Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Kind of Wish

Here's the last ten minutes of "Night of the Meek" a special Christmas episode from The Twilight Zone originally broadcast Dec 23, 1960.

May you all discover your own personal holiday magic within or outside the Twilight Zone.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

FFB: The Sunday Pigeon Murders - Craig Rice

According to an ad from Simon & Schuster I found in a Saturday Review issue from 1942 Craig Rice "spent a hectic six days in New York" where she "accumulated more information about that town than we had learned in a lifetime of living in it." A bit of advertising hyperbole to be sure, but her activities included hanging out with the men of the Central Park chess clubs, discovering a newsagent who also had a sideline business of placing dime bets on horse races, and most inspiring of all she invited a street photographer home for dinner and got the lowdown on the photo racket.  He must have been a colorful fellow for it led to the creation of her little known duo of Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak who make their debut in The Sunday Pigeon Murders (1942).

Rice also seems to be doing a good impression of Damon Runyon in this book. Bingo and Handsome speak, act, and dress like any of those small time hoods and grifters so well known from Guys and Dolls, Bloodhounds of Broadway and The Lemon Drop Kid. Bingo is the brains of their fly-by-night street photography operation with the grandiose title of The International Foto, Motion Picture and Television Corporation of America. They aren't doing too well with only $7.49 as their operating budget, one camera in a pawnshop, and a developing room in the bathtub, but they do their best with their meager set-up. An added bonus to the business is Handsome's special gift. He has an amazing eidetic memory and can instantly recall any newspaper layout of the past ten years when he worked as a news photographer and quote verbatim from those articles.

When Handsome spots a famous missing man ("The Sunday Pigeon" of the title) thought to have disappeared over seven years ago Bingo's scheming brain goes into overdrive. Thanks, of course, to Handsome's incredible memory Bingo learns of the $500,000 insurance policy Mr. Pigeon took out on himself and is soon to be claimed by his business partner in only few days when Pigeon will be declared legally dead. Bingo will put an end to that. He is going to kidnap Mr. Pigeon and blackmail the partner into handing over half of the $500,000 when they con the insurance company into thinking Pigeon is dead.

Kidnapping is not exactly accurate, though because this is a Craig Rice book. Pigeon is all too obliging as the kidnap victim. He moves in to Handsome & Bingo's tiny apartment and basically becomes a third roommate. Cooking up miracle dishes with the few scraps of food in their one room apartment, cleaning house, and not caring one iota about the fact he is involved in what amounts to insurance fraud. Does he have some ulterior motive for hiding out?

When the two photographers make their way to Pigeon's partner's apartment and find a dead body they think someone must've already caught onto their scheme. Someone who also is after the insurance money. Bingo thinks fast, jumping to many conclusions in the process. He decides to do what nearly everyone in a Craig Rice novel does when they find a corpse. He hides it choosing the refrigerator as the least likely place to look for a body. But soon they have a surprise visitor in the person of a shapely dame and the hide-the-body business turns into all out farce. They will be more people looking for Pigeon, more people turning up dead, more bodies being hidden before Pigeon reveals his secret and everything is resolved in the usual madcap Rice way.

Probably because it is Rice's first book set in New York rather than Chicago she spends a lot of time showing off her newfound knowledge and doing her best to emulate Damon Runyon. The result is a book with more endearing characters, a plot that is more cohesive than usual, and a solution that actually makes sense for a change. I'm looking forward to reading more of Bingo and Handsome in the second book The Thursday Turkey Murders.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

And...She Scores! (and he does, too)

May I have the envelope please? The winner of the "Challenge to the Reader" Second Annual Trivia contest is...

Bev of the blog My Reader's Block with a whopping score of 105 out of a possible 110!

Second prize: Pietro (all the way from Italy!)  who blogs at  Death Can Read with a score 104.

Talk about a close race, my friends. There was no third prize winner. I'll leave that to our clever reading sleuths to figure out.

Kudos to our winners! I might add that each player successfully answered ALL the bonus questions correctly. You are excellent sleuths, the two of you, with some inductive reasoning and superior internet searching skills that are to be commended.

You each will be receiving an email from me with a list of books from which you will be able to choose your prizes. Thanks for taking part!

Answers for all those curious are below.

I. ALTERNATE TITLES (1 point each)

Below are titles of books as published in England and Australia.You must give the renamed title in its American edition.

1. Mr Jelly's Business = Murder Down Under by Arthur W. Upfield
2. Vegetable Duck = Too Many Suspects by John Rhode
3. Surfeit of Lampreys =  Death of a Peer  by Ngaio Marsh
4. The Ten Teacups = The Peacock Feather Murders by Carter Dickson
5. There Came Both Mist and Snow = A Comedy of Terrors  by Michael Innes
6. Why Didn't They Ask Evans? = The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie
7. The Hollow Man = The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr
8. Find Actor Hart = The Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb  by Harry Stephen Keeler
9. The Box Office Murders = The Purple Sickle Murders  by Freeman Wills Crofts
10. Burglars in Bucks = The Berkshire Mystery by GDH & M Coles.

Now do the opposite. Below are the American titles, you supply the British (or Australian) title

1. The Hand of Fu Manchu = The Si-Fan Mysteries  by Sax Rohmer
2. Remembered Death = Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
3. Curse of the Bronze Lamp = Lord of the Sorcerers by Carter Dickson
4. The Crime on the Solent = Mystery on Southhampton Water by Freeman Wills Crofts
5. A Wreath for Rivera = Swing, Brother, Swing  by Ngaio Marsh
6. The Problem of the Green Capsule = The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr
7. The Face of the Man of Saturn = The Crilly Court Mystery by Harry Stephen Keeler
8. Dr. Priestley Lays a Trap = The Motor Rally Mystery by John Rhode
9. No Footprints in the Bush = Bushranger of the Skies  by Arthur W. Upfield
10. Knocked for a Loop = The Double Frame by Craig Rice

II. EVIDENCE (1 point each)
Match the clue to the book in which it appears.

  1. Handpainted door with recent smears C. The Moonstone
  2. Bookshop fronting a pornography operation G. The Big Sleep
  3. Scarab fired from a slingshot (catapult) L. Murder Must Advertise
  4. Decaying corpse found in a deed box K. Smallbone Deceased
  5. A pair of missing boots H. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  6. Doctored pitcher of cocktails N. The Deadly Truth (McCloy)
  7. Recipe for saucisse minuit A. Too Many Cooks
  8. Handkerchief embroidered with an H    J. Murder on the Orient Express
  9. Murder victim's clothes turned backwards E. The Chinese Orange Mystery
10. Decapitated head found in pot of stew O. The Rising of the Moon (Mitchell)
11. An antique automaton M. The Crooked Hinge
12. Cryptic drawing on a slip of paper B. The Case of the Seven of Calvary
13. An astrological chart D. The Stars Spell Death
14. An Egyptian sarcophagus I. The Scarab Murder Case
15. A forgotten shopping list F. Warrant for X

Match the murder method to the book in which it appears.

  1. Victim dragged behind a car H. The Grindle Nightmare
  2. Liquid nitrogen sprayed via a shower head K. The Rose Bath Riddle
  3. Poisoned in a theater dressing room A. Exit Charlie
  4. Strangulation with blue and pink cords  E. Cat of Many Tails
  5. Defenestration M. The Clue in the Air
  6. Victim shot while in a bathtub B. The Case of the Velvet Claws
  7. Natural gas poisoning C. The Three Taps
  8. Crushed to death by a stone bear   D. And Then There Were None 
  9. Bee stings O. A Taste for Honey (Heard)
10. Drowning in a scuttled boat J. Rebecca
11. Bludgeoned with a magnum of champagne N. Vintage Murder (Marsh)
12. Crossbow F. The Judas Window
13. Murdered while being operated on L. Green for Danger 
14. Strangled with a lariat I. Murder on Wheels (Palmer)
15. Bludgeoned with a hunk of frozen meat G. "Lamb to the Slaughter"
IV. COMMONALITIES (2 points each)

  1. Todd McKinnon, Charles Latimer, Ariadne Oliver
They are all mystery writers. McKinnon appears in books written by Lenore Glen Offord, Latimer is the creation of Eric Ambler, and Mrs. Oliver, of course, appears with Poirot in several books by Agatha Christie.

  2. Sherlock Holmes, Gideon Fell, Nigel Strangeways
Each detective is based on a real person.  Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, Dr. Fell is based on the physiognomy and blustery manner of G. K. Chesterton, Nigel Strangeways was initially modelled on the poet W.H. Auden. No one got this correct. I didn't think it was the most difficult question in this section, but I guess it wasn't all that apparent.

  3. Irma, Sumuru, Madame Sara
Female master criminals.  Villains was also accepted. Respectively, created by "Sapper" (H. C. MacNiele) in the Bulldog Drummond books, Sax Rohmer, and L.C. Meade & Robert Eustace.

  4. Pharoah Love, Toussaint Moore, Bubber Brown
Black private detectives.  Respectively, they were created by George Baxt (in a series of four books), Ed Lacy (in 2 books), and Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies.

  5. Thatcher Colt, Palmyra Pym, Maigret
They are all Police Commissioners. Created by Anthony Abbot, Nigel Morland and Georges Simenon.

  6. Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Bulldog Drummond
Each character is a veteran of World War 1

  7. Tony Murchison, Daisy Armstrong, Chris Dobie
All characters are kidnapped children.  Respectively, they appear in Nightmare in Manhattan by Thomas Walsh, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, and Time of Terror by Lionel White. 

  8. Saul Panzer, Arnie Walters, Paul Drake
Private detectives in the employ of a series detective. Respectively, they work for Nero Wolfe, Lew Archer (in only two books), and Perry Mason.

  9. Julie Bailey, Virginia Dodge, Linda Goldenberg Arden
Probably the most difficult of the question in this section. Each character is motivated by revenge in the action of the story and each a character lost a loved one to an act of violence. Respectively, they appear in The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich, Killer's Wedge by Ed McBain, and Murder on the Orient Express. Yes, that book showed up a lot in this quiz. Don't ask me why. I must've been haunted by it.

10. Tommy Hambledon, Dr. Palfrey, Colonel Granby
Secret agents. Spies was also accepted. They were created by Manning Coles, John Creasey and Francis Beeding.

In this second part find the commonality in the books named below:

1. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
Animals in captivity play a part in the action. A snake is stolen from a zoo in the first and its venom used to commit murder. A dead body is found in a penguin exhibit at an aquarium in the other book. This was my lame question for the contest. Don't all "Boo" at once.

2. The Scarecrow Murders by Frederick Kummer, Sign of Fear by August Derleth
The detective in each story is a judge.  Amazingly, there is also another commonality that Bev pointed out: slips of paper with Biblical/religious references are found at the scene of the crime. Bizarre and utterly unintended! But I only awarded one point rather than two for discovering that, Bev. The judge similarity was much more obvious.

3. The Shadow of the Wolf  by R Austin Freeman, The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
Inverted detective novels

4. Case of the Green Felt Hat by Christopher Bush, The Secret of Bogey House by
Herbert Adams
Golf plays an important part in the plot of each book.

5. Tour de Force by Christianna Brand, The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen
Multiple solutions to the crime

6. Fatal Step by Wade Miller, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Set in a carnival. Amusement park was also accepted.

7. The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie, Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson
Each book is a short story collection which is the only book length appearance of the series characters. Full points awarded for the entire underlined sentence. One point for only mentioning short story collection.

8. Turn of the Table by Jonathan Stagge, He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
The primary suspect is thought to be a vampire.

9. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning
Each book has an eerie exactness in their plots:  a group of strangers is invited by an unknown host who never appears and they are told by their host via a recording that they will be killed one by one. Bristow & Manning wrote their book nine years before Christie's more famous and better realized version. The Invisible Host was also turned into a movie called The Ninth Guest in 1934.

10. Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham, Puzzle for Fiends by Patrick Quentin
The detective suffers from amnesia for most of the book.

Players were asked to identify a book's title and author based solely on a small section of the 1st edition dust jacket. Most of the illustrations had clues to the title. Savvy puzzle solvers could easily figure out seven of the ten without knowing anything about the book's content or recognizing the DJ. The remaining three were rather difficult to figure out based on the illustration. Having a robust knowledge of vintage mystery titles certainly helped in this section.

Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the pictures. The link will open in a separate window.

DJ1: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
DJ2: The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley
DJ3: Death in a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson
DJ4: Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
DJ5: Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr
DJ6: The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler
DJ7: Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh
DJ8: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
DJ9: Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer
DJ10: Poison Jasmine by Clyde B. Clason

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

There & Back Again

The winners of the "Challenge to the Reader" Trivia Contest will be posted later this evening. I was away from Dec 14 - Dec 17 in New York City for my big blast of a birthday bash. We saw five plays in three days including the fabulously fun Mystery of Edwin Drood, ate at three amazing restaurants, avoided Guy Fieri's Times Square tourist trap, saw a musical version of The Silence of the Lambs that was hysterical and filthy, talked with Ed Asner and got his autograph, took Paul Rudd's picture by the stage door of the Cort Theater, and tried our best to avoid the insanity of SantaCon. Go here if you are clueless about that bizarre urban holiday "festivity".  Reviews of the plays I saw will appear in "Stage Blood" posts in the coming days.

The contest was easier this year and I was hoping for an increase in participants. Just the opposite happened. I was disappointed by the very low number of entrants. This will most likely be the second and final trivia contest. More anon...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death on a Ferris Wheel - Aylwin Lee Martin

Here's a pop quiz, class. What do you think is the most overused plot gimmick in the world of vintage detective novels?

A. The secret passageway
B. Oxalic acid as a murder weapon
C. A twin or triplet is revealed to be the murderer
D. Knife throwing in a suspect's past life

Ten points if you answered D. Even though the others show up time after time, knife throwing is easily the most tiresome, the one that will get me rolling my eyes and uttering "Oh please, not again" more than the others. In the past two years alone I have read seven books that include knife throwing in the plot. Three of those books were locked room or impossible crime novels and the solution to the impossibility relied on the murderer's expert handling of kitchen utensils. But I bet not many of you have ever read the prizewinner in all of mysterydom dealing with knife throwing. I award the blue ribbon in knife throwing to Aylwin Lee Martin's Death on a Ferris Wheel (1951). Why? Because there are four – count 'em four! – knife throwing suspects in this book. Two of them are women! That makes for a potentially lethal group of suspects, doesn't it? You don't want to be upsetting these people at a dinner party or in a butcher shop.

The book opens with the discovery of the murder victim descending from his fatal ride in the titular amusement park ride. His throat is gashed terribly and it is determined that the only way he could've been killed was by a knife thrown at him as he was making his way down in the Ferris Wheel. That's some very expert knife throwing if you ask me, but as the sharp witted Captain Homer Aselin notes it wasn’t necessarily the throat that was the target. Anywhere on the body would have served the killer's purpose. Throat, chest, back -- he would've been dead no matter where the knife landed.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that there are so many knife throwers in the book. After all, the setting for the crime is a travelling carnival and two of the suspects happen to be in show business. Or were at one time. As luck would have it both of the women who also at one time tossed a few blades back in the day were also former wives of Floyd Anthony, the murder victim and an ex-vaudeville performer who worked carnivals as a would-be comic, knife thrower and the handsome male half of a dance duo.

One of the highlights of the book is learning a lot of carny slang.
He was tossin' broads when he wasn’t grindin' for a G-String act.
is translated as
He was dealing a three card monte game when he wasn't talking to the crowd about a striptease act.
A "skinned mush" is the cane a barker uses as a prop to draw attention to himself and the acts. "Mitt camp" is a palm reading tent. Classic stuff! I also found out that "fuzz" as slang for a policeman comes from carny lingo. Reading paperback originals is a real crash course in fading aspects of American pop culture.

The 2nd Matt Hughes novel
At first the murder seems to be tied to the apparent theft of a diamond ring valued at $15,000 and Matt Hughes, our lawyer/sleuth, is hired by Arnold Kent to represent his wife who he suspects of aiding in the theft of the ring. But while uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of the ring (which eventually turns up in Anthony's personal effects) Hughes gets in over his head. Anthony turns out to be a former husband of Mrs. Kent who used to be his dancing partner under her stage name of Nola Barrett. And the theft might have been a cover-up for a blackmail payoff. This is all quickly learned within the first three chapters.

But that's only the beginning of the complicated plot. Soon the story becomes an overly involved tale incorporating a crooked casino and drug operation, bigamous marriage, elaborate blackmail schemes, two-timing lovers and murderous revenge. It's all pulp magazine rehash, not badly told, with some pretty good dialog, heavy on incident and with a few colorful characters including one of my favorite period un-PC stereotypes -- the gay pretty boy sadist. Oliver St. Julian is his name. (What else could it be?) He is, of course, often called a fruit, a pansy, or a nance but is always ready to smash someone in the face when called a name. Is he a knife thrower, too? You bet your gleamin' shiv edge he is!

In the end it's all a bit too excessive. The finale is a cumbersome and talky revelation of multiple secrets delivered in the old-fashioned B movie method with Hughes making page length monologues while the various villains throw tantrums punctuated with a healthy dose of swear words or collapse into confessional hysterical outbursts. "Yes, I killed him," says one character. "And I'd do it again and again." Or until there were no knives left to fling.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

IN BRIEF: Burglars in Bucks - G.D.H. & Margaret Cole

Burglars in Bucks (1930) is something of a threefold literary experiment. It is a detective novel without a murder, it has multiple points of view, and it attempts to tell a story in real time. I would also add that it reminded me more than anything of a P.G. Wodehouse novel even to the very Wodehousian title. Superintendent Wilson is on the case again in a raucous adventure subtitled "The Crime and the Poltergeist".

Essentially, the novel is presented as a chronological dossier of the written evidence gathered in the case of a burglary that occurred on Halloween night following a party in Peter Gurney's home. We are given the story through multiple accounts (both first and second hand) in a series of letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings, police memos and reports, plus a few fanciful recreations of phone calls and private conversations. In discussing writing up one of his cases with Wilson Dr. Michael Prendergast proposes the chronology idea. The case would have been solved sooner had Wilson been privy to some information not handed over until after the conclusion of the investigation. Wilson believes that any reader would be bored with a straightforward telling of a police case with only written evidence presented to him as it was received. He also thinks any reader would be able to outguess the police detective long before the solution is discovered. The doctor strongly disagrees.

This mystery without a murder proves to be intriguing. It's not just a simple story of a stolen emerald necklace. The plot will evolve into a multi-layered richness that includes con artists, false identities, black market antique trading, drug addiction, spiritualist trickery, and the looming threat of a murder charge when one of the characters is violently beaten and clings to life in a hospital for most of the book. There is even a message in code that amateur cryptographers might easily be able to break before the police do.

The Cole's surprising sense of humor is the real highlight of the book largely due to the inclusion of the amusing letters from Everard Blatchington, a recurring roguish character in the early Cole detective novels who might have stepped out of the halls of Blandings or Brinkley Manor. Detective novel fans who are also partial to the kind of waggish British wit and antics found in the works of P. G. Wodehouse are sure to get much enjoyment from Burglars in Bucks.

In the US the book was released as The Berkshire Mystery, but it is much scarcer than the UK edition. Though there are few copies of the UK edition I did find one reading copy for $20. It may not be there for long after this review. Better hop to it if you want it! The rest range from $40 to $100, though judging by the descriptions their condition doesn't merit those prices. Burglars in Bucks can also be found in the first Collins Crime Club Omnibus which also includes The Noose by Philip MacDonald, Q. E. D. by Lynn Brock, and Sir John Magill's Last Journey by Freeman Wills Crofts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Invisible Man Murders – Richard Foster

While making a movie about a murderous invisible man called The Man from Nowhere, one of the actors is shot. With the camera still rolling cast and crew stand around trying to figure out from where the gun was fired. They all watch in horror as ghostly bloody footprints materialize on the carpet making it appear that an invisible man is leaving the scene of the crime. The filmed scenes will provide a major clue to the solution. Later another actor is shot on a deserted beach. Again footprints magically appear in the sand leading to the ocean then disappear. Is there really an invisible man killing all these people?

The killer leaves taunting letters signing himself "The Man from Nowhere" and sarcastically adds the parenthetical comment "Title by courtesy of Magna Pictures, Inc". The police uncover a blackmailer who called himself the Hollywood Ghost who had been extorting percentages of movie people's salaries as a kind of "Death Insurance." The police think that the blackmailer has adopted for himself a new nickname and is killing his targeted victims when they refuse to pay up. A private detective is hired by Magna Pictures' producer to find the killer and put a stop to the killings though he seems more worried about the money he is losing with all the delays in the production schedule.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this 1945 book apart from the unusual impossible crime gimmick is the detective himself -- Chin Kwang Kham, mysterydom's only Tibetan-American private detective. He is clearly a rip-off of Charlie Chan, though he speaks perfect English having been born and raised in the US he has the strange habit of "becoming Oriental" and talking in broken English and spouting forth fortune cookie style proverbs. At least Biggers made his aphorisms clever and witty. A cumbersome proverb like this one "The hunter who would trap the tiger must have more patience than the tiger" doesn’t compare to a genuine Chan aphorism: "Alas, mouse cannot cast shadow like elephant." Why bother, right? Foster doesn't have the gift. He comes close sometimes: "A man who continues to murder is like a man walking down a narrow mountain trail. Sooner or later he must dislodge a pebble." But he's too verbose when composing them.

The story is typical of pulp magazine fare – action oriented, heavy on dialogue, lightweight on prose. Just to separate Chin from the typical genteel and sagacious Asian detectives of the 20s and 30s Foster allows some roughhousing. In a gratuitous torture sequence Chin beats a suspect with the handle of a gun and when that doesn't get results he performs the "Death of Thousand Cuts" with a ritual Asian knife. Mike Hammer by way of Sax Rohmer. This all happens in a chapter titled "A Tibetan Warpath."

The mystery is routine. Only the impossibility of the invisible footprints offers any interest. But there is no fair play. The solution comes out of left field and is done through experiments Chin performed offstage without the reader's knowledge. There is also lots of guesswork. The method of making the footprints appear on the beach seemed extremely baroque to me and most likely would never work. Only one clue is given to the reader involving the filmed scene during which the first victim met his fate. Chin made an intelligent observation about how the camera paid close attention to the victim's death when in fact it should have been focused on another actor who was being fired at by a prop machine gun. Spotting this subtlety allowed Chin to ferret out the murderer's accomplice. It is the only piece of real fair play detection in the whole book.

"Richard Foster" is the pseudonym of Kendell Foster Crossen, a prolific pulp writer who used multiple pseudonyms under which he wrote crime and adventure fiction and dabbled in science fiction as well. Among his most notable creation is the Green Lama, a pulp hero who acquires secret powers from having studied in Tibet. His best detective novels are under the pen name "M. E. Chaber" and feature his series detective Milo March.

Magic and magicians are featured in The Invisible Man Murders. Crossen even includes himself (under his real name) and his magician writer friend, Bruce Elliott, in cameo appearances on the magic program that is discussed early in the book. Because of all the talk about magicians and the fact that Chin and another character are magicians and sleight of hand artists, I expected the solution to the mysterious footprints to involve stage illusions. It does not. Disappointing.

There is one other book featuring Chin Kham, The Laughing Buddha Murders (1944), also classified as an impossible crime (if I recall correctly it was about disappearing jewels), but it's really not worth reading either. Just more of the same minus the torture scenes. Both books are very scarce and as such usually offered at high prices when they turn up for sale. To my great surprise I learned that both books are available in digital formats. UPDATE April 2018: Both eBooks have since been discontinued by their makers and are permanently removed from sale.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

JACKET REQUIRED: Frosty Wind Made Moan

After a few weeks of relatively balmy late fall weather the temperatures are finally plummeting, frigid wind is blowing off Lake Michigan and it's only December 2. We may not be in the bleak midwinter just yet but it sure feels like it in my neck of the woods. Fittingly, today I post a few mystery novel versions of the approaching season of ice and snow and high heating bills.

Click to enlarge each photo for better detail.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Enigma of the New McClure's Mystery Contest

Yesterday, I wrote a review about Murder Yet To Come.  I mentioned in passing that the novel won a whopping $7500 prize in a mystery writing contest. If you have a copy of the CAPT 1995 reprint you will find this as part of their introduction to the book:

This will lead you to believe that Ellery Queen was beaten by Myers. Not true. Both writers won the contest - but only Myers won the $7500. Here's the lowdown.

New McClure's Magazine, the original sponsor, of the contest was a reformed, restructured version of the venerable McClure's magazine. Exactly why New McClure's thought they could sponsor an astonishing $7500 writing contest prize baffles me. The magazine was in dire financial straits after its reorganization from the old McClure's. The tail end of the disaster is described in this paragraph taken from a fascinating article I found about the demise of McClure's.
McClure's was never the same after the insurgent staff departed to continue their journalistic crusade elsewhere. To satisfy the terms of the purchase agreement negotiated by Phillips, McClure was forced to place his stock under the control of a board of trustees to whom he was held accountable. The cost of the new Long Island publishing facility, originally estimated at $105,000, increased three-fold, while McClure's Book Company, a subsidiary of the magazine, went heavily into debt. With the arrival of a depression in 1907, McClure's advertising revenues plummeted as manufacturers tightened their belts. From 1906 onward, the magazine never again declared stock dividends. $800,000 in debt, McClure was continuously at the mercy of a string of creditors, to whom the periodical was finally surrendered in the autumn of 1911. Under the management of financiers unsympathetic to muckraking, the magazine's journalistic crusades were squelched. In reality, however, McClure's was the victim of idealistic "explosions" begun more than five years earlier, when the high moral standards of a staff bent upon reforming society were shattered by the man who had created the medium for their expression.
Despite the fact the New McClure's was on shaky financial ground the contest continued with a co-sponsorship from book publisher Frederick A. Stokes. When the winner was declared it wasn't Isabel Briggs Myers. It was a novice writing duo calling themselves Ellery Queen and the novel was The Roman Hat Mystery. Before the prize was fully awarded New McClure's Magazine went bankrupt and folded in March 1929. The magazine was absorbed by Smart Set and they also took over the contest. The new magazine editors decided to re-judge the contest because the original rules stated that the winning manuscript would appear first in serial format in the magazine. Taking into account their mostly female readership they decided to choose a woman writer and awarded the full prize to Myers -- serial magazine rights for $5000, and $2500 for book publication.

Here is more background on the contest taken from Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years (McFarland, 2011) by Gene Blottner:

But the Queen writing duo had their revenge of sorts when Frederick A. Stokes stepped in and saved the day, so to speak, by publishing the winning book. And thanks to some clever work on the author's part The Roman Hat Mystery was released a full year before Murder Yet to Come.

My big clue that led me to digging up the real truth of the writing contest was the copyright info in my copy of Myer's book seen below. I knew something was up.

The clincher is that "Second printing before publication" statement.  This tells us that the publisher's marketing department did a superior job of selling the book. Due to the book's anticipated popularity there were a larger than anticipated number of pre-orders from bookstores and the publisher printed more copies of the book before the actual planned publication date and after the initial run of their first edition.  I am inferring here that it was Stokes' marketing of Murder Yet to Come as a prize-winning novel that led to the larger number of books being printed.

The people at CAPT have no business stating that Myers bested Queen. The contest was judged twice by two different magazine staffs. Essentially, the two authors both won. And while Myers got the money, Dannay and Lee as Ellery Queen got the fame.