Friday, November 30, 2018

FFB: Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert

Don't Open the Door (1945) is Anthony Gilbert's seventeenth novel featuring lawyer-detective Arthur Crook with an opening that calls to mind cliches of 19th century sensation fiction and old black and white movies we used to watch on "The Late Show". Very late at night, walking down fog covered streets, Nurse Nora Deane makes her way to the home of her latest charge, an invalid named Adela Newstead. Nora is helped along through the maze of fog by a passing Good Samaritan. While safely ushering her to the Newstead's front door he finds out her occupation, her employer's name, her age, that she's an orphan and basically friendless. She learns only his name -- Sammy. Nora clearly doesn't subscribe to the old adage about strangers and conversation.

When Nora meets Mrs. Newstead she seems frightened and agitated. A soon as her husband leave the two alone together Adela gives Nora an address book, tells her to call Herbert and not to tell her husband. Nora promises to do so, but foolishly waits until the next day. That night Mrs. Newstead dies unexpectedly.  The reader a cannot but help suspect foul play and the culprit seems to be no one else but Arthur, the husband.  But can it really be as simple as that?

I was expecting this to turn into something along the lines of the Had I But Known School of mystery fiction pioneered by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Mignon Eberhart. Nora truly seemed to be one of those dimwitted heroines who sees everything too late and then regrets not taking action earlier. So much of the first few chapters seemed all too familiar, I'd read it before many times. I was haunted by similar scenes in Eberhart's The Patient in Room 18, Rinehart's The Window of the White Cat, Some May Watch by Ethel Lina White as well as her chilling short story "An Unlocked Window". The US publishers must have recognized this aspect of the book for they changed the original prosaic title to the luridly Gothic Death Lifts the Latch.

US 1st edition (Smith & Durrell, 1946)
But I should have known better than to expect anything formulaic from Anthony Gilbert who excelled at using well-worn motifs of mystery fiction and exploiting them in unusual ways. For soon Nora is following up on Mrs. Newstead's request to get in touch with Herbert Webster who turns out to be her brother and only living relative. Herbert is very suspicious of his sister's sudden death. When Sammy turns up at the Newstead home looking for Nora, Albert begins to get a little panicky. And the reader too is certain that Arthur is guilty of his wife's murder. But just how did he manage it?

The brilliance of Don't Open the Door lies in a clever touch in the the narrative structure. Gilbert has us follow the murderer in certain sections told from that point of view. We are almost convinced who we are supposed to think he is. Yes, the murderer is identified with a male pronoun late in the novel. But the story is told in such a way that the person we think he is turns out to be completely wrong.

Once again this mystery novel is remarkable for Gilbert's skillful blend of subgenres. Never fully satisfied with the confines of detective novel formulas Gilbert will always veer out of whodunnit territory into the land of thrillers. Equally comfortable in either mode Gilbert often enjoyed exploring viewpoint, playing with narrative, and focussing on the culprit's actions and motives while the heroes and heroines desperately try to uncover the truth before more mayhem occurs. In Don't Open the Door the touches are so matter-of-fact the reader is convinced that Gilbert has all but told us the killer's name. However, the final pages come with Gilbert's trademark unexpected twist, one that may come as a real shock to those not keen to her tricks or who failed to pay close attention to subtle details.

US 1st paperback
(Bantam #768, 1950)
Crook enters the story in the final third after Nora is abducted. Together with Sammy Parker and a reporter Roger Trentham the trio race against time to find the missing nurse. There will be another murder, a mysterious car wreck at the bottom of a cliff known for suicides, and some last minute surprises before all turns out well and an ingenious killer is literally unmasked.

QUOTES: Arthur Crook: "The woman with a conscience. If you ask me a conscience is like a Rolls-Royce. It's ostentatious unless you're sure you can afford it."

Getting past Crook was something quite different. Because in spite of what he'd just said he knew a lot about Crook, and he'd sooner be cornered by a rat. You can kick a rat off sometimes, but Crook would be as difficult to escape as an octopus.

He grinned in his turn; and he went on grinning till he looked like the wolf after it had eaten Red Riding Hood's grandmother.

"Marriage can be as wild as the jungle. I ought to know. I sometimes wondered if I'd married the original Tarzan."

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Death Has Many Doors - Fredric Brown

A G rated drawing for the cover. In the novel
Sally is found dead au naturel
In the fifth book featuring Ed Hunter and his Uncle Ambrose the two have set up shop in their own private eye agency. Death Has Many Doors (1951) is the story of a young woman named Sally Doerr who wants to hire the two detectives because she fears for her life. She is convinced that someone is going to murder her. And that someone happens to be a Martian. When Sally dies in her locked bedroom on her third floor apartment with all possible ways in and out of the room guarded or impossible to access Ed begins to wonder if something extraterrestrial really did have something to do with her death.

To be honest this was a very middling detective novel. While there seems to be a lot going on when you start to look at it closely you see it as a formulaic Q&A style detective novel with lots of padding. And lots of alcohol.

Sally is plied with alcohol at a bar when Ed, in an earnest attempt to show concern, tries to convince her that she doesn’t need a private detective she needs to see a psychiatrist. (One, two cocktails, “Oh no more please…” pleads Sally. Three, "I really shouldn't" four) Then off they go to her apartment where she asks him to spend the night ("In the other room, please.") because she’s so frightened. To Ed’s shock she dies in her room about three hours later.

More imbibing follows. Ed seems to find it necessary to bring alcohol wherever he goes. He gets Sally’s sister Dorothy drunk on whiskey and then they go skinny dipping by moonlight near the shores of Indiana Dunes State Park. She insists on the swimming, he cannot get her to change her mind. That doesn’t go very well. I wonder why! Drinking and swimming is just as stupid and drinking and driving. Dorothy is the second corpse to turn up in the book. No one bothers to question whether the whiskey she drank had anything to do with her death. In real life it most definitely would have. The real reason for her death (it’s a murder by proxy, sort of) is ridiculously far-fetched, probably literally impossible to accomplish. Brown relies on a detective novel gimmick that I thought went out of fashion in the mid-1940s.

The landlord at Sally’s apartment has lots of info to offer up, but once again Ed decides it’s best to cajole him with whiskey not flattery. All this booze bribing! It was not only disheartening, it was sickening. The landlord not only gives up all the details on the building's occupants, how long they’ve been there and all their personal business (were there ever really landlords this involved in their tenants’ lives?), but he gives Ed the keys to Sally’s apartment so Ed can come and go as he pleases and continue his investigative work. Or what passes for investigation.

By the way, there is only one policeman in the story -- their friend Frank Bassett. Ed and Uncle Am report their findings to him while he shares with them the lack of evidence. But strangely he’s curious about what they have turned up. Which is hardly anything. This is the only example of a negative detective novel I’ve ever come across. The more the two detectives delve into the case the less they find.

Here’s the pattern of how this detective novel unfolds. Ed wanders all over Chicago’s North and South sides with side trips to Evanston and Indiana constantly telling himself he’s stupid, he can’t figure anything out and that he’ll never get enough evidence to convict the killer. He goes into Sally’s apartment, finds nothing. Insert several mediocre action scenes. Then he visits again, still finds nothing. Insert scene brimming with sexual innuendo featuring Ed and Monica Wright, the gorgeous blond secretary. Does he go a third time? You betcha. What does he find? More self-doubt and psychological masochism. After each instance of miserable failure and beating himself up guess what he does? That’s right. Seeks out a bottle of whiskey.

Should I tell you about his interview with Sally’s ex-fiance in Evanston at a used car lot? That Ed never introduces himself or states his purpose or even tells the guy that Sally is dead. How the guy misinterprets who Ed is and how they get into a boxing match. Oh, too late.

The only reason to keep reading is to find out how Sally and Dorothy were killed. Brown does a good job of making the reader believe that the two deaths were cleverly disguised murders. I wanted something startlingly inventive to be part of the solution to both murders. But the end comes as something of an anticlimax. The major clue is provided to us in the third to last chapter by a whiz kid 11 year-old boy who (after being talked about frequently) makes his only appearance in that chapter. In order to come up with a smidgen of the final solution the reader needs to apply what the boy talks about to something that Ed saw in Sally’s bedroom. While Sally’s death fits into the realm of a scientifically sound yet bizarre murder method, Dorothy’s cause of death (as mentioned previously) is pure fantasy. If all this isn't disappointing enough for you the identity of the murderer is not at all surprising. It all ends in an electrical fizzle instead of a satisfying explosive bang.

Despite the bizarre murder methods Death Has Many Doors is a pseudo-mystery. Those metaphorical doors open to bring about death, but no other doors open to bring about a fair play resolution. This is a book I’d not recommend unless you enjoy reading about fictional characters drinking heavily and fantasizing about getting naked and dancing between the sheets.

Nevertheless, I’m moving on to some other Fredric Brown books I have uncovered on my shelves. I’ll be reporting back next month. For a couple of  other opinions on Death Has Many Doors see the links below, both less scathing but neither very complimentary.

TomCat's post at Beneath the Stains of Time
JJ's post at The Invisible Event

Friday, November 23, 2018

FFB: The Devil Snar'd - George R. Preedy

THE STORY: Grace Fielding and her writer husband Philip have come to Medlar's Farm in Northumberland as an escape from their marital discord.  Philip is in love with Angela Campion.  Grace acknowledges the affair but refuses divorce. Perhaps this getaway will help repair whatever went wrong in their marriage. But Grace continues to obsess about Angela and her husband's philandering. When she learns of the gruesome past at Medlar's Farm, a murder by poison, and the ghost of Susanna Vavasour, Grace's life soon becomes a mix of domestic strife and psychological terror.

THE CHARACTERS:  The story in The Devil Snar'd (1932) is almost entirely told from Grace's point of view.  What begins as a tale of a stubborn woman trying to work out marital difficulties with her writer husband soon gives way to a story of obsession, jealousy, morbid imagination and revenge. The house at Medlar Farm is the site of a horrible crime of passion. Philip is thinking of using the story of the murder of an unfaithful husband that backfires as the basis for his new novel. He's unwilling to discuss his work, but Grace finds the manuscript and begins to read his novel as it progresses. She begins to see too many parallels between her life with Philip and the story of Susanna's life. She feels compelled to visit Susanna's grave before it is forever lost when engineers building a reservoir will submerge it and the neighboring church.

The relatively small cast of supporting characters include Mrs. Mace (the landlady and neighbor), a chemist, a doctor and some minor servants. The novel is almost entirely dominated by Grace and her eventual merging with the personality of long dead Susanna, either an accused murderess or a victim. One is never really sure which is true until the final pages.

ATMOSPHERE:  Grace's slow mental deterioration is conveyed with macabre touches reminiscent of Poe's morbid imagination as well as 18th century British Gothic writers. Spider and insect imagery dominate the eerily descriptive narrative.  They appear everywhere, crawl over everything, then disappear into the ever present shadows at Medlar Farm. The novel takes its title from images on a carved stone keystone above the arch of the doorway to the Crompton Old Church which guards the graveyard where Susanna Vavasour is buried: "a grotesque fiend with medieval horns and tail was pursuing a thin creature in grave-clothes who turned at bay, and with an expression of the utmost horror, cast a net over the enemy who writhed in astonished helplessness." It's a powerful image that will haunt Grace for the rest or the book - this idea of the seemingly helpless victim who "suddenly became the aggressor." She cannot help but link this shrouded figure with her vision of Susanna, though she has no idea what the woman ever looked like.

At the midpoint in the book Grace tells her husband is a story of a man who was practicing the "evil eye" by staring at toads and striking them dead ("Just get them somewhere where they could not move and gaze at them until they died.")  Then one day he got a toad "which seemed to suspect his designs," it tried to escape and then when flight was not possible turned itself on the man and stared right back at him. The man found he could not look away and they continued to gaze at one another until it was too late. The man has completely lost the power of his "evil eye." In the morning the man was found dead on the floor of his laboratory. Similar to the images of the stone carving known as "The Devil Snared" Grace cannot erase this story from her mind. It reminds her of the legend of the murder at Medlar Farm. Soon she is seeing Susanna's ghost, they have conversations, and together they begin to plot a murder inspired by the crime that cost Susanna her life.

QUOTES:   In the big house it was not [sane and normal] -- the maladjustment between herself and Philip seemed to affect everything.

The loneliness penetrated deep into her being; the shut-up church, the empty house--were far more emblematic of solitude than the lonely land and water. The people who had lived here, been buried here, had left behind them a heritage of utter desolation.

She was so horrified by this lurid illumination which was worse than any darkness, that she tried, for the first time in her life, to pray, to honestly send up an appeal for help to some high and merciful Power. She could not do this, but she could check the horror which had been breaking on her -- and she remained for a while mute and immobile, crouched below the corner..."

She remembered a horrid experiment which she had once read of: a mouse and a scorpion were once set by some inquisitive man of science under a glass bell, where finally, after a dreadful duel, the timid beast killed the poisonous insect (sic). The same story, of course, as that of the man and the toad. It was her story.

"How fond you are of that word decent," smiled Mrs. Fielding. "What does it mean, nowadays, I wonder?"

Marjorie Bowen, circa 1939
(photo by Howard Coster,
courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)
THE AUTHOR: "George Preedy" is one of the several pseudonyms used by Gabrielle Margaret Long, a prolific writer perhaps best known under her most popular alter ego of Marjorie Bowen. Using a variety of pen names Long wrote some fine examples of ghost stories as well as Regency romances, adventure and crime fiction. As "Joseph Shearing" she wrote a series of historical crime thrillers, based on actual murder cases, some of which are the best examples of that subgenre.

EASY TO FIND? This is a true rarity. I was lucky to stumble across a copy being sold for the unheard of price of £3.99 from a UK bookshop who clearly hadn't a clue what they were selling. Currently there are only two copies for sale from online booksellers each priced at $300 or more. This short novel was first published by Ernest Benn Ltd. as part of their "New Ninepenny Novels", a short-lived experiment in mass market paperbacks comprised of stalwart bestselling writers in genre fiction categories of mystery, romance, adventure and fantasy. There is one UK reprint issued by Cassell & Co in 1933 that includes The Devil Snar'd along with Dr. Chaos, another of Bowen's short (and very scarce) horror novels written under the Preedy pen name. There is no US edition at all.

The Devil Snar'd is so startling and arresting in its use of Gothic imagery and horror motifs I cannot understand why it hasn't been reprinted in over 75 years. Probably because it's so damn hard to find. I'm very willing to offer up my copy to any enterprising publisher interested in reviving this minor Gothic masterpiece. It deserves rediscovery by a wide audience appreciative of macabre fiction.

Friday, November 16, 2018

FFB: The Roses of Picardie - Simon Raven

THE STORY: Two academics follow a trail of clues encoded in 16th century paintings, ancient manuscripts and medieval legends hoping to find the location of a lost treasure – The Roses of Picardie (1980), a necklace of rubies that carries a deadly curse.

THE CHARACTERS: This adventure novel of epic scope follows two teams of treasure hunters led by the two academics Jacquiz Helmut, the Collator of Manuscripts at Lancaster College, and Balbo Blakeney, a biochemist now disgraced and dismissed from his post for alcoholism. Jacquiz is teamed up with his wife Marigold and they travel from England to Greece to France pursuing stories and legends while sifting through all the material for clues. Balbo begins his quest as a solo adventurer but is soon paired up with Sydney Jones, an ex-professional cricket player turned spy. Jones has been sent to find Balbo and bring him back to the UK by a secret society interested in Balbo’s WW2 era work as a biochemist and — bizarrely — rat behaviorist. Along the way these two pairs of treasure seekers meet up with an outrageous cast of supporting characters that include a foul mouthed dowager, a Greek midget and his vampire servant, a Greek man intent on learning English while picking up as many scatological slang phrases as he can, and a mysterious young man with a beautiful face and the body of a god who manages to turn up everywhere at the most surprising moments.

INNOVATIONS: Raven has subtitled The Roses of Picardie “A Romance” and it is true in every sense of that literary term. Perhaps a better, more accurate subtitle might be “A Romantic Odyssey” for it also belongs to that long line of heroic epics involving quests dating back to Homer. With its rousing mix of bawdy humor, intricately detailed medieval history of the mythical Comminges dynasty who originally owned the necklace, and the teeming anecdotes of arcane folklore The Roses of Picardie is one of the most exhilarating adventure novels of the late 20th century. I’ve not encountered a book so rich with eccentric characters, laugh out loud farcical comedy, and eyebrow raising moments of unexpected thrills in a very long time. One moment the reader is taking in a rich history of the Comminges family and the next there is a Chaucerian incident involving stopped up toilets and ancient manuscripts being used as toilet paper substitutes. In one section you get the history of Devil worshipping Albigensians and then a few pages later you learn of the legend of a French dragon known as the Tarasque and its relationship to St. Martha. The book defies categorization with its marvelous mix of vulgar jokes and farce, sophisticated wit, erudite history, academic satire and multiple lessons in arcane legends and superstitions.

Most remarkable is that Raven seems to have invented the kind of novel that Dan Brown would be credited for decades later in his series of pulp thrillers featuring the symbologist Robert Langdon. There is one sequence, in fact, that most definitely foreshadows The Da Vinci Code when Jones and Balbo “decode” the portrait of Andrea Comminges and discover through hidden images and initials one of the locations where the necklace was hidden. It’s one of the finest examples of this kind puzzle solving that combines a knowledge of cryptography, symbology and ancient history, all of it based on the true facts of artists who left behind messages in their paintings.

THINGS I LEARNED: Where do I begin? I’ve already mentioned several bits above and to go into any further detail about anything like the Tarasque or the Albigensians or the difference between Eastern European vampires and Greek vampires would rob anyone of discovering those juicy tidbits on their own. The entire book is one huge “I never knew that!” moment after another.

I will, however, mention that I happily became acquainted with the existence of the French poet and novelist Paul-Jean Toulet (1867-1920) whose poem "En Arles" is featured in the narrative. One line "Parle tout bas, si c'est d'amour" immediately reminded me of Kurt Weill's "Speak Low When You Speak Love." The final stanza ends with the phrase "Au bords des tombes" which serves as both the title of the final section and as a resounding image that haunts the treasure seekers who have been literally and metaphorically digging around the edges of graves and cemeteries over the course of the entire novel.

Simon Raven (1927-2001)
THE AUTHOR: Simon Raven was born in London in 1927. He studied at King’s College Cambridge where he majored in Classics. (He shows off his knowledge of Latin and Greek a lot in The Roses of Picardie). After graduating university he joined the army and served in the infantry in Germany and Kenya where he commanded a rifle company. He began his writing career as a book reviewer in 1957 and published his first novel The Feathers of Death in 1959. Raven is perhaps best known for his family saga of sorts known as “Alms for Oblivion” which feature recurring characters over ten novels spanning four decades. Readers of supernatural fiction might know him for his handful of ghost stories and the novel Doctors Wear Scarlet (1960), a combination of academic satire and vampire tale. Additionally, Raven wrote for TV and movies with teleplay adaptations of Trollope (The Pallisers), Huxley (Point Counter Point), Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate), and Julian Symons (The Blackheath Poisonings) found on his long résumé.

EASY TO FIND? The Roses of Picardie was published only in the UK.  I found not one US edition since its original appearance in 1980. Paperback editions seem to be plentiful in the used book market. The UK first edition (Blond & Briggs, 1980) is a rarity based on my internet searches. The most recent reprint was a paperback from House of Stratus in 2012. I found no digital editions at all.

Friday, November 9, 2018

FFB: Maynard's House - Herman Raucher

THE STORY: Austin Fletcher has traveled to rural Maine to claim his inheritance. Fresh from war torn jungles of Vietnam Austin has left behind his friend Maynard, one of the many causalities of the war, and bypassed his Midwestern home in order to set up house in the cabin that Maynard willed to him. Maynard's House (1980) is remote, forlorn and reputedly haunted. On the grounds is a tree that casts no shadow that according to legend is the site of the execution by hanging of a 17th century witch. Austin dismisses all the stories he's told as superstition. And then Ada and Froom start visiting him and his new life in Maine becomes even more foreign and strange than his life as a soldier in Vietnam.

THE CHARACTERS: The cast of characters is small and contained. Raucher is more interested in the effects of a solitary man continuing his life of isolation in rural America after the horrendous life of a Vietnam soldier. It's a curious type of war veteran fiction which was popular in the late 1970s and continuing into the next decade. While writers like Tim O'Brien (author of Going After Cacciato, et al.) captured the horror of Vietnam both in and out of the jungles and of the many survivors' nightmares of PTSD, Raucher explores the camaraderie that develops between soldiers to tell a story of a friendship that manages to retain a deep bond even after death. The novel is one of claustrophobia and solitariness. Loneliness also obviously features strongly in the narrative. Austin meets only four people over the course of the novel and he is constantly travelling back in time via his memories to recall those rare moments of quiet when he and Maynard would talk of Maine, the cabin, and life far removed from Vietnam.

US paperback (Berkley, 1981 )
Austin is led to the house by the local train stationmaster and postman, Jack Meeker. Jack is a died-in-the-wool Down Easter, as rigidly New England in speech and manner as one can get. He has a thick accent, a stubborn manner, and the kind of irritating common sense that can drive anyone to distraction. Austin loses his patience more than once with Jack's peculiar matter-of-fact nature. From Jack Austin learns of the legends of the witch tree, Devil's Dancing Rock, and the Minniwickies, a curious race that seem a blend of fairy and Native American according to Jack's odd description. Austin will encounter all three but the reader never knows if at anytime anything Austin is experiencing is the product of his imagination or is actually happening.  Froom and Ada, a young boy and his teenage sister, claim to be Minniwickies. But Ada also tells Austin that Jack and the bear hunter he met late one night are dead. Has Austin been meeting ghosts all this time? Is Ada teasing him or telling the truth? And does Ada even exist?

INNOVATIONS: Raucher skillfully plays with the reader's perception in his clever manipulation of fact and dream and memory. The opening chapters seem to be told in real time and Austin seems to be meeting living people. But by the end of the novel a bizarre, almost science fiction, element is introduced that changes everything that occurred previously. One never really knows what was truth, what was dreamed up from Austin's memory of Vietnam, and what was orchestrated by the powerful presence that manages to control time, place, and all who live in the cabin near the witch's tree. It's one of the most unique contemporary treatments of a haunted house story incorporating fantasy and science fiction elements recalling the work of Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft. Raucher's method takes a less weird path than his predecessors, rather the narrative is confined in the tortured mind of a war veteran. Still, the final chapters cannot be dismissed as anything other than some of the best weird fiction writing of the late 20th century.

UK Hardcover (Michael Joseph, 1981)
Austin is truly isolated, friendless, and estranged from family. He and Maynard had in common a love of being alone. Maynard's hero is Henry David Thoreau, and the bookshelves of the cabin are lined with Thoreau's works. Austin finds a diary that serves as a survival handbook and a teaching tool for anyone who might be living in the cabin. Thoreau's philosophy is blended into the anecdotes and instructions with quotes from Walden; or Life in the Woods and other essays strewn throughout the diary/handbook.  Raucher is clearly drawing comparisons to this idealistic desire to become one with nature and the possible side effects of living too extreme of a solitary life. Maynard discovers this too late and tries to warn Austin through various messages, some of which come to him via dreams and memories. But Austin will pay no heed to the warning signs, the many omens, and the terrifying events that happen at night.

QUOTES: "There'll be the Devil to pay, " she said, not waiting for his response, leading him about on the rock instead, dancing him to a music he only faintly began to hear--church bells and strings, too distant to comprehend.

He cupped his hand to her chin, raising the dear face to his, sighting it for a kiss. But the eyes looking up at him were so filled with cold and withering hate that the kiss never came to pass. It lasted for but a moment, that look, but all the same it struck him with the thin rage of a stiletto, inflicting no wound yet inferring a bloodless and incredulous death.

The night passed, Austin becoming accustomed to the amorphous haunts that populated it. His house, for some time, had been schizoid. By day it was as bright and inviting as a house could be--a Christmas card, a Robert Frost poem. But by night it was Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, a foreboding thing of shapeless terrors and a casual shadows, a cold place where no lantern lasted the night and no fire emanated any warmth.

"A house is a place to go back to, to regroup in. A house is a kind of special corner of the universe. It's a place where everyone whoever lived in it still does."
"What you're sayin', Maynard, is what I know. I got a lot of company here."
"That's the nature of a house. It absorbs its occupants, kind of keepin' them forever alive."

THE AUTHOR: Herman Raucher began his career in advertising, but soon had success as a writer for TV programs in the 1950s. He then branched out to movies as a screenwriter. He received notoriety for his first movie script, the racially charged satire Watermelon Man (1970), now a cult movie of sorts, with Godfrey Cambridge in the title role of a bigoted white man who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a black man. His most famous writing is the script for Summer of '42 and its later novelization. Other movie work include a script based on the 1967 Grammy nominated ballad "Ode to Billy Joe" about a teenage suicide and an adaptation of Sidney Sheldon's potboiler The Other Side of Midnight. Raucher's other work include the play Harold (1962), produced on Broadway starring Anthony Perkins and co-starring Don Adams, and the novels A Glimpse of Tiger (1971) and There Should Have Been Castles (1979).

EASY TO FIND? Very good news here. For once this book is fairly easy to find in the used book market. It was published in both the US and UK in hardcover and paperback editions. Dozens of copies are available on various bookselling websites with prices all over the place as is to be expected these days. Paperback copies tend to be the cheapest, but it looks like most of them are also unfortunately ex-library books. The only modern reprint of Maynard's House is a paperback edition from Diversion Books released in 2015. Remarkably, you can still get a brand new copy of that edition. (It's a probably a POD outfit.) For all you Kindle readers there's this additional good news: Diversion releases their books in digital editions as well as paperback. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Coming Soon: Jean Potts Reprints!

Well, I've just handed in my final draft of the foreword for the next exciting reprint from Stark House Mystery Classics. After reading my piece on Go, Lovely Rose and my astonishment at what a great writer Potts was Greg Shepard began reading her crime fiction. Like me he was impressed with her books, like me he also couldn't stop reading them. In fact he's read more than me as of this date and has pointed me to some of her best ones I still have yet to read. For several months Greg did dogged research, searching for the proper literary executor in order to gain permission to reprint her books. His hard work paid off.

Coming next month (perhaps sooner) the world will have the first paperback reprint of two Jean Potts books in over fifty years. Go, Lovely Rose, her Edgar award winning debut detective novel will appear side by side with her Edgar nominated novel The Evil Wish. That's two of Potts' best novels in a single volume! And both reviewed here at Pretty Sinister Books.

When the book is available for purchase I'll make another announcement. But I know this book is ready for the printer and eager to get out there into the world.  Though I didn't do as much work as Greg did I'm very proud to have been largely responsible for getting Jean Potts back into print. This is the first time I can definitely claim that honor after years of being only influential in reviving interest in other writers and seeing their books eventually get back into print. With luck we'll see more of Jean Potts in Stark House Press reprints.