to someone named L. C. Conway is specially endorsed by Leeds who insists that the money be handed over to a young woman who is not Conway. This odd incident is straightened out fairly quickly but Mason soon discovers that Conway's shady business of selling loaded playing dice has suddenly shut its doors, sold the business and skipped town.  Then Leeds writes another check for $15,000 to the same Conway and this time the money is handed over to a completely different woman. Mason demands to know what secrets in Leeds' past demand such large amounts of hush money to be doled out to two mystery women.  He learns of Leeds life as a prospector and the accidental death of his partner, an elaborate scheme involving masquerade, dual identities, and a corpse that has apparently come back to life. The case takes a nasty turn when L. C. Conway later turns up with a knife in his back and living under a different name. But the case is just beginning and the courtroom hearing to determine whether or not Leeds can be brought to trial for the murder of Conway will reveal even further complications.

This is an exciting novel in the Mason series for both reader and Gardner's series characters. Both Della Street and Paul Drake have key moments where they are directly involved in the case. Della saves Perry from being arrested for speeding and lying to police with the help of Gertie, the switchboard operator. This is Gertie's debut in the series, incidentally, and she marks a strong first appearance with the stunt she pulls in the office (on Della's orders) to distract the police. Later, Gertie shows her innate acting skills in a startling courtroom moment indicative of Mason's brazen legal trickery. Drake does a lot of nifty detective work both on his own and with the help of his private eye operatives based in Seattle and Alaska. He's got quite a lot of connections, gang. He also spends a lot of time chewing gum (did he ever do that in the TV show?) and slouching his lanky angular body in Mason's luxurious leather armchairs.

Gardner goes out of his way to paint interesting portraits of Mason's two most famous sidekicks. The characters as portrayed by the actors in the TV show are so staid and conservative and engrained in all of our minds. It's startling to discover how Gardner first envisioned them. Della is far more sexy and actively involved than Barbara Hale ever was. Paul is a lot more colorful than William Hopper's blandly handsome, not so imaginative hunk. Both of them are just as clever and slightly roguish as Mason. They make quite a formidable trio on the printed page and especially in this particular outing.

There may not be any gun switcheroos or bullets gone awry in the plot of The Case of the Rolling Bones but there is still enough to make the novel zing and swing. The story of Leeds' past in Alaska is never really cleared up until the final pages. We hear several different accounts of what happened, along the way some impersonations and aliases crop up that can at times be a bit confusing. It's one of those books where the list of characters that Pocket Books liked to print at the front of their paperback editions comes in very handy for reference. Nearly everyone is pretending to be or pretends to be someone else in this story. One character has four different identities making the courtroom scenes rather funny when the D.A. insists that everyone refer to that one person by one name. Since all the witnesses know him by three other names they keep correcting themselves until Mason and the judge have had enough of it. I think Mason even makes a joke about taking it easy on the courtroom reporter.

From a case of blackmail and check fraud to a con artist selling crooked gambling dice to the greed of gold prospectors back in the 1900s culminating in a violent murder in 1930s California The Case of the Rolling Bones is one of Perry Mason's most exciting cases. Gardner has really hit his stride with this book. Fast paced, tightly plotted with some darn clever twists, excellent set pieces featuring Della and Paul, the story ends with Gardner's trademark courtroom showdown complete with a breakdown on the witness stand. It's all here and then some. As Ned Barkler says punnily in the closing, "That's what I call a natural!"

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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space D2 - "book with lawyers or a courtroom"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

IN BRIEF: Last Seen Wearing…- Hillary Waugh

College Girl Missing!

Three simple words that will turn many a head whether it be on a flyer taped to a street sign or emblazoned in 36 pt. type on a newspaper headline. It’s all too familiar to watchers of the nightly news and serves as tempting bait for TV producers looking to spike their ratings. A Massachusetts college girl goes missing in Last Seen Wearing… (1952) the novel that made book reviewers and crime fiction fans take notice of Hillary Waugh whose work previously consisted of a handful of private eye programmers and a couple of suspense novels.

Tired of books populated with dumb cops who are shown up by clever amateur sleuths and wisecracking private eyes Waugh set out to tell a realistic crime story that would reveal an accurate portrayal of how police collaborate. The result is a perfect blend of the traditional detective novel and the contemporary police procedural. Surprisingly, the book still holds up well probably due to Waugh’s choice to focus on a missing person case and setting his story in a college town.

College educated Sgt. Cameron taunts his superior officer Chief Frank Ford by tossing off "three dollar words" like picayune and clairvoyant just to aggravate his boss. Ford is an old school cop who firmly believes there is a boy at the bottom of Lowell Mitchell’s disappearance. Ford is also reminded of an unsolved case of a missing college girl dating back to 1937. Never found Ford believed she went to see a doctor for an abortion, she died on the table, and he disposed of the body. Ford spent a lot of time trying to prove his suspicions but never got enough physical evidence to arrest the doctor.

Still haunted by the case Ford can only think of the worst about young Lowell. Her wealthy and overly protective father insists she’s a good girl who never had a steady boyfriend and can’t imagine she was having sex with the few young men she dated. He has put out a reward for any information that will lead to finding her. Then her body is found washed up in some bushes along the shores of a river running through the campus. An autopsy shows that she was a few months pregnant. Turns out no one really knew Lowell as well as they thought -- not her family, not her roommates, nor the young men she dated. Only Lowell’s cryptic words written in her very frank diary will reveal the truth about her. Just as Chief Ford feared there is a man at the cause of it all. But which one of the many names mentioned in Lowell’s diary belongs to the man responsible?

This is one of those books that shows up on a lot of "Best of " lists and is highly regarded as a landmark novel in the history of the genre. Though writers like Helen Reilly in the US and Nigel Morland in the UK had been writing excellent examples of the police procedural during the 1930s and 1940s apparently it was Hilary Waugh who had readers and critics alike take notice of a new kind of detective novel that would appeal to modern readers. Last Seen Wearing… is indeed one of the best examples and while there isn't as much interesting detail about the relationships between the cops nor the dull bureaucracy that are both hallmarks of Jonathan Craig's 6th Precinct series Waugh still shows that police can be just as clever and insightful as the brilliant amateurs who dominated the genre in the pre-World War 2 era of the Golden Age. This is a highly recommended book for serious fans of the genre. And I think many seasoned writers being published today might learn a thing or two by studying this lean and trenchant book.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Oh, Oh, We're Halfway There!" - Updates and News

Not quite "Livin' on a Prayer" yet but I may be offering my prayers up to the book gods come this summer as more and more deadlines approach. Very, very busy this year.

I've been holding back discussing some of the projects I've been working on when not dishing out reviews for this blog. There have been hints dropped here and there, but now I'm ready to make at least one announcement. One of my essays will be included in a soon to be released study of popular fiction. I'm very excited since this will be the first non-fiction book my writing has ever been published in. I've had several forewords and introductions appear in small press reprints of forgotten books as many of you know, but this is so very different. First, because the editors approached me to be included and second because it has led to contributing to a second book by the same editorial team.

Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats.: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980 is published by Verse Chorus Press, the fine people who re-introduced Australian mystery writer June Wright to the crime fiction readers of the world. It's been edited and compiled by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntrye, writers and critics both based in Melbourne, Australia.  Beat Girls... is a fascinating compilation of essays and reviews focusing on the beat culture, juvenile delinquents, motorcycle gangs, hippies, folkies and all sorts of other youth culture as depicted in thirty years' worth of US, UK and Australian popular fiction. I've read several of the essays prior to the book going to print. If you think I know a lot about obscure mysteries and supernatural fiction you will be greatly impressed by the breadth of knowledge shown in the work of myriad contributors. They've dug up some amazing books and writers I've never heard of.  I only wish I had the time and money to buy copies and read several of the books that are discussed in Beat Girls... The book will be officially released (if all goes to the schedule) in November 2015.  More on the book can be found at Andrew Nette's website and blog, Pulp Curry.

My short piece is in the section on music and discusses A Sad Song Singing by Thomas Dewey. The piece first appeared here on Pretty Sinister Books and was slightly revised for inclusion in Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats.

My research on transgressive fiction of the 1960s and 1970s continues as does my reading and research on the depiction of LGBT characters in mystery fiction from the 1920s through the 1960s.  All this reading is for several essays for two other projects that I will talk about in detail at a later date.  Two reviews -- The Fetish Murders and Body Charge -- were posted on my blog previously this year and both will be part of a much longer essay to appear in another book to be published by Verse Chorus Press sometime in 2016.

And here is the official update on the two Vintage Mystery Reading Challenges I've been working on. At nearly the six month mark for this year I think I'm pretty much on target with more than half the Golden Age card filled and just shy of the 50% mark on the Silver Age card. I'm confident I'll complete both cards well before December 31.

Total: 24 books read out of a planned 36

Total: A Lucky 13 books and almost halfway there.

Most of the marked above books I've reviewed on the blog. I still have about three reviews to write and post. They're a-comin'. Some absolutely will not be reviewed on this blog. Books like The Butterscotch Prince, a wild murder mystery drenched in sweaty sex scenes and dealing with the 1970s gay fetish underworld in lower Manhattan, or The Gay Haunt by Victor Banis really are not appropriate for the regular visitors who read my posts. Anyone interested in learning more about those titles and topics will just have to wait until I write again about my still-in-progresss book projects.

Friday, May 22, 2015

FFB: The Black Stamp - Will Scott

The Black Stamp (1926) was published in England as Disher - Detective (1925) and in it we are introduced to Will Disher, a corpulent, monocle wearing, consulting detective who probably would like to belong to the school of sleuths that Carolyn Wells called the Transcendent Detective. Her term implies a grandeur that is undeserving of most of these types. Disher aspires to greatness but his ego prevents him achieving anything other than cleverness. He is alternately insufferable in his treatment of others and hilarious when spouting forth his epigrammatic dialogue that might impress even Oscar Wilde. He comes from a long line of these amateur sleuths who seemed to be the mainstay of detective novels of the mid to late 1920s. Disher has much in common with Philo Vance, Graydon McKelvie, Phineas Spinnett and Roger Sheringham all of whom are full of themselves, irreverent, intolerant, but not without a sense of humor often tinged with a patronizing tone. Disher is rescued from being thoroughly dislikeable by his occasional flashes of heartfelt camaraderie toward his much put upon assistant Henry Moon, legman extraordinaire, and a respect for Henry's often surprisingly original thinking.

Poor Henry Moon is described as a young man who might otherwise have become a non-entity had he not met Disher. He is called a follower and that is exactly what he does for about 75% of the book. He is sent out to follow and shadow a variety of suspicious characters. His very physical work uncovers vital clues and unexpected developments in this baffling case involving anonymous letters, an invisible gang of criminals, and a rash of mysterious disappearances. Disher leaves most of the work to Henry just as Nero Wolfe relied on good ol' Archie Goodwin. When Disher decides to take charge, however, he can display an unconventional outside of the box approach to interrogating his suspects like the puzzled gardener of whom he demands to know where he went to school, if he won any prizes and how often he attends church. All Disher's questions seem utterly random and immaterial to both the reader and the gardener who expects to be interrogated about his missing employer.

There is an element of Edgar Wallace in The Black Stamp. Several important politicians and business leaders throughout Europe and the United States have received letters sealed with the titular black stamp. Each letter briefly accuses the recipient of being better off dead and shortly after receiving one of these stamped letters the recipient vanishes without a trace. In one instance the letter receiver vanishes from a locked room in which the lights go out briefly while Disher is standing next to him qualifying the novel as an impossible crime book. The solution to that particular disappearance is solved fairly quickly and in an ingenious way that I believe is the first instance of such a gimmick.

Though Henry and Disher do some legitimate detecting and work well as a detective team this is mostly a pursuit thriller and less of a detective novel. There is a lot of following and tailing. Characters pursue each other on foot, by taxi, and even ocean liner. The story travels from England to the US and back again. When the story is transplanted to the USA for several chapters the tone even changes. We lose the Wallace atmosphere and meet up with characters like Spotty M'Gee, a trigger happy crook with a taste for fistfights who would be at home in a Carroll John Daly novel. The dialog becomes peppered with American gangster slang with even Disher succumbing to the speech pattern. Hamilton Harris, a wealthy businessman who receives a black stamped letter, commits burglary in order to be jailed thus ensuring he not become one of the vanished. He summons Disher via telegram and proposes he become his bodyguard once he is freed from jail and together they can join forces to outwit the Black Stamp gang. With luck they will put an end to the disappearances altogether when they find the reason for what seem to be a series of kidnappings.

The scenes between Disher and Hamilton Harris, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in American steel, are some of the best in the book. Harris is as irascible and intolerant as Disher. "You're mighty conceited" he says to Disher whose rejoinder is "A peacock posing as a peacock is just a peacock. It is when a sparrow struts around in the guise of a pheasant... But do have a cigar, Mr. Harris."

Disher may be supercilious and intolerant, but I find his slant on the world (and himself) pretty damn funny. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
On living outside a city:
"Suburbs are the curse of civilization. They are pure poison. In them the spirit of dullness has been captured and given a life sentence. It would not surprise me to learn some day that Hell is the suburbs of Heaven."

On conversation:
"There is no occasion on which I am unwilling to talk, except in sleep. [Talk] is an art which I have brought to a state of perfection almost unbelievable. I am its Beethoven."

On lack of observation:
"The fool never recognized me! He is the kind of idiot that would take the Angel Gabriel by the shoulder, and say: 'Give me that instrument! What are you doing here?'"
Harris is the man who disappears so miraculously from the briefly darkened but thoroughly locked and sealed room. No small problem for Disher though who solves that miracle with the ease of crossing a street. With the help of Henry, M'Gee and his American cohorts, plus an assortment of speed racing taxi cab drivers Disher manages to uncover an international plot and locate the missing men all under one roof. The Black Stamp is an above average example of these fast paced, action oriented thrillers so popular in the early 20th century. Those with a dry sense of humor and a slightly cynical worldview might find Will Disher to be worth a visit in one of his three adventures.

Occasionally the Disher books turn up dirt cheap in the used book market. I haven't checked if there are free online versions, but I suspect that since they are in the public domain at least one of them probably is out there in the digital airspace. Happy hunting!

Will Disher detective thrillers
Disher - Detective (1925) - US Title: The Black Stamp
Shadows (1928)
The Mask (1929)

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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age, space N3 - " Book published under more than one title"

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Death Knocks Three Times - Anthony Gilbert

I seem to be on a roll in choosing my kind of detective novel.  My first taste of the prolific --and sorely overlooked by me -- "Anthony Gilbert" (in reality Lucy Beatrice Malleson) was another delight from start to finish.  And such an unusual blend of so many different kinds of subgenres.  Death Knocks Three Times (1949) is almost unclassifiable.  It's a Gothic send-up, a satire on the art of novel writing, a treatise on detective novels, a "badass biddy" (my own name for a certain type of subgenre featuring nefarious and murderous senior citizen women) suspense thriller, and the end a fair play mystery novel.  But detection, I have to say, takes back seat to an engrossing tale of duplicity, blackmail, anonymous threats and familial jealousy.

There are mysterious deaths aplenty and crime galore in Death Knocks Three Times, but the emphasis is on a cat and mouse game between many of the characters. The reader becomes spellbound by the serpentine plot and may be more interested in trying to figure out just who are the heroes amid all the villainy rather than uncovering the identity of the murderer.  If there is one!  Lucy Malleson's most popular detective Arthur Crook is hardly the main character in this outing though he does the wrapping up in the penultimate chapter.  I almost don't want to say anything about this book because truly it's so strange and surprising in how it unfolds. The story shifts gears and moods so many times that to give any kind of summary would ruin discovering what it has to offer. I'll try my best to highlight the bare bones.

The opening chapter seems be a homage to Benighted by J. B. Priestley. Crook is travelling in Scourge, his beater of a car, to visit a friend when a terrifying storm of Biblical proportions washes out a bridge and makes driving impossible. Just as in Priestley's book Crook goes in search of shelter and fortuitously there happens to be an old house just off his ruined route. He is greeted by a creepy old butler who thinks he is someone else, eventually inveigles his way inside and meets the eccentric and belligerent Colonel Sherran who seems to be living in a long gone past much like the occupants of the sinister Femm mansion. Crook lets the Colonel know of his specialty in law -- he is skilled at aquitting guilty people -- which results in an almost immediate friendship and a glowing congeniality from the previously blustery and rude ex-soldier. This is the first of the most telling clues that I guarantee any reader will almost instantly forget by the time the book is in full swing. It's also a sure sign of Malleson's talent in concocting a tantalizing mystery novel.

Enter John Sherran, a struggling novelist and the Colonel's nephew. He was the guest the butler Bligh expected when Crook rang the bell. John and his uncle have an argument and in the morning the Colonel is dead. After breaking down the locked door to a bathroom they find the colonel in a Victorian bathtub the lid of which has come crashing down on his head. An accident?  Or a fiendishly designed murder?  Crook ends up attending the inquest to give evidence along with Bligh and John who are the only other witnesses. The surprising verdict is death by misadventure.

But the Colonel's death is only the first in a series of suspicious accidents that may or may not be cleverly disguised murders. Death seems to be following John Sherran wherever he goes and his relatives are dropping like flies. The reader is privy to John's thoughts and we get an inkling that he has been tempted to bump off his rich relations so that he can live a more comfortable life as he blunders his way through writing mediocre novels that don't sell very well.  But is he guilty?  Wouldn't that be too obvious?

Malleson does an excellent job of painting her characters in shades of ambiguity.  There are no good guys dressed in white nor any villainesses wearing slinky black cocktail dresses. Nearly everyone has a dark side to them and by the midpoint nearly everyone seems to have murder on their mind, especially the odious Frances Pettigrew, an ex-governess John keeps running into with a frequency that beggars belief.  Coincidence or design? The scene in the train compartment between John and Miss Pettigrew shows off Malleson's taste for the macabre as we listen to Miss Pettigrew deliver a De Quincey-like lecture on the fine art of murder.  Her speech curdles the blood while simultaneously bringing a devilish smile to a contemporary reader who can only laugh in astonishment at such a callous old woman's philosophy. Her appearance takes the book further into a surreal world where activities like playing cards, riding an elevator, or taking a tea break are fraught with peril.

For anyone who hasn't read Anthony Gilbert I highly recommend this as your entry point. I found the strange shifts in mood in Death Knocks Three Times to be thoroughly beguiling. The plotting is mesmerizing, the characters are outrageous, the suspense is relentless and the ending is killer. You're sure to be stunned by one or more twists in the gasp inducing finale. I've read many a book with a triple twist endings, but is it possible to have a quadruple twist?  This could be it!

I'm not the only one who thinks highly of this book.  For those not satisfied with my review I suggest you read any of these three raves from my fellow vintage mystery bloggers:

Neer at "A Cup of Hot Pleasure"
TomCat at "Beneath the Stains of Time"
Bev at "My Reader's Block"

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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space E6 - "Book you have to borrow".  I got this copy from the Chicago Public Library. Also this counts as one of the three books I read for the "1949 Mystery Book Challenge" for the month of May sponsored by Rich Westwood's blog Past Offences.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FFB: Dead Man's Quarry - Ianthe Jerrold

A group of art students touring the Hereford-Wales border country on bicycle lose one of their party on a simple ride down a hill and begin to fear the worst in the opening chapters of Dead Man’s Quarry (1930).  The next day Charles Price’s body is found at the bottom of a disused quarry along with a crushed bicycle.  But what at first appears to be a bad accident turns out to be something more insidious when a bullet hole is discovered in the back of Sir Charles’ head.  Sir Charles engendered plenty of dislike among the group of cyclists with his loud laugh, his caddish behavior towards female servants and his very un-English ways displayed as the newly placed baronet of Rhyllan Hall.  He had travelled from his former exile in Canada to reclaim his rightful place now that his uncle Evan has died and Charles was named heir to the estate.  Clearly someone didn’t approve of the new baronet or his return to England.

Dead Man’s Quarry is that rarity of a forgotten novel that has rightly been rediscovered and reprinted for the ever growing audience of traditional detective novel readers who crave more and more of the old-fashioned whodunits of the past.  First and foremost it does what a truly fine detective novel should do—it entertains the reader on all levels.  Ianthe Jerrold’s best assets include her lively sense of humor and her refusal to pull cut-out characters from the dusty trunk of expected stereotypes and archetypes usually found in detective novels of this era.

Take for example the platoon of servants at both Rhyllan Hall and various other hotels and households that dot the surroundings.  Usually relegated to comic background roles in standard mystery novels of the Golden Age Jerrold’s servants rather are essential to the plot. Each one steps into a spotlight briefly for an important moment.

Ianthe Jerrold, 1936
© National Portrait Gallery
Waters, the vain footman, is candid about a servant’s typical transgression of being too interested in letters left on tables.  He openly confesses to reading a cryptic letter, quoting it from memory, but only because he has to tell someone and confiding in the maids would’ve been disastrous to his perceived reputation.  The housemaids, similarly are frank and honest when most would expect them to be close-mouthed and guarded.  But their willingness to cooperate is due mostly to Mrs. Maur, the housekeeper whose slightly sinister demeanor is enhanced by an iron will and intimidating gaze.  The maids are more frightened at what Mrs. Maur might do should they withhold information rather than fearing any punishment the police might come up with. One of the most unusual pieces of evidence comes in a kitchen maid’s elaborate story about what happened at breakfast the day of the murder. She blames the appearance of a shadowy figure seen skirting through the apple orchard. Thinking he might be a fruit poacher she left the kitchen and the eggs unattended for nine minutes and ruined everyone's breakfast. The stolen apples and later some missing eggs will prove to be some of the exceptionally odd clues in the final solution of who killed Sir Charles.

The clues are abundant in Dead Man’s Quarry and they are pure Golden Age whimsy.  The strange evidence includes the purchase of a hard candy called bulls’ eyes, an ambiguous note mysteriously signed with the initial C, a green bicycle pump, five pound note used to pay rent, and a revolver hidden in a rabbit hole.

John Christmas who also acted as the amateur sleuth in Jerrold’s first mystery novel The Studio Crime (1929), enlists the aid of Nora Browning, the atypically observant “Miss Watson” of the piece, and is also helped somewhat reluctantly by his traveling companion and friend Rampson Sydenham.  Sydenham and Christmas are perfect foils for one another and serve to highlight Jerrold’s main conflict of the imaginative mind versus the scientific mind in their approach to solving a crime.  Sydenham is the rational man lost in a sea of artists who quote poetry, draw analogies from novels and use figurative language in their daily speech. He is exasperated by the wild and dreamy notions spouting forth from his friend’s bothersome romantic mind.  “Imagination is excellent thing, kept under control,”  he lectures to Christmas. “It’ll arrive at the same conclusion as scientific reasoning, and get there quicker.  But really, John…you’re blinding yourself to the obvious.”  He does his best to point out to Christmas that he is discarding many clues that don’t fit his theories; a mortal sin to a scientific mind.  It also happens to be bad detective work.

But John will not listen. He is convinced that Morris Price who has been found guilty of murder at the inquest is innocent no matter how much the evidence seems to reinforce that guilt.  Christmas instead turns his attention to a mysterious woman who keeps reappearing throughout the investigation.  A woman they have met once and who has eluded them since their chance encounter.  Christmas believes her to be Price’s first wife who though estranged from her husband for years still has legal claim to property as his wife. It is quite possible that her talk of Rhyllan Hall needing a mistress was a hint to an ulterior motive.

Enough intriguing plot developments in this cleverly laid out murder tale are on vivid display and ought to intrigue even the toughest to please mystery novel enthusiasts.  For once in a very long time here is an utterly forgotten writer's long out of print book that deserves having been rescued from obscurity.

Dead Man’s Quarry is available in a digital and printed book from Dean Street Press and can be purchased from the usual online bookselling sites.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

IN BRIEF: The Scarlet Circle - Jonathan Stagge

Like most mysteries featuring Dr. Hugh Westlake and his mischievous daughter Dawn The Scarlet Circle (1943) begins with one of the little girl's observations. One night she sees a strange pink light emanating from an abandoned church graveyard near the hotel where the two are vacationing.  Never reluctant to investigate strange and myster- ious events Westlake heads out to the graveyard and interrupts a shadowy figure who has been digging up a coffin. The pink light turns out to be a red paper Chinese lantern and it will signify gruesome events to come. A few nights later another Chinese lantern is found glowing over the strangled corpse of one of the hotel guests. Inexplicably, a mole on her cheek is encircled with a scarlet ring drawn on with lipstick. Could this be the work of a homicidal maniac?

Typical of the Dr. Westlake series the crimes are tinged with a macabre touch, the atmosphere is brooding and menacing. This is perhaps the most Gothic of Stagge's detective novels with its Poe-like emphasis on graves, exhumed coffins, a lugubrious nearly necrophiliac undertaker named Mr. Usher, and a killer apparently obsessed with anatomical imperfections in his female victims. Later in the novel we learn the inhabitants of the Massachusetts town are mostly Portugeuse immigrants who still cling to Old World superstitions and folklore surrounding violent deaths. There are elements of the modern serial killer novel in the ritualized nature of the murders -- the Chinese lantern marking the crime site, the lipstick circle drawn around skin defects and wounds -- and eventually the final twist revealing the murder's motivation. The Scarlet Circle is a fine entry in one of the better American amateur detective novel series. With only nine books it is a shame it was such a brief run for Dr. Westlake.

Also reviewed on this blog is the first Dr. Westlake novel, The Dogs Do Bark

More about the Dr. Westlake mysteries by Jonathan Stagge:
Sergio Angelini on Turn of the Table
Curt Evans on The Scarlet Circle
Douglas Greene on The Yellow Taxi

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Reading Challenge update:  Golden Age card, space O5 - "Book with a spooky cover"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The House that Kills - Noel Vindry

I am beginning to sympathize with Julian Symons’ complaints about what he called the humdrum school of detective fiction. At least the French version of the humdrums. I’m certainly encountering a slew of them as they are presented to us via Locked Room International, an indie press created by John Pugmire who also translates the books into English. The latest offering, Noel Vindry’s debut mystery novel first published in France in 1932, is one of the most disappointing offerings yet. Though two of my favorite French crime writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac admired Vindry calling him a writer of “unequalled virtuosity” and a creator of “stupefying puzzles” I found neither of those qualities on display in this first book.

The House That Kills is the perfect example of a detective novel as a wholly contrived story. And as such it is far from mystifying. Any devotee of the locked room or impossible crime novel will see through its trickery almost instantly. A family is terrorized by a gang of murderers who announce their crimes in the form of anonymous letters miraculously hand delivered to the house without anyone seeing the messenger. Each victim is killed violently in a locked and guarded room by an unseen assailant who manages to escape the house altogether. Paragraphs are devoted to the layout and architecture of the house with Vindry going into great detail on how its impenetrably designed locks would take a lengthy time to open even with a key and the thick walls could not possibly conceal secret passageways leaving the crimes even more puzzling as to how the killer got in and escaped unseen -- at least to the dull witted and easily manipulated policemen and the narrator, a junior magistrate. To any astute reader the solution is obvious.

This particular plot is extremely derivative of two very well known locked room mysteries, borrowing a time worn gimmick that dates to the Victorian era. M. Allou, a veteran magistrate who apparently knows his history of detective fiction very well, appears on the scene at the novel’s midpoint, within minutes sees through all the deception and in the ninth chapter delivers his solution to all but one of the four murders committed. But there are six more chapters to come. Why bother reading the rest you may wonder. Well, there is that one unattributed murder, the escape of the accused from police custody, and one more seemingly puzzling attempted murder.

Original French edition
This edition of The House of That Kills includes a foreword by Pugmire in which he refers to several of Vindry’s essays on the genre, specifically the subgenre Vindry calls the roman problème (problem novel literally, but Pugmire translates it as puzzle novel) to distinguish it from the roman policier (the police novel, or police procedural). There is an appendix that includes the full versions of those essays making the foreword somewhat redundant. It’s interesting to read Vindry’s own analysis of the detective novel as he envisions it and comparing his ideas to The House that Kills. Almost none of what he remarks on is present in his first book. He talks about how the roman problème can include drama, mystery and logic and still have room for style. Balance was his main concern; the skill with which the writer must handle all three elements not allowing any one to overtake the other. Remarkably, he writes "...if logic dominates the work degenerates into a game, a chess problem or a crossword and it's no longer a novel."  I fear that is exactly what happens with Vindry's debut book.

The House that Kills is stripped down to the barest essentials. While there is action aplenty the characters are puppets in service to the contrived story. All these impossible crimes, talk of ghosts and inhuman agencies are intended to create an atmosphere of mystery and wonder. The reader should be thrilled and curious but nothing seems at stake. It all moves too fast and the two emotional moods waver between cold logic and histrionic disbelief. Every now and then for variety there is an outburst of obviously feigned horror. With little room left for Vindry’s supposed style and no real interest in making any character remotely human or complex or interesting in the least this impossible crime mystery novel is impossibly cold and empty. As cold and empty as a locked and sealed room.

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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space G2 - "Set anywhere except US or UK"

Friday, May 8, 2015

FFB: Body Charge - Hunter Davies

Franko Baxter is sort of lost in life. Drifting in and out of a humdrum life as a cab driver with no real friends, living with his Gran with whom he ends each night with a ritual cup of cocoa, he finds no real joy in life except when work is done and he can head off to play football with young men and sometimes teenagers.  Body Charge (1972) is the story of his aimless life, his search for love and friendship and in the end a story of reconciliation of the self.

Franko is hopelessly naive about himself, especially as far as sex goes. We learn prior to his current job in an unlicensed car-for-hire service he was working in a hair salon and lived with an openly gay and sexually ravenous man named Jonathan. Franko hints at a few male on male encounters with Jonathan but we don't learn the real truth of that relationship until the penultimate chapter.  As the story progresses it is clear that though Franko is attracted to women and attempts a few straight relationships what he really craves is male companionship. Sex with anyone doesn't really excite him he confesses, yet he finds himself increasingly fascinated with men, the male physique and what he feels is an astonishing energy required to maintain a life of non-stop hedonism. The novel focuses on four men and the strange friendships they develop with Franko.  There is Zak, a young married man living on the dole whose son says "my Dad's job is looking for a job";  Shug, a rising star athlete in professional football (that's soccer to all you Yanks);  Joff, an arrogant highly sexed BBC TV presenter; and Ginger, a teenage hooligan and would-be skinhead.

1st UK paperback (Sphere, 1974)
When one of these men is found beaten to death in a park known for gay cruising and sexcapades in the bushes Franko becomes one of the prime suspects.  The mystery aspect of the novel is not all that mysterious. It's rather obvious what happened to the poor guy and who is responsible.  But the point of the story is not really about the crime and its solution.  Rather that Franko must have his eyes opened to the truth about the men he thinks are his friends while simultaneously undergoing an epiphany about himself.  The murder investigation forces him to admit to a few secrets in his past as well as mustering up the courage to stand up for the gay men even if he must suffer physical violence in the process.

This is a book with an identity problem of its own. It starts off as a character study, then tries on social satire, then metaphysical navel gazing, then trips into the land of murder mysteries.  The murder mystery is the least successful of the genres Davies attempts but somehow it was difficult to put down. Eventually this quick change storytelling settles down in the last half when Body Charge becomes an intriguing novel of social criticism and Franko finds himself speaking out against cruelty, oppression and violent bigotry.

As an examination of self and sexual identity the novel is a little ahead of its time for the early 1970s and has lot that still resonates for contemporary 21st century life. Long before gender identity and sexual politics became topics of study in college and graduate school Davies was unwittingly writing a sort of primer for gay identity. The novel is also an encapsulation of 1970s life in London in its depictions of football hooligans, skinheads, sex parties, swingers, and gay activism. One of the most unusual and prescient vignettes is found towards the end of the book when a guerrilla theater group protests intolerance for gays and lesbians by staging a mock gay wedding that ends in cheerleading and in-your-face same sex kissing. Most of the observers are appalled and disgusted, but a group of senior citizen ladies give the demonstrators a rousing ovation.

Hunter Davies
Despite his blase naivete Franko is the kind of loser character you want to root for.  You want him to commit to anything and stop dabbling, you want more from him than his slow realizations that seem startling to him but to anyone tuned into real living would find obvious. You want him to find a foothold in Life instead of standing half in his long gone adolescent past and half in the world of grown-ups. He reminds me of characters like Nick Carraway who stand outside of life always observing, rarely participating. These are the kind of characters always in awe of people who grab life by the balls and sink their teeth into experience often devouring people in their hunger for exuberant living. But these observers never have the courage to try to emulate those they admire. Franko has to be forced into his decisions and though he pays dearly at the violent hands of one of his false friends in the final paragraphs there is encouragement and hope for him.

Body Charge has been reprinted by Valancourt Books and their fine reprint edition includes a foreword by Hunter Davies disclosing how the book came to be written and how surprised he was that it still seems timely to him more than 40 years after its original publication. You can read more about Davies and Body Charge at their website here.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

IN BRIEF: The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard – Hillary Waugh

The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard (1958) is a crime novel that mixes a suspense novel with a caper novel. Basically it tells of a sting operation set up to trap a murderer defrauding a company out of thousands of dollars in life insurance policies. J .B. Stanford, president of his own insurance agency, begins to suspect multiple instances of insurance fraud when he sees a series of claims being paid out on the wives of different men all of whom are named Andrew. The big red flag, besides the highly unlikely coincidence of the first name, is that five of the six wives of these various Andrews died from accidental deaths in the great outdoors, and the repetition of the types of accidents (drowning in a canoe accident, falls from cliff sides) further sets off alarm bells.

Stanford arranges a mindboggling scheme involving Jack Graham, a top salesman; Charles Miles, a private detective; and Gene Taylor, the woman hired to catch Andrew Fisher’s eye as his next wife and future victim. A prized stamp collection is also part of the bait when the team discover that Fisher is a rabid philatelist eager to acquire rare stamps. They arrange that Miss Taylor play the part of a recently widowed woman who inherited her husband’s extremely valuable stamp collection to entice Fisher into meeting her. From there the story becomes a game of cat and mouse between the insurance agency team versus the wily wife killer.

How likely this would happen in the real world is debatable. To me all sorts of ethical issues arise, not the least of which is corporate vigilantism, 1950s style. But as a dramatic treatment of crime Waugh pulls off a couple of neat tricks in what might otherwise have been a routine B movie plot. I also liked that Gene Taylor was not an actress for hire as one might expect, but a desperate woman who needed money fast and was sort of a thrill-seeking tough broad who didn’t mind the element of danger involved. The showdown at a lakeside resort offers up a couple of unexpected twists when it appears the Andrew Fisher is not the only villain Jack Graham has to contend with.

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Reading Challenge update:  Golden Age card, space O2 - “Number or quantity in book title”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

IN BRIEF: Murder Fantastical – Patricia Moyes

This was a delight! Whip smart, devilishly plotted, and funny as can be with a range of jolly moods from outlandish farce to wry wit. Reduced to its bare essence it's a country house murder mystery, but Moyes manages to avoid all the stodginess and claustrophobia that typifies this subgenre. With echoes of Ellery Queen’s There Was an Old Woman in the assortment of wackos and eccentrics in the Manciple family who dominate the large cast of characters and a nod, whether conscious or not, to John Rhode’s bizarre death traps in an ingeniously thought out method of killing someone Murder Fantastical is enlivened by unexpected character touches and a vigorous sense of humor. I’m sure I’ve read books by Moyes in the past but I can’t recall any of them. I certainly don’t remember having previously read Murder Fantastical (1967), an involved and quite imaginatively constructed novel.

Inspector Henry Tibbet has his hands full with the seemingly accidental shooting death of Raymond Mason who has been harassing the Manciples both in his attempts to acquire their land and his vociferous complaints about the shooting range on their property that he claims is a danger to the public. Tibbet’s investigation of the fatal accident uncovers a family history shrouded in secrets and tainted by violent deaths. When old Aunt Dora becomes a second victim Tibbet thinks he may have a homicidal maniac on his hands. He must dig into the Manciple family past tracing back unresolved troubles that have their origin in the jungles of a mythical African country where the family once lived. Impersonations, avarice and narcissism all play a part in this highly recommended mystery.

I enjoyed this so much I’ll be reading as many Patricia Moyes books as I can get my hands on. I can only hope the others are as lively and puzzling as this intricately plotted detective novel.

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Reading Challenge update: Silver Age card, space V3 – “Book read by another challenger”
Bev read this back in March of this year and I suggest you read her fine review at My Reader’s Block for further details. Also, check out Jeff Pierce’s unlikely rave review of Murder Fantastical posted back in 2010 at The Rap Sheet.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

In Celebration of the Golden Age: Guest Blog Post by Martin Edwards

As part of Martin Edwards' blog tour promoting his new book on the history of the Detection Club and the Golden Age of detective fiction I am happy to hand over the steering wheel to the author himself.  Here is Martin's guest blog post:

When organising my blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Golden Age of Murder, I approached several bloggers whose work I admire, and John is certainly one of them. I’ve learned a huge amount from Pretty Sinister Books, and I share John’s enthusiasm for finding out-of-the-way books from the Golden Age that deserve to be better known.

Long before either John or I developed our love of classic mysteries, Anthony Berkeley Cox, better known as Anthony Berkeley, was writing them, and also reviewing them, usually under the name Francis Iles. His novels and criticism were highly influential, but possibly his most lasting achievement was the foundation of the Detection Club. This was a London-based dining club, the first significant social network for leading detective novelists, and it flourishes to this day. Membership has always been by election (by secret ballot) and the number of members has never been more than about 70.

My own election, in 2008, was a source of great pride to me (but would Berkeley have sniffed that standards have slipped? Who knows? He was an acerbic fellow...) I was subsequently asked to become Club archivist. A great honour, and a supreme thrill for someone as fascinated by the genre’s history as I am. The only snag was that, in reality, there were no archives. I found I was embarking on a voyage of discovery when I tried to find out more about the early days of the Club, and the remarkable people who piloted it through the Thirties.

In trying to build up the archives, I found that I was in effect also undertaking research that influenced the direction of the book about the Golden Age that I’d been writing, on and off, for years. It became a kind of literary quest, to find out the truth about writers whose lives were often as puzzling as their fictional murders. I travelled up and down Britain, talking to descendants of the Detection Club’s early members (including Berkeley’s niece, who proved extremely hospitable when I visited her in Kent), trying to capture memories before it was too late. And thanks to the wonders of cyberspace, I picked up snippets of information from across the globe about Golden Age books and the men and women who wrote them.

The Golden Age of Murder discusses a wide range of authors, and there is also good deal of information about writers who were not members of the Detection Club, although they feature mainly in the chapter end notes; I didn’t want this to be a dry scholastic text with lots of ibids and op.cits, and when Harper Collins bought the rights to publish the book, they made it very clear that they didn’t want it to become overly academic. Neither did I. So although the end notes contain plenty of references to sources, they are also crammed with details about people who made a contribution to the Golden Age, including several unexpected names. There are also plenty of items of trivia that pleased me and will, I hope, entertain as well as inform. This is a 520 page book, so I thought the ends of the chapters provided a good opportunity for readers to draw breath, and take a short break from the ongoing story of the Detection Club!

One challenge for anyone writing about Golden Age puzzles is the question of how to avoid “spoilers”. One solution is to include “spoiler alerts”, but although this device can work effectively in some cases (Douglas G. Greene’s superb biography of John Dickson Carr is the prime example), it can disrupt narrative flow. I decided early on that it would not suit The Golden Age of Murder – I was, after all, using the techniques of the novelist when writing this book. So while there are few if any direct spoilers, it is possible in some cases for astute readers who put their minds to it to figure out a few of the plot twists to which I allude. A price that I thought worth paying in order to avoid a fragmented text (and skipping “spoiler alerts” can itself be rather frustrating, I find.)

Berkeley plays a central part in my story, because the more I learned about him, the more I realised that his life played a crucial part in his fiction. He was a secretive man, with a famously perverse sense of humour, and although he refused to allow much biographical data to become public, and refused to allow his photograph to appear on his books (but two previously unseen pictures appear in my book, thanks to his niece’s generosity), he loved to slip in to his novels portrayals of himself, and people in his circle.

I felt like a detective myself, trying to interpret the clues, and figure out which were the red herrings. Whether my deductions are as fallible as some of those of Berkeley’s main sleuth, Roger Sheringham, who knows? I’m sure there will be people out there ready and willing to correct me. No matter - writing this book has definitely been a labour of love. Of course, I hope that fans of the Golden Age (and perhaps even those who have until now dismissed the novels as old-fashioned and of little merit) will love reading it. Most of all, I hope that it will encourage more people to discover the pleasures of the fine and often neglected mysteries written in an era that was very different from our own – and yet, in some ways, surprisingly similar to it.

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The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards is now on sale at all the usual online bookselling sites and I'm sure can be ordered from your local bookseller.  Get yours now! Mine is in the mail as I write this and I can't wait to dig into its pages.     

Friday, May 1, 2015

FFB: A Clue for Mr. Fortune - H. C. Bailey

Reggie Fortune reminds me so much of a British version of Philo Vance.  They both have an eccentric way of speaking, they both have quaint expressions ("Oh, my aunt!" and Oh, my hat!") they resort to when exasperated, they both think they're better than the police at solving crimes, and they both have a wealth of esoteric information at their fingertips with which to astound their policemen cohorts.  But even with Reggie's irritating speech habits -- sounding like a human telegram with staccato terseness often absent of verbs and articles -- I found him to be a lot more engaging and often a delightful detective compared to Vance.  He clearly belongs to the good old days when murderers committed puzzling crimes and inadvertently left behind equally puzzling traces that provide clues to only one as knowledgeable and observant as Reggie Fortune.  Even more remarkable is that H.C. Bailey seemed to have been way ahead of his time in presenting a physician turned detective whose skills in forensic medicine help uncover crucial evidence when death looks suspiciously like foul play.

The six novellas -- its hard to classify a forty to fifty page tale as a short story -- that make up the adventures in sleuthing in A Clue for Mr. Fortune (1936) run the gamut from theft to missing persons to fiendishly disguised murders.  Four of the six are top notch examples of the best of a Golden Age detective story while the other two left me wanting.  So lets get those two sticklers out of the way before we move onto the prizewinners in this book.

Though "The Hole in the Parchment" has both an exotic setting (Firenze and the surrounding Florentine countryside in Italy) and unusual background (medieval manuscript collecting)  it is not really a detective story.  Reggie is on vacation in Italy with his wife Joan and helps out the police in a case of suspected thievery and forgery.  The story is more of an action adventure with the bulk of the tale devoted to a lengthy car chase interrupted by an intrusive motorcyclist and an unexpected automotive breakdown in the hills.  There is a lot of talk about sports car design since the main character is involved in the automobile industry but that didn't interest me at all.  And the final twist related to the story's title was less of a surprise eliciting more of a "So what?"reaction from me.  Knowing that parchment is not really paper may tip off the reader to that twist, but it's all so inconsequential.  No murder, by the way.

I didn't even finish "The Wistful Goddess" because Reggie and his wife (who speaks almost exactly like him for some bizarre reason) are talking with one of those British twits who ends nearly all of his sentences with "Eh, what?" way too often and who is bemoaning his recently lost "love-at-first-sight" girlfriend. I found nothing in the first three pages interesting at all. The dialogue was wretched and I just skipped it altogether.

There. That's done. Now for the good tales and the very good reasons you ought to track down a copy of this elusive book.

US paperback edition (Pony Books, 1946)
The collection starts off with a gimmick that will recur throughout the book -- an apparent suicide that turns out to be murder.  The first paragraph in "The Torn Stocking" indicates that this is apparently one of Reggie's first cases as a police consultant and pairs him up with frequent collaborator Inspector Lomas.  A 16 year old girl accused of shoplifting is thought to have killed herself by sticking her head in a gas oven. It is the title clue that tips off Reggie that the girl was killed elsewhere and her body moved to where it was found in the kitchen. Reggie takes this along with such archetypical Golden Age clues as a lumpy doll, some sawdust in the bedroom and a missing cat to uncover a murder involving stolen jewels and a blackmail scheme.

In "The Swimming Pool" we get an interesting confession from Reggie when he claims to have no imagination. What he really means is that he is so focused on the facts and applying his findings of the evidence overlooked by the unobservant police that he is often unable to foretell possible complications in the police investigation.  He seems to be a man of medicine first, a scientist and a rigid logician.  But in the end it turns out to be self-deprecating remark and a case of selling himself short.

This case involves an incorrectly assumed death by natural causes that is actually a murder by morphine poisoning. A nurse who treated the victim has gone missing and the search is on to locate her so that she can be questioned about his treatment.  But when a headless corpse of a woman turns up in a trunk Reggie and the police think that the murderer got to the nurse first. Reggie shows off his extensive knowledge of botany and local flora (not for the first time) when he remarks on some St. John's wort found on the body, a plant isolated to a specific region, indicating once again that the corpse was killed elsewhere than where it was found. We also get an indication of Reggie's superiority when he remarks in passing towards the end of the story: "Clever female. Rather underratin' the male intelligence. As they do." I love a little retro male chauvinism in my vintage detective fiction, don't you?

Reggie Fortune, looking rather androgynous,
in this illustration by Frederick Dorr Steele
"The Dead Leaves" is another instance of botany playing a big part in the solution of the crime.  A case of an unidentified woman's body who once again appeared to have killed herself leads to another similar death by misadventure. Both of course will turn out to be cleverly executed murders.  The discovery of some leaves and branches of bog myrtle and arctic willow prove to be the killer's undoing.  Mountaineering and outdoor sports also figure prominently in this excellent story. We meet Jenks, Reggie's lab assistant who I believe shows up in numerous other stories, in a brief scene at the start that is resonant of the recent crop of forensic crime TV shows.  One of Bailey's landmark contributions to detective fiction is his concentration on forensic evidence like insects, plants and organic matter found on the crime victims bodies and blood evidence overlooked at the scene of the crime.

The highlight for me, however, is "The Holy Well". Here is a perfect example of a detective novel in miniature. From the puzzling murder to the odd clues to the atmospheric setting and unconventional  characters it hits all the bells and whistles of the best of detective fiction of this era. Reggie eventually takes center stage as a true detective though he starts off in his regular role as police consultant. From the opening sentence "the process of discovering the truth was started in the Sunday paper" that leads to the uncovering of "crepuscular tragedy of the mystery of the agonies of womanhood" to the final revelation the story is exciting, engaging and unusual. Jonathan Prout is strangled and dumped in the well of St. Siran in the Cornish moors.  Lovelorn girls regularly visit the well tossing pins and coins into its depths wishing for happiness and romance but there are those who shun it as a cursed object.  The mention of a death's head moth found in the water is at first dismissed as yet another example of the local superstitious beliefs attached to the well, but Reggie sees it as vital evidence. The moth coupled with the mention of a sticky substance found on the corpse's clothing sets Reggie off on a complex murder investigation that will uncover family secrets, impersonation and a wicked plan to defraud a family fortune.  The detection in this story is superior compared to the rest with fine examples of fair play clues laid out with subtlety and inventiveness not on display in the other five stories.

Though A Clue for Mr Fortune is somewhat scarce you might be lucky to find the paperback edition I own.  If unable to locate this particular volume the best of the stories, including "The Holy Well", can be found is an easily obtained omnibus of Reggie Fortune stories published i under the title Meet Mr. Fortune.  That book also includes the full length novel The Bishop's Crime as well as a number of other excellent stories originally published in other volumes of Mr. Fortune's detective exploits.

It's a shame that Reggie Fortune has fallen into obscurity.  His eccentric speech and quaint mannerisms may have prevented him from lasting fame in the pantheon of great fictional detectives, yet he very much deserves to be there.  And he very much deserves to be read by contemporary audiences.

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Reading Challenge update.  This is my late entry for Rich Westwood's "1936 Book" challenge for the month of April and also the short story entry for the Golden Age bingo card challenge sponsored by Bev at My Reader's Block.