Sunday, July 10, 2016

IMPRESSIVE IMPRINTS - Dutton Clue Mysteries

The first of E. P. Dutton's mystery and detective fiction imprints was relatively short-lived. Begun in 1930 it lasted a mere six years. Like all mystery imprints competing with one another Dutton developed a gimmick along the lines of the Harper Sealed Mystery novels. They included a two color insert that was affixed to the top of a page late in the book challenging the reader to come up with the solution to the mystery. Below is one of the inserts found in my copy of The Matilda Hunter Murder (1931) by Harry Stephen Keeler.

Very few of these still exist since the inserts were loosely glued to the very top edge of the page allowing the reader to either remove it or flip it up to read the text on the page beneath. I own one book were the insert was still attached to the top edge when I bought it but very shortly afterward became loose and fell off. Many of the still existing inserts were laid into the book at the page where it was originally glued or placed in the front or back of the book. In my collection I have only three of these inserts still in the book.

The inserts were soon abandoned in favor of a page that was bound as part of the book (see an example below). The ghoul in the robe still appeared as did the large typeface command "Stop!" These pages appeared between 1932 and 1935 until they too were abandoned. The last few Dutton Clue Mysteries were noted as such only on the front flap of the DJ and the title page with the signature of the imprint -- the handprint logo.

I have very few Dutton Clue DJs in my collection, though I have many books without them.  The majority of the DJs shown in the photos below are taken from online bookselling sites. I did find one DJ (The Perjured Alibi by Walter S Masterman) that was in the best condition and show both front and back panels of that one.

Mystery of the East Wind (1930)
Rear panel used in 1930 only

Murder in the News Room (1931)
An End to Mirth (1931)

Ben Ames Williams is best known for Leave Her To Heaven which was adapted for the movies starring Gene Tierney as the murderous protagonist.

The Murder of a Midget (1931)
Cakes to Kill (1932)

The Flying Beast (1932)

The Man with the Paper Skull (1932)
Murder by Magic (1932)

The Sword in the Pool (1932)
The Face of the Man from Saturn (1933)
Murder in the Opera House (1934)
Still Dead (1934)
Death of a First Mate (1935)
Logo & imprint not used on DJ front panel
Use of logo appears on front board only by 1935
Still appears on the DJ flaps & rear panel

The Perjured Alibi (1935)
Logo present but imprint name missing
Example of rear panel from 1932-1935

One last bit of trivia: Dutton emulated the Harper Sealed Mystery in at least one title. The final pages of The Marceau Case (1936) by Harry Stephen Keeler were sealed (photo on right below). In my copy not only are those pages sealed but also the previous eight and the four following blank pages were uncut proving that the previous owner either never read the book or gave up on its mammoth length of 472 pages just before the end. I've been able to sneak a peek at the final pages and they really are just an advertisement for Keeler's next book X. Jones - Of Scotland Yard (1936) which continues the Marceau Case saga and comes up with an entirely different solution to the mystery of killed mystery writer Andre Marceau.


  1. Was the intent that these would all be fair play mysteries?

    1. Hardly. If you're acquainted with Keeler's books (Dutton published 90% of his US editions in his lifetime) you would know that none of them remotely resemble anything related to the "fair play" detective novel.

    2. One of the reasons I asked. The "Clue" in the imprint, the sealed pages both imply fair play, but Keeler isn't the only author there not known for such mysteries.

    3. I understood that. As far as Dutton was concerned this was a marketing gimmick only. The sealed pages were used only once that I know of; it was never a regular feature of the imprint. The inserts and the "Stop!" pages are similar to other challenges, including Ellery Queen's "Challenge to the Reader" which was created by the writer and is an intrinsic part of the novel not a publisher invention. There are many of these types of inserts created by the publishers as marketing gimmicks. Even Doubleday's Crime Club used something similar on the endpapers of the novels written by Hugh Austin. But there is no guarantee that each book chosen as a "Dutton Clue Mystery" would be a fair play mystery or that any reader could prove how a good a detective he was and solve the mystery by the time he reached that particular page. In some cases the insert page often appeared before all the clues had been presented. I think they were placed at random with no regard for the actual clues if there were any. Many of the Dutton Clue Mysteries were not even detective novels, they were thrillers (most of Walter Masterman's books, for example) with no "whodunit" element at all.

  2. Well, Harry Stephen Keeler of Chicago was a loony author (perhaps a mad genius) !
    Do you know the loony solution of X.Jones Of Scotland Yard? It is given here

  3. I have a 1937 Dutton Clue Mystery THE CASE OF THE Crawling Cockroach by Harlan Reed. It has the hand logo and the Challenge page. Is this book the last of the Dutton Clue Mystery books? I cannot find a list of the books.

  4. No such list exists in any of the books and not on the internet that I know of. I don't think it's the last title in the imprint. I'm sure that Dutton Clue books continued through the mid-1940s. HOwever, by 1947 the Dutton Clue idea faded away and was replaced the Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries. I abandoned this feature rather quickly in 2016. It was extremely time consuming laying out the many DJ photos and I had to stop or lose my mind. I'm sorry I never got to the second Dutton imprint, but there is already lots of info about that imprint elsewhere on the 'net. As stated in this article I do not have a complete collection of Dutton Clue books. Thanks for the additional info on a later title in the Dutton Clue books.

  5. I have finally gotten hold of one these (Murder in the News Room)--but without dust jacket or insert, alas. Had my annual book binge today at the huge Book Fair (was Red Cross, now Hoosier Hills Food Bank) at the Fair Grounds. I was hoping for a better selection since it was cancelled last year--as were most things--because of the pandemic.

    1. Isn’t that one of the Henry Charles Beck mysteries? That’s quite a find. All his books are scarce. I have Cakes to Kill as well as the one you found. Not read either…yet. He was a news reporter from New Jersey most his life. One of his detectives is a Presbyterian minister. Or maybe Episcopal.

      Joe and I have only been to that Red Criss sale once. But we took home quite a haul when we went. Back in the early days of this blog of course.

    2. Yes, indeed, it is by Beck. I picked it up just because it looked interesting--was really pleased to get home and see that you'd written on the Dutton Clue Mystery series. It's always fun to discover you've picked up a treasure all unbeknownst. I'm still logging my finds from yesterday. Brad & I plan to go (probably tomorrow). Once I know I'm done, I'll have a post up to show what treasures I grabbed up.